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Did Prophet Muhammad plan genocide against Jews? The story of Banu Quraiza

April 8, 2013

Jews and Muslims make peace

By Abu Amina Elias for FaithinAllah.org

Question:

Your prophet committed genocide (extermination of an entire race) against the Jews of Medina and the tribe Banu Qurayza.

Answer:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

The Prophet was in conflict with some specific Jewish tribes in Medina due to their aiding the Meccan aristocracy in a war of extermination against the Muslim community. After the battle, the Prophet chose Sa’d ibn Mu’adh to pass judgment upon the fighting men, which Sa’d did according to the law of the Torah.

Ibn Umar reported:

أَنَّ يَهُودَ بَنِي النَّضِيرِ وَقُرَيْظَةَ حَارَبُوا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَأَجْلَى رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ بَنِي النَّضِيرِ وَأَقَرَّ قُرَيْظَةَ وَمَنَّ عَلَيْهِمْ حَتَّى حَارَبَتْ قُرَيْظَةُ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ

The Jews of Banu Nadeer and Banu Quraiza waged war against the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, so he expelled Banu Nadeer but he allowed Banu Quraiza to stay and he granted them favor until they also waged war after that.

Source: Sahih Muslim 1766, Grade: Sahih

The aggression of the Banu Quraiza tribe was the reason the Muslims attacked them, not simply because they were Jewish. This is clear in another tradition in which the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, told his companion:

خُذْ عَلَيْكَ سِلاَحَكَ فَإِنِّي أَخْشَى عَلَيْكَ قُرَيْظَةَ

Take your weapons, for I fear the tribe of Quraiza.

Source: Sahih Muslim 2236, Grade: Sahih

The Prophet told his companion to carry his weapons, not to commit aggression against Quraiza, but rather to defend himself against them.

This fact is confirmed by Dr. Marco Schöller:

The Muslim attack and siege of the Qurayẓa was a response to their open, probably active support of the Meccan pagans and their allies during the battle (of the trench).

Source: Schöller, Marco. “Qurayẓa (Banū al-).” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān.

The judgment against them upon their defeat was that the fighting men who participated in the battle were killed and the women and children were taken into the custody of the Muslims.

Sa’d ibn Mu’adh passed judgment saying:

قَالَ تَقْتُلُ مُقَاتِلَتَهُمْ وَتَسْبِي ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ

Their combatants will be killed and their progeny taken as captives.

Source: Source: Sahih Muslim, 1768 Grade: Sahih

Sa’d judged only that “their fighting men” (muqatilatahum) should be executed as an act of self-defense for the Muslim community. The women and children were taken into custody due to the fact that they would have no one to care for them; to abandon them would have itself been a death sentence. This ruling was based upon the Torah, the Jewish holy book, which reads:

וְאִם  לֹ֤א  תַשְׁלִים֙  עִמָּ֔ךְ  וְעָשְׂתָ֥ה  עִמְּךָ֖  מִלְחָמָ֑ה  וְצַרְתָּ֖  עָלֶֽיהָ וּנְתָנָ֛הּ  יְהוָ֥ה  אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ  בְּיָדֶ֑ךָ  וְהִכִּיתָ֥  אֶת  כָּל  זְכוּרָ֖הּ  לְפִי  חָֽרֶב  רַ֣ק  הַ֠נָּשִׁים  וְהַטַּ֨ף  וְהַבְּהֵמָ֜ה  וְכֹל֩  אֲשֶׁ֨ר  יִהְיֶ֥ה  בָעִ֛יר  כָּל־  שְׁלָלָ֖הּ  תָּבֹ֣ז  לָ֑ךְ  וְאָֽכַלְתָּ֙  אֶת  שְׁלַ֣ל  אֹיְבֶ֔יךָ  אֲשֶׁ֥ר  נָתַ֛ן  יְהוָ֥ה  אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ  לָֽךְ

But if the city makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the Lord your God gives it into your hand you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourselves; and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you.

Source: Deuteronomy 20:12-14

This judgment might seem very harsh and unmerciful, but in the context of ancient Arabia this action was necessary for the Muslim community due to the threat of extermination they faced.

Scholars of history understand that such was the nature of justice in a rough desert environment:

Most scholars of this episode agree that neither party acted outside the bounds of normal relations in 7th century Arabia. The new order brought by Muhammad was viewed by many as a threat to the age-old system of tribal alliances, as it certainly proved to be. For the Banu Qurayza, the end of this system seemed to bring with it many risks. At the same time, the Muslims faced the threat of total extermination, and needed to send a message to all those groups in Medina that might try to betray their society in the future. It is doubtful that either party could have behaved differently under the circumstances.

Source: PBS “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet.”

Furthermore, as only the fighting men were killed, there were several male members of the Banu Quraiza tribe who survived because they did not participate in the battle, either because they were too young or they surrendered before the fighting began.

Ibn Umar reported:

فَقَتَلَ رِجَالَهُمْ وَقَسَمَ نِسَاءَهُمْ وَأَوْلَادَهُمْ وَأَمْوَالَهُمْ بَيْنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ إِلَّا أَنَّ بَعْضَهُمْ لَحِقُوا بِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَآمَنَهُمْ وَأَسْلَمُوا

Thus, the Prophet killed their fighting men and he distributed their women, children, and property among the Muslims except for some of them who had joined the Messenger of Allah and so he granted them protection and they embraced Islam.

Many of the male descendants of Quraiza lived, some of them embracing Islam, which is proof that the Prophet did not commit genocide (extermination of an entire race), but rather he only approved the execution of their combatants as an act of self-defense.

This fact is confirmed by Dr. Marco Schöller:

The Islamic tradition knows a number of descendants from the Qurayẓa by name, most famous among them being the traditionist Muḥammad b. Kaʿb al-Quraẓī, who was born a Muslim and died in Medina in 120/738 or some years before. Others include his father Kaʿb ibn Asad ibn Sulaym and his brother Isḥāq, as well as ʿAṭiyya al-Quraẓī, al-Zubayr ibn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn al-Zabīr, ʿAlī ibn Rifāʿa and the progeny of Abū Malik al-Quraẓī. This suggests that… several male persons of the Qurayẓa did survive the conflict in Medina, probably because of their young age at the time.

Source: Schöller, Marco. “Qurayẓa (Banū al-).” Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān.

In addition, even though the Muslims suffered this bitter conflict with the Jewish tribes of Medina, this did not diminish the Prophet’s teachings of kindness and good character toward Jewish neighbors. In fact, the Prophet died will in the middle of a business contract with a Jew.

Aisha reported:

تُوُفِّيَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَدِرْعُهُ مَرْهُونَةٌ عِنْدَ يَهُودِيٍّ بِثَلَاثِينَ صَاعًا مِنْ شَعِيرٍ

The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, passed away while his armor was mortgaged to a Jew for thirty units of barley.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 2759, Grade: Sahih

This tradition is proof that the Prophet continued to maintain friendly relations with Jews even after the incident with Qurayza and until his death. Likewise, the Prophet’s companions continued this tradition of amicability after him.

Mujahid reported: I was with Abdullah ibn Amr while his servant was skinning a sheep. He said, “O boy, when you finish up, then start with the Jewish neighbor.” A man there exclaimed, “Jewish? May Allah correct you!” He replied:

إِنِّي سَمِعْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يُوصِي بِالْجَارِ حَتَّى خَشِينَا أَوْ رُئِينَا أَنَّهُ سَيُوَرِّثُهُ

I heard the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, recommending that we treat our neighbors well until we thought that he would order us to make them our heirs.

Source: Source: Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 128, Grade: Hasan

In conclusion, the Prophet did not commit genocide against the Jews of Medina, nor did he intend for bad relations between Jews and Muslims in general. The conflict with the Banu Qurayza tribe was only due to the specific aggression suffered by the Muslims and not merely because they were Jews. The Prophet continued to maintain friendly relations with Jews even after this bitter conflict and this tradition was continued by his companions.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.