The Battle of the Ditch

This battle, which is also called al-khandaq (the ditch) or al-ahzab (the Allies), took place in Shawwal, the 5th year of Hegira[^197] when Huyay ibn Akhtab, some chiefs of Banu’l-Nazir who had taken refuge in Khaybar and a group of Banu-Wa’il had visited Quraysh in Mecca and encouraged them to take part in a war against the Holy Prophet.

They promised them of all sorts of assistance. Quraysh asked them, “Which one is better; our religion or Muhammad’s?” Although the Jews doctrinally believed in God and they should not have supported idolatry, they answered, “Your religion is better than Muhammad’s and you are closer to the reality.”

Having heard this, Quraysh were encouraged to fight the Holy Prophet. God condemns this hostile judgment of theirs in the following manner:

Have you not seen those to whom a portion of the book has been given? They believe in idols and false deities and say of those who disbelieve: They are better guided in the path than those who believe.

Those are they whom Allah curses you shall not find any helper for him. (4:51-52)

This hostile judgment of the Jewish leaders was so far away from logic and justice that some current Jews condemn it. In his book entitled The History of Judaism in the Land of Arabs, Dr. Israel Wolfinson, a Jewish historian, writes:

“They should not have committed such an obnoxious blunder; they should not have deemed the worshiping of idols superior to the Islamic monotheism even if they would fall out of Quraysh’s love and care. This is because the Israelites have been carrying the banner of monotheists among the idol-worshippers for centuries.[^198]”

Next, the Jewish leaders resorted to the chiefs of the Ghatafan tribe asking for assistance in a war against Muslims.[^199] Out of this tribe, the branches Banu-Fazarah, Banu-Murrah and Banu-Ashja` declared their cooperation.[^200] Then the agreement of Banu-Sulaym and Banu-Asad was obtained.[^201]

Quraysh gained the support of their previous allies; Banu-Thaqif and Banu-Kinanah.[^202] As a result, a strong military force consisting of ten thousand troops[^203] and headed by Abu-Sufyan started moving towards Medina. On their way, Huyay ibn Akhtab pledged Abu-Sufyan the cooperation of Banu-Qurayzah who had seventy-five warriors.[^204]

Concerning the great capital which both Quraysh and the Jews had spent on the preparation for this war, they considered it epoch-making and were determined to annihilate Muslims forever.

Through the secret reports of Banu-Khuza`ah who were allies of Muslims, the Holy Prophet knew about the movement of the enemy troops.[^205] In a military session held by the Holy Prophet, nobody agreed to leave Medina; the vote was unanimous.[^206]

There were palm-groves around the city and they hindered the enemy’s free access.[^207] Salman proposed that they would dig a ditch around the part of the city in which there were no natural obstructions so that the enemy could not pass.[^208] The ditch was dug in a short time due to the participation of all Muslims, including the Holy Prophet.[^209] He had women and children relocated to the castles and shelters inside the city.[^210] The Islamic forces, consisting of three thousand,[^211] stayed between the ditch and Mount Sala`, having it behind them.[^212]

The commanders of the allies expected the war to take place outside Medina like the Battle of Uhud. However, this did not happen. Arriving at the city borders and noticing the ditch, they were bewildered, because the digging of the ditch was unprecedented among Arabs as a war technique.[^213] Thus, they had to surround the city behind the ditch.

The siege lasted for nearly twenty days and both parties started shooting at each other. The warriors of Quraysh started special military maneuvers to frighten the Muslim troops.[^214] Due to the enemy’s siege of the city, Muslims were caught in a severe plight, which is described by God in the following words:

[Those who believe remember the day] when they came upon you from above you and from below you, and when the eyes turned dull, and the hearts rose up to the throats, and you began to think diverse thoughts of Allah. There the believers were tried and they were shaken with severe shaking. (33:10-11)

The Treason of Banu-Qurayzah

At this time, something else took place and jeopardized the Muslims’ status even more; Banu-Qurayzah breached their nonaggression pact with Muslims. They did so on account of Huyay ibn Akhtab’s temptations.[^215] Moreover, they committed two other acts of treason: first, they brought ammunitions to the allies who were short in supplies. At Quba, Muslims waylaid a caravan, arranged by Banu-Qurayzah, carrying dates and barely for the enemy and they confiscated it.[^216] Second, they spread terror in women’s’ shelters.

As one of them entered the castle where women were sheltering, he was killed by safiyyah, the Holy Prophet’s aunt.[^217] One night, Banu-Qurayzah decided to attack the center of Medina. For this purpose, they sent Huyay ibn Akhtab to Mecca asking the chiefs of Quraysh for one thousand troops. They also asked Ghatafan the same.

Reports of these movements and proceedings reached the Holy Prophet, who, as a result, appointed five hundred warriors to protect the city, which was panic-stricken. These warriors stayed overnight crying out ‘allahu-akbar (Allah is the Most Great) and protected the civil sections.[^218]

Reasons of the failure of the Allies

In addition to the digging of the ditch, several factors contributed to the failure of the troops of the Allies:

(1) Disagreement between Banu-Qurayzah and the Allies

Nu`aym ibn Mas`ud, a member of Ghatafan tribe, had recently accepted Islam. Having acquired permission of the Holy Prophet to use deceptive tactics against the enemy,[^219] he met with Banu-Qurayzah and, pretending to be their friends, started reproaching them, saying, “Your position is different from Quraysh’s.

If they lose the war, they will return home; but you have nowhere to go to if you lose. Muslims will then destroy you altogether.” He then suggested that they should take as hostages several chiefs of the Allies and keep them to the end of the war. He then revealed this military secret made by Banu-Qurayzah to the chiefs of Quraysh and Ghatafan, saying, “Banu-Qurayzah have decided to surrender to Muhammad and give him these chiefs as a sign of goodwill.

” He then warned them not to accept such a proposal. This plan worked well; differences developed between these two groups and the Allies were destroyed from within.[^220]

(2) The killing of `Amr ibn `Abd-Wudd

Quraysh had to bring the war to an end because they were pressure for three reasons:

First: Because the war took a longer period than expected, there was shortage in supplies.

Second: The weather became so cold that they could not bear staying inside tents.

Third: Dhu’l-Qa`dah, one of the sacred months in which fighting was forbidden, was approaching. If the war could not end in Shawwal, it would certainly be postponed for three months.[^221] Therefore, the Allies were determined to bring the war to an end at all costs. For this purpose, five of the bravest warriors jumped with their horses to the other side of the ditch[^222]and demanded equal opponents to fight.

One of them was the famous Arab warrior, `Amr ibn `Abd-Wudd, who was famed as the hero of yalyal and the hero of Quraysh.[^223] Having crossed the ditch, `Amr shouted, “Is there any fighter to face me?”. None of the Muslim troops answered him.[^224] He repeated this call seven time and each time Imam `Ali would rise and ask the Holy Prophet to permit him to confront this warrior. Finally, permission was given to Imam `Ali. As he proceeded to confront `Amr, the Holy Prophet said,

“The entire Islam will face the entire unbelief.”[^225]

In a great duel, Imam `Ali could kill `Amr. Seeing this, the other four warriors who had passed the ditch flew. One of them had fallen in the ditch with his horse before he was killed by Muslims.[^226]

Seeing this great bravery of Imam `Ali, the Holy Prophet said, “Your deed today is superior to all deeds of Muslims put together. As `Amr is killed, all houses of the enemies are miserable and all houses of Muslims feel dignity.”[^227]

On the word of al-Hakim al-Naysaburi, a great Sunni traditionist, the Holy Prophet had declared:

“`Ali’s fighting with `Amr at the ditch is more favorable than the good deeds of all Muslims up to the Resurrection Day.”[^228]

With the killing of `Amr, the Allies lost their morale; signs of defeat appeared in their camp so evidently that each tribe decided to retreat.[^229] (3) Divine Assistance

The last blow to the enemy was done by God Who caused a terrible storm to dominant over them at night. The storm destroyed their tents completely. As a consequence, Abu-Sufyan ordered them to return to Mecca.[^230] Referring to this victory, God the Almighty states in the Holy Qur'an:

O you who believe; call to mind the favor of Allah to you when there came down upon you hosts; so, We sent against them a strong wind and hosts that you saw not, and Allah is Seeing what you do. (33:9)

And Allah tuned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not obtain any advantage, and Allah sufficed the believers in fighting; and Allah is Strong, Mighty. (33:25)

Despite the enemy’s great expenditure on his war, the results of were bitter and disastrous because they could neither damage Medina nor free the Damascus trade route. In this way, Abu-Sufyan’s military credit was greatly damaged and the status of Quraysh was badly hurt. After this war, Muslims had more courage to attack their enemy. The Holy Prophet said, “From now on, we will attack and they will have no ability to attack us.”[^231] The martyrs in this war are reported to be six[^232] and the enemy casualties were three.[^233]

The War of Banu-Qurayzah

After the retreat of the Allies, the Holy Prophet was commissioned to go after Banu-Qurayzah. In the evening of the next day, the Holy Prophet ordered his men to surround the stronghold of Banu-Qurayzah whose members were shooting from this stronghold and insulting the Holy Prophet.

After a twenty-five day siege, Banu-Qurayzah had to surrender. Aws who were in a military pact with Banu-Qurayzah asked the Holy Prophet to treat their allies the same way as he had treated Banu-Qaynuqa`, the Allies of Khazaraj. The Holy Prophet said, “Let your leader, Sa`d ibn Mu`adh, be a judge in this issue.

” The people of Aws and Banu-Qurayzah accepted. Traditionally, Sa`d should have favored Banu-Qurayzah. Uninfluenced by the recommendation of his tribe, Sa`d declared that he would not fear any criticism. When he obtained the permission of both sides, he issued that men of Banu-Qurayzah should be killed, their women and children taken as captives and their possessions confiscated.

This verdict was immediately put into action. Huyay ibn Akhtab, the chief of Banu’l-Nazir who had encouraged Banu-Qurayzah to breach their pact with Muslims, was also killed. In his last moments, he was severely reproached for his acts of treason. Instead of confessing his errors and feeling remorse, he deemed the unfortunate fate of Banu-Qurayzah and him the result of God’s predeterminism.

He addressed the Holy Prophet saying, “I do not regret my enmity to you; rather, one whom God decides to be miserable will be miserable forever.” He then turned to people and said, “We should surrender to God’s wishes; this defeat was imposed by God over the Israelites.[^234]”

The Holy Prophet sent a group of captives to Najd in order to buy horses and ammunitions.[^235] Referring to their disastrous fate, the Holy Qur'an remarks:

And He drove down those of the followers of the Book who backed them from their fortresses and He cast awe into their hearts; some you killed and you took captive another part. And He made you heirs to their land and their dwellings and their property; and to a land which you have not yet trodden, and Allah has power over all things. (33: 26-27)

Analysis and Criticism

Although the details of this issue are ambiguous for historians, we will deal with two views hereinafter:

(1) Some European authors have criticized the treatment that Banu-Qurayzah received as barbarous and inhumane.[^236] However, this criticism cannot be held considering the crimes they had committed, because they not only broke their contract with Muslims but also committed acts of treason inside Medina when they supplied the enemies with ammunition. We know that in warfare, these acts could not be pardonable.

The Holy Prophet could have punished them himself; but due to the request of the people of Aws, he accepted the judgment of Sa`d. This proposal was accepted by both Aws and Banu-Qurayzah. So, there is no room left for criticism.

This question still holds: Whom should be treated kindly; and where should affections be used? Should those who have bypassed human values and whose very nature is filled with hatred be eligible to receive mercy?[^237] Were the Jews of Banu’l-Nazir, under the leadership of Huyay ibn Akhtab, not pardoned? However, they did not cease conspiring against Muslims and they practically waged a war against Muslims. How could Huyay ibn Akhtab and Ka`b ibn Asad convince others that they would neither resume their previous viciousness nor would they prepare forces to destroy Muslims? Was leniency appropriate in their case? During the siege of Medina, Abu-Sufyan wrote a threatening letter to the Holy Prophet, saying:

“I swear to Lat and `Uzza that I have come here with this army to fight you. We will not need any further fight; I am determined to destroy you this time. However, if we return to Mecca, we will make for you a day like the day of Uhud when women will not stop mourning.”[^238]

If this had happened would Banu-Qurayzah not have cooperated with the Allies?

Sa`d’s judgment was in accordance with the commands in the Torah—whose penal laws must have been known by him—that reads:

“When you approach a city to engage in fight, first propose peace. If they open the doors to you, all of them will fall slaves to you. If they refuse to have peace, then you must fight and kill their men, take their women and children as captives, and confiscate their property.”[^239]

(2) A contemporary researcher has denied the punishment of Banu-Qurayzah. Referring to some records, he has reckoned impossible such a severe punishment by the Holy Prophet.[^240] Although his statements could be used as a protection to defend the Muslim status vis-à-vis the European and Zionist propaganda, the reasons this writer has offered are not valid.[^241] In his reasoning, he has not paid attention to verse 26 of Surah al-Ahzab (No. 33) which refers to this issue. Furthermore, after the Battle of the Allies (Ahzab), there is no mention of Banu-Qurayzah in historical records. If the issue of punishment had not existed, there should have been some mentions of their existence as such.

The War of Banu’l-Mustalaq

In Sha`ban[^242] of the sixth year of Hegira, the Holy Prophet was informed that Harith ibn Abi-®irar, the chief of Banu’l-Mustalaq—a branch of Banu-Khuza`ah—had mobilized some men together with some Arabs of that region to attack Medina. The Holy Prophet mobilized Muslim troops and went forward as far as Musayri` Well[^243] in the coastal areas of the Red Sea. The war took place there. Banu’l-Mustalaq were easily defeated; many captives were taken and their property was confiscated.[^244]

Juwayriyah, daughter of Harith, was among the captives. In order to free his daughter, Harith met the Holy Prophet in Medina. He embraced Islam when the Holy Prophet told him that he hid two camels which he had determined to offer to the Holy Prophet as her daughter’s ransom. The Holy Prophet first freed Juwayriyah and then married her.[^245]

In honor of the Holy Prophet, Muslims made free the captives who had now become relatives by marriage of the Holy Prophet. For this reason, Juwayriyah is remembered as the Holy Prophet’s most blessed wife.[^246] This marriage could be regarded as an instance of the Holy Prophet’s marriages purposed for social consequences and personal considerations.

The Journey for `Umrah

In the 6th year of Hegira, the Holy Prophet decided to go to Mecca for `Umrah (minor pilgrimage). Muslims could not go on such rituals since the emigration. This journey, besides spiritual phases, was a kind of religious demonstration. It attracted the Meccan pilgrims and showed the increasing number of the Holy Prophet’s followers.

It also showed that the ceremonies of Hajj and `Umrah, which were significant religious events for the infidels, were also accepted by Muhammad’s religion and was among its acts of worship. This fact had tremendous effects on their hearts and affections. If Quraysh tried to stop the ceremony of `Umrah, it would have a bad effect on the public opinion and this would be a disadvantage for them.

Quraysh had always encouraged pilgrimage; they used to entertain the pilgrims—an act that they always recognized as point of honor. Now if they stopped the Muslim participants, this would bring forth people’s hatred.[^247]

In Dhi’l-Qa`dah, the Holy Prophet entered Mecca with eighteen hundred followers.[^248] During this journey, he ordered his men to carry only one sword as weapon and take the sacrificial camels from Medina so that everybody could see that they did not intend to fight.

Quraysh became aware of the Holy Prophet’s decision to enter Mecca. For this purpose, they left the city with their military troops. The Holy Prophet unwillingly had to stop at the land of Hudaybiyah. Quraysh sent several couriers to find out his intention. Each time, he informed them, “We have no intention to fight; we have come here to perform the ceremony of `Umrah.” However, Quraysh still made trouble for their entrance into Mecca.

The Rizwan Allegiance

Ultimately, the Holy Prophet sent `Uthman ibn `Affan to explain to Quraysh the Holy Prophet’s aims. It took long for `Uthman to return. Rumors had it that he was killed.[^249] Now, the Holy Prophet asked his men to gather under a tree to convene an allegiance for perseverance.[^250] After this ceremony, it turned out that the rumor of `Uthman’s death was not true. Since this allegiance was held under a tree and God was pleased with the believers who participated in it, this pledge of allegiance was called Rizwan (Pleasure) Allegiance or the Pledge of the Tree.[^251]

The Hudaybiyah Truce

After the fruitless return of `Uthman, Suhayl ibn `Amr was sent to the Holy Prophet on the part of Quraysh for negotiation. He specified as a pre-condition of a conclusion of a truce that Muslims would not perform `Umrah that year.[^252] This negotiation terminated in the convention of the famous Hudaybiyah Truce that contained the following paragraphs:

(1) The two parties agree on ten-year ceasefire, protection of people’s security, refraining from molesting one another.

(2) Muhammad and Muslims should not enter Mecca that year. The next year, Quraysh would leave Mecca for three days during which Muslims would enter there to perform `Umrah on condition that each Muslim could carry one sword only.[^253]

(3) If an individual from Quraysh joins Muhammad without his father’s consent, Muhammad shall send him back to Mecca; but if one of Muhammad’s followers joins Quraysh, he will never be sent back.

(4) Every tribe is free to enter into treaties with Muhammad or Quraysh.[^254]

(5) No party will betray the other or enter in a truce with the other party’s enemy and no party will practice any act of aggression against the other.

(6) Following the faith of Islam is free in Mecca and nobody is persecuted because of his belief.[^255]

(7) Anyone of Muhammad’s followers who enters Mecca for Hajj or `Umrah or for trade shall have his or her life and property protected.[^256]