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The Battle of the Ditch

The Battle of the Ditch

The Battle of the Ditch

This battle, which is also called al-khandaq (the ditch) or al-a¦z¡b (the Allies), took place in Shaww¡l, the 5th year of Hegira[1] when °uyay ibn Akh§ab, some chiefs of Ban£’l-Na¤¢r who had taken refuge in Khaybar and a group of Ban£-W¡’il had visited Quraysh in Mecca and encouraged them to take part in a war against the Holy Prophet. They promised them of all sorts of assistance. Quraysh asked them, “Which one is better; our religion or Mu¦ammad’s?” Although the Jews doctrinally believed in God and they should not have supported idolatry, they answered, “Your religion is better than Mu¦ammad’s and you are closer to the reality.”

Having heard this, Quraysh were encouraged to fight the Holy Prophet. God condemns this hostile judgment of theirs in the following manner:

Have you not seen those to whom a portion of the book has been given? They believe in idols and false deities and say of those who disbelieve: They are better guided in the path than those who believe.

Those are they whom Allah curses you shall not find any helper for him. (4:51-52)

This hostile judgment of the Jewish leaders was so far away from logic and justice that some current Jews condemn it. In his book entitled The History of Judaism in the Land of Arabs, Dr. Israel Wolfinson, a Jewish historian, writes:

“They should not have committed such an obnoxious blunder; they should not have deemed the worshiping of idols superior to the Islamic monotheism even if they would fall out of Quraysh’s love and care. This is because the Israelites have been carrying the banner of monotheists among the idol-worshippers for centuries.[2]

Next, the Jewish leaders resorted to the chiefs of the Gha§af¡n tribe asking for assistance in a war against Muslims.[3] Out of this tribe, the branches Ban£-Faz¡rah, Ban£-Murrah and Ban£-Ashja` declared their cooperation.[4] Then the agreement of Ban£-Sulaym and Ban£-Asad was obtained.[5] Quraysh gained the support of their previous allies; Ban£-Thaq¢f and Ban£-Kin¡nah.[6] As a result, a strong military force consisting of ten thousand troops[7] and headed by Ab£-Sufy¡n started moving towards Medina. On their way, °uyay ibn Akh§ab pledged Ab£-Sufy¡n the cooperation of Ban£-Quray¨ah who had seventy-five warriors.[8]

Concerning the great capital which both Quraysh and the Jews had spent on the preparation for this war, they considered it epoch-making and were determined to annihilate Muslims forever.

Through the secret reports of Ban£-Khuz¡`ah who were allies of Muslims, the Holy Prophet knew about the movement of the enemy troops.[9] In a military session held by the Holy Prophet, nobody agreed to leave Medina; the vote was unanimous.[10]

There were palm-groves around the city and they hindered the enemy’s free access.[11] Salm¡n proposed that they would dig a ditch around the part of the city in which there were no natural obstructions so that the enemy could not pass.[12] The ditch was dug in a short time due to the participation of all Muslims, including the Holy Prophet.[13] He had women and children relocated to the castles and shelters inside the city.[14] The Islamic forces, consisting of three thousand,[15] stayed between the ditch and Mount Sala`, having it behind them.[16]

The commanders of the allies expected the war to take place outside Medina like the Battle of U¦ud. However, this did not happen. Arriving at the city borders and noticing the ditch, they were bewildered, because the digging of the ditch was unprecedented among Arabs as a war technique.[17] Thus, they had to surround the city behind the ditch.

The siege lasted for nearly twenty days and both parties started shooting at each other. The warriors of Quraysh started special military maneuvers to frighten the Muslim troops.[18] Due to the enemy’s siege of the city, Muslims were caught in a severe plight, which is described by God in the following words:

[Those who believe remember the day] when they came upon you from above you and from below you, and when the eyes turned dull, and the hearts rose up to the throats, and you began to think diverse thoughts of Allah. There the believers were tried and they were shaken with severe shaking. (33:10-11)

The Treason of Ban£-Quray¨ah

At this time, something else took place and jeopardized the Muslims’ status even more; Ban£-Quray¨ah breached their nonaggression pact with Muslims. They did so on account of °uyay ibn Akh§ab’s temptations.[19] Moreover, they committed two other acts of treason: first, they brought ammunitions to the allies who were short in supplies. At Qub¡, Muslims waylaid a caravan, arranged by Ban£-Quray¨ah, carrying dates and barely for the enemy and they confiscated it.[20] Second, they spread terror in women’s’ shelters. As one of them entered the castle where women were sheltering, he was killed by ¯afiyyah, the Holy Prophet’s aunt.[21] One night, Ban£-Quray¨ah decided to attack the center of Medina. For this purpose, they sent °uyay ibn Akh§ab to Mecca asking the chiefs of Quraysh for one thousand troops. They also asked Gha§af¡n the same. Reports of these movements and proceedings reached the Holy Prophet, who, as a result, appointed five hundred warriors to protect the city, which was panic-stricken. These warriors stayed overnight crying out ‘all¡hu-akbar (Allah is the Most Great) and protected the civil sections



[1] al-Bul¡dhar¢, op cit, 1:343; Ibn Sa`d, op cit, 2:65; Ibn Hush¡m, op cit, 3:224.

[2] Mu¦ammad °asanayn Haykal, °ay¡t Mu¦ammad, pp. 329.

[3] They promised to pay the yield of dates of Khaybar to Gha§af¡n due to their alliance. See al-Bul¡dhar¢, op cit, 1:343; al-W¡qid¢, op cit, 2:44.

[4] ±abar¢, op cit, 3:44; Ibn Hush¡m, op cit, 3:225.

[5] Mu¦ammad Ibn Sa`d, op cit, 2:66; al-W¡qid¢, op cit, 2:443; Ibn Shahr¡sh£b, Man¡qib 1:197; al-Majlis¢, Bi¦¡r al-Anw¡r 20:197.

[6] al-Bul¡dhar¢, op cit, 1:343.

[7] Ibn Sa`d, 62, pp. 66; ±abar¢, 63, pp. 46; Ibn Hush¡m, [7]3, pp. 230; Samh£d¢, [7]1, pp. 301; al-Majlis¢, [7]20, pp. 200.

[8] al-W¡qid¢, op cit, 2:454.

[9] °alab¢, al-S¢rah al-°alabiyyah 2:631.

[10] Shaykh al-Muf¢d, al-Irsh¡d, pp. 96; Ibn Shahr¡sh£b, op cit, 1:197.

[11] °alab¢, op cit 2:636; al-W¡qid¢, op cit, 2:66.

[12] al-Bul¡dhar¢, op cit, pp. 343; Ibn Sa`d, op cit, pp. 2, pp. 66; ±abar¢, op cit, 3:44; Ibn Shahr¡sh£b, op cit, 1:198; ±abars¢, I`l¡m al-War¡, pp. 90; al-Majlis¢, Bi¦¡r al-Anw¡r 20:218.

[13] According to Ibn Sa`d, it took them six days to dig the ditch. (Al-±abaq¡t al-Kubr¡ 2:67). Mu¦ammad °am¢dull¡h, a contemporary researcher who has observed the battlefields of the Muslim wars closely, believes that the ditch was built in the shape of the letter N, being five and a half kilometers long (Ras£l Akram dar Mayd¡n Jang, pp. 113-114). The basis of this calculation has most probably been the fact that at the time of digging, all of the three thousand troops were divided in groups of ten individuals, and each group dug forty cubits (±abar¢, op cit, 3:46; al-Majlis¢, op cit, 20:198). Each person had to dig four cubits, which was equal to six kilometers.

[14] Ibn Sa`d, op cit, 2:67; ±abar¢, op cit, 3:46; °alab¢, op cit, 2:636.

[15] Ibn Sa`d, op cit, 2:66; ±abar¢, op cit, 3:46; Ibn Hush¡m, op cit, 3:231; al-Majlis¢, op cit, 20:200, Samh£d¢, op cit, 1:301.

[16] al-Bul¡dhar¢, op cit, pp. 343; Mu¦ammad Ibn Sa`d, op cit, 2:66; Ibn Hush¡m, op cit, 3:231; ±abar¢, op cit, 3:46; Samh£d¢, op cit, 1:301.

[17] al-Bul¡dhar¢, op cit, 1:343; ±abar¢, op cit, 3:48; Ibn W¡¤i¦, T¡r¢kh al-Ya`q£b¢ 2:41; °alab¢, op cit, 2:636, 657.

[18] Ibn Sa`d, op cit, 2:67; °alab¢, op cit, 2:636-637

[19] Ibn Sa`d, op cit, pp. 67; Ibn Hush¡m, op cit, 3:231; ±abar¢, op cit, 3:46-47; Samh£d¢, op cit, 1:303; al-Majlis¢, op cit, 20:200-201.

[20] Samh£d¢, op cit, 1:304; °alab¢, op cit, 2:647.

[21] al-Bul¡dhar¢, op cit, 1:347; al-W¡qid¢, 2, pp. 462-463; ±abar¢, op cit, 3:50; Samh£d¢, op cit, 1:302.

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