When the Prophet (saw) migrated to Medina, he agreed a treaty with the Jews of Banu Qurayza for the protection of the city against invaders. This was a critical treaty as the Banu Qurayza were settled at the rear of Medina - a weak point exploitable by enemies in a battle.
During the battle of the trench, the Quraysh and her allies could not breach the front of Medina due to the trench that was used to defend it. They then sought an agreement with Banu Qurayza to allow them to attack from the rear of the city.
The Banu Qurayza Jews thus violated their treaty with the Prophet (saw) creating an existential issue for the Muslim community. Following the battle, they received the punishment specified in the treaty. They deserved the punishment even according to their scripture, modern international law and treaty they violated.
When the Prophet (saw) surrounded them for twenty-five days, he promised whoever did not contribute and came out peacefully would be released. A number of people did so such as Amr ibn Sa'd. The entire tribe later surrendered and asked the Prophet (saw) to be subjected to the arbitration of Sa'd ibn Mu'adh, a member of the Aws tribe, who was their old ally. It was narrated on the authority of Abu Said al-Khudari:
لَمَّا نَزَلَتْ بَنُو قُرَيْظَةَ عَلَى حُكْمِ سَعْدٍ ـ هُوَ ابْنُ مُعَاذٍ ـ بَعَثَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم، وَكَانَ قَرِيبًا مِنْهُ، … فَجَاءَ فَجَلَسَ إِلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ لَهُ " إِنَّ هَؤُلاَءِ نَزَلُوا عَلَى حُكْمِكَ ". قَالَ فَإِنِّي أَحْكُمُ أَنْ تُقْتَلَ الْمُقَاتِلَةُ، وَأَنْ تُسْبَى الذُّرِّيَّةُ. قَالَ " لَقَدْ حَكَمْتَ فِيهِمْ بِحُكْمِ الْمَلِكِ
"When the tribe of Bani Qurayza was ready to accept Sa'd's judgment, Allah's Messenger (saw) sent for Sa'd who was near him… Then Sa'd came and sat beside Allah's Messenger (saw) who said to him. 'These people are ready to accept your judgment.' Sa'd said, 'I give the judgment that their warriors should be killed and their children and women should be taken as prisoners.' The Prophet (saw) then remarked, 'O Sa'd! You have judged amongst them with (or similar to) the judgment of the King Allah.'" (Sahih al-Bukhari 3043)
The Execution of Warriors
The judgement of Sa'd was the execution of the Jewish fighters or warriors in a market place, those who contributed to the war and prepared for it (unlike the narration of killing the young adults which should be understood in light of the statement of Sa'd; i.e. only the warriors). Some were released, such as Zubayr ibn Batta and others, by the mediation of the companions.
Number of Executed
The number is not important as the point was whether they were criminals or not. If only one innocent person was killed, this would be unjust and if they all deserved punishment, it would be just if they received it.
There is a hot debate over the number of executed soldiers, the numbers disputed varying from 40 to 960.
The Qur'anic Narrative
The Qur'an documented the situation, noting in relation to the number:
وَرَدَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِغَيْظِهِمْ لَمْ يَنَالُوا خَيْرًا ۚ وَكَفَى اللَّهُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ الْقِتَالَ ۚ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ قَوِيًّا عَزِيزًا،
وَأَنزَلَ الَّذِينَ ظَاهَرُوهُم مِّنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ مِن صَيَاصِيهِمْ وَقَذَفَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمُ الرُّعْبَ فَرِيقًا تَقْتُلُونَ وَتَأْسِرُونَ فَرِيقًا،
وَأَوْرَثَكُمْ أَرْضَهُمْ وَدِيَارَهُمْ وَأَمْوَالَهُمْ وَأَرْضًا لَّمْ تَطَئُوهَا ۚ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرًا
"And Allah repelled those who disbelieved (after the battle of trench), in their rage, not having obtained any good. And sufficient was Allah for the believers in battle, and ever is Allah Powerful and Exalted in Might.
And He brought down those who supported them among the People of the Scripture from their fortresses and cast terror into their hearts [so that] a party you killed, and you took captive a party.
And He caused you to inherit their land and their homes and their properties and a land which you have not trodden. And ever is Allah, over all things, competent." (Qur'an 33:25-27)
The Compilations of Hadiths
Bukhari and Muslim say nothing regarding the number, they rather quote the judgement of Sa'd ibn Mu'adh as in the narration quoted above.
Nasa'i, ibn Hiban, Tirmidhi and other narrated they were 400 warriors.
قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم "أَصَبْتَ حُكْمَ اللَّهِ فِيهِمْ" . وَكَانُوا أَرْبَعَمِائَةٍ
"The Messenger of Allah (saw) said (to Sa'd after the judgement): 'You have judged according to Allah's judgement for them.' And they were four hundred." (Tirmidhi 1582)
In the book of al-Amwal of Ibn al-Zanjawayh (d. 251 A.H.), he narrated a sound narration that says they were only forty people:
فَقَضَى بِأَنْ يُقْتَلَ رِجَالُهُمْ ، وَتُقْسَمَ ذَرَارِيُّهُمْ وَأَمْوَالُهُمْ ، فَقُتِلَ مِنْهُمْ يَوْمَئِذٍ أَرْبَعُونَ رَجُلا
"He (Sa'd) issued their men are to be killed, their other captives and wealth are to be distributed. Forty men were killed on that day." (Ibn al-Zanjawayh, Kitab al-Amwal, Vol. 1, p. 229)
Books of Sira and Maghazi
Ibn Ishaq included in his book of Sira and Maghazi the story with no isnad (chain of narrators) or with a weak isnad and the rest of the historians followed him.
He says they were 700 people and other narrations of some historians reaches 960 people (Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Hisham, al-Waqidi, Ibn Kathir).
Books of History
The killing of all the men in the city does not match with the teachings of the Qur'an because not all of them took part of the war, so killing all men would probably include innocent people.
The Qur'an however condemns the killing of innocent people:
من قَتَلَ نَفْساً بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعاً
"Whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption (done) in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely." (Qur'an 5:32)
Given only the leaders and warriors participated in this event, punishing some because of the sins of others would be implied if all had been killed - this is categorically forbidden in the Qur'an:
وَلاَ تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَى
"And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another." (Qur'an 6:164)
Arafat (1976) in his research paper "New Light on the Story of Banu Qurayza and the Jews of Medina" included a number of objection to such narrations.
They are as follows (with some elaborations and arguments that I add:
A contemporary of Ibn Ishaq, Malik, the jurist, denounces Ibn Ishaq outright as "a liar" and "an impostor" in regard to these stories and claimed he heard them from Jewish historians which are something widely knowing in histories (similar to isra'iliyat). A criticism that was later repeated by Ibn Hajar.
Ibn Hajar explained why Malik criticized ibn Ishaq:
لم يقدح فيه من أجل الحديث، وإنما ينكر تتبعه غزوات النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم من أولاد اليهود الذين اسلموا وحفظوا قصة خيبر وغيرها
"He (Malik) did not defame him (ibn Ishaq) for (fabricating) the Hadiths, he rather condemned his seek of narration of the battles of the Prophets narrated by the sons of Jews who accepted Islam after memorizing the story of Khaybar and others." (Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib at-Tahdhib, Vol. 9, p. 45)
What supports the notion of Malik and Ibn Hajar is that all the narrations mention a large number of people were narrated by Jewish of Banu Qurayza who later embraced Islam. So Attihay al-Qurazi who narrated the who narration in al-Waqidi, al-mithwar al-Qurazi narrated from his uncle tha'labah al-Qurazi and Muhammad ibn Ka'b al-Qurazi narrated some other narrations also.
They don't say they are hypocrites nor liars, rather they were affected by other Jewish narrations.
The historical narrations are only considered as storiesare not necessarily happened for that reason Imam Malik, the jurist, rejected ibn Ishaq narrations.as well as the narrations of the Muhaditheen above. Most scholars usually treated more liberally questions of minor importance and any material which did not involve a point of law, such as stories of the Maghazi and similar reports. In such cases, data would be accepted which would not be acceptable as a basis of deciding what is lawful or unlawful.
Thus, jurists dealt with the issue differently.For example, ibn al-Zanjawayh narrated a similar story happened in the time of Imam al-Awza'i (contemporary leading jurist to ibn Ishaq), but the incident was not the result of the community's unanimous agreement and so they were not killed.
The details are given in the story clearly and of necessity imply inside knowledge, i.e. from among the Jews themselves. Such are the details of their consultation when they were besieged, the harangue of Ka'b b. Asad as their leader; and the suggestion that they should kill their women and children and then make a last desperate attack against the Muslims.)
Where are the traces of such a big number of people?If indeed so many hundreds of people had actually been put to death in the marketplace, and trenches were dug for the operation, it is very strange that there should be no trace whatever of all that - no sign or word to point to the place, and no reference to a visible mark.
Leaders put to death. In the story of Qurayza, a few specific persons were named as having been put to death, some of whom were described as particularly active in their hostility … who led the sedition and who were consequently punished - not the whole tribe.
Other details of the story are difficult to accept.How could so many hundreds of persons be incarcerated in the house belonging to a woman of Banu al-Najjar? The biggest building in Medina was the Mosque of the Prophet (35 meters by 30 meters) and it could not contain this large number.
The stories are similar to some narration of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans.As is well known, the source of the details of the Jewish wars is Flavius Josephus. It is in his writings that we read of details which are closely similar to those transmitted to us in the Sira about the actions and the resistance of the Jews, except that now we see the responsibility for the actions placed on the Muslims. Even the same names occur in both accounts. There is Phineas and Azar b. Azar, just as Eleazar addressed the Jews besieged in Masada. Josephus' assertion that 960 besieged Jews committed suicide at Masada. This is highly interesting since in the story of Qurayza the 960 or so.
The story of Banu Qurayza appears to have been preserved by descendants of the Jews who fled south to Arabia after the conflict.
A later generation of these descendants super-imposed 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.
The number of members killed following the breach of the treaty must fall between 40 and 400.
Ghazali, Fiqh as-Sirah
Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib at-Tahdhib
Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa an-Nihayah
Sirat ibn Ishaq
Ibn al-Qayim, Zad al-Ma'ad
W. N. Arafat, New Light on the Story of Banu Qurayza and the Jews of Medina.
The Banu Qurayza were a Jewish tribe who lived in Medina and entered into an alliance with the prophet of Islam, Muhammad(pbuh). He had the largest following of any leader in the city, hence he was elected as the city's chief. Each tribe agreed to his nomination and every tribe, including the Banu Qurayza, was granted the right to practice its own faith in peace. The point to be noted is that each tribe would be judged according to its own laws - specifically the laws of the faith it followed. So Muslims would be judged according to the Quran and the Jews according to the Torah.
In 627 AD, the enemies of Islam united and marched onto the city of Medina to wipe away the Muslims. It is recorded that at first the Jews of the tribe remained loyal, however, after being informed that the Muslims were heavily outnumbered and due to the persistence of the enemy, they decided to abandon the Muslims. Not only this, but they agreed to attack the Muslims from the rear while the Meccans engaged the Muslim army at the ditch. Fortunately, the Muslims became aware of this secret plot and placed 500 soldiers in their way.
When the Holy Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) became aware of their treachery he did not immediately accept the rumours. He sent parties forth to their tribe in order to investigate the claims, who rejected having any agreement with the Muslims and confirmed their betrayal. Following on from this, the Muslims laid siege to the Jews’ fortress. When Banu Qurayza could not hold out any longer, they sent a message to the Holy Prophet(pbuh) that they would surrender, but would like their fate to be decided by one of their allies. Sa’d bin Muadh, the chief of the tribe of Aus, was appointed the arbiter. Sa’d passed the judgment on the Banu Qurayza according to the law of the Torah, which states:
‘When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: And when the Lord thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof 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.’ (Bible, Deuteronomy 20:10-14)
According to the Jewish law the punishment for treason was death. In passing the death sentence on Banu Qurayza, Sa’d reminded the Jews of the fact that had the Jews succeeded in carrying out their plan, they would have put all the Muslims to death. As a result of Sa’d bin Muadh’s judgment, all the male members of the Banu Qurayza tribe who were of fighting age were executed and their women, children and elders expelled, who went to Syria.
Even to this day many states of the US and other countries uphold the death penalty for the crime of treason. Wherever the capital punishment has been abolished, such as the UK, life imprisonment implies. Many historians claim that the Jews made a mistake by asking one of their allies to decide their fate. Instead, they say that if the tribe had entrusted Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) to make the decision he would most likely have shown leniency and simply banished them from Medina. Ibn Hisham reports of two men of the tribe being set free and pardoned by the Prophet Muhammad(pbuh). He showed this kindness despite promising not to intervene in Sad’s judgement on a general level.
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