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The Battle of Khandaq

If the Battle of Badr was an example of the offensive military policy of the Prophet (s.a.w.), the battle of Khandaq, was a defensive strategy waged in defense of the Divine Message and the nascent camp of Islam.

It happened that in the fifth year of Hijra, a number of Jewish leaders in Mecca campaigned among the polytheists to wage a war against the Muslims. Abu-Sufyan discovered their plan.

However the Quraish hesitated before responding to the call for war against the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.). Some of the Quraishi leaders asked themselves, Isn't Muhammad right in his call that he is risking his life for the sake of defending it?

They thought of asking the Jews about the matter, for they knew that the Jews were the followers of the first Divine Book. They posed this question to a delegation of the Jews. They asked them, O Jews! You are the followers of the first Book and the past knowledge. You know the faith brought by Muhammad (s.a.w.) and the faith we believe in is our faith better than his or is it that he is right?

It is your faith, the Jews replied, that is better than his. You are more entitled to the truth than him 70

By responding so, the Jews committed an unpardonable crime in favouring the false religion of paganism at the expense of the right religion of monotheism. They wanted to win over the Quraishis to their side to wage a war against the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.). Therefore, Allah, the Exalted, revealed this verse to His Messenger (s.a.w.):

Have you not seen those to whom a portion of the Book has been given? They believe in idols and false deities and say of those who disbelieve: These are better guided in the path than those who believe.

Holy Qur'an (4:51)

The Jews went on with their efforts to instigate the tribes against the Prophet (s.a.w.). They succeeded in winning over to their cause the tribes of Bani Fazarah, Ashja', Murrah, Salim, Bani As'ad and Bani Asad among others.

Under the standard of Abu-Sufyan bin Harb al-Amawi, 10,000 militants, gathered to advance and engage the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.).

The forces of injustice set out for Madinah. Learning of this military offensive, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) decided to remain inside the city and defend it.

From both the eastern and western sides, the houses of Madinah were closely built like an impregnable fortress. The eastern southern blank of the city was inhabited by the Jews of Bani Quraidah, who had earlier signed an agreement of good neighbourliness with the Prophet (s.a.w.). So, only the northern part of the city was open to the enemy.

The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) consulted his companions over the matter. Salman, the Persian, may Allah be pleased with him, came up with a proposal. He said:

In Persia, we were used to dig a ditch around us when we were besieged.

He suggested a similar tactic be used in the open part of the city. The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) appreciated the idea and the Muslims spent six days to complete the digging of the ditch.

The houses facing the enemy were satisfactorily fortified and the women and children were kept in them.

The Messenger (s.a.w.) mobilized his forces. His army, which was 3,000 - strong, advanced forward and encamped behind the ditch.

The Quraish and their allies approached the city. They were amazed to see the ditch, which was never used before as a military means of defense. So they encamped near the ditch.

Only a few days passed, however, when the invading army became bored because of the ditch, with the coldness and the blistering wind.

The Quraish wanted now to give up the whole plan and return to Mecca. When the Jews learnt of the Quraish's intention, their leader Huyah bin Akhtab assured them that he would coax the Jews of Bani Quraidah to revoke their treaty with the Messenger (s.a.w.) and enter the war on their side. This being accomplished, he said to them, that the front line of the Muslim army would be thrown into confusion, the whole camp would be shaken from within and their supply route would be cut off.

Huyah bin Akhtab contacted the Barn. Quraidah, but Ka'b bin Asad shut the gate of the fort in his face and refused to receive him. Ibn Akhtab did not give up. He persisted in seeing him and kept reminding him of their . mutual relationship. He told him that it was time they avenged themselves over the Muslims and that the great forces gathered there could easily crush the Muslims. He talked with him at length about the impending victory and other similar alluring words and promises.

The Bani Quraidah, being assured of the coming victory, unilaterally revoked the treaty and tore it into pieces.

No sooner did the Messenger (s.a.w.) hear of their turn-about then he sent a delegation to them to check the matter. But being carried away with excitement they were rudely impolite. For, when the delegation called on them to abide by the treaty they asked the Muslims to allow the Jews of Bani al-Nadir, whom the Messenger (s.a.w.) earlier had turned out of the city, to return to their neighbourhood. Brazenly they had attacked the Messenger (s.a.w.) and Islam. When the delegation washed their hands of them; they returned to Madinah to inform the Prophet (s.a.w.) of the whole truth.

The Muslims were extremely alarmed by these developments. Their eyes turned dull and their hearts rose in their throats, as the Qur'an (33:10-13) described them. So blunt and rash were the Bani Quraidah that they attacked some Muslim families and frightened them. Moreover, they mobilized their forces to launch war on the. side of their new alliance.

The attack was spearheaded, by Amru bin Abd-Wid al-Amiri, one of the Quraish's leaders and a handful of his soldiers crossing the ditch. They threatened the Muslims inside their city. Ali bin Abi Talib (a.s.), accompanied by a number of Muslims, hurried to the place where Amru and his soldiers crossed the ditch, to prevent any further attempts. 71

Amru bin Abd-Wid arrogantly, went on galloping in front of the Muslims, issuing, threat and menacing them. He spoke proudly about his claimed bravery, calling out:

Anyone ready to fight?

Imam Ali (a.s.) stood up and said to the Prophet (s.a.w.):

I can fight him, O Prophet of Allah.

Sit down, the Prophet (s.a.w.) ordered him, he is Amru.

Ibn Abd-Wid repeated his call. He scolded the Muslims and mocked them saying:

Where is your paradise you claim where anyone among you goes to inhabit if you are killed? Won't you nominate someone from among you to fight me?

I can fight him, O Messenger of Allah, Ali, said for the second time, rising to his feet.

Sit down, the Prophet (s.a.w.) ordered him again, he is Amru.

Imam Ali (a.s.) did not care whether he was Amru or someone else. So, he said to the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.):

Even if he is Amru!

The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) finally conceded and gave his permission to Ali (a.s.) and handed over his sword Dhul-Fiqar to him. He made him put on his (the Prophet's) coat of mail and wear his turban. Then, the Prophet (s.a.w.) raised his hands in prayer:

O Lord! This is my brother and cousin. Do not leave me alone. You are the best of inheritors. 72

Imam Ali (a.s.) went to the battlefield and said Ibn Abd-Wid:

O Amru! You have made covenant with Allah that whenever a man from the Quraish offers you two choices respecting a combat you accept one of them.

Yes , said Ibn Abd-Wid.

Then, Imam Ali (a.s.) replied, I call you to Allah and His Messenger (s.a.w.) and Islam.

I do not need that, he said.

Then, the Imam said, I call you to fight.

I hate to shed your blood, Amru replied your father was a friend of mine.

But, the Imam retorted, by Allah I like to kill you.

Amru got very angry and attacked Ali (a.s.). The Imam repulsed his assault with his usual aplomb. He killed him and shouts of Allahu-akbar and Praise be to Allah rose from the ranks of the Muslims. 73

When Ali (a.s.) returned triumphantly, the Messenger received him by saying:

The combat of Ali bin Abi-Talib with Amru bin Abd-Wid is better than the deeds of my ummah till Doomsday. 74

After Amru bin Abd-Wid's death, the enemies tightened their circle around Madinah. The fighting went on in full swing from midday till midnight.

In the meantime, Na'im bin Mas'ud al-Asha'i 75 arrived and embraced Islam, without the knowledge of his tribe. As such, the Prophet (s.a.w.) ordered him to make use of his status as a man from the tribe of Ghatafan which was respected by all parties. He lost no time and went to the Bani Quraidah, with whom he had close (elation’s. He reminded them of his closeness with them and said:

The Quraish and the Ghatafan are no ready to remain for along period. They will undoubtedly depart. Should you remain in Madinah, Muhammad will most certainly punish you. So that the Quraish and the Ghatafan will not leave you alone when fighting breaks out, you should take hostages from the Quraish and keep them.

The Bani Quraidah approved of his suggestion.

Na'im, then, went to the Quraish and said to them:

The Bani Quraidah regret breaking their treaty with Muhammad. They are doing what they can to satisfy him. They will take a number of men from the Quraish as hostages whom they win put to death. Never hand your men over to them.

Finally, he went to the Ghatafan and said the same thing he had said to the Quraish.

Next day, Abu Sufyan contacted Bani Quraidah asking them to begin attacking 76 the Muslims. As it was Saturday (the Jewish holy day), the Bani Quraidah excused themselves and declined the offer.

Abu Sufyan persisted in demanding that they spearhead the attack but they did not change their position referring to the question of hostages. At that point, he felt sure that what Na'im bin Mas'ud had said was the truth. When he presented the matter to the Ghatafan he saw that they were hesitant also.

At night, a blistering, bitter wind blew. It overturned pots, plucked out tents and extinguished their fires.

As terror struck at the hearts of the infidel they took to their heels in the direction of Madinah.

The next morning, when the Muslims looked around them, there was no trace of the enemy. Their confidence and trust in Allah grew.

This was one example of the defensive military policy of the Islamic state, adopted by the Messenger Muhammad (s.a.w.)

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70. Al-Irshad, Sheikh al-Mufid, p.56, al-Haidariyyah press, Najaf, 3rd ed., 1973.

71. Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah (Life of the Prophet), Dahlan, vol. 2, pp. 67; Al-Irshad, Shaikh al-Mufid, p.58.

72. Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, vol. 2, pp. 6-7. Expedition of al-Khandaq.

73. Ibid.

74. Mustadrak al-Sahihayn (Supplement to the Two Authentic Books of Traditions), vol. 2, p.32, on the authority of Sufyan al-Thawri. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi related it also in Tarikh Baghdad (History of Baghdad), vol. 13, p.19.

75. Fiqh al-Sirah (Understanding the Life of the Prophet (s.a.w.)), al-Ghazali, p. 330.

76. Suwar min Hayat Muhammad (Images from the Life of Muhammad), Amin Duwaidar, p.429. And Fqh al-Sirah, al-Ghazali, p.330.

Adapted from the book: "Muhammad; The Messenger of Allah"