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Khaybar[note 1] (Arabic: خيبر, IPA: [ˈxɑjbɑrˤ, ˈxajbɑr, ˈχæjbɑr, ˈχɛjbɑrˤ]) is the name of an oasis some 153 km to the north of Medina (ancient Yathrib), Saudi Arabia. Before the rise of Islam, this fortress town was inhabited by Jewish tribes. It fell to Muslim forces in 629 C.E.
In 567, Khaybar was invaded and vacated of its Jewish inhabitants by the Ghassanid Arab Christian king Al-Harith ibn Jabalah. He later freed to the captives upon his return to the Levant. A brief account of the campaign is given by Ibn Qutaybah, and confirmed by the Harran Inscription. See Irfan Shahid's Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century for full details.
Khaybar in the 7th century
In the 7th century, Khaybar was inhabited by Jews, who pioneered the cultivation of the oasis and made their living growing date palm trees, as well as through commerce and craftsmanship, accumulating considerable wealth. Some objects found by the Muslims when they entered Khaybar — a siege-engine, 20 bales of Yemenite cloth, and 500 cloaks — point out to an intense trade carried out by the Jews. In the past some scholars attempted to explain the siege-engine by suggesting that it was used for settling quarrels among the families of the community. Today most academics believe it was stored in a depôt for future sale, in the same way that swords, lances, shields, and other weaponry had been sold by the Jews to Arabs. Equally, the cloth and the cloaks may have been intended for sale, as it was unlikely that such a quantity of luxury goods were kept for the exclusive use of the Jews.
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 containing 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 settlers raised the fortresses up on hills or basalt rocks.
Jews continued to live in the oasis for several more years afterwards until they were finally expelled by caliph Umar. The imposition of tribute upon the conquered Jews of the Khaybar Fortress served as a precedent. Islamic law came to require exaction of tribute known as jizya from dhimmis, i.e. non-Muslims under Muslim rule.
For many centuries, the oasis at Khaybar was an important caravan stopping place. The center developed around a series of ancient dams built to hold run-off water from the rain. Around the water catchments, date palms grew. Khaybar became an important date-producing center.
Battle of Khaybar
Expulsion of the Jews from Khaybar
During the reign of Caliph Umar (634-644), the Jewish community of Khaybar were transported alongside the Christian community of Najran to the newly conquered regions of Syria and Iraq. As a settlement, Umar issued orders that these Christians and Jews should be treated well and allotted them land in their new settlements equivalent to the land they initially owned. However, Umar also forbade non-Muslims to reside in the Hejaz for longer than three days. Since then, the Jews of Khaybar traveled around many areas throughout the Islamic Empire as artisans and merchants and maintained a distinctive identity until the 12th century.
The Journey of Benjamin of Tudela
- Ibn Qutaybah: al-Ma'arif
- Harran Inscription
- Irfan Shahid: Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, p. 322
- Giorgio Levi Della Vida and Michael Bonner, Encyclopaedia of Islam, and Madelung, The Succession to Prophet Muhammad, p. 74
- Prothero, G.W. (1920). Arabia. London: H.M. Stationary Office. p. 83.
- Joseph Braslavi (Braslavski) and Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky (1972, 2006), Khaybar, in Encyclopedia Judaica, via Jewish Virtual Library