in category Seerah

Is the mass killing of the Banu Qurayzah tribe by the Prophet agreed upon by Muslim scholars?

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There is consensus on the siege of Banu Qurayza as it is referred to in the Qur'an, but no consensus on the details.

Three Jewish tribes lived in Medina as well as the Jewish settlements of Khaybar and Fadak further to the north.

The Prophet hoped the Jews, as followers of a monotheistic religion, would be accepting of Islam. However, as these tribes saw Islam become established and growing in power, they became increasingly hostile and belligerent resulting in a struggle that saw their expulsion and disappearance Arabia.

The seera writer and later historians narrate how Banu Qaynuqa, Khaybar, Fadak and Banu al-Nadir were allowed to depart, taking with them their possessions.

Ibn Ishaq in his Sira writes how the Jewish tribe Banu Qurayza sided with the Quraish and their allies, at the battle of the trench who made a serious but unsuccessful attack on Medina. Banu Qurayza were then besieged by the Prophet and surrendered. On their request, they were subjected to the arbitration of Sa'd b. Mu'adh, a member of the Aws tribe, who were their old allies.

Sa'd ruled adult males were to be put to death and women and children taken into slavery. Trenches were then dug in the Medina's market-place and the men were put to death in groups.

Estimates of those killed on that day vary from around 400 to 900.

The incident is briefly mentioned in the Qur'an:

"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." (33:26-27)

Some of the details of the story however were disputed by later scholars.

Arafat (1976) for instance argues in his research paper " New Light on the Story of Banu QurayZa and the Jews of Medina" the claims of 600 or 800 or 900 men of Banu Qurayza were put to death by Ibn Ishaaq, Waqidi or Ibn Kathir is a later invention sourced in Jewish traditions.

The earliest work with the most detail is Ibn Ishaq's biography of the Prophet. It is also the longest and the most widely quoted. Later historians take his version of the story, omitting various degrees of detail - Ibn al-Qayyim in Zaad al-ma'dd making a brief reference. Some suggest they are not persuaded, but do not undertake any further analysis - Tabari failing to cite alternative versions as is his custom to do. Ibn Hajar in Tahdhlb al-tahdhi (9 :45) comments this and other related stories are "odd tales". A contemporary of Ibn Ishaq, Malik, the jurist, denounces Ibn Ishaq outright as "a liar" and "an impostor" (Uyun al-athar I:12/16) just for transmitting such stories uncritically from the Jews he sought out. such a story would be acceptable to Malik the jurist. Ibn Hajar further explained Malik's condemnation of Ibn Ishaq because sought out descendants of the Jews of Medina to obtain accounts of the Prophet's campaigns handed down by predecessors.

The origin of the story of Banu Qurayza mirrors the account of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans in 73 AD ending in the destruction of the temple. The subsequent flight of the Jewish zealots to the rock fortress of Masada saw the final liquidation of the besieged. According to Josephus, Alexander, who ruled in Jerusalem before Herod the Great, hung upon crosses 800 Jewish captives and slaughtered their wives and children. When they reached desperation, their leader Eleazar addressed them, akin to Ka'b bin Asad addressing the Banu Qurayza, suggesting the killing of their women and children. At Masada the number who died was 960. This narrative was transmitted by Jewish survivors who fled south, a theory preferred by the Guillaume. Later descendants then superimposed details of the Masada siege onto the siege of Banu Qurayza, conflating the two events. The mixture then provided content for Ibn Ishaq's narration of the later siege.

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