Excerpted from Madinan Society At the Time of the Prophet, International Islamic Publishing House & IIIT, 1991
The date of the campaign
Regarding the time of its occurrence, the historians agree that this action took place after Badr. Al Zuhri defined its date as being in the month of Shawwal in the second year of the Hijrah. Al Waqidi added that it took place on a Saturday in the middle of Shawwal.1
The reason for the campaign
Regarding the background of and the reason for the expulsion, the Sirah sources mention that the Jews of Banu Qaynuqa showed anger and jealousy when the Muslims were victorious at Badr, and these feelings reached the level of open hostility.
In order to appreciate the psychological atmosphere which surrounded their expulsion, certain developments must be considered. For example, the Prophet thought of gathering the Jews together and advising them. He did this in the market place of Banu Qaynuqa. Addressing them, he said: “O Jews! Become Muslims before what befell the Quraysh befalls you.” They said: “O Muhammad, you seem to think that we are your people. Do not deceive yourself because you vanquished a contingent of Quraysh having no knowledge of war and got the better of them; for, by God, if we fight you, you will find that we are real men, and that you have not met the like of us”. Their answer clearly contained a challenge and a threat, despite the fact that they had accepted his leadership according to the terms of the treaty. This report comes through Ibn Ishaq2. Ibn Hajar said that it was hasan.3 But the isnad includes Muhammad ibn Muhammad, the freedman of Zayd ibn Thabit, whom Ibn Hajar himself said was majhul (unknown).4
Even if we accept Ibn Hajar’s suggestion that the report is hasan, that does not mean that the reason for the expulsion of Banu Qaynuqa was their refusal to accept Islam, because at that stage Islam still allowed the Muslims to live in peace with them, and the Prophet did not make entering Islam a condition for any one of the Jews to stay in Madinah. Rather, the Document5 ensured the religious freedom of the Jews. The reason for their expulsion was the aggression which they showed. This resulted in a breach of the internal security of Madinah.
There is a report which says that one of the Banu Qaynuqa tied the hem of the garment of a Muslim woman who was in their market-place, in such a way that when she stood up, she was uncovered and she screamed. One of the Muslims came and killed the Jew who had done it. Then the Jews attacked the Muslim and killed him. The Muslim’s family called on the rest of the Muslims to help them against the Jews. The Muslims became angry, and bad feelings arose between them and the Banu Qaynuqa. This is a daif report since its isnad is broken between Ibn Hisham and ‘Abd Allah iba Ja’far al Makhrami, and ends with a lesser tabi’i, Abu Awn, whose status (in hadith) is not known. But this report could be taken into consideration as regards history, and most Sirah sources include it. It describes the chain of events leading up to the expulsion of Banu Qaynuqa. Their refusal to enter Islam was not the reason for their expulsion; the true reason was their breach of security and open hostility, which convinced the Messenger that it was impossible to live with them in peace.
The report of the expulsion of Banu Qaynuqa is sahih6. Ibn Ishaq (in a report from ‘Asim ibn ‘Umar ibn Qatadah) and al Waqidi (without isnad,) give details of the Muslims’ siege of Banu Qaynuqa. The historians and Sirah writers followed them in reporting this event, in spite of the fact that these details had not been proved sahih from the point of view of hadith. But the details of the siege are among the materials which the hadith scholars allowed to be transmitted and which can be relied upon according to the methods of historical criticism, which do not make it a condition that the isnad should be sahih. These reports can be relied upon for historical study. However, if they pertain to aspects of Islamic belief and law, such reports cannot be relied upon as evidence unless they are sahih or hasan.
The reports of the siege of Banu Qaynuqa tell us that the Qaynuqa Jews were allies of Abd Allah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul, that they were the bravest of the Jews, and that they were goldsmiths. When they displayed open hostility and hatred, the Prophet was afraid that they might betray him. He appointed Abu Lubabah ibn Abd al Mundhir to rule in Madinah in his absence, appointed Hamzah ibn Abd al Muttalib to carry the white flag, and besieged Banu Qaynuqa for 15 days, until the beginning of Dhu al Qa’dah. Then he intensified the siege against them, and they agreed to accept the judgment of the Messenger that he should take their wealth and they should keep their women and children. He ordered that the Qaynuqa Jews should be tied up. Then their ally Abd Allah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul spoke to him about them and pestered him, saying: ‘400 men without armor, and 300 with armor protected me from the red and the black (i.e., every one), and you want to kill them all in one day?’ The Messenger of Allah said: ‘They are yours.'”.7
He ordered that they should be expelled from Madinah, and the one responsible for carrying out this order was ‘Ubadah ibn al Samit. The Jews went to Adhra’at. The one responsible for seizing their wealth was Muhammad ibn Maslamah al Ansari. It was shared among the companions as booty, after one-fifth of it had been taken for the Messenger.8 The following verses of the Qur’an were revealed concerning the expulsion of Banu Qaynuqa:
“Say to those who reject faith: ‘Soon will you be vanquished and gathered together in Hell’ an evil bed indeed (to lie on)! There has already been for you a sign in the two armies that met (in combat): one was fighting in the cause of God, the other resisting God…” (Al Imran 3:12-13)
Some of the commentators of the Qur’an transmitted the opinion that the following verse was revealed concerning Abd Allah ibn Ubayy’s close friendship with the Jews of Banu Qaynuqa:
“O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: they are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily, Allah guides not a people unjust.”(Al Ma’idah 5:54).
At the same time, ‘Ubadah ibn al Samit announced that he was disowning his Jewish allies in favor of Allah and His Messenger: “O Messenger of Allah, I have many close friends among the Jews, but I am disowning the friendship of the Jews and turning to Allah and His Messenger. I take only Allah and His Messenger for close friends.”
There is a clear difference between Abd Allah ibn Ubayy, whose heart was full of hypocrisy, and ‘Ubadah ibn al Samit, whose personality had been refined under the teaching of the Prophet, which had rid him of all traces of preIslamic tribal loyalty, Jahili Asabiyyah desires, and personal interests. He considered the interests of faith and gave them priority over his own interests. He was a good example of the conscientious and committed believer.
- Al Tabari, Tarikh al Rusul, 2/479; 480; Al Waqidi, al Maghazi, 1/176; Ibn Sa’d, al Tabaqat, 2/28-29 [⤺]
- Ibn Hisham, Sirah, 294; Abu Dawud, al Sunan, 3/402-3 [⤺]
- Fath al Bari, 7/332 [⤺]
- Al Taqrib, 2/205 [⤺]
- See the thesis: “Announcement of the Constitution” [⤺]
- Al Bukhari, al Sahih, 3/11 [⤺]
- The words of ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy were reported by Ibn Ishaq from ‘Asim ibn Umar and the isnad ends with him (Ibn Hisham, al Sirah, 2/562/3). ‘Asim is one of the lesser tabi’iin. The report is daif according to the standards of the hadith scholars, but it is the kind of khabar that is allowed to be transmitted. Its importance is derived from its mentioning the number of warriors of Banu Qaynuqa. [⤺]
- Al Waqidi, al Maghazi, 1/176-7; Ibn Sa’d, al Tabaqat, 2/29 [⤺]