Thursday, 28 May 2015

What Happened to the Jewish Tribe Banu Qurayzah?

The Banu Qurayza’s demise is one which critics of Islam manipulate to work their Islamophobic agendas (and in many cases Christian evangelical agendas!). This article is for those who actually want to cut through the Islamophobia whilst understanding the main issues relating to Banu Qurayzah (Quraiza). For those who simply follow ill-informed Christian evangelists/bigots without the merest hint of research or credentials then this piece is not for you.

Firstly, the number of Jews killed in the incident is uncertain. The figures generally banded around number 600-900. Karen Armstrong uses the figure of 700 [1].

Who was the Banu Qurayza?

The Banu Qurayza (Arabic: بني قريظة; بنو قريظة‎ alternate spellings include Quraiza, Qurayzah, Quraytha, and the archaic Koreiza) were a Jewish tribe which lived in northern Arabia, at the oasis of Yathrib (presently known as Medina), until the 7th century, when their conflict with Muhammad led to their demise, after the Invasion of Banu Qurayza, took place in the Dhul Qa‘dah, 5 A.H i.e. in February/March, 627 AD [2]

An Encyclopaedic view on Banu Qurayzah

The most concise depiction of the issues relating to the Jews of Banu Qurayzah that I have come across is from the learned Cyril Glasse’s Encyclopaedia of Islam. Points made by Cyril Glasse shall be presented with interjections of an explanatory nature.

Qurayzah. A Jewish tribe of Medina that betrayed the Muslims during the battle of the Trench. When the Quraysh abandoned the siege of the city, Gabriel commanded the Prophet not to lay down arms until the Qurayzah were subdued. Their hands freed by the departure of the Quraysh and their confederates, the Muslims turned upon the Banu Qurayzah and besieged their defensive towers for twenty five days. [3]

[The Quraysh were the pagan tribe from Mecca who attempted to exterminate the nascent Muslim community (and Prophet Muhammad, p) in the battle of the Trench. They marched up to Medina with the sole intent of annihilating the Muslims. The Qurayzah betrayed the Muslims and allied with the Quraish, thus further jeopardising the existence of the Muslim community]

Who decided the men of Banu Qurayza should be killed and why?

When the Banu Qurayzah surrendered they were judged, as a concession, by Sa’d ibn Muadh, a chief of their former allies, the Aws; lying on his deathbed, in pain from a wound inflicted during the fighting with the Quraysh, he passed a rigorous judgement: the adult men should be put to death and the women and children sold into slavery. [3]

[Later on in this segment, Glasse lets us know this ruling is within the BIBLE (Deut 20:12) and most likely Sa’d ibn Muadh was using their law to judge them.

12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. {Deuteronomy 20:12-14New International Version (NIV)}

The Christian bigots and other critics do not relay the information that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had NOTHING to do with the judgement which befell the Banu Qurayzah and moreover, the BIBLE, most likely, had more to do with the punishment of this tribe of Jews (Banu Qurayzah).than any other text or teaching]

Cyril Glasse: criticism concerning the Banu Qurayzah is unfair

In books written in the West, the episode has been the occasion for criticism as an example of extreme cruelty. But it was not as unusual event; similar punishment was meted out elsewhere, as is the destruction of the Albigensians in France, for example and for much the same reason. It is the case of the final judgement overtaking people while still in this world. [3]

The Bible teaches such punishments

The irony is quite immense. Some of the Christian bigots and evangelists using this event to shock folk into leaving Islam wind up with egg on their face as the punishment meted out to the Banu Qurayzah seems very much biblical. The extent of ignorance amongst Christian Islamophobes and evangelists regarding the bible never ceases to amaze us – only the ignorant Christians use the incident of the Banu Qurayzah as criticism and/or evangelical pieces.

In the Bible there are numerous comparable cases. Jewish law itself prescribes such treatment for the conquest of a city as a matter of course, even when betrayal is not in question:

[Glasse cites Deuteronomy 20:12, here is the NIV translation of Deuteronomy 20:12-14:

12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies.]

This is perhaps why Sa’d ibn Muadh gave the Qurayzah this sentence; that their own law should be used on them [3]

Exiling Banu Qurayzah Vs. Biblical Judgement (killing) of Banu Qurayzah

Though it may sound quite callous, it must be stated that the wisdom of using the biblical judgement (killing) outweighed the simple exiling of the Banu Qurayzah in the way of the Banu Nadir and Banu Qaynuqa as an exile would have meant a swelling of enemy ranks within Khaybar and advancing a potential threat to the existence of the nascent Muslims society. [3]

Karen Armstrong writes:

The massacre of Qurayzah was a horrible incident, but it would be a mistake to judge it by the standards of our own time. This was a very primitive society: the Muslims themselves had just narrowly escaped extermination, and had Muhammad simply exiled Qurayzah they would have swelled the Jewish opposition in Khaybar and brought another war upon the ummah. In seventh-century Arabia an Arab chief was not expected to show mercy traitors like Qurayzah. The executions sent a grim message to Khaybar and helped to quell the pagan opposition in Medina, since the pagan leaders had been the allies of the rebellious Jews. This was a fight to the death, and everybody had always known the stakes were high. [1]

Hating Jews?

Sadly, critics and some of the unlearned Christian bigots and evangelists use this event to promote the idea of Muslims being inherently anti-Jew. Karen Armstrong corrects such misconstructions:

The struggle did not indicate any hostility towards Jews in general, but only towards the three rebel tribes…

…Smaller Jewish groups continued to live in Medina, and later Jews, like Christians, enjoyed full religious liberty in the Islamic empires. Anti-Semitism is a Christian vice. Hatred of the Jews became marked in the Muslim world only after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent loss of Arab Palestine. [1]

[1] Islam - A Short History, Karen Armstrong, Phoenix Press, 2001, p18
[2] Wikipedia on Banu Qurayza
[3] The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, Revised Edition, Cyril Glasse, Stacey International, 2001 p374

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