Ka'b ibn Asad

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Ka'b ibn Asad (Born ?-627 CE) was the chief of the Qurayza, a Jewish tribe that lived in Medina until 627. A tribesman, Al-Zabir ibn Bata, claimed that his face “was like a Chinese mirror, in which the girls of the tribe could see themselves,” presumably meaning that Kaab had a youthful and innocent appearance.[1]

The Battle of Buath[edit]

In 617 the pagan tribes of Medina, the Khazraj and the Aws, were in conflict. The Aws asked the Quayza and the Nadir for assistance. The Khazraj heard about it and they demanded that the Jews send forty hostages as a pledge of their neutrality. Once they had the hostages in their power, the Khazraj then threatened to kill them unless the Jews handed their lands over to the Khazraj. Some of the Jews were willing to submit, but Ka'b ibn Asad insisted that they should not sacrifice their ancestral homes, and so most of the hostages were killed. As a result, the Qurayza and the Nadir really did ally themselves with the Aws. This led to the Battle of Bu'ath, in which the Aws narrowly defeated the Khazraj.[2]

Early Interactions with Muhammad[edit]

When the Islamic prophet Muhammad arrived in Medina in 622, Ka'b ibn Asad bound himself to the Constitution of Medina on behalf of his tribe. Among other conditions, he agreed that each tribe would bear its own expenses, that there would be freedom of religion, that acts of violence and injustice would be punished, that all tribes would unite to defend Medina against an outside attack, and that unresolved disputes would be referred to Muhammad.[3]

Shortly afterwards, the Qurayza did in fact refer a legal case to Muhammad. Ka'b apparently used this as an opportunity to test Muhammad’s claim to be a prophet. He reminded Muhammad that he was a rabbi and leader among his people, who would be sure to follow his example if he became a Muslim. He therefore offered to recognise Muhammad’s prophethood if he would settle the case in favour of the Qurayza. A man who accepted this bribe would presumably betray himself as a false prophet. However, Muhammad did not fall into the trap; he announced the revelation: “If thou judgest, judge in equity, for Allah loveth those who deal fairly.”[4]

The lawsuit in question was a dispute about blood-money. According to Ibn Ishaq, a Qurayza had slain some Nadir noblemen and wanted to pay only half the usual blood-money penalty. (It appears there were historical reasons why the Qurayza usually had to pay the Nadir double the blood-money that the Nadir paid to them.) Muhammad settled it by decreeing that both tribes should pay equal fines.[5] According to Abu Daw’ud, writing a century later, the situation was that a Nadir had killed a Qurayza. The custom was that a Qurayza who killed a Nadir was killed but a Nadir who killed a Qurayza only paid blood-money. In the lawsuit, the Qurayza demanded capital punishment for the Nadir, but the Nadir went to Muhammad to plead their right to pay blood-money as usual. Muhammad decreed “a life for a life” on the grounds that judgments based on situations from the days of paganism were no longer relevant.[6]

Muhammad called Ka'b to accept Islam, but he replied that he did not believe Muhammad to be a prophet and would remain a Jew. Muhammad then announced the revelation: “O ye to whom the Book was sent, believe in what We have sent down in confirmation of what ye have, before We efface [your] features and turn them back to front or curse you as We cursed the Sabbath-breakers when Allah’s command was carried out.”[7]

Ka'b was one of thirteen Jewish leaders representing all three major tribes who came to Muhammad to make a formal declaration of their joint unbelief. They asked: “Is it true, Muhammad, that what you have brought is the truth from God? For our part, we cannot see that it is arranged as the Torah is.” Muhammad replied: “You know quite well that it is from Allah; you will find it written in the Torah that you have. If men and jinn came together to produce its like, they could not.” The Jews challenged Muhammad to bring down from Heaven a book that they would recognise as a companion to their Torah; otherwise they themselves would produce a book like the Qur'an.[8]

Conflict between Ka'b and Muhammad[edit]

From 624 Muhammad distanced himself from the Jews. In February the qibla (direction of prayer) was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca —Qur'an, sura 2 (Al-Baqara), [9][10] In April he expelled the Jewish Qaynuqa tribe from Medina.[11] In September he instructed the Muslims to “kill every Jew whom you can overpower,”[12][13] which the Jews must have perceived as a breach of the Constitution of Medina. Ka'b went with Huyayy ibn Akhtab, the chief of the Nadir tribe, to ask Muhammad for an explanation. Muhammad advised them that if anyone spoke evil of him “swords will be unsheathed again.” The Jews agreed to a new contract, which was deposited with Ali.[14] The terms of the contract have not survived, but Muhammad probably withdrew the instruction for Muslims to attack Jews.

A year later, Muhammad besieged the Qurayza fortress, demanding a new treaty. Ka'b agreed to it immediately. The exact terms of this new treaty are unclear, but future events suggest it was a pledge of neutrality should Muhammad attack a third party. The next day, Ka'b received a message from the Khazraj, advising him that Muhammad was attacking the Nadir quarter and that they should all go to the relief of their friends. Ka'b replied that he had a treaty with Muhammad: “No man of the Qurayza tribe shall break his compact as long as I am alive.”[15] Without his support, the Khazraj were also deterred from interfering. The outcome was that the unrelieved Nadir surrendered to Muhammad and were banished from Medina.[16]

The Battle of the Trench[edit]

In April 627 a confederacy of Arab tribes attacked Medina, led by the chief of Mecca, Abu Sufyan, and the exiled Huyayy ibn Akhtab. Their stated goal was to destroy Muhammad; they had an army of ten thousand and could easily have overpowered the Muslims if only they could enter the city. However, the Muslims had built a wide ditch around Medina,[17] so the only possible point of entry was through the Qurayza fortresses. Huyayy therefore came to visit Ka'b to ask him to open his door and admit the invading army to Medina. According to Ibn Ishaq:

When Ka'b heard of Huyayy’s coming, he shut the door of his fort in his face, and when [Huyayy] asked permission to enter, [Ka'b ] refused to see him, saying that he was a man of ill omen and that he himself was in treaty with Muhammad and did not intend to go back on his word because he had always found him loyal and faithful... Huyayy kept on wheedling Ka'b until at last he gave way... Thus Ka'b broke his promise and cut loose from the bond that was between him and the apostle.[18]

A Muslim spy discovered Ka'b's intentions and managed to persuade him that the confederates were about to lift the siege and abandon him to Muhammad. Ka'b therefore asked the confederates for hostages as a pledge of good faith. But the same spy also told the confederates that Ka'b was insincere and would abuse any hostages. When the confederates refused to send hostages, Ka'b refused to open his door for them. Abu Sufyan complained, in a list of various difficulties for his army: “The Qurayza tribe have broken their word to us and we have not received what we wanted from them... Be off, for I am going!” The confederates lifted the siege.[19][20]

The Siege of the Qurayza Quarter[edit]

The next day Muhammad brought his army to besiege the Qurayza stronghold, shouting: “You brothers of monkeys, hasn’t Allah has disgraced you and brought His punishment on you?”[21] The siege lasted 25 days. When it became clear that the Qurayza could not hold out much longer, Ka'b offered his people three alternative ways out of their predicament: to embrace Islam, and consequently their life, wealth, women and children would be in full security, but reminded them that they would be against their beliefs; to kill their children and women and then challenge Muhammad and his followers to the sword to either kill the Muslims or be killed, or as a third possibility to take Muhammad and his people by surprise on Saturday — a day mutually understood to witness no fighting. None of those alternatives appealed them, so their chief, angrily turned to them saying: "You have never been decisive in decision-making since you were born!"[22]

The next morning the Qurayza surrendered to Muhammad. They agreed to accept the verdict from Sa'ad ibn Mu'az.[23] People thought that this would be a form of leniency on the Qurayza Quarter, since Sa'ad ibn Mu'az was a former ally of the tribe.[24] Sa'ad ibn Mu'az, who was wounded during the previous battle, then arrived, with help from several men, to come and pass judgement on the tribe. He decided that all their warriors should be killed, the women and children enslaved and their wealth divided among the Muslim fighters.[25]

The Qurayza warriors were kept in the Najjar quarter, where Muhammad’s own kinsmen lived, while the Muslims went to the market-place to dig trenches. Then Muhammad sent for them in batches of five or six. The Qurayza men asked Ka'b what he thought was happening. He replied: “Don’t you understand? Don’t you see that the summoner never stops, and those who are taken away do not return? By God, it is death!” Ka'b was brought out with the rest to the market-place, where he was made to kneel down in a trench, and his head was struck off.[26]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, p. 465.
  2. ^ Al-Tabari, Tafsir, cited in Peters, F. E. (1994). Mecca: A literary history of the Muslim holy land. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  3. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, pp. 231-233
  4. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, p. 268.
  5. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, p. 267-268.
  6. ^ Abu Daw’ud, Volume 39, 4479.
  7. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, pp. 204-205.
  8. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, pp. 269-270.
  9. ^ ayat 149 - 150. The History of Al-Tabari, Volume 7, pp. 24-25. Albany: SUNY.
  10. ^ Qur’an 2:142-145
  11. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, p. 363.
  12. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, p. 369.
  13. ^ Abu Daw’ud, 19:2996.
  14. ^ Waqidi, Maghazi, 91
  15. ^ Tabari 7:156,158
  16. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, pp. 437-438.
  17. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, p. 450.
  18. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, p. 453.
  19. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, p. 460.
  20. ^ Musnad Ahmad 22823
  21. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, p. 461.
  22. ^ The Sealed Nectar, Chapter Invading Banu Qurayzah.
  23. ^ Sahih Bukhari, Book of Military Expeditions led by the Prophet (Al-Maghazi).
  24. ^ The Sealed Nectar.
  25. ^ Sahih Bukhari, Book of Military Expeditions led by the Prophet (Al-Maghazi).
  26. ^ Guillaume, A. (1955). Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasoolallah, p. 464