The Expulsion of Banu al-Qurayzah

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Akram Diya al Umari

Excerpted from Madinan Society At the Time of the Prophet, International Islamic Publishing House & IIIT, 1991

The date of the campaign

The action against Banu Qurayzah took place at the end of Dhu al Qa’dah and the beginning of Dhu al Hijjah in the fifth year1, after the Battle of the Ditch, which took place in Shawwal of the fifth year AH, according to Qatadah, ‘Urwah ibn al Zubayr, Ibn Ishaq and Abd al Razzaq.2 Imam Malik and Musa ibn ‘Uqbah suggested that the Battle of the Ditch took place in Shawwal of the fourth year. Ibn Hazm suggested the same. The three of them drew their conclusion from a hadith of Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar which said that the Prophet would not let him fight at the Battle of the Ditch, when he was 15.3

Al Bayhaqi showed that it was possible to reconcile the two suggestions. He said: “In fact, there is no difference between them, because they meant that it took place after four years had passed and before the fifth year was completed.” Al Zuhri declared that the Battle of the Ditch took place two years after Uhud. All are agreed that Uhud took place in Shawwal of the third year, except for those who suggested that the hijrah calendar should begin from Muharram of the year following the emigration, and did not take into consideration the months which remained in the year of the hijrah, from Rabi’ al Awwal onwards, as al Bayhaqi mentions. Yaqub ibn Sufyan al Fasawi suggested that Badr took place in the first year, Uhud in the second year, Badr al Maw?id in Sha?ban of the third year, and the Battle of the Ditch in Shawwal of the fourth year. This contradicts the opinion of the majority of scholars. It is well known that ‘Umar decreed that the hijrah calendar should start from Muharram of the year in which the emigration took place, and according to Malik, that it should start from Rabi’ al Awwal of that year.

There are three opinions, but the opinion of the majority, that Uhud took place in the third year, and that the Battle of the Ditch took place in Shawwal of the fifth year, is authentic.

Some of the scholars, including al Bayhaqi, explained the hadith of Ibn ‘Umar by saying that at the Battle of Uhud he had only just turned 14, whereas at the Battle of the Ditch he was 15 going on 16. This is reasonable, because when the Battle of Uhud ended, the two sides agreed to meet at Badr for another battle in the following year (Badr al Mawaid), but it did not happen. Al Bayhaqi said: “It is nonsense to say that they came to besiege Madinah two months later.”4

The reason for the campaign

The reason for the campaign goes back to Banu Qurayzah’s breaking of the treaty between themselves and the Prophet. This has been proved from different reports which, when taken together, could be used as valid evidence. Huyayy ibn Akhtab al Nadari5 incited them to break the treaty at a critical time when the Muslims were being besieged by 10,000 warriors from the various tribes. There is a strong report that the Prophet sent al Zubayr ibn al Awwam6 to check on Banu Qurayzah, then he sent Sad ibn Mu’adh, Sa’d ibn ‘Ubadah, Abd Allah ibn Rawahah and Khawwat ibn Jubayr7 to check whether the rumors about the treachery of Banu Qurayzah were true. These four confirmed the rumors, and this news distressed the Muslims.

Ibn Ishaq gave a detailed report — without isnad — of the treachery of Banu Qurayzah and their breaking of the treaty. Most of the Sirah writers also reported it without isnad8.

Musa ibn ‘Uqbah mentions — also without isnad — that Qurayzah asked Huyayy ibn Akhtab to take 90 men from the nobles of Quraysh and Ghatafan as hostages, so the Quraysh would not leave Madinah before they had destroyed the Muslims. Huyayy agreed to that, so they announced their breaking of the treaty.9

The Prophet was commanded by God to fight Banu Qurayzah after he returned from the Battle of the Ditch10 so the Prophet ordered his companions to go to Qurayzah straight away, and tell them that God had sent Jibril to shake their strongholds and strike fear into their hearts11, and instructed them that no one was to pray Asr before they reached Banu Qurayzah12. The time for Asr came, and some were still on their way to Banu Qurayzah, so some of them prayed, and some of them delayed their prayer, but the Prophet did not blame either group, because they had tried their best to understand what he wanted them to do. Those who had delayed the Asr prayed it after Isha as Ibn Ishaq explained.13

The scholars reconcile the reports of al Bukhari and Muslim by suggesting the possibility that some of them had already prayed zuhr before the order came, while some had not, so the Prophet ordered those who had not yet prayed not to pray, and ordered those who had already prayed not to pray Asr. It is also possible that two groups were sent out separately: the first group was told not to pray Zuhr and the second was told not to pray Asr.1415, 7/408-9

The Prophet went out to Banu Qurayzah, and appointed Abd Allah ibn Umm Maktum16 to govern Madinah in his absence. This report could be accepted even though it has not been proved to be sahih.

There are many mursal traditions (athar) which strengthen one another to the level of hasan li ghayrih, and which say that Ali was sent to carry the flag at the head of the army.17

The reports differ as to whether the siege of Banu Qurayzah lasted for a month18, 25 days19, 15 days20 or any number of days between 10 and 1821. The strongest evidence shows that it was twenty-five days; most of the Maghazi writers favor this version, following Ibn Ishaq.22

The success of the siege and the fate of Banu Qurayzah

When the siege intensified and became unbearable for Banu Qurayzah, they wanted to surrender and accept whatever judgment the Prophet passed on them. They consulted Abu Lubabah ibn Abd al Mundhir, one of the companions of the Prophet who was also their ally, and he indicated that if they surrendered, they would be killed. Abu Lubabah later regretted saying this, and tied himself to one of the pillars in the Prophet’s Mosque until his repentance was accepted.23 Banu Qurayzah agreed to accept the judgment of Sa’d ibn Mu’adh; they thought that he would show mercy to them, because of the alliance between them and his people, al Aws.

Sa’d was carried to them, because he had been wounded in the hand by an arrow at the Battle of the Ditch, and was ill. He judged that the warriors should be killed, and their wealth shared. The Messenger confirmed this and said: “You have judged according to God’s judgment.”24 By doing this, Sad ibn Mu’adh disowned his alliance with Banu Qurayzah. This did not disturb the Aws at all, despite their alliance with Banu Qurayzah and the fact that they had only recently entered Islam. Their acceptance of this was facilitated by the fact that their leader Sa’d passed judgment on Banu Qurayzah. The number of warriors who were executed was 400.25 Three of Banu Qurayzah were spared because they entered Islam26 and they kept their wealth; three others may have been spared because they were protected by some of the companions because of their loyalty to the treaty during the siege. There are many reports dealing with this, but they cannot be taken as valid evidence. The prisoners were detained in the house of Bint al Harith.27

The executions were carried out in the market place in Madinah, where trenches were dug; they were killed in groups and thrown into the trenches.28 Only one of their women was killed29; she had killed one of the companions — Khalid ibn Suwayd — by dropping a millstone on him.

Boys below the age of puberty were released.30 After the execution of the warriors had been carried out, the Prophet divided their wealth and appointed the women to the custody of the Muslims.31 The books of Maghazi give some detail of how the division was carried out, but their reports cannot be taken as valid evidence.

The Messenger chose Rayhanah ibn Khanafah, one of the women prisoners, for himself, according to Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Sa’d and many others. Al Waqidi and those who followed him said that he married her, but the first suggestion is more likely.

Some contemporary historians tend to deny and weaken the reports dealing with the punishment faced by Banu Qurayzah32 on the basis that proving these reports may hurt humanitarian feelings or serve the interests of Zionist propaganda, but this is not the case. The most authentic Islamic sources prove that it happened. The severe punishments were only given because of the acts of high treason which Banu Qurayzah committed when they betrayed the Muslims and broke the treaty, instead of participating with them in defending Madinah, in accordance with the treaty between the two sides. In this day and age, nations still execute traitors who cooperate with the enemy.

The punishment of Banu Qurayzah fitted their crime, because they had exposed the Muslims to the threat of being killed, their wealth to the threat of being seized, and their women and children to the threat of being taken prisoner; therefore, their punishment was a fitting recompense. There is no need to avoid historical facts or to deny authentic reports.


  1. Ibn Sa’d, al Tabaqat, 3/74; Ibn Hisham, al Sirah, 3/715; Al Tabari, Tarikh al Rusul, 3/593; Ibn Sayyid al Nas, Uyun al Athar, 3/68 []
  2. Abd al Razzaq, al Musannaf, 5/367; Ibn Hisham, al Sirah, 3/699; al Haythami, Majma’ al Zawa’id, 6/143: he attributed it to al Tabarani and said that the men in the isnad are thiqah. []
  3. Al Bukhari, at Sahih, 3/33, 73; see also Malik’s suggestion. []
  4. Ibn Kathir, al Bidayah, 4/934; and al Sirah at Nabawiyyah, 3/180-1; Ibn Qayyim, Zad al Ma’ad, 388-9; Ibn Hajar, Fath al Bari, 7/393 []
  5. Abd al Razzaq reported this from the mursal hadith of Sa’id ibn al Musayyab, which are the most sahih mursal hadith. The report is valid as evidence, if there are other reports which support it (al Musannaf, 5/368-373). Abu Nu’aym, from the mursal hadith of Sa’id also (Abu Nu’aym, Dala’il al Nubuwwah, 3/183). []
  6. Al Bukhari, al Sahih, 3/306; Muslim, al Sahih, 7/138 []
  7. Ibn Hisham, al Sirah, 3/706, without isnad. []
  8. Al-Waqidi, al Maghazi, 3/454-9; Al Tabari, Tarikh al Rusul, 3/570-3; Ibn Hazm, Jawami al Sirah, 187-8; Ibn Abd al Barr, al Durar, 181-3; Ibn Sayyid al Nas, Uyun al Athar, 3/59-60; Ibn Kathir, at Bidayah, 3/103-4 []
  9. Ibn Kathir, al Bidayah, 3/103-4 []
  10. Al Bukhari, al Sahih, 3/24; Ahmad, al Musnad, 6/56, 131, 280 []
  11. Al Bukhari, al Sahih, 3/24; 144 []
  12. Bukhari (Ibid., 3/24); Muslim (Muslim, al Sahih, 5/163) say Zuhr. []
  13. Ibn Hisham, al Sirah, 3/716-7, from the mursal hadith of Ma’bad ibn Ka’b ibn Malik, who is maqbul. []
  14. Ibn Hajar, []
  15. Fath al Bari []
  16. Ibn Hisham, al Sirah, 3/716; Ibn Sa’d, al Tabaqat, 3/74 (both without isnad). []
  17. Ibn Hisam, al Sirah, 3/716; Ibn Hajar, Fath at Bari, 7/413 []
  18. Tabari, Tarikh al Rusul, 2/583, the narrator himself said that he was unsure as to whether it was a month or 25 days. []
  19. Al Sa’ati, al Fath al Rabbani li Tartib Musnad al Imam Ahmad, 21/81-3. All the narrators are reliable. []
  20. Ibn Sa’d, al Tabaqat, 3/74, without isnad. []
  21. Ibn Kathir, al Bidayah, 4/118-9; Ibn Hajar, Fath at Bari, 7/413; mursal from Musa ibn Uqbah from al Zuhri. []
  22. Tabari, Tarikh al Rusul, 2/583; Ibn Hazm, Jawami al Sirah, 193; Ibn Abd al Barr, al Durar, 189; Ibn Sayyid al Nas, ‘Uyun al Athar, 2/69 []
  23. Al Sa’ati, al Fath al Rabbani, 21/81-3, with a hasan isnad. []
  24. Al Bukhari, al Sahih, 2/210, 3/24-25; Muslim, al Sahih, 5/160-1 []
  25. Ahmad, al Musnad, 3/350, with a hasan isnad; Ibn Hajar (Fath al Bari, 7/14) mentioned the differences in their numbers, ranging from 400 to 900, and reconciled the different reports by saying that the increase included the followers of Banu Qurayzah, such as slaves, freedmen, and others. []
  26. Al Bukhari, al Sahih, 3/11; Muslim, al Sahih, 5/159. The three who entered Islam were: Tha’labah ibn Sa’iyah, Usayd ibn Sa’iyah and Asad ibn ‘Ubayd. []
  27. This is the report of Ibn Ishaq (Ibn Hisham, al Sirah, 3/721). ‘Urwah mentions it was the house of Usamah ibn Zayd. The reports can be reconciled by saying that the prisoners were put in two houses because of their great numbers. []
  28. Ahmad, al Musnad, 3/351; al Tirmidhi, Sunan, 4/144-5 []
  29. Ibn Hisham, al Sirah, 3/722; Ahmad, al Musnad, 6/277; Abu Dawud, al Sunan, 2/150. Its isnad is hasan li dhatih. []
  30. Ibn Hisham, al Sirah, 3/724; Ibn Sa’d, al Tabaqat, 2/72-7 []
  31. Al Bukhari, al Sahih, 3/11; Muslim, al Sahih, 5/159 []
  32. See the research of Dr. Walid Arafat in the papers of the World Sirah Conference in Qatar. Ed. note: See the same paper in The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1976, pp. 100-107 []

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