Battle Of The Trench (al-Khandaq – al-Ahzab)

Battle Of The Trench (al-Khandaq – al-Ahzab)

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


The Fifth Year (5 A.H./627 A.D.)

The Battle of the trench (Ghazwa Khandaq) happened as a consequence of Banu Nadir tribe getting expelled from Madinah, for their treachery and waging war against the Muslims. And now Banu Nadir’s chief leaders were making alliances with other enemies in Arabia against Muslims. This tribe now aided and incited the Quraysh to attack Muslims in Madinah. Hence, Prophet Mohammed commanded his companions to defend the city by digging a trench around Madinah in order to save the city from invasion.

With the help of the Jewish tribe, Banu Nadir (and Banu Qaynuqa) who were expelled out of Madinah for waging war against the Muslims, now they helped polytheist Quraish leaders. Abu Sufyan who is one of the leaders of Quraysh had rounded up a force of 10.000 men to attack Madinah and kill the Muslims once for all. All Muhammed (p) could gather to fight back was 3000 men.

As mentioned earlier, the Muslims adopted a new way of defending the city of Madinah, by digging a trench around where Muslims resided in Medina so that the enemy warriors couldn’t easily attack the Muslims inside the city. The idea of digging up a trench was suggested by a Persian Muslim convert Salman Al Farisi.

Historical reports

Sahih al-Bukhari:

“I saw the Messenger of God, on the day of the battle with the confederates while he was carrying so much earth for the trench that his abdomen was covered. The Prophet was saying, “O God, had you not guided us, we would not have given charity nor prayed. Send tranquility upon us and make our stance firm if we encounter the enemy. Verily, they were the first to transgress against usIf they intend persecution, then we have refused.” (Source: Sahih al-Bukhari volume 9, Book 90, Hadith 34)

Ibn Ishaq:

A number of Jews who had formed a party against the Apostle, among whom were Sallan b. Abu’l-Huqayq al-Nadri, and Huyayy b. Akhtab al-Nadri and Kinana b. Abu’l-Huqayq al-Nadri, and Huadha b. Qays al Wa’ili, and Abu Ammar al-Wa’ili with a number of B. al-Nadir and B. Wa’il went to Quraysh at Mecca and invited them to join them in an attack on the Apostle so that they might get rid of him altogether. …” [1]

Kitab Al-tabaqat Al-Kabir – Ibn Sa’d:

Then (occurred) the ghazwah of the Apostle of Allah known as al-Khandaq (the trench) or al-Ahzab (armies) in Dhu al-Qa’dah in the fifth year from his hijrah.

They (narrators) said: When the Apostle of Allah banised Banu al-Nadir, they went to khaybar. Some of their chiefs and heads went to Makkah, stayed with the Quraysh and induced them to march against the Apostle of Allah.

They made a pact with them, and all of them agreed to fight with him and made a promise of fixing time. Then they went from there to Ghatafan and Sulaym, and after making similar pacts with them also, they departed from there.

The Quraysh made preparations and mobilized forces of their followers from among the Arabs; they were four thousand men. They prepared a standard in the Dar al-Nadwah and it was borne by Uthman Ibn Talhah Ibn Abi Talhah.

They had three hundred horses and one thousand five hundred camels. They marched under the command of Abu Sufyan Ibn Harb Ibn Umayyah. Banu Sulaym joined them at Marr al-Zahran; they were seven hundred men under the command of Abu Sufyan Ibn Abd Shams, an all of Harb Ibn Umayyah. He was the father of Abu al-A’war al-Sulami who was (later) with Mu’awiyah at Siffin.

The Banu Asad marched under the command Talhah Ibn Khuwayid al-Asadi. The Fazarah, with one thousand camels, marched under the command of Uyaynah Ibn Hisn. The Ashja numbering four thousand men marched under Mas’ud Ibn Rukhaylah.

The Banu Murrah, numbering four hundred men, marched under al-Harith Ibn Awf. Besides them, others also marched. … Hassan Ibn Thabir satirised him (Harith). All the people who mobilized at the Ditch, were ten thousand strong.

They are known as Al-Ahzab, they were three armies and they were under the command of Abu Sufyan Ibn Harb. When the news of their departure from Makkah reached the Apostle of Allah, he called the people and furnished them with the information about their enemy. He consulted them about their affair.

Salman al-Farisi advised the digging of a ditch. The Muslims approved it. The Apostle of Allah encamped with them in the valet of Sal, having Sal, on their rear.

The Muslims on that day were three thousand. He (Prophet) appointed Abd Allah Ibn Umm Maktum, as his vicegerent at al-Madinah and had the ditch dug around it. The Muslims dug the ditch hurriedly with the idea of completing it before the arrival of their enemy.

The Apostle of Allah, worked with them, with his hand to encourage the Muslims. He assigned each side to a tribe. The Muhairs were digging from the side of Ratij to Dhubab and the Ansar were digging from Dhubab to the mountain of Banu Ubayd. In the whole of Madinah the buildings were so closely constructed that it appeared to be a fort. The Banu Abd al-Ashal dug from behind Ratij carrying the ditch beyond the mosque.

The Banu Dinar dug close to Jurba to the site of the hoyse of Ibn Abi al-Janub (as it stands today) today (i.e., in the house of Ibn Abi al-Janub). They completed its digging in six days. The Muslims removed their women folk and children to fortresses. The Apostle of Allah, emerged on Monday 8 Dhu al-Qa’dah.

His standard for the Muhajirs was borne by Zayd Ibn Harithah and that of al-Ansar by Sa’d Ibn Ubadah.
Abu Sufyan Ibn Harb sent Huyayyi Ibn Akhtab on a secret mission to BANU QURYZAH requesting them for violating the agreement they had made with the Apostle of Allah, and join them (polytheists). (At first) they declined, but subsequently THEY AGREED. When it (the news) reached the Prophet, he said: ‘Allah suffices for us and He is the best Guardians.’ He (Ibn Sa’d) said:

The hypocrisy became manifest, the people dispersed, the calamity enhanced and the fear became intense; they feared about their children and women folk, and they were as Allah, the Exalted the Most High, has said: ‘When they came upon you from above and from below you, and when eyes grew wild and hearts reached to the throats.’ The Apostle of Allah, and the Muslims did not cease resisting the enemy except when they went behind the Ditch and defended it.

The Aposte of Allah, used to despatch Salamah Ibn Aslam with two hundred men and Zayd Ibn Harithah with three hundred men to guard al-Madinah. They used to recite Takbir (Allah is Great) loudly. This they did because they FEARED THE BANU QURAYZAH (MIGHT ATTACK) THEIR CHILDRED.

Abbad Ibn Bish with other Ansar guarded the tent of the Apostle of Allah, and they kept watch throughout the night. The Polytheists attacked by turn. One day Abu Sufyan Ibn Harb led the charge. One day Khalid Ibn al-Walid led the charge. One day Amr Ibn al-As led the charge.

One day Hubayrah Ibn Abi Wahb led the charge. One day Dirar Ibn al-Khattab al-Fihri led the charge. They did not cease dashing their horses; sometimes they were separated and sometimes they were joined. They encountered the Companions of the Apostle of Allah, and sent their archers in advance who shot arrows. Hibban Ibn al-Ariqa shot an arrow on Sa’d Ibn Mu’adh and it pierced in the median vein in his arm.

The Battle of the Ditch was fought at al-Madinah. He (sa’id) said: Then came Abu Sufyan Ibn Harb and those of the Quraysh who were with him and those of the Kinanah who followed him, Uyaynah Ibn Hisn and those of the Ghatafan followed him, Tulayhah and those of Banu Asad who followed him. As regards the Qurayzah clan, there was a treaty between them and the Apostle of Allah. They VIOLATED IT AND ASSISTED THE POLYTHEISTS. …” [2]


The Messenger of God gathered an army on Tuesday, the eighth of Dhu l-Qa’da. They (the Meccans and their allies) besieged him for fifteen days. He turned back on a Wednesday, with seven days remaining in year five AH. He appointed Ibn Umm Maktum over Medina.

They said: When the Messenger of God cast out the Banu Nadir, they went to Khaybar where there were a number of steadfast people among the Jews. But none of their houses possessed the esteem that had accrued to the Banu Nadir. The Banu Nadir and the Qurayza were the original Jews, from the children of the Kahin of the Banu Harun.


Abu Sufyan said, ‘Is this what brought you here?’ They replied, ‘Yes, we come as your confederates, in ENMITY AGAINST MUHAMMAD IN ORDER TO FIGHT HIM.’ Abu Sufyan said, ‘Greetings. THE MOST LOVED OF THE PEOPLE TO US ARE THOSE WHO HELP US AGAINST THE ENMITY OF MUHAMMED.’

The group said, ‘Take fifty men, all of them from the tribes of the Quraysh, including yourself. We will enter under the curtains of the Ka’ba with you until we touch our hearts to it. Then we will together swear by God that we will not abandon each other. Our words will be as one against this man as long as one of us remains.’

And so they did: they swore to that and made an agreement. Then some of the Quraysh said to some, ‘The heads of the people of Yathrib, the people of knowledge and the first books, have come, so ask them about how we stand against Muhammad. Which of us is more guided?’

The Quraysh agreed; so Abu Sufyan said, ‘O community of Jews, you are the people of the first books and knowledge, so inform us of what we have become, for we are in dispute with Muhammed. Is our religion good or is the religion of Muhammed good?’

We are the keepers of the house, we slaughter the cattle, we quench the thirst of the pilgrims, and we worship images.’ The Jews replied, ‘By God, you are the first in truth about it. Indeed, you magnify this house, you maintain the provision of water, you slaughter the sacrifice, you worship what your forefathers worshipped.

You, rather than he, are the first in truth.’ And God most high revealed about: ‘Have you not considered those who were given a portion of the book? They believe in sorcery and evil and say to the unbelievers that they are better guided in the right path than the believers (Q. 4:51).

They prepared to set an appointed time, Safwan b. Umayya said, ‘O community of Quraysh, surely you have promised those people this time and they have departed from you on that basis.

So fulfil for them. This will not be as it was when we promised Muhammad to appear at Badr al-Safra and did not keep the appointment. He was bold in that against us. Indeed, I detested the promise of Abu Sufyan, at that time.’

The Ghatafan set out until they came to Ghatafan, while the Quraysh began preparations. They sent to the Bedioun asking for their help. They invited the Ahabish (a mixed group of different tribal backgrounds) and those who followed them.

Then, the Jews set out until they came to the Banu Sulaym and the latter promised that they woud join when the Quraysh marched. They went to the Ghatafan and promised them dates of Khaybar for a year, if they would help them and march with the Quraysh to Muhammad when they marched.

The Ghatafan agreed to that, and there was not one more swift to that than Uyayna b. Hisn. The Quraysh, and those who followed them from the Ahabish, set out, four thousand in all. They established their flag in the Dar al-Nadwa. They led three hundred horses, and behind them were one thousand five hundred camels.

The Banu Sulaym came forward and joined them at Marr al-Zahran. The Banu Sulaym numbered seven hundred at that time. Leading them was Sufyan b. Abd Shams, the ally of Harb b. Umayya, who was the father of Abu l-A’War – who was later with Mu’waiya b. Abi Sufyan at Siffin.

The Quraysh set out, led by Abu Sufyan b. Harb. The Banu Asad set out led by Talha b. Khuwaylid al-Asadi, and the Banu Fazara, all of them, set out, and they numbered a thousand, and they were led by Uyayna b. Hisn.

The Ashja – not all of them, but four hundred, were led by Mas’ud b. Rukhayla. And al-Harith b. Awf set out leading his people, the Banu Murra, and they numbered four hundred.

When the Ghatafan gathered for the march, al-Harith b. Awf refused to march with them, saying to his people, ‘Disperse in your land and do not attack Muhammad. Indeed I think that Muhammad will be victorious. Even if those between the east and west oppose him, he will still win.’ So they dispersed in their land and not one of them was present.

Thus al-Zuhri and the Banu Murra related the tale of the Banu Murra. Abd al-Rahman b. Abd al-Aziz from Abdullah b. Abi Bakr b. Amr b. Hazm and Asim b. Umar b. Qatada, both, both related to me saying that the Banu Murra witnessed al-Khandaq; they numbered four hundred, and their eader was al-Harith b. Awf al-Murri. Hassan insulted them pronouncing poetry, and they mentioned an agreement of the Prophet at that time.

This was confirmed with us, that he witnessed al-Khandaq with his people … They said: The People were all those who appeared at al-Khandaq from the Quraysh, Sulaym, Ghatafan and Asad: ten thousand. There were three cmps, and the management of the affair was with Abu Sufyan.

The Quraysh approached and alighted in Ruma and Wadi al-Aqiq with the Ahabish and those who had recourse to them from the Bedouin. The Ghatafan approached with their leader and alighted at al-Zaghaba by the side of Uhud. The Quraysh began to dispatch its riders to Wadi al-Aqiq with its thorn trees.

There was nothing here for the horses except the fodder they brought with them – namely corn. The Ghatafan dispersed their camels to the wild Tamarisk and Athal trees on the slopes. They had arrived at a time when there was no wild or cultivated crop. The people had harvested a month before and brought in the harvest and straw.

The Ghatafan sent their horses to the remnants of the harvest, and there were three hundred in the valley and it was barely sufficient for them. Their camels were almost destroyed by starvation. The noght they arrived there was a drought in the city. When the Quraysh departed from Mecca to Medina, a group of riders from the Khuza’a set out to the Prophet and informed him of the departure of the Quraysh. They went from Mecca to Medina in four days.

That was when the Prophet called and informed them of the news of their enemy. He consulted them about the affair with seriousness and effort, and he promised them help if they were patient and God fearing. He commanded them to obey God and His Prophet. The Messenger of God consulted them frequently in matters of war. He said: ‘Should we go out to them from Medina or should we stay inside and build a ditch around us?’ Or shall we stay close and keep our backs to the mountain?’

And they argued. And a faction said: We will stay close to Bu’ath in Thanniyat al-Wada, on the slopes. Another said: Let us leave Medina behind. Salman said, ‘O Messenger of God, when we were in Persia and feared a cavalry, we built a ditch around us. Do you think we should dig a ditch around us?’

Salman’s suggestion pleased the Muslims. They remembered when the Prophet had asked them to stay in Medina on the day of Uhud and that they had set out. The Muslims hated going out, and desired to stay in Medina. Abu Bakr b. Abi Sabra related to me saying:

Abu Bakr b. Abdullah b. Jahm related to me that the Messenger of God went on a horse of his with a group of his companions from the Muhajirun and the Ansar, until he came to a place where he alighted. The place that pleased him was that which placed Sal to his back, where he could build the trench from al-Madhad to Dhubab to Ratij.

At the time, the Messenger of God was working in the trench. He called the people and informed them of the approach of their enemy and he gathered the forces at the foot of Sal. The Muslims began to work hurriedly to confront the daring of the enemy. …

The Muhajirun dug from Ratij to Dhubab, and the Ansar, from Dhubab to Mount Banu Ubayd. The attached buildings protected the rest f Medina. … I observed the Muslims and the youth transport the soil, and the trench grew, more or less, to the height of a man.

The Muhajirun and Ansar transported the soil in baskets on their heads, and when they returned they brought stones from Mount Sal’ in the baskets. They were taking the soil from near the Prophet and his companions, and arranging the stones there as though they were a pile of dates – and the stones were among their best weapons with which they aimed.

The Muhajirun controlled the area from Dhubab to Ratij. The Ansar dug in the region between Dhubab to Khurba. All this was what the Messenger of God and the Muslims dug. Medina was inter-locked with the buildings in every direction, so that it was like a fortress. The Banu Abd al-Ashhal dug the trench from around Ratij to what came after, until the trench came from behind the Mosque; the Banu Dinar dug from Khubra to the place where the house of Ibn Abi l-Janub stands today.

The Muslims took the women and children up to the fortresses. The Banu Haritha took their children up to their fortress, which was a forbidden one; Aisha was there, at that time. The Banu Amr b. Awf took their women and children up to the fortresses. Some of them dug a ditch around the fortresses of Quba.

The Banu Amr b. Awf together with the Khatma, the Banu Umayya, Wa’il and Waqif fortified the fortresses. Their children were in their fortresses.

… The elders of the banu Waqid informed me that they took their women and children to the fortress while they were with the Prophet, but they had promised to meet their families at mid day, with the permission of the Prophet. The Prophet, however, forbade them, but when they begged, he commanded them to 


I approached with a group of my people and the Banu Amr b. Awf. We had deviated from al-Jasr, and from Safna and we took the road to Quba. When we reached Aswa, all of a sudden, A GROUP OF THEM (THE BANU QURAYZA), INCLUDING NABBASH B. QAYS AL-QURAZI SPRAYED IS WITH ARROWS FOR W WHILE, we aimed back at them, and SOME OF US WERE WOUNDED. Then they withdrew to their garrison and we returned to our familes. …

While the Messenger of God and the Muslims were in al-Khandaq, Umar b. al-Khattab came to the Messenger of God who was in his tent – the ten was made of leather and had been put up beside the masjid, which was at the bottom of the mountain. With the Messenger of God was Abu Bakr. The Muslims at their trench were taking shifts. With them were some thirty horses. …

They employed men and placed them in positions at the trench, until Umar arrived. He said, ‘O Messenger of God, it has reached me that the BANU QURAYZA HAVE DESTROYED THE AGREEMENT ARE PREPARING FOR WAR. That distressted the Messenger of God and he said, ‘Whom shall we sent to seek out information about them?’

Umar said, ‘al-Zubayr b. al-Awwam.’ The first of the people that the Messenger of God sent was al-Zubayr b. al-Awwam. He said, ‘God to the Banu Qurayza.’ Zubayr went and observed, then he returned and said, ‘O Messenger of God, I saw them putting their fortresses in order, and preparing the roads and they have herded their cattle.’

That was when the Messenger of God said, ‘Indeed for every Prophet is a disciple. Al-Zubayr is my disciple and the son of my aunt.’

Then the Messenger of God called for Sa’d Ibn Mu’adh and Sa’d b. Ubada and Usayd b. Hudayr. He said, ‘Indeed it has reached me that the Banu Qurayza have destroyed the agreement which was between us, and gone to war. Go and observe if what has reached me is true. If it is baseless, proclaim it aloud. If it is true say it in code and I will know. Do not undermine the support of the Muslims. … …

The Messenger of God said: Indeed I hope to circumambulate the ancient house and take the key, for God will destroy Khusrau and Ceasar and their wealth will be paid in the way of God. He was saying that when he saw the suffering of the Muslims, and Mu’attib heard him and repeated what he said. Ibn Abi Sabra related to me from Harith b. al-Fudayl saying:

The Banu Qurayza intended to raid the main part of Medina by night. They sent Huyayy b. Akhtab to the Quraysh to bring with them a thousand men, and from the Ghatafan a thousand, to attack them. News of that great misfortune came to the Messenger of God, so he sent Salama b. Aslam b. Huraysh al-Ashhali with two hundred men, and Zayd b. Haritha with three hundred, to protect Medina while proclaiming takbir, and with them were cavalry of the Muslims. When it was morning, they were safe.

Abu Bakr al-Siddiq used to say: We feared more our children in Medina from the Qurayza than from the Quraysh and Ghatafan. I used to go to the hill of Sal’ and look at the houses of Medina. When I saw them calm, I would praise God.” [3]

In the first narration (Sahih al-Bukhari) we see Prophet Muhammed (p) saying that the whole reason he was fighting them was that they transgressed against the Muslims. The Prophet (p) also states (in the first report) that if they, the enemy ‘intend’ on persecuting Muslims, then they will not sit there and let it happen.

Furthermore, reading the reports after Sahih al-Bukhari, the narrations detail how the war started. We are told that Banu Nadir’s chief leaders went over to the Quraysh and incited them to fight against the Muslims. These historical sources gives us a clear picture that it was the enemy who waged war against the Muslims. Not the other way around.


[1] Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah – The Life of Muhammad Translated by A. Guillaume page 450
[2] Kitab Al-tabaqat Al-Kabir, Ibn Sa’d, volume 2 – Page 80 – 87
[3] The Life of Muhammad: Al-Waqidi’s Kitab Al-Maghazi [Translator: Rizwi Faizer] page 216 – 226