Antisemitism in the Hadith and Early Muslim Biographies of Muhammad, Part 3
Motifs and Historical Manifestations
Part 1, Part 2, Part 4
By Andrew G. Bostom

Danish translation: Antisemitisme i hadith og tidlige muslimske Muhammed-biografier, del 3
Source: Gates of Vienna, April 7, 2012
Published on April 30, 2012

Antisemitism in The Early Muslim Biographies of Muhammad (Sira; Sirat)

Sira, which can mean “epistle”, “pamphlet”, or “manifesto”, also means “biography”, “…the life and times of…”. The most widely used names for the traditional early Muslim accounts of Muhammad’s life and background are “The sira”, “sirat rasul allah”, or “sira al-nabawiyya.” [86]

Ibn Ishaq of Medina (d. 767-770) [87] composed the earliest full-length biography of Muhammad, Sirat Rasul Allah (Biography of the Prophet of Allah) [88] nearly 150 years after the Muslim prophet’s death. However, as Raven has observed, “…there has hardly been any written standard text by Ishaq himself…we depend upon his transmitters," [89] most notably Ibn Hisham’s (d. 834) selections from Ishaq’s work. [90] The combined efforts of Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham produced a biography which placed Muhammad in the tradition of the earlier prophets, with Ibn Hisham (perhaps) focusing the perspective on ancient Arabia. [91] Two other important early Muslim biographies of Muhammad were composed by al-Wakidi (d. 822), [92] and his student and secretary, Ibn Sa‘d (d. 845). [93] The accounts by al-Wakidi (Kitab al-Maghazi) and Ibn Sa‘d (Kitab al-Tabakat al-Kabir), concentrate on the life and times of Muhammad only, [94] in particular the many battles, razzias (raids), and even political assassinations he led, or sanctioned. [95]

Michael Cook’s assessment of the sira, [96] including Ishaq’s foundational biography (which according to A. Guillaume, author of an authoritative modern English translation of Sirat Rasul Allah [97] 277, “…had no serious rival…”), recalls the intractable limitations discussed earlier with regard to the hadith [98] as sources of objective history. On the one hand, Cook observes, there is a prevalent view, [99]

…that the chains are genuine and the authorities are authors. Thus we can simply extend back the kind of reconstruction that works for the biographies of Ibn Ishaq’s day. For example, he and his contemporaries make frequent reference to Zuhri (d. 742), a major figure of the previous generation. An energetic researcher could then collect all the quotations relating to the life of Muhammad that are given on Zuhri’s authority, and hope to emerge with something like a reconstruction of his work. It would of course have to be conceded that the further back we go, the more blurred our reconstructions are likely to become. But this is a small price to pay for the overall assurance of the reliability of our sources. If these sources preserve for us a literature that reaches back to the contemporaries of Muhammad, and if they preserve the testimony of numerous independent witnesses, then there is little room for the skeptic in the study of Muhammad’s life.

Yet Cook also makes clear that, [100]

…false ascription was rife among the eighth-century scholars, and that in any case Ibn Ishaq and his contemporaries were drawing on an oral tradition. Neither of these propositions is as arbitrary as it sounds. We have reason to believe that numerous traditions on questions of dogma and law were provided with spurious chains of authorities by those who put them in circulation; and at the same time we have much evidence of controversy in the eighth century as to whether it was permissible to reduce oral tradition to writing. The implications of this view for the reliability of our sources are clearly rather negative. If we cannot trust the chains of authorities, we can no longer claim to know that we have before us the separately transmitted accounts of independent witnesses; and if knowledge of the life of Muhammad was transmitted orally for a century before it was reduced to writing, then the chances are that the material will have undergone considerable alteration in the process.

Disregarding their validity as sources for the historical advent of Islam, what matters, ultimately is the lasting impact of the pious Muslim narrative as recorded in the sira on Islamic doctrine and Muslim behavior. Robert Spencer’s 2006 biography of Muhammad elucidates this point: [101]

…it is less important to know what really happened in Muhammad’s life than what Muslims have generally accepted as having happened, for the latter still forms the foundation of Muslim belief, practice, and law.

Ibn Ishaq’s biography chronicles the evolution of Muhammad’s teaching and behaviors which accompanied the hijra, or migration to Medina from Mecca, in 622. Initially, [102]

The apostle had not been given permission to fight, or allowed to shed blood…He had simply been ordered to call men to God and endure insult and forgive the ignorant. The Quraysh had persecuted his followers, seducing some from their religion, and exiling others from their country. They had to choose whether to give up their religion, be maltreated at home, or to flee the country, some to Abyssinia [Ethiopia], others to Medina.

Then after being “wronged” and “badly treated” Muhammad and his followers were enjoined to fight in self-defense: [103]

When Quraysh became insolent toward God and rejected his gracious purpose, accused his Prophet of lying, and ill-treated and exiled those who served Him and proclaimed His unity, believed in his prophet, and held fast to His religion, He gave permission to His apostle to fight and to protect himself against those who wronged them and treated them badly. The first verse which was sent down on this subject from what I have heard from ‘Urwa b. al-Zubayr and other learned persons was: [Qur’an 22:39-41] “Permission is given to those who fight because they have been wronged. God is well able to help them,—those who have been driven out of their houses without right only because they said God is our Lord. Had not God used some men to keep back others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques wherein the name of God is constantly mentioned would have been destroyed. Assuredly God will help those who help Him. God is Almighty. Those who if we make them strong in the land will establish prayer, pay the poor tax, enjoin kindness, and forbid iniquity. To God belongs the end of matters”. The meaning is: “I have allowed them to fight only because they have been unjustly treated while their sole offense against men has been that they worship God. When they are in the ascendant they will establish prayer, pay the poor tax, enjoin kindness, and forbid iniquity, i.e., the prophet and his companions, all of them.”

Robert Spencer emphasizes that the phrase, “When they are in the ascendant” refers to the establishment of a ruling Islamic community or state wherein Muslims will perform regularly prescribed prayer, pay the zakat (“poor tax”), and institute the Shari’a (Islamic Law). [104]

But the revelation process continues—Ibn Ishaq tellingly quotes Qur’an 2:193 sanctioning aggressive warfare—a doctrine which was ultimately elaborated into the uniquely Islamic institution of jihad. [105]

Then God sent down to him: “Fight them so that there be no more seduction” [i.e., to idolatry; modern translations state “persecution”, or “oppression”], i.e., until no believer is seduced from his religion. “And the religion is God’s,” i.e. until God alone is worshipped.

Such was the mindset when, according to Ibn Ishaq, [106]

…the apostle commanded his companions, the emigrants of his people and those Muslims who were with him in Mecca, to emigrate to Medina and to link up with their brethren the Ansar [107]

At the time of Muhammad’s arrival in Medina (622), several Jewish tribes, most importantly the Banu Qaynuqa, Banu Nadir, and Banu Qurayza inhabited the city. [108] Muslim sources described Medina (Yathrib) as having been a Jewish city founded by a Palestinian diaspora population which had survived the revolt against the Romans. Distinct from the nomadic Arab tribes, the Jews of the north Arabian peninsula were highly productive oasis farmers. These Jews were eventually joined by itinerant Arab tribes from southern Arabia who settled adjacent to them and transitioned to a sedentary existence. [109] The pagan Arab inhabitants of Medina in 622 were composed of two clans, the Aws and Khazraj (sometimes referred to collectively as Banu Qayla). [110] Bitter and sanguinary rivalries and divisions—the Jewish B. Nadir and B. Quraysh tribes siding with the Aws, the Jewish B. Qaynuqa with the Khazraj—had taken their toll on all these Medinan tribes. Soon after Muhammad reached Medina in September of 622, he purportedly created a federation consisting of the Medinan tribes and his followers from Mecca, based upon an agreement known as the Constitution of Medina. Ibn Ishaq describes this putative document, as follows: [111]

The apostle wrote a document concerning the emigrants and the helpers in which he made a friendly agreement with the Jews and established them in their religion and their property, and stated the reciprocal obligations…

Thorough analyses by modern scholars indicate that this constitution was part of Muhammad’s design to neutralize the Jews and establish a hegemonic order, which is in fact what occurred. The assessments of Julius Wellhausen (1889), A.J. Wensinck (1908), and Moshe Gil (1974), which concur on this critical argument, are presented chronologically.

Julius Wellhausen: [112]

I doubt that there was indeed a written agreement of which both parties had a copy. The Jews never referred to their document. The Banu Qurayza claimed that there was no agreement between them and Muhammad. Their leader Kacb ibn Asad, did not tear up a document, rather a shoelace, to demonstrate symbolically the breach with the Medinans. In any case, there cannot have been a general agreement with the Jews, but only special arrangements with individual clans, for the Jews were no political unit, rather each of their clans formed a confederation with the neighboring Arab clan. As far as I am concerned, Muhammad left the existing relations of individual Jewish clans with the families or clans of the ansar and incorporated them in the ummah. This was all he did. Muhammad had no direct relationship with the Jews but only by way of the ansar. It was only they who had obligations towards the Jews, and had to honor them. Muhammad’s obligations derived from this, and it was only because of consideration for the an sar that he did not declare them fair game…In spite of what has been said, I do not doubt the authenticity of the constitution as transmitted by Ibn Ishaq. But it did not represent an agreement with the Jews…
[Islamic] Tradition has a simple explanation why Muhammad’s relation with the Jews was so little affected by the agreement: Every act of Muhammad was precipitated by the Jews and justified by planned or accomplished treachery, even though they had no intention openly to break the agreement. Muhammad himself supplies the interpretation in Koran 8:55-58: [113] “Lo! the worst of beasts in Allah's sight are the ungrateful who will not believe.[8:55]; Those of them with whom thou madest a treaty, and then at every opportunity they break their treaty, and they keep not duty (to Allah). [8:56]; If thou comest on them in the war, deal with them so as to strike fear in those who are behind them, that haply they may remember. [8:57]; And if thou fearest treachery from any folk, then throw back to them (their treaty) fairly. Lo! Allah loveth not the treacherous. [8:58]”
We, however, will find that it was Muhammad who committed the perfidy. He gladly used every chance to punish the Jews, and contrived to create reasons if there were none.

A. J. Wensinck: [114]

The constitution was no treaty concluded between muhajirun, ansar, and the Jews. It was an edict defining the relation of the three parties; above them was Allah, i.e., Muhammad. It was evidence of his great authority that, after a short stay in Medina, he, the stranger could lay down the law for all segments of the population.

In religious matters the break with the Jews was irreconcilable. Muhammad did not express his annoyance over this. For the time being, he needed the Jews and included them in the ummah. His first plan failed; he had come to Medina hoping the town would soon be a religious unity as a theocratic monarchy under his leadership. If the Jews would have recognized him, this hope might have been realized…But the Jews showed no such inclination. What to do? They could not be attacked openly because Muhammad’s position was still insufficiently established. All he could do was to use them in his plans, or in any case, neutralize them.
When he realized that in the long run a common basis was impossible, he looked for an alternative which he found in the dogma of the religion of Abraham. The proclamation of this dogma coincided with the break with the Jews. Therefore, the constitution must have been written in the middle of the year 2 A.H. [year 2 after the hijra of 622; year 1 starts July 16, 622, and year 2 on July 5, 623] because the terminus ad quem [goal or finishing point] for dating the document is the battle of Badr in Ramadan 2 A.H. Quite clearly, it is unthinkable that after the battle of Badr Muhammad should have promised the Jews help against internal or external enemies, freedom of worship, or declared the territory of Yathrib [Medina] inviolable ground since he was on the point of attacking Banu Qaynuqac. The battle of Badr gave Muhammad the opportunity to repeal all concessions made to the Jews. This victory was a success which increased his authority among Banu Qaylah [i.e., the Aws and Khazraj, or ansar] and allowed him to act with far greater confidence. From then on he felt he could do without the Jews; consequently he did not wait long to express his exasperation.

Moshe Gil: [115]

The document is better understood as an act of preparation for war, and not as its result. Through his alliance with the Arab tribes of Medina the Prophet gained enough strength to achieve a gradual anti-Jewish policy, despite the reluctance of his Medinese allies, who had formerly been those of the Jews… It is therefore an obvious alibi that Muslim sources have developed a tradition about a treaty between Muhammad and the Jews, be it this document or a lost one, as presumed by some modern scholars. Elsewhere, it is declared in complete sincerity that Muhammad, without invoking any treaty, simply asked the B. Qaynuqac before taking action against them, to accept Islam. [116] One of the hulafa’ [allies, confederates] Ubada b. al-Samit of the clan B. Awf declares that he takes as walis [ruler] God and His Prophet, and renounces (abra’u) the hilf [oath, sworn alliance] with B. Qaynuqac. Ubada also says further to ‘Abdallah b. Ubayy: Taghayyarat al qulubu wa-maha’l-islamu’l-cuhuda (“The disposition of the hearts has changed and Islam has cancelled [any] treaties”). Usayd b. Hudayr, when reminded by the B. Qurayza about the fact that they are mawali [clients, feudal tenants] of his tribe, the Aws, answers: “There is no cahd ill [contractual obligation] between us”. The document therefore, was not a covenant with the Jews. On the contrary, it was a formal statement of intent to disengage the Arab clans of Medina from the Jewish neighbors they had been allied with up to that time.

Hartwig Hirschfeld’s detailed analysis of Muhammad’s interactions with the Jews includes this opening summary of the “mutual disappointment” that characterized their relationship, and the predictably disastrous results for the Jews. [117]

The Jews, for their part, were singularly disappointed in their expectations. The way in which Muhammad understood revelation, his ignorance and his clumsiness in religious questions in no way encouraged them to greet him as their Messiah. He tried at first to win them over to his teachings by sweetness and persuasion; they replied by posing once again the questions that they had already asked him; his answers, filled with gross errors, provoked their laughter and mockery. From this, of course, resulted a deep hostility between Muhammad and the Jews, whose only crime was to pass a severe judgment on the enterprise of this Arab who styled himself “God’s prophet” and to find his conduct ridiculous, his knowledge false, and his regulations thoughtless. This judgment, which was well founded, was nevertheless politically incorrect [une faute politique], and the consequences thereof inevitably would prove to be disastrous for a minority that lacked direction or cohesion.

During his attempts at proselytization, Muhammad’s ignorance of Jewish doctrine was ridiculed by rabbis and Jewish poets. [118] Ibn Ishaq accuses them of “hostility…, envy, hatred, and malice because God ha[d] chosen his apostle from the Arabs”, [119] consistent with the Muslim traditionalists perspective: [120]

It was the Jewish rabbis who used to annoy the apostle with questions and introduce confusion, so as to confound the truth with falsity. The Quran used to come down in reference to these questions of theirs, though some of the questions about what was allowed and forbidden came from the Muslims themselves.

In essence, Ibn Ishaq concedes, these Jews, especially the rabbis, made queries of Muhammad: [121]

These were the Jewish rabbis, the rancorous opponents of the apostle and his companions, the men who asked questions, and stirred up trouble against Islam to try to extinguish it…

Ibn Ishaq records [122] one fortuitous conversion of a Jew to Islam—the rabbi ‘Abdallah b. Salam, whose example was followed by several members of the B. Qaynuqa tribe. [123] However, as Hirschfeld observes, [124]

These conversions,…were still exceptional cases, and Islam had few initiates among the Jews. The followers of Mohammed were almost all uneducated, rough-hewn Arabs, ignorant even of the very principles of the religion that they had embraced. As for the Jews, they responded to the prophet’s advances with jesting. That is when Mohammed began to replace persuasion with violence; those who were not sincere in the Moslem beliefs, whether Jews or Arabs, were beaten and driven from the mosques. Abu Bakr [the first “rightly Guided Caliph”, d. 634] himself, who was usually so prudent and moderate, made his way into the Jewish school and rained blows upon the rabbi Finhas. To reward him for this exploit, Mohammed favored him with a revelation. [Qur’an 3:177-181/186]

Ibn Ishaq’s description of Abu Bakr’s outburst includes these details: [125]

Abu Bakr went into a Jewish school and found a good many men gathered round a certain Finhas, one of their learned rabbis, and another rabbi called Ashya‘. Abu Bakr called on the former to fear God and become a Muslim because he knew that Muhammad was the apostle of God who had brought the truth from Him and that they would find it written in the Torah and the Gospel. Finhas replied: “We are not poor compared to Allah but He is poor compared to us. We do not humble ourselves to Him as He humbles Himself to us; we are independent of Him while He needs us. Were He independent of us He would not ask us to lend Him our money as your master pretends, prohibiting you to take interest and allowing us to. Had He been independent of us He would not have given us interest.”
Abu Bakr was enraged and hit Finhas hard in the face, saying, “Were it not for the treaty between us I would cut off your head, you enemy of Allah!” Finhas immediately went to the apostle and said, “Look, Muhammad, at what your companion has done.” The apostle asked Abu Bakr what had impelled him to do such a thing and he answered: “The enemy of Allah spoke blasphemy. He alleged that Allah was poor and that they were rich and I was so angry that I hit his face.” Finhas contradicted this and denied that he had said it, so Allah sent down refuting him and confirming what Abu Bakr had said: “Allah has heard the speech of those who say: "Allah is poor and we are rich." We shall write what they say and their killing the prophets wrongfully and we shall say, Taste the punishment of burning.” [Qur’an 3:181]
And there came down concerning Abu Bakr and the anger that he felt: “And you will certainly hear from those who received the book before you and from the polytheists much wrong but if you persevere and fear God that is of the steadfastness of things.” [Qur’an 3:186]
Then He said concerning what Finhas and the other rabbis with him said: “And when God laid a charge upon those who had received the book: You are to make it clear to men and not to conceal it, they cast it behind their backs and sold it for a small price. Wretched is the exchange! Think not that those who rejoice in what they have done and want to be praised for what they have not done-think not that they will escape the punishment: theirs will be a painful punishment.” [Qur’an 3:187] He means Finhas and Ashya‘ and the rabbis like them - who rejoice in what they enjoy of worldly things by making error attractive to men - and wish to be praised for what they have not done so that men will say they are learned when they are nothing of the kind, not bringing them to truth and guidance and wanting men to say that they have so done.

At about the same time, Muhammad is said to have written a letter to the Jews of Khaybar (then mostly belonging to the B. Nadir tribe), attempting to convert them to Islam. This appeal was to no avail, [126] as were others, despite Muhammad’s proselytizing zeal. [127] The Jews stubborn refusal to convert to Islam altered, decisively, the trajectory of Muhammad’s religious thinking, as characterized by Hirschfeld: [128]

The resistance that the Jews put up to all attempts at converting them changed in a singular manner the direction of Muhammad’s religious thinking. Until then he had adopted Jewish ceremonies for his new religion; he had been turning toward Jerusalem to pray and had used the same method as the Jews of calling the faithful together to prayer…finally, he had the faithful summoned from the top of a tower by a man’s voice. Then he commanded the Muslims to turn toward Mecca while they prayed. This sudden change, to his way of thinking, had a twofold purpose: to show the Jews that he was making himself independent of their laws, and to flatter the national self-esteem of the Arabs. Although he responded weakly to the Jews who were astonished at this change, there is nevertheless no doubt about his real sentiment.
It was around that time that Muhammad inaugurated a new system of propaganda to recruit followers and to put an end to opposition against his teachings: he used force. Upon learning that a caravan of Quraysh was about to get under way, he instructed a certain number of his friends to position themselves in ambush so as to attack the travelers. One of the Quraysh was killed, two others were taken captive, while the fourth fled. This incident took place during the holy month of the Arabs, in which it was forbidden to engage in battle. Muhammad, who had even shared with the murderers in the spoils from his enemies, justified his conduct and that of his friends by means of a new revelation. (Qur’an 2:217) [129] The Jews vehemently scoffed at this modus operandi of the prophet, who of course resolved that he would take revenge on his adversaries as soon as circumstances would allow.

The Battle of Badr—during which the Muslims, aided by Allah and a thousand angels, killed 49 Meccans, took an equal number prisoner, and acquired considerable booty—established the power of nascent Islam. [130] Afterward, Muhammad launched a campaign of political assassinations of Jewish (or presumptively Jewish) poets and leaders. [131] These assassinations were followed by the siege, expropriation, and expulsion of the Medinan Jewish tribes B. Qaynuqa and B. Nadir, and the subsequent massacre of the Jewish men of the B. Qurayza whose wives, children, and possessions were then seized as booty by the Muslims. [132]

Asma, daughter of Marwan, wrote satirical verses against Muhammad, so he ordered her assassination. [133] Hirschfeld writes that Muslim traditionalists (such as Wakidi) “…justify this murder by saying that this woman was Jewish and defiled the mosques.” [134] The following is William Muir’s description of Asma’s assassination and its aftermath, according to the sira: [135]

The first blood shed at Medina with the countenance of Mahomet was that of a woman. Asma, daughter of Marwan, belonged to a disaffected tribe, the Bani Aus, and to a family which had not yet thrown off their ancestral faith. She made no secret of her dislike to Islam; and being a poetess, composed some couplets, after the battle of Bedr [Badr], on the folly of her fellow citizens in receiving and trusting one who had slain the chief men amongst his own people. The verses spread from mouth to mouth (for such was one of the few means possessed by the Arabs of giving expression to public opinion), and at least reached the ears of the Mussulmans. They were offended; and Omeir, a blind man of the same tribe (and according to some a former husband of Asma) vowed that he would kill the author. It was but a few days after the return of Mahomet from Bedr, that this man, in the dead of night, crept into the apartment where, surrounded by her little ones, Asma lay asleep. Feeling stealthily with his hand, he removed her infant from her breast, and plunged his sword into her bosom with such force that it passed through her back. Next morning, being present in the Mosque at prayers, Mahomet, who was aware of the bloody design, said to Omeir: “Hast thou slain the daughter of Marwan?” “Yes”, he answered; “but tell me is there any cause of apprehension for what I have done?” “None”, said Mahomet; “a couple of goats will not knock their haeds together for it.” Then turning to the people assembled in the Mosque, he said: “If ye desire to see a man that hath assisted the Lord and his Prophet, look ye here! “What!” Omar exclaimed, “the blind Omeir!” “Nay”, replied the Prophet, “call him not blind; rather call him Omeir the Seeing”.
As the assassin returned to his home in Upper Medina, he passed the sons of Asma burying their mother; they accused him of the murder, which without compunction he avowed, and added that if they dared to repeat such things as she had uttered, he would slay the whole clan of them. The bloody threat had the desired effect. Those of the family who had secretly espoused the cause of Mahomet, now succumbed before the fierce determination and growing influence of the Prophet’s followers. Indeed, as Sprenger [136] remarks, the only course by which they could now preserve their honor without entering on a hopeless blood-feud, was the adoption of Islam.

Soon afterwards, another (Jewish) poet who dared to write verses critical of Muhammad, Abu ‘Afak, reportedly a centenarian, was assassinated on Muhammad’s order, while he slept. Muir provides these details: [137]

Many weeks did not elapse before another foul murder was committed by the express command of Mahomet. Abu Afak belonged to the Bani Amr (whose doubtful loyalty is marked by the message sent to them by Mahomet on his march to Bedr); he had embraced Judaism, but still lived with his tribe in Upper Medina. Though (as is said) above a hundred years of age he was active in his opposition to the new religion. He, too, composed some stinging and disloyal verses which annoyed the Mussulmans. The Prophet signified his wish for his assassination by saying: “Who will rid me of this pestilent fellow?” A convert from amongst the Bani Amr watched his opportunity, and falling unawares upon the aged man, as he slept in the court-yard outside his house, dispatched him with his sword. The death shriek of the Jew drew the neighbors to the spot; but though they vowed vengeance against the murderer, he escaped unrecognized.

Attempting to exploit the fear aroused by these assassinations, [138] Muhammad admonished the Jews of Medina (specifically, the B. Qaynuqa) one more time to convert to Islam. Ibn Ishaq records this threatening appeal, and the associated Qur’anic revelation (3:12-3:13): [139]

The apostle assembled them in their market and addressed them as follows: “O Jews, beware lest God bring upon you the vengeance that He brought upon Quraysh and become Muslims. You know that I am a prophet who has been sent – you will find that in your scriptures and God's covenant with you.” They replied, “O Muhammad, you seem to think that we are your people. Do not deceive yourself because you encountered a people with no knowledge of war and got the better of them; for by God if we fight you, you will find that we are real men!”
A freedman of the family of Zayd b. Thabit from Sa'id b. Jubayr or from ‘Ikrima from Ibn ‘Abbas told me that the latter said the following verses came down about them: “Say to those who disbelieve: you will be vanquished and gathered to Hell, an evil resting place. You have already had a sign in the two forces which met, i.e. the apostle's companions at Badr and the Quraysh. “One force fought in the way of God; the other, disbelievers, thought they saw double their own force with their very eyes. God strengthens with His help whom He will. Verily in that is an example for the discerning.”

Once the B. Qaynuqa defied this threat the outcome was predictable. Muir recounts the events leading to their subjugation and expulsion from Medina: [140]

An incident soon occurred which afforded the pretext for an attack. An Arab girl married to a convert of Medina, went to a goldsmith’s shop in the marketplace of the Cainucaa [B. Qaynuqa], and, while waiting for some ornaments, sat down. A silly neighbor, unperceived, pinned the lower hem of her skirt behind to the upper dress. When she arose, the awkward exposure excited laughter, and she screamed with shame. A Mussulman, being apprised of the affront, slew the offending Jew; the brethren of the Jew, in their turn fell upon the Mussulman and killed him. The family of the murdered Mussulman appealed to the converts of Medina, who espoused their cause. Though bound by a friendly treaty, Mahomet made no attempt to compose the quarrel, nor any demand that the guilty should be singled out and brought to justice. Without further communication, he marshaled his followers, and, placing the great white banner in the hands of Hamza, marched forth to attack the offending tribe. Their settlement was sufficiently fortified to resist assault. It was therefore invested, and a strict blockade maintained. This happened within one month from the Battle of Bedr.
The Bani Cainucaa were besieged closely by Mahomet for fifteen days. They had expected that Abdallah ibn Obey and the Bani Khazraj, with whom they had long been in close bonds of defensive alliance, would have interfered in their behalf; but no one dared to stir. At last, despairing of the looked-for aid, they surrendered at discretion. As, one by one, they issued from the stronghold, their hands were tied behind their backs, and preparations made for execution. But Abdallah, fallen as he was from his high estate, could not endure to see his faithful allies massacred in cold blood. Approaching Mahomet, he begged for mercy to be shown them; but Mahomet turned his face away. Abdallah persisted in his suit, and seizing the Prophet by the side, as he stood armed in his coat of mail, reiterated the petition. “Let me alone!” cried Mahomet; but Abdallah did not relax his hold. The marks of anger mantled in the Prophet’s face, and again he exclaimed loudly: “Wretch, let me go!” “Nay!” said Abdallah, “I will not let thee go until thou hast compassion on my friends; 300 soldiers armed in mail, and 400 unequipped—they defended me on the fields of Hadaick and Boath from every foe. Wilt thou cut them down in one day, O Mahomet? As for me, I am one that verily feareth the vicissitudes of fortune.” Abdallah was yet too strong for Mahomet with safety to neglect the appeal so urgently preferred. “Let them go!” the Prophet said, reluctantly; “God curse them, and God curse him also!” So Mahomet released them from death, and commanded that they should be sent into exile. They were lead forth some distance by Obada, one of the Khazrajite “leaders;” thence they proceeded to the Jewish settlement of Wadi al Cora, and, there being assisted with carriage, reached Adzraat, a territory on the confines of Syria.
The spoil consisted mainly of armor and goldsmiths’ tools, for that was the chief occupation of the tribe: they possessed no agricultural property, nor any fields. Mahomet took his choice of arms—three bows, three swords, and two coats of mail. The royal fifth was then set aside, and the remainder distributed amongst the army.


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[94] Raven, “Sira”.
[95] Hirschfeld, “Essai sur l’histoire des Juifs de Medine”.
[96] Michael Cook. Muhammad. Oxford, England, 1983, 1996, pp. 64-65.
[97] Guillaume. The Life of Muhammad., p. xiv.
[98] See notes 37-41 above, and the associated text which refers to the analyses of the hadith by Ignaz Goldziher and Joseph Schacht.
[99] Cook, Muhammad, pp. 64-65.
[100] Ibid. p. 65.
[101] Robert Spencer. The Truth About Muhammad. Regnery Books, Washington, D.C., 2006, p. 31.
[102] Guillaume. The Life of Muhammad., p.212.
[103] Ibid., 212-213.
[104] Spencer. The Truth About Muhammad, p. 78.
[105] Guillaume. The Life of Muhammad., p. 213.; See also, for a discussion of jihad, Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad.
[106] Guillaume. The Life of Muhammad., p. 213.
[107] W. Montgomery Watt. “Al Ansar”. Encyclopedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2006. Brill Online. Watt writes:

“the helpers”, the usual designation of those men of Medina who supported Muhammad, in distinction from the muhajirun or “emigrants”, i.e., his Meccan followers. After the general conversion of the Arabs to Islam the old name of al-Aws and al-Khazraj jointly, Banu Kayla, fell out of use and was replaced by Ansar, the individual being known as Ansari. In this way the early services of the men of Medina to the cause of Islam were honorably commemorated.

[108] Hirschfeld. “Essai sur l’histoire des Juifs de Medine” 1885, Vol. 10, pp. 10-31.
[109] Moshe Gil. A History of Palestine, 634-1099, translated by Ethel Broido, Cambridge and New York, 1992, p. 11.
[110] W. Montgomery Watt. “Al Ansar”.
[111] Guillaume. The Life of Muhammad., p. 231.
[112] Julius Wellhausen. “Muhammad’s Constitution of Medina” (first published as “Muhammads Gemeindeordnung von Medina” from Skizzen und Vorarbeiten, Berlin, 1889, IV, pp. 67-83.), published as an excursus in, Arent Jan Wensinck. Muhammad and the Jews of Medina, English translation by Wolfgang H. Behn, Berlin, 1982, pp. 137, 136.
[113] The exegeses of Ibn Kathir (14th century) and Mawdudi (20th century) make clear that these verses refer to the “B. Qurayza” (Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Riyadh, Vol. 4, p. 347), specifically, or the Jews of Medina (Mawdudi, Towards Understanding the Qur’an, Vol. 3, pp. 160-161.)
[114] Arent Jan Wensinck. Muhammad and the Jews of Medina (first published as Mohammed en de Joden te Medina, Leiden, 1908), with an excursus [appendix] from Julius Wellhausen’s “Muhammad’s Constitution of Medina” (first published as “Muhammads Gemeindeordnung von Medina” from Skizzen und Vorarbeiten, Berlin, 1889, IV, pp. 67-83.) English translation by Wolfgang H. Behn, Berlin, 1982, pp. 70-71.
[115] Moshe Gil. “The Constitution of Medina: A Reconsideration” Israel Oriental Studies, Vol. 4, 1974, pp. 64-65.
[116] Guillaume. The Life of Muhammad., p. 363.
[117] Hirschfeld, “Essai sur l’histoire des Juifs de Medine”, 1885, p. 11
[118] Ibid., pp. 11-12.
[119] Guillaume. The Life of Muhammad., p. 239.
[120] Ibid., p. 239
[121] Ibid., p. 240.
[122] Ibid., p. 240.
[123] Hirschfeld, “Essai sur l’histoire des Juifs de Medine”, 1885, p. 13.
[124] Ibid., p. 13.
[125] Guillaume. The Life of Muhammad., pp. 263-264.
[126] Hirschfeld, “Essai sur l’histoire des Juifs de Medine”, 1885, p. 14.
[127] Ibid., p.15
[128] Ibid., pp. 15-16.
[129] Qur’an 2:217—“They question thee (O Muhammad) with regard to warfare in the sacred month. Say: Warfare therein is a great (transgression), but to turn (men) from the way of Allah, and to disbelieve in Him and in the Inviolable Place of Worship, and to expel His people thence, is a greater (transgression) with Allah; for persecution is worse than killing. And they will not cease from fighting against you till they have made you renegades from your religion, if they can. And whoso becometh a renegade and dieth in his disbelief: such are they whose works have fallen both in the world and the Hereafter. Such are rightful owners of the Fire: they will abide therein.”. Ibn Kathir’s commentary (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Vol. 1, p, 602.) explains the killings thus:

This Ayah means if you had killed during the Sacred Month, they (the disbelievers of Quraysh) have hindered you from the path of Allah and disbelieved in it. They also prevented you from entering the Sacred Mosque, and expelled you from it, while you are its people, “a greater transgression with Allah” than killing whom you killed among them. Also, “…and Al-Fitnah (persecution) is worse than killing” means, trying to force the Muslims to revert from their religion, and re-embrace Kufr (disbelief) after they had believed, is worse with Allah than killing.

[130] Hirschfeld, “Essai sur l’histoire des Juifs de Medine”, 1885, p. 16; Warraq. Why I Am Not a Muslim, p.93.
[131] Hirschfeld, “Essai sur l’histoire des Juifs de Medine”, 1885, pp. 16-21; 27-28; Warraq. Why I Am Not a Muslim, pp. 93-95.
[132] Hirschfeld, “Essai sur l’histoire des Juifs de Medine”, 1885, pp. 16-27.
[133] Sir William Muir. The Life of Mahomet. London, 1878 (Kessinger Reprints, 2003), pp. 248-249; Hirschfeld, “Essai sur l’histoire des Juifs de Medine”, 1885, p. 16; Warraq. Why I Am Not a Muslim, pp. 93-94.
[134] Hirschfeld, “Essai sur l’histoire des Juifs de Medine”, 1885, p. 16.
[135] Muir, The Life of Mahomet, pp. 248-249.
[136] Aloys Sprenger (1813-1893), an Austrian Orientalist and Professor of Oriental Languages at Bern (1858-1881), was a prolific writer, editor, and collector of Islamic literature, especially hadith literature. See Wolfgang Behn, Concise Biographical Companion to Index Islamicus, Leiden, 2004, Vol. 3, p. 435.
[137] Muir, The Life of Mahomet, p. 249.
[138] Ibid., p. 249.
[139] Guillaume. The Life of Muhammad., p. 363.
[140] Muir, The Life of Mahomet, pp. 250-251.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4

Andrew G. Bostom, MD, MS, is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University Medical School.
He is the author of:
The Legacy of Jihad, Prometheus Books (2005),
The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, Prometheus Books (2008),
Sharia Versus Freedom. The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism, Prometheus Books (2012),
The Mufti's Islamic Jew Hatred. What the Nazis Learned From the 'Muslim Pope', Bravura Books (2013), and
Iran's Final Solution for Israel. The Legacy of Jihad and Shi'ite Islamic Jew-Hatred in Iran, Bravura Books (2014).