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Banu Nadir

The Expulsion of Banu Nadir

Tabari p. 156, Sirat p. 437
In this year, the fourth year of the Hijrah, Muhammad expelled the Banu Nadir from their settlements. The description of this event is quite brief in Ibn Ishaq. For this reason, we will use Tabari as the primary source. The cause of this was, as we have mentioned above, that Amr b. Umayyah, as he returned from the expedition sent out by Muhammad to Bir Maunah, killed two men to whom had been given a promise of protection by Muhammad. It is said that Amir b. al-Tufayl wrote to the Messenger of Allah: "You have killed two men whom you had given a promise of protection, so send their blood-money. This would seem a fairly routine thing in Arabia. Tabari himself gives this story as the pretext for exiling the Banu Nadir tribe, but honestly, this is quite a stretch. The foreword to the English translation of Tabari has a more precise suggestion: "The main underlying reason for the expulsion of the clan of al-Nadir was the same as in the case of Quaynuqa, namely, that Jewish criticisms endangered teh ordinary Muslim's belief in Muhammad's prophethood and in the Quran as revelation from God." In other words, the Jews were telling everyone that central parts of the claims Muhammad made in and about his 'book' were false, and they even had the scripture to prove it. No wonder they had to be removed. Muhammad went to Quba, and then turned towards the Banu al-Nadir to seek help from them in the payment of the blood-money. Muhammad, having only war booty and the Zakat tax for income, as well as quite a large household to feed, was apparently unable to compensate the killing right away. Not surprising, he turns to the richest people around, the Jews, for help. With him there were a group of Emigrants and Ansar, including Abu Bakr, Umar, Ali and Usayd b. Hudayr. Two future caliphs and his adopted son. Good company. Muhammad went out to Banu al-Nadir to ask for their help in the payment of the blood-money for those two men of the Banu Amir whom Amr b. Umayyah al-Damri had killed. This was because he had entered into an obligation to protect them. The Banu al-Nadir and the Banu Amir were joined by a treaty and a compact, and when Muhammad came to them to ask for their help in the payment of the blood-money for those two men, they said: "Yes, Abu al-Qasim, we will give you the help which you want and which you have asked from us." It's good to have rich, friendly tribes around when you're in a pinch. Then they spoke privately with one another, and said: "You will never find this man in such a situation again." Muhammad was sitting by the wall of one of their houses, and they said: "Who will go on the roof of this house and drop a stone on him and kill him, and so relieve us of him?" Amr b. Jihash, who was one of them, came forward to do this, and said: "I am your man." Then he went up to the roof to drop the stone on him as arranged. Several interpretations of this is possible. How Muhammad can know what is spoken behind the walls is given a divine explanation. One option is that the readiness of the Jews to help him is part of a plot. A third option, given by A. Guillaume in his translation of the Sirat, is that this story does not belong here at all, and is bolted on later. In any case, no actual dropping of stone takes place: Muhammad was with a number of his companions, including Abu Bakr, Umar and Ali, and news of what the people intended came to him from Heaven. He got up and said to his companions: "Do not leave until I come to you." He went back to Medina, and when his companions thought that he had gone a long time, they got up to look for him. Then they met a man coming from Medina and asked him about Muhammad. He said: "I saw him going into Medina." When his companions came to him, Muhammad told them the story of the treachery intended by the Jews and ordered them to get ready to fight them and march against them. While this may sound harsh and out of proportion, it's actually nicely in line with the Quran: Quran 8:58: If you fear treachery from any people throw back to them on equal terms. Certainly Allâh likes not the treacherous. OK, that was difficult. Here's the same verse with the translators' comments: Quran 8:58: If you (O Muhammad) fear treachery from any people throw back (their covenant) to them (so as to be) on equal terms (that there will be no more covenant between you and them). Certainly Allâh likes not the treacherous. This is bad. Merely the fear of treachery justifies breaking of covenants. Since Muhammad could fear treachery from anyone at any time, this is a license to break any covenant freely, making covenants with Muhammad of little value, or even a false sense of security. So as not to take this verse out of context, let us quote the surrounding verses as well: Quran 8:55-57 Verily, the worst of moving (living) creatures before Allâh are those who disbelieve, – so they shall not believe. They are those with whom you made a covenant, but they break their covenant every time and they do not fear Allâh. So if you gain the mastery over them in war, punish them severely in order to disperse those who are behind them, so that they may learn a lesson. Dehumanizing the enemy is a well-known strategy. Quran 8:58-59: If you (O Muhammad) fear treachery from any people throw back (their covenant) to them (so as to be) on equal terms (that there will be no more covenant between you and them). Certainly Allâh likes not the treacherous. And let not those who disbelieve think that they can outstrip (escape from the punishment). Verily, they will never be able to save themselves (from Allâh's punishment). Verse 8:58 doesn't get any milder from being read in context Quran 8:60: And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war (tanks, planes, missiles, artillery) to threaten thereby the enemy of Allâh and your enemy, and others besides them, whom you may not know, (but) whom Allâh does know. And whatever you shall spend in the Cause of Allâh, shall be repaid to you, and you shall not be treated unjustly. Worth remembering is that this is an authentic English translation distributed widely by the Saudis. If this is being taken seriously, we have something to worry about. Quran 8:61: But if they incline to peace, you (also) incline to it, and (put your) trust in Allâh. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower. Good to know. The previous verses were quite intolerant, demeaning the disbelievers and inciting violence against them. This split between violent and peaceful verses makes Islam difficult to pinpoint, as adherents may choose one selection for some purposes, and a different one for others.

Laying siege

Tabari p. 156, Sirat p. 437
After this segway into covenants and the relation to infidels, back to the storyline in Tabari: He then led his men against the Banu al-Nadir and halted in their quarter. They fortified themselves against him in their strongholds, but he ordered the date-palms to be cut down and set fire to. They shouted: "Muhammad, you have forbidden damage to property and have blamed those who perpetrated it: What is the idea of cutting down date-palms and setting fire to them?" No reply is given. Possibly, Muhammad had granted himself an exception to the rule against cutting down trees. The palms were vital to the survival in the harsh climate of Arabia, and cutting them down was a serious matter. Tabari continues with another account of the Jewish intentions and how Muhammad discreetly left the scene for Medina before any harm was done: When Muhammad's companions returned, they went to him and found him sitting in the mosque. They said: "Oh Messenger of Allah, we waited for you but you did not come back." "The Jews intended to kill me," he replied, "and Allah informed me of it. Call Muhammad b. Maslamah to me." When Muhammad b. Maslamah came, he was told to go to the Jews and say to them: "Leave my country and do not live with me. You ahve intended treachery." Now, one wonders how Muhammad can suddenly lay claim to this country? He was a refugee escaping Mecca seeking protection in Yathrib. The Jews had lived there a thousand years, build the town, built the settlements they inhabited. They had every rightful claim to their houses and the land they farmed. The only somewhat logical explanation is that Muhammad believes the Islamic tenet that everything in the world belongs to Allah. And, due to Muhammad being the messenger of Allah, Muhammad has a divine right to use everything wordly in the cause of Allah. Muhammad b. Maslamah went to them and said: "The Messenger of Allah orders you to depart from his country." They said: "Muhammad, we never thought that a man of al-Aws [a tribe] would come to us with such a message." "Hearts have changed," he replied, "and Islam has wiped out the old covenants." "We will go," they said. Well, there we have it. Islam is more important than any old rules or traditions, ownership or inheritance. This isn't exactly a 'Natural law' or 'Natural morality' the way we Europeans know it. As for the willingness of the Jews to leave their homes and lands just like that, it sounds a bit too easy. Abd Allah b. Ubayy sent a message to the Banu al-Nadir saying: "Do not go. I have two thousand men from the beduin and those of my own people who are united around me. Stay, and they will enter battle with you, as will Qurayzah." Kab b. Asad, however, the guarantor of the Banu Qurayzah's compact [treaty] with Muhammad, heard of this and said: "No man of the Banu Qurayzah shall break his compact as long as I am alive." Sallam b. Mishkam said to Huyayy b. Akhtab: "Huyayy, we (our tribe) are eminent among our people (the Jews) by virtue of our wealth; accept what Muhammad has proposed before you have to accept anything worse than that." The Jews are split between appeasement and battle, with the treaty Muhammad entered with some of them clearly paying dividends. Astonishingly, the representative of the Banu Qurayzah urges the Banu Nadir to accept Muhammads' audacious 'land-for-peace' proposal. As we shall see later, he lived to regret that. Modern parallels are too obvious to elaborate. "What is worse than that?" he asked. "The seizure of our wealth, the enslavement of our children, and the killing of our fighting men," he replied. Huyayy refused to accept his advice, however, and sent Judayy b. Akhtab to Muhammad to say: "We will not leave our settlements; so do what you see fit." Even with their fellow tribes unhelpful, the Jews of Banu Nadir decide to make a stand.

Magnifying Allah

Tabari p. 156, Sirat p. 437
This deserves a little scrutiny. As Tabari notes, the chronology between this raid and the one on Dhat al-Riqa is uncertain. The use of the 'Prayer of Fear' at Banu Nadir is a strong indication that it had been revealed (Sura 4:102) earlier, and that the Dhat al-Riqa raid was first. In Tabari and Ishaq we read: Tabari VII:162/Ishaq:445 “The rules of the Prayer of Fear were revealed during this raid. [Sura 4:102] Muhammad divided the Companions into two groups; one stood facing the enemy while the other stood behind the Prophet. He magnified Allah by shouting ‘Allahu Akbar.’ Then he and those behind him performed a rak’ah and prostrated themselves.” Similar accounts are found in Bukhari: Bukhari:V5B59N512 The Prophet offered the Prayer of Fear when it was still dark and said, ‘Allahu-Akbar! Khaybar is destroyed, for whenever we approach a hostile nation to fight, then evil will be the morning for those who have been warned.’ The inhabitants came out running. The Prophet had their men killed, their children and women taken as captives. Bukhari:V5B59N516 When Allah’s Apostle fought or raided people we raised our voices saying, ‘Allahu-Akbar! Allahu-Akbar! None has the right to be worshipped but Allah.’ One may wonder why Muhammad and the Muslims are doing this. The answer is probably simple 'battle economics'. A fear-struck warrior is not much good in battle. Inducing fear in the enemy before battle is a relatively cheap way to gain an advantage. Not that one could imagine Jesus doing anything similar, and in particular not being tempted by the treasures of the world. Religions are different, as are their founders. The companions of Jesus never killed anyone, so he wouldn't get into the delicate problem of blood-money in the first place. A word on the words 'Allahu Akbar' may be in order. While it has often been translated as 'Allah is great', a more precise translation would be 'Allah is greater' ( This of course begs the question: 'Greater than what?' One might easily assume that it is intended to mean 'Greater than Jahve', the Judeo-Christian god. That would be unfortunate, however, as Islam claims that Allah and Jahve are the same. Actually the hadith itself gives a clear answer, and it has nothing to do with competing religions. The exclamation was in use by the Meccans before the time of Muhammad, and referred to Allah being the greatest god of the Ka'aba. The Meccans would use it at strong emotional moments, auspicious events, childbirth etc. Even though it is an implement from the pre-Islamic 'Period of Ignorance', it is still being used today. After this segway, we read:

War is declared

Tabari p. 156, Sirat p. 437
Then Muhammad said: "The Jews have declared war." Now, that's quite a statement, given that Muhammad himself started the events by asking for financial help from the Jews. Judayy then went to Ibn Ubayy to ask for support from him. He said: "I found him sitting among a number of his companions while the Prophet's crier was calling men to arms. His son Abd Allah came in as I was with him, took up his arms, and ran out." A footnote in Tabari p. 159 reads: Abdallah, the son of Abdallah b. Ubayy, the leading Hypocrite, was a fervent Muslim who said he was ready to kill his father if Muhammad commanded it; here he answers Muhammad's call to arms. We see again how Islam supercedes bonds of family, clan and any notion of natural morality. Muhammad marched against the Banu al-Nadir, and besieged them for fifteen days. In the end they made peace with him on the condition that Muhammad would not shed their blood and that their property and their coats of mail would be his. After sufficient pressure, the Land-for-Peace deal goes through. Muhammad needs not only their lands and houses. Also the coats of mail owned by the Jews goes into the deal. Several variant accounts of the event follows. Then an interesting piece detailing how the Jews failed to support each other: A group of the Banu Awf had sent a message to the Banu al-Nadir, saying: "Stand firm and hold out, for we will not desert you. If they fight you, we will fight along with you, and if you are driven out, we will leave with you." So they waited patiently, but the group with Ibn Ubayy did nothing, and Allah cast fear into the hearts of the Banu al-Nadir so that they asked Muhammad to spare their lives and allow them to leave Medina. As before, we see fear being an effective tool for Muhammad to gain what he wants. As quoted in Bukhari: Bukhari:V4B52N220 Allah’s Apostle said, ‘I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror. While I was sleeping, the keys of the treasures of the world were brought to me and put in my hand.’

Conditions of exile

Tabari p. 156, Sirat p. 437
The condition was to be that they could keep as much property as their camels could carry, with the exception of their coats of mail. Muhammad agreed to this and they took away as much of their property as their camels could carry. Some of them were destroying thier houses down to the lintel of the door, putting even that on the back of their camels, and going off with it. Thus ends one of the ancient Jewish settlements in the area. There has been no mention of Jews killing any Muslims, or even wielding a sword. Possibly the Jews of Banu Nadir were unarmed. They loaded their camels with their wives, children and property, and there were tambourines, pipes, and singing girls behind them. They went with a splendour and a glory the like of which had never been seen from any tribe in their time. While Muhammad could seize their property, he obviously could not get their souls. An amazing display in the face of a complete defeat. The Banu al-Nadir left their property to Muhammad, and it became his personal property, to do with it as he wished. Usually, Muhammad would get a 20 % cut of the booty from raids. This exception is not explained in detail. He divided it among the first Emigrants, to the exclusion of the Ansar, except that Sahl b. Hunayf and Abu Dujanah Simak b. Kharashah spoke of their poverty and he gave them some of it. Only two of the Banu al-Nadir became Muslims, Yamin b. Umayr and Abu Sad b. Wahb; they were allowed to keep their property when they accepted Islam, and in this way they preserved it. Submitting to Islam protects the lives and property of people under Islamic rule. This has been formalized in many places, like the Ottoman Empire, and is still informally in effect in Islamic countries today.