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 per Islamic texts a Jewish leader in Medina and a poet.[1] He died on the order of the Islamic prophet Muhammad after the battle of Badr.[2] Ka'b was born to a father from the Arab Tayy tribe and a mother from the Jewish Banu Nadir tribe; he was recognised as belonging to his mother's tribe, in which he was one of the leading men.[3]

According to Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad called upon his followers to kill Ka'b because the latter "had gone to Mecca after Badr and provoked Quraysh against Muhammad. He also composed verses in which he bewailed the victims of Quraysh who had been killed at Badr. Shortly afterwards he returned to Medina and composed amatory verses of an insulting nature about the Muslim women."[2] Other historiographical sources state that the reason for killing of Ka'b was that he had plotted with a group of Jews to kill Muhammad. The writings of the later commentators such as al-Zamakhshari, al-Tabarsi, al-Razi and al-Baydawi provide another distinct report according to which Ka'b was killed because Gabriel had informed Muhammad about a treaty signed by himself and Aba Sufyan creating an alliance between the Quraysh and forty Jews against Muhammad during Ka'b's visit to Mecca (According to Professor Uri Rubin, some allusions to the existence of an anti-Muslim treaty between Quraysh and Ibn al-Ashraf may be found in the earlier sources).[2]

The 14th-century Hadith scholar Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani states that the reasons behind his death include the fact that he broke his covenant with the Muslims, travelled to the Quraysh in Makkah and made a pact with the Quraysh that they would join forces in waging war upon the Muslims.[4]

The order to kill Ka'b is mentioned in numerous hadiths. Following the victory of the Muslims over the Quraysh in the Battle of Badr, in March 624, Ka'b was angry at the execution of a number of Meccan notables who had been captured after that battle.[5] Ibn Hisham's biography of Muhammad reports Ka'b as saying "By Allah, if Muhammad has indeed struck down those people, then it were better to be buried in the earth than to walk upon it!"[6]

Ka'b went to Mecca, where he wrote poems praising the Quraysh and trying to incite them to again take up arms again against Muhammad.[3] Some sources suggest that during a visit to Mecca, Ka'b concluded a treaty with Abu Sufyan, stipulating cooperation between the Quraysh and Jews against Muhammad.[7]

Upon returning to Medina, Ka'b started a fresh campaign that took the form of obscene songs and erotic poems with a view to defaming the Muslim women.[6]

Muhammad made it clear to his companions that he wished Ka'b killed, saying, "Who is willing to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?"[8] Muhammad bin Maslama volunteered and was aided by several others, including Abu Na'ila (Silkan bin Salama, Ka‘b’s foster brother). Ibn Maslamah was troubled that this assassination would involve lying to Ka'b, but Muhammad gave him a dispensation to do so.[6]

They took Ka'b out for a walk late at night and killed him.[5]

When the Jews learned about the death of Ka'b, "there was not a Jew who did not fear for his life". Earlier, Huyayy bin Akhtab of Banu Nadir tribe had refused to pay blood money for the murder of two Muslims and Abd-Allah bin Ubayy had planned along with allied nomads to attack Muhammad.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ibn Sallâm al-Jumahî (fr) quotes his name among eight names of Arab poets of Jewish religion, in his Tabaqat ashooara ("classification of Arab poets").
  2. ^ a b c Uri Rubin, The Assassination of Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf, Oriens, Vol. 32. (1990), pp. 65-71.
  3. ^ a b Montgomery Watt, W (1956). Muhammad at Medina. pp. 18–19. 
  4. ^ Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, Kitab al-Maghazi, p. 96, vol. 9. Dar Taybah, 2005. Quote: "وأخرج ابن عائذ من طريق الكلبي أن كعب بن الأشرف قدم على مشركي قريش فحالفهم عند أستار الكعبة على قتال المسلمين"
  5. ^ a b Montgomery Watt, W. "Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf". Encyclopaedia of Islam (Online ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912. 
  6. ^ a b c Stillman, Norman (1979). The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book. Jewish Publication Society (Translation of Ibn Hisham's al-Sira al-Nabawiyya (The Life of The Prophet)). pp. 124–127. ISBN 0-8276-0116-6. 
  7. ^ Rubin, Uri (1990). The Assassination of Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf. Oriens. 32. p. 66. 
  8. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:52:270
  9. ^ Montgomery Watt, W. (1956). Muhammad at Medina. pp. 211–2. 
  10. ^ The earliest biography of Muhammad, by Ibn Ishaq
  11. ^ Montgomery Watt, W. "Nadir, Banu 'l". Encyclopaedia of Islam (Online ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912.