Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Muhammad and Islam: Stories not told before, Part 9

Part 8 <<<

The Battle of the Ditch

After the battle of Uhud, the Meccans – under the leadership of Abu Sofian- continued to build up their strength to engage Muhammad in a final battle. With this intention in their mind, they also formed a confederacy with the tribe of Ghatafan as well as with other tribes of the desert. The Jews of the tribe of al-Nadir, whom Muhammad previously expelled from Medina, were part of the confederacy. At the end of their preparations, the Meccans are said to have raised an army of ten thousand men, all ready to march on Medina to seize it and to forever eliminate Muhammad and his followers from the face of the earth., as they had become a permanent threat to their lives and to caravans.

Muhammad, as had always happened in the past, got early news of the impending attack; the informer was none but Allah. He hastily gathered a force of his own, consisting of about three thousand warriors. Knowing the strength of his enemy and remembering the reverses he had suffered at Uhud, he decided this time to defend Medina from within its walls.

While necessary preparations were being made, Salman the Persian, whom we have already met earlier, suggested to Muhammad a unique measure that he had seen the Persians employing in the defense of their cities. It was the digging of a moat at some distance outside the walls, which prevented their enemies from launching their attacks on the cities they needed to defend.

This pattern of defense being hitherto unseen and unheard of in Arabia, Muhammad adopted it instantly. Setting a large number of men to dig the moat, he himself is said to have contributed his own labor with a view to motivating his followers to expedite its completion before the arrival of his enemy.

During the digging of the trench, a number of miracles are claimed to have taken place. One such miracle relates to Muhammad having fed a large number of people from a single basket of dates, which remained full, even after all were fully satisfied. The other miracle was worked out at a feast in which he is said to have fed a thousand men with a lamb and a loaf of bread. Yet, it is claimed, enough remained to entertain a large number of workers who were digging the moat. Muslims believe in these miracles, as Jesus Christ had also performed similar miracles to convince his followers with his divine power.

Another miraculous wonder is also believed to have occurred during the excavation of the moat: the rocks, which Muhammad struck with his hammer, set off sparks, one illuminating all of the Yemen; the second brightening the imperial palace of Constantinople; and the third lighting up the towers of the royal palace of Persia. These were, according to him, the portents from heaven, which represented the future conquests of Islam.

In fact, all the miracles attributed to Muhammad are the later inventions of the Muslims. He never claimed that he had the power to cause any miracle, despite his antagonists’ insistence therefor. To him, the Quran was his miracle – a claim the Pagans repeatedly ridiculed on his face.

The moat was barely finished when the Meccans arrived and found themselves confronted with the strange hurdle the Muslims had erected on their way. Perplexed, they laid siege to the settlement from across the ditch.

Muhammad, with three thousand of his men, stayed behind the wall, contemplating ways to avoid a second humiliation at the hands of the Pagans, who were now gathered at the doors of his sanctuary. The siege continued, with some bloody skirmishes now and then taking place between some individuals representing the besiegers and the besieged.

While the siege lingered on, spies brought words to Muhammad that the Jewish tribe of Quraiza, which had a strong fort near the city, was going to join the Meccans in their fight against him. This information caused great consternation to Muhammad and he began plotting his own scheme to diffuse the united threat of his enemies. The scheme he came up with beats all the standards of our modern day warfare.

He sent a man called Nuaim ibn Masood of the tribe of Ghatafan to secretly visit the camps of the confederates and to sow dissension among them. Accordingly, the man went to the leaders of Quraiza and stirred up their sentiments by telling them that they were fools to support the Quraishites in their struggle against the Muslims; for, he told them, in case of their defeat, they would simply retreat to Mecca and be secure. Their other allies, he continued, would similarly be safe by retiring to their distant homes, thus exposing only themselves to the brunt of Muhammad’s retaliation. It will be they, he asserted, who would become the objects of Muhammad’s wrath for the alliance they entered into with the Quraishites. So adopting the role of the fiend Iblis (it is the name given to Satan by the Quran), he advised them not to make common cause with the Quraishites unless they gave them hostages as surety toward their own participation in the struggle to break, for good, Muhammad’s power.

Thus cultivating the seed of discord in the minds of the leaders of Quraiza, Nuaim went to the Quraishites and the tribe of Ghatafan, warning them not to confide in the Jews of Quraiza, who, he informed them, intended to acquire hostages from them, only to turn them over to the Muslims to secure advantage for themselves.

The trap, thus artfully laid, showed its result almost at once. Abu Sofian sent word on Friday evening to the leaders of Quraiza to be ready the next morning to join them in a general assault against the Muslims. The Jews refused to join the foray, telling the Quraishites that Saturday was their Sabbath, on which day their religion forbade all hostilities. They also told them of their intention not to participate in any future battle unless they gave them hostages to guarantee their own commitment to stand by them to the end. Since both the Quraishites and the Ghatafanites found truth in what Nuaim had told them, they dared not launch their planned attack on the entrenched Muslims.

The siege continued for a month without a sign that the besieged were planning to come out of their shelter and engage the besiegers to a fight. Under the circumstance, the Meccans could do nothing but wait. While they remained idle in their camps, however, a cold storm, accompanied by rain and a sweeping blast, fell upon them like a bolt from the blue. Their tents blown away, and their campfire extinguished, they suddenly found themselves exposed to the bitter cold and the hazards of the desert. In the moment of their distress, they received information that Muhammad was on his way to fall upon them with his forces. Panic and confusion engulfed the Meccans. Failing to restore calm to his forces, Abu Sofian mounted his camel and ordered them to retreat.

Jews Put to Sword

With the menacing confederates gone out of his way, Muhammad turned to take revenge on Bani Quraiza. Having no means to protect themselves from the huge Muslim onslaught, the Quraizites shut themselves in their castle and withstood a siege for many days. At long last, they were overtaken by famine and they gave up, soliciting the intercession of their old friends and protectors, the Ausites. The leaders of the latter implored Muhammad to grant the Jews his mercy under the same terms he had given to the tribe of Qaynuqa. He hesitated for a while and then in a show of acquiescence, he decided to leave their fate to the judgment of Saad ibn Moad, the chief of the Ausite tribe, who, he knew well, harbored ill will against the people of Quraiza.

His ill-will originated from the hostility at moat during which, he had sustained a fatal injury on his person, and from which, he did not expect to recover. He held the Quraizite Jews responsible for his impending death. He, therefore, longed to smite them with vengeance before death caused him to leave this world. Fate soon gave him his opportunity and he did not fail to put it to his desired use.

The Quraizites, on the other hand, knew nothing about the ill-feeling that Saad was nurturing against them. In fact, they were elated at his selection to mediate their fate, for he had been their friend, and they expected his decision to be in their favor. They were dead wrong.

Brought with much difficulty to the site of judgment, Saad demanded from the unsuspecting Jews an oath to abide by his decision. As soon as the oath was given, he sentenced all the men to death, their women and children to slavery, and their properties confiscated to the Muslims.

The Jews were dumbfounded, but there was no chance of an appeal. Following the verdict, the Quraizites men were herded in chains to a place in Medina, since called the Market of the Quraizites, where graves had been dug, well in advance, to receive their dead bodies. Then Mohammad sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches, as they were brought out to him in batches.

There were 600 or 700 of Jews, though some put the figure at as high as 800 or 900,[1] who lost their lives to the sword of the Prophet of Peace in a single day. The majority of the Jewish men thus eliminated, there remained no major hurdle to prevent him from becoming a Man of Sword. Sword later on became an emblem of Islam. [2]

The massacre was followed by the seizure of a huge quantity of spoils, which included flocks, herds, and camels. Each foot soldier had one lot, each horseman, three: two for his horse and one for himself. A fifth part of the whole booty was set-aside for Muhammad and Allah. How much Muhammad gave to Allah out of their common share and how He enjoyed His own share is, unfortunately, not known to the humans!

Muhammad Becomes a Tyrant

Successful raids against the Jews brought immense wealth to Muhammad. In a very short period of time, he became a rich man. He owned palm-date fields and orchards, which originally belonged to the Jews. His newly acquired wealth enabled him not only to acquire all the arms he needed for his fighters, the power his wealth brought him also enabled him to acquire a large number of women to fill up his harem. Simultaneously with him, his followers also saw a change in their lifestyles; their indebtedness to the Jews disappeared; instead of being at the back and forth of the Jewish call, they now enjoyed a carefree life; living in the comfort of those homes, which once belonged to their former masters. While they were still enjoying the fruits of their murderous adventures, their propensity for plundering received fresh encouragements from their leader, who, having drawn for himself immense benefits from them in the past, announced, in the meantime, his intention to launch new excursions against those Jews, who still remained outside his domain.

As the adage goes: absolute power absolutely corrupts; Muhammad’s absolute power over most of the Medinese people turned him into an absolute tyrant. He decreed that those Pagans who had not accepted Islam thus far should convert to it forthwith. Those who resisted his decree faced stiff punishments from him. Although we are not aware of how frequently or to how many offending Pagans he meted out his punishments, but we are able to point out its severity from a statement that some of his associates have left behind for us to read in the Quran. It says:

“They swear by Allah that they are believers like you. Yet they are not. They are afraid of you. If they could find a shelter or a cave, or any hiding place, they would run in frantic haste to seek refuge in it {from your wrath.”[3]

It tells us all about the ferocious nature with which Muhammad was endowed and which he exhibited towards those Pagans who dared conceal from him their religious inclination. How brutally he must have treated his enemies must not at all be a difficult task for all open-minded people to guess from the verse we have quoted above.

The Raid on the Jews of Khaybar

Muhammad entered the sixth year of his migration to Medina, having in the meantime, acquired great wealth and power. He now longed to visit the place of his birth and to link it to the foundation of his religion. Mecca was sacred in the eyes of the Arabs and its alienation was retarding the spread of his faith. He decided, therefore, to visit Mecca and to perform his Umra, the lesser pilgrimage that Muslims can carry out any time of the year. It was Dhu al-Qaada, a month preceding that of the greater pilgrimage, - both months being months of peace - in which he set out for Mecca, accompanied by many of his followers. They had with them seventy camels for sacrifice at the ancient idolatrous temple of Ka’aba, which still remained in the hands of the Pagans, with all the ancient pagan rites having undergone no change whatsoever. Muhammad knew that the news of his approach to Mecca would cause a stir among the Meccans, so he himself donned the conventional garb of a pilgrim and had all the beasts garlanded to demonstrate his good intention to his suspicious opponents.

His efforts went in vain, however. A confused rumor of his movement reached the Meccans. Suspecting foul play, they dispatched a powerful force to take position in a valley about two days’ journey from Mecca, to check the advance of the Muslims.

Muhammad, having heard of the Meccans’ movement, detoured from his original track. Taking a difficult route through the defiles of the mountains, he reached the plains near Mecca, where he pitched his tents at a place called Hudaybiyya, which was considered then to be located within the sacred boundaries of Mecca. He then sent the Meccans his assurances of peaceful intention and sought from them the rights of pilgrimage.

Envoys moved to and fro, but the Meccan Pagans remained determined not to allow the Muslims, whom they considered to be apostates, to enter into the holy shrine of Ka’aba to perform their Umra. After a protracted negotiation, both parties agreed to conclude a treaty of peace. The pact included, inter alia, a term, which required the Muslims to return to Medina this time. It, however, permitted them to perform their Umra the following year, to remain in Mecca for three days, and then to withdraw to their homes. This agreement, called the “Treaty of Hudaybiyya,” was concluded in 628 A.D.

Muslims returned to their homes, disappointed and dejected at not being able to perform their sacred rites at the temple of Ka’aba. Muhammad, however, consoled and cheered them up with the tidings that their wishes would be fulfilled the following year in a befitting manner.

Discontentment and depression, nonetheless, prevailed among many of Muhammad’s followers. To free them of their consternation and disappointment, he conceived of an expedition that he knew would not only make them forget the humiliation of Hudaybiyya, it would also gratify their love of plunder by seizing enormous amount of booty from the tribe he had plotted to raid.

At a distance of seventy-five miles north of Medina was situated the city of Khaybar, inhabited by the Jews, who had grown rich by commerce and agriculture. A part of their fields was cultivated with grain and dotted with groves of palm trees; the other part was devoted to pasturage, covered with flocks and herds and fortified by several forts and a citadel. Khaybar had also become a sanctuary for those Jews whom Muhammad had uprooted from their homes in and around Medina and made to flee at the threat to their lives. Moreover, the settlement’s abundant wealth made it an appropriate prey for that warfare which Muhammad had declared against all enemies of Allah.

One day in 629 A.D., Muhammad collected a force of twelve hundred foot soldiers and a cavalry of two hundred horsemen, with the purpose of obliterating all the Jews of Khaybar. Arriving at their destination, Muslims began to assail all those inferior forts, which were located outside the city. Their defenders gave in to the marauders without any resistance. The huge booty captured from these castles became “gifts from Allah,” not to be shared with others, but to be possessed by Muhammad, as decreed previously by the generous and all-knowing Allah.

Having thus captured the inferior forts, Muhammad launched his attack on the city of Khaybar itself. Protected by stronger forts and a citadel, the settlement was deemed so impregnable by its ruler as to make him turn it into a depository where he stored all his treasures. It was well defended, too. In the face of a ferocious attack, its defenders offered a stiff resistance to the Muslims, repulsing all of their assaults. Though for a long time, none of the numerous fortifications fell to the Muslims, they still continued to exert pressure on the defending Jews. At length, the invaders gained the upper hand and captured all but two of the forts and the citadel. Thereafter, Muslims set up a siege on the remaining forts. During the siege, which lasted for fourteen days, Muhammad is said to have devoted most of his time to prayer. He is believed to have chosen a rock at the place of worship, round which he made seven daily circuits, similar to the ritual of encircling the Ka’aba - a pagan practice that he still followed, despite his preaching to the contrary. In time, his followers are believed to have erected a mosque at this site to preserve its sanctity as well as to commemorate what he had done to the rock.

When the Jews had been exhausted by the siege, Muhammad launched a determined attack aimed at flushing out his besieged victims from their fortresses. The brute force had its effect, and the Jews surrendered to the soldiers of Allah.

The capitulation of the Jews yielded huge booty to the victors, which proved to be the richest that Allah had as yet bestowed upon them. Each of Allah’s soldiers got enough to live on for the rest of his life; Muhammad’s Treasure Trove also became hugely richer. This enabled him to avoid looking to others for financing his future war efforts. Moreover, the capture of Khaybar proved a major boon for him: in future, the oasis of Khaybar would pay half of its annual produce to the Muslims, thereby affording them a permanent income for the first time in their lives.

While still residing in the midst of the vanquished Jews, Muhammad felt hungry and asked them to produce something for him to eat. They laid out the shoulder of a lamb before him. He took a mouthful, but on being told by the meat itself that it was poisoned, he spat it out before swallowing any portion of it. A companion of his, who had joined him in the feast, the story goes, died instantly after swallowing a morsel. On his part, Muhammad attributed the agonies of the illness, which he suffered for three years before his death, to this Jewish assassination attempt, this despite the fact he had not consumed a bit of it to have any kind of effect on him!

Some modern writers contend that the Jews were put to death upon their surrender to the Muslims, perhaps in reprisal of trying to poison Muhammad to death.

Upon completing the division of the spoils, Muhammad went on and, without a blow, took the possession of Wadi al-Qura, a smaller nearby oasis also inhabited by the Jews. Many more expeditions followed under the able leadership of his disciples, all of whom proved immensely effective in bringing many of the rebellious tribes into the dominion of their leader.

Thus having consolidated his position either by persuasion, sword or deceit, Muhammad embarked upon spreading his sphere of influence in the territories that were not within his domain. He sent envoys to various princes and potentates with invitation to embrace the faith of Islam. In effect, Muhammad’s invitation sought from his invitees an acknowledgement that he was superior to them by virtue of his apostolic position. Of the numerous missions, only three merit mention in our concise narrative.

Muhammad sent two separate envoys to Khosru II, the king of Persia, and Heraclius, the Roman emperor at Constantinople. Upon receipt of his letter, Khosru flew into a rage and, tearing it into pieces, instantly ordered his viceroy in Yemen to restore this “madman of the tribe of Quraish” to his senses. He strongly resented his audacity in asking him to renounce his ancestral religion in favor of Islam.

Heraclius received his call more favorably; due, perhaps, to current reverses in his fortunes. He is said to have placed the epistle respectfully on his pillow and, after showing due courtesy to the envoy, dismissed him with splendid presents.

Muhammad’s third mission was to Muquaqis, the ruler of Alexandria. He was a clever man and knew well how to handle such a matter as the one he had on his hand. He received the envoy kindly and, after ascertaining from him Muhammad’s likes and dislikes, he came to the conclusion that the Prophet of Islam enjoyed immensely the company of young and beautiful girls. The ruler, therefore, sent to him as presents two Coptic damsel sisters named Maria, or Mary and Shiren, Qibtia, together with other precious gifts; these intended to divert Muhammad’s attention from his country as well as from his rule. We shall have more to say about the two damsels in a separate chapter of our narrative.

Lesser Pilgrim and the Battle of Mota

Almost a year had elapsed since the Pagans had prevented Muhammad from entering Mecca. According to the terms of the treaty he had entered into the previous year with the Mecca Pagans, however, he became entitled by this time to visit the holy shrine in order to perform his pilgrimage with his votaries. Accordingly, he departed Medina in 629 A.D. with a numerous and well-armed entourage, traveling with seventy camels for sacrifice at the altar of the idols, all of which were destined to be dislodged by Muhammad from their sanctuary the following year.

The Meccans, having heard of Muhammad and his party’s impending arrival, retired to the neighboring hills, thereby allowing the Muslims to an uninterrupted occasion to perform their religious obligations. The Muslims, too, on approaching the sacred grounds of the Ka’aba, laid aside their warlike trappings, excepting the swords which they carried sheathed.

Charged with great emotion and joy, Muslims entered the gates of the sacred grounds in the same pilgrim garb, which their ancestors wore before them. Muhammad performed, with great zeal and devotion, all the ancient and customary pagan rites. He also circled the Ka’aba seven times; even though it still housed all the pagan deities he had launched his crusade against some twenty years ago.

The rites of the pilgrimage over, Muhammad retired to a place called Sarif, located a little distance from the sacred grounds of the Ka’aba, to perform a ceremony of a different kind. Here, he was consummating his marriage with Maimuna, whom he had married while still wearing his Ihram, the pilgrimage garb. Ordinary Muslims were forbidden from marrying or having sexual intercourse in the state of Ihram, but this restriction did not apply to Muhammad, for he was a Prophet and was thus exempt from the observation of the laws, which other mortals were then, and are still, compulsorily required to obey. His companions, not being in a position to question him on his conduct, joined him at this place at the conclusion of their own pilgrimage to return home, fully satisfied and contented with Allah, having, in course of their brief sojourn to Mecca, seen their leader adding a new wife to his crowded harem that he had set up in Medina for his sexual pleasure.

Six months after the pilgrimage, Muhammad sent a letter to the governor of Bosra in Syria, urging him to become a Muslim. On his way home, the bearer of the letter was killed, perhaps by an Arab of the Christian tribe of Bani Ghassan. To avenge the death of his emissary, Muhammad prepared to send an army of three thousand soldiers against the offending tribe. The troops, under the command of his freed slave and adopted son Zaid, had orders to march rapidly in order to fall upon their enemy by surprise and to destroy it completely. Several other dedicated officers were made part of the mission in order to take over the command, if Zaid were killed in the ensuing foray.

As the Muslim forces set out, the tribe of Bani Ghassan picked up the news, and they, too, began to assemble a formidable force, some say of four or five thousand Arab tribesmen, to meet their adversaries head-on. While on the march, Muslims learned of the superior Ghassan forces and this caused them anxiety. They held a hastily called war council and, after a heated debate, they decided to engage the enemy without regard to the outcome. They were convinced that if they won, they would benefit by the booty but if they fell, they would earn Paradise wherein they would dwell eternally in the arms of black-eyed virgin Hurs, who had never been touched either by men or Jinns. In either case, they reasoned, they would be the gainers.

Both the troops met on a mountain ridge east of Moab. After an initial skirmish, Muslims withdrew to a village called Mota, where the opposing armies again came in contact with each other. A fierce battle ensued in which Zaid and his lieutenants were killed, creating panic in the rank and file of the Muslim army. In that critical moment, Khaled, a fierce Pagan recently converted to the faith, took command and by his deceptive ploys led the enemy forces to believe that the Muslim army had received a massive reinforcement. An effective illusion thus created, Khaled launched his attack, forcing the warriors of Bani Ghassan first to retreat and then to flee. They were overtaken in flight and decimated. The victors rampaged the enemy camp and found booty sufficient to satisfy the lust of each Muslim soldier. Their commander-in-chief, Muhammad, and Allah also received their allotted share.

Some writers, Sir John Glubb being among them, tell us a different story. They say that Muslims were defeated in the battle, which incited such anger in the Muslims of Medina as to make them throw dirt at the Muslim army when it returned home.


>>> Part 10

[1] Ibn Ishaq,Sirat Rasulallah. p. 464.

[2] See the National Flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

[3] The Quran; 9:56-57.

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