Walid N. Arafat wrote a provocative article entitled "New Light on the Story of Banu Qurayza and the Jews of Medina" in 1976 for the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. After outlining the Ibn Ishaq version of the story, Arafat offers this interpretation: "On examination, details of the story can be challenged. It can be demonstrated that the assertion that 600 or 800 or 900 men of Banu Qurayza were put to death in cold blood can not be true; that it is a later invention; and that it has its source in Jewish traditions. Indeed, the source of the details in earlier Jewish history can be pointed out with surprising accuracy" (Arafat 1-2). Three years after Arafat's article appeared, Barakat Ahmad, an Indian Muslim, wrote Muhammad and the Jews: A Re-Examination in which he suggests the Muslims beheaded only 16 or 17 Qurayza leaders while the rest were taken captive.
Arafat and Ahmad have challenged the validity of early Muslim stories about the demise of the Banu Qurayza; however, most Muslim and Western scholars generally accept the early biographical (Sira) accounts by Ibn Ishaq (as recended by Ibn Hisham), Umar al-Waqidi, and Ibn Sa'd that a massacre did indeed take place. A thorough analysis of Arafat's argument will help determine the validity of his interpretation of the historical events.
Arafat believes Ibn Ishaq lacked credibility as a reliable historical biographer. Not only did he write 150 years after Muhammad's death using questionable sources, but he also used sloppy scholarship according to his contemporary in Medina, Malik b. Anas, a Muslim jurist who later became the leader of the Sunni Maliki School of Jurisprudence. Malik denounced Ishaq as "a liar" and an "imposter" for transmitting the Qurayza massacre stories (Arafat 2). Arafat says Ishaq and the historians, biographers and commentators who followed his lead "did not apply the strict rules of the 'traditionists'" [the "reliable" hadith collectors of Muhammad's words and actions]. "They [Ishaq et al.] did not always provide a chain of authorities [isnad], each of whom had to be verified as trustworthy and as certain or likely to have transmitted his report directly from his informant…." Arafat continues: "…reliable authority and a continuous line of transmission were essential when law was the issue. That is why Malik the jurist had no regard for Ibn Ishaq" (3).
Besides considering him to be an unreliable collector of hadith, Malik had other personal disputes with Ishaq. Hebrew scholar M.J. Kister suggests that a degree of professional jealousy may have been involved. For example, Kister notes that a tenth century Muslim scholar, Ibn Adiyy, "emphasized that it was Ibn Ishaq's virtue and merit to have engaged the kings [Abbasid Dynasty caliphs in Baghdad] in reading the Maghazi [stories of early Islamic military exploits], the stories of the beginning of Creation and the beginning of the Prophecy [of Muhammad], thus distracting them from reading books of no import. In this he outdid other scholars who fell short of his accomplishment." Adiyy concludes he could find nothing "weak" in Ishaq's traditions. Ishaq may have made some errors, but "reliable and distinguished transmitters of hadith did not refrain from reporting his traditions" (Kister paraphrase of Adiyy 79).
Another Malik personal dispute involved Ishaq's expertise in Arabian tribal strife and tribal genealogy. Ishaq questioned the elite status of Malik's ancestors, thus humiliating him, but Ishaq was not alone in questioning Malik's pedigree. According to Kister, the respected traditionist Sa'd b. Ibrahim [d. 747] clashed with Malik before Ishaq did. Kister notes that from analyzing the Ibrahim reports, "It is evident that Ibn Ishaq did not invent the suspicions against Malik's pedigree, but merely quoted earlier reports which had already gained currency in Medina" (77). Ishaq's problem was that he lived in Medina and knew the people well; they "charged him with foul deeds because he knew the pedigrees; thus there was not a clan in Medina the pedigree of which Ibn Ishaq did not impeach. Therefore the people of Medina [Malik included] were hostile toward him. [The governor of Medina] therefore seized him and ordered to flog him 100 times" (Ibrahim as quoted by Kister 78).
Soon after Malik completed his own corpus of hadith reports entitled Muwatta, Ishaq rather arrogantly boasted, "Lay the knowledge of Malik before me, I will handle it as a surgeon." Malik responded with contemptuous lack of respect: "Look at thisdajjal of dajajila [AntiChrist]; are my books to be in front of him?" Kister says that in another version, "Malik points to Ishaq's ignorance, his lies, his lack of belief and other vices which caused the scholars of Medina to expel him from the city" (Kister 76).
Arafat also makes a big deal of Ibn Hajar denouncing Ishaq's story of the Qurayza massacre as "odd tales." Hajar, a fifteenth century Shafi'i Sunni scholar, strongly rejected the stories because of Malik's claim that Ishaq "made a point of seeking out descendants of the Jews of Medina in order to obtain from them accounts of the Prophet's campaigns as handed down by their forefathers." Arafat concludes "nothing could be more damning that this [Hajar's] outright rejection" (4). Using Jewish accounts of the event as a reason for Hajar's denouncement of the Ishaq stories as "odd tales" is rather odd in itself. It makes logical sense that a biographer would want to interview Qurayza and other Jewish survivors involved in their conflict with Muhammad; however, judging from various Qur'anic and hadith descriptions of Jews as "apes," "despised," "loathed," and "evil-livers," the idea of accepting a Jewish view of the event as "damning" does make logical Islamic sense to Arafat. Kister tells another "odd" story about Hajar that questions the "outright rejection" of Ishaq: "The leading scholars [of hadith] according to Ibn Hajar, accepted Ibn Ishaq's transmission, and he was accused of nothing worse that that he had transmitted on the authority of some unknown persons and that he was a mudallis [one who narrates from someone he met something he did not hear]" (Kister 80). Hajar's opinion about Ishaq's credibility appears to be contradictory; perhaps Arafat made too much of Hajar's "odd tales" comment.
Historian Gordon Newby notes that Malik's rigorous criticism of hadith reports "may have been part of the basis for his fights with Ibn Ishaq." On the other hand, Newby also says Ishaq's "professional antagonist, Malik, seems to have harbored no long-lasting ill-will toward Ibn Ishaq. In all fairness, the quarrel seems to have been based on the passions of two ambitious and competing scholars. When Ibn Ishaq departed from Medina [to join the Abbasid leaders in Baghdad], Malik gave him a gift of fifty dinars and half his crop of dates, and later he acknowledged Ibn Ishaq as an expert in genealogy and Maghazi" (Newby 7). Kister, Newby, Adiyy and Hajar's observations about Ishaq's reliability as an honest biographer diminishes Arafat's "New Light" on the subject.
A twentieth century Muslim biographer of Muhammad, M.A. Salahi, was heavily indebted to Ishaq's Life of the Prophet. Salahi writes in the introduction to his biography of Muhammad: "I do not recall how many times I read that invaluable book…I kept reading it again and again… ("Introduction," ix.). Salahi's biography reflects his reliance on Ishaq's pioneering work and accepts the story of the Qurayza massacre.
Beyond Arafat's condemnation of Ishaq as an unreliable biographer of Muhammad, he also lists twelve other reasons for rejecting the Banu Qurayza Massacre as believable; half of his reasons will be analyzed.
Reason #1 states: "The reference to the story in the Qur'an is extremely brief, and there is no indication whatever of the killing of a large number. In a battle context the reference is to those who were actually fighting. The Qur'an is the only authority which the historian would accept without hesitation or doubt. It is a contemporary text, and, for the most cogent reasons, what we have is the authentic version" (Arafat 5). Authentic perhaps, but also scanty in historical facts.
Allah sent a revelation to Muhammad about the defeated Qurayza: "And He brought those of the People of the Scripture who supported them down from their strongholds and cast panic into their hearts. Some ye slew, and ye made captive some. And He caused you to inherit their land and their houses and their wealth, and land ye have not trodden. Allah is able to do all things" (Qur'an 33: 26-27). Per usual Allah is short on specifics; He brought the Qurayza down and cast panic, but "some ye slew" and "ye made captive some." The verse does not enlighten as to how many Jews were slain and how many were made captive, but "some ye slew." Allah also caused the jihadists to inherit the Qurayza land, houses, and other wealth, plus "land ye have not trodden." If the Muslims inherited the Qurayza land, houses, and wealth, what happened to the Qurayza Jews if not beheaded? Did they work as slaves on their formerly owned date farms? Were all the Qurayza not slain by the Muslims sold into slavery elsewhere? What about the women and children? The Qur'an is silent. One must read the Sira [biographies of Muhammad] and the hadith to get answers to these questions. Arafat, however, dismisses the Sira material since most of the Muslim biographers and historians followed in the shade of Ishaq. So, how does Arafat use the hadith to support the idea that the massacre did not happen? He does not use it at all. He mentions the "traditionists,” like jurist Malik b. Anas, who applied "strict rules" to verify the truth of the isnads [chains of authorities], but Arafat does not suppport his thesis with even one Sahih hadith from any of the six most reliable collectors of hadith in the Muslim world. For a thorough analysis of Bukhari, Muslim, and Dawud hadith materials which support the idea of the Qurayza massacre, re-read Chapter 11 which deals with Allah's command, through Gabriel, to attack the Banu Qurayza; Sa'd's decision to kill the Qurayza men/warriors; Muhammad's acceptance that Sa'd's decision to kill all he Qurayza men was the judgment of Allah; Aisha's explanation that a woman was beheaded; and a young man's statement that boys without pubic hair were spared the beheadings. Did Arafat mistrust the Sahih hadith collectors also? Without the Sira and hadith to provide context for the events which the Qur'an woefully lacks, Arafat is left with Muslim jurists and scholars who purportedly add credence to his hypothesis.
Arafat's next three reasons deal with Muslim rules, law, justice, and principles. He says the massacre of Qurayza men contradicts Muslim morality. Reason #2: "The rule in Islam is to punish only those who were responsible for the sedition."Reason #3: "To kill such a large number is diametrically opposed to the Islamic sense of Justice and to the basic principles laid down in the Qur'an -- particularly the verse: 'No soul shall bear another's burden' (35:18). It is obvious in the story that the leaders were numbered and were well known. They were named." Reason #4: "It is also against the Qur'anic rule regarding prisoners of war, which is: either they are to be granted their freedom or else they are to be allowed to be ransomed" (Arafat 5).
M.J. Kister argues that if these three reasons were "valid and sound -- they would prove convincingly that the reports about Sa'd b. Mu'adh's judgment, its approval by the Prophet and the cruel massacre of the Banu Qurayza are all ficticious." If true, Muslim jurists would have to base their legal decisions on the Muslim rules, principles, and justice as identified by Arafat. "Arafat's arguments are however unfounded," Kister says, "his conclusions incorrect and his opinion about Sira tradition is misappreciative" (66). To support his hypothesis, Kister starts by analyzing the legal opinion of the ninth century Muslim jurist Al-Shafi'i, the founder of the Shafi'i School of Sunni Jurisprudence. Shafi'i concluded that a local Imam [Islamic religious leader] could order the killing of the fighting men, enslave their progeny, and take their property as booty if they violate a treaty and aid the forces fighting against the Muslims. He also says Muhammad set a precedent for such a decision:
So the Prophet acted in the case of the Banu Qurayza: he concluded with their leader an agreement of reconciliation on the basis of a truce and their leader violated it; but they [the other Qurayza Jews] did not abandon him. The Prophet went out to fight them in their own abode…and killed their fighting men and captured their property as booty; and not all of them took part in aiding against the Prophet and his Companions, but all of them remained in their stronghold and did not abandon the treacherous people among them, except a small party and this saved their lives and kept their possessions in their hands.
(Al-Shafi'i, Kitab al-ashab, IV, 107, as quoted in Kister 67)
Note that only a "small party" did not die while the fighting men were killed, which would include those who remained in the fortress and "did not abandon the treacherous."
Kister concludes, "It is evident that according to the judgment of al-Shafi'i the Muslim law enjoins punishing people who were not responsible for breaking the agreement, but who merely remained passive in the territory occupied by the transgressors; this rule contradicts Arafat's argument no. 2 [only those responsible for the sedition are punished]. It is obvious that people who do not revolt against their iniquitous leaders and join the righteous party [the Muslim community] may be put to death by order of the Imam; this is in fact contrary to Arafat's argument no. 3 ["No soul shall bear another's burden"]. It is apparent that the Banu Qurayza who surrendered did not enjoy the status of prisoners of war; this is, of course, contrary to Arafat's argument no. 4 [prisoners are either granted freedom or ransomed]." (Kister 68).
Al-Shafi'i's legal opinion also used Muhammad's handling of the Banu Qurayza as a precedent for Islamic law. This also flies in the face of Arafat's Reason #7: "Had this slaughter actually happened, jurists would have adopted it as a precedent; in fact, exactly the opposite has been the case. The attitude of jurists, and their rulings, have been more according to the Qur'anic rule in the verse, ‘No soul shall bear another's burden’" (Arafat 5). Kister's presentation of Al-Shafi'i's opinion, that Muhammad indeed set a precedent for beheading all the fighting men, is one example that contradicts Arafat, but Kister is not finished.
Arafat uses a story published in a book of jurisprudence, Kitab al-Amwal by Muslim jurist Abu Ubayd al-Qasim b. Sallam (d. 846), to show that an Imam did not call for the punishment of the entire community of Jews in Lebanon due to the seditious activities of a few. "Had the Imam accepted the story of the slaughter of the Banu Qurayza, he would have treated it as a precedent…." (Arafat 6). This supports Arafat's Reason #2: punish only those who were responsible for the sedition." Kister’s response: "Arafat seems to have been unaware of the fact that it was the selfsame Abu Ubayd who in his Amwal recorded carefully the traditions about the 'Day of Qurayza' with their isnads and attached his own valuable legal comments." In Abu Ubayd's own words: "The Prophet declared the shedding of the blood of Qurayza lawful because they extended their help against him to the Ahzab [confederates], after they had concluded a treaty with him. The Prophet considered it a violation of their treaty although they [Qurayza] did not kill anyone of his Companions. A verse concerning this was revealed in Surat al-Ahzab" (Ibn Ubayd, Kitab al-Amwal, as quoted in Kister 68). Kister goes on to say Ubayd also recorded the "widely circulated traditions about the massacre of the Banu Qurayza (the report about the appearance of Jibril [Gabriel], the siege, the judgment of Sa'd b. Mu'adh and details about the numbers of the killed"). Ubayd's material "clearly contradicts" Arafat's assumptions "since the contents of the reports [Ubayd's] are almost identical with those of the Sira of Ibn Ishaq, the isnads are different and Abu Ubayd, the great Muslim jurist, records those traditions as precedents as regards Muslim jurisdiction" (Kister 69).
Another Muslim jurist of the Shafi'i School of Jurisprudence, al-Mawardi (d. 1072), wrote a legal opinion that also explains the Banu Qurayza massacre as a precedent. al-Mawardi accepts the Ishaq story that Sa'd b. Mua'dh "judged that those on whom the razors passed should be killed; those on whom the razors did not pass should be enslaved. Then the Prophet said:'This is God's injunction from above the seven heavens.' Therefore it was not permitted to forgive (in a case of) God's injunction incumbent upon them; he could merely forgive in matters concerning his own person" (al-Mawardi, A'lam al-nubuwwa146-147, as quoted in Kister 69). Muhammad's response to Sa'd's judgment to kill the Qurayza men is interpreted by al-Mawardi as an order from Allah revealed to the Prophet; however, the revelation does not come from Gabriel as a Qur'anic injunction. But support for Muhammad's response is found in Ishaq (464), Bukhari (52: 280), and Sahih Muslim (19: 4371). Kister concludes: "Al-Mawardi's opinion apparently reflects the current Sunni view about the slaughter of the Banu Qurayza" (70) and counters Arafat's argument that Allah, Muhammad, and Islamic law would not support such a massacre.
In one of the earliest compilations of Muslim law, the Siyar, the Najdi School of Jurisprudence jurist Al-Shaybani (d. 811) addresses Arafat's Reason #4: prisoners of war are to be granted their freedom or be ransomed. Kister says Al-Shaybani approved of killing captured fighting men of the Muslim enemy. "Al-Shaybani records the case of the Banu Qurayza as a convincing precedent; they were put to death on the order of the Prophet [after Sa'd's judgment] after they had been captured and after hostilities had ceased. The problem discussed concerns the permissibility of killing the captured enemy while his hands are tied. Al-Shaybani decrees that it is preferable to execute the captured enemy with his hands free; but if there is a danger that he may escape or kill a Muslim, he has to be executed with his hands tied" (Al-Shaybani, Kitab al-Siyar as paraphrased by Kister 72).
Kister concludes his analysis of the Muslim jurists with these words:
The references quoted above from the compilations of Al-Shaybani, al-Shafi'i, Abu Ubayd and al-Mawardi show that the early scholars of Muslim law and jurisprudence were well acquainted with the literature of the sira andmaghazi (history of expeditions and raids organized by Muhammad). The early jurists availed themselves of the traditions of the maghazi; having examined some of the chapters of the compilation of al-Shaybani referring to the story of the Banu Qurayza we could see how every detail was closely studied and analyzed. The events of this expedition served as precedents, conclusions were duly drawn and rules of the Muslim law of war were moulded according to these precedents (M. J. Kister 73-74).
Besides the four jurists' decisions analyzed by Kister, other Muslim jurists and scholars also refute Arafat's thesis. Roger Arnaldez analyzes the idea of Jihad by Muslim scholar Ibn Hazm (d. 1078) in a 1962 essay entitled "The Holy War According to Ibn Hazm of Cordova." Ibn Hazm did not believe "that the permission to kill is limited to combatants. As a justification for his thesis, he recalls the Prophet's extermination of all the men in the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza, who were put to death without exception [several converted to Islam and lived], while the women and the children were sold as slaves. As for the elderly, they enjoy no favorable treatment, as demonstrated by the account of the death of the Arab poet Durayd ben al-Simma. He was quite advanced in age, to the point where his mind was failing, he had not made islam [submission] and was killed by Rabi after the battle of Hunayn. The Prophet did not repudiate the murder; a silence that had the force of law" (Arnaldez essay published in Legacy of Jihad, Andrew G. Bostom, 275).
An Al-Qaeda document published April 24, 2003, echoes Hazm's literalist interpretation of al-Simma's murder. In a section of the document entitled "Rules of Engagement and Civilian Targeting," Al-Qaeda takes exception with those Muslims who say Muhammad made clear prohibitions against killing civilians. The document writers "allowed for Muslims to kill protected ones among unbelievers on the condition that the protected ones have assisted in combat, whether in deed, word, mind or any other form of assistance, according to the prophetic command." The story of al-Simma lends support to this view. The well-known Arab poet, al-Simma, strongly opposed Muhammad and the Islamic message. "According to tradition, he was brought to the battlefield to advise the Hawazin [polytheists] troops about battle procedures in a conflict against the Muslims. As an old man he posed no physical threat to the Muslim forces, but the intelligence he provided to the enemy made him a target and led to his death in battle" (Quintan Wiktorowicz and John Kaltner, "Al-Qaeda's Justification for 9/11," 11-12). Hazm and Al-Qaeda both say Muhammad justified the killing of old men if they provide intelligence against the jihad.
Other early Muslim scholars besides al-Shaybani approved of executing prisoners of war. As previously mentioned, the massacred Banu Qurayza men met their fate after surrendering to Muhammad's jihadists; they were prisoners of war. Arafat'sReason #4 states that prisoners of war should be granted their freedom or be ransomed. Averroes, the Latinized name for the Arab Ibn Rushd (d. 1198), lived in Cordova, Spain, as a scholar and jurist of Shariah law. He wrote about jihad and how Islam should treat prisoners of war in Bidayat al-mudjtahid [Legal Handbook]. Averroes says, "Most scholars are agreed that, in his dealings with captives, various policies are open to the Imam [head of the Islamic state, caliph]. He may pardon them, kill them, or release them either on ransom or as dhimmi [non-Muslim submissive subject of the Islamic state], in which latter case the released captive is obligated to pay poll-tax [jizyah]" (Averroes as quoted in The Legacy of Jihad, Andrew G. Bostom 149). Averroes admits that some scholars disagree with this interpretation to kill the captives due to "the obvious interpretation of theQur'an is at variance with the Prophet's deeds." He does, however, add that "most scholars" agree with his assessment that one of the options for the ruling Imam is to kill prisoners of war.
A noted Muslim scholar of the Hanbali School of Jurisprudence, Ibn Qudama (d. 1223), agrees with Averroes. In his treatiseLegal War Qudama says, "The chief of state decides on the fate of the men who are taken as prisoners; he can put them to death, reduce them to slavery, free them in return for a ransom or grant them their freedom as a gift" (Qudama as quoted inLegacy of Jihad, Andrew G. Bostom 163).
Another famous scholar of the Hanbali School, Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), notes in a legal opinion entitled Al-Siyasa Al-Shariya: "If a male unbeliever is taken captive during warfare [like the Banu Qurayza] or otherwise, e.g., as a result of a shipwreck, or because he lost his way, or as a result of a ruse, then the head of state [Imam] may do whatever he deems appropriate: killing him, enslaving him, releasing him or setting him free for a ransom consisting in either property or people. This is the view of most jurists, and it is supported by the Qur'an and the Sunna [hadith]" (Taymiyyah as quoted in Legacy of Jihad, Andrew G. Bostom169).
Abu Yusuf (d. 798), a jurist of the Najdi School of Jurisprudence, laid the groundwork for the legal decisions of Averroes, Qudama, and Taymiyya regarding the execution of prisoners of war. In Kitab al-Kharaj, written in the late 700's, he avows, "whenever the Muslims besiege an enemy stronghold, establish a treaty with the besieged who agree to surrender on certain conditions that will be decided by a delegate, and this man decides that their soldiers are to be executed and their women and children taken prisoner, this decision is lawful. This was the decision of Sa'd b. Mu'adh in connection with the Banu Qurayza (a Jewish tribe of Arabia)." Yusuf continues, "It is up to the Imam to decide what treatment is to be meted out to them and he will choose that which is preferable for religion and for Islam" (Abu Yusuf as quoted in Legacy of Jihad, Andrew G. Bostom 180). Yusuf determines that Muhammad, by supporting Sa'd's judgment on the Banu Qurayza, set a legal precedent for the jihadists' execution of prisoners of war.
Kister's deft use of early Muslim experts in Islamic jurisprudence solidly refutes Arafat's thesis that Ishaq's story lacks credibility. The Muslim jurists Kister cited based their decisions on Muslim rules, law, and justice using Qur'anic principles. The other jurists and scholars given a voice by Bostom do likewise.
Arafat, on the other hand, does not make use of jurists' decisions to support his thesis effectively. He does use ad hominenattacks, circumstantial evidence and suppositional statements without solid facts as he works to build support for his argument, but the attempt falls flat. For example, Arafat uses the last two pages of his essay placing the blame on the descendants of the Qurayza Jews for telling Ishaq "this unacceptable story of slaughter." According to Arafat, the Ishaq version of the Qurayza story "has its origins in earlier events. It can be shown that it reproduces similar stories which survived from the account of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans, which ended in the destruction of the temple in the year A.D. 73, the night of the Jewish zealots and sicarii [extremist splinter group of the zealots] to the rock fortress of Masada, and the final liquidation of the besieged. Stories of their experience were naturally transmitted by Jewish survivors who fled south. Indeed, one of the more plausible theories of the origin of the Jews of Medina is that they came after the Jewish wars" (Arafat 7).
While historians generally accept the idea of Jewish migration to the Hejaz, including Medina, soon after the destruction of the temple and liquidation of the Masada zealots, Arafat makes suppositions about these events that cannot be supported with evidence. Using the Jewish historian Josephus' The Jewish War as a source, Arafat says Alexander the Great hung 800 Jewish captives upon crosses, while "large numbers were killed by others." He also notes the Romans liquidated 960 Jews and 600 radical sicarii. Arafat concludes that the numbers of Qurayza Jews killed bandied about by Muslim historians "are almost the same" as the Masada story (8).
Arafat would have the reader believe that hapless, gullible Muslim historians accepted the story Ishaq received from confused Jewish descendants of the massacred Banu Qurayza men. The numbers Arafat uses from Josephus---960, 800, 600 are close to the range generally accepted as the number of Qurayza men beheaded, 400 to 900. However, a perusal of Kister's study of 23 Muslim scholars' estimates of the number of Qurayza men murdered, suggests that 15 of the 23 scholars use a number in the 400's at the low end of their estimates, whereas only eight of the scholars used the 900 figure at the high end (Kister 89). If Arafat's interpretation is correct that the Jewish descendants were merely repeating numbers which they remembered from the Masada story of old and mistakenly applying them to the story they told Ishaq about the Qurayza Massacre, then why the discrepancy in numbers? With 15 of 23 scholars using 400 as the low number, that number does not translate as "almost the same" as Arafat's 600 to 960 range suggests.
Besides citing these numbers, Arafat also said, "when they [Jews at Masada] reached the point of despair they were addressed by their leader Eleazar (precisely as Ka'b b. Asad addressed the Banu Qurayza), who suggested to them the killing of their women and children. At the ultimate point of complete despair the plan of killing each other to the last man was proposed" (Arafat 8). While it is true that in Ishaq's story Ka'b b. Asad addressed the Banu Qurayza and laid out three options, nowhere in those options does he suggest suicide for the beleaguered Jews. Having failed in negotiating with Muhammad, a man who would only accept "unconditional surrender," a depressed Asad suggested that the Jews convert to Islam; they refused. He then argued they mercifully kill their own women and children, then fight the Muslims "until God decides between us or the Muslims"; they refused. Asad's third option urged the men to fight the Muslims that Sabbath night; they refused on religious grounds. Even at that "ultimate point of complete despair" Asad did not, according to Ishaq, suggest suicide for the Banu Qurayza. Eleazar may have urged the Jews of Masada to commit suicide, but the Qurayza or other Jewish descendants did not tell Ishaq that Asad told the Qurayza men to kill themselves.
Arafat's argument does not fit the facts. He may believe that Muhammad and his jihadists could not massacre "600 or 800 or 900" Banu Qurayza men because of Muslim rules, law, and justice based on the Qur'an, but the evidence suggests otherwise. The Banu Qurayza Jews ceased to exist as a tribe in Medina due to the beheading of the men and enslavement of the women and children. Muhammad may not have directly beheaded the Qurayza men, but he approved of Sa'd's judgment to execute them as "Allah's injunction from above the seven heavens." Several Qurayza who apostatized from Judaism and converted to Islam saved their lives, but in April 627 Jews were no longer a threat to Muhammad in Medina. "Only the dead do not return" (Rodinson 214) to threaten Muhammad's drive for Allah's supremacy.
A closing comment on this issue. Why would the early Muslim historians and biographers, and hadith collectors (Ishaq, Waqidi, Sa'd, Tabari, Bukhari, Muslim, Dawud, etc.) present essentially the same story about the Banu Qurayza massacre and enslavement of the women and children if they did not believe in the reliability of the stories told by the descendants of Muhammad's contemporaries? Why would these pious Muslims want to make Muhammad and his companions look like murderers of prisoners of war? They must have believed that because Muhammad did so, it cannot be wrong. Those Muslims who believe in Muhammad as the "perfect man," such as Haykal, Mubarakpuri and others, had to accept the massacre as moral as a matter of faith.
A year after the Banu Qurayza massacre, Muslim jihadists came calling on the remnants of Jews living in and around Khaybar, some 50 miles north of Medina.
This article is the reproduction of Chapter 12 from David Hayden's book, Muhammad and the Birth of Islamic Supremacism: The War With The Jews 622-628 A.D.