Jihad in the Koran

The Civil War Which Started It All

Massacre of the Banu Qurayzah

Jihad in the KoranWith Medina secure for the time being the Prophet received an order from the angel Gabriel to attack the Banu Qurayzah whose leaders are said to have plotted with the Meccans during the Battle of the Ditch.

Narrated Aisha:

When Allah's Apostle returned on the day (of the battle) of Al-Khandaq (i.e. Trench), he put down his arms and took a bath. Then Gabriel whose head was covered with dust, came to him saying, "You have put down your arms! By Allah, I have not put down my arms yet."

Allah's Apostle said, "Where (to go now)?"

Gabriel said, "This way," pointing towards the tribe of Bani Quraiza. So Allah's Apostle went out towards them.

Bukhari 52.68

He marched on their fortress just outside Medina with three thousand jihadists. When he neared the fortress he called out to its defenders: “O brothers of monkeys and pigs! Fear me, fear me.” The simian reference would make its way into the Koran as a persistent reminder of the perfidy of the Jews and an incitement for future generations of the righteous.

2:65 And you surely know those of you who violated the Sabbath; We said to them: “Be [like] dejected apes.”

2:66 Thus We made that an example to their contemporaries and to those after them, and an admonition to the righteous.

Another revelation in the same vein:

7:166 Then, when they disdained arrogantly what they were forbidden, We said to them: “Be miserable monkeys.”

After twenty five days, the Banu Qurayzah asked for a mediator. The Prophet sent Abu Lubabah who matter-of-factly informed the Jews that the Prophet had slaughter on his mind.

When they saw him (Lubabah), the men rose to meet him, and the women and children rushed to grab hold of him, weeping before him, so that he felt pity for them. They said to him, “Abu Lubabah, do you think that we should submit to Muhammad’s judgment?”

“Yes”, he said, but he pointed with his hand to his throat, that it would be slaughter.


The Banu Qurayzah asked the Prophet to be allowed to go into exile. God’s Messenger rejected their proposal and insisted that they submit themselves to his judgment.

Abu Lubabah would not be a witness to the result of his negotiations with the Jews. It was probably just as well.

Abu Lubabah felt guilty that he had broken his promise of secrecy with Muhammad. To atone for his ‘misdeed’ he went straight to the mosque and bound himself with ropes to one of the pillars. This pillar is known as the ‘pillar of repentance’ or the ‘pillars of Abu Lubabah’.

Abul Kasem

Lubabah spent six days chained to his pillar. He was freed by the Prophet after God's Messenger received the following revelation.

8:27 O you who believe, do not betray Allah and the Messenger, nor betray your trust knowingly.

Ignoring Lubabah’s warning, the Banu Qurayzah surrendered en-masse to the Prophet. They agreed to a proposal by God’s Messenger that a mortally wounded believer by the name of Sad bin Mu’adh decide their fate.

Some people (the Banu Qurayzah) agreed to accept the verdict of Sad bin Mu’adh so the Prophet sent for him. He came riding a donkey, and when he approached the Mosque, the Prophet said, "Get up for the best amongst you." or said, "Get up for your chief."

Then the Prophet said, "O Sad! These people have agreed to accept your verdict."

Sad said, "I judge that their warriors should be killed and their children and women should be taken as captives."

The Prophet said, "You have given a judgment similar to Allah's Judgment."

Bukhari, 58.148

A trench was dug in Medina’s marketplace and the estimated seven-hundred male and teenaged boys of the Banu Qurayzah were beheaded with the Prophet of Mercy looking on.

…the messenger of God commanded that furrows should be dug in the ground for the B. Qurayzah. Then he sat down, and Ali and al-Zubayr began cutting off their heads in his presence.


The messenger of God went out into the marketplace of Medina and had trenches dug in it; then he sent for them and had them beheaded in those trenches. They were brought out to him in groups … They numbered 600 or 700—the largest estimate says they were between 800 and 900 … the affair continued until the Messenger of God had finished with them.


One woman was also beheaded that day. During the siege of the fortress of the Banu Qurayzah she had killed a Muslim soldier by dropping a millstone on his head. Her death as narrated by the Prophet’s child bride Aisha.

Only one of their women was killed. By God, she was by me, talking with me and laughing unrestrainedly while the Messenger of God was killing their men in the marketplace, when suddenly a mysterious voice called out her name, saying, “Where is so and so?”

She said, “I shall be killed.”

“Why?” I asked.

She said, "a misdeed that I committed.”

She was taken away and beheaded.


God’s Messenger had ordered that all Jewish males with pubic hair were to be killed; but he did spare one boy who took refuge with a Muslim woman who pleaded with the Prophet to spare the boy’s life. Her pleading for mercy may not have been necessary if the following story as told by the boy in question is accurate.

I was among the captives of Banu Qurayzah. They examined us, and those who had begun to grow hair (pubes) were killed, and those who had not were not killed. I was among those who had not grown hair.

Abu Dawud

The dead men’s wives and daughters were sold into slavery, except for the beautiful widow Rayhanah which God’s Messenger made his concubine. Rayhanah turned down the Prophet’s marriage proposal thinking it unseemly considering the recent mass murder of male members of her tribe.

Sad bin Mu’adh also died that day. The Prophet said that Allah’s throne shook when he died, so moved was the Almighty by the death of a man who had the courage to cold-bloodily send His enemies to their death and their wives and daughters into slavery.

It should not come as a surprise that Allah was all shook up when he greeted Sad bin Mu’adh in Paradise; after all, not only did He approve of Sad bin Mu’adh’s decision but it was His terrorizing of the Jews which drove them to seek mercy from His Messenger, with His knowing full well that none was forthcoming.

33:26 And He brought those of the People of the Book who supported them from their fortresses and cast terror into their hearts, some of them you slew and some you took captive.

Not to be overlooked was the property of the deceased i.e. the booty which provided Allah, and still does, with the means of rewarding the willing executioners of His alleged enemies.  

33:27 And He bequeathed to you their lands, their homes and their possessions, together with land you have never trodden. Allah has power over everything.

News of the massacre spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula and not unlike the massacres committed by those who follow the example of the Prophet today inspired both fear and admiration.

One thing the massacre made perfectly clear is that you had to choose a side; you could not remain neutral in the war between the believers and unbelievers of which the Arab civil war was the opening gambit. You either chose to become a Muslim and agreed to fight and kill to establish Allah’s Kingdom on earth or you became a target of the believers, to be hunted down and slaughtered.

Many converted to Islam after the massacre, not only because they believed that a man who would do such a thing could not be stopped, but to join in the general pillage of the unbelievers’ property.

All you had to say was “I declare there is no god except God, and I declare that Muhammad is the Messenger of God” and you could with impunity kill or enslave those who refused to say those magic life-saving words and help yourself to their property, their wives and their daughters for your troubles, and still be guaranteed a place in Paradise.

There is a lesson to be learned in what happened to the Jews of Medina.

Apologist and author of Muhammad – A Prophet for our Times, Karen Armstrong writes that the massacre was a tactical necessity, that the Muslims were fighting for their lives. Sending the mothers, wives and daughters of the dead men to join the former Jewish communities of Medina, which the Prophet had sent into exile, would not have had any impact on the tactical or strategic position of the Muslims.

The explanation of Tamam Khan is more to the point, that it was a tradition of the Arabs for the men to share in the plunder, the booty Allah calls it, of those they overpowered in battles or in other venues. The plunder includes the enslavement of the beaten foe, if he is not killed, his sons, wives and daughters.

After the battle of the Trench [Rayhanah was] marched into the courtyard with the several hundred other women and their children to be claimed as a reward by the Muslim soldiers, while the Qurayzah man were led away to be executed.

Tamam Khan, A History of the Wives of Muhammad

Another of the more primitive Arab traditions that Allah saw fit to establish as a universal unchanging law in his Koran, modified only slightly to exclude the right to the life and property of the believer.

5:11 O believers, remember Allah’s grace upon you, when certain people intended to reach out to you with their hands but Allah restrained them. Fear Allah and in Allah let the believers put their trust.

Moududi’s commentary on what he claims is a reference to an attempt by the Jews of Medina to do away with the Prophet and his companions:

This alludes to the incident reported by Ibn 'Abbas when a group of Jews invited the Prophet (peace be on him) and a number of his close Companions to dinner. They had in fact hatched a plot to pounce upon the guests and thus undermine the very foundation of Islam. But by the grace of God the Prophet (peace be on him) came to know of the plot at the eleventh hour and did not go.

An Avoidable Tragedy

The Jews of Medina did not blame God for what happened to them, they blamed His Messenger. They worshipped the same monotheistic deity as the Muslims and that god would not have done what the Prophet did to them, revelation 4:78. Verse 4:77 about believers wanting a rest from the fighting is not relevant here, but its conclusion is the beginning of revelation 4:78.

4:77 Have you not seen those to whom it was said: “Hold back your hands, perform the prayer and give the alms-tax”; but when they were ordered to fight, a group of them appeared to fear men just as they fear Allah, or even more. They said: “Lord, why have you ordered us to fight? If only You would grant us respite for a short period.” Say: “The pleasure of this world is small and the Hereafter is far better for the God-fearing; and you will not be wronged a whit.”

4:78 Wherever you may be, death will overtake you, even if you are in high towers. And if good fortune befalls them (the Jews) they say: “This is from Allah.” But when misfortune befalls them, they say: “It is from you (Muhammad).” Say: “All is from Allah.” What is the matter with those people who barely understand any discourse!

4:79 Whatever good visits you, it is from Allah; and whatever evil befalls you, it is from yourself; and We have sent you (Muhammad) forth to mankind as a Messenger. Allah is the All-Sufficient Witness!

That the Jews of Medina bear a large responsibility for what happened to them is undeniable. They first welcomed and protected the Prophet Muhammad because they worshipped the same god. They fell out because they could not accept him as a legitimate conduit with the Almighty – that role being reserved for “the chosen people” exclusively.

Muhammad was a Muslim, but also what we would call today an Arab nationalist. The Jews scriptural position meant that the Muslim Arabs would have to accept the equivalent of Jewish suzerainty, a Jewish supremacy that the Torah maintains will eventually encompass all nations.

The Prophet, having borrowed so much from the Torah, borrowed one last communication from the Jewish flavour of their common God: it was the Muslims who were called upon to become rulers of the world because of their claim to the “Superior Religion”.

Realizing that they had been outmaneuvered, and not being able to modify their scriptural position to give the Muslims equal billing before God, the Jews of Medina should have all left the city or fought the good fight. They did neither, and the Battle of the Ditch sealed their faith.

The Broken Covenant

5:12 Allah made a covenant with the Children of Israel, and We raised among them twelve chieftains. And Allah said: “I am with you. Surely, if you perform the prayer, give the alms, believe in my Messengers and support them and lend Allah a fair loan (spend in the way ordered by Allah), I will forgive you your sins and admit you into Gardens, beneath which rivers flow. But if any one of you disbelieves afterwards, he certainly strays from the right path.

Allah will remind the Jews of Medina, some of whom may have converted to Islam, about this covenant while providing additional specifics meant for them alone.

2:83 When We made a covenant with the Children of Israel (saying): “You shall worship none other than Allah; show kindness to your parents, to the near of kin, to the orphans and to the poor; speak to people; perform the prayers, give the alms-tax.” But, with the exception of a few, you did not abide by the covenant and you turned away.

Sometimes you do have to leave the explanation to the experts. Look for a scholar’s commentary after the following revelations which expand on this sub-covenant with the Jews of Medina.

2:84 And when We made a covenant with you (saying): “You shall not shed your own blood, nor drive your people away from their homes”, you accepted and you bore witness [thereto].

2:85 Yet there you are killing each other and turning some of your folks from their homes, making common cause against them with sin and aggression. But should they come to you as captives you would ransom them. Surely it was unlawful for you to drive them away. Do you, then, believe in one part (paying the ransom) of the Book and disbelieve in another (killing and driving away their people from their homes)? The reward of those among you who do that is nothing but disgrace in this world, and on the Day of Resurrection they shall be turned over to the most severe punishment. Allah is not unaware of what you do.

2:86 Those are the people who have traded the life of this world for the Hereafter. Their punishment shall not be lightened, nor shall they be helped.

Moududi's commentary:

Before the advent of the Prophet (peace be on him) the Jewish tribes who lived on the outskirts of Madina (sic) had concluded an alliance with the Arab tribes of Aws and Khazraj. When the Arab tribes fought against one another each Jewish tribe fought on the side of its allies, which led to fratricide and so to a flagrant violation of the Book of God. Moreover, when the war ended the captives were ransomed. This ransom was justified on the basis of scriptural arguments; they extolled the Word of God when it permitted the ransom of prisoners of war, but attached no significance at all to the same Word of God when it prohibited mutual feuding.

Fakhry, in a footnote, writes that Allah’s Covenant in revelation 2:40, which follows, includes “believing that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”. Muhammad would, of course, not have been alive when Allah’s Covenant with the Jews was first entered into thousands of years earlier, just before He separated them into twelve tribes. This could indicate that the following revelations about a covenant may also have been meant for Jewish contemporaries of God’s Messenger.

2:40 O Children of Israel, remember the grace which I bestowed on you. Fulfil your covenant (by believing that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah) and I shall fulfil my Covenant (by rewarding you). And Me alone you should fear.

2:41 Believe in what I have revealed confirming that which is with you (your Scriptures) and do not be the first to deny it. Do not trade My Revelations for a small price; and Me alone you should fear.

2:42 And do not confuse truth with falsehood and do not conceal the truth while you know it.

2:43 Perform the prayer; give the alms-tax and bow down with those who bow down.

2:44 Do you command others to be righteous and forget yourselves while you recite the Book? Do you not understand?

2:45 Seek assistance through patience and prayer. It is hard, except for the truly devout;

2:46 Who believe that they shall meet their Lord, and unto Him they shall return.

The Jews can look forward to spending an eternity burning in Hell, as is the fate of all of those with whom Allah is displeased.

62:5 The case of those who were loaded with the Torah, then failed to carry it, is similar to an ass which carries learned books. Wretched is the case of the people who have denounced Allah’s Signs. Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people.

62:6 Say: “O you who have adopted Judaism; if you claim to be Allah’s friends, apart from other people, then do wish for death, if you are truthful.”

62:7 Yet, they will never wish it, due to what their hands have advanced. Allah knows well the wrongdoers.

62:8 Say: “The death from which you flee will surely overtake you. Then you will be turned over to Him Who knows the Unseen and the Seen, and He will inform you about what you used to do.”

A Change of Direction

41:37 Of His signs are the night and the day, the sun and the moon. Do not prostrate yourself to the sun or to the moon, but prostrate yourself to Allah Who created them, if it is He you truly worship.

41:38 Should they wax proud (the Meccan pagans), then those with your Lord (the angels, Moududi) do glorify him by night and day, without growing weary.

The first Muslims prostrated themselves during prayer in the direction of Jerusalem. It was only after the Prophet’s falling out with the Jews of Medina  that revelations were received from Allah informing His Messenger about a change of direction.

Following are the verses where Allah gives His reasons for this about-face (no pun intended).

2:142 The ignorant among the people (among the Jews and polytheist Arabs) will say: “What caused them (the Prophet Muhammad and the believers) to turn away from the former Qibla towards which they used to turn (Jerusalem)?” Say: “To Allah belongs the East and the West. He guides whom He wills towards the Right Path.”

2:143 And thus We have made you (the Muslim nation) a just nation, so that you may bear witness unto the rest of mankind, and that the Messenger may bear witness unto you. We did not ordain your former Qibla except that We may distinguish those who follow the Messenger from those who turn on their heels (return to disbelief). It was indeed a hard test except for those whom Allah guided. Allah would not allow your faith to be in vain. He is Clement and Merciful to mankind.

2:144 Surely, We see your face turned towards heaven (yearning for guidance through revelation). We shall turn you towards a Qibla that will please you. Turn your face then towards the Sacred Mosque (the Sacred Mosque of Mecca, the Ka’ba); and wherever you are turn your faces towards it. Those who were given the Book (the Jews and Christians) certainly know this to be the Truth from their Lord. Allah is not unaware of what they do.

2:145 Were you even to come to the People of the Book with every proof, they will not follow your Qibla, nor will you follow their Qibla. Nor will some of them follow the Qibla of the others. And were you to follow their desires after all the knowledge that came to you, surely you would be one of the evil-doers.

2:146 Those to whom We gave the Book know him (Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah) as they know their own sons; but a group of them will knowingly conceal the truth.

2:147 The truth is from your Lord. So do not be one of the doubters.

2:148 To everyone there is a direction towards which he turns. So hasten to do the good works. Wherever you are, Allah will bring you all together (in the Hereafter). Surely Allah has power over all things.

Allah’s instructions were not limited to the direction Muslims must face when performing the prayers.

2:149 From whatever place you come out, turn towards the Sacred Mosque. This is indeed the truth from your Lord. Allah is not unaware of what you do.

2:150 From whatever place you come out, turn your faces towards the Sacred Mosque. And wherever you all are, turn your faces towards it, lest people should have cause to argue with you, except for the evil-doers among them. Do not fear them, but fear Me so that I may complete My Grace upon you, and that you be rightly guided.