WITH THE ARRIVAL OF THE PROPHET IN MEDINA (in the year 622 of the Christian era), Islam began to spread rapidly among the two Arab tribes of the town. But, as often happens in a mass movement, not all who declared their adherence to the faith were inspired by sincerity and high ideals.
Some time before the Emigration, as it has since been called, the Aus and Khazraj, wearied by their long, drawn‑out mutual hostility, which had often erupted into fighting and had exacted a heavy toll of life, had decided to put an end to this state of affairs and to set up a form of administration in Medina which should have the support of both tribes and should also be acceptable to the three Jewish tribes. For this purpose it had been agreed that Abdullah bin Ubayy ibn Salul, chief of the Khazraj, should be elected king of Medina. This plan had not yet been put into effect when the Prophet was invited to come to Medina. When he arrived it was generally felt that he was the most appropriate person to take on the responsibility of administering the affairs of Medina. Under his direction a covenant was drawn up which was accepted by both Arabs and Jews. A common citizenship of Medina was established and conditions were prescribed for the regulation of the affairs of the town as well as for organizing its internal order and external security.
The principal conditions were that the internal affairs of each section would be regulated according to its own laws and customs, but that if the security of Medina were threatened from outside all sections would co‑operate with each other in its defense. No section would enter into any separate treaty relations with any outside tribe, nor would any section be compelled to join in any fighting which should take place outside Medina. The final determination of disputes would be referred to the Prophet, and his decision would be accepted and carried out. This became, as it were, the Charter of Medina. Thus was the Republic of Medina set up.
Abdullah bin Ubayy was deeply chagrined at the loss of a crown, which, before the arrival of the Prophet, he had thought was assured for him. He became the leader of the disaffected party in Medina, This party was a source of constant worry and insecurity for the Prophet and the Muslims. It is referred to in the Quran, at various places, as “the hypocrites.” (see chapter 63)
The Jews, on their part, were not disposed to let the Prophet remain in peace at Medina. They were, it is true, eagerly awaiting the advent of a Prophet foretold in their Scriptures (Deut. 18: 18), but they felt that to accept an Arab as the fulfillment of that prophecy would raise the prestige of the Arabs above that of the Jews in the religious and spiritual spheres and this, as Jehovah’s chosen people, they were not prepared to tolerate. The Quran states that the Beni Israel, i.e., the descendants of Jacob, were the recipients of God’s favors (2:48, 123), but it also recites some of the causes that had led to their fall from grace, e.g., their breaking of their covenant with God, their denial of the Signs of God, their seeking to kill the prophets who were sent to them, their disbelief in Jesus, their uttering against Mary a grievous calumny, their claim that they had put Jesus to death on the cross, their taking interest though they had been forbidden it, their devouring people’s wealth wrongfully, their transgression in respect of the observance of the Sabbath, etc. It also holds out a promise of redemption: “But those among them who are firmly grounded in knowledge . . . believe in what has been sent down to thee and what was sent down before thee, and those who observe Prayer and those who pay the Zakat and those who believe in God and the Last Day: Upon those will We surely bestow a great reward (4:156-163).
While not daring to oppose the Prophet openly, they let no opportunity pass of conspiring and intriguing against him and the Muslims both inside Medina and outside it.
The Meccan Muslims had found a place of refuge in Medina, and they could now openly perform their daily worship of God, together with their brethren of Medina, without hindrance. They appreciated this as a great boon, but in Medina also the Muslims were exposed to many hazards and had to keep constantly on the alert. The Prophet himself, who was responsible for the security not only of the Muslims but of the whole of Medina, and had many more cares added to the discharge of his mission as a Prophet, found little time for sleep or rest. When this became known, the Muslims arranged to mount guard by turns outside his quarters at night so that he could have a few hours of sleep.
Besides the internal problems of Medina and the dangers and hazards confronting the Muslims, and most of all the Prophet himself, a formidable threat was soon added from Mecca.
When the Meccans learned that the Prophet had arrived safely at Medina and had been joyfully received there by the Muslims and that Islam was making progress among the two Arab tribes there, they resolved to adopt coercive measures to secure his expulsion from Medina. They addressed a letter to Abdullah bin Ubayy, warning him and the people of Medina that if they did not expel the Prophet from the city‑or, failing that, did not take up arms against him and the Muslims, jointly with the Meccans the Meccans would come with a mighty force and put to the sword all the male adults and enslave all the women.
On receipt of this letter, Abdullah held a secret council of his supporters and proposed that, in view of the Meccan ultimatum, the only course open to them was to force the Prophet and his followers to leave Medina. When news of this reached the Prophet, he went to sec Abdullah and tried to dissuade him from embarking on such a course, pointing out that any such adventure could lead only to his own ruin. For the time being Abdullah forbore, but he never abandoned the hope that an opportunity might arise when he could take measures to rid Medina of the Prophet and the Muslims, and thus secure his own recognition as the chief and ruler of Medina.
Saad bin Muaz, chief of the Aus and a brave and sincere Muslim, visited Mecca about this time to perform the customary circuit of the Ka’aba. He was noticed by Abu Jahl, a Meccan chief and a sworn enemy of the Prophet, who accosted him, asking how he dared come to Mecca to perform the circuit when it was well known that he had once sheltered the Prophet in Medina. Did he not realize that by giving shelter to Muhammad, the people of Medina had earned the enmity of the Meccans and could no longer be permitted to perform the rites and ceremonies connected with the Ka’aba? Saad retorted that if this were the attitude of the Meccans, their caravans plying between Mecca and Syria would no longer enjoy the right of free passage between Medina and the coast.
And so the stage was set for open warfare between the Meccans and the Muslims in Medina.
Meanwhile the Prophet was organizing the Muslims as a religious community who should put into effect all the commandments and values inculcated by Islam. His undertaking involved tremendous responsibility. To weld into a homogeneous whole a community made up of Meccan refugees and Medina Arabs drawn from tribes which had till lately been sworn enemies, and to instruct them in ways which would make their individual and communal lives wholly beneficent for themselves as well as for those who came in contact with them demanded unremitting attention and every moment of available time. It was a monumental task even for a man with the capacity of the Prophet, strengthened and reinforced by Divine revelation. The administration of the affairs of Medina and its people was an onerous addition to this main purpose. The threat of invasion from Mecca greatly multiplied the Prophet’s responsibilities and preoccupations, and taxed his capacities to the utmost. Yet he set about doing whatever was needful in a serene and steadfast spirit, putting his complete trust in God and exhorting the Muslims in their turn to be patient and steadfast, and constantly to foster their communion with God, so as to make it a rich and living experience.
All due precautions were taken. For, though God’s promise of succor for, and ultimate triumph of, Islam was wholly true and completely to be depended upon, God required that every effort be put forth in support of the cause. Therein lies the secret of the strength of Islam as a faith. The fullest confidence in, and reliance upon, God’s grace and help and the putting forth of the utmost effort that man is capable of‑both these in combination, as taught by God himself, help achieve the goal (53:39‑40). All success in every beneficent endeavor comes from God, but it follows upon sincere and steadfast effort combined with perfect trust and humble supplication to God.
It was necessary to know what plans and preparations were afoot in Mecca. The Prophet, therefore, sent out small parties from time to time to reconnoiter along the routes to and from Mecca and the surrounding area. He learned that the Meccans were seeking to incite other tribes against the Muslims and to strengthen their own position with alliances. The Prophet made efforts to establish friendly relations with outside tribes whenever the opportunity offered itself, the purpose being to organize resistance to aggression and to secure freedom of conscience and belief for everyone. This was the beginning of the Pax Islamica.
A reconnoitering party was sometimes involved in an incident or minor skirmish, but this was unavoidable in view of the hostile designs and activities of the Qureish. It was felt on both sides, however, that matters could not continue as they were and that a clash was inevitable inasmuch as the Qureish were determined to stamp out the faith preached by the Prophet before its adherents gained enough support and strength to resist successfully any force that might be mustered against them.
One of the devices of the Meccans was to use their trade caravans plying between Mecca and Syria to incite the tribes on their route against the Muslims. They even diverted these caravans from their regular route so that these activities could be spread out as widely as possible. Everybody in Mecca had a direct interest in these caravans, which were substantial affairs, as practically all the savings of the Meccans were invested in them. Each caravan was accompanied by am armed guard, which might consist of a force of from one hundred to five hundred men, depending upon the size of the caravan and the value of the merchandise it carried‑a formidable threat to the security of Medina.
About a year after the Emigration, intelligence began to reach the Prophet that the Meccans were preparing a strong force to advance upon Medina. Their pretext was that one of their large caravans returning from Syria was likely to be attacked by the Muslims at a point near Medina, and that an adequate force had to proceed north to secure its safe passage. And they may well have been genuinely apprehensive concerning the safe passage of the caravan, in view of their behavior toward the Prophet and the Muslims over the years in Mecca and Medina. It was a large caravan, carrying valuable merchandise; but it was accompanied by an adequate armed force which has been estimated at four to five hundred men. Although the Meccans knew that the Muslims could not possibly muster a force strong enough to constitute a real threat to the safety of the caravan, they went ahead with their warlike preparations. By the time the Meccan army set out on its march north, news arrived that the caravan had passed safely through the danger zone, and that no attempt had been made to interfere with it. Nevertheless, the Meccan army continued its march in the direction of Medina.
In the meantime, the Prophet was taking stock of his own position. Permission to take up arms in defense had been accorded in Divine revelation (22:40‑42). The Prophet assembled a force of about three hundred Muslims from Mecca and Medina, and marched out with them. (The exact number was 313). This heterogeneous body‑it scarcely deserved the designation “force”‑was united only by the common bond of faith and the determination to die in defense of that faith. Although it included some of the older Meccan Muslims who were experienced fighters, the greater number were young men, some still in their teens, who had had little, if any, combat experience. Their devotion to their faith and their zeal in its support were their only qualifications. Ill‑armed, in poor physical condition because of the privations they had been enduring, and with but two horses and a few camels, they presented a pitiful contrast to the Meccan army, which consisted of at least a thousand tried warriors who were well‑armed and well‑mounted.
Those who accompanied the Prophet as he set forth from Medina knew that they had been called out to take up arms in defense of their faith, but they were not aware of their exact objective. There had been rumors both of the trade caravan with its armed escort passing near Medina, and of the Meccan army marching north, but the Prophet had said nothing about them. Some of those with the Prophet hoped that if there were to be a clash it would be with the caravan rather than with the army (8:8). Not till the party was two days’ march out of Medina did the Prophet disclose that they would have to face the strong, well‑equipped force advancing from Mecca. On the next day the Muslims, having arrived at a place called Badr, took up their position near a well. The Prophet had been advised by one of the Muslims to make camp there on account of the supply of water which was available, although the ground underfoot was sandy and the few experienced fighters in the group were apprehensive that this would be a serious handicap during battle because the sand would not permit easy and rapid movement. The Meccan force on its arrival took up a position opposite on firm clay soil.
Night set in, The Prophet spent the greater part of it in earnest prayer and supplication, He knew, none better, that the revelation being vouchsafed through him to mankind was the guarantee and the source of man’s honor, dignity, and welfare both here and in the Hereafter, He had firm faith in every Divine promise, but he also realized fully the complete supremacy of the Divine Being and the many weaknesses that beset mortals. He prayed for succour; he prayed for strength; he prayed for steadfastness for himself as well as for those with him. Part of his prayer and supplication during that fateful night has been preserved and has come down to us. It reveals the core of his anxiety: “O Lord, if Thou wilt suffer this little band to perish, Thy Holy Name will no more be glorified on earth and there will be none left to worship Your Glorious Majesty in true sincerity.”
Morning approached. The Prophet and the Muslims beheld the dawn of the day which was to decide the issue of one of the most fateful contests ever waged in the history of man between the forces of truth and righteousness, and those of falsehood and ignorance. There was a shower of rain which firmed the sand underfoot while turning the clay into slippery mud, and the Muslims were comforted and encouraged. The Prophet drew up his men in battle array and gave them instructions, but he repeatedly went back to prayer under a hastily improvised shelter. When the fighting began, the Prophet was prostrate before his Lord in an agony of supplication. Abu Bakr approached him and put a gentle hand upon his shoulder, saying: “Messenger of God, thou hast prayed enough.” The Prophet raised himself and announced to the people that God had given him to understand that the time had arrived for the fulfillment of the Prophecy revealed several years earlier at Mecca: “Do they say, `We are a victorious host?’ The hosts shall soon be routed and will turn their backs in flight. Aye, the Hour is their appointed time; and the Hour will be most calamitous and most bitter” (54:45‑47).
The issue did not remain long in doubt. The flower of toe Qureish was left upon the field, dead and dying (Isa. 21: I6‑I7). Abu Jahl, the bitterest enemy of the Prophet and the commander of the Meccan forces, was mortally wounded at the commencement of the battle. As he lay dying, he lamented his fate, not so much that he was about to die, but that his death should have been compassed by two striplings, twelve and thirteen years old, of the non‑warrior tribes of Medina. Several prisoners were taken, among them the Prophet’s uncle, Abbas, who had been coerced into joining the Meccan forces, and one of his sons‑in‑law.
The Prophet, while giving thanks to God for the great deliverance which He had vouchsafed, was grieved that so many of the Meccans had perished in pursuit of their vain purpose. On beholding the prisoners bound and held fast, tears coursed down his cheeks. When Umar inquired why, in the midst of victory, he felt so grieved, the Prophet pointed to the prisoners and said: “Behold what disobedience to, and defiance of, the will of God leads to.”
There was much debate as to the fate of the prisoners. According to Arab custom they could have been dispatched immediately, but the Prophet determined otherwise. It was decided that those who could offer suitable ransom would be released on payment of the ransom, and those who could not offer ransom would be released as an act of grace. The ransom of such of the prisoners as were literate was filed at teaching ten Muslim boys to read and write.
When the news of the catastrophe reached Mecca, there was mourning in every house. But all customary lamentations and other expressions and exhibitions of grief were forbidden by the Elders till the Meccans had had time to reorganize their forces and to avenge the disastrous defeat.
On returning to Medina, the Prophet resumed his main task of instructing the Muslims in the tenets, doctrines, and commandments of the faith, and in organizing them into a society such as Islam was designed to establish. All this had to be carried on under the constant threat of attack and aggression. The Prophet was aware, and indeed the Meccans fleeing from the battle of Badr had announced, that they would soon return to avenge their defeat. In Mecca, preparations toward that end proceeded briskly. Among other measures it was resolved that all profits derived from commercial ventures should be paid into a war fund, to be used for equipping an army strong enough to march against Medina. In a year’s time the Meccans were ready, and a well-armed force, three thousand strong, took the road to Medina.
When the news reached the Prophet, he held a council to determine how this new threat should be met. He had had a dream, part of which he interpreted as meaning that it would be better for them to stay in Medina and await the enemy’s attack. However, the younger men, particularly those who had not taken part in the previous battle, were eager to meet the foe before they could enter the town. Finding that a majority of those present were in favor of meeting the enemy outside Medina, the Prophet adopted their suggestion and marched out of the town at the head of approximately one thousand men.
The Muslims took up their position at the foot of a range of hills a few miles east of Medina. The Meccan army coming up from the south had veered to the east, intending to attack the town from that direction. The Prophet discovered that a certain number of Jews from Medina had also joined his following, and asked them to go back, saying that they had no obligation in respect of the defense of Medina that involved fighting outside the town. Abdullah bin Ubayy took umbrage at this, and announcing that the Muslims were no match for the force the Meccans had brought up, withdrew with three hundred of his supporters, leaving seven hundred men at the Prophet’s disposal. Of these, the Prophet posted fifty to guard a gap in the range of hills at the rear, with instructions that they were not to leave their post until ordered to do so.
The disparity between the opposing forces was even more striking now than it had been the previous year. Against three thousand well‑armed Meccan warriors, seven hundred of whom were in armor and two hundred mounted on horses, there were only six hundred and fifty Muslims (excluding those guarding the pass at the rear), of whom only one hundred were in armor, and they had only two horses. Yet, when battle was joined, the Meccans were soon put to flight. Seeing this, the men guarding the pass became eager to join in the pursuit, and despite the remonstrances of their captain, the majority of them left their post, contrary to their instructions. One of the Meccan commanders, Khalid, drew the attention of another commander, ‘Amr, to the sparely guarded pass, and the two of them, having collected a number of their followers, veered round behind the hill, slew the remaining men at their post, and fell upon the rearguard of the Muslims, by now scattered over the field, some in pursuit of the Meccans and others withdrawing from the battle under the impression that no further fighting was called for. Hearing the cries of their fellow fighters who had attacked the Muslims from the rear, the fleeing Meccans in front rallied and returned to the fray. In a moment all was confusion, and the Prophet, the target of the Meccan attack, was left with only a handful of Muslims to guard him. Most of these were killed by the arrows that rained down thick and fast upon them. Even as this took place, the Prophet prayed for his enemies: “Lord, grant guidance to my people, for they know not what they do.” Hardly had he uttered the prayer when he himself was hit in the cheek by a stone that drove two of the rings of his helmet into the flesh. He fell down, unconscious, among the heap of Muslim dead, others falling on top of him.
The Meccans, thinking that the Prophet had been killed and that their main purpose had been achieved, withdrew from the field, content with the victory that they believed to be theirs. The scattered Muslims gathered round the spot where the Prophet had fallen, and finding him still alive though unconscious, raised him up. One of them pulled out with his teeth the rings of the Prophet’s helmet which were embedded in his cheek, losing two of his teeth in the effort. The Muslims were heartened. Despite the losses and the reverse they had suffered, they were happy that the enemy had retired without having achieved his main purpose.
Various incidents during the battle of Uhud, named from one of the hills at the foot of which it was waged, confirmed the interpretation which the Prophet had put on his dream. It was realized by all that the Prophet’s judgment had been correct, and that the complete victory which the Muslims had achieved in the early part of the day had almost been converted into defeat by disregard of the Prophet’s instructions to the fifty men who had been assigned to guard the pass at the rear (3: 153‑155).
The women and children remaining in Medina during the battle were sorely grieved by reports that the Muslims had been defeated and the Prophet killed. Many of them streamed out of the town in the direction of Uhud, but when they were reassured that the Prophet was alive, all other considerations gave way to joy and relief. If the Prophet was safe, all had been gained and nothing lost. However, to the disaffected among both the Jews and the weaker Muslims in Medina, the course of the battle gave great encouragement. The Meccans, on their side, who had begun to suspect before retiring from the field of battle that the Prophet was alive, renewed their efforts at inciting the tribes in the central and southern parts of the peninsula against the Muslims.
In Medina the behavior of two of the Jewish tribes became increasingly arrogant and mischievous. As they had become a serious menace to the security of the town, they had to be expelled from it eventually. One tribe settled in Syria; the other, partly in Syria and partly in Khaibar, a Jewish stronghold to the north of Medina. Thus Khaibar also became a center of anti‑Muslim intrigue, and the Jews of Khaibar in concert with the Meccans started a campaign directed mainly toward inciting the northern tribes against the Muslims,
In the meantime, Muslim society was rapidly taking shape and the foundation was being laid for the social and economic organization of the Muslims. The commandment prohibiting the use of liquor and indulgence in gambling was revealed about this time, and was instantly and eagerly put into effect by the people, many of whom had been addicted to these vices all their lives (2:220; 5:91‑92).
Shortly after the battle of Uhud, the Meccans were afflicted with a severe famine. When the Prophet learned of their distress, he raised a relief fund and sent it to Mecca. But this gracious and generous gesture of goodwill did not soften the implacable hostility of the Meccans. Their persistent incitement of the tribes against the Muslims soon began to bear fruit.
To the other devices employed by the enemies of Islam, treachery was now added. Two tribes, one after the other, pretended interest in, and sympathy toward, the new faith, and begged the Prophet to send them persons who could instruct them in its tenets and practices. To the first tribe, the Prophet sent ten selected instructors, who were treacherously and cruelly murdered. When the request for instruction came from the second tribe, the Prophet hesitated to comply, but yielded on a guarantee being furnished by one of the tribal chiefs. He sent seventy instructors, each having learned by heart the Quran, so far as it had then been revealed. They met with a similar fate.
This and other incidents convinced the Prophet that if peace were ever to be established and freedom of conscience were to be won for all, he would have to take more active steps than had hitherto been possible, to secure law and order and the observance of treaties and agreements. Henceforth, trying to stem the evil at its source, he would lead an expedition whenever he received intimation that hostile forces were gathering for an attack against him. He moved so rapidly in each case that he took his opponents by surprise, and on several occasions their designs were frustrated and peace was restored, even though only temporarily and precariously, without recourse to fighting. When fighting did have to be resorted to, the issue was determined without serious loss of life. All that the Prophet asked was that his opponents lay down their arms and bind themselves to keep the peace.
This made the Meccans and their Jewish allies more desperate, and they redoubled their efforts to put an end to the Prophet and all that he stood for. By the fifth year after the Emigration, about two years after the battle of Uhud, they succeeded in arousing general hostility against the Muslims throughout Arabia, and laid most of the tribes under contribution to raise an army against the Muslims. This army, known as the Confederates, was estimated at eighteen to twenty thousand men. Their preparations were on a proportionate scale. They advanced in all their might against Medina, confident that this time there could be no escape for the Muslims.
When the Prophet was apprised of this, he held a council, as was his wont. This time there was no question of the Muslims being able to offer resistance outside Medina. They had to defend the town as best they could with such means as came to hand. Among the Prophet’s companions at the time was Salman, an Iranian. Asked by the Prophet what Iranians would do in a similar situation, Salman replied that a township in the position of Medina would defend itself from behind a trench. The Prophet, approving of this suggestion, ordered a deep and wide trench to be dug on the side of Medina which was open to the plain, and thus was the most probable side for attack. On the other sides some security was offered by a range of hills, by the strongholds of the remaining Jewish tribe, and by stone houses and groves which lay thickly together. The Jewish tribe was in alliance with the Muslims and was bound by the terms of the Charter of Medina to co‑operate in the defense of the town.
The Muslim population of Medina at that time comprised approximately three thousand males of all ages. With the exception of infants and very small children, they all flocked to the lines marked out for the digging of the trench and were divided into groups for digging and clearing the trench in sections. Even the women co‑operated and helped relieve the men of such tasks as they could suitably perform. The total length of the trench was about a mile. It was scarcely ready before the Confederate army arrived in front of Medina. They were amazed to find their entry into the town barred by the trench, which was for them a new spectacle.
The Meccans made camp short of the trench and a state of siege began. Continuous attempts to cross the trench were repulsed. The fighting was not severe and there was little loss of life, though the strain on the Muslims was heavy and sustained. The Prophet had ordered the women and children under fifteen years of age away from the trench. This left him with about twelve hundred men to guard the trench and to oppose the entry of the Confederates into the town. The Muslims’ desperate resistance was based on the realization that once the enemy gained a footing on their side of the trench it would mean the end of everything; neither man, woman, nor child would be spared and the Muslim quarters of Medina would be utterly destroyed.
The Confederates, finding the trench a formidable obstacle to their advance into the totem, began to consider other means of gaining their objective. Through Huyai bin Akhtab, chief of one of the Jewish tribes which had been expelled from Medina, they tried to win over to their side the remaining Jewish tribe in Medina. At first their approaches were repulsed, but in the end Huyai succeeded in convincing the Jewish leaders that this time there was no escape for the Muslims and that it would be wise and prudent for the Jews to cast in their lot with the Confederates. It was agreed that as soon as the Confederates were able to force a passage across the trench, the Jews would rise and attack the Muslim quarters, so that the Muslims would be caught between the Confederates in front and the Jews in the rear.
Relying on the loyalty of the Jews and their duty in respect of the defense of Medina, the Prophet had posted no forces for the purpose of guarding the Muslim quarters of the town, and had left only a handful of watchmen to supervise the security of the women and children. When it became known to the Prophet that the Confederates had won over the Jews to their side, he assigned two bodies of men, three hundred and two hundred strong respectively, to the Muslim quarters of the town to take measures for their defense against the Jews should they attempt an attack. This reduced the forces at his disposal at the trench facing the Confederate army to seven hundred and fifty men. Again, the disparity in numbers and in every other respect between the opposing forces was not only striking but pitiful.
The Confederate army now pressed their attack across the trench, and there was continuous and desperate fighting. The plight of the Muslims is graphically described in the Quran.(33:11-24)
During one of the attacks, when a party of the Confederates had crossed the trench and were repulsed, a noted tribal chief was left dead on the Muslim side. His people, fearing that the Muslims would mutilate his dead body, as would have been their own procedure, offered a sum of ten thousand dirhems for the recovery of his body. They did not know that the Prophet had abolished all barbarous customs and that their fears were unfounded. When their offer was conveyed to the Prophet he declined to receive any payment, saying, “A corpse has no value for us. They can remove it whenever they like.”
Before the day decided upon for the joint assault by the Confederates and the Jews, relief came from an unexpected source: the weather. It was a stormy and turbulent night. The fierce wind caused great confusion in the Confederate camp. Further consternation arose when one of the tribal chiefs observed that the fire in front of his tent had gone out; according to Arab superstition, this portended death or defeat for him in the next day’s fighting. To avoid this, the chief told his people to strike camp so that they could withdraw quietly into the desert for a day or two. This move was interpreted by both Jew and Confederate as a device to secure safety against a feared night sortie by the Muslims. The alarm spread and there was general panic. Tents were hastily pulled down, and a disorderly retreat ensued. When morning came, the whole plain in front of the trench was empty. There was no trace of the Confederate forces (33: 10)
The Muslims, who had been suffering extremes of privation and fatigue, and had considered themselves at the end of their tether, rejoiced greatly at this sudden deliverance. But respite was not yet to be. The treachery of the Jewish tribe in Medina had to be dealt with. The Prophet told his men to be ready to march against the Jewish strongholds, and he sent his cousin, Ali, to demand from the Jews an explanation of their conduct. Far from furnishing any explanation or offering any excuse, the Jews behaved most arrogantly toward Ali, repudiated their covenant, and uttered vile abuse of the Prophet and his family. Manning their fortified strongholds, they dared the Muslims to do their worst. Ali, returning to the Muslim quarters, was met by the Prophet, who was advancing toward the Jewish sector with his men. When Ali described the situation to the Prophet and begged him not to proceed farther himself, but to entrust the mission to somebody else, the Prophet said: “Ali, are you afraid that I might hear abuse from our opponents? Moses was of their own kith and kin, and they treated him far worse than they have treated me. I can expect nothing better at their hands.”
The Jewish strongholds were surrounded by the Prophet’s forces, and the Jews soon found that they had no alternative but to surrender. Instead of throwing themselves on the Prophet’s mercy, however, they asked for arbitration by Saad bin Muaz, the chief of the Aug, who had been their ally before the Emigration. Saad had been wounded during the battle of the Trench, and was being tended in the mosque at Medina. Brought before the Prophet and the leaders of the Jewish tribe, Saad was informed why his presence was desired. After making sure that his decision would be accepted by both sides and would be carried out, Saad pronounced sentence in accordance with the Jewish law applicable in such a case (Deut. 20:10-18)
It was a terrible sentence: death to all males, and all property to be taken as booty. But the Jews had brought it upon themselves, first by their treachery, next by their resistance to the Muslims after they had been caught in their treachery, and finally by preferring the judgment of Saad, who had been their ally, rather than throwing themselves upon the well‑known and oft‑experienced mercy of the Prophet. The sentence was carried out, but the Prophet invited intercession on behalf of the condemned, and in response to every plea of intercession, he remitted the sentence. When it was pointed out to him that he was bound to carry out Saad’s decision and that there was no room for either intercession or mercy, he replied that he was bound by the award, but as head of state he nevertheless possessed the prerogative of mercy, which he could exercise freely. Some of the Jews who had dissociated themselves from their people before the matter was submitted to the arbitration of Saad were permitted to go free, without need for intercession.
Despite the desperate nature of the encounters that had taken place in the course of the siege of Medina by the Confederates and the continuous and heavy strain which the situation had imposed upon the Muslims during the terrible three weeks that it endured, there was little loss of fife in battle on either side. The Prophet was convinced that the siege of Medina had been the high-water mark of the Meccan effort to subdue the city by force. There was no respite in the intensity of Meccan hostility toward the Prophet and the faith, but the Meccans were beginning to entertain doubts whether further efforts to destroy the Muslims and their faith by the use of aggressive force would meet with success. They were, however, determined not to entertain any suggestion of what in terms of today might be described as peaceful coexistence. Every type of harassment, including plunder and murder, was resorted to, and the incitement of the tribes throughout Arabia against the Muslims was actively pursued, both by the Meccans and by the Jews. This left the Prophet no choice but to maintain the utmost vigilance and to be always ready to lead in person or to dispatch forces wherever preparations for active assault might be under way.
A state of alarums and excursions obtained in Medina and everybody was kept on the qui vive. A companion of the Prophet subsequently said: “In those days we could only obtain snatches of sleep at fitful intervals and had to keep our arms close by us, and we often prayed, `O Lord, wilt Thou, by Thy Grace vouchsafe us such security that we may go to sleep at night without any fear in our hearts save only the fear of Thy Majesty.’ “