By Ayatullah Ja'far Subhani
43. Fort of Khayber the Centre of Danger
From the day Islam was preached in Madina the Jews became more inimical towards the Prophet and the Muslims than even Quraysh, and rose with all their intrigues and strength to destroy this religion.
The Jews who lived in Madina itself or in its suburbs met the fate they deserved on account of their noxious activities. A group of theirs was put to death and others like the tribes of Bani Qaynuqa’ and Bani Nuzayr were expelled from Madina, and they settled in Khayber and Wadiul Qura’.
The extensive fertile plain situated in the north of Madina at a distance of thirty two leagues is called the Valley of Khayber and before the appointment of the prophetic mission the Jews had constructed seven strong forts in that area for their residence and safety. As this area was very suitable for agricultural purposes its residents were fully conversant with matters relating to farming, accumulation of wealth, procurement of arms and principles of defence. Its population exceeded twenty thousand and many brave and warlike persons could be seen amongst them.486
The greatest crime committed by the Jews of Khaybar was that they instigated all the Arab tribes to destroy the State of Islam, and with their financial support the army of polytheism marched from different places in Arabia and reached the very walls of Madina. As a result of this the Battle of Ahzab took place (details of which have been given earlier). The measures taken by the Prophet and the self-sacrifice of his companions made the attacking army, including the Jews of Khayber, return to their homes after staying on the other side of the ditch for one month and peace and tranquility was restored in the Capital of Islam. Foul play by the Jews, who were previously respected by the Muslims, made the Prophet decide to destroy this central place of danger and to disarm all of them, because it was not improbable that these obstinate and adventurous people might once again spend large sums to instigate the idolatrous Arabs to rise against the Muslims, and the story of the Battle of Ahzab might be repeated, as their intolerance in the matter of religion far exceeded the love of Quraysh for idolatry and it was on account of this blind faith that while thousands of polytheists had embraced Islam, not even one Jew showed his readiness to forsake his religion.
Another factor which prompted the Prophet to destroy the power of the Jews of Khayber, to disarm them, and to appoint his own officers to watch their movements, was that he had corresponded with the princes, kings and rulers of different countries of the world and had invited all of them in a decisive tone to embrace Islam, and in the circumstances it was not improbable that the Jews might become tools in the hands of Kisra and Kaiser and might decide to take revenge on the Muslims with the help of these two emperors and destroy the spiritual movement of Islam or instigate these emperors to rise against Islam, just as they had instigated the idolaters earlier, as in those days the Jews had sided with one emperor or the other during the wars between Iran and Rome and so the Prophet considered it necessary to nip this evil in the bud.
This was the best time for carrying out this step, because after having concluded the Peace Pact of Hudaybiyah the Prophet was free from all embarrassment from the southern side (Quraysh) and knew that if he lays his hands on the organization of the Jews they would not receive any help from Quraysh. As regards prevention of other tribes in the north (like the families of Ghatfan who were the allies and friends of the people of Khayber during the Battle of Ahzab) from helping the Jews, he had a plan in mind about which we will speak later.
Prompted by these factors, the Prophet ordered the Muslims to get ready to conquer the last centres of the Jews in Arabia. He added that only those persons, who were present at the time of conclusion of the Peace Pact of Hudaybiyah, could participate in this battle. As regards to others they could join as volunteers but were not entitled to any share in the booty.
The Prophet appointed Ghayla Laythi to be his representative in Madina. He gave a white standard in the hands of Ali and ordered the Muslims to march. And in order that the caravan might reach the destination as early as possible he permitted his camel-driver, ‘Amir bin Akwa’ to recite verses while driving the camels. He, therefore, recited these verses:
“By Allah! If we had not been blessed by Him, we would have been misguided; we would neither have given alms nor offered prayers. We are such a nation that if a nation oppresses us or creates mischief against us, we would not tolerate it. O Allah! Grant us perseverance and keep us steadfast in this path.”
The subject-matter of these verses clarifies the motive and causes of this battle. It means that, as the Jews have oppressed us and started mischief at the very threshold of our house, we have undertaken this journey to stop this danger.
The contents of the verses pleased the Prophet so much that he prayed for ‘Amir. It so happened that ‘Amir achieved martyrdom in this battle.
The Army of Islam moves to an Unknown Destination
The Prophet was very much interested in camouflage 487 in the movement of troops. He wished that none should know his destination so that he might come upon the enemies unawares and besiege their environs before they could take any necessary decision. It was also his idea that every one of the allied enemies should think that he was the Prophet’s target and they should, therefore, remain confined to their houses as a measure of precaution and should not join one another.
Some people thought that possibly the Prophet had undertaken this journey towards north to suppress the tribes of Ghatfan and Fazarah who were the allies of the Jews in the Battle of Ahzab. However, after reaching the desert of Raji’, he directed the forces to move towards Khayber and thus cut off liaison between these two allies, and prevented the said tribes from coming to the help of the Jews of Khayber. The result was that, although the siege of Khayber continued for one month, the said tribes could not render any assistance to their allies.488
The great leader of Islam advanced towards Khayber with 1600 warriors who included two hundred mounted soldiers.489 When they came near the region of Khayber the Prophet made the following invocation which is a proof of his pure intentions:
“O Allah, Who are the Lord of the heavens and of whatever is below them, and the Lord of the earth and of whatever has thrown weight on it!…….. I seek from You the goodness of this habitation and the goodness of its inhabitants and of whatever is in it and seek refuge in You from its evil and from the evil of its inhabitants and from the evil of whatever is placed in it”.490
This invocation, made as an entreaty and that too in the presence of 1600 brave soldiers, is an evidence of the fact that he had not come to this land for conquest i.e. to expand his territory, or to take revenge. On the contrary he had come to destroy this centre of danger which could possibly become a base for the idolaters, and his object was that the Islamic movement should not be threatened from this quarter. And, as the respected reader will observe, the Prophet, after conquering the fort and disarming the Jews, made over their farms to them and contented himself with providing them full protection and exempted them from paying jizyah (tribute).
Important places are occupied at Night
The seven forts of Khayber had a particular name as: Na’im, Qamus, Katibah, Nastat, Shiq, Watih and Sulalim. Out of these forts some were at times associated with the names of the chiefs of the particular forts. For example, one of them was called the Fort of Marhab. In order to protect the forts and to remain informed of the external state of affairs, watch towers had been constructed at the corners of all the forts so that the sentries posted there might report the external events to the inmates. The towers and the forts were constructed in such a manner that their inhabitants were in full control of the area outside the forts and could stone the enemies by means of catapults etc.491 This population of twenty thousand included two thousand brave and warlike persons who were perfectly well-off from the point of view of water and food reserves. These forts were so strong that it was not possible to drive a hole in them and those who attempted to approach them were wounded or killed by the stones flung from within. These forts were considered to be strong fortifications for the Jewish warriors.
It was necessary for the Muslims who were faced with a well-equipped and powerful enemy to make maximum use of military skill and war tactics to conquer these forts. The first thing which was done was that all the important points and paths and gates were occupied by the soldiers of Islam overnight. This job was performed so secretly and so quickly that even the sentries of the watch towers did not become aware of it. In the morning, when the farmers, having no knowledge of the developments, came out of all the forts of Khayber with agricultural implements, their eyes fell on the brave soldiers of Islam, who had, with the strength of faith and strong hands and sharp weapons, closed all paths for them; so much so that if they had come one step forward they would have been arrested. This scene frightened them so much that they took to their heels at once and all of them began saying:
“Muhammad is here with his soldiers”.
They immediately fastened the gates of the forts tightly and held war councils inside. When the eyes of the Prophet fell on the destructive equipment like spades and picks, he considered it to be a good omen and said these words for strengthening the morale of the soldiers of Islam:
“Allah is Great! Ruined be Khayber. When we descend upon a nation what a bad time it will be for those who have been warned!”
The Jews decided, after discussions among them, that the women and children should be accommodated in one fort and the stores of foodstuffs should be shifted to another. Then the brave and warlike persons of every fort should defend themselves from above by means of stones and arrows. On some particular occasions the champions of every fort should come out of it and fight with the Muslims. The Jewish warriors did not abandon this plan till the end of hostilities and were consequently able to withstand the strong army of Islam for a month. At times it took ten days making efforts to conquer a fort but the purpose was not achieved.
The Fortifications of the Jews Tumble Down
The place chosen by the officers of Islam as the headquarters of the army in this Islamic jihad was not very important from the military point of view. The Jewish army had complete control over it and there was no obstacle or impediment to their taking aims upon the headquarters of the army of Islam. In view of this one of the experienced warriors of Islam named Hubab bin Munzir came to the Prophet and said:
“If you have encamped at this spot under the orders of the Almighty, I don’t have the least objection to it, because the commandments of Allah are above all our opinions and precautions. However, if it is a usual matter on which the officers can express their opinions, I am obliged to say that this point is within the view of the enemies and is situated near the Fort of Natah and as there are no trees or houses here the archers of the fort can very easily take aim at the centre of our army”.
The Prophet, acting on one of the most important principles of Islam (viz. the principle of consultation and of according respect to the views of others), spoke thus:
“If you mention a better place I shall shift my camp there”.
After examining the land of Khayber, Hubab suggested a place which was situated behind the date-palm trees and the army staff and headquarters were accordingly transferred there. Thereafter, till the conquest of Khayber, the officers and the Prophet of Islam came to the forts everyday from that place and returned to their camping place at night.492
No decisive view can be expressed with regard to the details of the war of Khayber. However, it is learnt from all the books on history and biography of the Prophet that the soldiers of Islam besieged the forts one by one and endeavoured to cut off communication of the besieged fort from other forts and resorted to besiege another fort after conquering the former one. The conquest was delayed of those forts which were connected with one another by underground passages or whose warriors put up a stubborn resistance, whereas those forts, whose commanders were over-awed or whose connection with other forts was completely cut off were conquered easily. In such cases much lesser bloodshed took place and matters were settled expeditiously.
According to some historians the first fort of Khayber which surrendered to the Islamic forces after great effort and sufferings was the Fort of Na’im. The conquest of this fort cost the martyrdom of Mahmud bin Maslamah Ansari, one of the greatest commanders of Islam. In this battle fifty soldiers of Islam were wounded. Mahmud bin Maslamah was struck by a stone which was flung from above and died instantly. However, according to Ibn Athir,493 he died after three days. As regards the fifty soldiers who were wounded they were carried to a place in the camping place which was meant for dressing of wounds.494 A group of the women of Bani Ghifar tribe came to Khayber with the permission of the Prophet to assist the Muslims, to dress their wounds and to render all other services permissible for women in the army encampments. They rendered these services whole-heartedly and sincerely.495
The war council decided that after conquering the Fort of Na’im, the Muslim soldiers should attack the Fort of Qamus. Its chief was Ibn Abil Haqiq. As a consequence of the self-sacrifice of the soldiers of Islam, this fort was also conquered and Safiyah, daughter of Hay bin Akhtab, who later became the wife of the Prophet, was arrested.
These two great conquests strengthened the morale of the soldiers of Islam and awe and fear prevailed over the Jews. However, the Muslims were in a great fix on account of foodstuffs, so much so that they were obliged to eat the meat of some animals, whose meat is abominable (though not unlawful). The fort which contained abundant foodstuffs had not yet come into the hands of the Muslims.
Piety in the Very Face of Hardships
At a time when the Muslims were faced with extreme hunger and satisfied it by using the meat of animals, whose meat is disapproved, there came before the Prophet a black faced shepherd who served as a cattle-man of the Jews and requested that the reality of Islam might be explained to him. On hearing the impressive and penetrating words of the Prophet, he embraced Islam at once and said:
“All these sheep have been entrusted to me (by the Jews). What am I to do with them now when my contact with their masters has been cut off?”
The Prophet said to him in clear terms in the presence of hundreds of hungry soldiers:
“In my religion breach of trust is one of the greatest crimes. It is necessary that you should take all the sheep to the gate of the fort and hand them over to their masters”.
He complied with the Prophet’s orders and then participated in the battle immediately and met martyrdom in the path of Islam.496
No doubt, the Prophet who had acquired the title of Amin (righteous) during his early age continued to be righteous and honest in all circumstances The traffic of the herds was free in the morning as well as in the afternoon throughout the period of siege and not even one Muslim thought of taking away the sheep of the enemy, because Muslims too had become righteous and honest under the sublime teachings of their great leader. Only on one day, when all of them were fully overpowered by hunger, he permitted them to catch only two sheep from the herd and let the others enter the fort. This too would not have been done if acute hunger had not obliged them to do so. Hence, as and when the soldiers complained of hunger the Prophet raised his hands in prayer and said:
“O Lord! Make the soldiers conquer the fort in which foodstuffs are stocked”.
He did not, however, allow them to acquire the property of the people until victory had been achieved.497
By taking these facts in view the baselessness of the statements of some biased contemporary orientalists become patent, because, in order to belittle the sublime aims of Islam, they endeavour to prove that the battles fought by the Muslims were aimed at plundering and collecting booty, and the rules of justice at the time of fighting battles were not observed by them. However, the incident mentioned above as well as other similar incidents recorded in history prove the falsehood of these statements, because the Prophet did not permit, even in the most difficult circumstances (e.g. when his self-sacrificing soldiers were faced with hunger and death), that the shepherd should commit breach of trust with his Jewish employers, although he could confiscate all the sheep at that time.
The Forts are Conquered one after the other
After the conquest of the said forts the besieging forces turned their attention to the Forts of Watih and Sulalim.498 However, the attacks by the Muslims were strongly resisted by the Jews outside the fort and the warriors of Islam could not gain victory in spite of their dauntless courage. The figures of the heavy losses sustained by them have been recorded by the great biographer of Islam, Ibn Hisham, under a special column. They fought with the Jews for ten days but returned to the camping-place everyday without achieving any success.
On one of these ten days Abu Bakr was nominated to fight for victory. He came up to the edge of the fort carrying a white standard and the brave soldiers of Islam moved under his command. However, after some time they returned without achieving any result and the commander and the army held each other responsible for failure and fleeing the battlefield.
On the following day the command of the army was entrusted to Umar. He also repeated the story of his friend and, according to Tabari,499 frightened the companions of the Prophet by praising the chief of the fort, Marhab, for his extraordinary valour and bravery. The Prophet and the commanders of Islam were very much displeased at this.500 In the meantime the Prophet called the officers and warriors of the army together and uttered the following stirring sentences which are recorded in the history:
“Tomorrow I shall give this standard to a person who loves Allah and the Prophet and who is loved by Allah and the Prophet and Allah will accomplish conquest of this fort at his hands. He is a man who has never turned his back towards the enemy and does not flee the battlefield”.
And as quoted by Tabarsi and Halabi he used the words ‘Karrar Ghayr-i Farrar’ which mean one who attacks the enemy and does not run away501 (i.e. he is quite the opposite of the aforesaid two commanders).
This sentence, which is an evidence of the superiority, spiritual excellence and valour of the commander, who was destined to be the victor, created a clamour of joy coupled with agitation of mind amongst the soldiers and commanders of the army, and everyone of them was desirous502 that this great military medal might fall to his share.
The darkness of night spread everywhere. The soldiers of Islam went to sleep and, the sentries took their positions at elevated places to watch the movements of the enemy. At last the day dawned. The commanders came round the Prophet. The two defeated commanders also attended with protracted necks and were anxious to know as early as possible as to whom the glorious standard was going to be given.503
The silence of the anxiously waiting persons was broken by the Prophet’s words:
“Where is Ali?”
He was informed that he was suffering from an ailment of the eyes and was resting in a corner. The Prophet said:
“Ali was mounted on a camel and was made to alight before the tent of the Prophet”.
This sentence shows that the ailment of the eye was so severe that it had made the commander incapable of movement. The Prophet drew his own hand on his eyes and prayed for him. This action and this prayer had an effect like the breath of Prophet ‘Isa, for thereafter the eyes of Ali, the great commander of Islam, had no complaint throughout his life.
The Prophet ordered Ali to advance. He reminded him in this connection that before resorting to fighting he should send his representatives to the chiefs of the fort and should invite them to embrace Islam. In case, however, they declined to do so he should inform them of their obligations under the banner of the Government of Islam viz. that they should disarm themselves and lead a free life under the protection of Islam on payment of jizyah.504 In case, however, they refused to accept any of these proposals he should resort to fighting. And the last sentence which the Prophet uttered as a guideline to Ali was this:
“If the Almighty Allah guides even one person through you it is better than that you should be possessing red-haired camels and should spend them in the path of Allah”.505
There is no doubt that the Prophet thought of showing the right path to the human beings even during the battle and this in itself shows that these battles were fought for the guidance of the people.
The Great victory at Khayber
The historians and biographers of Islam have written in detail, on the conquest of Khayber and one learns a number of facts by studying these writings. We mention here what has been written by the biographers of the Prophet by way of narration of events, and shall undertake its scrutiny later.
The texts and pages of the history of Islam relating to this battle show that, without the bravery and self-sacrifice of the Commander of the Faithful, it would not have been possible to conquer the dangerous forts of the Jews of Khayber. Though some writers have tampered with facts and replaced them by myths; yet a considerable number of research scholars have paid due tributes to Ali in the matter. A summarized version of this historical event as collected from various history books is given below:
When Ali was appointed by the Prophet to conquer the Forts of Watih and Sulalim (the same forts which the two earlier commanders had failed to conquer and had dealt an irreparable blow to the prestige of the army of Islam by showing a clean pair of heels) he put on a strong coat of mail and fastened his sword, Zulfiqar, to his belt. He then proceeded to the fort with the special courage which behoves the champions in the field and installed the standard of Islam, which the Prophet had given him, at a place near Khayber. In the meantime the Gate of Khayber was opened and the brave men of the Jews came out. First of all Marhab’s brother came forward. His formidable mien and yelling voice was so terrifying that the soldiers, who were behind Ali, stepped back involuntarily. However, Ali stuck to his place like a mountain. Soon after Ali struck Harith down, his wounded body lay on the ground, and he breathed his last.
The death of Harith made Marhab very sad. He came forward to avenge his brother’s death in such a state that he was armed to teeth.He had put on a Yemen coat of mail on his body and was wearing a cap made of a particular stone on his head which he had covered with a helmet. According to the custom of the champions of Arabia he recited the following epic verses:
“The doors and walls of Khayber testify that I am Marhab. I am an experienced warrior and am equipped with weapons of war.If time is victorious I too am victorious. Warriors who face me in the battlefield are coloured with their blood”.
Ali also recited epic verses in reply and cast his own position as a soldier, and the strength of his arms, and said:
“I am the same person whom his mother called Haydar (lion). I am a valiant person and a lion of the jungles (of bravery). I have powerful hands and a strong neck. In the battlefield I strike the people with awe like a lion”.
The epic verses from both the sides came to an end. The thunderous sound of the blows of swords and spears of the two warriors created a peculiar awe in the minds of the on-lookers. Suddenly the sharp and knocking sword of the hero of Islam struck the head of Marhab and cut his shield, helmet, stone-cap and head up to teeth into two parts. This blow was so severe that some Jewish soldiers, who were standing behind Marhab, ran away and took refuge in the fort, and some others who did not flee fought hand to hand with Ali and were killed. Ali pursued the fleeing Jews up to the gate of the fort. During this struggle one of the Jewish soldiers struck the shield of Ali with his sword and it (i.e. the shield) fell down from his hand. Ali immediately turned to the fort, pulled off its gate and used it as a shield till the end of the fight. And when he threw it on the ground ten strong soldiers of Islam including Abu Raf’e tried to turn it upside down but failed to do so.506 As a result of this the fort, for the conquest of which the Muslims had been waiting for ten days, was conquered in a short time.
“The gate of the fort was made of stone and was four zara’508 long and two zara’ wide.
Shaykh Mufid quotes the story of pulling off the Gate of Khayber from the Commander of the Faithful on the authority of a special source in these words:
“I pulled off the gate of Khayber and used it as a shield. After the end of the combat I placed it like a bridge on a ditch which had been dug by the Jews. Then I pitched it into the ditch”. A person asked him: “Did you feel it heavy?” Ali replied: “I felt it to be as heavy as my shield”.509
The historians have quoted very surprising things about the gate of the fort of Khayber and its peculiarities and the valour which Ali displayed in conquering this fort. The fact is that such feats cannot be performed with the usual human strength. However, Ali has explained the matter himself and has thus removed all doubts and suspicions. For, in reply to an enquiry made by a person, he said:
“I didn’t pull off that gate with human strength. I did it with the strength granted me by Allah, and on account of my firm faith in the Day of Judgement”.510
Tampering with Facts
Justice demands that we should admit that Ibn Hisham and Abu Ja’far Tabari have given a comprehensive account of the fighting of Ali in Khayber and have narrated the minutest details of the event. However, in the end, they have mentioned the imaginary possibility of Marhab having been killed at the hands of Muhammad bin Maslamah and say:
“Some believe that Marhab was killed at the hands of Muhammad bin Maslamah, because he was appointed for the purpose by the Prophet so that he might avenge the killing of his brother by the Jews at the time of the conquest of the Fort of ‘Na’im and he might have succeeded in accomplishing this task”.
This possibility is so unfounded that it cannot at all compare with the authentic and successively narrated history of Islam. Moreover, a number of difficulties are inherent in this fiction as we mention below:
1. Tabari and Ibn Hisham have quoted this fiction from a distinguished companion of the Prophet viz. Jabir bin Abdullah and the narrator of this story has quoted this anomalous matter from that great man, when the fact is that Jabir had the honour of accompanying the Prophet in all the battles, but he could not participate in this battle.
2. Muhammad bin Maslamah was not so brave that he could have become the Conqueror of Khayber and he did not show any proof of bravery in his life. In the second year of migration he was appointed by the Prophet to kill the Jew, Katb bin Ashraf, who was inciting the idolaters to rise against Islam, after the Battle of Badr, and to fight with the Muslims once again. He was, however, so much frightened that he did not eat or drink anything for three nights and days and the Prophet criticized him on account of this fear. He said in reply: “I don’t know whether or not I shall succeed in this task”. On observing this state of affairs the Prophet sent four persons with him so that they might put an end to the mischief of Katb bin Ashraf, who was trying for the renewal of hostilities between the idolaters and the Muslims. They chalked out a special plan for the purpose and killed the enemy of Allah at midnight. However, on account of excessive fear and dread, Muhammad wounded one of his own companions.511 Certainly a person with such a morale could not push back the warriors of Khayber.
3. The Conqueror of Khayber did not only combat with Marhab and kill him, but after Marhab was killed some persons fled and some others came in the battlefield one by one and engaged with him in single combat. The Jewish warriors who fought with Ali after Marhab had been killed were (i) Dawud bin Qubus (ii) Rabi’ bin Abil Haqiq (iii) Abul Ba’ith (iv) Marrah bin Marwan (v) Yasir Khayberi (vi) Zajih Khayberi.
These six persons were the champions of the Jews outside Khayber and were considered to be the greatest obstacle in the way of the conquest of the forts of Khayber. And all of them, while singing epic verses and challenging the opponent for a fight were killed at the hands of the Commander of the Faithful. In the circumstances it should be judged as to who could be the Conqueror of Khayber and the killer of Marhab. Because, if Muhammad bin Maslamah were the killer of Marhab he could not have returned to the camping-place of Islam after killing Marhab and ignored the warriors at the back of Marhab, because he should have fought with those persons as well, whereas all historians are unanimous that these persons fought with Ali and were killed at his hands.
4. This myth of history is opposed to repeated traditions quoted from the Prophet, because he said about Ali: “I shall give this standard to a man at whose hands victory will be accomplished”, and on the following day he gave the standard of victory in his hand. And one of the greatest impediments in the way of victory was Marhab of Khayber, whose bravery had made two commanders of Islam flee the field. Now if the killer of Marhab had been Muhammad bin Maslamah it was only appropriate that the Prophet should have uttered the aforesaid sentence about him and not about Ali.
The famous historian Halabi says:
“There is no doubt about the fact that Marhab was killed at the hands of Ali”.512
Ibn Athir says that the biographers and traditionalists consider Ali to be the killer of Marhab and repeated narrations have been quoted confirming this fact.
Tabari and Ibn Hisham have been somewhat disturbed and have mentioned the event of the defeat and return of the two commanders, who were appointed to conquer the fort before Ali, in such a manner that it does not conform with the purport of the sentence which the Prophet uttered about Ali. For the Prophet had said about Ali: “Who does not run away” i.e. he is a commander who does not run away, whereas the two earlier commanders had actually run away and had vacated the entrenchments. The aforesaid two writers have not, however, mentioned this point and have narrated the event in such a way as if they performed their duty fully but could not succeed in conquering the fort.
Three bright points in the life of Ali
We bring the topic to an end here after mentioning three virtues of the Conqueror of Khayber.
One day Mu’awiyah criticized Sa’d Waqqas for not cursing Ali. He said in reply:
“Whenever I am reminded of three virtues of Ali, I earnestly desire that I might have possessed at least one of them: (1). On the day on which the Prophet appointed him as his representative in Madina and himself departed for the Battle of Tabuk, he said to Ali: “You enjoy the same relationship with me which Harun enjoyed with Musa except that no prophet will come after me. (2). On the Day of Khayber the Prophet said: “Tomorrow I will give the standard to a person who is loved by Allah and the Prophet.” All the great officers and commanders of Islam were anxious to acquire this honour. On the following day, however, the Prophet called Ali and gave him the standard and Allah granted us a great victory which was solely due to the self-sacrifice of Ali. (3). When it was decided that the Prophet should engage in Mubahilah (cursing) with the leaders of Najran, he held the hands of Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Husayn, and said: “O Allah! These are the members of my family”.513
The Factors pertaining to victory
The gates of the forts of Khayber were opened and the Jews surrendered before the army of Islam under certain special conditions. However, it should be seen as to what were the factors responsible for this victory and they are of course the distinguished points of this episode. This remarkable victory of Muslims was the consequence of the following facts:
Military plan and tactics.
Procurement of information and becoming aware of the secrets of the enemy.
Perfect bravery and self-sacrifice of Ali, the Commander of the Faithful.
1. Military plan and tactics
The army of Islam encamped at a place from where it cut off contacts between the Jews and their friends (the tribes of Ghatfan). Generally speaking there were a large number of swordsmen and dauntless persons in the families of Ghatfan and if they had come to the help of the Jews and had fought side by side with them, the conquest of the Forts of Khayber would have been impossible. When the tribesmen of Ghatfan came to know about the march of the army of Islam they moved immediately with sufficient equipment to assist their allies. However, while they were on their way it was rumoured amongst them that the companions of Muhammad were proceeding to their own territory from a deviated path. This rumour gained so much strength that they returned from half-way and did not move from their place till Khayber was conquered by the Muslims.
The historians consider this rumour to be the result of an occult voice. However, it is not improbable that this rumour might have been spread by the Muslims of the tribe of Ghatfan and the inventors of this rumour were the persons who were actually Muslims and were living amongst their tribesmen in the garb of unbelievers and were so expert in designing this plan that they prevented the forces of Ghatfan from proceeding to help their allies. And this action had a precedent in the Battle of Ahzab, because as a consequence of the espionage of a Ghatfani Muslim named Na’im bin Mas’ud, the army of the infidels had scattered and had withheld their assistance from the Jews.
2. Procurement of Information
The Prophet attached great importance to the procurement of information in connection with the wars. Before besieging Khayber, therefore, he sent twenty persons to that place as fore-runners under the command of ‘Abbad bin Bashir. They met one of the residents of Khayber near that locality. After conversing with him ‘Abbad realized that he was one of the well-informed persons of the Jews. He, therefore, ordered his immediate arrest and sent him to the Prophet. When he was threatened with death he divulged all the secrets of the Jews. It was learnt from him that the Jews had become very nervous after receipt of report from the chief of the hypocrites (i.e. Abdullah bin Sallul) and they had also not yet received any assistance from the Ghatfan tribe.
During the sixth night of the battle the sentries of Islam arrested a Jew and brought him before the Prophet, who enquired from him about the conditions and affairs of the Jews. He said:
“I will tell that provided my life is guaranteed”.
When he got an assurance, he said:
“This night the soldiers of Khayber will shift from the Fort of Nastat to the Fort of Shiq to defend themselves from there. O Abul Qasim! You will conquer the Fort of Nastat tomorrow.”
The Prophet said:
“If Allah wills”.
“In that fort you will find hidden underground large quantities of catapults, military vehicles, coats of mail and swords, and with these weapons you can stone the Fort of Shiq.”514
The great leader of Islam did not utilize these destructive weapons, but the information furnished by the captured person was important since he made it clear as to which fort was to be attacked on the following day, and it became known that the conquest of the Fort of Nastat would not require a large force and a greater care was needed for the conquest of the Fort of Shiq.
After the conquest of one of the forts was delayed for three days a Jew came to the Prophet, possibly to save his own life, and said:
“Even if you stay at this place for one month you will not be able to over-power them. However, I can point out the source of supply of water to this fort and if you desire you may cut off their water supply”.
The Prophet did not agree to this proposal and said:
“We don’t cut off the supply of water to anyone lest he should die of thirst”.
However, in order to weaken the morale of the enemy he ordered that supply of water to them to be suspended temporarily. This thing frightened them so much that soon after a brief fighting, they surrendered to the army of Islam.515
3. Self-Sacrifice of Ali
We have briefly mentioned earlier the self-sacrifice made by Ali and now we quote here his own remark:
“We were stationed opposite a bigger force and the strong forts of the Jews. Their warriors came out of the forts and challenged their adversaries to fight and killed some persons every day. In the meantime the Prophet ordered me to get up and proceed towards the fort. I faced their champions and killed some of them and pushed back others. They took refuge in the fort and shut its gate. I pulled off the gate and entered the fort alone. None opposed me and in this matter there was none who assisted me except Allah”.516
Kind sentiments in the battlefield
When the Fort of Qamus was conquered Safiyah daughter of Hay bin Akhtab and another woman were made captives. Bilal let these two women pass by the dead bodies of the Jews, who had been killed in the battle, and brought them before the Prophet. When the Prophet learnt about the matter he got up, placed a cloak on Safiyah’s head, showed her respect and provided for her a special place for rest in the encampment. Then he said to Bilal harshly:
“Are you completely devoid of kind feelings that you made these women pass by the dead bodies of their dear ones?”
He did nor content himself with this only but selected Safiyah for himself and formally adopted her as his wife and thus compensated for her broken heart. Good treatment meted out to her by the Prophet and his kind sentiments had such a good effect on her that she was later considered to be one of his most affectionate and faithful wives, and she wept more than others when he was about to die.517
Kananah Bin Rabi’ is killed
Ever since the Jews of the tribe of Bani Nuzayr had been expelled from Madina and had settled in Khayber they had formed a common chest for public matters and war expenses and for the payment of blood-money on account of those, who were killed at the hands of Bani Nuzayr. The reports received by the Prophet showed that this money was under the control of Kananah, husband of Safiyah. The Prophet summoned Kananah and enquired from him about the details of the chest. He, however, denied having any knowledge about it. Orders were, therefore, given that he might be kept in custody and more information about the chest might be collected. Those appointed for locating the money commenced investigation. Eventually a person said:
“I think that this treasure is hidden at such and such place (a ruined place), because I have seen Kananah visiting that place very often during the battle and thereafter.”
The Prophet called Kananah once again and said:
“It is said that the chest is at such and such place. If the treasure is found from there you will be killed”.
He again pleaded ignorance. As ordered by the Prophet the place in question was dug and the treasure of Bani Nuzayr fell in the hands of the soldiers of Islam. It now became necessary to punish Kananah for his deeds. Besides concealing this fact (i.e. the location of treasure) he had also assassinated one of the officers of Islam in a dastardly manner (i.e. he had suddenly thrown a big stone at the head of Mahmud bin Maslamah, who died instantly). In order to take revenge and also to chastise the Jews, so that they might not practise deceit and falsehood on the Government of Islam in future, the Prophet handed over Kananah to the deceased’s brother, who killed him as a measure of revenge.518 Kananah was the last person to be put to death for assassinating a distinguished officer of Islam.
War Booty is divided
After the conquest of the enemy forts, and general disarmament and collection of the booty, the Prophet ordered the entire booty to be brought at a particular place. As directed by the Prophet a man proclaimed loudly amongst the soldiers of Islam:
“It is incumbent upon every Muslim to return to the public treasury whatever booty has come into his hands even though it may be a thread and a needle, because breach of trust is a matter of shame and will prove to be a fire for his soul on the Day of Judgement”.
The real leaders of Islam have been very strict in the matter of trusteeship; so much so that they have considered the return of deposits to be one of the signs of faith, and breach of trust to be one of the signs of hypocrisy.519
Hence, when stolen property was found in the property left behind by a soldier the Prophet did not offer his funeral prayers. The details of this incident are as follows:
On the day of departure from Khayber an unexpected arrow hit a slave who was responsible for fastening the camel-litters for the Prophet and he died instantly. Persons appointed for the purpose made investigations but no result was achieved. All said:
“May he be blessed with Paradise”.
However, the Prophet said:
“I don’t concur with you in the matter, because the cloak on his body is a part of war booty and he committed a breach of trust, and it will encircle him in the shape of fire on the Day of Judgement.”
In the meantime one of the companions of the Prophet said:
“I have taken two shoe-laces out of the booty without permission”.
The Prophet said:
“Return them; otherwise they will be fastened to your feet on the Day of Judgement in the shape of fire”.520
It is here that the ulterior motives of the biased orientalists become evident, because they describe the battles of Islam as plundering, but shut their eyes from their spiritual aims, as this type of discipline cannot be expected from a plundering group. It is not possible for the leader of a plundering community to treat honesty as the sign of faith and to train his soldiers in such a manner that he should be able to restrain them from taking even a shoe-lace from the public property.
A Caravan from Ethiopia the Memorable Land
Before proceeding to Khayber the Prophet sent ‘Amr bin Umayyah to the court of the Negus. The purpose of sending his envoy to the Ethiopian court was that he should convey a message of the Prophet to the King of Ethiopia and ask him to provide facilities for the departure of all the Muslims residing in Ethiopia. The Negus arranged two boats for them. The boats of the Muhajirs cast the anchor on the coast near Madina. The Muslims came to know that the Prophet had proceeded to Khayber and they also arrived in Khayber without any delay. The travellers of Ethiopia arrived at the time when all the forts had been conquered. The Prophet took sixteen steps forward to receive Ja’far bin Abu Talib, kissed his forehead and said:
“I don’t know for which thing I should be happier-whether for that I have met you after so many years or for that Allah has opened the forts of the Jews for us through your brother Ali”. Then he added: “Today I wish to give you a gift”. People thought that the gift would be just like other material gifts consisting of gold or silver. Suddenly, however, the Prophet broke the silence and taught him a prayer which later became known as the ‘Prayer of Ja’far Tayyar.'”521
Figures of Casualties
The casualties of the Muslims in this battle did not exceed twenty. The casualties of the Jews were ninety three as recorded in the history books.522
Forgiveness at the time of Victory
When great and pious persons are victorious they show love and kindness to their vanquished and helpless enemies. As soon as the enemy surrenders they show indulgence to him and refrain from taking revenge and from nursing a grudge against him.
After the conquest of Khayber the great leader of the Muslims showed kind sentiments to the people of that place (notwithstanding the fact that they had spent large sums of money to instigate the idolatrous Arabs to rise against him and had subjected Madina to attack and possible fall) and conceded their demand that they might stay on in Khayber and continue to possess the lands and trees of that area subject to the condition that they would pay half of the produce to the Muslims.523 Not only this according to Ibn Hisham’s own quotation524 the Prophet made the above suggestion himself and thereby accorded freedom to the Jews to remain engaged in agriculture and to plant and bring up trees.
The Prophet could put all of them to sword or expel them from Khayber or compel them to embrace Islam. However, as opposed to the thinking of the biased orientalists and the hirelings and theoretical soldiers of colonialism who imagine that Islam has been spread at the point of sword, he the Prophet did not do any such thing, but granted them complete asylum, and allowed them to follow the principles, rules, regulations and ceremonies of their religion.
If the Prophet waged war against the Jews of Khayber it was on account of the fact that Khayber and its residents were the centre of danger for Islam and always collaborated with the idolaters to topple down the newly established Government of the Muslims. The Prophet was, therefore, obliged to fight with them and to disarm them so that they might engage themselves freely in agriculture and might perform their religious functions under the suzerainty of the Islamic Government. Otherwise life would have become very difficult for the Muslims and advancement of Islam would have come to a halt.
If he took jizyah from them it was for the reason that they enjoyed security under the Islamic Government and it was obligatory upon the Muslims to protect their lives and property. And according to minute calculations the taxes which every Muslim was obliged to pay the Islamic Government, exceeded the jizyah which the Jews and the Christians were required to pay. The Muslims had to pay zakat and khums and at times they had also to make payments out of their net property to meet the needs of the Islamic Government. As compared with this the Jews and the Christians, who lived under the banner of Islam and enjoyed collective and individual rights, had to make payments, like the Muslims, by way of jizyah, for the security of this banner. The imposition of Islamic jizyah is something different from taking tribute.
The representative of the Prophet, who was nominated every year to assess and divide (into two halves) the produce of Khayber, was a virtuous and just person, who commanded admiration of the Jews for his impartiality and justice. This person was Abdullah Rawaha, who was later killed in the Battle of Mota. He used to assess the share of the Muslims out of the produce of Khayber and at times the Jews thought that he had been mistaken in his assessment and had ear-marked (the share of the Muslims) in excess (of what it ought to have been). He used to say in reply:
“l am prepared to hand over the fixed portion to you and the rest should be the property of the Muslims.”
The Jews praised his justice by saying;
“The skies and the earth are stable under the shadow of such equity and justice”.525
When the war booty was collected a fragment of the Taurat fell in the hands of the Muslims. The Jews requested the Prophet that the same might be given to them. The Prophet directed the person holding charge of the public treasury to return it (to the, Jews).
Stubborn behaviour of the Jews
Notwithstanding these highly kind sentiments, the Jews did not give up their obstinacy and treachery. They sat in ambush for the Prophet and his companions and made plots against them. Here we quote two examples of their perfidies:
Some persons instigated a woman named Zaynab, who was the wife of one of the nobles of the Jews, to poison the Prophet’s food. The woman sent someone to one of the companions of the Prophet and asked him as to which part of a sheep the Prophet liked most. He replied that the arm of a sheep was his favourite food. Zaynab roasted a sheep and poisoned the entire meat, but put more poison in the arm. Then she sent it to the Prophet as a present. When the Prophet put the first morsel in his mouth he felt that it was poisoned. He, therefore, threw it out of his mouth immediately. However, Bishr bin Bara’ Ma’rur, who was sharing the meals with him, ate some more morsels unconsciously and passed away after some time. The Prophet ordered that Zaynab should be summoned in his presence, and, on her arrival, asked her as to why she had tried to play with his life. She put up a childish excuse and said: “You have upset the conditions of our tribe. I thought that if you were the ruler you would die of the poison and if you were a Prophet of Allah you would certainly become aware of it and would refrain from eating the meat”. The Prophet forgave her and did not also prosecute the people, who had incited her to commit that crime. However, if such a thing had happened to some other ruler, who had not been a Prophet, he would have mercilessly put the culprits to death or would have sentenced them to long imprisonment.526
On account of such evil intentions of a Jewish woman most of the companions of the Prophet also did not trust in the Jewess Safiyah, who had now become his wife, and considered it probable that she might make an attempt on his life during night. Hence, Abu Ayub Ansari took responsibility to guard the tent of the Prophet at Khayber as well as on way back to Madina, although the Prophet was not aware of the sympathy on his part. Hence, when the Prophet came out of his tent in the morning he saw Abu Ayub pacing it with a drawn sword in his hand. On the Prophet inquiring about the reason for this he replied: “Traces of fanaticism and infidelity have not yet been effaced from the heart of this woman (Safiyah) who is now one of your wives and I put little confidence in her intentions. Hence I have been pacing your tent from night till morning so as to protect your life”. The Prophet was thankful for the kind feelings of his old friend and prayed for him.527
Once Abdullah bin Sahl was appointed by the Prophet to transfer the proceeds of Khayber to Madina. While he was performing his duty he was attacked by an unidentified group of Jews. As a result of this attack his neck was seriously injured. He fell down on the ground with a broken neck and breathed his last. The attacking group threw his body in a pool. The elders of the Jews sent some persons to the Prophet to inform him of the mysterious death of his representative. The brother of the murdered person named Abdur Rahman bin Sahl came to the Prophet along with his cousins and informed him of the incident. The brother of the murdered person wished to initiate conversation on the subject, but as he was the youngest amongst all those present, the Prophet alluded to one of the social manners of Islam and said, “Kabir, Kabir” i.e. he should let the older persons speak first. Eventually the Prophet said: “If you can identify the murderer of Abdullah and swear that he is the murderer, I shall arrest him and place him at your disposal”. They, however, displayed piety and righteousness and, notwithstanding their anger, did not conceal the truth and said: “We can’t identify the murderer”. The Prophet then said: “Do you agree that the Jews should state on oath that they have not killed him and should, on the basis of such oath, be acquitted of the murder of Abdullah?” They, however, replied that the agreements and oaths of the Jews could not be relied upon. In the circumstances the Prophet ordered a letter to be written to the elders of the Jews telling them that the dead body of a Muslim had been found in their land and they should, therefore, pay blood-money on this account. In their reply the Jews swore that they had not at all killed Abdullah and were also not aware about the murderer. The Prophet realized that the matter had reached a stage of deadlock. In order, therefore, to obviate renewed bloodshed he personally paid the blood-money for Abdullah.528 By this act he once again showed the Jews that he was not a warmonger and in case he had been an ordinary statesman he would have made the incident of Abdullah like the shirt of Uthman and put a number of the Jews to death. However, as the Holy Qur’an introduces him, he was a messenger of blessings and a manifestation of the kindness of Allah and did not unsheathe his sword unless he was compelled to do so.
The Jews are expelled from Khayber
The excesses of the Jews were not confined to these incidents and they harassed the Muslims every now and then with their different schemes. Eventually, during the Caliphate of Umar, his son Abdullah, who had gone to Khayber along with some other persons to conclude an agreement was tortured by the Jews. The Caliph came to know about the incident and thought of solving the problem. Then, relying on a tradition of the Prophet which had been quoted by some persons, he said to the companions of the Prophet:
“Whoever has to realize a debt from the people of Khayber should realize it, for I am going to give orders that they should leave this place”.
Soon afterwards the Jews of Khayber were banished from there on account of repeated excesses committed by them and they left the Peninsula.529
Lie justified by its motive
A merchant named Hajjaj bin ‘Ilat was present in Khayber. He had trade dealings with the people of Makkah. The grandeur of Islam and the affection and kindness shown by the Prophet to this obstinate nation (i.e. the Jews) enlightened his heart and he came to the Prophet and embraced Islam. Then he drew up a plan to realize his dues from the people of Makkah. He entered the city of Makkah through a gate and saw that the chiefs of Quraysh were awaiting news and were very much anxious about the developments at Khayber. All of them encircled his camel and enquired impatiently about the condition of Muhammad. He replied:
“Muhammad has suffered an unparalleled defeat and his companions have been killed or captured. He himself has been captured and the chiefs of the Jews have decided to bring him to Makkah and to execute him before the very eyes of Quraysh”.
This false report pleased them immensely. Then he turned to the people and said:
“In view of this good news I request you to pay me my dues as early as possible so that I may go to Khayber earlier than other merchants and may purchase the slaves”.
The duped people paid him his dues in a very short time.
The circulation of this news extremely upset Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet, and he desired to meet Hajjaj. He, however, winked at Abbas which meant that he would let him know the real facts later. A short time before his departure he met the Prophet’s uncle secretly and said:
“I have embraced Islam and I chalked out this plan only to realize my dues. The correct news is that on the day on which I left Khayber all the forts had been conquered by the Muslims and the daughter of their leader named Hay bin Akhtab (Safiyah) had been captured and had become a wife of the Prophet. Please make these facts known to the people after three days of my departure”.
After three days Abbas put on his best dress, scented himself with the costliest perfume and entered the mosque with a staff in his hand and began to go round the Ka’bah. Quraysh were surprised to see the dress of Abbas which displayed his joy and happiness, because they thought that, in view of the calamity which had befallen his nephew, he should have worn a dress of mourning. He, however, relieved them of their surprise by saying:
“The report which Hajjaj furnished you was a clever device to realize his dues. He has embraced Islam and he had left Khayber when Muhammad had gained the greatest victory, and the Jews had been disarmed and some of them had been killed and others had been made captives”.
The chiefs of Quraysh became very sad on hearing this news and soon afterwards they heard the same thing (from other sources as well).530
486. Seerah-i Halabi, vol. III, page 36 and Tarikh-i Ya’qubi, vol. II, page 46.
487. At times it is said that in spite of this perfect camouflage the chief of the hypocrites (Abdullah Sallul) informed the Jews of Khayber of the plan and advised them that besides defending themselves from above the forts they should also fight with the Muslims outside the forts.
488. Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. II, page 330.
489. Amali Tusi, page 164.
490. Tarikh-i Kamil, vol. II, page 147.
491. Seerah-i Halabi, page 38.
492. Seerah-i Halabi, vol. III, page 39.
493. Usudul Ghabah, vol. IV, page 334.
494. Seerah-i Halabi, vol. III, page 40.
495. Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. III, page 342.
496. Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. III, page 344.
497. Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. II, page 335.
498. Some historians believe that the said forts were occupied peacefully through negotiations and the events now being narrated, relate to the Forts of Qamus or Nastat.
499. Tarikh-i Tabari, vol. Il. page 300.
500. Majma’ul Bayan, vol IX, p. 120 and Seerah-i Halabi, vol. II, p. 43.
501. The story of the fleeing of the two commanders touched Ibn Abil Hadid, the great historian of Islam, extremely. He says in his famous Qasidah (poem ): “Even if I forget everything I cannot forget the story of these two great commanders of Islam, because they proceeded towards the enemy with swords in their hands, but turned their backs towards the enemy and ran away although they knew that it is unlawful to run away from jihad. They took the great standard of Islam towards the enemy, although, in fact, their lot was humiliation and degradation. A swift man from amongst the descendants of Prophet Musa was turning them away. He was a tall man who was mounted on a swift-running horse”.
502. When Ali heard these words of the Prophet in the tent he said with a strong desire in his mind: “O Lord! If you reward somebody, nobody can deprive him; and if you deprive somebody, nobody can reward him”. (Seerah-i Halabi, vol. III, page 41).
503. The words used in Tarikh-i Tabari in this behalf are: Fa tatawala Abu Bakr wa Umar.
504. Biharul Anwar, vol. XXI, page 28.
505. Sahih Muslim, vol. V, page 195; Sahih Bukhari, vol. V, pp. 22-23,
506. Tarikh-i Tabari, vol. II, page 94.
507. Tarikh-i Ya’qubi, vol. II, page 46.
508. One zara’ is about 15 inches.
509. al-Irshad, page 59.
510. Biharul Anwar, vol. XXI, page 21.
511. Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. Il. page 65.
512. Seerah-i Halabi, vol. III, page 44.
513. Sahih Muslim, vol. Vll, page 120.
514. Seerah-i Halabi, vol. III, page 41.
515. Seerah-i Halabi, vol. III, page 47 .
516. Khisal, vol. II. Page 16
517. Tarikh-i Tabari, vol III, page 302.
518. Seerah-i ibn Hisham, vol III. page 337 and Bihar, vol. XXI, page 33.
519. Wasa’ilush Shi’ah, chapter on Jihad bin Nafs, tradition No. 4.
520. Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. III, page 339.
521. Khisal, vol. II, page 86 and Furu’-i Kafi, vol. I, page 129.
522. Biharul Anwar, vol. XXI, page 32.
523. Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. I, page 327.
524. Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. I, page 356.
525. Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. II, p. 354 and Furu’-i Kafi, vol. l, p. 405.
526. lt is well-known that on the occasion of the illness of the Prophet which resulted in his death he said: “This ailment is due to the effects of the poisoned food which that Jewess had brought for me after the conquest (of Khayber)”. Although the Prophet threw out the very first morsel, the dangerous poison got mixed with his saliva to some extent and affected his health.
527. Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. II, pp. 399 – 340; Bihar, vol. XX, page 6.
528. Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol II, page 356.
529. Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. III, page 356.
530. Biharul Anwar, vol. XXI, page 34.