The Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement Blog

Miracles, Myths, Mistakes and MattersSee Title Page and List of Contents

See: Project Rebuttal: What the West needs to know about Islam

Refuting the gross distortion and misrepresentation of the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad and Islam, made by the critics of Islam

Read: Background to the Project

List of all Issues | Summary 1 | Summary 2 | Summary 3

August 11th, 2011

Issue 7

Issue 7 [@ 7:13]  Walid Shoebat, Author – Why I left Jihad, alleges: “Muhammad, the prophet of Islam wiped out all of Jews of Saudi Arabia. There were three tribes, Banu-Nadir [also pronounced as Banu-Nazir], Banu-Qainqah, Banu-Quriaza. We were probably studying this in school Muhammad the prophet of Islam ordered the beheading of the Jews of Banu-Quraiza and the women being taken as concubines. As soon a child had pubic hair, he was beheaded. So the Jewish population was either extradited or beheaded. The story of Rabia Kanina is a well known documented story in Islam. Rabia Kanina was tortured by the order of the prophet of Islam himself. His eyes were put out. He was burned in order to confess where the Jewish tribes were hiding their goods, their gold and silver all those kind of things. And this is right from the Hadith [But which Hadith? no authority presented]. This inspired us the Palestinians, inspired us in fighting Jihad against the Jews in Palestine.”

 Slide show: “Authoritative Islamic History – The Life of Muhammad / Sirat Rasul Allah. By Muhammad bin Ishaq (d 773 AD). Edited by Abdul Malik bin Hisham (d 840 AD). Translated by Prof Alfred Guillaume (1955). — “Then they [Quraizah tribe] surrendered and the Apostle confined them in Medina…Then the Apostle went out to the market of Medina and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches…There were 600 or 700 hundred in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900.

Rebuttal 7:
Any child can read a text, but one needs a scholar to read it critically and if found ambiguous or contradicting, then such a scholar should ethically reject it. But these bigots lack scholarship to begin with. Their only merit is hate-mongering and deceit. Please read Background to fully understand this blatant distortion before reading further.

Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat begets a fundamental correction. His manuscript was lost. Ibn Hisham then wrote it again on hearsay about fifty years later. Essentially, what these bigots are quoting is a misquote to begin with i.e. they quote Ibn Hisham while calling it Ibn Ishaq’s work to give it credibility, but for the sake of this rebuttal we give them this room.

The “odd tales” of Banu Qurayzah’s “massacre” at the hands of Muslims for their sedition in the Battle of Trench is dealt with by Barakat Ahmad in his book “Muhammad and the Jews: A Re-Examination” which is excerpted below.

Besides, the three main Jewish tribes of Banu Qainqah, Banu Nadir and Banu Qurayzah who were exiled by then, there were other Jewish groups in Medina that are identified in Sahifa i.e. compact of Medina namely – Jews of Bani Al-Najjar, Bani Al Harith, Bani Saeeda, Bani Jusham, Bani Al Aws, Thaalba, and the Jaffna, (a clan of the Bani Thaalba) and the Bani Al Shutayba. [Constitution of Medina]. This compact essentially was the basis of ummah which included all monotheists of Medina and was updated after the expulsion of Banu Qurayza from the city.

By estimates of Barakat Ahmad the sum total of all the above Jewish tribes and groups was about 36,000 to 42,000 Jews in Medina at the time of arrival of Muhammad [Muhammad and the Jews – pg 36]. Even if half were sent into exile we are still left with about twenty thousands who would have witnessed the event under discussion. Besides Medina, there was a whole city of Jews namely Khaibar [also written as Khaybar] just ninety-five miles north of Medina which just by its proximity could not had escaped the news of the time.

With these thousands of remaining Jews in Medina besides others in its vicinity brings up the fundamental questions as to why Jewish history is silent about the alleged massacre? Why Ibn Ishaq was only able to take the accounts from the descendants of Banu Qurayzah alone? Why does he not quote chain of authorities? Barakat Ahmad sums up his analysis as follows:

Of all historical ‘facts’, stories of massacres and mass executions and murders are most susceptible to doubt and the most likely to prove either pure fabrications or high exaggerations. lbn Ishaq and to a lesser degree, al-Waqidi and Ibn Sa’d and their predecessors or al-Zuhri and Musa bin Uqbah remembered, noted and reproduced what they considered to be significant facts. Events and details which are significant from our point of view were probably not of any consequence to them. They were not of any importance to the Jews either. [Were] There were no Jewish historians and writers, no correspondents, no travelers who carried the tales of the misfortunes of the Jews of the Hijaz when these tragic events were taking place.[?] It is improbable and difficult, however, to believe that in the second and third centuries of Islam when Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Sa’d were collecting their material, the learned rabbis of the Gaonate and the Exilarchate of Babylon were unable to obtain the Jewish version of the events which had a profound influence on the life of the Jewish community of the Hijaz at the time of the Apostle. It is not normal with the Jews not to record their misfortunes. The Jews of Khaybar reported to be expelled by Umar were settled in Kufa, which was not very far from the Gaonate. They were the descendants of the B. al-Nadir and the children of the B. Qurayzah; Jewish scholars could gather their material from them. Samuel Usque’s book A Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel – Third Dialogue is a sixteenth-century classic of Jewish martyrology. This “deft painter of Jewish suffering”, who “caused the long procession of Jewish history to file past the tearful eyes of his contemporaries, in all its sublime glory and abysmal tragedy” [ibid – translated by Gershon I. Gelbart, New York, 1964 – pg 16] reports neither the expulsion of the B. Qaynuqa and the B. al-Nadir nor the execution of the B. Qurayzah. Jewish history up to Geiger’s time (1833) seems to be free of these stories. [Muhammad and the Jews – pg 24]

As far as the validity of Ibn Ishaq reporting is concerned, suffice is to pay close attention to analysis of Barakat Ahmad:

Ibn Ishaq had no direct knowledge of the events and in view of the self-contradictory nature of the accounts one would have expected that he would either qualify his statements or absolve himself of the responsibility of reporting something of which he either had no direct knowledge or which he thought was of a doubtful nature. In all other doubtful cases he normally uses phrases such as “in what has reached” or “it was mentioned to me” or he would simply finish a story by adding that God knows best what happened. lbn Ishaq does not show this caution and scrupulousness in his account of the B. Qurayzah” [Muhammad and the Jews – pg 16]

Barakat Ahmad further gives the reverse view of the event by its absence from other contemporary scrupulous sources of Islam:

It is significant that neither aI-Bukhari nor Muslim reported any Tradition on the actual execution of Sa’d’s judgment. Since they did not report how Sa’d’s judgment was carried out they also did not report on the number of people killed or taken prisoner. [Muhammad and the Jews – pg 88]

Besides the event itself, Barakat Ahmad also draws attention to the property of Banu Qurayzah in that its distribution and taxation which would had formed the basis of future jurisprudence is absent from the works of Imam Shafi, Abu Yusuf and Yahya b. Adam, whose own works are based upon authentic traditions and well-established precedents as they “did not consider either Ibn Ishaq’s account or the current qass material reliable” [Muhammad and the Jews, pg 89]

The ridiculousness of Ibn Ishaq’s account is quite evident in the following excerpts:

The first part of Ibn Ishaq’s story gives us a picture of demoralized people trying to avoid fighting at any cost; the second part paints for us a picture of heroes ready to die for their faith. Walking in a flowered robe in which he had made holes so that no one might take it as spoil, Huyayy b. Akhtab addressed the Apostle:

“By God, I do not blame myself for opposing you, but he who forsakes God will be forsaken.”

The discrepancies in Ibn Ishaq’s account do not end here. The B. Qurayzah lived at a six to seven hours walking distance from Medina [According to Ibn Ishaq, the Muslims left Medina at noontime and reached the B. Qurayzah after the last evening prayers. Ibn Hisham. p. 685.] On surrender they were brought to Medina and kept in a house. The next morning trenches were dug in the market place to bury the executed people. It is surprising that a general of the Apostle’s astute knowledge of strategy and logistics would have brought nearly five thousand captives nine hundred of them to be slain all the way to Medina and bury them right in the middle of the town. It would have been far better, safer and more efficient to make short shrift of them outside their forts, and then to take only the women and children to Medina. The problem of the security of prisoners, and of sanitation in Medina, would have been solved. If they had to he marched to Medina then there was a ready-made trench which was dug outside Medina only a month back [i.e. many miles long trench in the battle of Trench]. It was not far.

Since the captives included women, children, and old and sick people they must have walked to Medina at a much slower pace ten to eleven hours. Neither during this march nor during their captivity in the house of Binth aI-Harith did any incident take place. No one tried to escape except Amr b. Sauda al-Qurazi, and no one accepted Islam to save his life except Rifaa b. Samaw’al al-Qurazi. It was both a tame and a brave crowd. If the story is true the martyrs who fell under Bar Kochba (A.D. 132) against overwhelming odds were nothing in comparison to the martyrs of the B. Qurayah.

The disposal of nine hundred bodies did not seem to have posed any problems. The trenches neatly dug were filled by the same night.

There was apparently a complete absence of any sentiment among the Muslims who watched this execution. It must have been a shattering experience for many and an unforgettable event even for those who thought it to be fully justified. Several heart-rending incidents must have taken place during the day; some must have tried to struggle and run, others would have uttered words of dismay and repentance, and there must have been many who either did not die at the first blow, or died of fright even before the executioner’s sword struck. Swords must have blunted and broken. Ali and Zubayr, who were the executioners, must have faced several problems, and witnessed many facets of human nature on that day. But neither Ali nor Zubayr, in fact no one, ever later mentioned anything about his experience of this execution.

A detailed scrutiny indicates that the whole story of this massacre is of a very doubtful nature. As Ibn Khaldun has pointed out “the rule of distinguishing what is true from what is false in history is based on its possibility or impossibility” [R. A. Nicholson, A Literary History of Arabs (Repr. Cambridge, 1966, p. 438]. We have already pointed out that Medina in the Apostle’s time was not equipped to imprison four to five thousand people and execute 600 to 900 people in a day. Killing such a large number of people and disposing of the dead bodies created problems even for Nazi Germany, with hydrogen cyanide [Raul Hilberg, ed. Documents of Destruction: Germany and Jewry 1933-1945 (Chicago, 1971), p. 219.] as an efficient lethal agent. A massacre in the midst of a town where people live is very different from a massacre in a town which is being sacked by a conquering army marching onwards from town to town with dead bodies left to make it uninhabitable.

Under these conditions it is almost impossible that the people of Medina should have escaped typhoid, typhus, both epidemic and endemic, influenza, diarrhoea and above all cholera. As regards the dead bodies the infection would depend on the animals and birds having access to the remains. But even if there were only flies, and the people whose corpses were lying there had all been healthy, the proliferation of agents, especially bacterial agents, after death would have been a health hazard, since the healthy may be carriers of dangerous diseases such as meningococcus.

Discussing the mass execution of the B. Qurayzah under “the alleged moral failures” of the Apostle, Watt has remarked:

This may seem incredible to the Europeans, but that is in itself a measure of remoteness of the moral ideals of ancient Arabia from ours. [Watt, Muhammad at Medina, p. 327]

But the effects of such a mass execution on the spectators and executioners is not related to moral values – ancient or modern. The human psyche, as is well known to students of psychology may have nothing to do with a sense of duty, or political and religious obligations. Executioners, grave diggers, undertaker deal with death in the ordinary course of life as an honest and moral profession, nevertheless this continuous association with death creates suffering and tenor of blood guilt [Barbara Levy, Legacy of Death (Englewoods Cliffs, N.J., 1974)]. No one could come out of such a holocaust – 600 to 900 killed in void blood in one day—without damage to his personality. Ali’s and Zubayr’s holocaust legacy of massive deadness would not have left them in peace. Though Zubayr’s life is not fully known to us, we do know well enough about the life of the fourth Caliph of Islam. His sermons, letters, political discourses and sayings collected in Najm al-Balaghah do not reflect experience of such a mass execution. His scruples in “retaliation” among other aspects of his personality “cannot be disregarded for the understanding that it affords of his psychology” [L. Veccia Vaglieri, “Ali b. Abi Talib”, Encyclopaedia of Islam, (2) Vol. 1, p. 385]. After his ‘victory at the camel’, “he tried to relieve the distress of the vanquished by preventing the enslavement of their women and children, in face of the protests of a group of his partisans: when battles ended, he showed his grief, wept for the dead, and even prayed over his enemies” [ibid – L. Veccia Vaglieri]. Ali was a brave soldier, not a hardhearted executioner. Ali’s partner in the execution, al-Zubayr b. al-Awwam, was also renowned for gallantry and took part in all the great battles and campaigns of the Apostle’s lifetime. The very idea of such a massacre by persons who neither before nor after the killing showed any sign of a dehumanised personality is inadmissible from a psychological point of view. [Muhammad and the Jews, pg 84-87]

Barakat Ahmad further analyzes the self-contradictory exaggeration of Ibn Ishaq about the captives of Banu Qurayzah:

The story that the captive women and children of the B. Qurayzah were sent to the Najd to be sold For horses and weapons does not agree with the practice [Ibn Hisham, p. 693]. The Jews always bought their captives from Arabs after every skirmish [Ibn Hisham, p. 253]. The Jews of Khaybar, including the B. al-Nadir, Wãdi al-Qura, Taymã’, and even Medina itself were capable of buying these captives and, as al-Waqidi says, they bought them [Al-Waqidi, Vol II, pp. 522-24]. The Muslims, if interested in the money at all, were interested in it to buy weapons and horses. It made no difference to them if the captives were sold in the Najd or Khaybar. In fact it seemed to be far more convenient to sell them in the Hijaz than to travel with such a large number of captives to the Najd. [Muhammad and the Jews, pg 88-89]

After clearing the above dross around the event, Barakat Ahmad then lays out the actual event:

After their defeat they surrendered to the Apostle. A party (fariq) from among them who had fought but not taken a leading part was taken prisoner [33:26. And He brought down from their strongholds those of the people of the Scripture (- the Jews of Madînah, the perfidious Banû Quraizâh) who had backed them (-the invading enemies). He inspired awful terror into their hearts (so much so that) some of them you were able to slay and others you could take as captives.- Noouruddin]. The leaders of the B. Qurayzah were, however, left to the judgment of Sa’d b. Mu’adh. There are indications that the sentencing of these leaders was done right on the spot. As al-Samhudi has pointed out, S’ad was brought to the Qurayzah mosque and not to the mosque of Medina [Al-Samhudi, Vol III, p. 824. The place where the Apostle prayed during the siege was converted into a mosque.]. The Hadith in both al-Bukhari and Muslim suggests that Sa’d, who was mortally wounded in the battle, went to a mosque. His tent was so close to the Apostle’s mosque in Medina that in his grave condition it was not necessary to bring him there. Sa’d decreed that the combatants from among the leaders should be executed. Probably the main leaders included old men and ordained priests, who were not combatants, hence the word ‘combatants’. This party (fariq) was not brought to Medina but was beheaded [The Quran, Al-Ahzab, 26, “You slew a party”.] at the spot. The leaders, Huyayy b. Aktab, Ka’b b. Asad [Al-Waqidi, Vol. II p. 516.]. Nabbash b. Qays and Ghazzal b. Samawal were executed by Ali and Zubayr [Al-Waqidi, p. 513.]. In conformity with the policy adopted by the Apostle that executions should be carried out by a member of the tribe who is in alliance with the tribe of the guilty party minor leaders were handed over to the Aws. Two of the condemned were given to each of the clans or sub-clans of the Aws; (i) Abd al-Ashhal; (ii) Harithah; (iv) Zafar; (iv) Muawiyah; (v)Amar b. Awf; and (vi) Umayyah bin Zayd, so that all the clans were involved in the blood of the B. Qurayzah [Ibn Hisham, p. 554, Al-Waqidi, pp. 515-16.], The culpable leadership of it tribe of 600 to 900 men; especially when some of them have already been killed in the battle and one group has been taken captive would not normally exceed sixteen, or seventeen accounted for in the above analysis, The decision to help the Ahzab [the confederates] must have been taken by the leaders and the elders of the B. Qurayzah. The whole tribe could not be given the same punishment that was in store for their leaders. The Apostle himself was bound by the Quranic maxim of just retribution; “an eye for an eye and a life for a life’ [Al-Baqarah 2:178].This principle, as we have shown earlier [Supra, Chapter II], had been agreed upon both by the Muslims and the Jews, for we find it formalized in the Sahifah: “a person acquires guilt against himself” [Ibn Hisham, p. 344. also: Constitution of Medina]. [Muhammad and the Jews, pg 90-92]

With regards to what happened to the rest of the Banu Qurayzah minus the sixteen or seventeen, we are left with following information:

The Quran mentions only two groups which were punished: one was executed and the other was taken captive. Unfortunately Ibn Isbãq and other magazhi writers were not interested in those members of the B. Qurayzah who were not punished. Some of them might have stayed behind others (as Jabal b. Jawwal al-Thalabi said) might have migrated:

O Sa’d, Sa’d of B. Mu’adh
For What befell Qurayzah and al-Nadir
By thy life, Sa’d of B. Mu’adh
The day they departed was indeed steadfast.
[Ibn Hisham, p. 713, Guillaume’s translation]

[Muhammad and the Jews, pg 93]

As to the hypothesis of why an event, if true, disappeared after a blip in the narration of exaggerated history, Barakat Ahmad puts forth a plausible theory:

It is reasonable to conclude that is minor and unimportant incident in which probably Sa’d b. Mu’adh was involved in dealing with the B. Qurayzah was blown up out of proportion by pro-Umayyad Tradition collectors. In course of time while the tahkim [meaning – in the absence of both a regular guardian and of any regular Judge, a party agrees to empower someone with adequate knowledge of the the law to act for it] controversy became irrelevant due to the Abbasid revolution, the reason for investing this minor incident with the force of an important precedent was also forgotten. The incident of the B. Qurayzah [Ibn Hisham, pp. 423-27] occurred before the armistice of Hudaybiyah and the peace with Khaybar were achieved. It is impossible that the pagans and the munafiqun, would have remained muted. When Jahsh violated the sacred month and shed blood therein, when the palms of the B. al-Nadir were burnt, when the Apostle married the divorced wife of his adopted son, the people criticised and the Qur’án defended the Apostle [Ibn Hisham, pp. 654]. It is improbable that the Apostle’s critics would have paid less attention to the lives of the B. Qurayzah than to the palms of the B. al-Nadir. That the news of this “massacre” did not reach Syria, which included Jerusalem and Adhraat, with which the Medina Jews had contacts, and the Exilarchate in Iraq, which exercised religious authority over them, is highly unlikely. [Muhammad and the Jews, pg 93-94]

W. N. Arafat in his research paper draws up close parallels in the “odd tales” of Banu Qurayzah and that of Masada, which is excerpted below:

Important details of the two stories are remarkably similar, particularly the numbers of those killed. At Masada the number of those who died at the end was 960 [De bello Judaico, VII, 9, 1. ]. The hot-headed sicarii who were eventually also killed numbered 600 [De bello Judaico, VII, 10, 1.]. We also read that when they reached the point of despair they were addressed by their leader Eleazar (precisely as Ka’b b. Asad addressed the Banu Qurayza)[Sira, 685-6/II, 235-6.], 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.

Clearly the similarity of details is most striking. Not only are the suggestions of mass suicide similar but even the numbers are almost the same. Even the same names occur in both accounts. There is Phineas, and Azar b. Azar [Sira, 352, 396/I, 514, 567.], just as Eleazar addressed the Jews besieged in Masada.

There is, indeed, more than a mere similarity. Here we have the prototype – indeed, I would suggest, the origin of the story of Banu Qurayza, preserved by descendants of the Jews who fled south to Arabia after the Jewish Wars, just as Josephus recorded the same story for the Classical world. A later generation of these descendants superimposed details of the siege of Masada on the story of the siege of Banu Qurayza, perhaps by confusing a tradition of their distant past with one from their less remote history. The mixture provided Ibn Ishaq’s story. When Muslim historians ignored it or transmitted it without comment or with cold lack of interest, they only expressed lack of enthusiasm for a strange tale, as Ibn Hajar called it.

One last point. Since the above was first written, I have seen reports [The Times, 18 August 1973; and The Guardian, 20 August 1973.] of a paper given in August 1973 at the World Congress of Jewish Studies by Dr. Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, in which she challenges Josephus’ assertion that 960 besieged Jews committed suicide at Masada. This is highly interesting since in the story of Qurayza the 960 or so Jews refused to commit suicide. Who knows, perhaps the Story of Banu Qurayza is an even more accurate form of the original version.


Muhammad and the Jews: A Re-Examination – Barakat Ahmad
Constitution of Medina – Wikisource
New Light on the Story of Banū Qurayẓa and the Jews of Medina – W. N. Arafat
(From publisher, from others)

Note to Reader: The investigative reporting of CNN about Mr. Walid Shoebat might be of value to anyone interested – Part – 1, Part – 2

Comments are closed.