Expulsion of the Banu Qaynuqa
وَبَرَكَاتُهُ اللهِ وَرَحْمَةُ عَلَيْكُمْ السَّلاَمُ
Within a few weeks after Badr, a major event took place regarding one of the Jewish tribes of Medina – the Banu Qaynuqa. And this incident culminated with the tribe being expelled from Medina, and because of this the story is regarded with some controversy as some people use it to argue that the prophet was anti-sematic. But as we will see, the prophet did not expel the tribe because of who they were, rather because of what they did.
Now, before we get into the story it is important to mention that we do not actually have a great number of details. And to some extent this makes sense, because the history of the prophet’s life was not recorded at the time but instead afterwards by the next generations, and when someone talks about the past no-one wants to recall the bad incidents in detail. And so the narrators may have glossed over the details, but we still have a general understanding that the Banu Qaynuqa increased in their hostilities against the Muslims. And there are two incidents in particular that we know of:
After the Battle of Badr, the Banu Qaynuqa were saddened at the loss of the Quraish and the victory of the Muslims. And this must have been clearly shown by them in some way, because the prophet actually went to their souk, and he gathered all of them together and rebuked them for their attitude and reminded them of their treaty with the Muslims.
However one of their leaders then stood up and in a clear act of defiance and vindictiveness said, ‘O Muhammad, don’t be fooled by your recent victory. You fought a bunch of people there is no mention of; had you really been fighting men – men like us – you would have seen what the result would have been.’ And so here the true allegiance of the tribe was clearly and disrespectfully on display, and one of the leaders had essentially just threatened the prophet in public. And the Banu Qaynuqa were the largest Jewish tribe – at least 2000 strong with maybe 700 fighting men. And so this declaration was a very serious threat to the Muslim state and the city of Medina.
But there was one incident that truly crossed the line. And this was a very vulgar and indisputably disrespectful occurrence. One of the ladies of the Ansar went to trade in the souk of the Banu Qaynuqa, and the Banu Qaynuqa were known for their goldsmiths and so she decided to buy some gold. And so she sat down in front of a goldsmith to buy something from him, but the man began to flirt with her crudely and asked her to expose some of her body. Of course she refused, and so he made a signal to someone behind her who tied or pegged the back of her dress to the seat. And so when the woman stood up her entire garment fell off, and she was left completely exposed in the middle of the souk. The men around her began to laugh as she started screaming for help, until one of the Muslim men who was nearby came rushing in and out of anger completely sliced off the head of the man who had done this to her. Now of course, he was in the middle of their territory and so the Banu Qaynuqa immediately surrounded him and killed him, and so now there were deaths on both sides and a shameful act of violation and injustice by the Jewish tribe.
When the news of what had occurred reached the prophet, he immediately sent he Banu Qaynuqa the message that their treaty had been broken. And this was because we are actually not allowed to break treaties by surprise in Islam, and we always have to warn the other party. But out of arrogance the Banu Qaynuqa didn’t actually expect the prophet to do anything, perhaps because unlike the Arabs the Jewish tribes all had large fortresses in which they could retreat to. And so when they heard that the Muslims were coming they were taken by surprise and had to run back into their fortresses and lock themselves in.
Now at this stage the Muslims did not have any siege weapons, such as catapults. So instead of attacking these large stone buildings they simply set up camps outside of them, trapping the Jews inside and stopping any supplies from getting in. And thus a long term siege formed, and of course this took place in the middle of hot Arabia and the people inside of the fortresses did not have infinite resources, and so very soon water began to run out. And so after half a month the Banu Qaynuqa had to surrender.
The prophet ordered that all the men be tied up like prisoners of war while a decision was made on what to do with them. Now, as we remember before the Muslims came to Medina, the Banu Qaynuqa used to be allied with the Arab tribe of Banu Khazraj. And they had two representatives in the Khazraj – Abdullah ibn Ubay ibn Salool – the leader of the hypocrites – and Ubadah ibn As-Saamit (RA) – a sahabi of the prophet. And so when they became prisoners they reached out to these two people for help.
Ubadah ibn As-Saamit immediately went to the prophet and told him, ‘O Rasulallah, I want to tell you I am no longer their representative. I can no longer support them, and my protector is Allah and his messenger. And I have cut off my ties to the Banu Qaynuqa.’ And so Ubadah took the side of the Muslims and the prophet.
However Abdullah ibn Ubay, who we know would become the leader of the hypocrites and the greatest enemy of the prophet inside of Medina, had an entirely different reaction. He went straight to the camp where the Banu Qaynuqa were being held prisoner and demanded the Muslims there to release them. Of course, the Muslims were not going to disobey the prophet and so didn’t do anything, so Abdullah demanded, ‘Do it or I will do it!’
So the sahabi in charge, Mundhir ibn Qudamah (RA) warned him, ‘If you dare do it then I will kill you. You are not going to overcome the command of the prophet.’
So Abdullah marched to wherever the prophet was camped, and called out, ‘O Muhammad-’ he rarely called the prophet Rasulallah, and Allah has told us not to call the prophet like we call one another so this was an act of disrespect, ‘-be generous with my allies!’ The prophet was silent.
‘O Muhammad! Be generous with my allies!’ Still the prophet remained silent, and he began to turn away.
And now, unbelievably, Abdullah went to him and shoved his hand under the armour of the prophet, and he took hold of the prophet and demanded once again, ‘O Muhammad! Be generous with my allies!’
The prophet began to get distressed. ‘Let go of me. Don’t hold onto me like this.’ And his anger began to show on his face.
And yet shockingly Abdullah held on tighter, and said back, ‘No I’m not going to let go.’ At this point the disrespect and arrogance was such that you would expect one of the sahaba such as Umar (RA) to step in, yet maybe they were not there or maybe they were so shocked that such a senior figure would march up to the prophet and do this. And we should also note that at this point Abdullah was not so clearly the leader of the hypocrites as he would later become, and at this early stage of his conversion there was still hope for him.
At this the prophet said again, ‘Woe to you! Let go of me!’
But Abdullah ibn Ubay’s impertinence was startling, ‘By Allah, I will not let go of you until you promise that you are going to treat my allies in a generous manner. These 700 men, the protected me from everything (literally from the white and the black) and now you think you will get rid of them in one day? For by Allah, I am scared of the bad luck.’ Besides his blatant disrespect, he clearly showed no faith in Allah and was more scared of the jahili concept of bad luck.
At this point, after he had been holding on for so long the prophet conceded, ‘They are for you.’ And by this he meant he would not kill them. Now note, he had not actually said that he was going to kill them anyway, and so the question arises did Abdullah ibn Ubay’s demands actually change the mind of the prophet or did he intend to do what he did to the Banu Qaynuqa anyway? We don’t know for certain, but it is certainly a question to keep in mind.
In the end, the final decision was that the Banu Qaynuqa were to be given three days to pack up and then they had to leave, and anything they left behind after those three days would be taken by the Muslims. They begged for more time than this but they were not given it; Abdullah ibn Ubay even tried to convince the prophet further to allow them to remain, but he did not give him that; they went to Ubadah ibn As-Saamit to try to get him to sympathise with them, but he told them that he would not even have given them this amount of time. And in fact Ubadah was the one put in charge of making sure that they had all left on the third day. And when they left they left behind a lot of wealth, as they could not take many of their belongings and this money went to the Muslims.
Clearly for those who want to find fault they can interpret this story in such a way, claiming that the prophet was anti-sematic and jealous of their wealth. But if we look at things as they are, the Banu Qaynuqa clearly were the ones in the wrong and were a significant threat to the Muslim state. And so the prophet banished them not because of who they were, but because of what they did and the hatred that they harboured against the Muslims. And when this incident occurred Allah revealed Surah Ma’idah, ayat 51 – 56, telling the Muslims not to take Christians and Jews as protectors. And these ayat are also used against Islam, as the word for ‘protectors’ is often mistranslated as ‘friends’, but with context they are clear in that they warn us that when taking sides, always choose the side of Allah and His messenger over any other ummah.
Dr.Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 043