By the fifth year of the Hijar, the bitter hostility of Quraish towards Islam and the Muslims had assumed dangerous proportions. Their poisonous propaganda against Islam had set many Arab tribes of Hedjaz against the Muslims, so much so that even some of those who had hitherto maintained good relations with the Muslims, adopted a hostile attitude towards them. The lead was taken by Banu Mustalaq, a clan of the well-known Banu Khuzaa. Their chief, Harith bin Abi Dharar, visited several neighbouring tribes and induced them to join him in his hostile enterprise against the Muslims. When the Holy Prophet received intimation of this situation, he dispatched Bareedah bin Haseeb to Banu Mustalaq to gather intelligence and to report back quickly. He returned soon and informed the Holy Prophet that Banu Mustalaq was indeed making large-scale preparations for the invasion of Medina. Thereupon the Holy Prophet announced his intention of leading a pre-emptive expedition against Banu Mustalaq and a large number of his Companions became ready to march with him, and so also a much larger number of the disaffected than had accompanied him on any previous occasion. This force had only thirty horses all told, and a larger number of camels, so that the members of the force had to take turns in riding. During the march a spy of Banu Mustalaq was captured and, on proof of his espionage, was executed. When Banu Mustalaq, who had designed a surprise attack against Medina, received intimation of the approach of the Muslim force, and learnt that their spy had been executed, they were perplexed and some of the tribes who had associated themselves with their project abandoned them and went home. The leaders of Banu Mustalaq, however, rallied their people and decided to offer battle to the Muslims. When the Holy Prophet arrived at Moraisi, near the coast and not far from the settlement of Banu Mustalaq, he made camp and having drawn up his force in battle array and having distributed the banners, he directed Umar to go forward towards Banu Mustalaq and to announce that if even at this stage they would abandon their hostility towards Islam, and would acknowledge the authority of the Holy Prophet, they would be left in peace and the Muslims would march back to Medina. The offer was arrogantly rejected and a confrontation became inevitable. Banu Mustalaq were the first to start shooting their arrows. At this the Holy Prophet commanded his followers to reply in like kind. Archery proceeded for some time and then the Holy Prophet directed a sudden attack, which swept the opposing host off their feet, but the Muslims encircled them so effectively that the tribe was surrounded and was compelled to lay down its arms. The battle ended with the loss of ten of Banu Mustalaq and one Muslim.
After the battle, the Holy Prophet remained in camp at Moraisi for a few days, towards the end of which an untoward incident threatened to assume dangerous proportions, but was rendered innocuous by the wise handling of the Holy Prophet. It so happened that a servant of Umar, of the name of Jahjah, went to the spring of Moraisi to fetch water. At the same time Sinan, one of the confederates of Ansar, also arrived at the spring for the same purpose. An altercation ensued between these two ignorant persons in the course of which Jahjah inflicted an injury upon Sinan, who started shouting for Ansar to come to his help. Jahjah, on his side, began to shout for Emigrants to come to his help, in consequence of which several Ansar and Emigrants were attracted to the spot so that a confrontation threatened, and might have broken out had not a number of responsible persons on both sides arrived in time who reprimanded both sides and averted the threatened conflict. When the Holy Prophet was apprised of the incident he expressed his disapproval and observed that the incident had been a manifestation of the unruly spirit of pre-Islamic days. The incident was thus closed, and no more would have been thought of it, had not Abdullah bin Ubayy, the leader of the disaffected, unfortunately sought to revive it.
Abdullah bin Ubayy harangued his followers and concluded with, This ye have brought upon yourselves, by inviting these strangers to come amongst us. Now wait till we return to Medina; then the most honoured one among us shall surely expel the one meanest among us. Zaid bin Arqam, a sincere young man, mentioned this utterance of Abdullah to his uncle, who reported it to the Holy Prophet. Umar, who was then in the company of the Holy Prophet, was outraged, and sought the Holy Prophets leave to strike down the leader of the disaffected. But the Holy Prophet counselled forbearance, as he did not wish it said that he was keen on killing his own followers. He sent for Abdullah bin Ubayy and some of his associates and inquired from them what had happened. They swore that none of them had said anything like that which was attributed to them. Some Ansar urged that Zaid bin Arqam might have been mistaken. The Holy Prophet dismissed the whole affair, but Zaids report was later confirmed by revelation. The Holy Prophet sent for Abdullah bin Ubayy and his associates and told them that Zaids report had been confirmed, and then directed Umar to announce the immediate departure of the force for Medina. It was high noon and the heat was intense, and though the Holy Prophet generally avoided marching at that time of day, he decided that in the circumstances it was best to start the march immediately. Everyone became ready to set forth.
Usyad bin Hudhair, chief of Aus, was curious to discover the reason for this unusual direction of the Holy Prophet. He went to him and submitted, Messenger of Allah, you do not normally march at this time of day. What has caused you to start the march at this time? To which the Holy Prophet replied, Usyad, have you not heard that Abdullah bin Ubayy says that, arriving in Medina, the most honoured one among us shall expel the meanest one among us? Usyad submitted, Messenger of Allah, you can certainly expel Abdullah from Medina, for undoubtedly you are the most honoured among us, and he is the meanest one. But, Messenger of Allah, you are aware that before your arrival in Medina, Abdullah was highly esteemed among his people and they were planning to make him their king. Your arrival frustrated that project and he has since been full of envy towards you. You need pay no attention to his nonsense, and may extend him your forbearance. Shortly after, Abdullah, son of Abdullah bin Ubayy, who was a sincere Muslim, came to the Holy Prophet much agitated, and submitted, Messenger of Allah, I have heard that you intend to order the execution of my father on account of his arrogance and mischief. If that is your decision, I would submit that you should appoint me as my fathers executioner and I would immediately carry out your direction; but I would urge that you should not appoint anyone else to carry out your direction, lest, out of my weakness, I should thereafter bear a grudge against that person, and thus incur the displeasure of God. The Holy Prophet replied to him, Have no fear. So long as your father remains with us, we shall make our companionship pleasant unto him. But the son was so incensed against his father that when the Muslim force approached Medina the son blocked the fathers way and swore that he would not let him proceed any further unless he confessed that the Holy Prophet was the most honoured, and he, Abdullah bin Ubayy, the meanest of the people of Medina. The father was thus compelled to confess as his son required and it was only then that the son left him free to proceed.
The march started at noon and continued during the rest of the day and throughout the night and during the morning hours of the next day. When camp was made, everyone was so dead tired that they all lay down immediately and slept for several hours. Thus, through the wisdom of the Holy Prophet, the attention of the Muslims was diverted from the unpleasant incident of the previous day and they were safeguarded against the mischief that the disaffected had contrived. Yet, no frustration served to discourage the disaffected. Indeed, every frustration instigated them to embark upon greater mischief and more serious disruptive designs. Thus, towards the end of this march another incident was sought to be ballooned out of proportion so as to become a source of serious trial for the Muslims. It became known as the Calumny, in which Aisha, the wife of the Holy Prophet, daughter of Abu Bakr, was involved. The true version of the affair may be presented in Aishas own words as follows.
It was the practice of the Holy Prophet that when he was about to set out on a journey he cast a lot to determine which of his wives should accompany him. On one such occasion, the lot put up my name and he took me with him. By that time, the discipline of the veil had been established. In the course of the journey, I would be seated inside the litter, which was lifted on to the back of the camel, and was removed and placed upon the ground when a halt was made. During this journey, when we were nearing Medina, the Holy Prophet directed that the march should start at night. On hearing the direction, I withdrew a certain distance in preparation for the march and when I returned, I missed my bracelet. I went back in search of it and was delayed a short while. In the meantime, those who had been appointed to lift my litter on to the back of the camel arrived and, assuming that I was inside the litter, lifted it on to the back of the camel and the march began. I was very slim at the time and my weight was very light, so that no one suspected that I might not be inside the litter. When I returned after recovering my bracelet, I found that the march had gone forward and no one had been left behind. I was worried, but considered that I should remain on the spot, so that when my absence was discovered, someone might be sent back to fetch me. So I sat down and was soon overcome by sleep. It so happened that Safwan bin Muattal, whose duty was to follow in the wake of the Muslim force so as to bring up the rear and pick up anything that might have been forgotten and left behind, arrived towards the morning at the spot where I was lying asleep. As he had seen me before the veil had been imposed, he recognized me, and in great surprise ejaculated, To Allah we belong, and to Him shall we return. His voice woke me up, and perceiving him, I immediately covered my face with my veil. He said nothing to me, but brought up his camel and made it sit down next to me and put one of his feet on each folded knee of the camel and I climbed on to its back. Safwan led the camel by its halter and we started in the direction of Medina till we arrived at the place where the Muslim force had made camp.
Thereafter we arrived in Medina with the Holy Prophet, and it so happened that immediately after my return to Medina I fell ill and my illness lasted a month. During this period the calumny against me was noised about widely, but I had no notion of it. I did, however, notice that during the period of my illness the Holy Prophet did not extend to me the kindness and affection, which I had been accustomed to receive from him, and this troubled me greatly. When he visited me, he greeted me in the usual manner and merely inquired, How are you feeling now? and then turned away. I was grieved at this, and my prolonged illness wore me out and rendered me very weak. One day I gathered from Um Mistah, who was distantly related to us, by chance, something about what was being said concerning me. I also learnt that her son, Mistah, was also one of those who slandered me. I was much distressed, and, in the stress of my grief, I forgot my illness. When the Holy Prophet came as usual and inquired, How are you feeling now? I sought his permission to retire for some days to my parents house. He gave me permission, and I went home to them. My purpose in going home was to find out what was being said about me. I spoke to my mother and she sought to comfort me, saying, Daughter, assuage thy grief, it often happens that when a man is married to more women than one, and he is fonder of one of them than of the others, scandal is multiplied about her. I then understood that scandal was being spread about me and I began to weep and spent the whole night in that condition.
About that time, the Holy Prophet sought counsel with Ali bin Abi Talib and Usama bin Zaid. Usama said that he had never known anything but good about me. All was more cautious and said that the Holy Prophet might inquire from my maid, whereupon he sent for my maid Barairah and inquired from her whether she had noticed anything suspicious about me. She affirmed that she had never seen anything about me, which might be open to objection, except that on account of my young age, I was sometimes careless about my domestic chores. The Holy Prophet had also inquired about me from his wife, Zainab bint Jahsh, who too affirmed that she esteemed me a good and pious woman.
One day the Holy Prophet addressed the Muslims in the Mosque and, stating that some of them had disquieted him greatly about the members of his family, inquired whether there was anyone among them who could put an end to this scandal-mongering. He affirmed that he knew nothing at all about me, except that which was good, and that he also considered that the person who was being mentioned in this connection was a good man, who had never visited his house in his absence. Upon this, Sad bin Muaz, chief of Aus, stood up and submitted, Messenger of Allah, I shall put an end to this scandal. If the person who is responsible for noising it about belongs to my tribe, I deem him guilty of a capital offence and I shall immediately strike him down; if he is one of our brethren, Khazraj, I am prepared to act as you might direct. Upon this, Sad bin Ubada, chief of Khazraj, protested against what Sad bin Muaz had said about Khazraj and rebuked him. Usyad bin Hudhair, cousin of Sad bin Muaz, supported his cousin and rebuked the Khazraj chief. But the Holy Prophet intervened and appeased the quarrel.
About that time, when the Holy Prophet came to visit me, he sat down next to me and after reciting the Shahadah, said to me, Aisha, you have heard what some people are saying about you. If you are innocent, I am hoping that God will proclaim your innocence; but if you are guilty of some default, you should seek forgiveness of God and turn to Him, for He accepts the repentance of a servant of His, who turns sincerely to Him, and has mercy on him. On hearing this from the Holy Prophet, my tears stopped and I asked my parents to reply on my behalf, but they said they did not know what they should say. I was a young girl and did not know the Holy Quran well, but, being disappointed with my parents, I said to the Holy Prophet, I realize that you have been affected by what people have been saying, so that if I were to protest my innocence, you might doubt me, and if, despite my innocence, I were to confess myself guilty, you might believe me. I find myself in the situation of Josephs father and say like him, It behooves me to be steadfast. It is Allah alone Whose help can avail against that which you assert, and Him I shall beseech for help (12:19). Saying this I turned over in my bed in the full certainty that as I was guiltless, God would soon proclaim my innocence. What I had in mind was that God would assure the Holy Prophet of my innocence through some dream or vision. I had no notion that revelation might be vouchsafed to the Holy Prophet in my behalf. But only a few moments later, while the Holy Prophet was still in our house, I observed perspiration over his face, from which I understood that he was receiving revelation. After a short while he smiled, and, turning to me, said, Aisha, rejoice, for God has affirmed your innocence. My mother immediately urged me to thank the Holy Prophet, but my heart being caught in an upsurge of gratitude to God, I replied, Why should I express my gratitude to him, I am deeply grateful to God Who has affirmed my innocence. The Holy Prophet had been vouchsafed the revelation, which is set out in the Holy Quran in verses 12 to 21 of Sura Noor.
When my innocence was established, my father, who used to support Mistah bin Athathah because of his poverty and his kinship, swore that as Mistah had been a party to the slander against me, he would not in future render him any help. But soon thereafter, the Holy Prophet received the revelation that Abu Bakrs resolve was not pleasing to God, upon which he resumed his support of Mistah and determined never to stop it.
This scandal was a grave mischief which had been perpetrated by the disaffected, the principal one at the back of which was Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Salul. His purpose was not merely to attack the honour of a most pious and righteous woman, but to bring the Holy Prophet into contempt and to shake Muslim society to its foundations. The mean and wicked propaganda was carried on in such a manner that some sincere but simple Muslims were also caught in its wide net, among whom the names of the poet, Hassan bin Thabet, Hamnah bint Jahsh, sister of the Holy Prophets wife, Zainab bint Jahsh, and Mistah bin Athathah, have been particularly mentioned. However, it is a great testimony to the high-mindedness of Aisha that she forgave all those who had been concerned in this affair and nursed no grievance against them. Whenever Hassan bin Thabet called on her thereafter, she received him graciously. It is related that, on one occasion, when he asked permission to present himself, a Muslim of the name of Masrooq, who was present, expressed his surprise to Aisha that she was prepared to let him come in. Aisha said to him, He is to be pitied; the poor man can no longer see, and I can also not forget that he used to compose verses in support of the Holy Prophet against his detractors. She gave permission, and Hassan came in and sat down and recited some verses in praise of Aisha in which he mentioned that she was not given to speak ill of innocent women. On this, Aisha was amused and retorted, But what about you?
Sir William Muirs summing up of the whole affair is: Little remark is needed regarding the character of Aisha .... her life both before and after must lead us to believe her innocent of the charge (Life of Muhammad, p. 304).
We now approach the maximum effort of Quraish and their confederates to wipe out Islam and destroy the Muslims. So far, Quraish and the principal tribes of Nejd, Ghatafan and Suleim, who were bitterly hostile towards the Muslims, had not yet combined their forces to achieve their purpose. A third element was now injected into the situation, namely, the leaders of Banu Nadhir, who had been expelled from Medina and had been welcomed at Khaibar. The most active of them were Salam bin Abi Huqaiq, Huyay bin Akhtab and Kananah bin Rabi. They issued forth from Khaibar and first instigated Quraish to prepare themselves for a strong combined effort against the Muslims, and then went from tribe to tribe in Hedjaz and Nejd to procure their adherence to their design. They had little difficulty in winning over Ghatafan to the support of their cause, and their branches, Fararah, Murrah and Ashja, also agreed to go forth with them. Quraish and Ghatafan then procured the support of Banu Suleim and Banu Asad. The Jews succeeded in persuading their confederates, Banu Sad, to assist in their design. Quraish also had the support of their neighbouring tribes who were under their influence. Thus, with full preparation, this large host became ready to march against Medina like a fierce flood, with the firm determination to wipe out Islam altogether before returning from Medina. Their strength has been variously estimated at 10,000 to 20,000 warriors. Even if the lower figure is taken as correct, their number was larger than had ever faced an enemy at any time previously in the tribal wars of Arabia.
The overall command was vested in Abu Sufyan, who was also the commander of Quraish. Ghatafan were commanded by Ujainah bin Hathan Fazari, under whom each of the tribes had its own commander. Banu Suleim were commanded by Sufyan bin Abd Shams, and Banu Asad, by their chief Tulaihah bin Khuweilid. This great army was well equipped, well armed and well provisioned. It started its march towards Medina at the end of February or beginning of March 627.
It was not possible to keep the movements of such a large host secret, and also, the Holy Prophets intelligence system was well organized, so that, as soon as this army began to move from Mecca, the Holy Prophet received intimation of it, and he summoned his Companions for consultation. Salman Farisi, who was a sincere Iranian Muslim and was knowledgeable in Iranian tactics and strategy, suggested that in the situation with which the Muslims were faced, the best way of securing themselves would be by digging a long and wide trench around that part of Medina which was unprotected and was vulnerable. This was a new idea altogether which had not been known among the Arabs, but the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, on learning that it was successfully followed in warfare among non-Arabs, decided to adopt it and commanded that a wide trench should be dug for the safeguarding of Medina along the side that was open and vulnerable. Under his own supervision, he had the lines of the trench marked out and allotted the digging of each length of fifteen feet to parties of ten Muslims. A friendly difference arose whether Salman himself, who was the originator of the idea of digging the trench, and, despite his age, was a strong and diligent man, should be allotted as an outsider to Emigrants, or, having arrived in Medina before the Hijra, should be counted among Ansar, as both were eager to obtain his co-operation. The matter was submitted to the Holy Prophet, and, after listening to both sides, he observed with a smile, Salman is neither Emigrant nor of Ansar; he is a member of my family and is one of us. Thenceforward, Salman was always known as a member of the Holy Prophets family.
Each party of ten divided their task among themselves and started the work of preparing the trench in right earnest. But the digging was not easy and the weather, being cold, added to the difficulties. Almost all the able-bodied Muslims had been drafted for the digging of the trench, and all other occupations were laid aside, so that those who were dependent upon their daily labour for their livelihood suffered great privation through hunger and lack of nourishment. The Holy Prophet stimulated the enthusiasm of the Muslims by himself carrying basket-loads of excavated earth, and joining in their songs, as at the building of the mosque:
O Lord, there is no happiness but that of the hereafter.
O Lord, have mercy on Ansar and Emigrants.
He also frequently repeated the following verses, covered as he was, like the rest, with earth and dust:
O Lord, without Thee, we had not been guided!
We would neither have given alms, nor yet have prayed!
Send down upon us tranquillity, and in battle make our steps firm!
For they have risen up against us, and sought to pervert us, but we refused!
Yea, we refused.
As he repeated the last two words, he raised his voice high and loud. With all the Muslims, he suffered the pangs of hunger as severely as they.
On one occasion, a digging party encountered a piece of rock embedded in the earth, which could no how be broken or moved by the famished diggers. In the end, they approached the Holy Prophet and mentioned their difficulty to him. He was in no better case than themselves, yet he proceeded to the spot and, lifting a pick-axe, struck the piece of rock pronouncing the name of Allah. The iron striking on stone raised a spark, whereupon the Holy Prophet called out God is Great in a loud voice, and observed, I have been bestowed the keys of the kingdom of Syria and have beheld the red-stone palaces of that country. His stroke had crushed a portion of the piece of rock. He wielded the pick-axe a second time and struck the rock, again pronouncing the name of Allah, and again a spark was struck from the stone, on which he called out God is Great and observed, Now I have been bestowed the keys of Iran, and have beheld the white palaces of Madaen. This time a larger portion of the rock was crushed. The same happened a third time, and when the spark was struck, the Holy Prophet called out God is Great and observed, This time I have been bestowed the keys of Yemen, and I have beheld the doors of Sana. The rock was finally crushed and the broken pieces were removed out of the way. The Holy Prophets three visions that he was vouchsafed were prophetic as presaging the future victories of the Muslims and their prosperity, whereby the drooping spirits of the Muslims were uplifted. The disaffected, when they heard an account of these visions, jeered at them and scorned them as delusions resulting from the extreme of hardship from which the Muslims were suffering. Yet, in due time, all these prophetic visions were completely fulfilled in the time of the Holy Prophets successors.
About the same time, a devout Muslim, Jabir bin Abdullah, observing the signs of starvation and weakness on the countenance of the Holy Prophet, sought his permission to go home for a short while, and on arriving home, told his wife that the Holy Prophet was suffering the extreme of hunger, and inquired whether she had any food in the house. She said she had some barley flour and they had one goat. Jabir slaughtered the goat and kneaded the flour into dough and said to his wife, Now you prepare the food and I shall go and request the Holy Prophet to come and eat. His wife warned him, Take care that you do not embarrass me by inviting a large number of people along with the Holy Prophet. Jabir went and said to the Holy Prophet, almost in a whisper, Messenger of Allah, we have some meat and barley flour, and I have asked my wife to prepare a meal. I would request you to come with a few Companions and eat at our house. The Holy Prophet inquired how much food there was, and Jabir told him. The Holy Prophet said, It is plenty, and then looking around him and raising his voice, called out, O ye company of Ansar and Emigrants, come along. Jabir has invited us to a meal. Let us go and eat. Upon this a very large number, possibly a thousand or more, became ready to accompany him. He directed Jabir to hurry home and tell his wife that she should not take the cooking pot off the fire, nor to start baking bread before he arrived. Jabir went home quickly and informed his wife accordingly. She was greatly perplexed as the food was sufficient only for a few, and she was told that a huge throng was on the way. As soon as the Holy Prophet arrived, he said a Prayer over the cooking pot and the dough and said, Now start baking the bread. When some of the bread was ready he started distributing the food, and people ate turn by turn in parties, and all ate their fill while the pot was still boiling and the dough had not all been used up.
In about a weeks time through the continuous and diligent labour of the entire body of Muslims, the trench was completed, though everybody was exhausted. By that time, the combined forces of the Jews and the pagans in all their panoply were approaching Medina. Abu Sufyan at the head of his host first advanced towards Uhud, and finding it deserted, veered round towards that side of Medina from which an attack could be delivered effectively; but on approaching Medina, they were brought to a stand by the trench. Closely guarded all along by pickets on the city side, it formed a barrier, which they could not pass. They were astonished and disconcerted at the new tactics of the Holy Prophet. Unable to come to close quarters, they made camp on the plain beyond, and contented themselves for some time with a distant discharge of archery.
Meanwhile Abu Sufyan succeeded in detaching Banu Quraidha, now the only remaining principal Jewish tribe in Medina, from their allegiance to the Holy Prophet. Huyay, the exiled leader of Banu Nadhir, now an ally of Quraish, sent by Abu Sufyan to the fortress of Banu Quraidha, was at first refused admittance. But persevering in his solicitations, and representing the overwhelming number of the confederate army as a surging sea, he at last persuaded Kaab, chief of Banu Quraidha, to relent. It was agreed that Banu Quraidha would assist Quraish, and that Huyay should retire into their fortress in case the allies marched back without inflicting a fatal blow upon Medina. Rumours of this defection reaching the Holy Prophet, he sent the two Sads, chiefs of Aus and Khazraj, to ascertain the truth; and strictly charged them, if the result should prove unfavourable, to divulge it to none other but himself. They found Banu Quraidha in a sullen mood. Who is Muhammad, said they, and who is the Apostle of God, that we should obey him? There is no bond or compact betwixt us and him. After high words and threats, the messengers took their leave, and reported to the Holy Prophet that the temper of the Jews was worse even than he had feared. Sir William Muir has recorded (Life of Muhammad, p. 309):
On the whole, my impression is that Banu Quraidha entered into some kind of league with the Jewish exile Huyay, making common cause with him, and promising to take part in following up any success on the part of Quraish - a promise which they were in the best position to fulfil - their fortress being, though at some distance from the city, on its undefended side.
On his side, the Holy Prophet had marched out of Medina at the head of 3,000 Muslims and had made camp between the trench and the city, keeping the hillock Sila at his back. He divided his men into small pickets which he posted along the trench and on the undefended sides of Medina, instructing them that they should remain alert all the time, throughout the day and night. The situation was one of great peril. The city was invested by thousands of well armed enemies watching for an opportunity to engage the Muslims in a decisive action and destroy them utterly. Inside the city, the Muslim women and children would be an easy prey for Banu Quraidha, hundreds of whose armed young men posed as formidable a threat as any well armed and disciplined army. Some of the weak Muslims were much perturbed and could not imagine what might transpire. The disaffected, and those whose minds were diseased, openly exclaimed: Allah and His Messenger have merely deluded us. A section of them asked leave of the Holy Prophet: Our houses are exposed. Their houses were not exposed, they merely sought an excuse to defect (33:12-14).
But this time of peril also brought out the best on the part of the sincere believers. As the Holy Quran says: When the true believers saw the confederates, they said: Here is what Allah and His Messenger had promised us; Allah and His Messenger have been proved right.
The perilous situation only added to their faith and spirit of submission (33:23). But the delicacy of the situation and the grave threat that it posed were recognized by all and caused much perturbation. As the Holy Quran has put it (33:11-12):
Call to mind when the enemy came upon you from above you and from below you, and your eyes became distracted, and your hearts rose up to your throats, and some of you began to think unworthy thoughts about Allah. Then were the believers sorely tried, and were violently shaken.
In these circumstances, the Muslims did not know which way to turn. After the first two or three days, their continuous state of alertness exhausted them utterly. The enemy was aware of this and made repeated efforts to get across the trench at its weaker points; the defenders had to move continuously from one point to another wherever danger threatened, so that they could not concentrate their strength at any particular point. Besides, on account of the treachery of Banu Quraidha, it had become necessary to strengthen the pickets inside the city, so that women and children should not be exposed to any serious danger.
Sir William Muir has described part of this situation as follows (Life of Muhammad, pp. 310-11):
The confederate host resolved if possible to storm the trench, and, having discovered a narrow and ill-guarded part, a general attack was made upon it. Spurring their horses, a few of them, led by Ikrama, son of Abu Jahl, cleared the ditch, and galloped dauntingly before the Muslim line. No sooner was this perceived than Ali with a guard of picked men moved out against them. These, by a rapid manoeuvre, gained the rear of Ikrama, and occupying the narrow point that he had crossed cut off retreat. At this moment Amr bin Abdood, an aged chief in the train of Ikrama, challenged his adversaries to single combat. Ali forthwith accepted the challenge, and the two stood man to man in the open plain. Amr, dismounting, maimed his horse, in token of his resolve to conquer or to die. They closed, and for a short time were hidden in a cloud of dust. But it was not long before the loud Tekbir, Great is the Lord, from Alis lips, made known that he was the victor. The rest, taking advantage of the diversion, again spurred their horses across the trench and escaped, all excepting Naufal, who fell in the leap, was dispatched by Zubair. His body was left in the trench. Quraish offered ten thousand dirhams for its removal. The Holy Prophet let them have it free.
Nothing further was attempted that day. But great preparations were made during the night; and next morning, Muhammad found the whole allied force drawn up against him. It required unceasing vigilance to frustrate their manoeuvres. Now they would threaten a general assault; now breaking up in divisions they would attack various posts in rapid and distracting succession; and at last, watching for their opportunity, they would mass their troops together on the least protected point, and, under cover of galling archery, attempt to force the trench. Once and again a dash was made at the city by such leaders of renown as Khalid and Amr, and the tent of Muhammad himself was at one moment in peril; but the brave Muslim front, and showers of arrows, drove the assailants back. This continued throughout the day; and, as the army of Muhammad was just sufficient to guard the line, there could be no relief. Even at night, Khalids troops kept up the alarm, and rendered outposts at frequent intervals necessary. But the endeavours of the enemy were all without effect. The trench was never crossed in force; and during the whole affair, Muhammad lost only five men. The confederates had but three men killed. Sad bin Muaz, chief of Aus, was wounded severely by an arrow in the shoulder.
Amr bin Abdood was a famous swordsman, and on account of his courage and bravery, was accounted the equal of a hundred warriors. He had been present in the battle of Badr, the experience of which had rendered him bitter and vengeful against the Muslims. He had called loudly for single combat in a very arrogant tone and All, with the permission of the Holy Prophet, went forward in answer to his challenge. The Holy Prophet gave him his own sword and uttered a prayer for him.
Approaching Amr, Ali said to him, I have heard that you have determined that if any Quraish makes two requests to you, you would comply with at least one of them. Amr signified his confirmation, upon which Ali said, Then I ask you first that you embrace Islam and believing in the Holy Prophet earn divine favour. Amr said he would not do that. Ali then said, If you do not grant my first request, my second request is that you should get ready to fight me. In reply, Amr asked Ali to identify himself, and on his doing so, said, Nephew, you are young. I have no desire to shed your blood. Send someone from among your seniors to fight me. Ali countered, You do not desire to shed my blood, but I have no hesitation in shedding your blood. This retort infuriated Amr. He jumped from his horse and maimed it and, advancing like a fierce flame of fire towards Ali, struck him with his sword with such force that it cut through Alis shield and wounded his forehead. Ali attacked him with such effect on his shoulder that his sword cut through his body and felled him down and he breathed his last within a minute or two.
However, this temporary success brought no relief to the Muslims who were progressively becoming weaker as the siege progressed. Their faith and devotion were unshaken, but their bodies were exhausted. The Holy Prophet, who himself fared no better, was deeply affected by the sufferings of the Muslims and took counsel with Sad bin Muaz and Sad bin Ubadah, chiefs of Ansar, on how the situation could be relieved. He suggested to them that one way might be to detach Ghatafan from Quraish by offering them a portion of the revenue of Medina. They inquired whether his suggestion was under divine direction. The Holy Prophet told them that he was asking their advice on what they considered was most expedient, and that no divine direction was involved, upon which they submitted that their counsel was that as they had not yielded anything of the kind to an enemy before they became Muslims, they should offer nothing to the enemy on this occasion except the sword. The Holy Prophet was much reassured by their steadfastness and did not press his suggestion.
The situation continued unrelieved and the Holy Prophet and the Muslims continued firm and steadfast, but under severe sufferings. Another factor in the situation which added to the anxieties of the Holy Prophet and his followers was the question of the security of women and children, particularly on such occasions when the enemy pressed hard to force the trench and all the Muslims were needed to withstand their onslaught and to repel them, and the only persons left to safeguard the women and children were such as were not capable of offering resistance to able-bodied and armed parties. On one occasion, the Jews sent a spy to assess the situation and report back to them. It so happened that at that time the only person who had been left to watch over the women and children was the poet Hassan bin Thabet, who, on account of the weakness of his heart, was not capable of fighting. When the women saw the Jewish spy prowling about, Safiya bint Abdul Muttalib, aunt of the Holy Prophet, told Hassan to kill the fellow as he was a spy and was obviously bent upon mischief. But Hassan felt helpless and Safiya herself went forward with a tent pole and killed the man. It was then decided that he should be beheaded and his head should be thrown in the direction on which the Jews were gathered in strength so that they might imagine that the women were well guarded. This ruse was successful, and the Jews went back to their strongholds.
On one occasion some of the Muslims came to the Holy Prophet and requested that he should make special supplications for relief and also teach them some prayers that they might offer up. He told them not to lose heart and to pray that God may be pleased to cover up their weaknesses, and strengthen their hearts and remove their anxieties. He himself supplicated, Allah, Revealer of commandments, Swift in calling to account, put the confederates to flight. Allah put them to flight, help us and shake them. O Thou that hearest the cry of the distressed and responds to the call of the afflicted, do Thou remove our anxiety, and our grief and our distress, for Thou seest in what situation my Companions and I are caught.
By good fortune, about that time, Noeim bin Masood who belonged to Ashja, a branch of Ghatafan, arrived in Medina. He was convinced of the truth of Islam though he had not yet proclaimed himself a Muslim. Having appraised the situation, he adopted a plan that succeeded in creating a rift between the confederates and the Jews. He went first to Banu Quraidha and pointed out to them that the interests of the allied army were diverse from theirs; before they compromised themselves irretrievably by joining in the attack on Medina, they should demand hostages from Quraish, as a guarantee against being in the last deserted and left in the power of the Holy Prophet. This appealed to them and they agreed to act upon his advice. He then went to the allied chiefs and cautioned them against the Jews, telling them that Banu Quraidha intended asking them for hostages and that they should be careful lest their hostages might be handed over to the Muslims. When Quraish sent to demand of Banu Quraidha the fulfilment of their engagement to join in a general attack upon the Muslims on the following day, they pleaded their Sabbath as a pretext against fighting on the morrow, and their fear of being deserted as a ground for demanding hostages. The allies, regarding this as a confirmation of Noeims intelligence, were so fully persuaded of the treachery of Banu Quraidha that they began to fear an attack upon themselves from that quarter.
The confederate chiefs were already disheartened. After two days of vigorous fighting, they had not again attempted any general assault. The hopes entertained from another engagement, during which Banu Quraidha were to have fallen upon the city in the rear of the Muslims, were now changed into fear of hostilities from Banu Quraidha themselves. Forage was being obtained with the utmost difficulty; provisions were running short, and the camels and horses were dying daily in great numbers. Wearied and damped in spirit, the night set in upon them cold and tempestuous. Fierce winds and heavy rain beat mercilessly on the unprotected camp. The storm rose to a hurricane. Fires were extinguished, tents blown down, cooking vessels and other equipage overthrown. Cold and comfortless, Abu Sufyan suddenly resolved on an immediate march back. Hastily summoning the chiefs, he made known his decision. Break up the camp, he said, and march; as for myself, I am gone. With these words he leaped on his camel, so great was his impatience, while its forelegs were yet untied, and led the way back. Khalid with 200 horses brought up the rear, as a guard against pursuit. Quraish took the road by Uhud for Mecca and Banu Ghatafan retired to their desert haunts. Banu Quraidha thereupon made themselves secure in their strongholds and Huyay bin Akhtab, chief of Banu Nadhir, accompanied them. Thus before dawn the whole field was vacated and by a sudden and surprisingly unexpected turn in the fortunes of war the Muslims, who were apparently on the verge of being vanquished, became victorious.
During the night, when the allied camp was being vacated, the Holy Prophet called out, Is there anyone about? But it was so cold and the Muslims who were close to the Holy Prophet were so exhausted by hunger and were in such fear that no one responded to his call, though he repeated it three times. At last he called Hudhaifab bin Yaman by name and he came and stood before him shivering with the cold. The Holy Prophet stroked his head with his hand and prayed for him, and said to him, Have no fear and be sure that God willing, you will be involved in no trouble. Slip quietly into the enemy camp, create no stir and do not interfere with anyone, and come back and report to me. Hudhaifah has narrated: When I started, I felt that the cold had left me entirely and it seemed to me as if I was passing through a warm room, and I lost all my anxieties. The night was utterly dark and I slipped quietly and fearlessly into the enemy camp. I saw Abu Sufyan standing warming him at a fire. I suddenly put an arrow to my bow and was about to shoot at him when I recalled the Holy Prophets admonition that I was not to interfere with anyone. I was so close to Abu Sufyan that if I had shot my arrow at him, he could not have escaped. Abu Sufyan was urging his people to start on the march back. He mounted his camel while I was looking on and I returned to our camp. The Holy Prophet was then engaged in prayer; I waited till he had finished and made my report to him. He expressed his gratitude to God and said, This has not happened through any power or effort of ours; it is only the grace of God which has vanquished the allied forces. Thereafter, the news of the flight of the pagans spread throughout the Muslim camp. It was probably on this occasion that the Holy Prophet observed, They will not now advance upon us for battle; it is we who shall advance against them. Quraish were so disheartened after their flight that they did not dare to advance upon Medina ever after and the prediction of the Holy Prophet was fulfilled literally. When the allied forces had retired and it became clear that their march back was not a ruse, the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, directed the Muslims to break camp and marched them into the city.
The siege had lasted for three weeks, during which period the Muslims had suffered the extremes of distress and fear, which had been intensified by the treachery of Banu Quraidha. At the bottom of the whole trouble were the treacherous leaders of Banu Nadhir whom the Holy Prophet had mercifully permitted to withdraw from Medina.
It was through their incitement that all principal tribes of Hedjaz and central Arabia had joined together in their bitter enmity towards Islam to invade Medina and destroy the Muslims root and branch. It is certain that if on this occasion the allied forces could have contrived to enter Medina, not a single Muslim would have escaped alive, and the honour of no Muslim women would have been safe.
Badr, Uhud and the Confederate invasion were major efforts towards the wiping out of Islam and the ruin of Muslims. On each occasion, the disparity between the opposing hosts in respect of numbers, arms, provisions and means of transportation was striking, the odds being overwhelmingly in favour of Quraish and their allies. At Badr, 1,000 well-armed and equipped Quraish were opposed by just over 300 half-famished and ill-armed Muslims. For a time during the actual fighting, the disparity told in favour of Quraish, but finally the decisive stage was short and sharp. In single combat, Quraish had lost three of their foremost leaders, and in the general fight, the flower of Quraish chivalry and bravery was laid in the dust. Quraishs arrogance and pride were humbled, and their spine was broken, never to be repaired and revived.
At Uhud, 3,000 well armed, well mounted and well accoutred Quraish warriors were opposed by 700 Muslims. Again, the advantage was overwhelmingly in favour of Quraish, and though they received a severe check at the start, disobedience of the Holy Prophets strict instructions by the band of archers posted to guard the rear of the Muslims, ended in near disaster for the Muslims. If Quraish had pressed their advantage and invaded Medina, they might have achieved their purpose of destroying the Muslims.
The Confederate forces of Quraish and their allies numbered not less than 10,000. Only 3,000 Muslims were available for picketing the trench and the vulnerable parts of the city. During the greater part of the siege, the Muslims could be described as a force only in name. They were half-famished throughout and towards the end were absolutely spent and helpless. In the final stage they were caught and held between the upper and nether mill-stones of the allies and Banu Quraidha. They could not have survived this juxtaposition for longer than two or three days at the outside. Again, the denouement was short and sharp. The fury of the forces of nature swept the allies away from the field, and they marched back in disorder and confusion, with their tails between their legs.
That disposed of Quraish and their allies. Banu Quraidha took to their strongholds, proud and arrogant in the certainty that their position was so strong and impregnable that the Muslims, in the condition in which they had been left by the prolonged siege, could do them no harm. The siege had been lifted, but the Muslims were by no means yet secure. The sequel to the siege had still to be worked out.
Even so does a fair and unbiased appraisal of the events of the five years beginning with the departure of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, in the company of Abu Bakr, from Mecca, and ending with the ignominious flight of the Confederate armies, disclose that all that happened was only a series of chances which happened to turn in favour of the Muslims? Such a conclusion would be a gross misreading of history and would outrage reason and good sense. In the whole of human history, there has been no other period so brief as five years, so full of travail, trial and suffering, ending in the triumph of the weak over the strong, the humble over the arrogant, the God-fearing over the godless. In effect, it was the single personality of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, burdened all the time with heavy responsibilities, and confronted continuously with situations brimful of problems, difficulties and perplexities, both internal and external, who, through the abounding grace and mercy of God, ministered to the welfare, not only of the Muslims alone but of the whole of the divergent communities of Medina, and safeguarded their security and laid firmly the foundations of a great world religion, strengthening at every step the faith of the Muslims, fostering their spirit of sacrifice, and instructing them in high spiritual and moral values and setting them a shining example in his own life in all the crises that crowded in upon him continuously.