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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.
Military campaigns of Muhammad in Khaybar
Battle of Khaybar
The Battle of Khaybar took place in May/June 628. The claim that Muhammad ordered this military expedition because he wanted to attack the Jews of Khaybar for booty to distribute to his followers whose expectations had recently been disappointed (according to Watt)  is a lie. The Jews of Arabia used to warn the Arab idol-worshippers of the coming of a prophet from amongst the Arabs, about whom Torah had made several annunciations. But after Muhammad's appearance and in spite of their apparent friendship with Muslims, they allied with idol-worshippers and fought with Muslims. The most important reason for this treachery was that Islam forbids usury and taking high interests was the main source of income for Jews. Another important reason was that Muslims accepted and respected Christians who were hated and considered enemy by Jews. Jews expected Muhammad to condemn Jesus and his mother Maryam but the Quran talks most highly of Jesus Christ and his Maryam and this angered the Jews. These reasons made Jews to encourage idol-worshippers of Mecca into attacking Medina. During the war that followed, the Jews thought that the Mecca army was close to winning the war, so they send their armies and openly enjoined the idol-worshippers in spite of their treaty with Muslims in which Muhammad had given them full liberty, called them equals with Muslims, announced them free to organize their own financial issues as they wished and forbid Muslims from hurting the Jews in any way, and the Jews promised not to act against Muslims and not ally with Muslims' enemies. But Muslims won the war and then moved towards Khaybar to punish the treacherous Jews. In the war that followed, the Jews sent their hero fighter Marhab who was killed by Imam Ali and the gates of their castle was removed by Imam Ali as well and they were defeated. Between 16-18 Muslims were killed and 93 Jews.
Expedition of Fidak
In 627 Muhammad also ordered the Expedition of Fidak to attack the Bani Sa‘d bin Bakr tribe, because Muhammad received intelligence they were planning to help the Jews of Khaybar. In this expedition 1 person was captured by Muslims, the rest of the tribe fled.
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
Benjamin was a Jew from Tudela in Spain. He travelled to Persia and Arabia in the 12th century. He visited and described Khaybar and neighboring Tayma some time around 1170, mentioning these places as Jewish habitations.
- Ibn Qutaybah: al-Ma'arif
- Harran Inscription
- Irfan Shahid: Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, p. 322
- Watt, W. Montgomery (1956). Muhammad at Medina. Oxford University Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0195773071.
Muhammad had thus a straightforward reason for attacking Khaybar. The moment he chose for the attack May /June 628 (i/y) shortly after his return from the expedition of al-Hudaybiyah was one when it was also convenient for him to have booty to distribute to his followers whose expectations had recently been disappointed.(free online)
- Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, p. 238. (online)
- Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, p. 211. (online)
- Sa'd, Ibn (1967). Kitab al-tabaqat al-kabir,By Ibn Sa'd,Volume 2. Pakistan Historical Society. p. 110. ASIN B0007JAWMK.
SARIYYAH OF 'ALI IBN ABl TALIB AGAINST BANU SA'D IBN BAKR AT FADAK
- Giorgio Levi Della Vida and Michael Bonner, Encyclopaedia of Islam, and Madelung, The Succession to Prophet Muhammad, p. 74
- The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela (ed. Marcus Nathan Adler), Oxford University Press, London 1907, pp. 47-49.
- Prothero, G. W. (1920). Arabia. London: H.M. Stationery Office. p. 83.
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- Joseph Braslavi (Braslavski) and Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky (1972, 2006), Khaybar, in Encyclopedia Judaica, via Jewish Virtual Library