The Three Jewish Tribes of Madinah

   Ehteshaam Gulam

I. Introduction

There are many critics of Islam (both Christian and atheist) that accuse Prophet Muhammad of being unfair with the way he dealt with the Three Jewish Tribes of
Madinah. This essay will show the problems the Jewish Tribes were causing for the Muslims, while in Madinah and clearfiy some myths about certian historical
events surrounding the Jews of Madinah.

The Jews of Madinah could be immigrants from Palestine or they could've been Arab converts to Judaism. The evidence points to them being both, Palestian Jews and Arab Jews who made up the population of Jews in Madinah. But in any case, they had their own Torah, they followed Jewish laws, they followed Jewish holidays, etc. They were Jewish.... but not all of them were ethnically Jewish. [1]

There were five main Jewish Tribes in Madinah. The most powerful were the Banu Nadir, The Banu Qurayzah and the The Banu Qaynuqa. The Jews of Yathrib (Madinah
was called Yathrib before Prophet Muhammad renamed the city, Madinah. But to keep things from being confusing, I'll refer the city to being Madinah). The Jews of
Madinah were rich. The reason why is because they occupied Madinah's most fertile agricultural lands, called "The Heights". They became masters of Arabia's
most prized crop: dates. The Jews of Madinah were also skilled jewelers, clothiers, arm makers, and vintners. It was said that Jewish wine was considered the best
in Arabia. The five largest Jewish Tribes in Madinah enjoyed a complete monopoly over Yathrib's economy.

The Jews of Madinah were also expecting a powerful Prophet to arise among them. The Jews believed that a Powerful Prophet would arise. Several Jewish
rabbis and scholars knew of this. In fact it is said by Ibn Sad one Jewish Rabbi came to Muhammad when he was a baby and looked at him. What he said was
amazing: He added: "Verily the Jews are his enemies, and he is the Prophet of these people; he is an Arab and the Jews are jealous of him wishing that
he should have been an Israelite. So guard your brother's son." [2]

II. The Consitution of Madinah

When Prophet Muhammad came to Madinah he made a treaty with the Jews, Arabs, the Ansar and the Muhajjurn. This treaty or contract is also known as the Consituionof Madinah (interestingly enough, it is considered the world's first consitution). The Treaty went like this:

" In the Name of God the Compassionate, the Mericiful. This is a document from Muhammad the Prophet (governing the relations) between the
believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib, and those who followed them and joined them and labored with them. They are one community (ummah)
to the exclusion of all men..... The believers shall not leave anyone destitute among them by no paying his redemption money or bloodwit in kindness."
(From Ibn Ishaq 231-232)

The Consitution of Medinah goes on to detail

You can read more about the Treaty here.  However as will be seen, the three main Jewish tribes of Madinah (The Banu Nadir, The Banu Qurayzah and the The Banu Qaynuqa) broke the treaty.

There was a Jewish Rabbi named Abdullah bin Salam. Abdullah was very knowlegedgable on the Torah and the Jewish religion. When he heard that Prophet Muhammad
was forced to leave Mecca and came to Madinah he came rushing to Prophet Muhammad. He wanted to see if Prophet Muhammad was a true Prophet or not.
To see if Prophet Muhammad was truthful or not, Abdullah asked Prophet Muhammad three questions which nobody knows except if he is a real Prophet from God.
The following Hadith shows this:

Narrated Anas:  'Abdullah bin Salam heard the news of the arrival of Allah's Apostle (at Medina) while he was on a farm collecting its fruits. So he came to the Prophet and said, "I will ask you about three things which nobody knows unless he be a prophet. Firstly, what is the first portent of the Hour? What is the first meal of the people of Paradise? And what makes a baby look like its father or mother?'. The Prophet said, "Just now Gabriel has informed me about that." 'Abdullah said, "Gabriel?" The Prophet said, "Yes." 'Abdullah said, "He, among the angels is the enemy of the Jews." On that the Prophet recited this Holy Verse:--

"Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel (let him die in his fury!) for he has brought it (i.e. Qur'an) down to your heart by Allah's permission." (2.97) Then he added, "As for the first portent of the Hour, it will be a fire that will collect the people from the East to West. And as for the first meal of the people of Paradise, it will be the caudite (i.e. extra) lobe of the fish liver. And if a man's discharge proceeded that of the woman, then the child resembles the father, and if the woman's discharge proceeded that of the man, then the child resembles the mother." On hearing that, 'Abdullah said, "I testify that None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and that you are the Apostle of Allah, O, Allah's Apostle; the Jews are liars, and if they should come to know that I have embraced Islam, they would accuse me of being a liar." In the meantime some Jews came (to the Prophet) and he asked them, "What is 'Abdullah's status amongst you?" They replied, "He is the best amongst us, and he is our chief and the son of our chief." The Prophet said, "What would you think if 'Abdullah bin Salam embraced Islam?" They replied, "May Allah protect him from this!" Then 'Abdullah came out and said, "I testify that None has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah." The Jews then said, "Abdullah is the worst of us and the son of the worst of us," and disparaged him. On that 'Abdullah said, "O Allah's Apostle! This is what I was afraid of!"  (Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 7)

The Jews knew that Prophet Muhammad was the prophet they were expecting according to their Torah.  Prophet Muhammad went to a Jewish seminary, where he challenged the rabbis:"Bring forward the most learned among you before me." When that man came forward, he and Muhammad spoke in private. Finally Muhammad asked him, "Do you know that I am the Apostle of Allah?" The rabbi answered, "By Allah! Yes, and the people know what I know.Verily your attributes and qualities are clearly mentioned in the Torah, butthey are jealous of you." (Ibn Sa'd, vol. I, 188..)

So the Jews knew about the Prophet, they knew that he was the Prophet according to their own Torah. However they still rejected Prophet Muhammad, despite this.

III. The Banu Qaynuqa

Prophet did not make entering Islam a condition for any one of the Jews to stay in Madinah. The Consitution of Madinah or the treaty allowed the Jews to stay in
Madinah and practice their religion. The reason for the Banu Qaynuqa Jews expulsion was the aggression which they showed. This resulted in a breach of the internal security of Madinah.

After the Muslim Victory at the Battle of Badr, the Jews of Banu Qaynuqa showed anger and jealousy towards the Muslims and Prophet Muhammad. It is also said
in Ibn Ishaq that a Qaynuqa Jew tore off a woman's dress in a market place in Madinah. The woman then ran away screaming, naked. A Muslim then fought the Qaynuqa
Jew. This started a bitter rivary between the Qaynuqa Jews and Prophet Muhammad. The Banu Qaynuqa were the first of the Jews to break their agreement with the Muslims and go to war and had to be dealt with swiftly so as to quash any ideas of the other Jewish tribes to instigate a war against the Muslims.[7] The Banu Qaynuqa
betrayed their oat of mutual protection and shown themselves to be against Prophet Muhammad. Because of their treason, Prophet Muhammad expelled the Banu Qaynuqa Jews from Madinah. They were allowed to take most of their property with them. [8]

IV. The Banu Nadir

The Banu Nadir broke the treaty with Prophet Muhammad by first betraying him, then trying to kill him thren refusing to make another peace treaty with him.
First the Banu Nadir attempted to kill Prophet Muhammad two times. One day Some Jews of the Banu Nadir had decided to kill the Prophet by dropping a large stone on his head one day.  The Muslims heard about this and told Muhammad. Despite the Jews constant attacks and assisination attempts Prophet Muhamamd merely told them to leave Madinah. [3] The Jews of Banu Nadir tried to kill Prophet Muhammad a second time as well. As Bismikaallahuma says:

The second attempt was reported by Ibn Ishaq, who was followed by most of the other Sirah writers. The Prophet went to Banu al Nadir to ask them for help in paying the blood money for two men from a tribe which was party to the treaty, whom Amr ibn Umayyah al Damari had killed by mistake following the incident of al Raji. When he came to Banu al Nadir, he sat down against a wall. They were about to drop a rock onto him and kill him, but he learnt of that through divine inspiration. He left them quickly and went back to Madinah, and he ordered that they should be besieged. They agreed to a peace treaty after a siege lasting six days, on the condition that they could take with them whatever their camels could carry. [4] The isnad of this report ends with Yazid ibn Ruman, who is a lesser tabi’i, but it could be strengthened by other similar reports. Indeed, it was followed by the report of ?Urwah ibn al Zubayr in the Maghazi of Musa ibn ?Uqbah. [5] The Banu Nadir also started to support and help the Qurash of Mecca
against Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). So we can see the Banu Nadir was not an innocent tribe. The Banu Nadir started to fight against Prophet Muhammad [6]. Banu Nadir already had a peace treaty with the Muslims, until they broke it. The Banu Nadir left Madinah for Khaybar (a place in Northern Madinah) taking their wealth and property with them. So the Banu Nadir were not some innocent tribe. Prophet Muhammad however was merciful to them however and let them leave.

V. The Banu Qurayzah

After the Exile of the Banu Qaynua and the Banu Nadir Jewish Tribes, some of those Jews who remained approached the Quraysh, offering an alliance against Muhammad and the Muslims. The Quraysh readily accepted. So these Jews of Qurayzah were guilty of treason.  Then to make matters even worse, a tribe of Jews in Medina, the Banu Qurayzah, broke their covenant with the Prophet of Islam (perhaps after reflecting upon the fate of the Banu Qaynuqa and Banu Nadir) and began collaborating with the Quraysh of Mecca. Madinah was constantly under attack by the Meccans. The Banu Qurayzah were helping the Meccans, despite their agreement not to. The Banu Qurayzah were gulity of treason. Instead of living in peace with the Muslims they along Qurash of Mecca wanted to destroy Islam. They too broke the treaty they signed.

The Banu Qurayzah started to fight aganist Prophet Muhammad, even after he allowed them to stay in Madinah when they broke their treaty [7] The reason for the campaign against the Jews of Banu Qurayzah goes back to Banu Qurayzah’s breaking of the treaty between themselves and the Prophet. After the Seige of the Banu Qurayzah they
finally surrendered to Prophet Muhammad.

Prophet Muhammad then decided that Sa'd ibn Muaz should decide the fate of the Banu Qurayzah. Sa'd decided that the men warriors should be killed and that their women and children should be taken as slaves. The following is illustrated below:

Narrated Abu Sa'id Al-Khudri: When the tribe of Bani Quraiza was ready to accept Sad's judgment, Allah's Apostle sent for Sad who was near to him. Sad came, riding a donkey and when he came near, Allah's Apostle said (to the Ansar), "Stand up for your leader." Then Sad came and sat beside Allah's Apostle who said to him. "These people are ready to accept your judgment." Sad said, "I give the judgment that their warriors should be killed and their children and women should be taken as prisoners." The Prophet then remarked, "O Sad! You have judged amongst them with (or similar to) the judgment of the King Allah." (Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 280)

Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: Some people (i.e. the Jews of Bani bin Quraiza) agreed to accept the verdict of Sad bin Muadh so the Prophet sent for him (i.e. Sad bin Muadh). He came riding a donkey, and when he approached the Mosque, the Prophet said, "Get up for the best amongst you." or said, "Get up for your chief." Then the Prophet said, "O Sad! These people have agreed to accept your verdict." Sad said, "I judge that their warriors should be killed and their children and women should be taken as captives." The Prophet said, "You have given a judgment similar to Allah's Judgment (or the King's judgment)." (Bukhari Volume 5, Book 58, Number 148)

It has been narrated on the authority of A'isha who said: Sa'd was wounded on the day of the Battle of the Ditch. A man from the Quraish called Ibn al-Ariqah shot at him an arrow which pierced the artery in the middle of his forearm. The Messenger of Allah (may peacce be upon him) pitched a tent for him in the mosque and would inquire after him being in close proximity. When he returned from the Ditch and laid down his arms and took a bath, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and he was removing dust from his hair (as if he had just returned from the battle). The latter said: You have laid down arms. By God, we haven't (yet) laid them down. So march against them. The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) asked: Where? He poirftad to Banu Quraiza. So the Messenger of Allah (may peace he upon him) fought against them. They surrendered at the command of the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him), but he referred the decision about them to Sa'd who said: I decide about them that those of them who can fight be killed, their women and children taken prisoners and their properties distributed (among the Muslims). (Muslim Book 019, Number 4370)

Plus it was not Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who issued the order; it was Saad bin Muadh whom the Jews selected to judge their fate. It is clear that Saad ibn Muaz(R) have administered the punishment in accordance with Jewish law as found in the Torah. The law is:

“When the Lord thy God hath delivered it unto thy hands, thou shalt smite every male therein with the edge of the sword: but the women, and the little ones and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself.” (Deuteronomy 20:12)

It is therefore clear that Muslims are not to be blamed for administering a Law that is found within the Jewish scripture itself upon the Jews who had earlier agreed to submit to Saad ibn Muaz’s judgement. The Prophet(P) neither influenced the decision nor was he involved in any stage of the decision-making, as the representatives of Banu Qurayzah did not seek his judgement.

It is commonly said that anywhere between 400 to 900 Jewish Men were killed. But this is not true. We don't know how many Jewish men were killed, but the number is
certainly not as high as 500 to 900.

VI. The Jews of Khaybar

Banu Nadir in Khaybar, who were inciting hostilities along with neighboring Arab tribes against Prophet Muhammad.I n addition, the Nadir paid Arabian tribes to go to war against the Muslims. Bribing Banu Ghatafan and the Banu Asad with half their harvest, Banu Nadir secured 2,000 men 300 horsemen from the tribe to attack Prophet Muhammad. The Banu Nadir bribed many Arab tribes with wealth to fight against Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

When Prophet Muhammad heard about this, he made his trip to Khaybar (a place in Northern Arabia) to deal with the attacks of the Arab Tribes and the Jews upon the

The siege of Khaybar lasted a month. Eventually the Jews of Khaybar came to Prophet Muhammad and made a peace treaty with him. However they broke the treaty
with the Prophet:

Narrated Abdullah Ibn Umar: The Prophet fought with the people of Khaybar, and captured their palm-trees and land, and forced them to remain confined to their fortresses. So they concluded a treaty of peace providing that gold, silver and weapons would go to the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him), and whatever they took away on their camels would belong to them, on condition that they would not hide and carry away anything. If they did (so), there would be no protection for them and no treaty (with Muslims).

They carried away a purse of Huyayy ibn Akhtab who was killed before (the battle of) Khaybar. He took away the ornaments of Banu an-Nadir when they were expelled. The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) asked Sa'yah: Where is the purse of Huyayy ibn Akhtab?

He replied: The contents of this purse were spent on battles and other expenses. (Later on) they found the purse. So he killed Ibn AbulHuqayq, captured their women and children, and intended to deport them. They said: Muhammad, leave us to work on this land; we shall have half (of the produce) as you wish, and you will have half. The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) used to make a contribution of eighty wasqs of dates and twenty wasqs of wheat to each of his wives. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 19, Number 3000)

What this hadith states is this:

-The Muslims and the Jews at Khaybar were already at war
-         The Muslims and the Jews agreed to a peace treaty that ended the war.
-          The peace treaty stated that the Jews must not hide any treasure from the Muslims; otherwise this would be considered a violation of the treaty.
-          If the treaty is broken, then that means that the other party is a war combatant who must be fought and killed.
-          Kinana broke the treaty by hiding the treasure unjustifiably due to his greed.
-          Kinana was treated as a war combatant because he violated one of the conditions of the peace treaty.
-          War combatants are to be killed.
-          Kinana knew that what he would do would lead to his death if he were to get caught. No one forced him to lie or to be greedy. It was his choice.
-          Kinana's death was justifiable.

In May 629, the Muslims defeated several Jewish tribes (including the Banu Nadir) at the Battle of Khaybar. The rest of Khaybar fell to the Muslims. The people of Fidak, to the north of Khaybar, hastened to ask for peace, and to be allowed to leave in safety, and leave their wealth in return for that. The Prophet agreed to their request.Ibn Hisham, al Sirah, 32/449

The Jews of Khaybar went into exile like the Banu Nadir (Ibn Sa’d Volume 2 page 132 and 133). It is alleged that there were treasures found in Khaybar. The Jewish farmers asked to stay in Khaybar and Prophet Muhammad let them stay (Ibn Sa'd, vol. II, 136.)

Notes and Bibliography

[1] For a more detailed explanation of the Jews of Madinah please see A History of the Jews in Arabia (1988) by Gordon Newby, Jews and Arabs (1970) by
S.D. Goiten, etc.

[2] Ibn Sa’d Volume 1 page 177 

[3] Ibn Ishaq page 504.

[4] Ibn Ishaq, al Sirah, 3/191

[5] Ibn Hajar, Fath al Bari, 7/331

[6] See the Hadith Collection, Muslim Book 019, Number 4364

[7] Ibid. also see Ibn Ishaq page 363

[8] See Ibn Ishaq pages 545-547.

Further Reading

The Banu Nadir Jews

The Banu Qunayqa Jews

The Banu Qurazah Jews

The Jews of Khaybar