The Root of Terrorism a la
20 Nov, 2005
- 'Among the forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous'---George Eliot (1819-1880)
The Battle of the Trench Led by Muhammad - February, 627CE
After the successful raids for booty, Muslims in Medina felt safe and secure. Their need was largely ameliorated by the swag they acquired through these plunders. Muhammad became militarily strong by the forced evacuation of Banu Qaynuqua and Banu Nadir Jews from their ancestral lands in Medina. However, Muhammad was always cautious, lest the enemy strike without notice. And true to his fear, the enemy did strike him no sooner than he was relaxing with his booty and the new found military might. When the winter season came, the Quraysh prepared for an attack against Muhammad. This was the battle of the Trench or the battle of Ahzab (the confederates).
This battle took place in February, 627 (Shawal, AH 5). The major cause of this battle was the expulsion, or the ethnic cleansing of the B. Nadir Jews from Medina.
After the expulsion of the B. Qaynuqa and the B. Nadir Jews from Medina, the exiled leaders of the Jews, like Salam b. Abi al-Huqayq al-Nadri, Huyayy b. Akhtab al-Nadri, Kinanah b. al-Rabi b. Abi al-Huqayq- etc. went to Mecca and met with the Quraysh leaders and formed a confederation to fight a menacing Muhammad. At first, the Quraysh were skeptical about the Jews as the Jewish religion was quite close to Islam. They asked the Jews about whose religion was better-the paganism or the Islam? The Jews answered that the Quraysh's religion (i.e., paganism) was better than that of Muhammad's new brand of monotheism. This pleased the Quraysh, and they accepted unhesitatingly the Jews as their allay. On this, Allah revealed 4:51-55, denouncing the Jews for upholding paganism and He promised hell to the Jews.
Being satisfied with the Jewish leaders, the Quraysh were now ready to strike a mortal blow to Muhammad and his horde of fanatical Jihadists. Having secured the agreement of the Quraysh, the Jewish leaders approached the Ghatafan and a few other tribes around Mecca and convinced them to launch an attack in confederation with the Quraysh. Thus, the Quraysh, under the leadership of Abu Sufyan b. Harb and the Ghatafan, under the leadership of Uyanah b. Hisn b. Hudhayfah (see Terror 31, CH. 8) marched out for Medina. Some biographers list Uyanah as the leader of B. Fazarah tribe, B. Fazarah being a sub-clan of the Ghatafan. The other tribes that joined them were: B. Murrah and Masud b. Rukhaylah from Ashja tribe. The Quraysh themselves brought four thousand soldiers including three hundred horses, and fifteen hundred camels. The entire Meccan force was of ten thousand men. They marched in three separate camps. The general commander was Abu Sufyan b. harb. The flag of the battle was assigned to Uthman ibn Talhah whose father was killed in the battle of Uhud.
Soon this news of a planned attack reached Muhammad. He was quite unprepared for this sudden attack from the Quraysh and its allies. The experience of Uhud was still fresh in the minds of the Muslims. Another battle against the Quraysh was out of the question.
Sensing profound trouble, Muhammad convened a conclave of his trusted lieutenants. In this meeting, Salman, the Persian convert, suggested digging a trench around Medina to protect it from the impending attack of the Meccans. He had been a Christian captive of Mesopotamia, bought by a Jew from the Bani Kalb. Then he was ransomed and converted to Islam. He was familiar with this mode of defence of a city in other countries. This was a completely new strategy that Arabia had never practiced. Muhammad and his followers readily adopted this great strategy of defence. The work consisted of digging a deep trench, probably ten yards (thirty feet) wide and five yards (fifteen feet) deep, three and half mile long all around the city of Medina. For a speedy completion, the work was divided between various clans.
Muhammad now assembled his men to dig this trench and inspired them with the rewards of Paradise. It was the fasting month of Ramadan, and Muhammad hired the digging implements from the Jews of B. Qurayzah. Between one thousand to three thousand Muslims worked from dawn to dusk to complete the dry moat, and they all joined to face the formidable army of the Quraysh and its confederates that numbered ten thousand. Muhammad started cursing the Meccans, inviting Allahs wrath on them as narrated in Sahih Bukhari:
Volume 5, Book 59, Number 415:
Narrated Anas:Allah's Apostle said Al-Qunut for one month after the posture of Bowing, invoking evil upon some 'Arab tribes.Some hypocrites joined in but they became sloppy and slipped away to be with their families without the permission of Muhammad. Nonetheless, the true believers kept going with dogged determination, halting intermittently just to join their families with permission from their spiritual leader. On this occasion Allah revealed 24:62, praising these true Jihadists and promising them His forgiveness. On the errant hypocrites, Allah revealed 24:63-64, disclosing that He knows about their secret. After working diligently for a few days (some say eight days), the diehard Muslims completed the trench surrounding Medina, ahead of the arrival of the Meccan troop. They were now very satisfied with the freshly dug dry trench, inspired by Salman, the Farsi. Each clan claimed that Salman belonged to their side. On this, Muhammad said, "Salman is one of us, the people of the Household (ahl al-bayt)."
- The Muslim historians, Tabari and Ishak narrate the incredible story that while the trench was being dug, Allah caused a white rock to emerge from the bottom of the trench. Muhammad went down into the trench with Salman; struck the rock with his pick axe and a flash of lightning spread out that illuminated the two tracks of Medina's black mountains!
Muhammad explained this as the sign of Allah for Muslim's victory. He even claimed that that spark of lightning lit up the Byzanatine and Khusroo's (the Persian emperor) empire, meaning that he (Muhammad) would be victorious over them. Muhammad's harangue thus lifted up further, the sprit of the Muslim earth diggers. They were now absolutely confident that Allah had assured them a signal victory. Other miraculous stories about the increase in food supply when the Muslim army's provision ran out is told in Sahih Bukhari, such as Volume 5, Book 59, Number 428. For brevity and conciseness I refrain from quoting this lengthy Hadith.
But from the very beginning, the hypocrites were skeptical about Muhammad's claims and they tried to subdue the morale of the ardent Jihadists. On this, Allah's oracle came down in verse 33:12 revealing the diseased minds of the hypocrites.
The digging of the trench completed, on the eighth of Dzul Kada (March 2, 626 CE), the army of Medina was posted with the trench. The houses outside the town were evacuated and their residents were placed for security, on tops of the double-storied houses nearby the freshly dug trench. During this evacuation stage, the army of Mecca was reported to have advanced at Uhud. Muhammad's army was three thousand men and was posted across the road leading to Uhud, having the trench in front of them.
The Meccans, at first encamped at Uhud and finding no opposition there rapidly moved up the road to Medina. Soon, they arrived near the freshly dug trench, and was greatly surprised at the defense tactics of Muhammad. They were unable to come closer to the Medina quarters. So, they resorted to archery from a distance.
In the mean time, Huyayy b. Akhtab, the leader of the expelled B. Nadir Jews conferred with Ka'b b. Asad, the B. Qurayzah Jew's chief, to break the latter's contract of truce with Muhammad. At first, Ka'b refused to meet Huyayy, but finally relented to Huyayy's persistent pleading.
Huyayy then informed Ka'b about the mobilization of the Quraysh and the Ghatafan to confront Muhammad once and for all and urged Ka'b to repudiate all his treaty with Muhammad. He requested Ka'b's co-operation, promising him his unflinching support in case the Ghatafn and the Quraysh retreated without finishing off Muhammad. At first, Ka'b was hesitant to tow the line with Huyayy, but finally gave in when Huayayy vouched that in case of trouble, he (Huyayy) would move forthwith to Ka'b's fortress, so that, whatever befell K'ab would be his fate too. In this way Ka'b renounced his peace treaty with Muhammad and Huyayy moved in the fortress of B. Qurayzah Jews to stay with them.
When this news reached Muhammad, he sent his trusted Jihadist, Sa'd b. Muadh, along with a few of his elite companions to investigate stealthily about its veracity.
When the team of Sa'd b. Muadh met the B. Qurayzah Jew leader Ka'b b. Asad, he (Ka'b) immediately repudiated their treaty with Muhammad. He demanded that the Muslims return the Jews of Banu Nadir back to their former quarters in Medina. On this, Sa'd ibn Muadh, who was closely allied with the Banu Qurayzah Jews, warned them that something worse than Banu Nadir might befall the Banu Qurayzah in case they persisted on this betrayal of covenant with the Muslims. Nonetheless, even under such a dire threat from Sa'd b. Mudah, Ka'b refused to surrender to his demand.
So, a disappointed Sa'd b. Muadh returned to Muhammad and told him the extremely bad news. Muhammad took it as a treachery on the part of B. Qurayzah, and Allah immediately confirmed this in verse 33:20. However, please note that the B.Qurayzah were under no obligation to honor the treaty if they wanted, as Muhammad, in the past had broken many such treaties. Moreover, the B. Qurayzah Jews never intended to attack Muhammad, they simply negated the pact with Muhammad.
When Muhammad heard what Sa'd had to say, he was perturbed, no doubt, but showed no alarm; instead, he said, "God is greatest! Rejoice, people of the
Muslims!" This was, of course, designed to keep his army in shape and in good spirit. Allah promptly sent down verse 33:10, saying, "The enemy came upon them from above and from beneath-..". regarding the double danger (from top and bottom) facing the Muslims
Although, outwardly showing no alarm, Muhammad was quite frightful at the prospect of losing the war. He was in constant anxiety that the trench may be overcome and that the Jews might attack from behind. The people of Medina were greatly disappointed at that turn of the events. Many of his followers begged to be released to look after their properties that they had left behind. They considered Muhammad to be weak and helpless; questioned the divine assistance for him and apprehended that his promises of Khusroo's and Caesar's wealth were hollow. Now, they felt afraid to venture outside the confines of their city. Many of them claimed immunity from fighting, using the alibi that their houses were exposed to the enemy as expressed in verse 33:13.
The confederates and the Muslim soldiers stayed in their position for twenty days (or a month) facing each other across the trench without any fighting, except for shooting arrows at each other. On the Quraysh side were Khalid b. Walid and Wahshi, the Abyssinian Negro slave.
Becoming desperate with such a long drawn stalemate, Muhammad made a clever attempt to bribe the Ghatafan to desert the battlefield. Secretly, he sent an emissary to Uyanah b. Hisn, the leader of the Ghatafan (or Fazarah) and tempted him to accept his offer of one-third of the date harvest of Medina on condition that they remove themselves from the battlefield. Uyanah signaled his willingness to accept the deal and bargained the offer to one-half. However, when Muhammad disclosed this deal for the approval of B. Aws and B. Khazraj, they spurned it and offered nothing but sword to the confederates of the Quraysh. Muhammad's great confidante, Sa'd b. Muadh objected in offering such a generous gift to the Ghatafan. He promised to offer only sword to the Ghatafan, saying, "Messenger of God, we and these people used to be polytheists, associating [other divinities] with God and worshipping idols, and we neither worshipped God nor knew him, and they did not hope to a single date of ours except in hospitality or by buying. Now that God has conferred Islam on us, guided us to it, and strengthened us with your presence, shall we give them our wealth? We have no need for this! By God, we will offer them only the sword, until God judge between us and them." So, Muhammad reluctantly, dropped this bribery deal.
On the other side, the Quraysh army, despite their vast number, was very frustrated by the strong vigilance of the Muslim army. When this stand-off grew intolerable, a few of the Quraysh, among them, Ikrimah b. Abi Jahl (Abu Jahl was brutally murdered at Badr), commanded the confederates to prepare themselves for an attack. With this instruction, they advanced and when they reached near the freshly dug trench, they were totally taken aback at this innovative approach of defense that was never practiced in Arabia.They then made a general attack through a narrow and weakly guarded part of the trench. Ikrimah cleared the ditch and galloped in front of the enemy. Among the other Quraysh who crossed the trench was Amr b. Abd Wudd. Ibn Sa'd. reports that Amr was ninety years old! Ali rushed forward to confront the intruders. When he saw Amr, Ali called him to join Islam, but Amr readily declined. Then Ali challenged Amr to fight him, on which Amr passionately told Ali that he did not wish to kill his nephew (Ali was the son Amr's brother, Abu Talib). But Ali expressed his desire to kill Amr, his uncle. On this, an angry Amr jumped out of his horse and attacked Ali.
A duel ensued between Ali and Amr, in which Ali killed Amr. The rest of Amr's companions panicked and started to disperse. Ali managed to slaughter another polytheist, gravely injured yet another who managed to cross the trench, but later died of his wound at Mecca. Another Quraysh polytheist fell into the ditch while attempting to jump over the trench. He fell inside the deep trench. The marauding Muslim soldiers gathered at the site and pelted stone at him. When this hapless victim shrieked in pain, Ali went down and beheaded him. The Muslims took the corpse to Muhammad, seeking his permission to sell it. But Muhammad declined and instructed his Jihadists to do whatever they liked with the dead body. Nothing is known what the Jihadists did to the polytheist's corpse. It is reported that the Negro slave, Wahsi, with his unerring javelin, killed one Jihadist, al-Tufayl b. al-Numan and Dirar ibn al-Khattab (Umar's brother?) killed another Muslim, Kab ibn Zayd.
The Quraysh did not make any further attempt to cross the trench during the day, but made great preparations at night. Next morning, they launched a general attack with a massive force. But all their attempts were without effect. They could not cross the trench. Sa'd ibn Muadah, the chief of B. Aws was wounded severely in his arm (or shoulder as per Muir by an arrow. He promised to exact his revenge on B. Qurayzah, for the man, who shot him was on friendly terms with the B. Qurayzah. The Quraysh lost three men while the Muslims lost five.
The Muslims could not offer prayer on that day. They were too busy with the war. At night, when the enemy returned to their camp, the Muslims gathered and offered a special prayer for those missed prayers.
We learn from the narratives of Ibn Ishaq and Tabari that there was no wearing of Hijab (veil) by the Arab women during this period. While the battle of Ahzab was raging, Aisha was in the fortress of B. Haritha and the mother of Sa'd b. Muadh was with her. Aisha wore no Hijab when Sa'd b. Muadh passed her by wearing a coat of mail through which Aisha could view the entire forearm of Sa'd b. Muadh.
During this time, Saffiyah bt. Abd al-Muttalib, Muhammad's aunt was in Fari, the fortress of Hassan b. Thabit, the official poet of Muhammad. She discovered a Jew circling the fortress of Hassan b. Thabit. When Saffiya requested Hassan b. Thabit to go downstairs and kill the suspicious Jew, he declined. So she went downstairs and clubbed the Jew to death herself. She then requested Hassan b. Thabit to strip the Jew naked and to take his arms and coats of mail as booty. Hassan b. Thabit refused to do that, as he was not in need of the spoils.
During this lengthy blockade, Muhammad became desperate, searching for a way out. Just then, a double-agent, Nuaym b. Masud b. Amir from the Ghatafan approached Muhammad to offer his service of sleuthing Muhammad's enemies. He claimed that he had embraced Islam and was available to offer his assistance as a double agent. Muhammad engaged him to his advantage and told him that 'war is deception.' He said to Nuaym, "You are only one man among us. Make them abandon [each other], if you can, so that they leave us; for war is deception." Here is a Hadith from Sahih Bukhari that confirms Muhammad's view of war as an act of deception:
Volume 4, Book 52, Number 269:
Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah:
The Prophet said, "War is deceit."
A similar Hadith is also found in Sunaan Abu Dawud:
Book 14, Number 2631:
Narrated Ka'b ibn Malik:
When the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) intended to go on an expedition, he always pretended to be going somewhere else, and he would say: War is deception.
After Muhammad's persuasive talk, Nuaym went to the B. Qurayzah and advised them not to trust the confederation of the Quraysh and the Ghatafan. He harangued them that if the confederate won the war they might take the land of the B. Qurayzah as a booty; should Muhammad win, then the confederates would abandon the B. Qurayzah, leaving them to defend themselves against the formidable Muslims.
Then Nuaym advised the B. Qurayzah to secure hostages from the Quraysh and Ghatafan as a security for their pledge of assistance against Muhammad. B. Qurayzah leaders pondered over what Nuyam had said and found that to be very credible.
Meanwhile, after talking to the B. Qurayzah Jews, Nuaym went straight to the Quraysh and the Ghatafan; announced that he had abandoned Islam and Muhammad and told them that the B. Qurayzah Jews had regretted at what they had done and was now in league with Muhammad. Nuaym further added that the B. Qurayzah had offered Muhammad a pledge that whatever hostages they took from the Quraysh and the Ghatafan, they would send them to Muhammad for beheading and Muhammad would be too pleased to execute the hostages. This news unnerved the Meccans as they believed every word of what Nuaym had said. Suspicion now arose in their minds regarding the pledge of the B. Qurayzah, and they decided, as per advice of the double agent Nuaym to refrain from dispatching any hostage that B. Qurayzah might demand from them.
On the eve of the Jewish Sabbath day (that is, Friday evening, Saturday being the Jewish Sabbath), Abu Sufyan sent Ikrimah b. Abi Jahl with a group of men to B. Qurayzah to ask the Jews to come out and to assemble to fight on the next day (i.e., on Saturday). On this, the Jews declined to fight on their Sabbath day, claiming that on previous occasions when they broke that tradition, the Jews were converted into monkeys and boars for fighting on the Sabbath day. Moreover, they demanded hostages from the Quraysh and the Ghatafan as a pre-condition to fight Muhammad.
When this news of demand for hostages was brought to Abu Sufyan and the leaders of Ghatafan, they were simply amazed at the veracity of what Nuaym had already told them. The confederates then decided not to offer a single hostage to B. Qurayzah and this decision was communicated to the B. Qurayzah Jews. Having heard the verdict of the confederates, the B. Qurayzah Jews were now convinced that the Quraysh and the Ghatafan were playing tricks with them. The Jews decided not to join in the fighting, unless hostages are secured from the confederates and forwarded their decision to the Quraysh and the Ghatafan.
The allied forces were now greatly disheartened. Their provisions were running short. Their plan to attack the Muslims from the rear of city with the help of B. Qurayza was now in doubt. Their camels and horses were dying daily in numbers. To add more to their adversity, the weather, too, was unkind to them. The cold, wind and rain became merciless on their unprotected camps. The storm became a hurricane, overturning their cooking pots and sweeping away their tents. They took the fury of weather as an evil omen and started to flee for their lives. With so many troublesome incidents, Abu Sufiyan suddenly decided to break up the camp and retreat. The withdrawal was led by the Quraysh, followed by the Ghatafan and their allies. Abu Sufyan leaped on his camel and led away. Soon, the entire Quraysh army took the road to Mecca by way of Uhud. In the morning not one of them was left in sight. As usual, Muhammad claimed that Gabriel had brought the severe storm and caused the Meccan confederates to flee. Ibn Sa'd writes that when Gabriel met Muhammad, he (Gabriel) said to him: "O! be happy.". An oracle (33:9) descended from Allah confirming His divine intervention by casting terror in the heart of the infidels through the tempestuous wind and the biting cold.
However, the real reason the Meccans abandoned the siege was different. It was the ensuing of the month of Dzul Qaedah, the first month of the three consecutive months of the Arab tradition of cessation of hostilities-the Meccans had to go back and attend the pilgrims that would soon start arriving at Mecca.
The news of the disunity between the confederates and the B. Qurayzah soon reached the ears of Muhammad, and he sought the assistance of a spy to observe the activities of his enemy, promising him paradise or booty should the spy returned on time. On this enticement, a Hadith from Sahih Bukhari is quoted here:
Volume 9, Book 93, Number 555:
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, "Allah guarantees (the person who carries out Jihad in His Cause and nothing compelled him to go out but Jihad in His Cause and the belief in His Word) that He will either admit him into Paradise (Martyrdom) or return him with reward or booty he has earned to his residence from where he went out."
Muhammad had to promise paradise to his spy as none other had volunteered to go to the Quraysh camp and bring back their news. During this period, fear hunger and cold had engulfed the Muslims and they were not in a mood for a fight. In fact, when no one volunteered, Muhammad picked the said spy himself and commanded him to engage in information gathering. The spy went out and saw Allah's helpers (i.e., angels) punishing the Quraysh and the Ghatafan with lashing wind and bitter cold.
The spy of Muhammad observed the departure of the Abu Sufyan and his confederates and brought the good news to Muhammad. Muhammad was greatly relieved at the departure of his enemy; the Muslim army became joyful and in the morning, broke up their camp and returned to their homes. Muhammad refrained from pursuing the retreating Quraysh army for, he feared that a confrontation with the Quraysh in the open would not be to his advantage. He soon told the Muslims that he had Allah's message to attack the B. Qurayza, claiming that Gabriel came to him in the appearance of Dihya, the Kalbite. Immediately, Muhammad sent Bilal to announce the new call throughout the town for the new battle.
Once the Battle of the Trench was over Muhammad vowed to be aggressive and offensive, to make attack and not to defend. Here is a Hadith from Sahih Bukhari that clearly indicates Islam is truly a religion of offense and not defense:
Volume 5, Book 59, Number 435:
Narrated Sulaiman bin Surd:On the day of Al-Ahzab (i.e. clans) the Prophet said, (After this battle) we will go to attack them (i.e. the infidels) and they will not come to attack us."
- [Please note: This Hadith cannot be found in the sanitized, summarized version of Sahih Al-Bukhari; however you may read this Hadith in the Internet version of Original Sahih Bukhari]
Abul Kasem is an Bengali ex-Muslim and academic. He has contributed in Leaving Islam - Apostates Speak Out and Beyond Jihad - Critical Voices from Inside and Why We Left Islam.. He has also written extensively on Islam in various websites and is the author of five e-Books: A Complete Guide to Allah, Root of Terrorism ala Islamic Style, Sex and Sexuality in Islam, Who Authored the Quran? and Women in Islam. Mr. Kasem leaves in Sydney, Australia. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.