The Demographics of Medina

وَبَرَكَاتُهُ اللهِ وَرَحْمَةُ عَلَيْكُمْ السَّلاَمُ

Now let’s speak a little about the demographics of Medina. As we know, Medina was one of the only places in Arabia with Jews. But the question arises: where did these Jews come from? The truth is that we do not know, as there is no recorded evidence and in fact there is not even any mention of these Jews in non-Islamic sources. However we have some theories:

The first theory is that these Jews were sent by Musa (AS) himself all those thousands of years before, as he knew that that a prophet would come from that land. However this is quite a weak theory as it doesn’t have any evidence supporting it.

The second theory is that these Jews came to that land when they were expelled from Jerusalem. And there were three main expulsions from Jerusalem that they could have come from:

The first expulsion from Jerusalem took place in 587BC, when the tyrant king Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed the original Temple of Suleiman. And this temple was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world and a magnificent structure, and we as Muslims know that this was because Suleiman (AS) employed Jinn to build it. And this destruction led to the first diaspora, which was where the Jews were forced to flee Jerusalem. And the majority of them went to Iran, but many also went to Iraq and some may have also gone to Yemen (although the majority of Jews that went to Yemen did so from the third diaspora). And the theory goes that during this diaspora, a small group of Jews went to Arabia and set up the place that became Yathrib.

The Temple of Suleiman was then rebuilt by a later emperor, and although it was not Suleiman’s original building it was still quite magnificent. However within a few decades this was also destroyed by the emperor Titus in 70CE, and this led to the second diaspora. And there was also a third diaspora in 132CE, when the Jews had an armed uprising against the tyrant Emperor Hadrian who began to brutally slaughter them in return. And so they were forced to flee once again, and a theory goes that it was a small group from this wave of refugees that settled in the lands that would become Yathrib (and also nearby Khaybar), while the much larger group went even further down to settle in Yemen. And the Yemeni Jews were actually the largest group of Jews in Arabia.

Now modern research suggests that the Jews of Yathrib were not the mainstream Jews, but instead of an ancient sect called Karaites. The modern sects are almost all Rabbinic, but this form of Judaism only became mainstream around 500CE. And since the diasporas all took place far before this time, the theory that the Jews of Yathrib settled directly after the diasporas is supported by this new research.

The third theory is actually a twist on the diaspora theory. And it suggests that the Jews that settled in Yathrib did not come directly from Jerusalem after the diaspora but actually first went all the way down to Yemen, and it was only later that some groups emigrated back up into Arabia to settle in other lands such as Yathrib and Khaybar. And so this theory suggests that the Jews of Yathrib were actually descendants of the Yemeni Jews.

In fact, an argument can also be made that more than one of these theories are correct. In Medina at the time of the prophet there were three tribes of Jews: the Banu Qaynuqa, Banu Nadir and Banu Qurayza. Now Jews do not divide themselves into these types of tribes – that is an Arab tradition – so why were the Jews of Yathrib separated into three rivalling groups? If these Jews all came together as one group to Yathrib, why were they fighting one another during the Battle of Bu’ath? And so a point can be raised, that maybe there is an element of truth in more than one theory, and the different tribes represent different emigrations of Jews to Yathrib at different times.

So now we have an idea of why there were Jews in Yathrib, but where did the Arabs fit in?

The Banu Aws and the Banu Khazraj were both Qahtaani Arabs, which means they were descendants of Qahtaan. And they both came from the city of Ma’rib in Yemen, which was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Saba’ (Sheba). And one of the blessings that Allah gave to the Sabaeans was that they were the first people to build a dam. However they became arrogant, and Allah punished them by destroying the dam, causing a great flood which killed many people and this led to many people having to migrate away. And this most likely took place around 300CE.

And so the Aws and Khazraj ended up in Yathrib. But the question arises: why Yathrib? Now we don’t know, but if we take the theory that the Jews of Yathrib were linked to the Jews of Yemen, either as descendants or as a group that splintered away during the diaspora, then we can speculate that maybe the Arabs of Yemen would have known about the settlement of Yathrib through the Jews of Yemen, and so would have been comfortable emigrating there. But this is only a theory.

Now it appears that the Aws and Khazraj did not arrive together. And we can derive this from the fact that the Aws had sought permission from the Banu Qurayza and the Banu Nadir to lease their lands and form an alliance with them, while the Khazraj had asked the Banu Qaynuqa. And so we have to ask why these two tribes had different Jewish alliances, and so the theory goes that they arrived at different times. The Aws would have arrived first, as they had protection from the largest of the two Jewish tribes and so ended up wealthier and with better land, while the Khazraj had protection from the smallest Jewish tribe and were the economically weaker.

So what was Medina like by the time that the prophet arrived? There was a clear divide between the Jewish and Arab tribes – as we know there had been a civil war between the Aws and the Khazraj for over a century, and the Jewish tribes had also financed the two different Arab tribes in the battles. In terms of numbers, we get an estimate of about 2000 Jewish men from all three tribes living in Medina at the time. Multiplying that by three for women and children, we have about 6000 Jews. For the Arabs, we know that there were about 4000-5000 Ansar participating in the conquest of Mecca. Multiplying that by three once again, we get about 12000-15000 Arabs in Medina. So there were about double the number of Arabs living in the Medina than Jews, however it was the Jews who had all the power as they owned all the land and had all the money. And the Jews did not actually live directly inside of Medina, but rather build fortresses just outside of the city. And so we can see that in total there were about 20000 people living in Medina in the time of the prophet.



Dr.Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 029