Jihad in the Life of Muhammad: Banu Qaynuqa

Part 7





Jihad in the Life of Muhammad: The Jewish Tribe Banu Qaynuqa

Muhammad’s attacks on and the expulsion of the Jewish tribes constituted part of an astute strategy to increase and consolidate his own power in Medina; they are clear steps in the direction of complete unrivalled dominance. Members of the Banu Qaynuqa tribe were mainly engaged in commerce, in direct competition with the Muhammad’s emigrants from Mecca. They were craftsmen and goldsmiths and were allied with the influential Ibn Ubayy. Muhammad gathered them together in the market place and threatened them with divine vengeance if they did not convert to Islam:
Meanwhile there was the affair of the B. Qaynuqa’. The apostle assembled them in their market and addressed them as follows: ‘O Jews, beware lest God bring upon you the vengeance that He brought upon Quraysh and become Muslims. You know that I am a prophet who has been sent – you will find that in your scriptures and God’s covenant with you.’ They replied, ‘O Muhammad, you seem to think that we are your people. Do not deceive yourself ... 1  (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 545)
This was no mere threat of divine action that God would take on his own initiative, in his own time and using the agents of his choice. Every battle, every decision, every action on the part of Muhammad was claimed to be God’s. He was “fighting in the way of Allah”. This was jihad gradually developing into an offensive armed attack on all forms of opposition. Muhammad was God’s agent and God’s messenger. After all Muhammad, fighting in the way of Allah, had just won an important victory over the Quraysh at Badr. In the Qur’an there is almost complete identification between the will of Muhammad and the will of God. This was a threat, not so much of the vengeance of God but the vengeance of Muhammad himself. It is not so much Muhammad doing God’s will as God doing Muhammad’s will. He, Muhammad, was threatening this Jewish tribe: Islam or else! They steadfastly refused. Muhammad ordered a 15 day siege preventing food supplies from entering their quarter and they had eventually to surrender. Muhammad wanted to kill all of them but on the forceful intervention of Ibn Ubayy he relented on condition they left Medina and left behind all their possessions. Ibn Ubayy also intervened unsuccessfully to prevent the tribe from being sent into exile. Muhammad kept a fifth of what they left behind and his trading emigrants no longer had any competition and flourished.

This was a clear manipulation of religion, religion at the service of personal and political aggrandisement. It may be true that there were no forced conversions to Islam but this was the next best (read “worst”) thing! Muhammad, by eliminating the Banu Qaynuqa, had also diminished the influence of Ibn Ubayy in the oasis and proportionally increased his own. Ibn Ubayy began to realise the mistake the leaders in Medina had made when offering refuge in Medina in exchange for being arbitrator in their feuds but it was now too late to do anything about it. Muslims, who today deny that there is any union between religion and politics in Islam, should analyse a little more their own sources. Religion and politics are one and were united in the very person of their founder the day he set foot in Medina. Muhammad evolved from a derided prophet in Mecca to a feared statesman and warrior prophet “fighting in the way of Allah” at the expense of the Jewish tribes. The Banu Qaynuqa episode also establishes a precedent that will continue throughout the early Islamic expansionistic politics. The strategy was essentially the same, the first step being an invitation to accept Islam. If accepted the inhabitants and territory were included in the Dar al-Islam (house / abode of Islam). If rejected then jihad was declared until the adversary was conquered or surrendered or slaughtered. 2


1 A. Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ibn Isḥāq’s Sīrat Rasūl Allāh, Oxford University Press, Pakistan, 2011, p. 363.
2 In later policy the unconverted conquered people became a protected “species”, second class citizens in Muslim territory and had to pay a special tax for this status. The people were called “dhimmis" and the “protection” tax “jizya”.

Jihad - Qital - Holy War: Part 1 Introduction
Jihad - Qital - Holy War: Part 2 Jihad, Meaning and Forms
Jihad - Qital - Holy War: Part 3 The Qur'an
Jihad - Qital - Holy War: Part 4 The Hadith
Jihad - Qital - Holy War: Part 5 From Mecca to Medina
Jihad - Qital - Holy War: Part 6 Muhammad and the Jews of Medina
Jihad - Qital - Holy War: Part 7 Muhammad and the Jews Banu Qaynuqa
Jihad - Qital - Holy War: Part 8 Muhammad and the Jews Banu Al-Nadir
Jihad - Qital - Holy War: Part 9 Muhammad and the Jews Banu Qurayza
Jihad - Qital - Holy War: Part 10 Jesus Christ and Muhammad: Opposition, Mockery and rejection
Jihad - Qital - Holy War: Part 11 Jihad of the Sword, the Lesser or Greater Jihad
Jihad - Qital - Holy War: Part 12 The importance of Jihad available soon

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