Scholars On The Banu Qaynuqa Incident

Scholars On The Banu Qaynuqa Incident

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


Shaykh Allamah Shibli Nomani


The victory at Badr had made the Jews more apprehensive. They had seen how Islam was growing into a power. The Qainuqa, the bravest and the most powerful of all the Jewish tribes, were the first to declare war and violate the treaty they had made with the Prophet (p).1 Ibn Hisham and Tabari, on the authority of Ibn Ishaq, have quoted a report from Asim Ibn Qatada Ansari, which runs thus:

‘The Qainuqa were the first among the Jews who broke the treaty concluded with the Prophet; and made war with the Muslims during the period intervening between the battles of Badr and Uhud.’

Ibn Sa’d, while dealing with the Ghazwa of Banu Qainuqa remarked:

‘When the battle of Badr took place the Jews manifested their malevolence and their spirit of revolt and retracted from their plighted word.’

An unexpected incident added fuel to the fire. An Ansari woman with a veil on her face came to the shop of a certain Jew in the market place of Medina. The Jew violated her honour. This made the blood of a Muslim boil with rage and he made a short work of the Jew. The Jews killed the Muslim in return. The Prophet (p) was informed, he went to them and said,

Fear God, lest wrath of God should fall upon you as it did upon the people at Badr.’ ‘We are not like Quraish’, came the haughty reply, ‘When you come to deal with us, we will let you realize what battle means.’

The Jew having violated the treaty and virtually declared war, the Prophet (p) was forced to resort to force. They shut themselves in their forts and the siege continued for fifteen days. In the end they agreed to abide by any decision given by the Holy Prophet (p).

Abdullah Ibn Ubayy, being an ally of the Jews, pleaded with the Prophet (p) to banish them away. This took place in the month of Shawwal in the second year of the Hijra i.e., March 624 C.E. Accordingly they were sent to a place in Syria known as Adhr’at. These were 700 men including 300 armed warriors. [1]

Bashir Aḥmad M.A.

Ghazwah of Banu Qainuqa‘ – Late 2 A.H.

It has already been mentioned that when the Holy Prophet migrated from Makkah and arrived in Madinah, there were three tribes among the Jews, which inhabited Madinah at the time. There names were the Banū Qainuqā‘, Banū Naḍīr and Banu Quraizah. As soon as the Holy Prophet came to Madinah, he settled treaties of peace and security with these tribes, and lay the foundation for peaceful and harmonious cohabitation.

By virtue of agreement, all parties were responsible for maintaining peace and security in Madinah, and if a foreign enemy was to attack Madinah, everyone was collectively responsible for its defence.

In the beginning, the Jews conformed to the treaty, and at least openly, did not create conflict with the Muslims. However, when they began to notice that the Muslims were continuing to gain strength in Madinah, they began to change their attitude and firmly resolved to bring an end to this growing power of the Muslims.

To this end, they began to employ all sorts of lawful and unlawful schemes, so much so that they did not even hold back from an attempt to create rift among the Muslims and thus instigate a civil war.

As such, there is a narration that on one occasion a large group of people from the tribes of Aus and Khazraj were sitting together and conversing with love and harmony, when a mischievous Jew reached this gathering and began to mention the Battle of Bu‘ath.

This was the horrific war which took place between these two tribes a few years prior to the migration, and in which many people from among the Aus and Khazraj were slain at the hands of one another. As soon as this war was mentioned, memories of the past were refreshed and scenes of ancient enmity began to run before the eyes of various emotional people.

The result was that from satirical remarks, taunt and slander, the matter escalated to such an extent that both parties found themselves at daggers drawn in the very same gathering. Thank God, however, that the Holy Prophet was notified in due time and he immediately arrived at the scene with a community of the Muhajirin and calmed both parties down; and rebuked them as well saying,

“Do you follow a way of ignorance while I am amongst you? You do not value the favour of God that through Islam He has made you brothers.”

The Anṣar were so deeply moved by this admonition that their eyes began to flow with tears, and they began to embrace one another whilst repenting for their action.

When the Battle of Badr had taken place and Allah the Exalted, in His Grace, granted a convincing victory to the Muslims, despite their being few and without means over a very fierce army of the Quraish, and the prominent leaders of Makkah were mixed to dust, the Jews of Madinah went up in flames of jealousy. They began to openly hurl stinging comments at the Muslims and publicly asserted in gatherings that,

“So what if you have defeated the army of the Quraish. Let Muḥammad[sa] fight us and we shall demonstrate how wars are fought.”2 (Tarikhur-Rusuli Wal-Muluk (Tarikhuṭ-Ṭabari), By Abu Ja‘far Muḥammad bin Jarir Aṭ-Ṭabari, Volume 3, p. 50)

This escalated to such an extent that in one gathering they even uttered such words in the very presence of the Holy Prophet. As such, there is a narration that after the Battle of Badr, when the Holy Prophet returned to Madinah, one day, he gathered the Jews and admonished them and whilst presenting his claim, invited them to Islam. The chieftains among the Jews responded to this peaceful and sympathetic address of the Holy Prophet in the following words,

“O Muḥammad [sa], it seems that you have perhaps become arrogant after killing a few Quraish. Those people were inexperienced in the art of war. If you were to fight us, you would come to know the real likes of warriors.”

(Sunanu Abī Dāwūd, Kitabul-Khiraji Wal-Imārati Wal-Fai’i, Bābu Kaifa Kāna Ikhrajul-Yahudi Minal Madīnah, Ḥadith No. 3001 Tarikhur-Rusuli Wal-Muluk (Tārikhuṭ-Ṭabari), By Abu Ja‘far Muḥammad bin Jarir Aṭ-Ṭabari, Volume 3, p. 50. As-Sīratun-Nabawiyyah, By Abu Muḥammad ‘Abdul-Malik bin Hisham, pp. 513-514)

The Jews did not rest upon a mere threat, rather, it seems as if they even began to hatch conspiracies to assassinate the Holy Prophet. There is a narration that in those days when a faithful Companion by the name of Ṭalhah bin Barra’ was about to pass away, he bequeathed that,

“If I die at night, the Holy Prophet should not be notified about my funeral prayer, lest a misfortune befalls the Holy Prophet at the hands of the Jews on my account.” (Al-Iṣabah Fi Tamizis-Ṣaḥabah, By Aḥmad bin ‘Ali bin Ḥajar Al-‘Asqalani, volume 3, pp. 425-426, Ṭalḥah bin Bara’,)

Therefore, after the Battle of Badr, the Jews openly began to fuel mischief, and among the Jews of Madinah, since the Banu Qainuqa‘ were the most powerful and bold, it was they who first began to breach the treaty. As such, historians write: Meaning,

“Among the Jews of Madīnah, the Banu Qainuqa‘ were the first to break the treaty which had been settled between them and the Holy Prophet.” (As-Sīratun-Nabawiyyah, By Abu Muḥammad ‘Abdul-Malik bin Hisham, p. 514, And Tarikhur-Rusuli Wal-Mulūk (Tarikhuṭ-Ṭabari), By Abū Ja‘far Muḥammad bin Jarir Aṭ-Ṭabari, Volume 3, p. 50)

“After Badr, they began to rebel fiercely and openly expressed their rancour and malice and broke their treaty and agreement.”3 (Aṭ-Ṭabaqatul-Kubra, By Muḥammad bin Sa‘d, volume 2, p. 264)

However, despite such events, under the guidance of their Master, the Muslims demonstrated patience in every way and did not allow themselves to take the lead in any respect. It is narrated in a Ḥadith that after the treaty which had been settled with the Jews, the Holy Prophet would even take special care to protect their sentiments. On one occasion an argument broke out between a Muslim and Jew.

The Jew asserted the superiority of Moses above all the other Prophets. The Companion was angered by this and he dealt somewhat harshly with that person replying that the Holy Prophet was the most superior of all the Messengers. When the Holy Prophet was informed of this, he was displeased and rebuked the Companion saying,

“It is not your task to go about speaking of the superiority of God’s Messengers in comparison to one another.” Then, the Holy Prophet mentioned a partial superiority of Moses and consoled the Jew.1 (Ṣahihu Muslim, Kitabul-Faḍa’il, Bābu Fada’ili Musa, Ḥadith No. 6151)

However, despite this loving conduct of the Holy Prophet, the Jews continued to escalate in their mischief. Eventually, it was the Jews who created a cause for war and their heart-felt animosity could not be tamed. What happened to occur was that a Muslim lady went to the shop of a Jew in the market in order to purchase some goods.

A few evil Jews, who were then sitting at the shop began to harass her in a most mischievous manner and even the shopkeeper himself committed the evil deed that while the lady was unaware, he attached the lower corner of her skirt to the mantle on her back with a thorn or something of that sort.

As a result, when the lady stood up to leave upon due to their rude behaviour, the lower part of her body became exposed at which the Jewish shopkeeper and his accomplices burst out in laughter.

Outraged, the Muslim lady screamed and appealed for help. It so happened that a Muslim was present nearby. He dashed to the scene and in a mutual altercation, the Jewish shopkeeper was killed. Upon this, the Muslim was showered with swords from all directions and this remarkably indignant Muslim was put to death.

When the Muslims were informed of this event in national indignation, their eyes gorged with blood in rage. On the other hand, the Jews who desired to make this incident an excuse to fight, congregated in the form of a crowd and a state of riot broke out.

When the Holy Prophet was informed of this, he gathered the chieftains of the Banu Qainuqa‘ and explained that such behaviour was not appropriate and that they should refrain from such mischief and fear God. Instead of expressing disappointment and remorse, they responded with very refractory answers and repeated their earlier threat that,

“Do not become arrogant over your victory at Badr. When you are to fight us you shall come to know the real likes of warriors.” (Tarikhul-Khamis Fi Aḥwali Anfasi Nafis, By Ḥusain bin Muḥammad bin Ḥasan, volume 1, p. 409)

Left with no other choice, the Holy Prophet set out towards the fortresses of the Banu Qainuqa‘ with a force of Companions. Now this was the last opportunity for them to express remorse over their actions, but instead, they stood ready for war. (Sharḥul-‘Allamatiz-Zarqani ‘Alal-Mawahibil-Ladunniyyah, By Allamah Shihabuddīn Al-Qusṭalani, Volume 2, pp. 350-351)

Therefore, war was declared and the forces of Islām and Judaism came forth to battle one another. According to the custom of that era, a method of warfare was that one party would secure themselves within their fortresses and wait. The opposing force would besiege the fortress and whenever an opportunity presented itself, now and then, attacks would be launched against one another.

This would continue until the surrounding army would either lose hope in capturing the fortress and lift the siege, and this would be considered a victory to the ones besieged; or being unable to muster the strength to fend off the onslaught, the besieged force would open the gates of their fortress and hand themselves over to the victors. On this occasion, the Banu Qainuqa‘ employed the same tactic, and closed themselves within their own fortresses.

The Holy Prophet besieged them and this siege continued for fifteen days without fail. Finally, when all the strength and arrogance of the Banu Qainuqa‘ had been shattered, they opened the gates of their fortresses on the condition that though their wealth would belong to the Muslims, their lives and families would be spared. (Aṭ-Ṭabaqatul-Kubra, By Muḥammad bin Sa‘d, Volume 2, p. 264)

The Holy Prophet accepted this condition, even though according to Mosaic law, all of these people were liable to be put to death (Deuteronomy (20:12-14) and according to the initial agreement, the judgement of the Mosaic
law should have been administered to them.

However, since this was the first crime committed by this nation, as a first course of action, the merciful and forgiving disposition of the Holy Prophet could never be inclined towards an extreme punishment, which should only imposed as a final remedy.

However, on the other hand, allowing such a treacherous and rebellious tribe to remain in Madinah was no less than nurturing a snake in the grass, especially when a group of hypocrites from among the Aus and Khazraj were already present within Madinah, and from the exterior as well, the opposition of the whole of Arabia had greatly distressed the Muslims.

In such circumstances, the only judgement which the Holy Prophet could pass was for the Banu Qainuqa‘ to leave Madinah. In comparison to their crime and taking into account the circumstances of that era, this was a very mild punishment. Furthermore, the purpose of this punishment was the security of Madinah.

Nonetheless, for the nomadic tribes of Arabia it was nothing out of the ordinary to move from one place to another, especially when a tribe did not own any properties in the form of land and orchards – and the Banu Qainuqa‘ had none. (Tarikhur-Rusuli Wal-Muluk (Tarikhuṭ-Ṭabarī), By Abu Ja‘far Muḥammad bin Jarir Aṭ-Ṭabari, volume 3, p. 51)

The entire tribe was given the opportunity to leave one place and settle somewhere else, with great peace and security. As such, the Banu Qainuqa‘ very peacefully left Madinah and settled towards Syria. The Holy Prophetsa assigned the task of overseeing the necessary arrangements, etc. associated with their departure to a Companion named ‘Ubadah bin Ṣamit who was from among their confederates.

‘Ubadah bin Ṣāmitra escorted the Banū Qainuqā‘ for a few Manzils and after safely sending them off, he returned. (Tarīkhur-Rusuli Wal-Muluk (Tarikhuṭ-Ṭabari), By Abu Ja‘far Muḥammad bin Jarir Aṭ-Ṭabari, volume 3, p. 51)

The spoils which were attained by the Muslims consisted only of weaponry and instruments of their profession, which was that of goldsmith. (Tarikhur-Rusuli Wal-Muluk (Tarikhuṭ-Ṭabari), By Abu Ja‘far Muḥammad bin Jarir Aṭ-Ṭabari, volume 3, p. 51)

It has been related in various narrations with respect to the Banu Qainuqa‘ that when they opened the gates of their fortresses and handed themselves to the Holy Prophet, due to their treachery, rebellion and mischief, it was the intention of the Holy Prophetsa to execute their combatant men, but on the intercession of ‘Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Sulul, chief of the hypocrites, the Holy Prophet abandoned this intention.

However, research scholars have not accepted these narrations as being authentic. (Sharḥul-‘Allamatiz-Zarqani ‘Alal-Mawahibil-Ladunniyyah, By Allamah Shihabuddin Al-Qusṭalani, volume 2, p. 351)

The reason being that when other narrations explicitly mention that the Banu Qainuqa‘ opened their gates on the condition that their lives and the lives of their families would be spared, it is absolutely impossible to accept that after having accepted this condition, the Holy Prophet would follow any other course of action. As a matter of fact, even the condition presented by the Banu Qainuqa‘ that their lives would be spared demonstrates the fact that they themselves knew that their rightful punishment was death.

However, they appealed to the mercy of the Holy Prophet and they were willing to open the gate of their fortress after receiving the assurance that they would not incur the death penalty. However, although the Holy Prophet forgave them due to his merciful disposition, it seems as if in the estimation of God the Exalted, these people were no longer worthy of being left alive on the face of the earth, on account of their evil deeds and crimes.

As such, their is a narration that less than one year had passed since the relocation of these people to their place of exile, that an epidemic, broke out among them whereby the entire tribe fell victim to it and was mixed to dust. (Sharhul-‘Allamatiz-Zarqani ‘Alal-Mawahibil-Ladunniyyah, By Allamah Shihabuddin Al-Qusṭalānī, volume 2, p. 352)

There is a slight difference of opinion with regards to the date of the Ghazwah of Banu Qainuqa‘. Waqidi and Ibni Sa‘d have stated that it took place in Shawwal 2 A.H., and the contemporaries have primarily followed suit. However, Ibni Isḥaq and Ibni Hisham have placed it after the Ghazwah of Sawiq, which is confirmed to have taken place in the month of Dhul-Hijjah 2 A.H.

An indication is also found in one narration of Ḥadith, which establishes that the Ghazwah of Banu Qainuqa‘ took place after the Rukhsatanah of Ḥaḍrat Faṭimah. In this narration, it is mentioned that in order to arrange for the expenses of

the Walimah, Ḥaḍrat ‘Alī proposed to take along a Jewish goldsmith from the Banu Qainuqa‘ and go to the forest so that he might procure some grass known as ‘Adhkar’ and then sell it to the goldsmiths of Madinah. (Ṣahihul-Bukhari, Kitabul-Maghazi, Chapter 12, Ḥadith No. 4003)

This proves that until the Rukhsatanah of Ḥadrat Faṭimah, which according to all historians, took place near Dhul Hijjah 2 A.H., the Banu Qainuqa‘ were still present in Madinah. It is on the basis of these reasons that I have placed the Ghazwah of Banū Qainuqā‘ in late 2 A.H., after the Ghazwah of Sawiq and the Rukhsatanah of Ḥaḍrat Fatimah. [2]


[1] Sirat -un- Nabi [Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam] By Shaykh Allamah Shibli Nomani (r.a) – volume 2, page 90
[2] The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophets (Sirat Khatamun-Nabiyyin) By Mirza Bashir Aḥmad M.A., volume 2, page 284 – 290