Scholars On The Battle Of Ditch (Khandaq)

Scholars On The Battle Of Ditch (Khandaq)

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


Muhammad Al-Ghazali


The groups of unbelievers were certain that they would not be able to vanquish Islam if they fought it separately, but they might achieve their aim if they all attacked Islam as one alliance. The Jewish leaders in the peninsula were more conscious of this fact that the others.
So they agreed to incite the Arabs against Islam and bring them together in a huge army to fight Muhammad in a decisive battle. A handful of Jewish leaders went to the Quraish, urging them to fight, and they said:

‘We shall be with you against him until we extirpate him.’

The Quraish had failed to keep their promise with the Prophet one year and it was inevitable that they should go out to fight the Muslims to salvage their reputation and fulfil their promise. And here were the Jewish leaders proposing an alliance for the very thing they desired, so there was no room for hesitation or dispute.

The strange thing was that the rabbis of the Torah assured the worshippers of idols in Makkah that it was just to fight Muhammad, and killing him would earn them the pleasure of God because the religion of the Quraish was better than his and the customs of Jahiliyah were better than the teachings of the Qur’an! The Quraish were pleased with what they heard, and their stubborn wish for aggression was strengthened. They therefore promised the Jews to be with them on the march to Madinah.

The Jewish leaders left the Quraish for the bedioun of Ghatafan to conclude with them an alliance similar to the one with Makkah, and a number of tribes who were envious of the new faith entered into it. Thus it was that the Jewish leaders were successful in rallying the forces of unbelief against the Prophet and his call.

When the Muslims realized the extent of the danger surrounding them, they hurriedly drew up a plan to defend their call and their state. It was a unique plan, the like of which the Arabs had not heard before, for they were accustomed only to fighting in the open fields. This time, however, the Muslims dug a deep ditch around Madinah from the side of the plains to separate the attackers from the defenders. [1]

Hajjah Amina Adil


As mentioned before, the unbelievers were trying to raise a united force of all the important Arabian tribes against the Prophet Muhammad. In particular, the tribes of the Bani Nadir and Bani Qaynuqa who had been exiled from Madinah on account of their assassination attempt on the Holy Prophet did not cease working against Islam and trying to harm the Pride of the Worlds.

These dangerious enemies met at Khaybar, which became a nest of intrigue and mischief making. The heads of of the unbelievers, such as Sallam ibn Abi-l-Huqayq, Huyayy ibn Akhtab, and Kinana bin Abi-l-Huqayq went to Mecca and conspired with the chiefs of Quraysh. They came with a suggestion, which was more than welcome to the Quraysh and which met with enthusiastic approval. They said,

‘There is only one means left to us in order to eliminate Muhammad, and that is to march on Madinah with combined forces. What do you say to that?’ The chiefs of the Quraysh replied, ‘Whatever is necessary and required, we are ready to do it.’

The chiefs of Bani Nadir then went to Ghatafan and told them of their plan to strike out against Muhammad, and elicited their support, promising them half of the revenues of Khaybar, should they agree to be their accomplices in the stuggle against Muhammad. They also made the Bani Asad who were allies of the Ghatafan participate in this campaign. The Bani Sulaym were related to the Quraysh by blood-ties, hence they too were obliged to join.

The leaders of the Quraysh gathered at Dar-un-Nadwa. They decided to oppose the Prophet of Allah who preached the religion of Allah and proclaimed the unlawfulness of idol worship and the principles of justice and honor. They declared war against Muhammad whose pure heart beat with compassion for all of creation. The fortunes of Islam were to be assailed by grave danger. A force of thirty thousand men now stood assembled against the band of believers.

It was in the fifth year of the Hijra in the month of Dhul-Qa’da that the enemies of God marched against the Muslims. [2]

Shaykh Allamah Shibli Nomani


Having left Medina and settled at Khaibar, the Banu Nadir started hatching a wide-spread conspiracy against Islam. Their leaders, Sallam Ibn Abi al-Huquaiq, Huyayy Ibn Akhtab, Kinana Ibn al-Rabi and others came to Mecca, met the Quraish, and told them that Islam could be destroyed root and branch provided they lent support. The Quraish were already waiting for an opportunity.

Assured of their help, the Jews next visited the Ghatafan tribes and made tempting offer of assigning to them half of the proceeds of Khaibar in perpetuity. The Ghatafan were only too willing to catch at the offer. While dealing with the Ghazwa Bi’r Ma’una, we have already mentioned how Amir, the chief of the tribe, had threatened an attack by the tribe of Ghatfan.

The Banu Asad who were in alliance with the Ghatfan, were asked to come up with their men. The Banu Sulaim had blood connections with the Quraish, and on this ground they too joined the league. The tribe of the Banu Sa’d being an ally of the Jews was easily won over. This a mighty army made up of forces from all the tribes marched out for Medina.

In Fath al-Bari their number is given as 10,000. This army consisted of three main divisions. The Ghatafan forces were led by Uayina Ibn Hisn Gazari, a famous chief of Arabia. The Bani Asad were placed under the command of Talha and the supreme command was entrusted to Abu Sufyan.

The news of this dangerous confederacy reached the Prophet (p), and he consulted his companions. Salman Farsi, being an Iranian, was familiar with the method of defence behind the trenches, and he suggested that as it was inadvisable to fight in the open, the whole army should be concentrated in a well-protected place with trenches dug out.

The sounds ‘K’ and ‘H’ got changed into ‘KH’ and ‘Q’ respectively, just as the Persian word ‘Piada’ came to become ‘Baidaq’ in Arabic. The suggestion was received with general approval and implements were collected to dig the trenches.

Medina was well-protected on three sides by a continuous line of buildings and palm groves, which served well as a defensive line. Only on the Syrian side it was open to attack. The Holy Prophet (p) with 3,000 companions came out of the town and on this side, they started digging trenches. It was 8th of Dhi Qa’d.

The Prophet (p) himself did the marking and the preliminary lay out. Then a ten yard (about 9-1/2 metre) length was allotted to each party of ten. The depth of the trench had to be 5 yards (about 4-3/4 metres). Three thousand pious hands took twenty days to complete the project.

One may well recollect how the Prophet (p), had worked as an ordinary labourer while the construction of the Mosque at Medina was in progress. Another scene equally touching presents itself on this occasion. In the long wintry nights, going without food….. Sometimes for three days together. …the Muhajirs and the Ansaris carry the excavated earth and stones on their backs. In rapturous love with one voice, they recited the couplet:

‘We are dedicated to serve Islam under Muhammad (p) for as long as we live!’

‘By God, had God not shown us the right path, we should not have given alms or offered prayers; these men have risen against us and refuse to obey them though they come all combined.’

The last rhyming word (We refuse, according to the Arabic text) he loudly recited and repeated it. Along with this he prayed for the welfare of the Ansaris saying:

‘O God there no good but the good of the Hereafter. O God send Thy blessings unto the Ansaris and the Muhajirs.’

While digging, they once came upon a very hard piece of rock which none could break. The Holy Prophet (p) came up. Without food for three days and a stone tied against his belly, he struck, and the rock was split into pieces.

With the hills of Sula on their back, they arranged themselves into lines. The women were sent to well-guarded forts of the town. As an attack was feared from the Banu Quraiza, Salama Ibn Aslam with 200 men was stationed there to ward off any attempt from that side.

So far the Jews of the Banu Quraiza had been neutral. But the Banu Nadir tried to win them over. Huyayy Ibn Akhtab (father of the Prophet’s wife Safiyya) himself went to Ka’b, the chief of the Quraiza; but the latter refused to meet him. Huyayy sent to him the following message,

‘I have brought with me a huge army. The Quraish and all Arabia have flocked up, thirsting for Muhammad’s blood. Let not this chance slip by, for the end of Islam is near at hand.’

Still Ka’b was not willing and said, ‘I have always found Muhammad true to his promise. It is not fair to break word with him.’ But the persuasions of Huyayy could not long remain ineffective.

The Prophet (p) came to know of it and sent Sa’d Ibn Mu’adh and Sa’d Ibn Ubada to ascertain the truth and have a final word with the Banu Quraiza. In case they found that the Banu Quraiza had actually violated the treaty, they were told to report it on return in ambiguous words so that people might not get discouraged. The two gentlemen reminded the Banu Quraiza of their treaty obligations; but the Quraiza replied,

‘We know not who Muhammad is and what is meant by a treaty’.

In short the Banu Quraiza made a further addition to the number of this already huge concentration. The Quraish, the Jewish tribes and the entire strength of Arabia, 24,000 strong divided themselves into three bodies, and from three sides launched an attack on Medina. So vigorous was the charge that it shook the very foundations of the city. The battle has been described by God in the Qur’an in these words:

‘When they came upon you from above you, and from below you and when the eyes turned dull and hearts reached to the gullets, and of Allah ye were imagining various things… There were the believers proved and shaken with mighty shaking.’ – Quran 33:10-11

The Muslims had among them a number of hypocrites, apparently supporting their cause. But the extreme weather, lack of supplies, continuous starvation, sleepless nights and the swarm of armies arrayed against them were the factors that exposed them all. One after the other, they came to the Prophet (p) and begged his permission to return to the city for their houses were unsafe. Of these the Holy Qur’an says:

‘And a party of them asked permission of the Prophet saying, verily our houses lie open; whereas they lay not open; they only wished to flee.’ – Quran 33:8

But the sterling worth of true Muslims was to be tested on this very touchstone. The Qur’an says:

‘And when the believers saw the confederates, they said: This is that which Allah and His Messenger had promised us, and Allah and His Messenger had spoken the truth. And it only increased them in belief and in self-surrender.’ – Qur’an 33:25

For about a month the siege continued with all its rigours. The Prophet and the companions sometimes went without food for three days in continuation. One day the companions, unable to bear any more, showed the Prophet (p) the stones they had tied to their bellies. When the Prophet (p) uncovered his own body, there were two stones fastened over the abdomen.

The Siege was long and dangerous. Once the Prophet (p) asked his companions if there was any who could bring news from the enemy. Three times he repeated the words: only Zubair responded to the call. It was on this occasion that the Prophet (p) gave Zubair the title of ‘Hawari’ or a disciple.

The besiegers had in the first place surrounded the trenches, secondly they wanted to attack Medina from the quarter where the families of the Prophet (p) and the companions were lodged in forts. Unable to cross the trench, they flung stones and shot arrows from a distance. The Prophet (p) had stationed various parties at various points on the trenches and these men kept the enemy at bay. One such detachment was under the personal command of the Prophet (p).

Considering the hardships of the siege, the Prophet (p) feared lest the Ansaris should get disheartened.
He wanted to patch up a treaty with the tribe of Ghatfan on condition of paying to them one-third of the harvest yield of Medina. With this aim in view, he called Sa’d Ibn Ubada and Sa’d Ibn Mu’adh, chiefs of the Ansaris, for the consultations. Both made replies in these words:

‘If such is the command of Allah, we dare not oppose it. But if this is a personal view, then we wish to say that none ever dared to demand a tribute from us, even when we were pagans. Now that Islam has raised us to an exalted position, it is out of question.’

The Prophet was satisfied with their firm resolve. Sa’d took the parchment containing the treaty conditions in his hands and rubbed off the writing saying,

‘Let them do what they can.’

Now the non-believers tried another strategy. The most reputed genrals among the Quraish, like Abu Sufyan, Khalid Ibn Walid, Amr Ibn al-As, Dirar Ibn al-Akhtal and Jubaira were each day given supreme command turn by turn. Each on his turn led a general assault with the whole army, but none could cross the trench. They could only shoot arrows and hurl stones as the width of the trench was not very great.

This stratagem having failed, it was decided to make a general assault. The whole army with the chiefs of the tribes in the vanguard mustered up. They chose to dahs forward at a point where the trench happened to be comparatively narrow.

Renowned warriors, like Dirar, Jubaira, Naufal and Amr Ibn Abd Wudd, spurred their horses on over the trench to the other side. Amr Ibn Abd Wudd, was the greatest of their warriors, his presence being supposed to be equivalent to a thousand horsemen. Wounded at Badr, he had left the field and taken a vow not to oil his hair till he had avenged his injury.

Though ninety years old now, he was the first to step forward and, following the Arab custom, call for an adversary. Ali (ra) rose to accept the challenge but the Prophet (p) stopped him, for he was no less a person than Amr Ibn Abd Wudd. Ali (ra) sat down.

No one else made a response. Amr called a second time. The same voice made the solitary answer. Once more the Holy Prophet said, it was Amr. ‘Yes, I know that’, said Ali (ra). At last the Prophet (p) permitted him, offering a sword with his own hand and himself winding a turban round his head.

Amr had often declared that if any one made three requests to him, he would stand honour-bound to grant one at least. Ali (ra) asked if that was true, and then ensued the following dialogue:

Ali: I request you to embrace Islam.
Amr: That is impossible.
Ali: Then turn back from the field.
Amr: I can’t bear the taunts of the women of the Quraish.
Ali: Then measure swords with me.

Amr laughed and said he never expected any mortal under the sun making such a request to him. Ali (ra) was on foot. Chivalrous Amr could not bear it. He dismounted from his horse and dealt his first blow at his own steed cutting his hamstrings. Then he asked Ali who he was? Ali (ra) told him his name. ‘I do not like to fight with you’, said Amr. ‘But I do’, retorted Ali. Amr now filled with rage drew his sword out of the scabbard. Stepping forward he delt a blow which Ali received in his shield.

But the sword pierced and wounded Ali (ra) on the forehead. The wound, though not fatal, left, forever, a scar to be proud of. As mentioned in Al-Qamus, Ali (ra) was called ‘Dhul Qurain’ (the two horned) because of the two marks on his forhead….one inflicted by Amr, and the other by Ibn Muljim. It was now Ali’s turn to attack, and his sword swooped down passing through Amr’s shoulder.

Allahu Akbar, God is Great, cried Ali (ra) and victory was declared. Dirar and Jubaira followed Amr. But the Dhul Fiqar (the name given to Ali’s sword) in action forced them to fall back. Umar (ra) chased Dirar who turned back and wanted to attack with his lance, but suddenly stayed his hand and asked Umar (ra) not to forget that act of generosity.

Naufal, while fleeing, fell down into the trench. The companions began discharging arrows at him. ‘O Muslims!’ saud he, ‘I want to die an honourable death.’ Ali (ra) acceded to his request and going into the trench killed him with his sword and let him die an honourable death.

This was the severest day as the battle continued all day long. The enemy kept up a continuous showed of arrows all along the time, without break. This was the day when the Holy Prophet (p) is reported in the traditions to have missed four consecutive prayers, as the incessant downpour of arrows and stones made it impossible to leave the post.

The fortress where the women were sheltered stood near the habitations of the Banu Quraiza. The Muslim army all away with the Prophet (p), the Jews made an assault on the fortress. One of them came up close to the gate to spot out a vulnerable point. Safiyya (an aunt of the Prophet sighted him).

Hassan, the famous port, who had been ordered to guard these women was asked by Safiyya to go and kill the man, lest he should go back to the enemy as an informant. Hassan had been afflicted with a disease that had made him too timid, he could not even witness a clash of arms as a silent spectator. He explained his inability, for had he been fit for such a job he would have been there.

Safiyya pulled out a wooden pole supporting the tent, and going down struck the Jew on the head with such a force that it broke his skull. Safiyya now returned and asked Hassan to go and strip him of his arms and clothes.

But Hassan asked her to let that go as he did not need any of those things. Lastly, Safiyya asked him to go and cut his head off and throw it down at the foot of the fortress to terrify the Jews. But this duty too Safiyya had asked to perform herself. The Jews now felt sure that the fort was not unmanned, and dared not attack.

The longer the siege dragged on, the more were the besiegers disheartened. Maintenance of supplies for an army of 10,000 was not an easy task. Moreover, in spite of the winter, the wind blew hard given rise to a violent storm. The ropes of the tents gave way, and cooking pots on the fire were overturned. This accidental mishap did more damage than a whole army could do. Hence has the Holy Qur’an referred to it as the divine soldiery:

‘O ye who believe, remember Allah’s favour unto you when there came unto you hosts, and We sent against them a wind and hosts which ye saw not, and Allah was of that which ye were working a Beholder.’ – Quran 33:9

Nu’aim Ibn Mas’ud Ashja’I, Ghatafan chief, was highly influential both with the Jews and with the Quraish. He had turned a Muslim but the non-believers did not know of it. He held talks with the Quraish and the Jews separately and succeeded in creating a dissension.

Ibn Ishaq reports that Nu’aim, in order to sow the seed of discord, talked things that made them suspect each other, and this he did because the Prophet (p) had said, that tricks were allowed in war. But Ibn Ishaq has not given the names of reporters. Even if he had done so, he does not rank high enough to command credit for such reports on his own authority. In fact the situation, as it was, made it possible to put an end to the alliance without resorting to lies.

Ibn Ishaq does also say that Nu’aim told the Jews that the Quraish would retire in a few days, but they had to live with the Muslims as fellow country-men. Why should they be a party and create perpetual enemies for nothing, and in case they were bent upon doing it, they should ask the Quraish to send to their camp a few men of position as hostages so that if the Quraish chose to turn back before the hostilities were decisively ended, the Jews might detain them.

It is known that the Jews of banu Quraiza had been at first reluctant to break their treaty with the Prophet (p). But Huyayy Ibn Akhtab had won them over on condition that he would leave Khaibar to live with them when the Quraish were gone. The Quraish could never agree to send hostages. Naturally their refusal must have brought about the rift, without the companion having had to tell lies to cause it.

Anyhow, the inclemency of weather, the prolongation of the siege, the severity of the storm, the lack of supplies and the desertion by the Jews all combined to make the Quraish give up the siege. Abu Sufyan announced to the army that the supplies had run short, the weather was cruel, the Jews had deserted and the siege was no longer possible.

Having made this announcement, he ordered the drummers to beat retreat. The Ghatfan also marched off, while the Banu Quraiza repaired to their forts. The dark shadows that had hung over Medina for three weeks were now dispelled. The Qur’an says:

‘And Allah drove back those who disbelieved in their rage, they obtained no advantage, and Allah sufficed for the believers in the fighting and Allah is ever Strong Mighty.’ – Quran 33:15

The Muslims lost very few lives in this battle. But the Ansaris were deprived of the greatest pillar of their strength.

Sa’d Ibn Mu’adh, the chief of the Aus was fatally wounded and succumbed to his injuries. The way he was wounded is highly impressive and instructive.

Sa’d’s mother and A’isha were both lodged in the same fortress. A’isha says that she was loitering outside the fort when she heard the sound of a foot fall behind her. On turning back she saw Sa’d, his lance in his hand, advancing fast in a rapturous mood and reciting the verse:

‘Tarry a while, O Battle, till another man reaches thee. When time is come, what fear of Death. O son, be quick, you are already late, cried Sa’d’s mother. The coat of mail put on by Sa’d was too short and left his hands unprotected. A’isha exclaimed, ‘O that Sa’d’s coat of mail were little longer!’

Unfortunately, Ibn al-Ariqa aimed his arrow at one of the bare hands and the aorta was cut.

When the battle of the Trenches was over, the Prophet (p) got a tent up in the courtyard of the Mosque and began to look after his injuries. The tent belonged to Rafida, a lady who had accompanied the Muslim army with a stock of medicines and bandages and attended to the wounds of the injured.

The tent belonged to her and she was in charge of the treatment. The Holy Prophet (p) with his own pious hand burned the wound with Mishqas (an iron piece used for burning the wounds). But the wound got swollen. Again it was touched but with no effect. After several days that is after the destruction of the Banu Quraiza the wound opened and Sa’d died. [3]


[1] Fiqh-us-seerah, Muhammad Al-Ghazali, page 322 – 323
[2] Muhammad, the Messenger of Islam: His Life & Prophecy by Hajjah Amina Adil: page 372 – 373
[3] Sirat -un- Nabi [Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam] By Shaykh Allamah Shibli Nomani (r.a) – Volume 2, Page 106 – 119