Battle of Khaybar
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The Battle of Khaybar was fought in the year 628 between Muslims and the Jews living in the oasis of Khaybar, located 150 kilometers (93 mi) from Medina in the north-western part of the Arabian peninsula, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. According to Hagai Mazuz, “The Jewish community of northern Arabia was one of the largest ancient Jewish communities in the history of the Jewish people.”  For almost a thousand years Jews lived in the oases of Teyma, Khaybar, and Yathrib (later known as Medina), in the northern Arabian Peninsula. According to Muslim sources, the Muslim soldiers attacked the native Jews who had barricaded themselves in forts.
|Battle of Khaybar|
|Part of Campaigns of Muhammad|
The Battle of Khaybar painting
|Muslim Forces||Jews of Khaybar Oasis|
|Commanders and leaders|
Ali ibn Abi Talib
Umar ibn al-Khattab
al-Harith ibn Abu Zaynab †|
Marhab ibn Abu Zaynab †
Banu Ghatafan: 4,000
|Casualties and losses|
Fewer than 20 killed|
Muslim sources accuse Jews living in Khaybar of a plan to unite with other Jews from Banu Wadi Qurra, Taima', Fadak as well as Ghafataan Arab tribe to attack Madinah. Scottish historian William Montgomery Watt notes the presence in Khaybar of the Banu Nadir, who were working with neighboring Arab tribes to protect themselves from the Islamic community in Medina who had earlier sent into exile the Jewish tribes for violating the terms of the Charter of Medina and for conspiring to kill Muhammad. Italian orientalist Laura Veccia Vaglieri claims other motives might have included the prestige the engagement would confer upon Muhammad among his followers, as well the booty which could be used to supplement future campaigns.
The Jews of Khaybar finally surrendered after seeing no way out and were allowed to live in the oasis on the condition that they would give one-half of their produce to the Muslims. Jews continued to live in the oasis for several more years until they were expelled by caliph Umar. The imposition of tribute upon the conquered Jews served as a precedent for provisions in the Islamic law requiring the exaction of tribute known as jizya from Dīn under Muslim rule, and confiscation of land belonging to non-Muslims into the collective property of the Muslim community.
Khaybar in the 7th centuryEdit
In the 7th century, Khaybar was inhabited by Jews. The inhabitants had stored in a redoubt at Khaybar a siege-engine, swords, lances, shields and other weaponry. In the past some scholars attempted to explain the presence of the weapons, suggesting that they were used for settling quarrels among the families of the community. Vaglieri suggests that it is more logical to assume that the weapons were stored in a depôt for future sale. Similarly the Jews kept 20 bales of cloth and 500 cloaks for sale, and other luxury goods. These commercial activities as a cause of hostility, Vaglieri argues, are similar to the economic causes behind persecutions in many other countries throughout history.
The oasis was divided into three regions: al-Natat, al-Shikk, and al-Katiba, probably separated by natural divisions, such as the desert, lava drifts, and swamps. Each of these regions contained several fortresses or redoubts including homes, storehouses and stables. Each fortress was occupied by a separate family and surrounded by cultivated fields and palm-groves. In order to improve their defensive capabilities, the fortresses were raised up on hills or basalt rocks.
After they were sent into exile in 625 from Medina by Muslim forces, the Banu Nadir had settled in Khaybar. In 627, the Nadir chief Huyayy ibn Akhtab together with his son joined the Meccans and Bedouins besieging Medina during the Battle of the Trench. In addition, the Nadir paid Arabian tribes to go to war against the Muslims. Bribing Banu Ghatafan with half of their harvest, Banu Nadir secured 2,000 men and 300 horsemen from the tribe to attack Muhammad, and similarly persuaded the Bani Asad. They attempted to get the Banu Sulaym to attack the Muslims, but the tribe gave them only 700 men, since some of its leaders were sympathetic towards Islam. The Bani Amir refused to join them all together, as they had a pact with Muhammad. Once the battle started, Huyayy ibn Akhtab persuaded the Banu Qurayza to go against their covenant with Muhammad and turn against him during the battle. After the defeat of the confederates in the battle, and Qurayza's subsequent surrender, Huyayy (who was at that time in the Qurayza strongholds of Medina) was killed alongside the men of the Qurayza. After Huyayy's death, Abu al-Rafi ibn Abi al-Huqayq took charge of the Banu Nadir at Khaybar. Al-Huqayq soon approached neighboring tribes to raise an army against Muhammad. After learning this, the Muslims, aided by an Arab with a Jewish dialect, assassinated him.
Al-Huqayq was succeeded by Usayr ibn Zarim. It has been recorded by one source that Usayr also approached the Ghatafan and rumors spread that he intended to attack the "capital of Muhammad". The latter sent Abdullah bin Rawaha with a number of his companions, among whom were Abdullah bin Unays, an ally of Banu Salima, a clan hostile to the Jews. When they came to Usayr, they told him that if he would come to Muhammad, Muhammad would give him an appointment and honour him. They kept on at him until he went with them with a number of Jews. Abdullah bin Unays mounted him on his beast until he was in al-Qarqara, about six miles from Khaybar. Usayr suddenly changed his mind about going with them. Abdullah perceived Usayr's bad intention as the latter was preparing to draw his sword. So Abdullah rushed at him and struck him with his sword cutting off his leg. Usayr hit Abdullah with a stick of shauhat wood which he had in his hand and wounded his head. All Muhammad's emissaries fell upon the thirty Jewish companions and killed them except one man who escaped on his feet. Abdullah bin Unays is the assassin who volunteered and got permission to kill Banu Nadir's Sallam ibn Abu al-Huqayq at a previous night mission in Khaybar.
Many scholars have considered the above machinations of the Nadir as a reason for the battle. According to Montgomery Watt, their intriguing and use of their wealth to incite tribes against Muhammad left him no choice but to attack. Vaglieri concurs that one reason for attack was that the Jews of Khaybar were responsible for the Confederates that attacked Muslims during the Battle of the Trench. Shibli Numani also sees Khaybar's actions during the Battle of the Trench, and draws particular attention to Banu Nadir's leader Huyayy ibn Akhtab, who had gone to the Banu Qurayza during the battle to instigate them to attack Muhammad.
Treaty of HudaybiyyaEdit
In 628, when the Muslims attempted to perform the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage), after much negotiations, the Muslims entered a peace treaty with the Quresh, ending the Muslim-Quresh wars. The treaty also gave Muhammad the assurance of not being attacked in the rear by the Meccans during the expedition.
As war with Muhammad seemed imminent, the Jews of Khaybar entered into an alliance with the Jews of Fadak oasis. They also successfully persuaded the Bedouin Ghatafan tribe to join their side in the war in exchange for half their produce. However, in comparison to the power of the North, Muhammad's army did not seem to pose enough of a threat for the Khaybar to sufficiently prepare themselves for the upcoming battle. Along with the knowledge that Muhammad's army was small, and in need of resources, the lack of central authority at Khaybar prevented any unified defensive preparations, and quarrels between different families left the Jews disorganized. The Banu Fazara, related to the Ghatafan, also offered their assistance to Khaybar, after their unsuccessful negotiations with the Muslims.
Failure of Banu GhatafanEdit
During the battle, the Muslims were able to prevent Khaybar's Ghatafan allies (consisting of 4,000 men) from providing them with reinforcements. One reason given is that the Muslims were able to buy off the Bedouin allies of the Jews. Watt, however, suggests that rumors of a Muslim attack on Ghatafan strongholds might also have played a role. According to Tabari, Muhammad's first stop in his conquest for Khaybar was in the valley of al-Raji, which was directly between the Ghatafan people and the Khaybar. In hearing the news of the Muslim army's position, the Ghatafan organized and rode out to honor their alliance with the Khaybar. After a day of travel, the Ghatafan thought they heard their enemy behind them and turned around in order to protect their families and possessions, thus opening the path for Muhammad's army. Another story says that a mysterious voice warned the Ghatafan of danger and convinced them to return to their homes.
Course of the BattleEdit
The Muslims set out for Khaybar in May 628, Muharram 7 AH. According to different sources, the strength of Muslims army varied from 1,400 to 1,800 men and between 100 and 200 horses. Some Muslim women (including Umm Salama) also joined the army, in order to take care of the wounded. Compared to the Khaybarian fighting strength of 10,000, the Muslim contingent was small, but this gave Muslims advantages. It allowed Muslims to swiftly and quietly march to Khaybar (in only three days), catching the city by surprise. It also made Khaybar overconfident in themselves. As a result, the Jews failed to mount a centrally organized defense, leaving each family to defend its own fortified redoubt. This underestimation of the Muslims allowed Muhammad to conquer each fortress one by one with relative ease, claiming food, weapons, and land as he went. One Muslim reported:"We met the workers of Khaybar coming out in the morning with their spades and baskets. When they saw the apostle and the army they cried, 'Muhammad with his force,' and turned tail and fled. The apostle said, 'Allah Akbar! Khaybar is destroyed. When we arrive in a people's square it is a bad morning for those who have been warned.'"
The Jews, after a rather bloody skirmish in front of one of the fortresses, avoided combat in the open country. Most of the fighting consisted of shooting arrows at a great distance. On at least one occasion the Muslims were able to storm the fortresses. The besieged Jews managed to organize, under the cover of darkness, the transfer of people and treasures from one fortress to another as needed to make their resistance more effective.
Neither the Jews nor the Muslims were prepared for an extended siege, and both suffered from a lack of provisions. The Jews, initially overconfident in their strength, failed to prepare even enough water supplies for a short siege. Early in the campaign, the Muslims' hunger caused them to slaughter and cook several asses which they had taken during their conquest. Yet no one in the Muslim army had eaten that meat as Muhammad didn't see the men were at the point of starve to allow it. Muhammad, who had determined that the eating of horse, mule, and ass meat was forbidden, made the exception that one can eat forbidden foods so long as scarcity leaves no other option.
Fall of al-Qamus fortEdit
After the forts at an-Natat and those at ash-Shiqq were captured, there remained the last and the heavily guarded fortress called al-Qamus, the siege of which lasted between thirteen and nineteen days.
Several attempts by Muslims to capture this citadel in some single combats failed. The first attempt was made by Abu Bakr who took the banner and fought, but was unable to succeed. Umar, then charged ahead and fought more vigorously than Abu Bakr, but still failed. That night Muhammad proclaimed, "By God, tomorrow I shall give it [the banner] to a man who loves God and His Messenger, whom God and His Messenger love. Allah will bestow victory upon him." That morning, the Quraysh were wondering who should have the honor to carry the banner, but Muhammad called out for Ali ibn Abi Țalib. All this time, Ali, son-in-law and cousin of Muhammad, was ill and could not participate in the failed attempts. Ali came to Muhammad, who cured him of his ophthalmia, an inhibitive inflammation of the eyes, by applying his saliva to Ali's eyes. The apostle sent him with his flag and Ali, with new vigor, set out to meet the enemy, bearing the banner of Muhammad. When he got near the fort the garrison came out and he fought them. During the battle, a Jew struck him so that his shield fell from his hand and Ali lost his shield. In need of a substitute, he picked up a door and used it to defend himself. The door was said to be so heavy that it took eight men to replace it on its hinges. In some Shi'ite sources it is also said that, when the time came to breach the fortress, he threw the door down as a bridge to allow his army to pass into the citadel and conquer the final threshold. The Apostle revived their (his followers) faith by the example of Ali, on whom he bestowed the surname of "the Lion of God" (Asadullah).
The Jews speedily met with Muhammad to discuss the terms of surrender. The people of al-Waṭī and al-Sulālim surrendered to the Muslims on the condition that they be "treated leniently" and the Muslims refrain from shedding their blood. Muhammad agreed to these conditions and did not take any of the property of these two forts.
Historians have given different descriptions about the incident of killing Marhab. Most of historical sources, including sahih Muslim, say that Ali killed Marhab while conquering the Qamus fort or for the fort of Na’im. But Ibn Hisham's prophetic biography deny that Muhammad ibn Maslama killed Marhab according to the order of Muhammad before the mission of Ali.
The most famous narration related to Ali is all total below:
“When Ali reached the Citadel of Qamus, he was met at the gate by Marhab, a Jewish chieftain who was well experienced in battle. Marhab called out: "Khaybar knows well that I am Marhab, whose weapon is sharp, a warrior tested. Sometimes I thrust with spear; sometimes I strike with sword, when lions advance in burning rage".
'Ali chanted in reply:
I am the one whose mother named him Haidar (lion), (And am) like a lion of the forest with a terror-striking countenance. I give my opponents the measure of sandara in exchange for sa'(goblet) (i. e. return their attack with one that is much more fierce).
The two soldiers struck at each other, and after the second blow, Ali cleaved through Marhab's helmet, splitting his skull and landing his sword in his opponent's teeth. Another narration described, "Ali struck at the head of Mirhab and killed him”.
The narration related to Muhammad bin Maslama from Ibn Hisham's prophetic biography is below:
“When the apostle had conquered some of their forts and got possession of some of their property he came to their two forts al-Watih and al-Sulalim, the last to be taken, and the apostle besieged them for some ten night.
Marhab the Jew came out from their fort carrying his weapons and saying: Khaybar knows that I am Marhab, An experienced warrior armed from head to foot, Now piercing, now slashing, As when lions advance in their rage. The hardened warrior gives way before my onslaught; My hima (The sacred territory of an idol or a sanctuary and so any place that a man is bound to protect from violation) cannot be approached.
With these words he challenged all to single combat and Ka'b b. Malik answered him thus: Khaybar knows that I am Ka'b, The smoother of difficulties, bold and dour. When war is stirred up another follows. I carry a sharp sword that glitters like lightning- We will tread you down till the strong are humbled; We will make you pay till the spoil is divided- In the hand of a warrior sans reproche.
The apostle said, 'Who will deal with this fellow?' Muhammad bin Maslama said thata he would, for he was bound to take revenge on the man who had killed his brother the day before. The apostle told him to go and prayed Allah to help him. When they approached the one the other an old tree with soft wood lay between them and they began to hide behind it. Each took shelter from the other. When one hid behind the tree the other slashed at it with his sword so that the intervening branches were cut away and they came face to face. The tree remained bereft of its branches like a man standing upright. Then Marhab attacked Muhammad b. Maslama and struck him. He took the blow on his shield and the sword bit into it and remained fast. Muhammad (bin Maslama) then gave Marhab a fatal wound.”
Although, many of the sources quoted that, Muhammad bin Maslama also fought bravely at Khaybar as well as Ali ibn abi Talib and also killed a number of well-known Jewish warriors.
Muhammad met with Ibn Abi al-Huqaiq, al-Katibah and al-Watih to discuss the terms of surrender. As part of the agreement, the Jews of Khaybar were to evacuate the area, and surrender their wealth. The Muslims would cease warfare and not hurt any of the Jews. After the agreement, some Jews approached Muhammad with a request to continue to cultivate their orchards and remain in the oasis. In return, they would give one-half of their produce to the Muslims. According to Ibn Hisham's version of the pact with Khaybar, it was concluded on the condition that the Muslims "may expel you [Jews of Khaybar] if and when we wish to expel you." Norman Stillman believes that this is probably a later interpolation intended to justify the expulsion of Jews in 642. The agreement with the Jews of Khaybar served as an important precedent for Islamic Law in determining the status of dhimmis, (non-Muslims under Muslim rule).
After hearing about this battle, the people of Fadak, allied with Khaybar during the battle, sent Muḥayyisa b. Masūd to Muhammad. Fadak offered to be "treated leniently" in return for surrender. A treaty similar to that of Khaybar was drawn with Fadak as well.
Among the captives was Safiyya bint Huyayy, daughter of the killed Banu Nadir chief Huyayy ibn Akhtab and widow of Kenana ibn al-Rabi, the treasurer of Banu Nadir. The companions informed Muhammad of Safiyya's good family status, and requested him to accept her as his wife so as to preserve her prestige and status. Muhammad acceded to the request, and freed and married her. Thus, Safiyya became one of the Mother of the Believers.
Kenana ibn al-Rabi, when asked about the treasure they brought with them at the time of leaving Medina, denied having any such treasure. He was told that in case the treasure could be found hidden, he would face death-penalty for his false promise. Kenana agreed to this. A Jew told Muhammad that he had seen Al-Rabi near a certain ruin every morning. When the ruin was excavated, it was found to contain some of the treasure. Kenana was executed as a result. Shibli Nomani rejects this account, and argues that Kenana was killed because he had earlier murdered Mahmoud ibn Maslamah, brother of Muhammad ibn Maslamah. Nomani's conclusion is in contradiction to Waqidi's account, in which it was Marhab who killed Mahmoud in the course of the battle, only to be killed himself a few days later.
According to several Muslim traditions, a Jewish woman, Zeynab bint Al-Harith, attempted to poison Muhammad to avenge her slain relatives. She poisoned a piece of lamb that she cooked for Muhammad and his companions, putting the most poison into Muhammad's favorite part, the shoulder. This assassination attempt failed because Muhammad recognised that the lamb was poisoned and spat it out, but one companion ate the meat and died.
The victory in Khaybar greatly raised the status of Muhammad among his followers and local Bedouin tribes, who, seeing his power, swore allegiance to Muhammad and converted to Islam. The captured booty and weapons strengthened his army, and he captured Mecca just 18 months after Khaybar.
The battle in classic Islamic literatureEdit
According to mainstream Sunni opinion, the battle is mentioned in Sahih Bukhari, in which Muhammad is reported to have said "Tomorrow I will give the flag to a man with whose leadership Allah will grant (the Muslim) victory." Afterwards, he gave the flag to Ali. According to a Shia tradition, Muhammad called for Ali, who killed a Jewish chieftain with a sword-stroke, which split in two the helmet, the head and the body of the victim. Having lost his shield, Ali is said to have lifted both of the doors of the fortress from its hinges, climbed into the moat and held them up to make a bridge whereby the attackers gained access to the redoubt. The door was so heavy that forty men were required to put it back in place. This story is the basis for the Shi'ites viewing Ali as the prototype of heroes.
On one occasion, Muslim soldiers, without Muhammad's opinion and permission, killed and cooked a score of donkeys, which had escaped from a farm. The incident led Muhammad to forbid to Muslims the meat of horses, mules, and donkeys, unless consumption was forced by necessity. The Jews surrendered when, after a month and a half of the siege, all but two fortresses were captured by the Muslims.
Islamic primary sourcesEdit
Muslim scholars suggest that capturing Khaibar had been a divine promise implied in the Quran verse below:
|“||"Allâh has promised you abundant spoils that you will capture, and He has hastened for you this." [Quran 48:20]||”|
The event is mentioned in many Sunni Hadith collections. The Muslim scholar Saifur Rahman al Mubarakpuri mentions that the hadith below regarding Amir's accidental death is related to Khaibar:
It has been narrated on the authority of Ibn Salama. He heard the tradition from his father who said: ... .By God, we had stayed there only three nights when we set out to Khaibar with the Messenger of Allah. (On the way) my uncle, Amir, began to recite the following rajaz verses for the people:
By God, if Thou hadst not guided us aright,
We would have neither practised charity nor offered prayers.
(O God! ) We cannot do without Thy favours;
Keep us steadfast when we encounter the enemy,
And descend tranquillity upon us.
The Messenger of Allah said: Who is this? 'Amir said: it is 'Amir. He said: May thy God forgive thee! The narrator said: Whenever the Messenger of Allah asked forgiveness for a particular person, he was sure to embrace martyrdom. Umar b. Khattab who was riding on his camel called out: Prophet of Allah, I wish you had allowed us to benefit from Amir. Salama continued: When we reached Khaibar, its king named Marhab advanced brandishing his sword and chanting:
Khaibar knows that I am Marhab (who behaves like)
A fully armed, and well-tried warrior.
When the war comes spreading its flames.
My uncle, Amir, came out to combat with him, saying:
Khaibar certainly knows that I am 'Amir,
A fully armed veteran who plunges into battles.
They exchanged blows. Marbab's sword struck the shield of 'Amir who bent forward to attack his opponent from below, but his sword recoiled upon him and cut the main artery: in his forearm which caused his death. Salama said: I came out and heard some people among the Companions of the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) as saying: Amir's deed has gone waste; he has killed himself. So I came to the Holy Prophet weeping and I said: Messenger of Allah. Amir's deed has gone waste. The Messenger said: Who passed this remark? I said: Some of your Companions. He said: "He who has passed that remark has told a lie, for 'Amir there is a double reward." ... Sahih Muslim, 19:4450
Allah's Apostle offered the Fajr prayer when it was still dark, then he rode and said, 'Allah Akbar! Khaibar is ruined. When we approach near to a nation, the most unfortunate is the morning of those who have been warned." The people came out into the streets saying, "Muhammad and his army." Allah's Apostle vanquished them by force and their warriors were killed; the children and women were taken as captives. Safiya was taken by Dihya Al-Kalbi and later she belonged to Allah's Apostle go who married her and her Mahr was her manumission. Sahih al-Bukhari, 2:14:68
- Khaybar Khaybar yā Yahūd, jaysh-i Muḥammad sawf-a ya‘ūd (خيبر خيبر يايهود جيش محمد سوف يعود)—"Khaybar, Khaybar o Jews, the army of Muhammad will return".
- In French, Khaybar, Khaybar, Ô Juifs, l'armée de Mohammad va revenir.
- Khaybar, Khaybar ya yahud, jaysh Muhammad qadimun.—"Khaybar, Khaybar o Jews, the army of Muhammad is coming." According to Abbas al-Musawi of Hezbollah, this was the version chanted at the original battle in the 7th century CE.
- Khaybar, Khaybar ya sahyun, Hizbullah qadimun.—"Khaybar, Khaybar you Zionists, Hizbullah is coming."
Khaybar is also the name of a television series that began broadcasting in the Middle East during July 2013 (Ramadan that year). Set in the Battle of Khaybar, it is a drama depicting the relations between the Jews of Khaybar and the Jewish and Arab communities of Medina at that time. MEMRI, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the ADL have criticized it for its uncomplimentary portrayal of Jews as the enemy of Islam.
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