BISMILLAH IR RAHMAN IR RAHEEM
THE JEWS OF MEDINA
During the time of the Prophet
Khadeijah A. Darwish (Anne Stephens)
“You will find that the most people in enmity to the believers are the Jews and idolaters, and that the nearest in affection to the believers are those who say, 'We are Nazarenes.' That is because amongst them there are priests and monks; and because they are not proud.” Koran 5:82
BC = Before Christ
CE = Christian era
H = After the migration
The Jews of Arabia
In the year 587 BC, the Jews were persecuted by King Nebuchadnezzar who destroyed their temple in Jerusalem and took many of them as captives to Babylon and it was these circumstances, which prompted their first migration to Arabia.
Many centuries later in the year 70CE, Palestine was governed by the Romans and it was during that era that the second Jewish migration to Arabia began. The Jews migrated not only to Yathrib but to Khaybar and Taima’ as well as other places. They established communities where they lived in villages and fortified themselves by building strong fortresses and castles.
In 523CE just 48 years before the birth of Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu alihi wa sallam) a Jew named Dhu Nawas cruelly persecuted the Nazarenes of Najran, Arabia who refused to reject Jesus as their prophet. The Nazarenes were people who believed in the Oneness of Allah and followed the teachings of Prophet Jesus and should not be confused with the Christians who followed Paul, the innovator of the trinity. The Nazarenes did not believe Jesus was the son of God. Dhu Nawas persisted in his cruelty and those who refused to abandon the teachings of Prophet Jesus were burned to death in a flaming ditch. The Koran refers to their martyrdom in the chapter 85 verses 4-8.
“The companions of the pit were killed
the fire with its fuel,
when they were seated around it
and they were witnesses of what they did to the believers
and their revenge on them was only because
they believed in Allah, the Almighty, the Praised,
to whom belongs the Kingdom of the heavens and earth.
And Allah is the Witness of all things.” 85:4-8
The Jews of Yathrib (Medina)
The most prominent Jewish tribes in Pre-Islamic Arabia were those of An-Nadir, Krayzah, Kaynuka, Al-Mutaliq and Khaybar.
In Yathrib, the Jewish tribe of Kaynuka allied themselves to the pagan Arab tribe of Khazraj whereas the Jewish tribes of Krayzah and An-Nadir allied themselves to the pagan Arab tribe of Al Aws as they constituted the predominant Arab tribes of Yathrib.
Among the Jews who chose to settle in the region of Yathrib many centuries before the advent of Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu alihi wa sallam) were several Jewish religious families. Some of these families were descendants of Prophet Aaron and anticipated the fulfillment of the prophecy described in their ancient Holy Books heralding the arrival of a new prophet who would be born somewhere in the region of Yathrib. Each of these families hoped the prophet would arise from their own family and from their learning were aware of the signs to look for which would appear before his advent. However, the majority of their fellow Jews were secular.
Many centuries passed since the migration of their ancestors and the Jewish tribes had dispersed and their numbers in Yathrib had dwindled so that they no longer governed the city as they had done in their heyday. As a result the Arabs were now the majority and the Jews, considering themselves to be the chosen people of Allah, despised having to be beholden to the pagan Arabs and all too often sharp words were exchanged. Even though they were for the most part secular they would taunt the Arabs with the news that a prophet was about to appear and that Allah would slay them on account of their idolatry just as He had done with the people of Aad and Thamood.
There were occasions when the Jews spoke to their pagan neighbors about their belief in One God and in the life after death. The Arabs found the matter of being raised from the dead difficult to believe so the Jews told them that when the prophet came he would confirm the truth of the matter. The idea of the coming of a prophet aroused both the curiosity and also the apprehension of the Arabs of Yathrib, so they inquired where he would appear and were told it would be somewhere in their region, in the direction of Yemen, which was the direction of their ancestral homeland and also lies in the same direction of Mecca.
Standards had fallen in the Jewish community to an all time low, many were just Jews in name and greed for worldly enrichment was foremost in their minds. They were well known for their business acumen through which they had amassed great wealth. But all too often to gain that wealth they turned a blind eye, ignored or bent the rules of the teachings of their Holy Book to suit their wants with the result corruption and unfair trading had become commonplace. Some had intermarried despite their forbidding dogma but they continued to resent and look down on their Arab neighbors perceiving them to be illiterate and backward idolaters. However, despite their secularism and departure from the Holy Scriptures, they clung tightly and proudly to their Jewish heritage and ethnic origin, the value of which had become more important to them than their religion.
As for their decency and morality there had also been a sharp decline most notably in one of their chieftains named Fityun. Fityun usurped his power in such a disgraceful manner that Arab brides-to-be from less influential tribes were forced to sleep with him the night before their wedding whilst the Jewish community stood by and did nothing to prevent him from satisfying his lust.
The Arabs of Arabia
Before the advent of Islam the conditions in Arabia had deteriorated to such an extent that idolatry in conjunction with profanity had become common among the Arabs. The poor and weak were treated very badly and the position of women was quite deplorable unless they were from the hierarchy in which case her position was powerful and her decision was honored and upheld. However, many less fortunate women on the lower edge of society were deprived of all their rights, they could be bought and sold at whim and if they happened to inherit, their wealth was more likely than not, seized by their spouse.
Most Bedouin tribes during this time knew little or no form of government and each tribe was independent from the other except for the occasional alliance; as a result rivalries and deep rooted jealously often prevailed. There was a great sense of tribal pride to the extent that it was their practice to support a tribe member no matter whether he was the wrongdoer or the one harmed. Tribal feuds were common and very often the origin for the feud had faded from memory but that was of no consequence, a feud was a feud, and therefore it was perpetuated without regard, from one generation to the next resulting in the shedding of much blood.
There was also a great love and desire for expressive, descriptive language and poetry among them. Their love of Arabic with its intricacies was so powerful that it could either provoke a conflict or subdue one. It could raise a person in the eyes of society or degrade a person of standing to the extent that he lost his status within his society. To be a poet was a highly desired, powerful and sort after accomplishment.
There existed a noble side to the character of the Arabs amongst which was that they were known for their generosity and hospitality. A guest would receive the best a hosting party had to offer to the extent the host would over extend himself and often go without. They were hospitable to their guests no matter what their circumstances. It was a matter of pride and ancient Arabic poetry is rich in extolling the virtues and nobility of a hosting party by name.
It was a well known fact that when an Arab made a promise to another, that promise became binding and upheld, and much would be sacrificed to fulfill that promise.
Personal or tribal honor and respect was something of uppermost importance and held dear to their heart. If that honor was defamed then revenge would be taken, even at the expense of the loss of life. They were a determined people. Once they had set their mind on a course of action they would see it through to its end, no matter what the outcome.
Despite the passing of many centuries fragments of the Abrahamic way still remained and Arabs from different parts of Arabia would be found making the arduous and very often perilous journey across the hot desert sands to Mecca to offer their pilgrimage and circumambulate Ka’bah. However, the pilgrimage had become mixed with idolatry and no longer for Allah alone.
Idols were placed in and around Ka’bah. They were ancient, and those that had been worshipped during the prophethood of Noah before the Flood then swept away by its waters and buried under the sands of Jeddah. Centuries later a man by the name of Amr, Luhai’s son discovered these idols and introduced them to the tribes and was responsible for re-establishing their worship.
As time progressed, the tribes thought it more fitting that their idols should be placed in or around Ka’bah so they took them with them when they went to Mecca on pilgrimage. To many, Allah had become remote, whereas they could physically see their idols and concocted the idea that their idols had powers to intercede between Allah and themselves. When the Prophet entered Mecca on the day of its Opening there were 365 idols housed in Ka’bah and its courtyard. The Prophet pointed to each of them, and one by one the idols toppled over and broke into pieces.
However, not all the Arabs were pagan, some were Christians whereas as others, many of whom lived in Mecca were known as “Ahnaf”. The Ahnaf were people who tried their best to follow the way of their great ancestor Prophet Abraham, but apart from their belief that God is One, there was very little else other than fragments of his religion and the miraculous story of the well of Zamzam left. To the Ahnaf idol worship was repugnant.
The Arabs of Yathrib
After the devastating flood in Yemen when the dam of Al Arim burst, the Arab Yemeni tribe of Bani Kahlan left their homeland to settle in Yathrib which during the time of the Prophet (salla Allahu alihi wa sallam) was renamed Medina. As time passed the Bani Kahlan divided into two tribes named after two brothers, Aws and Khazraj who were the sons of Tha’labah. Over time their population grew and exceeded both that of the Jews and other Arabs. However, there was friction between the two tribes and disputes arose followed by blood feuds.
Pre-Islamic Life in Yathrib
A Way of Life
The Jews were for the most part were moneylenders, farmers and date palm plantation owners. They controlled much of the land’s produce and also other commodities such as clothing and wine which they sold to the Arabs at inflated prices. On account of their wealth they were in a position to have the upper hand when purchasing merchandize from caravaners passing through Yathrib which they would later sell to their Arab neighbors at a handsome profit. The Jewish blacksmiths were highly skilled in the art of forging weaponry and readily sold their swords and other items of warfare to the Arabs. Sorcery and fortune telling had also become a lucrative source of income.
To prevent the Aws and Khazraj from gaining further strength it was in the Jews interest to encourage the tribes to take loans from them and stipulate that the Arabs pledge their fertile land as a surety. It was not uncommon for the money borrowed to pass the term of its loan and so the Jews reaped a handsome profit not only from usury but in the acquisition of land. Added to this was the underlying factor that the Jews were well aware that the money they lent the Arabs would be used either to buy their merchandize or wasted on paying handsome amounts of money to mercenary poets who would compose poetry that extolled the heroes of their tribe and the valor of their tribal warfare. The Jews had a vested interest in such poetry as they knew it was capable of inflaming and kindling tribal passions between the Aws and Khazraj which ultimately kept the feuding alive between them.
The Anxiety of the Jews
The matter of the imminent coming of the expected prophet was a constant topic of conversation among the Jews, even those who were secular and cared little for their religion spoke of it among themselves.
The time came when traders returning from Mecca brought the news to Yathrib that a man in Mecca laid claim to being the Prophet of Allah. The news was a shock, it disturbed them greatly because the man of whom they spoke was not a descendant of Prophet Isaac, a Jew, but rather an Arab, a descendant of Prophet Ishmael. Each time a Meccan caravan reached Yathrib the Jews would make a point to go out and meet it to ask searching questions about that man’s belief, what he taught and about his character. Deep down in their hearts they hoped the news was nothing more than a rumor – he was not a Jew!
The news was so disturbing that the Jewish chieftain Huyay, Akhtab’s son and his brother from the tribe of An-Nadir, both of whom were well versed in the scriptural prophecy and in the signs to look for in the expected prophet decided to go to Mecca to investigate the truth of the matter.
Safia – who was a descendant of Prophet Aaron and to become the wife of the Prophet in the years to come - was the ten year old daughter of Huyay and speaks of the time when she was the favorite among her family and relatives and how no one ever turned her away even when significant affairs happened to be discussed. She too had heard the rumored news that a prophet had come forth in Mecca. When she heard her father and uncle Ubayy say they were going to Mecca to determine the truth of the matter she was excited and waited anxiously for the day of their return.
Upon their return from Mecca Lady Safiya narrates that she had been unable to comprehend the reaction of her father and uncle, but even more so their state of depression, they were silent and their silence puzzled her. Lady Safiya said, “I overheard my uncle Abu Yasir ask my uncle Ubayy and my father, ‘Is it really he?’ and that her father had replied, ‘Yes, it is he, I swear by Allah!’ Then Abu Yasir asked, ‘Were you able to recognize him?’ To this her father replied, ‘Yes, and my heart is burning with hatred toward him!’” This burning hatred toward the Prophet never subsided, it increased as one will discover in the events that followed.
No doubt you will recall that many years before when Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu alihi wa sallam) was a young boy, his uncle Abu Talib had taken the young Muhammad with him on a trading caravan going to Syria. On their way the caravan stopped near the hermitage of a Nazarene by the name of George, better known as Buhaira who was knowledgeable of the original Gospel of Jesus – which no longer exists - with its descriptive prophecy of the coming of the next prophet. Upon seeing the young Muhammad his heart leapt with joy as he recognized the signs of prophethood upon him, but at the same time he was stricken with fear for the young boy’s safety when he learned they were on their way to Syria. Buhaira advised Abu Talib not to continue any further because the caravan would take them through a heavily populated Jewish settlement and they, like him, would be able to recognize the same signs and harm him because he was not of their race. Abu Talib heeded Buhaira’s advice and they returned to Medina.
The Night Journey and the Ascent through the Heavens
It was during the early years of his prophethood in Mecca, approximately sixteen months before the Prophet’s migration to Medina that one of the greatest miracles of all time occurred. That well known miracle is the Prophet’s journey to Jerusalem at the speed of light on Burak, the winged mount, followed by the Prophet’s ascent with the Arch Angel Gabriel through the seven heavens and the meeting with his Lord.
It might be asked why Allah chose Jerusalem to be the site of the Prophet’s ascent rather than Mecca. The choice of Allah is of the highest significance because it contains a message to the Jews for all time which is that because of their disobedience, blatant tampering, distortion, and corruption of the text of the Torah and Mosaic Law, they had been stripped permanently from their religious leadership which was now entrusted to a non-Jew, an Arab, Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu alihi wa sallam). It was to be the first of two very significant indications and the fulfillment of the warning of Prophet Jesus who had warned his fellow Jews that if they chose not to reform and return to the truth the covenant would be taken from them.
The Establishment of the Islamic Society
The Arrival of Prophet Muhammad in Yathrib
The Muslims anticipated the arrival of the Prophet in Quba which lies on the outskirts of Yathrib, and would leave their homes each day to go to the lava mounds just outside the town in the hope that this would be the day of his arrival. However, as the heat of mid-day intensified they would return to their homes to rest and then return later during the cooler hours. On one such day when everyone had gone home, a Jew happened to go up on the roof of his house and spotted the Prophet and Abu Bakr in the distance and cried out to the Muslims, “Your luck has arrived!” With that the Muslims rushed from their homes to welcome the Prophet.
Several days later, after the foundations of the Mosque had been laid in Quba, a large group of Muslims accompanied the Prophet who was riding his camel Kaswa on the final stage of his migration to Yathrib. When he reached Yathrib all the Muslims came out to welcome him and were anxious to have the honor of hosting him. However, the Prophet declined their kind invitations saying that Kaswa was being guided by angels and wherever it stopped that would be the place where the Mosque would be built. When the camel sat down the Prophet dismounted and told the happy congregation that this was the place Allah had chosen for the Mosque to be built. In the meantime Ayyub Al Ansari had taken the bags of the Prophet into his home, and that was where he was to live until accommodation had been built onto the Mosque
Islam had a remarkable affect on the new Muslims. Only a short time before it had been unthinkable that any tribesman from the Aws and Khazraj would ever put aside his differences or rivalry and live in harmony with one another, let alone accept an outside tribe from Mecca, but now the Muslims among them were observed caring for one another. This state of affairs brought about the uneasiness of the Jews.
A new society was about to emerge and the Prophet called the migrant Muslims and Yathrib Muslims together and told them that from now on those who had migrated were to be known as Muhajirin – meaning migrants - and that the Muslims from Yathrib were to be known as the Ansar – meaning helpers. Each Ansar was assigned a Muhajirin brother in Islam and this bonded the Muhajirin and Ansars closer together.
The Foundations for the New Society
To guide the newly forming society, the Prophet drew up a paper detailing the Islamic approach to situations that might arise between them.
He began by addressing the Muhajirin and Ansars with the fact that they are as one nation and that they were to settle any penalty that may occur between themselves. He spoke of the situation of the impoverished or overburdened Muslims and said that if they happened to incur a penalty but were unable to pay then those Muslims who were better off were to come to his assistance.
He spoke of times of hostilities and told them that in the event a Muslim was taken captive they should ransom him with kindness and should judge people with justice.
The Prophet addressed the situation of a believer who might transgress, as well as others who either sought injustice, sin or corruption. He told his Companions that on no account were they to side with them, and that if a child went astray they must stand united against that child so he might be guided.
He instructed the Muslims that if an unbeliever demanded the death penalty of a Muslim as a ransom, the death penalty must not be permitted to be imposed.
He reminded them of the rights of Allah and told them that they must be upheld, and that immunity given by a believer to a person should be honored, even if the person giving such immunity was a believer whose standing among them was the least.
With regard to the Jews, he told his Companions that those who follow them were not to be harmed, nor should believers take sides against them.
The Prophet told them that believers are to be unified in the protection of the blood of one another in the Cause of Allah and that in the event a believer should kill another believer he should be handed over to the deceased’s guardian in whose hands it is either to forgive him or not. He told them that believers are to be unified against the killer and that it was unlawful to do otherwise.
As for those who change the principals of Islam, he told them it is unlawful for any believer to support or house anyone who changes those principals. He said of a person who did such a thing, “May the curse and anger of Allah be upon him on the Day of Judgement in which no ransom will be accepted from him, nor any exchange.”
When it came to matters of dispute, the Prophet told his Companions that the matter should be returned to Allah and the judgment of His Prophet.
The Prophet’s Agreement with the Jews
Although the majority of Jews in Medina refused to accept Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu alihi wa sallam) as a prophet, they knew although it was hateful to them, that it was in their best interest to ally themselves to him as he was fast becoming the most influential person in Medina. So they went to him, without coercion, and a written contract was drawn up to which both parties pledged they would abide.
The contract afforded fair benefits to both parties. Amongst the contractual articles was that they were not prevented to continue to profess and practice their religion. As for their expenses they were their own and the Muslims were also held responsible for their own expenses, neither party would infringe upon the other.
It was agreed that if the Muslims were attacked the Jews would come to their aid and that in the event of war they would fight as one party against the pagans and that the expense would be shared proportionally. It was also agreed that neither Muslim nor Jew would enter into a separate peace treaty behind the back of the other.
It was agreed that trade with the Koraysh should from now on be boycotted and that the Jews would no longer lend them their support.
The Jews acknowledged the Prophet (salla Allahu alihi wa sallam) to be fair, so they willingly agreed that if a dispute should arise between a Muslim and a Jew, the matter would be decided by him. There was a time when a Muslim thinking he would have the support of his fellow Muslims, took advantage of a Jew. The issue was taken to the Prophet (salla Allahu alihi wa sallam) and the Jew received his rights.
On the surface things appeared to be in harmony, but the underlying resentment of the Jews started to fester but lay dormant for the time being as they began a process of intrigues and undermining, their aim being to bring about a schism within the growing unity of the Muslims.
Allah says of the Jews of Medina:
“When they meet those who believe, they say, 'We are believers.'
But when alone, they say to their other (chiefs).
'Do you tell to them what Allah has revealed to you
so that they will dispute with you concerning it with your Lord?
Have you no sense?'
Do they not know that Allah has knowledge of all they hide
and all that they reveal!”
There were also members of the Arab tribes of Aws and Khazraj who said, when they were invited to believe, that they believed. However they did not. To them it was simply a matter of politics, some doubted the Message whilst others were hypocrites. It was during this era that Allah sent down the second chapter of the Koran, the Cow chapter, in which the undetectable, innermost status of the Jews and hypocrites was made known to the Prophet and the Muslims.
“There are some people who say,
'We believe in Allah and the Last Day,'
yet they are not believers.
They seek to deceive Allah and those who believe,
but they deceive none except themselves,
though they do not sense it.
There is a sickness in their hearts which Allah has increased.
For them there is a painful punishment because they lie.
When it is said to them, 'Do not corrupt in the land'
they reply, 'We are only reformers.'
But it is they who are the evildoers, though they do not sense it.
When it is said to them, 'Believe as (other) people believe,'
they reply, 'Are we to believe as fools believe?'
It is they who are the fools, if only they knew!
When they meet those who believe they say, 'We, too believe.'
But when they are alone with their devils,
they say to them, 'We follow none but you,
we were only mocking.'
Allah will mock at them and prolong them in sin,
Later on in the same chapter, Allah informed the Prophet (salla Allahu alihi wa sallam) and his followers of the jealously the Jews harbored towards them:
"Many of the People of the Book (Jews)
wish they might turn you back as unbelievers,
after you have believed, in envy of their souls,
after the truth has been clarified to them.
So pardon and forgive until Allah brings His command.
Allah is Powerful over everything."