Battle of Khaybar

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Battle of Khaybar
Part of Campaigns of Muhammad
Hazrat Ali slays Marhab.JPG
Ali slays Marhab
Date 629
Location Khaybar
Result Muslim victory
Muslim army Jews of Khaybar oasis
Commanders and leaders


Ali ibn Abi Talib
al-Harith ibn Abu Zaynab[1]
Marhab ibn Abu Zaynab[1]

Khaybar 10,000[2]

Banu Ghatafan

Casualties and losses
Less than 20 killed[3]
50 wounded
93 killed

The Battle of Khaybar was fought in the year 629 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 Muslim sources, the Muslims attacked Jews who had barricaded themselves in a fort.[4]

On the reasons for the attack, Scottish historian William Montgomery Watt notes the presence in Khaybar of the Banu Nadir, who were inciting hostilities among with neighboring Arab tribes against the Islamic community in Medina. Italian orientalist Laura Veccia Vaglieri, while giving full credence to Watt's view, 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.[5][6]

The Jews of Khaybar finally surrendered 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 non-Muslims under Muslim rule, and confiscation of land belonging to non-Muslims into the collective property of the Muslim community.[5][7][8] In return, non-Muslim citizens were permitted to practice their faith, to enjoy a measure of communal autonomy, to be entitled to Muslim state's protection from outside aggression, and to be exempted from military service and the Zakat, which is obligatory upon Muslim citizens.


Khaybar in the 7th century[edit]

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.[5]

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.[5]

Banu Nadir[edit]

See also: Banu Nadir

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.[9] 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,[10][11] and similarly persuaded the Bani Asad.[12] They attempted to get the Banu Sulaym 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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15][16] After learning this, the Muslims, aided by an Arab with a Jewish dialect, assassinated him.[17]

Al-Huqayq was succeeded by Usayr ibn Zarim. It has been recorded by one source[18] 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.[19] 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.[20] 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.[5] 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.[15]

Treaty of Hudaybiyya[edit]

In 628, when the Muslims attempted to perform the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage),[21] after much negotiations, the Muslims entered a peace treaty with the Quraysh, ending the Muslim-Quraysh wars. The treaty also gave Muhammad the assurance of not being attacked in the rear by the Meccans during the expedition.[5]

Political situation[edit]

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.[5] The Banu Fazara, related to the Ghatafan, also offered their assistance to Khaybar, after their unsuccessful negotiations with the Muslims.[22]

Failure of Banu Ghatafan[edit]

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, also suggests that rumors of a Muslim attack on Ghatafan strongholds might also have played a role.[23][24] 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.[25] Another story says that a mysterious voice warned the Ghatafan of danger and convinced them to return to their homes.[26]

Course of the Battle[edit]

The Muslims set out for Khaybar in May 628, Muharram 7 AH.[27] 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.[28] 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[29]), catching the city by surprise. It also made Khaybar overconfident in themselves.[30] As a result, the Jews failed to mount a centrally organized defense, leaving each family to defend its own fortified redoubt.[5][23] 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.[31] 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.'"[32]

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.[5]

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.[33] Early in the campaign, the Muslims' hunger caused them to slaughter and cook several asses which they had taken during their conquest. 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.[26]

Fall of al-Qamus fort[edit]

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.[31]

Several attempts by Muslims to capture this citadel in some single combats failed.[34] 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."[35] That morning, the Quraysh were wondering who should have the honor to carry the banner, but Muhammad called out for Ali ibn Abi Țalib.[36] 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 in them. Ali, with new vigor, set out to meet the enemy, bearing the banner of Muhammad. 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".[37]

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.[38] After his victory in single combat, the battle commenced, allowing Ali to move closer to taking the citadel. During the battle, Ali lost his shield. In need of a substitute, he picked up a door from the wall and used it to defend himself. 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 door was said to be so heavy that it took eight men to replace it on its hinges.[26] "The Apostle revived their (his followers) faith by the example of Ali, on whom he bestowed the surname of the Lion of God" (Asadullah).[39]

The Jews speedily met with Muhammad to discuss the terms of surrender.[34] 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.[40]


Muhammad met with Ibn Abi al-Huqaiq, al-Katibah and al-Watih[41] 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.[41] 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.[40] 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).[5][7][8]

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.[40]

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.[42] 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.[43][44][42] Shibli Nomani rejects this account, and argues that Kenana was killed because he had earlier murdered Mahmoud ibn Maslamah, brother of Muhammad ibn Maslamah.[45] 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.[46]

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.[47][48]

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.[5][23]

The battle in classic Islamic literature[edit]

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.[49] 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 Shia view of Ali as the prototype of heroes.[5][50]

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.[5]

Islamic primary sources[edit]

Muslim Scholars suggest that capturing Khaibar had been a Divine promise implied in the Quran verse below:


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 suicide is related to Khaibar:

It has been reported on the authority of Salama b. Akwa' who said: On the day of the Battle of Khaibar my brother fought a fierce fight by the side of the Messenger of Allah. His sword rebounded and killed him. The Companions of the Messenger of Allah talked about his death and doubted (whether it was martyrdom). (They said): (He is) a man killed by his own weapon, and expressed doubt about his affair. Salama said: When the Messenger of Allah returned from Khaibar, I said: Messenger of Allah, permit me that I may recite to you some rajaz verses. The Messenger of Allah permitted him. 'Umar b. Khattab said: I know what you will recite. I recited:

By God, if God had guided us not,

We would hive neither been guided aright nor practised charity,

Nor offered prayers.

The Messenger of Allah said: What you have said is true, 'I (continued):

And descend on us peace and tranquillity

And keep us steadfast if we encounter (with our enemies)

And the polytheists have rebelled against us.

When I finished my rajaz, the Messenger of Allah said: Who composed these verses? I said: They were composed by my brother. The Messenger of Allah said: May God show mercy to him! I said: By God, some people are reluctant to invoke God's mercy on him (because) they say he is a man who died by his own sword. (Hearing this) the Messenger of Allah said: He died as God's devotee and warrior. Ibn Shihab has said: I asked one of the sons of Salama (b. Akwa') about (the death of 'Amir). He related to me a similar tradition except that he said: When I said some people were reluctant invoke God's blessings on him, the Messenger of Allah said: They lied. ('Amir) died as God's devotee and warrior (in the cause of Allah). For him there is a double reward, and he pointed out this by putting his two fingers together. Sahih Muslim, 19:4450[51][52]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a bغزوة-خيبر-1-2
  2. ^ a b Lings (1983), p. 264
  3. ^ Lings (1983), p. 255-6
  4. ^ "Ali". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Veccia Vaglieri, L. "Khaybar", Encyclopaedia of Islam
  6. ^ Stillman 19
  7. ^ a b Stillman 18–19
  8. ^ a b Lewis 10
  9. ^ Stillman 14, 16-17
  10. ^ Watt, Muhammad at Medina, p. 34-37.
  11. ^ Nomani, Sirat al-Nabi, p. 368-370.
  12. ^ al-Halabi, Sirat-i-Halbiyyah (Vol. II, part 12), p. 19.
  13. ^ Lings, Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources, p. 215-6.
  14. ^ Peterson, Muhammad: the prophet of God, p. 127.
  15. ^ a b Nomani (1979), vol. II, pg. 156
  16. ^ Urwa, Fath al-Bari, Vol. VII, pg. 363
  17. ^ Stillman 17
  18. ^ Zurqani, Ala al-Mawahib, Vol. II, p.196, Egypt
  19. ^ Ibn Ishaq, A. Guillaume, p. 665-666
  20. ^ Watt 189
  21. ^ Lings (1987), p. 249
  22. ^ Nomani (1979), vol. II, pg. 159
  23. ^ a b c Stillman 18
  24. ^ Watt (1956), pg. 93
  25. ^ al-Tabari (1997). The History of al-Tabari: The Victory of Islam. Albany : State University Of New York. p. 116. 
  26. ^ a b c P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs, Editors. "Khaybar". Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online. Retrieved April 18, 2012. 
  27. ^ Watt 1956, pg. 341
  28. ^ Nomani (1979), vol. II, pg. 162
  29. ^ Haykal, Muhammad Husayn. Ch. "The Campaign of Khaybar and Missions to Kings". The Life of Muhammad. Shorouk International, 1983.
  30. ^ Lings (1983), pg. 263
  31. ^ a b al-Tabari (1997). The History of al-Tabari: The Victory of Islam. Albany : State University Of New York. p. 117. 
  32. ^ Spencer, Robert (14 August 2006). "'Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews.'". Human Events 62 (27): p12–12. 
  33. ^ Watt (1956), pg. 219
  34. ^ a b Watt (1956), pg. 218
  35. ^ "Sahih Bukhari". Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
  36. ^ al-Tabari (1997). The History of al-Tabari: The Victory of Islam. Albany : State University Of New York. pp. 119–121. 
  37. ^ al-Tabari (1997). The History of al-Tabari: The Victory of Islam. Albany : State University Of New York. p. 120. 
  38. ^ al-Tabari (1997). The History of al-Tabari: The Victory of Islam. Albany : State University Of New York. p. 121. 
  39. ^ Gibbon, D&F of Roman Empire Vol V. page 365
  40. ^ a b c Ibn Hisham. Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya (The Life of Muhammad). English translation in Guillame (1955), pp. 145–146
  41. ^ a b Watt 1956), pg. 218
  42. ^ a b Haykal (2008), p. 400
  43. ^ Ibn Ishaq, Guillaume, p. 515.
  44. ^ Muhammad ibn Umar al-Waqidi. Kitab al-Maghazi. Translated by Faizer, R., Ismail, A., & Tayob, A. (2011). The Life of Muhammad, pp. 330-331. Oxford & New York: Routledge.
  45. ^ Nomani (1979), vol. II.
  46. ^ Waqidi/Faizer pp. 317, 323-324, 344.
  47. ^ Ibn Ishaq/Guillaume, pp. 515-516.
  48. ^ Ibn Saad/Haq, pp. 133, 143-144, 251-252.
  49. ^ Companions of Muhammad Bukhari :: Book 5 :: Volume 57 :: Hadith 51
  50. ^ Jafri_
  51. ^ a b The Conquest of Khaibar,
  52. ^ a b The Sealed Nectar, by Saifur Rahman al Mubarakpuri, pg 433