Khaibar was a spacious and strongly fortified territory, studded with castles and farms, lying at a distance of 60-80 miles north of Madinah; it is today a village known for its unhealthy climate.
The Reasons for the Battle
After the treaty of Hudaibiyah, the major party of the anti-Islam tripartite, namely the Quraish, was neutralized. The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) therefore considered it appropriate to resolve the affairs concerning the other two parties, the Jews and the tribes of Najd tribes, so that peace and security can prevail and the Muslims can devote their time and effort in propagating the Message of Allah and calling people to embrace it. Khaibar itself had always remained a hotbed of intrigue and conspiracy, and the Jews had always used it as a source of military provocation and as a center of instigation, so it was given priority by the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The Jews of Khaibar, united by an ancient alliance with the Confederates, provoked Bani Quraizah to practice treachery, maintained contacts with Ghatafan and the other Arabs [who were hostile to the Muslims], and they even devised a plot on the Prophet’s life. In fact, the continual afflictions that the Muslims sustained were primarily attributable to the Jews. Envoys were repeatedly sent to them for peaceful settlement, but all in vain. Consequently, the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) came to the conclusion that a military campaign was needed in order to solve this problem.
Headed to Khaibar
Ibn Ishaq said: “When Allah’s Messenger came back from al-Hudaibiyah, he resided in Madinah during the month of Dhul-Hijjah and part of Muharram. Then he left at the end of Muharram for Khaibar.”
Interpreters of the Noble Qur’an suggest that capturing Khaibar had been a Divine promise implied in Allah’s Words:
``Allah has promised you abundant spoils that you will capture, and He has hastened for you this.’’ [48:20]
Referring to the peace treaty of Hudaibiyah and the surrender of Khaibar.
The hypocrites and people weak of heart had hung back from joining the true Muslims in the Hudaibiyah campaigns, so now Allah the All-Mighty revealed the following words to His Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him):
“Those who lagged behind will say, when you set forth to take the spoils: `Allow us to follow you.’ They want to change Allah’s Words. Say: `You shall not follow us; thus Allah has said beforehand.’ Then they will say: `Nay, you envy us.’ Nay, but they understand not except a little.’’ [48:15]
The Number of Soldiers in the Army
The Prophet only invited those who were willing to fight in the cause of Allah to accompany him in his march against Khaibar. Only fourteen thousand men swore allegiance and responded to his call.
Meanwhile, Siba’ bin `Arfatah Al-Ghifari (May Allah be Pleased with him) was chosen to run the affairs of Madinah in the Prophet’s absence. Another incident of high significance, during the same time, was the acceptance of Islam by Abu Hurairah (May Allah be Pleased with him), a venerable Muslim scholar and an authentic narrator of the Prophetic traditions.
The Hypocrites Alert the Jews
The hypocrites, noticing the fresh Islamic intentions began to alert the Jews of the imminent military activities. Their chief, `Abdullah bin Ubai sent a message to the Jews of Khaibar warning them against the dangers approaching them, and encouraging them to resist the Muslims as they outnumbered the latter and were better equipped. On hearing the news the Jews dispatched Kinanah bin Abul-Huqaiq and Haudhah bin Qais to their former allies, the tribe of Ghatafan requesting military assistance, promising to grant them half the yield of the fruit that their farms would yield if they managed to beat the Muslims.
The Road to Khaibar
The Prophet marched by the route of the `Isr Mountain and then went forward with the army until he halted in a valley called Ar-Raji`. He camped there, which was a day and a night’s journey before the tribe of Ghatafan. This was done so as to prevent them from strengthening the Jews. The accompanying guides led him to an intersection that branched out in many different directions, all leading to his destination. He abstained from following the first three roads on grounds of their ominous names and chose the fourth for its favorable indication.
It is noteworthy that some interesting incidents occurred during the Muslims’ march towards Khaibar. We shall only mention a few:
1. It has been narrated on the authority of Salamah bin al-Akwa` (May Allah be Pleased with him), who said: We marched to Khaibar with Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), journeying during the night. One of the men said to my brother `Amir: “Will you not recite to us some of your Verses [of poetry], `Amir?’’ So, he began to chant his Verses to urge the camels. He recited:
O Allah, if You had not guided us, we would have neither been rightly guided practiced charity, nor offered prayers.
We wish to lay down our lives for You; so forgive us our lapses, and keep us firm when we encounter (our enemies).
Bestow upon us peace and tranquility, behold, when with a cry they called upon us to help.
Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Who is this driver (of the camels)?’’ They said: “It is `Amir.’’ He said: “Allah will show mercy to him.’’ A man said: “Martyrdom is reserved for him. O Messenger of Allah (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), would that you had allowed us to benefit ourselves from his life.’’
The Prophet’s Companions had already known that he would never invoke Allah’s mercy upon a close Companion, except to single him out for martyrdom.
2. In a spot called As-Sahba’, not far from Khaibar, the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) observed the Asr prayer, and then he called his Companions to bring whatever food provisions they had with them. What they brought was too little to satisfy them all, so the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) took it by his hand and it immediately grew in quantity, so they all ate to their fill.
Shortly afterward, he and the others, rinsed their mouths and performed the Maghrib prayer without performing ablution; he did the same for the Isha prayer.
As they reached above Khaibar and looked down upon it he said, “Halt.’’ The army halted and he said:
“O Allah! Lord of the seven heavens and what they cover, Lord of the seven earths and what they include, Lord of the devils and what they mislead: Indeed we ask You for the good of this town, the good of its people, the good that is in it. We seek refuge with You from the evil of this town, the evil of its people, and the evil that is in it. Proceed in the Name of Allah.’’
The Muslim Army Surrounds Khaibar
The Muslims camped and slept that night near Khaibar without the Jews realizing their presence. In the morning after the prayer they mounted and proceeded. The Muslims encountered the Jews while they had come out to perform their jobs with their axes, spades, and strings driving their cattle along. They began to shout in surprise: “Muhammad has come along with his force!’’ Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
“Allah is Great, Khaibar is ruined, Allah is Great, Khaibar is ruined, Behold! When we descend amidst the people, it will dawn a bad day for those who have been warned (but have not taken heed).’’
The Fortresses of Khaibar
Khaibar was divided into two sections, the first containing five fortresses or castles:
- The fortress of Na`im.
- The fortress of As-Sa`b bin Mu`ath.
- The fortress of Az-Zubair.
- The fortress of Ubai.
- The fortress of An-Nizar.
The first three were in an area known as an-Natah, the remainder were in a section called ash-Shaq. The second section of the city was called alKatibah and it had three fortresses:
- Al-Qamus, which was the fortress of the family of Abul-Huqaiq from thetribe of Abu An-Nadeer.
- The fortress of Al-Watih.
- The fortress of As-Sulalim.
There were also other fortresses in Khaibar besides these eight, but they did not reach the size or fortification of these. The fighting occurred only in the first section of the city; in the second section, the three fortresses secured themselves and held their fighters without coming out to face the Muslims.
The Muslim Camp
For encampment, the Prophet had chosen a certain area of land which he deemed suitable to serve as the headquarters of his army. However, Hubab bin Al-Mundhir (May Allah be Pleased with him), who was a veteran fighter, suggested that they relocate to another place under the requirements of war and for the sake of providing maximum mobility.
Preparing to Fight and the Good News of Victory
said: When night fell the Prophet
“Tomorrow I will give the banner to a man who loves Allah and His Messenger and Allah and His Messenger love him.”
In the morning, all the people gathered around him hoping that they were the one referred to by the Prophet the previous night. The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) called for `Ali bin Abi Talib (May Allah be Pleased with him) who had an illness in his eyes, so he supplicated for him and the illness vanished. He then handed the banner to him. `Ali (May Allah be Pleased with him), on his part, pledged that he would fight the enemy until they embraced Islam. The Prophet answered him saying: “Proceed upon your way until you enter their midst, then invite them to accept Islam and brief them on their duties towards Allah. I swear by Allah that if one person is guided by you, that would surely outweigh the best camels.’’
The Actual Operation Begins
The Prophet began the campaign by capturing the minor strongholds, one after the other. The first fort he attacked was Na’im, the first defense line with a strong strategic position. Marhab, the leader of the fort, invited `Amir bin Al-Akwa` (May Allah be Pleased with him) to meet him in combat and the latter responded; when `Amir struck the Jew, his sword recoiled and wounded his own knee, and he died of that wound. The Prophet later said: “For him (‘Amir) there is a double reward in the Hereafter.’’ He indicated this by putting two of his fingers together. `Ali bin Abi Talib (May Allah be Pleased with him) then undertook to meet Marhab in combat, and managed to kill him. Yasir, Marhab’s brother, then turned up challenging the Muslims to a fight, which Az-Zubair (May Allah be Pleased with him) accepted and killed him on the spot. Fighting then broke out between the two forces and lasted for a few days. The Jews showed courage and proved difficult even to the repeated rushes of the experienced soldiers of Islam. However, they later realized the uselessness of resistance and began to abandon their positions in An-Na`im and retreated to the fortress of As-Sa`b.
Al-Hubab bin Al-Mundhir Al-Ansari (May Allah be Pleased with him) led the attack on the fortress of As-Sa`b. The Muslims laid siege to it for three days after which the Muslims stormed it. A lot of booty, provisions and food fell into their possession. This victory came in the wake of the Prophet’s invocation to Allah to help Banu Aslam in their untiring and daring attempts to capture that fort.
During the process of the war operations, extreme hunger struck the Muslims. They lit fires, slaughtered domestic donkeys and began to cook them. The Prophet inquired about the fires and the cooking, when he was informed he ordered that they should throw away the meat and wash the cooking pots, forbidding the practice of eating such meat.
The Jews, meanwhile, evacuated from An-Natah and secured themselves in Az-Zubair Fort, a strong defensive position inaccessible to both cavalry and infantry. The Muslims besieged it for three days, but in vain. A Jewish spy told the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) about a water source under the surface of the earth that provided them with water, and advised that it be cut off in order to weaken their resistance. The Prophet did that, so the Jews came out to engage the Muslims in fierce combat during which some Muslims and ten Jews were killed, but the fort was eventually conquered.
Shortly after this battle, the Jews moved to Ubai Fort and fortified themselves inside it. The same events recurred; the Muslims besieged the new site for three days and then the great Muslim hero Abu Dujanah Simak bin Kharshah Al-Ansari (May Allah be Pleased with him), of the red headband, led the Muslim army and broke into the fortress, conducted fierce military operations within and forced the remaining Jews to flee for their lives into another fort, An-Nizar.
An-Nizar was the most powerful fort, and the Jews came to the established conviction that it was too immune to be stormed, so they considered it a safe place for their women and children. The Muslims, however, were not dejected but dragged on the siege, however it being situated at an elevated position the fort was secure. The Jews inside were too afraid to meet the Muslims in open fight, so they hurled a shower of arrows and stones on the attackers. Considering this situation, the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ordered that catapults be used. These proved effective and caused cracks in the walls, providing an easy access into the heart of the fort. Chaos ensued among the Jews and they fled in all directions, leaving behind their women and children.
With these series of military victories, the first section of Khaibar was completely captured, and the Jews in the smaller fortresses evacuated them and fled to the second section.
The Conquest of the Second Section of Khaibar
When the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), along with his army, moved to this part of Khaibar, which was called alKatibah, he laid a heavy siege to it for fourteen days. The Jews had fortified themselves inside their forts, so he was about to use the catapults, they realized the futility of their effort so they asked for a negotiable peace treaty.
There is one point of disagreement here among historians: Was this section of Khaibar (with its three forts) conquered by force? Ibn Ishaq clearly states that al-Qamus Fort was conquered by force. Al-Waqidi, on the other hand, maintained that the three forts were taken through peace negotiations; and force, if any, was resorted to only to hand the fort over to the Muslims; the two other forts surrendered without fighting.
Ibn Abul-Huqaiq was dispatched to Allah’s Messenger to negotiate the terms of surrender. The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) agreed to spare their lives on the condition that they vacate Khaibar and the adjacent land, leaving whatever gold and silver they had in their possession. However, he specified that he would give up any commitment if they concealed anything. Shortly afterwards, the forts were handed over to the Muslims and all of Khaibar was conquered and brought under the control of Islam.
In spite of this treaty, Abul-Huqaiq’s two sons concealed a leather bag full of jewels, and money belonging to Huyai bin Al-Akhtab, who carried it with him when Banu Nadeer had been exiled from Madinah. Kinanah bin Ar-Rabi`, who had hidden the bag somewhere, was persistent in his denial and so he was killed when the bag was discovered and his dishonesty was proven. Abul-Huqaiq’s two sons were killed in recompense for breaching the covenant, and Safiyah, Huyai’s daughter was taken as a captive.
Distribution of Spoils
In accordance with the agreement already concluded, the Jews were to vacate Khaibar, but they were anxious to maintain cultivation of the rich soil and the fine orchards for which Khaibar was famous for. Therefore, they approached the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) with the request that they be allowed to cultivate their lands and they would give half of the produce to the Muslims. Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was kind enough to accept their request.
The Messenger divided the land of Khaibar into two: one half to provide the food to be stored in case of any accidental calamity that might befall the Muslims, and for entertaining foreign delegates who began to frequently visit Madinah; the other half would go to the Muslims who had witnessed the event of Hudaibiyah, whether they were present at this battle or not. The total number of shares came to 36, of which 18 were given to the abovementioned people. The army consisted of fourteen thousand men of whom two hundred were cavalry men. A cavalry man was allotted three shares and an infantry man was given one.
The spoils taken at Khaibar were so great that Ibn `Umar said: “We never ate our fill until we conquered Khaibar.’’ `Aishah(May Allah be Pleased with her) narrated to have said: “Now we can eat our fill of dates.” On their return to Madinah, the Emigrants were able to return to the Helpers of Madinah all the gifts they had received. All of this affluence came after the conquest of Khaibar and the economic benefits that the Muslims began to reap.
The conquest of Khaibar coincided with the arrival of the Prophet’s cousin, Ja`far bin Abi Talib (May Allah be Pleased with him), and his companions, which included Abi Musa Al-Ash`ari (May Allah be Pleased with him) and some other Muslims from Abyssinia (Ethiopia).
Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari (May Allah be Pleased with him) narrated that he and over fifty companions, while in Yemen, took a ship which landed them in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and they happened to meet Ja`far and his companions there.
He said, “We stayed there together until the Prophet sent an envoy asking us to come back. When we returned, we found that he had already conquered Khaibar; however, he still gave us a share of the spoils.”
The advent of those men came at the request made by Allah’s Messenger to the Negus, king of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), through `Amr bin Umaiyah AdDamri (May Allah be Pleased with him).
Negus sent them back, sixteen men in total along with their wives and children on two boats. The rest of Emigrants had arrived in Madinah previously.
The Marriage to Safiyah
In the same context, Safiyah, whose husband Kinanah bin Abul-Huqaiq was killed for treachery, was taken as a captive and brought along with other prisoners of war. After the permission of the Prophet was sought, Dihyah Al-Kalbi chose one of them and she happened to be Safiyah. The other Muslims, however, advised that Safiyah, being the daughter of the chief of Bani Quraizah and Bani Nadeer, should be married to the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), who agreed to their opinion. He invited her to Islam, freed her and took her as wife on her embracing Islam. The wedding feast consisted of dates, fat and barley, and was held on his way back to Madinah at a spot called Sadd As-Sahba’.
The Poisoned Sheep
After the conquest of Khaibar, a Jewish woman named Zainab bint AlHarith offered the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) a roasted sheep which she had poisoned. He took a mouthful, but it was not to his liking so he spat it out. After investigation, the woman confessed that she had stuffed the food with poison, providing an excuse that if the eater were a king, she would then rid herself of him, but should he be a Prophet, then he would be bound to learn about it. The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) however, ignored her treacherous attempt, but later ordered that she be killed when Bishr bin AlBara’ died of that poison.
There is a disagreement on the number of Muslims who were martyred, which ranged from sixteen to eighteen, while the number of Jews killed came to ninety-three.
The remainder of Khaibar also fell to the Muslims. Allah cast fear into the hearts of the people of Fadak, a village standing to the north of Khaibar. They hastened to ask for peace and be allowed to leave in safety, in exchange for their wealth. The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) entered into an agreement with them similar to the one with the people of Khaibar. The spoils of Fadak were exclusively for the Prophet, since neither Muslim cavalry nor infantry were involved in its fighting.
No sooner had the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) completed the affairs of Khaibar, he began a fresh move towards Wadi Al-Qura, another Jewish colony in Arabia. He mobilized his forces and divided them into three regiments with four banners which he entrusted to Sa`d bin `Ubadah, Al-Hubab bin Al-Mundhir, `Abbad bin Bishr and Sahl bin Hunaif(May Allah be Pleased with her). Prior to fighting, he invited the Jews to embrace Islam but his words fell on deaf ears. Eleven of the Jews were killed one after another; with each one killed, a fresh call was extended inviting those people to profess the true faith. Fighting went on ceaselessly for approximately two days and resulted in a complete surrender of the Jews. Their land was conquered, and a lot of booty fell into the hands of the Muslims.
The Prophet stayed in Wadi Al-Qura for four days, distributed the booty among the Muslim fighters and reached an agreement with the Jews similar to that of Khaibar.
The Jews of Taima’, having heard about the successive victories of the Muslim army and the defeats that their Jewish brethren sustained, showed no resistance when the Prophet reached their location.
On the contrary, they took the initiative and offered to sign a reconciliation treaty to the effect that they will receive protection in exchange for paying a tribute.
Having achieved his objective of completely subduing the Jews, the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) made his way back home and arrived in Madinah in late Safar or early Rabi`ul-Awwal, 7 A.H.
It is noteworthy that the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), being a great war experts, realized quite readily that evacuating Madinah after the lapse of the prohibited months (Muharram, Dhul-Qa`dah, and Dhul-Hijjah) would not be wise while the desert Bedouins wandered in its surrounding areas.
Such a careless attitude, the Prophet believed, would tempt the undisciplined Bedouins to practice their favorite hobby of plundering, looting, and all acts of piracy.
With this caution in mind, the Prophet dispatched Aban bin Sa’id (May Allah be Pleased with him) at the head of a platoon to discourage those Bedouins and prevent any attempt from them at raiding the headquarters of the growing Islamic state during his absence at Khaibar.
Aban achieved his task successfully and joined the Prophet in Khaibar after it had been conquered.
This most probably occurred in Safar, 7 A.H., as mentioned by Al-Bukhari.