Peace and security had enveloped the Arabian Peninsula, and, after an entire year of fighting, this unruly area began to experience a period of calm. However, the Jews, whose treachery, intrigues, and disloyalty caused them to taste all types of humiliation and disgrace, were not the least bit affected by the admonishment they received. Even after their exile to Khaibar, they anxiously waited for the results of the hostilities between the Muslims and the idolaters. Contrary to their desires, the end results of the fighting were in favor of the Muslims, thus causing them to start a new level of conspiracy with the aim of dealing a deadly blow to the Muslims. Since they were too cowardly to confront the Muslims directly, they laid a terrible plan in order to achieve their objectives. Twenty Jewish chiefs along with some notable people from Bani Nadeer went to Makkah to negotiate an unholy alliance with the Quraish. They began provoking the people of Makkah to attack Allah’s Messenger promising them their full support and backing. Those among the Quraish who had been cowardly and weak to challenge the Muslims at Badr, seized this opportunity to regain their stained honor and blemished reputation. The same delegation then set out to the tribe of Ghatafan, calling them to do the same [as the Quraish], which they responded to in positive. The Jewish delegation had begun a fresh effort [of hostilities] and visited other parts of Arabia, managing to incite and create a confederacy of disbelief against the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), his message, and the believers.
Quraish, Kinanah, and other allies from Tihamah in the south rallied, ranked, and recruited four thousand men under the leadership of Abu Sufyan. From the east came the tribes of Banu Sulaim, Ghatafan, Bani Murrah, Fazarah, Ashja’, and others. The commander of Fazarah was `Uyainah bin Hisn, Murrah was commanded by Harith bin `Auf, and Ashja’ was commanded by Mis’ar bin Rakhilah. They all headed for Madinah and gathered in its vicinity at an agreed upon time. It was a great army of ten thousand soldiers, which itself outnumbered all the Muslims residing in Madinah, including women, children, and the elderly.
If they were able to launch a surprise attack against Madinah, they may have been able to kill all the Muslims. However, the leadership inside the city was on high alert and the intelligence personnel managed to survey the area of the enemy and reported their movement to those in charge of Madinah.
Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) convened a council and conducted a detailed discussion of the plan to defend Madinah. After a lengthy discussion with military leaders and those who offer good advice, it was agreed to implement the proposal put forth by the honorable Companion, Salman Al-Farisi (May Allah be Pleased with him), which was to dig trenches as a defensive perimeter [around the city]. The Muslims actively and laboriously began to dig a trench around Madinah. The Prophet also took part in the work. He would also encourage, help, and [remind the believers to] remember the rewards in the Hereafter. The Muslims were afflicted with severe hunger, which bordered on starvation, however, even this could not deter or discourage them from achieving their desperately sought objective. Salman (May Allah be Pleased with him) said: “Messenger of Allah, Whenever a siege was to laid to us in Persia, we would dig trenches to defend ourselves.” It was truly an unprecedented plan of action [in Arabia].
Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) hurriedly gave orders to implement the plan. Forty yards of digging were allocated to each group, which consisted of ten diggers. Sahl bin Sa`d (May Allah be Pleased with him) said: “We were in the company of Allah’s Messenger, and some people would dig and we would remove the dirt on our backs.
Some amazing Prophetic signs appeared during the engineering of the trench. Jabir bin `Abdullah, who had noticed that the Prophet was starving, slaughtered a lamb and cooked some barley, and requested the Prophet and some Companions to accept his invitation [for food]. The Prophet gathered all the people involved in the digging of the trench, which numbered in the thousands. They all began to eat and kept eating until they were all completely full, but the cooking pot with mutton in it and dough that was being baked remained unchanged. Another time, a woman brought a handful of dates and gave them to the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The Prophet took the dates, tossed them around in his cloak and invited his Companions to eat. The dates began to increase in number until they began to fall out from the trim of his robe.
Another extraordinary event that occurred was the existence of an unmovable boulder that stood as an obstacle in the digging of the trench. The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) took a spade and struck the boulder and it immediately turned sand. In another version, Al-Bara’ said: On the Day of Al-Khandaq (the trench) there stood huge boulder that was resistant to breaking by our spades. We went to Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) for advice. He took the spade, said: “In the Name of Allah,” and struck it while saying: “Allah is the Most Great, I have been given the keys of Ash-Sham (Greater Syria). By Allah, I can see its red palaces at the moment.” On the second strike he said: “Allah is the Most Great, I have been given Persia. By Allah, I can now see the white palace of Madain.” The third time he struck the boulder saying: “In the Name of Allah,” which shattered the rest of the boulder. He then said: “Allah is the Most Great, I have been given the keys of Yemen. By Allah, I can see the gates of San’a while I am in my place.” Ibn Ishaq reported something similar from Salman Al-Farisi (May Allah be Pleased with him).
The northern part of Madinah was the most at risk, as the other sides were naturally surrounded by mountains, boulders, and orchards of palm tree. The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), being a skillful military leader, understood that the Confederates would march in that direction, so he ordered that the trench be dug on that side. The Muslims continued digging the trench for several days; they work on it during the day and would go back home in the evening, doing this until it was been complete. The army of the idolaters, which numbered close to ten thousand fighters, arrived and camped in the vicinity of Madinah at a place called al-Asyal and at Uhud.
``And when the believers saw Al-Ahzab (the Confederates), they said: This is what Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad) had promised us, and Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad) had spoken the truth, and it only added to their faith and to their submissiveness (to Allah).’’ [33:22]
The hearts of the hypocrites and the cowards quivered with fear at the sight of this army:
``And when the hypocrites and those in whose hearts is a disease (of doubts) said: `Allah and His Messenger promised us nothing but delusions!''' [33:12]
Three thousand Muslims, with the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as their leader, came out to encounter the idolaters. They maintained Allah’s promise of victory deeply in their minds. They established themselves at the mountain of Sila’ with the trench standing as a barrier between them and the disbelievers.
When the idolaters attempted to attack the Muslims and force an entry into Madinah, they were surprised to see a wide trench standing as an obstinate obstruction [between them and their goal]. This was a new tactic that was unknown in Arabia at that time. Consequently, they laid siege to Madinah and began to go around the trench to find any weakness that they can exploit to gain entry into Madinah. In order to deter the enemy from approaching the trench or bridging any gap in their defenses, the Muslims fired arrows and engaged in clashes with them. The veteran fighters of Quraish were averse to this situation as they waited in vain for what the siege might reveal. They decided that a group of fighters, which would be led by `Amr bin `Abd Wudd, `Ikrimah bin Abu Jahl, and Dirar bin AlKhattab, should work its way through the trench. The fighters managed to do just that and their cavalry captured a narrow area between the trench and the mountain of Sila’. `Amr challenged the Muslims to a duel, to which `Ali bin Abi Talib (May Allah be Pleased with him) responded. After a short but fierce engagement, `Ali killed `Amr, which caused the others to withdraw in a state of panic and confusion. However, days later, the polytheists conducted another desperate attempt [to bypass the trench], but all their efforts failed because of the steadfastness and heroic manner of the Muslims whom they confronted.
The events of the battle of the Trench were so severe that it caused the failure of the Messenger of Allah (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to observe some prayers during their appropriate time. It is reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim that Jabir (May Allah be Pleased with him) narrated: “On the Day of the Trench `Umar bin Al-Khattab (May Allah be Pleased with him) came while cursing the disbelievers of the Quraish and saying: ‘Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), I have not offered the ‘Asr prayer and the sun has set.’ The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) replied: `By Allah, I also have not offered the prayer.’ The Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) then went to Buthan, performed ablution and observed the ‘Asr prayer after the sun had set, and then offered the Maghrib prayer after it.” He invoked Allah’s wrath on the enemy, and begged Him to fill their houses and their graves with fire because they distracted him from observing the ‘Asr prayer. It was narrated by Ahmad and Shafi`i that the events of that battle detained him from the Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha prayers, but he combined them. The different narrations point to the fact that the situation lasted for a few days.
It is clear that direct confrontation between the two armies was very limited because of the trench that stood between them, however, military activities against each other still exited which was mostly confined to shooting arrows. The fight only claimed the lives of a small number of fighters: six Muslims and ten polytheists, and one or two who were killed by sword fighting.
During the course of fighting, Sa`d bin Mu`adh (May Allah be Pleased with him) was shot by an arrow that penetrated his artery. Realizing that his death was approaching, he supplicated to Allah saying: “Allah, You know nothing is closer to my heart than striving in Your cause against the [disbelieving] people who belied and exiled Your Messenger. Allah, I deeply believe that You have decreed that we should fight them, so if there is still more fighting that remains against them, then let me live so that I can strive against them. If it has ceased, then I beg You to let it bleed again so that it becomes the cause of my death.” He concluded his supplication begging Allah not to let him die until he had taken full revenge on Banu Quraizah.
In the midst of these difficult circumstances, plotting and strategies were in full usage against the Muslims. The chief criminal from Bani Nadeer, Huyai, went to the locality of Banu Quraizah to incite their chief Ka`b bin Asad Al-Qurazi, who had a treaty with Allah’s Messenger to run to his aid in times of war.
Initially Ka`b resisted all Huyai’s tempts, but Huyai, who was clever enough to manipulate him, began to speak of the Quraish and their notables in AlAsyal, as well as Ghatafan and their chieftains who had camped at Uhud, all who had only one intention: the extermination of Muhammad and his followers. Additionally, he promised to remain in Ka`b’s fort, thereby exposing himself to any potential danger if the Quraish and Ghatafan recanted from their alliance. This wicked person continued in this manner until he managed to convince Ka`b to join his side and break his covenant with the Muslims. So Banu Quraizah also began to launch military operations against the Muslims, especially in the secluded parts of the city that housed the Muslim women and children.
According to Ibn Ishaq, Safiyah bint `Abdul-Muttalib(May Allah be Pleased with her) was in a fort with Hassan bin Thabit (May Allah be Pleased with him) as well as some women and children, said: A Jew was spotted moving suspiciously around our area, which was vulnerable to an enemy attack because there were no men to defend, and because of the fighting against Banu Quraizah which made a barrier between us and Allah’s Messenger. There was no one between us and them to defend us while Allah’s Messenger and the Muslims were engaging their enemies, whom they were unable to leave alone. So I said: ‘Hassan, as you can see this Jew is moving around the area. By Allah, we are in danger of the Jew seeing that we are not protected, while Allah’s Messenger and his Companions are busy, so go out and kill him.’ He said: `By Allah, you know that I am not suitable for this.’ So, I got ready and took with me a pole and descended from the fort to him. I beat him with the pole until I killed him. I returned to the fort and said: ‘Hassan, go down there and take his armor, for I was only prevented from doing so because he is a man.’ He replied: ‘I do not need any armor.”’
This single event had far reaching consequences in discouraging the Jews from conducting any further attacks against the Muslim women and children. They began to think that those areas were fortified and protected by Muslim fighters. However, they continued to provide the idolaters with supplies as an indication of their support for them against the Muslims.
On hearing this dreadful news of the Jewish betrayal, the Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) dispatched four prominent Muslim leaders: Sa`d bin Mu`adh, Sa`d bin `Ubadah, `Abdullah bin Rawahah, and Khawat bin Jubair (May Allah be Pleased with all of them) to investigate the reports. He warned them against spreading the reports among the people if they proved to be true, fearing that this would spread panic among them; however if the reports proved to be false then to declare them as such publicly. Regrettably the four men discovered that the reports were true, and the Jews themselves openly denounced that treaty of alliance no longer existed with Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was briefed on this situation, and the Muslims understood the critical position that they were in and the horrible dangers that it implied: their rear was open to an attack from Banu Quraizah, while in front of them a huge army stood with no intention of returning, and their women and children were unprotected standing in between. Regarding this, Allah says:
'' And when the eyes grew wild and the hearts reached to the throats, and you were harboring doubts about Allah. There, the believers were tried and shaken with a mighty shaking.'' [33:10, 11]
Now that the Muslims were defensively confined at the perimeter of the Trench, the hypocrites began to taunt them for having false hopes of defeating Kisra, the emperor of Persia, and Caesar, the emperor of the Romans. They began to sow the seeds of defeatism, and withdrew from the defense of the trench by pretending to defend their own homes, which were in no way exposed to any danger. Allah says:
``And when the hypocrites and those in whose hearts is a disease (of doubts) said: `Allah and His Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) promised us nothing but delusions!' And when a party of them said: ‘O people of Yathrib (Madinah), there is no stand (possible) for you (against the enemy attack!) therefore go back!' And a band of them asked for permission of the Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) saying: `Truly, our homes lie open (to the enemy).' And they lay not open. They but wished to flee.'' [33:12, 13]
Allah’s Messenger wrapped himself in his robe and began to contemplate on the treachery of Banu Quraizah. The spirit of optimism prevailed over him and he rose to his feet saying: “Allah is the Most Great. Muslims, listen to Allah’s good tidings of victory and support.”
He then began to set forth decisive plans aimed at protecting the women and children. He sent some fighters back to Madinah to help guard the women and children against any surprise assault by the enemy. The second step was to take action that could lead to undermining the ranks of the disbelieving Confederates. For this purpose he thought of offering the chiefs of Ghatafan a third of Madinah’s fruit crops if they would withdraw from the confederacy. He sought the advice of his chief Companions, Sa`d bin Mu`adh and Sa`d bin `Ubadah (May Allah be Pleased with all of them), who gave the following reply:
“Messenger of Allah, if it is the order of Allah, then we shall obey it, but if it is a new course that you wish to follow in order to provide us with security, then we are not in need of it. We knew those people in polytheism and idolatry and we can safely say that they are not in need of the fruits from our orchards; rather their need is the complete extermination of us. Now that Allah has honored us with Islam, we believe that the best option in this situation is to put them to the sword.” Thereupon the Prophet corrected their view by saying: “It is only something being done for you, after I saw the Arabs shooting at you arrows from a unified bow.”
Allah, the Glorious and Exalted, created conflict between the enemies of Islam, which would lead to their eventual defeat. Nu’aim bin Mas’ud, who was from the tribe of Ghatafan, came to Allah’s Messenger and declared that he had secretly embraced Islam and asked the Prophet to allow him perform some benefit for the Muslims. The Prophet asked him to do anything that could aid the Muslims in the present distress, applying any stratagem that he saw fit. The man shuttled between the Jews, the Quraish, and the tribe of Ghatafan inciting each party to distrust the other. He went to the chiefs of Banu Quraizah and discretely mentioned to them to neither trust the Quraish nor fight along side them unless the promise to leave with you some of their people as a guarantee. To argue for his position, he claimed that the Quraish would retreat if they perceived that victory over Muhammad was not possible, leaving them to bear the revenge of the
Muslims. Nu`aim (May Allah be Pleased with him), then headed to the camp of the Quraish and said words that would garner similar results. He stated that the Jews regretted breaching their covenant with Muhammad and his followers, and they maintained regular correspondence with the Muslims, and that any people sent as a guarantee to them would be sent to the camp of the Muslims as captives. He therefore encouraged the Quraish not to send any people as guarantee to the Jews. As a third task, he went to the people of Ghatafan and did the same with them.
On the night of Saturday, in the month of Shawwal, 5 A.H., both the Quraish and the tribe of Ghatafan dispatched messages to the Jews pressing them to go to war against Muhammad.
The Jews sent back messages that they would not fight on Saturday, adding that they needed some people from among them as hostages as a guarantee for their steadiness.
On receiving their replies, the Quraish and the tribe of Ghatafan began to believe the warning that Nu`aim had given them. So, they sent another message to the Jews calling them to begin the war [with the Muslims] and exclude the condition of hostages.
The scheme that Nu`aim’s plotted proved successful, and an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion began to take shape among the disbelieving allies, which reduced their morale to a considerable degree.
Meanwhile, the Muslims were preoccupied with supplications to their Lord for the protection of their homes and for the security of their families.
On his part, Allah’s Messenger invoked Allah’s wrath on the Confederates with the following supplication:
``Allah, You are quick in account, You are the sender of the Book, we beg You to defeat the Confederates.''
Allah, the Glorious and the Exalted, responded to the supplications of the Muslims. He sent, along with the difference and disagreement that emerged in the hearts of the disbelievers for each other, forces of nature: wind, rain, and severe cold which blew away their tents, turned over their cooking vessels and other equipments.
During that very cold night Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) dispatched Hudhaifah bin Al-Yaman (May Allah be Pleased with him) to collect news about the enemy.
He found them making preparations to leave, while frustrated in their inability to achieve their target. Allah fulfilled His Promise, spared the
Muslims from fighting a fearsome army, supported His servant (Muhammad), and inflicted a heavy blow to the Confederates.
The battle of the Trench took place in the fifth year of Hijra. The siege of
Madinah began in the month of Shawwal and ended in the month of DhulQa`dah, lasting for more than a month. In fact, it was more of a battle of nerves and not of losses, as no bitter fighting was recorded. Nevertheless, it was one of the most decisive battles in the early Islamic history and proved, beyond a shadow of doubt, that no force, however huge, could exterminate the burgeoning Islamic power growing steadily in Madinah.
After Allah caused the Confederates to retreat, His Messenger declared confidently:
``From now we engage them, and they will not engage us. We will mobilize to them.''