Before The Rise of Islam, Medina Was Originally A Jewish City
Today, we hear a lot of talk about how Jerusalem should be split, – one half surrendered to Muslims, while the other half remains a mixed Muslim/Jewish city in Israel. If this is the appropriate diplomatic way of turning back the clock, and ensuring peace between Muslims and Jews, then why not try out this solution with Medina first–a city that was originally Jewish?
Although the fact is little publicized, the Arab world’s second holiest city, Medina, was one of the allegedly “purely Arab” cities that actually was first settled by Jewish tribes. 1 History shows that Judaism was already well established in Medina two centuries before Muhammad’s birth.
On page 40, of his book “Arabs In History”, Bernard Lewis writes:
“The city of Medina, some 280 miles north of Mecca, had originally been settled by Jewish tribes from the north, … The comparative richness of the town attracted an infiltration of pagan Arabs who came at first as clients of the Jews and ultimately succeeded in dominating them. Medina, or, as it was known before Islam, Yathrib, had no form of stable government at all. The town was tom by the feuds of the rival Arab tribes of Aus and Khazraj, with the Jews maintaining an uneasy balance of power. The latter, engaged mainly in agriculture and handicrafts, were economically and culturally superior to the Arabs, and were consequently disliked…. as soon as the Arabs had attained unity through the agency of Muhammad they attacked and ultimately eliminated the Jews.”
The number of Jews in Medina swelled following the Roman invasion of Israel – the subsequent expulsion of its Jewish population, and from Jews fleeing persecution in Persia2. These refugees were assimilated into the three major Jewish tribes in Medina: the Banu Nadir, the Banu Quynuqua, and the Banu Quraiza. When these Jews resettled in Medina, they took with them a superior knowledge of agriculture, irrigation, and industry. Homeless Jewish refugees in the course of a few generations became large landowners in the country. In addition, the refugees who had come from Israel quickly became the controllers of its finance and trade. This new Jewish prosperity also quickly became a direct challenge to the Arabs of the region, particularly the Quraysh at Mecca (of which Mohammad was a member) and other Arab tribes in Medina.
According to Alfred Guillaume,
At the dawn of Islam the Jews dominated the economic life of the Hijaz [Arabia]. They held all the best land … ; at Medina they must have formed at least half of the population. There was also a Jewish settlement to the north of the Gulf of Aqaba…. What is important is to note that the Jews of the Hijaz made many proselytes [or converts] among the Arab tribesmen.5
To add fuel to this fire, the Jews, strong in their faith in G-d, refused to accept Mohammad’s claims to be the final prophet. In response, a precedent was established by Muhammad among Arab-Muslims to expropriate that which belonged to the Jews of Medina.
… [Jewish] leaders opposed [Mohammad’s] claim to be an apostle sent by God, and though they doubtless drew some satisfaction from his acceptance of the divine mission of Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, they could hardly be expected to welcome the inclusion of Jesus and Ishmael among his chosen messengers.
… the existence of pockets of disaffected Jews in and around his base was a cause of uneasiness and they had to be eliminated if he [Muhammad] was to wage war without anxiety.
Because the Jews preferred to retain their own beliefs the Jews of Medina fell under suspicion of treachery by Mohammad and were forced to lay down their arms and evacuate their settlements. Valuable land and much booty fell into the hands of the Muslims.12
Jealous, frustrated, and offended by the refusal of the Jews to accept him as a prophet of G-d, at the first feeling of military superiority over the Jews of Medina, Mohammad gave up his attempts to convert the Jews, and decided instead to make war on them proclaiming the following:
“Two religions may not dwell together on the Arabian Peninsula.”13
This edict was carried out by Abu Bakr and Omar 1, the Prophet Muhammad’s successors; the entire community of Jewish settlements throughout northern Arabia was systematically slaughtered.
According to Bernard Lewis,
“the extermination of the Jewish tribe of Quraiza was followed by “an attack on the Jewish oasis of Khaibar.”14
The battle of Khaybar, (the final destruction of the Jews of Medina) is a battle well known by Muslims today. They often recall it at “anti-Israel” rallies, protests, speeches, and all over youtube, with the chant “Khaybar Khaybar ya Yahud, jaish-Muhammad saya’ud” (Khaybar Khaybar oh Jews, the army of Muhammad will return)15
They recall as their greatest hope, and sincerest joy to repeat the massacre at Khaybar done by their “pefect man” Mohammad. At Khaybar, after the Jews were forced to flee their homes and villages in Medina, Messengers of Muhammad were sent to the Jews who had escaped to the safety and comfort of Khaibar, “inviting” Usayr, the Jewish “war chief,” to visit Medina for meditations.
Usayr set off with thirty companions and a Muslim escort. Suspecting no foul play, the Jews went unarmed. On the way, the Muslims turned upon the defenseless delegation, killing all but one who managed to escape. “War is deception,” 15 16
The slaughter of Arabian Jews and the expropriation of their property became Allah’s will. This massacre is recalled joyfully in the Koran:
… some you slew and others you took captive. He (Allah] made you masters of their [the Jews’] land, their houses and their goods, and of yet another land [Khaibar] on which you had never set foot before. Truly, Allah has power over all things.18
Guillaume reports that the anti-Jewish attack at Khaibar was fiercely fought off, but “though the inhabitants fought more bravely here than elsewhere, outnumbered and caught off their guard, they were defeated.”19 Those who somehow survived constituted the formula for Islam’s future successes. Some of the Jews, “non-Muslims” or infidels, “retained their land,” at least until Muslims could be recruited in sufficient numbers to replace the Jews. Meanwhile, the Arabian Jews paid a fifty-percent “tribute,” or tax, for the “protection” of the new plunderers. As Professor Lewis writes, “The Muslim victory in Khaibar marked the first contact between the Muslim state and a conquered non-Muslim people and formed the basis for later dealings of the same type.
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