Hearing news that a large caravan was heading back from Syria laden with wealth, Muhammad went out with a large force to intercept it. The Meccans got word of his plans and also sent a large force to intercept him, many prominent members of the Quraysh tribe went along to protect their investments. In the ensuing battle, the Muslims were victorious, killing 70 Pagans and capturing many others. After the battle there was an argument over what to do with the prisoners, Sa'eed and Umar were in favor of killing them, but Abu Bakr argued for clemency. Muhammad decided to ransom most of the prisoners but he did order the execution of two members of the Quraysh tribe: Uqba ibn Abu Mu'ayt who had years earlier dumped sheep entrails over him whilst he was praying, and Al-Nadr Bin Al-Harith a poet who had criticized him years earlier claiming that Muhammad’s Koranic verses were nothing more than well known tales from foreign lands. (Ibn Ishaq, pg. 308) The prominent Quraysh tribal leader, Umayyah ibn Khalaf and his son were also killed by his former Muslim slaves as revenge for their mistreatment, though this was unlikely to have been ordered or sanctioned by Muhammad himself. (Sahih Bukhari, Book 38, #498)
Relations with the Jews of Medina turn Sour
Since Muhammad had arrived in Medina, he had turned the city into a base for his caravan raids on the Meccans, this was naturally causing friction with the original inhabitants of Medina and the relations between the Jews and the Muslims in Medina were getting progressively worse. As previously mentioned the Jews of Medina were divided into 3 tribes. The first tribe to get into trouble with Muhammad and his followers were the Banu Qaynuqa. Shortly after the Battle of Badr, Muhammad gave the Banu Qaynuqa an ultimatum:
“O Jews! beware lest God bring upon you the vengeance that He brought upon the Quraysh and become Muslims.” (Ibn Ishaq pg. 545)But the Banu Qaynuqa refused to convert and instead barricaded themselves inside their fortress. Muhammad besieged them and after 15 days the Banu Qaynuqa surrendered. Muhammad ordered that all the men of the tribe should be tied up. At this point Abd-Allah ibn Ubayy, a new Muslim convert who was a former friend and ally of the Banu Qaynuqa begged Mohhamed to be lenient with them (Ibn Ishaq pg. 546), so Muhammad simply confiscated their property and possessions and told them that as long as they left Medina within 3 days they would not be harmed. The Banu Qaynuqa fled first to Wadi Al Qura, and then out of Arabia to Syria. (See Map 3 – 624 AD).
Over the next few years Muhammad solidified his position as the ruler of Medina by orchestrating the assassination of a number of prominent Jewish leaders in Medina and the surrounding area who had spoken out against Muhammad and written derogatory poetry about him. (Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf of the Banu Nadir and Abu Rafi of Khaybar in 624 AD (Sahih Bukhari Book 52, #270 & Book 59, #370), and then Al-Yusayr ibn Rizam of Khaybar in 628 AD)
In the following year, the Meccans came back to exact revenge on Muhammad and his followers for their defeat at the Battle of Badr. Muhammad and the Muslim army met them at the Battle of Uhud, here the Muslims were forced to retreat. Muhammad told his men that the reason for their defeat was that Allah had punished them for their lack of discipline and disobeying orders. (Koran 3.152) In order to maintain moral, Muhammad needed a quick victory, so the next day he ordered that the survivors from the Battle of Uhud march back out to face the Meccans at the Battle of Hamra al-Asad. This time the Muslim forces were victorious. (See Map 4 - 625 AD)
Upon returning to Medina, Muhammad once again turned on the Jews. This time he claimed that the Angel Gabriel had informed him that the Banu Nadir tribe were plotting his assassination. (Al-Mubarakpuri) We should remember that Muhammad had already killed their chief Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf, so they may well have been plotting revenge. He gave the Banu Nadir an ultimatum: they must leave Medina within 10 days or they will be beheaded. The Banu Nadir refused to leave and barricaded themselves in their fortress. Muhammad ordered that their fortress be besieged and their crops be destroyed. (Koran 59.2-5) After a few days the Banu Nadir surrendered and agreed to leave Medina. Muhammad seized their weapons, land, houses, and wealth (Ibn Ishaq, pg. 654). (See Map 4 - 625 AD)
The Battle of the Trench
Having been expelled from Medina, the Banu Nadir sent ambassadors to the various surrounding tribes to build a coalition against Muhammad and his followers, included within this coalition was the Quraysh of Mecca, Muhammad’s own tribe and his age old enemies. The forces of this coalition marched on Medina in 627 AD. The Muslims had dug defensive trenches around Medina which neutralized the coalition’s cavalry. The coalition were thus reluctant to press on with a siege of the Muslim defensive position. Instead they sent Huyayy ibn Akhtab, chief of the exiled Jewish tribe of Banu Nadir to attempt to negotiate with the final remaining Jewish tribe of Medina: the Banu Qurayza. Huyayy attempted to persuade the Banu Qurayza to join the coalition against Muhammad, reminding them of what had happened to the other two Jewish tribes of Medina. The Banu Qurayza eventually consented to join the coalition. However before the siege could begin, Muhammad planted agents among both the coalition and the Banu Qurayza to sow distrust amongst them. This is where Muhammad showed his true brilliance in playing off the weaknesses of his opponents. Muhammad recognized that the Banu Qurayza were in an awkward position, as their fortress and homes were just outside Medina, if the coalition at any point abandoned the siege, the Banu Qurayza would have to face the Muslims by themselves. The planting of agents proved to be a very effective tactic, the Banu Qurayza began to mistrust the coalition and worried that they would pull out of the siege and abandon them to the wrath of Muhammad. They therefore demanded that the coalition supply them with hostages as an assurance that they would not be abandoned. The coalition refused to supply them with hostages so the Banu Qurayza withdrew their support. Eventually the remaining coalition began to run out of supplies and withdrew from Medina, the incident is known as the Battle of the Trench, though no real battle took place.
The Massacre of the Banu Qurayza
After the coalition withdrew from Medina, the worst fears of the Banu Qurayza were realized. Muhammad was now free to deal with them without outside interference. According to Sahih Bukhari, it was the Angel Gabriel that actually commanded Muhammad to attack them (Sahih Bukhari, book 52, #68). In revenge for their planned treachery, Muhammad ordered a siege of their fortress. After 25 days they were forced to surrender. Muhammad then ordered that ditches be dug in the main square of Medina, all of the men of the tribe were then tied up and brought out in front of Muhammad and his companions in batches, they were beheaded one by one and thrown into the ditches. (Abu Dawud 38:4390) Between 600-900 male members of the tribe were beheaded in this way. (Tabari, vol viii, pp.35-36, Ibn Ishaq, pg. 690) Also amongst them was the chief of the Banu Nadir, Huyayy ibn Akhtab. He remained defiant to the end, before he was beheaded he was led in front of Muhammad with his hands tied to his neck, he told Muhammad that he did not regret being his enemy.(Ibn Ishaq, pg. 690) Only one of the women of the Banu Qurayza was killed, (Abu Dawud 14:2665) the rest were taken as slaves along with the children. Muhammad himself took Rayhana as his slave, he proposed that she convert to Islam and marry him, but Rayhana refused the proposal and instead kept her Jewish faith, remaining Muhammad’s slave and concubine. (Ibn Ishaq, pg. 693)
The massacre of the Banu Qurayza is the event in Muhammad’s life that has aroused the most controversy in modern times. However we should remember that it was not considered controversial throughout the Medieval period, which explains why it was documented so well. Whilst some today have used the event as evidence that Muhammad hated the Jews, it seems much more likely that Muhammad was motivated not by any hatred but by cool-headed planning and well thought out military tactics. When Muhammad had previously expelled the Jewish Banu Nadir tribe from Medina, they immediately went around stirring up animosity towards the Muslims and forming a new coalition against them. This led to the invasion of Medina and the Battle of the Trench. After the Battle of the Trench, the Muslims must have been terrified that the coalition would return again and that expelling the Banu Qurayza would just make the enemy stronger. Muhammad must have felt that the extermination of the tribe was necessary not just to weaken the enemy coalition, but also to raise the morale of his own men at a critical juncture, the Muslims needed a symbolic victory and to feel that they were in control of the situation. Muhammad was an exceptionally talented tactician; he knew exactly when to be compassionate and when to be ruthless.
Muhammad turns North
With the destruction of the final Jewish tribe in Medina and with the Quraysh licking their wounds back in Mecca, Muhammad felt that his base was now secure. However, he was still not strong enough to invade Mecca, instead he turned his attention to the north of Medina. Here there were a number of Arab settlements with large numbers of Jewish and Christian converts. Muhammad sent his armies north to conquer these lands. (See Map 5 - 628 AD) According to Ibn Ishaq, these were Muhammad’s orders:
“Fight everyone in the way of God and kill those who disbelieve in God. Do not be deceitful with spoils, do not be treacherous, nor mutilate, do not kill children. This is God’s ordinance and practice of his prophet among you.” (Ibn Ishaq, pg. 992 & Sunan Ibn Majah 24, #2857)When Muhammad’s army arrived at the Christian settlement of Dumat Al-Jandal, many of the inhabitants agreed to convert to Islam, whilst others agreed to pay the Jizya, a special tax that Christians and Jews could pay to allow them to continue to practice their religion. However, at the Jewish settlements of Khaybar and Wadi Al-Qura, the people were not so submissive to Muhammad, many of the Jews that had been expelled from Medina had settled in these areas and had warned the inhabitants about Muhammad.
When Muhammad’s troops were conducting a raid on Wadi Al-Qura, they were attacked by the Banu Fazara, a Pagan Arab tribe led by a woman named Umm Qirfa. The Muslims were forced to retreat but came back again and slaughtered the Banu Fazara, Umm Qirfa and her daughter were taken back to Medina as prisoners. At Medina, Umm Qirfa was executed, according to Al-Tabari, each of her limbs was attached to a camel so that she was split in two. (Al-Tabari, Vol 8, Pg 95-97). Ibn Hisham's edited version of Ibn Ishaq only mentions that she was killed cruelly but does not elaborate on the method. (Ibn Hisham/Ishaq, pg. 980) Umm Qirfa’s daughter was enslaved and later traded to the Meccans for hostages. (Sahih Muslim 19, #4345)
The Jews of Khaybar were another thorn in the side of Muhammad. Muhammad had already successfully assassinated two of their tribal leaders. In March of 628 AD, Muhammad assured his southern border by signing a peace treaty with the Quraysh of Mecca and was therefore able to dedicate all his efforts on Khaybar to the north, he felt confident that the time was now ripe for a full frontal attack. The Jews of Khaybar were divided into separate clans with their own fortifications in a similar way to which the Jews of Medina were divided. This allowed the Muslims to besiege them one by one. The Jews eventually surrendered on condition that they would not be killed. The Jews were to evacuate the area and surrender their wealth. Some of the Jews offered to continue to work the orchards and hand over half of their produce to Muhammad. Muhammad accepted this offer, some of the Jews would remain but the land now belonged to the Muslims. One of the leaders of the Banu Nadir, Kinana ibn al-Rabi, was beheaded on Muhammad’s orders. According to Ibn Ishaq, he was also tortured before his death for refusing to reveal the location of the buried treasure of the Banu Nadir. (Ibn Ishaq, pg. 764 ) Muhammad took the executed man’s wife as a slave, her name was Safiyya bint Huyayy, (Sahih Bukhari Book 8, #367 & Book 14, #68) incidentally she was also the daughter of Huyayy ibn Akhtab, the former chief of the Banu Nadir who Muhammad had executed during the massacre of the Banu Qurayza. Just as Muhammad had offered his slave Rayhana to be his wife after he had killed her family, he again gave Safiyya the exact same offer. However, unlike Rayhana, Safiyya accepted Muhammad’s offer, she converted to Islam and became his 8th wife. (Sahih Bukhari Book 14, #68) The incident is bizarre because not only had Muhammad killed her father and husband, but he had also executed all the male members of her mother's tribe: the Banu Qurayza. However we should remember that she was only 17 at the time, and if she had rejected the proposal, she would have remained a slave (her 'Mahr' was her Manumission). (Sahih-Bukhari Book 59, #512)
The Final Destruction of Paganism
Muhammad had agreed to a 10 year peace with the Quraysh at Mecca. The treaty not only prohibited the Quraysh from waging war on the Muslims and vice-versa, it also stipulated that none of the allies of either party should engage in war with one another. Pre-Islamic Arabia was a place full of intricate tribal alliances and feuds, which meant that a peace treaty binding the allies was perhaps destined to failure from the start. In 630 AD, just 2 years after the treaty was signed, the Banu Bakr, allied with the Quraysh, attacked the Banu Khuza'a, allied with Muhammad in response to a pre-treaty attack by the Khuza'a. Muhammad considered the Banu Bakr attack a breach of the treaty and war with the Quraysh was resumed.
Realizing that the Quraysh were no longer strong enough to face the Muslims, Abu Sufyan, the leader of the Quraysh went back and forth from Mecca to Medina trying to reinstate the peace treaty but Muhammad refused his pleas, he was told to convert to Islam or lose his head. (Ibn Ishaq, 814) Then Muhammad assembled 10,000 soldiers and ordered that they attack the city of Mecca. To save the city, Abu Sufyan finally agreed to convert to Islam and a siege was avoided. Thus the City of Mecca was captured without very much bloodshed, though Muhammad did order that 10 people should be killed, (Ibn Sa`d "Tabaqat", Vol 2, page 168) including 2 polytheist singing girls that used to sing satirical songs about Muhammad. (Abu Dawud: 14, #2678) Only some of these people were executed, others escaped.
After 8 years of fighting, Muhammad was finally returning to his home city in triumph. He went straight to the Kaaba and proceeded to smash up all of the pagan idols whilst shouting:
“Truth has come and Falsehood has vanished." (Sahih-Bukhari, Book 43, #658)Thus Paganism was wiped out from the city of Mecca, the Kaaba was converted into a Mosque and to this day no Pagan deity has ever been worshipped there since. After the conquest of Mecca, Muhammad sent his armies out across Arabia to destroy every Pagan temple they could find. (See map 6 - 630 AD and Map 7: 632 AD) At Dhul-Khalasah there was another Kaaba, known as the “Southern Kaaba”, Muhammad sent Jarir with 150 men to destroy it and kill those that were present there. (Sahih Bukhari Book 59, #641) However, not everyone was willing to submit to Muhammad and his new religion without a fight. Muhammad called on the Muslims to remain steadfast and prepare for battle:
"Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them. Know that God is with the righteous." (Koran 9.123)The Banu Thaqif lived at the city of Taif just to the South of Mecca. They worshipped the Goddess Allat and had a great bejeweled statue of her. The Goddess of Allat had been worshipped in Arabia for at least 1,000 years, we know this because Herodotus mentions her as an Arabian Goddess back in the 5th century BC. (Herodotus - Histories I:131) Whilst Muhammad was becoming more and more powerful, it was not easy for him to persuade the Arabs to give up belief systems that had become so steeped in tradition.
The Banu Thaqif entered into an alliance with neighboring Pagan tribes to defend their lands against the Muslims but they were defeated twice (Hunayn and Awtas). It was in the aftermath of the Battle of Awtas that Muhammad issued one of his more controversial Quranic verses: that it was permissible for his soldiers to rape women captured in war. (Sahih Muslim 8:34333 & Abu Dawud 11:2150)
Muhammad then advanced on the city of Taif to besiege it. The siege was a long drawn out affair with casualties on both sides, the Muslims did manage to breach the walls of Taif by using a catapult, however each time the Muslims tried to get through the breach, the Pagan defenders pushed them back. (Husayn, pg. 279) The siege had lasted one month and the sacred months in which no fighting is allowed was about to begin. Muhammad gave up on the siege, he destroyed the vineyards and orchards around Taif (Haykal) and retreated, but he vowed to resume his war with Taif after the sacred months were over. (Haykal & Koran 9.5)
In the meantime, the Banu Thaqif sent peace delegations to Muhammad. Muhammad would not accept peace until they agreed to accept Islam and destroy the temple of the Goddess Allat. The Banu Thaqif were willing to accept Islam but asked that they be allowed to keep their temple of Allat for three years, Muhammad rejected this condition. Then they reduced the period to two years, one year and finally to one month. (Husayn, pg. 280 & Haykal) But this was one area that Muhammad would not accept any negotiation. For Muhammad, surrender to him meant surrendering to Allah and that meant that no Pagan religion could be tolerated whatsoever. Muhammad is reported to have replied:
“You accept Islam, or else I shall send one to you who is from me. He will cut your necks and enslave your women and children and confiscate your wealth and property.” (Al-Isti`ab, Vol 2, Pg. 477, cited in Husayn, pg. 281)The Banu Thaqif finally consented on the condition that they themselves would not have to be the ones to destroy their temple. This Muhammad could agree to, he appointed Abu Sufyan (his former enemy who had adopted Islam to avoid a battle during the conquest of Mecca) to go to Taif and destroy the idol. Abu Sufyan and his men destroyed the temple whilst the women of the Banu Thaqif watched moaning and crying, but noone dared to stop the Muslims. (Haykal, & Ibn Ishaq, pg. 916-918)
At around the same time, Muhammad sent Khalid to destroy the temple of the Goddess Al-Uzza at Nakhla. According to Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi, Khalid ransacked the temple, cut down the sacred trees and killed two people there: Dubayyah al-Sulami, the custodian of the sanctuary, and a naked Ethiopian woman whom Khalid beheaded. Khalid took the Ethiopian woman’s jewelry back to Muhammad. Muhammad is said to have stated that the naked Ethiopian was herself Al-Uzza and now that she was dead, no one would ever worship her again. (Ibn Al-Kalbi pg. 21-22)
The Wars of Apostasy
As Muhammad's fame was spreading throughout Arabia, many others saw the power and wealth he was accumulating. Some took the cynical attitude that if Muhammad can be a prophet then perhaps so can they. A number of other 'would-be prophets' began to spring up all over Arabia, so that by 631 AD, anybody who was of any importance in Arabia was claiming to be a prophet of God. History has recorded the names of at least four of these self proclaimed prophets: Aswad Ansi in Yemen, Musaylimah in Yamamah, Tulayha in Bukaza, and even one female prophetess known as Sajjah.
Musaylimah became a prophet in Eastern Arabia at about the same time as Muhammad. In the first years of Muhammad's prophethood, the Pagan Arabs used to accuse Muhammad of being a disciple of Musaylimah, (Ibn Ishaq pg. 189 & 200) which suggests that Musaylimah probably claimed prophethood before Muhammad. In 630 AD, Musaylimah wrote a letter to Muhammad which began “From Musaylimah, Messenger of Allah, to Muhammad, Messenger of Allah”, in the letter Musaylimah suggested that the two prophets share Arabia between them. However Muhammad was uninterested in the proposal, he sent a letter of rejection back to Musaylimah which began “From Muhammad, the messenger of Allah, to Musaylimah, the arch-liar”. (Al-Tabari, pg.107)
In 632 AD, Muhammad died. After his death, many of the Arab tribes began renouncing their conversion to Islam and refusing to pay taxes to the Islamic State. The 'would-be prophets' at this time also rose up in rebellion against the Muslims. Muhammad's father-in-law, Abu-Bakr, led the faithful Muslims in a war to crush these rebellions, known as the Wars of Apostasy. (See map 8 – 633 AD) The most bloody of these conflicts occurred in East-Central Arabia against Musaylimah, who was finally defeated and killed at the Battle of Yamamah in December of 632.
With the final victory over the apostates and 'would-be prophets', the whole of Arabia was under Muslim rule. The stage was now set for the armies of Islam to sweep out of Arabia and overwhelm the remnants of the once great superpowers of Persia and Rome, but that is another story. The final chapter in the Muslim domination of Arabia occurred 9 years later, before Muhammad had died he had vowed to expel all the Christians and Jews from Arabia. (Sahih Muslim 19, 4366) So when Umar became Caliph of the Muslims, he finaly carried out Muhammad's wishes. (See map 9 – 642 AD) The remaining Jews and Christians were expelled and emigrated to Iraq and Syria, where Caliph Umar provided them with new land as compensation for their expulsion. (Hitti, pg. 61)
Muhammad: A Man of his Time
Whilst it is easy to criticize Muhammad for his actions as seen from a modern perspective, it should be remembered that Muhammad was a man of his time. The massacre of prisoners of war and civilians was relatively commonplace in the ancient and medieval world. During the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians did the exact same thing to the island of Melos as Muhammad did to the Banu Qurayza: they killed all of the males and they enslaved the women and children. (Thucydides) Yet the Athenians are admired today for their art, culture, and democracy. In fact, in terms of numbers, the executions done by the Muslims under Muhammad pale in comparison to the most gruesome massacres of the ancient and medieval world. According to a Greek account, in 415 BC, the Carthaginian general Hannibal Mago killed 15,000 Greek citizens and captured another 5,000 when he conquered Selinus in Sicily. (Diodorus Siculus) The Ancient Assyrians were recorded to have massacred the entire civilian population of a number of cities that refused to surrender, as did the Mongols during the Medieval period. Neither should the destruction of Pagan temples under Muhammad be considered an out of the ordinary act of the time. In the 2 centuries prior to Muhammad, the Christians had done the exact same thing to the Pagan temples across the Roman World.
Ibn Ishaq's biography of Muhammad is the earliest historical source on his life, written about 100 years after his death:
In the 9th Century, Al-Tabari wrote an account of Muhammad in his history writings, he relied heavily on Ibn Ishaq as a source. But he also included materials from Ibn Ishaq that were removed from surviving versions by later "editors":