Why were the Qurayza Jews killed?

Ever since the Crusades, the first direct clash of Muslims with Western Europe, Christians have felt the need for demonizing Islam. A lot of efforts have been put in to portray Islam as utterly violent religion and Muhammad (PBUH), the Final Prophet of Islam, as sheer intolerant person.

The campaign of Qurayza and subsequent fate of the Jews of this tribe provided them with reasonable plain to exaggerate and lie on. Let’s have a look into what actually happened and then analyze the propaganda against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Jews in Medina

When Holy Prophet (PBUH) migrated from Makkah and reached Medina (Yathrib) there were three main Jewish tribes there. Banu Qainuqa, Banu Nadir and Banu Qurayza.

The covenant between Muslims and the Jews:

Soon after the arrival when two main non-Jewish tribes of Medina, namely Aws and Khazraj, had almost universally accepted Islam, the Prophet (PBUH) arranged for a treaty among the inhabitants of Medina including the Jews.

According to Sirah Ibn Ishaq the document signed read;

“… To the Jew who follows us belong help and equality. He shall not be wronged nor shall his enemies be aided. The peace of the believers is invisible … The Jews shall contribute to the cost of war so long as they are fighting alongside the believers… The Jews must bear their expenses and the Muslims their expenses. Each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document. They must seek mutual advice and consultation, and loyalty is a protection against treachery. A man is not liable for his ally's misdeeds. The wronged must be helped. The Jews must pay with the believers so long as war lasts. Yathrib shall be a sanctuary for the people of this document. …. Quraysh and their helpers shall not be given protection. The contracting parties are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrib. If they are called to make peace and maintain it they must do so; and if they make a similar demand on the Muslims it must be carried out except in the case of a holy war. Every one shall have his portion from the side to which he belongs; the Jews of al-Aws, their freedmen and themselves have the same standing with the people of this document in pure loyalty from the people of this document.” (A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad Translation of [Ibn] Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2004 pp.232-233)

This shows that Muslims and Jews were in a mutual defense pact and a special clause was added warning the signees against helping the Quraysh.

Treachery on the part of Qurayza:

As expected even after Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) emigration from Makkah the pagans did not leave any stone unturned to create problems for him and they put in all their efforts to make the living for the nascent Muslim community an arduous task. Several battles were fought. Last attempt by the Quraysh came in the year 5 A.H. They made a grand alliance, amassing some 10, 000 warriors from across the Arabia. This was really a hard time for Muslims. On the suggestion of trusted and noble companion, Salman the Persian, Holy Prophet (PBUH) decided to protect the defenseless side of Medina with a trench, a novelty for the Arabs. And the idea worked. The huge Army was effectively kept away from entering the city. When the invading Army had camped at the doorstep of Medina;

The enemy of God Huyayy b. Akhtab al-Nadri went out to Ka'b b. Asad al-Qurazi who had made a treaty with the apostle. When Ka'b heard of Huyayy's coming he shut the door of his fort in his face, and when he asked permission to enter he refused to see him, saying that he was a man of ill omen and that he himself was in treaty with Muhammad and did not intend to go back on his word because he had always found him loyal and faithful. Then Huyayy accused him of shutting him out because he was unwilling to let him eat his corn. This so enraged him that he opened his door. He said ‘Good heavens, Ka'b, I have brought you immortal fame and a great army. I have come with Quraysh with their leaders and chiefs which I have halted where the torrent-beds of Ruma meet; and Ghatafan with their leaders and chiefs which I have halted in Dhanab Naqma towards Uhud. They have made a firm agreement and promised me that they will not depart until we have made an end of Muhammad and his men.' Ka'b said: 'By God, you have brought me immortal shame and an empty cloud which has shed its water while it thunders and lightens with nothing in it. Woe to you Huyayy, leave me as I am, for I have always found him loyal and faithful.' Huyayy kept on wheedling Ka'b until at last he gave way in giving him a solemn promise that if Quraysh and Ghatafan returned without having killed Muhammad he would enter his fort with him and await his fate. Thus Ka'b broke his promise and cut loose from the bond that was between him and the apostle.” (A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad Translation of [Ibn] Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, p.453)

The cruel weather and distance from their homes soon caused consternation in the attacking camps. The leaders of the invaders, in league with the treacherous Jews of Qurayza, made out to finish the task soon.

The plot is foiled:

But providence did not really let them have the show. In the nick of the time, a certain recent revert, Nu’aym bin Mas’ud, as a part of the stratagem of war sowed the seeds of discord among the invaders and their under hand supporters, the Jews of Qurayza. He convinced the Qurayza that given their sensitive position they should not agree to work with the Quraysh and the allies unless they hand them over some of their important men as a guarantee that they would fight to finish the Prophet (PBUH) and will not leave them alone to face the Muslims in any case. Thereafter he made the Quraysh to believe that Qurayza were playing a double game and that they would demand some of their finest men as guarantee whom they plan to hand over to Muhammad (PBUH) as token of their fidelity. Both sides gave in to the trick and the could-have-been-nightmare-for-Muslims alliance remained a dream.

Qurayza left alone to face the music:

Soon afterwards, the Quraysh and all their allies left. And now it was only the Qurayza tribe who were to face the Muslims against whom they had made the treachery. So the siege was laid around the fortress of the Qurayza. Not much later, the Qurayza surrendered agreeing to accept the verdict of S’ad bin Mu’adh. Actually Sa’d bin Mu’adh was from the tribe of al-Aws who had been their long time allies. The Qurayza thus hoped to find a favorable and rather mild decision for them.

Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: The people of (Banu) Quraiza agreed to accept the verdict of Sad bin Mu'adh. So the Prophet sent for S’ad, and the latter came (riding) a donkey and when he approached the Mosque, the Prophet said to the Ansar, "Get up for your chief or for the best among you." Then the Prophet said (to Sad)." These (i.e. Banu Quraiza) have agreed to accept your verdict." Sad said, "Kill their (men) warriors and take their offspring as captives, "On that the Prophet said, "You have judged according to Allah's Judgment," or said, "according to the King's judgment." (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 2816)

Were the Jews of Qurayza betrayed or cruelly treated?

Having given the complete background in so many words, let’s now come to the actual issue; whether the Jews of Qurayza betrayed or cruelly treated? The following points make the issue quite clear.

1- They had agreed to accept the judgment:

The decision was made by a person from the tribe who were their long time allies and they had agreed to accept his judgment.

2- The decision was made according to the Torah:

The decision was according to their Book of Authority, the so-called Torah –the Law. Even today we have relevant verses in the Pentateuch.

“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; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee.” (Deuteronomy 20:12-14)

3-It was the only way to put an end to their evil:

It was the only way out for the Muslims to stay protected from their treachery and evil. Earlier another Jewish tribe, al-Nadir, had been put to exile but they had since then proven more dangerous. Putting Qurayza to exile would only have piled up the troubles and helped creation of a tangible Jewish threat to the state of Medina; therefore it was necessary to put their episode to end.

A.J. Wensinck though himself a critic of Islam had to accept this reality. He wrote;

“Die Hinschlachtung der Quraiza ist eine grausame Tat. Gründe dafür waren aber vorhanden. Ihre Haltung während der Belagerung, wo sie zu den Feinden gehalten hatten, hatte Mohammed noch einmal die Gefahr solcher Elemente deutlich gemacht. Konnte er sie jetzt einfach hinaustreiben? Das wäre vielleicht noch gefährlicher gewesen, als sie in der Stadt zu lassen. In Chaibar saß eine mächtige Judenschaft, seit einigen Jahren noch verstärkt durch die verbannten Nadir. Das ganze Wädi'l Qorä war von Juden bevölkert; er hatte auf seiner Hut zu sein. Das alles muß man bemerken, wenn man Mohammeds Taten nicht nur beurteilen und verurteilen, sondern auch beachten will.” (A.J. Wensinck, Der Islam vol. II, Verlag Von Karl J. Trubner, Strassburg 1911, p.289)

This means;

“The execution of Quraiza was a cruel act. But there were reasons for this, [especially] that they sided with the enemy during the siege. The dangers of such elements were once again clear to Muhammad. Could he simply drive them out? This, perhaps, would have been more fatal than to leave them in the city. In Khaibar Jews were very powerful for several years mainly due to the exiled Nadir tribe. The whole Wadi'l Qora was populated by Jews. He had to be on the guard. One will notice all these things, when he seeks not merely to criticize and condemn Mohammad's actions but also to understand them.”


When the Jews of Qurayza clearly committed treason, they deserved the punishment according to their own Law and had themselves agreed to accept the judgment of the fellow who actually made it. And when the strategic realities of the time demanded the Muslims to put to end the power of the treacherous tribe, I wonder how do people have the audacity to call it betrayal, cruelty or injustice? But surely what remains in the want is objectivity, as Wensinck said;

“One will notice all these things, when he seeks not merely to criticize and condemn Mohammad's actions but also to understand them.”


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