at Peace with the Jews
part of the Qur’an was written while Muhammad lived in Mecca, a town with very
few Jews and no Jewish tribes. At the time, he presented himself to the
Meccans as a Jewish prophet based on the stories that he learned from the Jews
that he met on his travels – and from his cousin Waraqa, a convert from Judaism
(the Qur’an addresses this accusation, but only to the extent of denying it).
"While we were in the Mosque, the Prophet came out and said, "Let us go to the Jews" We went out till we reached Bait-ul-Midras. He said to them, "If you embrace Islam, you will be safe. You should know that the earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle, and I want to expel you from this land. So, if anyone amongst you owns some property, he is permitted to sell it, otherwise you should know that the Earth belongs to Allah and His Apostle." (Bukhari 53:392)
Having announced his intentions, Muhammad looked for an excuse to take land from those Jews who refused to convert to Islam. His first target was a tribe that had recently been aligned in a conflict against the other two. Muhammad guessed correctly that the other Jewish tribes would not come to the assistance of the Banu Qaynuqa if he laid siege to them.
Muhammad’s excuse is said to be an incident in which a Muslim was killed by an angry Jewish mob. That the mob was angry because the Muslim in question had just murdered a Jewish merchant over a woman's honor is sometimes conveniently forgotten by contemporary apologists, who nonetheless admit that Muhammad chose to lay siege to the Qaynuqa stronghold rather than mediate a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
This point is important. According to Muslim historians, the first blood shed was when a Jew was murdered by a Muslim for playing a prank on a Muslim woman (by lifting her dress). The Muslim was killed in retaliation by those who had just witnessed the murder.
On what basis is physical violence - much less murder - justified by a prank of this sort? Moreover, if Muhammad believed in the Old Testament law of "an eye for an eye," then why did he not recognize the legitimacy of the second killing against the disparity of the first?
In any event, the self-proclaimed prophet of God responded with self-serving force against a people that had welcomed him to their community less than two years earlier. Unprepared for battle, the Qaynuqa surrendered to their former guest without a fight.
Muhammad wished to slay the entire tribe outright, but was talked out of it by a mutual Arab friend, who was horrified by his intentions:
Abdullah b. Ubayy b. Salul went to him when God had put them in his power and said, “O Muhammad, deal kindly with my clients” (now they were allies of Khazraj), but the apostle put him off. He repeated the words, and the apostle turned away from him, whereupon he thrust his hand into the collar of the apostle's robe; the apostle was so angry that his face became almost black. He said, “Confound you, let me go.” He answered, “No, by God, I will not let you go until you deal kindly with my clients. Four hundred men without mail and three hundred mailed protected me from all mine enemies; would you cut them down in one morning? By God, I am a man who fears that circumstances may change”' The apostle said, “You can have them.” (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 546)
Muhammad was thus talked into allowing the Jews of Qaynuqa to escape only with a few tools and the clothes on their back. He confiscated their wealth and land, taking a fifth for himself and giving the rest to the other Muslims. (According to the Qur’an, this was their punishment for not believing in Muhammad 3:10-12).
The man who had saved the lives of the Jews was later called a hypocrite by Muhammad, and it is evident that he deeply regretted his decision not to slay the Qaynuqa. One of the nine Qur’anic verses that prohibit Muslims from taking Jews and Christians as friends was “revealed” at this time.
Thus was Muhammad able to fulfill his own promise that “those who resist Allah and his Messenger will be humiliated” (Quran 58:20), further solidifying his credibility with the Muslims – and inspiring fourteen centuries of relentless Jihad in the name of following his example.
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