Battle of the Trench ( khandaq ): An attack by the Meccan Quraysh and their "confederates" ( al-azhaab ) on the Prophet's Muslim forces at Medina was foiled by a combination of ruse and technology. The latter involved the construction of a trench around the city of Medina, a method suggested to the Prophet by a Persian ally named Salman al-Farisi. Among the "confederates" whom the Prophet defeated was a Jewish tribe called the "Banu Qurayzah." Having dealt mercifully with these Jewish allies of the Meccan Quraysh on two previous occasions, Muhammad decided this time to submit their fate to a hakam, a traditional Arabian judge. The hakam decreed that the men of the clan should be executed. All six hundred men of the tribe were beheaded. (Qur'an, s.33:25-27).
Expulsion of Banu Nadir
The Battle of Uhud, together with the events of Raji’ and Beer Ma’unah once again undermined the authority and standing of the Muslims in the eyes of the hypocrites and the Jews. They began plotting against the Messenger of Allah and they waited for a suitable opportunity to deal him a bad turn. Allah’s Messenger gradually divulged their intentions until he had managed to learn about their conspiracies. Then he sent Muhammad ibn Maslamah to them and he said, "The Messenger of Allah sent me to you to tell you to leave his country, for you have breached the oath he made with you by attempting to betray him. You have ten days to leave; anyone seen here afterwards will have his neck struck off!". Banu Nadir would have left had it not been for ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy prodding them to stay; Huyayy ibn Akhtab also encouraged them to remain in their forts. The ten days expired but Banu Nadir remained in their homes, thus Allah’s Messenger fought them until they asked him to spare their lives on condition that they retained all the possessions which they could carry on their camels. They finally set off leaving behind all that they owned from their lands, palm trees and armour. The Messenger of Allah divided their properties among the Muhajir to the exclusion of the Ansar, except for two men who were Abu Dujanah and Sahl ibn Hanif who complained of poverty. In expelling Banu Nadir, the Messenger of Allah managed to quell the internal unrest and restore the dignity and high status of the Muslims.
Turning once again to external affairs the Messenger of Allah went forth to keep his appointment with Quraysh in a last Battle of Badr, but Quraysh did not meet him there. This was one year after Uhud and Allah’s Messenger remembered what Abu Sufyan had said, "Today in exchange for the day of Badr; our meeting place is Badr next year." He stressed the importance of meeting Abu Sufyan so he prepared the Muslims for battle. He left ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Salul in charge of Madinah and set off with the Muslims until they reached Badr. There they set up camp waiting for Quraysh ready to do battle with them. Quraysh, headed by Abu Sufyan, left Makkah with more than two thousand men, but they soon returned. The Messenger of Allah remained in Badr for eight consecutive days waiting for Quraysh, but they never turned up. Finally news reached him that Quraysh had returned to Makkah. So he journeyed back with the Muslims to Madinah after realising handsome profits from their trading at Badr. The Muslims returned victorious despite the fact that no fighting had taken place. Soon after, the Messenger of Allah raided Ghatafan in Najd and they fled leaving behind their properties and women, which the Muslims took and returned to Madinah. Then he raided Dumat al-Jandal on the border between al-Sham and Hijaz. This was intended as a lesson and a warning to the other tribes who used to attack the caravans. But Dumat al-Jandal never confronted him , they just fled in terror leaving behind their properties which the Muslims also took returning to Madinah victorious.
These raids, and the measures taken by Allah’s Messenger at home in Madinah, helped to re-establish Islam’s authority and secured the grandeur of the Islamic State in the eyes of the Arabs and Jews. The effects of the defeat at Uhud were thus completely effaced.
In the wake of the Battle of Uhud, had a great effect in restoring the high standing of the Muslims and in reasserting the authority of the Islamic State.
The Muslims’ sphere of influence widened and their authority increased dramatically, reaching new heights. The whole of the Arabian Peninsula became fearful of the might exercised by the Muslims. Whenever the Arabs got wind of a raid that was about to be launched against them by Allah’s Messenger they would get frightened and run away, this happened in Ghatafan and Dumat al-Jandal. Quraysh were no longer a match for the Muslims and they could no longer dare to confront them on their own. For example, in the last raid of Badr Quraysh backed down and did not even turn up. This helped the Muslims to enjoy some stability and gave them a little respite, allowing them to concentrate on life in Madinah. They were able to re-organise their way of life in the light of the recent changes that had taken place. Now that the Muhajireen had gained the booties of Banu Nadir such as their lands, palm trees (date palms), houses and furniture, which had been distributed among them, a considerable change in their fortunes had occurred. However, this did not distract them from pursuing their top priority, which was evidently jihad, for jihad has been decreed till the Day of Reckoning. Nevertheless, their living standards had become better and more stable than before.
Despite the serenity in Madinah, the Messenger of Allah always remained on the alert fearing the treachery of the enemy. He was forever keen to gather news about everyone and every development taking place in the Arabian Peninsula. He would send people on exploratory and news-gathering missions all over the land as well as further afield. He was anxious to learn everything about the movements of the Arabs in order to be ready to deal with any hostilities. This was especially so now that the enemies of the Muslims in the Peninsula numbered many, which was the outcome of building an army and a State to be reckoned with, and after expelling the Jews of Banu Qaynuqa’ and Banu Nadir, as well as after having dealt the tribes such as Ghatafan, Hadhayl and others many a crushing blow.
In light of the above, the Messenger of Allah considered intelligence gathering to be vital. In fact it was through this medium that he received early warning of Quraysh combining together with several other tribes to raid Madinah. He was therefore able to make advanced preparations to meet the new threat.
The Gathering of the Confederates
It was the Jews of Banu Nadir who endeavoured to incite the Arabs against the Messenger of Allah in order to exact their revenge for being expelled from Madinah. A number of them had formed a party against the Messenger of Allah , among whom were Huyayy ibn Akhtab, Sallam ibn Abi al-Huqayq and Kinanah ibn Abi al-Huqayq, and from Banu Wa’il were Haudhah ibn Qays and Abu ‘Ammar, and it was this party which approached Quraysh in Makkah. Quraysh asked Huyayy about his people and he said, "I left them between Khaybar and Madinah hesitating and waiting for you to march with them against Muhammad and his companions." They also asked him about Banu Qurayzah and he said, "They remained in Madinah to deceive Muhammad. They are waiting for you to raid Madinah to help you from within." At that stage Quraysh were hesitant, not knowing whether to attack Madinah or not. They considered that there was no difference between them and Muhammad except his call to Allah and Islam. They therefore wondered whether Muhammad was in the right? To allay their doubts Quraysh asked the Jews, "You, O Jews, are the first scripture people and know the nature of our dispute with Muhammad. Is our deen the best or is his?" The Jews replied, "Certainly your deen is better than his and you have a better claim to be in the right!"
The Jews were of the people who supposedly called to the tawheed and they knew very well that the deen of Muhammad was the right one, but their burning desire to incite the Arabs against him landed them in this despicable blunder. To declare that the worshipping of idols was better than the Tawheed was their eternal disgrace and shame, but the Jews did it and they were to ably demonstrate that they could do even worse.
Once they were assured that Quraysh were convinced and that they would gladly respond to their call the Jews went to Ghatafan of Qays Ghaylan, to Banu Murrah and to Banu Fazarah, to Banu Ashja’a, to Banu Salim, to Banu Sa’d, to Banu Asad and to anyone else who held a grudge against the Muslims. In time a number of Arab tribes were assembled and these went out with Quraysh heading for Madinah.
Progress of the Battle
Quraysh marched under the leadership of Abu Sufyan. They numbered about 4,000 warriors, 300 cavalrymen and another 1,500 warriors riding on camels. Banu Fazarah marched under the leadership of ‘Uyayna ibn Hisn ibn Hudhayfah with a large number of warriors and 1,000 camels. Banu Ashja’a marched under the leadership of Mis’ar ibn Rakhaylah, and Banu Murrah marched under the leadership of al-Harith ibn ‘Auf with 400 warriors. Banu Salim and Bir Ma’una’s people marched with about 700 warriors. When these had all gathered they were further reinforced by Banu Sa’d and Banu Asad. Altogether the army totalled about 10,000 men and the combined force marched under the leadership of Abu Sufyan. When news reached the Messenger of Allah , he decided to entrench himself inside Madinah. Salman al-Farsi recommended digging a trench around Madinah and entrenching inside it, so the trench was dug and the Messenger of Allah worked at it himself encouraging the Muslims on with the hope of reward in Heaven. He prodded them to double and redouble their efforts and in this way the trench was completed in six days. In addition, the walls of the houses facing the enemy were fortified, the houses beyond (outside) the trench were then evacuated, and the women and children placed inside the fortified houses within Madinah. The Messenger of Allah set off with three thousand Muslims, he had his back to the valley of Sal’ and the trench dividing him from the enemy. There he encamped, and a red tent was pitched for him.
Quraysh and their allies set off hoping to encounter Muhammad at Uhud but it was not to be. Then Quraysh marched on until they reached Madinah and to their surprise they found their way barred by the trench. Clearly Quraysh and her allies were not familiar with this kind of defensive strategy, they were forced to encamp outside Madinah beyond the trench to consider their next move. Abu Sufyan and those with him soon realised that they were in for a long stay by the trench because they were not able to storm it. This inconclusive situation proved troublesome as it was winter, the winds were fierce and biting cold. Under these conditions the people began to feel disheartened, they wished that they could return home. Huyayy ibn Akhtab was aware of this and so he suggested that Banu Qurayzah should be talked into violating the peace treaty, which they had signed with Muhammad and the Muslims, and join the clans. He told Quraysh and their allies that if Qurayzah did this the Muslims would lose all links with the outside world and the way would be open to invade Madinah. Quraysh and Ghatafan were pleased with the idea and sanctioned Huyayy to approach Ka’ab ibn Asad, the leader of Banu Qurayzah. When Ka’ab heard Huyayy coming he shut the door of the fort in his face. However Huyayy persisted until Ka’ab opened the door; he said to him, "Good heavens Ka’ab! I have brought you immortal fame and a great army. I have come with Quraysh with their leaders and chiefs, and Ghatafan with their leaders and chiefs. They have made a firm agreement and promised me that they will not depart until we have made an end of Muhammad and his men." Ka’ab was hesitant and he recalled the Messenger of Allah’s loyalty and faithfulness. He feared the consequences of what he was letting himself into. But Huyayy kept on wheedling Ka’ab, reminding him of how Muhammad had treated the Jews and how strong the Allies were, until at last Ka’ab gave way and accepted what Huyayy had asked of him. Thus Ka’ab broke his promise and cut loose from the bond that was between him and the Messenger of Allah . Qurayzah therefore joined the Allies without the knowledge of Allah’s Messenger . The news reached the Messenger of Allah and his companions and this caused them a great deal of concern. They feared the worst, thus Allah’s Messenger sent Sa’d ibn Mu’adh, chief of the Aws, and Sa’d ibn ‘Ubadah, chief of al-Khazraj, together with ‘Abdullah ibn Rawahah and Khawwat ibn Jubayr to go and see whether the report was true or not. He asked them to give him a sign which only he could understand so as not to undermine the peoples’ morale and that if Qurayzah were still loyal to their agreement they were to speak out openly before the people. So they went forth and found the situation even more deplorable than they had at first heard. When they tried to persuade Qurayzah not to dishonour their agreement, Ka’ab demanded that they allow their brothers Banu Nadir to return back to their homes. Sa’d ibn Mu’adh, who happened to be an ally of Qurayzah, attempted to persuade them to stick to their agreement. They spoke disparagingly of the Messenger of Allah saying, "Who is the Messenger of Allah? We have no agreement or undertaking with Muhammad." The envoys returned and briefed Allah’s Messenger of their findings. The situation was obviously extremely serious and fear was everywhere.
The Allies prepared to do battle. Qurayzah meanwhile asked the Allies to allow them ten days in order to prepare for battle while they, the Allies, would fight the Muslims fiercely during that time. They formed three divisions to fight the Messenger of Allah , the division of Ibn al A’war al-Silmi closed in on Madinah from the valley, the division of ‘Uyayna ibn Hisn moved in from the side, and Abu Sufyan came before the trench. Panic gripped the Muslims and they became terrified. The Allies’ strength was apparent, and their morale very high, they went for the trench and a few of them managed to storm it. Some horsemen of Quraysh among whom were ‘Amr ibn ‘Abdu Wudd, ‘Ikrimah ibn Abi Jahl and Dirar ibn al-Khattab made for a narrow part of the ditch and beat their horses so that they dashed through it and carried them into the swampy ground between the trench and Sal’. ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib with some Muslims came out to hold the gap through which they had forced a passage. Now ‘Amr ibn Abdu Wudd went forth when his contingent had come to a halt and challenged anyone to fight him. ‘Ali accepted the challenge and said to him, "I call on you to dismount." ‘Amr replied, "O son of my brother, I do not want to kill you." ‘Ali said, "But I want to kill you." So they fought and ‘Ali killed him. The remaining horsemen fled bursting headlong in flight across the trench. This upset, however, did not affect the Allies’ morale it actually enraged them and made them all the more determined to terrorise the Muslims. In the meantime the zealots of Banu Qurayzah began to leave their forts and enter Madinah, this was with the aim of terrorising the nearby houses. Torment, anxiety and terror intensified within the Muslims’ quarters, but the Messenger of Allah was always confident that Allah (swt) would grant him victory.
Relief came in the form of Nu’aym ibn Mas’ud. He had already embraced Islam though his own people did not know it and he came to the Messenger of Allah . Nu’aym proposed to the Messenger of Allah a way in which he could awaken distrust amongst the disbelievers. So Nu’aym was instructed by the Messenger of Allah to go to Banu Qurayzah, with whom he had been a boon companion in jahiliyyah days, and remind them of his affection and the special ties that existed between them; remarking to him in a most famous statement, "For war is deceit." Nu’aym thus set about achieving this by speculating what would be their fate should things go badly for them and Ghatafan together with Quraysh were to leave them to face Muhammad alone. He emphasised that Quraysh and Ghatafan might not bear waiting for a long time because they were not inhabitants of that land and hence had much less motivation to stay. He told them that if they were left to face Muhammad on their own they would not be able to do so. Finally, he suggested to them not to fight alongside the Allies until they had taken hostages from their chiefs who would remain in their hands as security. Only then should they fight Muhammad with their allies until they made an end of him. Qurayzah thought that this was excellent advice. Nu’aym then went to Quraysh and told them that the Jews of Qurayzah had regretted their action in opposing Muhammad and that they had sent him to tell them so. He stated that they were prepared to make it up with him by handing over some chiefs of the two tribes, Quraysh and Ghatafan, so that he could cut their heads off. He said to them, "So if the Jews send to you to demand hostages, do not send to them a single man." Then he went to Ghatafan and told them the same story that he had told Quraysh. The Arabs’ suspicion of the Jews grew and Abu Sufyan sent for Ka’ab informing him that they had been besieging Muhammad for a long time and that they should make ready for battle the next day. Ka’ab replied that it was the Sabbath, a day on which they did nothing, no fighting and no work. Abu Sufyan was enraged and he came to believe what Nu’aym had told him. He sent an envoy back to Qurayzah to tell them to make another Sabbath instead of this one for it was essential to fight Muhammad the next day. The envoy also told them that if Quraysh and Ghatafan went out to fight and they were not there, their agreements would be canceled and they might be fought before Muhammad . When Qurayzah heard Abu Sufyan’s comments they asserted their stand that they would not violate the Sabbath, then they mentioned the hostages whom they should hold as security. When Abu Sufyan heard this he had no doubt left concerning what Nu’aym had told him. He began to think of a new strategy and he liaised with Ghatafan only to find out that they too had second thoughts about fighting Muhammad . That night Allah (swt) sent a bitter wind and a thunderous storm which overthrew their tents and upset their cooking-pots. They were panic-stricken and thought that the Muslims would seize the chance to direct their onslaught against them, so Tulayha arose up and shouted, "Muhammad has come after you, so run for your lives". Abu Sufyan said, "O Quraysh! Be off, for I am going." So they grabbed hurriedly whatever they could carry and fled. Ghatafan and the rest of the Allies did the same. In the morning they were all gone.
When the Messenger of Allah saw this, he and the Muslims left the trench and returned to Madinah; Allah (swt) had spared the Muslims from fighting. Now that Allah’s Messenger was rid of Quraysh he decided to finish with Banu Qurayzah once and for all. It was they who had broken their agreement and had conspired with the Allies to exterminate the Muslims, therefore Allah’s Messenger ordered the muadhin (caller to the prayer) to deliver the adhaan saying that whoever was obedient should not perform the afternoon prayer until after he had reached Banu Qurayzah. Allah’s Messenger sent ‘Ali forward with his banner and the Muslims hastened to it full of joy and zest until they reached Banu Qurayzah whereupon they besieged them for twenty five nights. The Jews sent to the Messenger of Allah saying that they wanted to negotiate with him. After much negotiation they settled for the judgment of Sa’d ibn Mu’adh and he gave judgment that, "The men should be killed, the property divided and the women and children taken as sabi." The judgment was executed, the tribe was exterminated and Madinah was rid of them once and for all.
The defeat of the Allies marked the end of any serious attempt by Quraysh to confront the Messenger of Allah and the annihilation of Banu Qurayzah meant that all three Jewish tribes, which had originally lived around Madinah and who had agreements with Allah’s Messenger (which each broke in the course of time), had either been exterminated or expelled. This meant that the supremacy of Allah’s Messenger and the Muslims over Madinah was absolute and as a result the Arabs were just as fearful of the Muslims as ever.