Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf

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Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf (Hebrew: כעב אבן אלאשרףKa'b iben al-Ashraf, Arabic: كعب بن الاشرف‎) (died 624) was a poet from the Tayy tribe who criticized and mocked the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, who, in turn, ordered him to be murdered.[1] Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf was born to a Jewish mother from the Nadir tribe, Aqilah bint Abi'l-Huqayq, and an Arab father from the Tayy tribe, and he followed his mother's religion.[2][3] He was a wealthy man known for his handsomeness, and a poet living in luxury in his fort south east of Medina at the rear of Banu Nadir’s habitations.

According to several ahadith in Sahih al-Bukhari, he wrote poems satirizing Muhammad, eulogizing Quraish and enticing them against the Muslims. He then rode to Mecca where he started to trigger the fire of war and kindle rancour against the Muslims in Medina. When Abu Sufyan asked him which religion he was more inclined to, the religion of the Meccans or that of Muhammad and his companions, he replied that the pagans were better guided.[4]

Interactions with Muhammad[edit]

Ka'b was infuriated at the victory of the Muslims in the Battle of Badr, in March 624,[2] and at the executions of a number of Meccan notables of the Quraysh tribe who had been captured after that battle. The traditional biography of Muhammad reports Ka'b as saying "...if Muhammad has indeed struck down those people, then it were better to be buried in the earth than to walk upon it!"[5]

Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf then rode to the Quraish at Mecca, in order to lament the loss at Badr and to incite them to take up arms to regain lost honour, noting the statement of Muhammad: "He (Ka'b) has openly assumed enmity to us and speaks evil of us and he has gone over to the polytheists (whom the Muslims were at war with) and has made them gather against us for fighting". Some sources suggest that during his visit to Mecca, Ka'b concluded a treaty with Abu Sufyan, stipulating cooperation between the Quraysh and Jews against Muhammad .[1]

Upon returning to Medina, Ka'b started a fresh campaign of slanderous propaganda that took the form of obscene songs and amatory sonnets with a view to defaming the Muslim women.[2][5]

Muhammad, infuriated by this mockery, gathered his men and said: "Who will kill Ka‘b bin Al-Ashraf? He had maligned Allah, and His Messenger." Thereupon, Muhammad ibn Maslama, ‘Abbad bin Bishr, Al-Harith bin Aws, Abu ‘Abs bin Hibr and Salkan bin Salamah, Ka‘b’s foster brother, volunteered to do the job.

Muhammad ibn Maslamah said: "O Messenger of Allah, do you wish that I should kill him?" He said: "Yes." He said: "Permit me to talk (to him in the way I deem fit)." He said: "Talk (as you like)."

So, Muhammad ibn Maslamah came to Ka‘b and talked to him, saying: "This man (i.e. the prophet Muhammad) has made up his mind to collect charity (from us) and this has put us to a great hardship." When he heard this, Ka‘b said: "By Allah you will be put to more trouble by him." Muhammad ibn Maslamah answered: "No doubt, now we have become his followers and we do not like to forsake him until we see what turn his affairs will take. I want that you should give me a loan." He said: "What will you mortgage?" Muhammad answered: "What do you want?" Ka'b demanded women and children as articles of security against the debt. Muhammad ibn Maslamah said: "Should we pledge our women whereas you are the most handsome of the Arabs; and the son of one of us may be abused by saying that he was pledged for two wasq (measurement unit of weight) of dates but we can pledge you (our) weapons." Ka‘b agreed. Salkan bin Salamah, Abu Na’ilah, at another time, went to see Ka‘b for the same purpose and there were more or less the same subjects, only that Abu Na’ilah would bring him some companions.[2]

On Rabi‘ Al-Awwal 14th, at night, the year 3 A.H. the people said good bye to Muhammad and set out to implement the carefully drawn plan. The men went and called upon him at night. He came down, although his wife warned him not to meet them alleging that: "I hear a voice which sounds like the voice of murder." He said: "It is only Muhammad bin Maslamah and my foster brother Abu Na’ilah. When a gentleman is called at night even if he be pierced with a spear, he should respond to the call." Abu Na’ilah said to his companions: "As he comes down, I will extend my hand towards his head to smell and when I hold him fast, you should do your job." So when he came down, they talked together for about an hour. They then invited him to go out and spend a nice time in the moonlight. On the way out, Abu Na’ilah remarked: "I smell the nicest perfume from you." Ka‘b said: "Yes, I have with me a mistress who is the most scented of the women of Arabia." Abu Na’ilah again said: "Allow me to smell (the scent on your head)". He said: "Yes, you may smell." So he caught it and smelt. Then he said: "Allow me to do so(once again)." He then held his head fast and said to his companions: "Do your job." And they murdered him. The group of men came back after fulfilling their mission. One of them Al-Harith bin Aws was wounded by mistake with the swords of his men, and was bleeding badly. When they reached Baqee‘ Al-Gharqad, they shouted, "Allâh is Great".

Muhammad heard them and realized that they had killed the enemy of the Muslims. As they saw him, he said: "Cheerful faces are yours." In reply, they said: "And yours O Messenger of Allah." They handed the head of Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf to him. According to tradition, he then applied his saliva to Al-Harith’s wound and it healed on the spot.[4]

A number of reasons are given for the assassination. One reason is that al-Ashraf had tried to provoke the Quraysh against Muhammad, and later composed verses insulting Muslim women. Another reason is his attempt to assassinate Muhammad.[1] According to Norman Stillman, Muhammad was acting in accordance with the norms of the Arab society of that period which demanded retaliation for a slight to a group's honor.[3]

When the Jews learned about the death of Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf, "...there was not a Jew who did not fear for his life", as a Muslim biographer of Muhammad put it.[6] After defeat by the Quraish at the Mount Uhud in March, 625, the Banu Nadir challenged Muhammad as the leader of Medina.[7] In the same year, Huyayy ibn Akhtab of Banu Nadir tribe refused to pay blood money for the murder of two Muslims and Ibn Ubayy planned along with allied nomads to attack Muhammad.[8] The Nadir, then postponed the contribution until later that day. Muhammad besieged the Banu Nadir and ordered the tribe to leave Medina within 10 days. The tribe at first decided to comply, but certain people from Medina who were not believers offered to help Banu al-Nadir fight the Muslims.[9] Huyayy ibn Akhtab, despite opposition from within the tribe, decided to fight, a fight which ended with their surrender although they were allowed to leave and take what possessions they could carry on their camels, with the exception of their weapons which they had to leave behind.[10]

The French enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher Voltaire wrote a play with Muhammad's murder of his enemies as a main theme. The name of the play was "Le fanatisme, ou Mahomet le Prophete", meaning "Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet"[11]

Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf is mentioned, along with Abd-Allah ibn Ubayy, in the Kitáb-i-Íqán - the primary theological work of the Baha'i religion. There they are described as being among some of the "divines of that age" who mocked and denounced Muhammad as "a lunatic and a calumniator."[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Rubin, Uri. The Assassination of Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf. Oriens, Vol. 32. (1990), pp. 65-71.
  2. ^ a b c d Montgomery Watt, W.. "Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf". In P.J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912. 
  3. ^ a b Stillman, Norman (1979). The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America. p. 13. ISBN 0-8276-0116-6. 
  4. ^ a b Sahih Bukhari [1]
  5. ^ a b Ibn Hisham. Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya (The Life of The Prophet). English translation in Stillman (1979), p. 124
  6. ^ Ibn Hisham. Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya (The Life of The Prophet). English translation in Stillman (1979), p. 127
  7. ^ Stillman (1979), p. 14.
  8. ^ Watt (1956), p. 211-2.[clarification needed]
  9. ^ The earliest biography of Muhammad, by ibn Ishaq Some sources[who?] identify these persons with Abd-Allah ibn Ubayy, who however was a Muslim, of the Banu Qurayza.
  10. ^ Vacca, V. "Nadir, Banu 'l". In P.J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912. 
  11. ^ Mahomet by Voltaire Mahomet (play)
  12. ^ [2] "The Kitáb-i-Íqán PART TWO: Pages 93–120". BAHA'I REFERENCE LIBRARY. Retrieved 2014-09-11.