Are the claims that the number of the people that were killed in the incident of Sons of Qurayza is exaggerated and that they are not based on sound sources true?

The Details of the Question

“It is said that all narrations about Sons of Qurayza incident are based on Ibn Ishaq, that he got it from a person of Jewish origin, that the hadith scholars and historians after him reported this event without questioning, that some scholars like Malik accused Ibn Ishaq of lying and even being Dajjal (Antichrist), that Ibn Hajar denied the incident and hence the Jews in Sons of Qurayza incident were not killed as it is stated in the narration, and that it is a lie; there are several objections like keeping so many Jews in one house before they are killed is impossible. Why should such a thing be done to the Jews in that incident while the other Jews who were in a state of war with Muslims were tolerated and allowed to leave Medina?”
- In fact, an article called “NEW LIGHT ON THE STORY OF BANU QURAYZA” was written regarding the issue, rejecting the incident. What is your answer to those claims?
- Can the incident be a fabrication as it is claimed?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The incident is true but it can be said that the information about the number of people who were killed is exaggerated. We will try to explain the issue in a few articles:

1. Jews of Sons of Qurayza signed an agreement with the Islamic state of Madinah. According to the agreement, both sides would defend the country of Madinah under all circumstances. In case of an attack on one party, the other party would regard that attack as an attack on itself and would fight against the attacker.

However, when the Battle of Khandaq took place, the Jews broke the agreement unilaterally - even if with the suggestions of some mischief-makers - and united with the enemy fighting against the Muslims and betrayed Muslims openly.

According to the customs of the people of that time - as it is today - the punishment for the traitor was death. Therefore, those who plotted and actually practiced the betrayal were sentenced to death by the arbitrator they themselves chose - based on full justice.

2. Think for a moment; you cannot even imagine what would have happened to the Muslims if that treacherous network together with other polytheist groups had been victorious. The recruitment of soldiers – unproportionally - by the enemy (more than ten thousand soldiers against the Muslims who amounted to three thousand) is a clear indication that they aimed to exterminate the Muslims.

3. The fact that the Prophet (pbuh) did not kill the Jews of Sons of Qaynuka and Sons of Nadir tribes - despite their treacherous plans and hostility toward Muslims - is an indisputable indication that the Jews of Sons of Qurayza who were killed had already deserved it.

It is understood that those Jews, unlike the previous Jews, stabbed the Muslims in the back during a very dangerous war when the other enemies besieged Madinah at a time when the Muslims were in great trouble and at a time when enemies attacked with armies of more than ten thousand soldiers to exterminate the Muslims, and that they deserved this punishment.

4. However, the number of the Jews killed in that war seems to be exaggerated a lot in addition to being reported differently. Those exaggerated numbers were reported as 400, 550, 700 and 900. It is stated that all of those narrations are weak in terms of chains of narrators or texts.

Ibn Ishaq, who reported those figures, was criticized by scholars as follows: Imam Malik, who was his peer said, “He is one of Dajjals.” Imam Ahmad: “He does not search the honesty of those from whom he reports.” Hisham b. Urwa: “He is a liar.” Ibn Nadim: “He was blamed/criticized by scholars.” Ibn Hajar: “He does TADLIS (giving a good image to a bad person) in his narrations from weak and unknown narrators.” Dhahabi: “Previous scholars accused him of narrating bad and strange things.” Khatib Baghdadi: “He got the information about battles mostly from Jews.” (see Salim al-Mashhur, the article titled “Usturatu Majzarati Bani Qurayza”)

5) It is interesting that Ibn Ishaq did not make any efforts to determine the exact number while giving the number of those who were killed. The information he gave was “between 600 and 900”. (see Ibn Hisham, as-Sirah, 2/240-241) There is a difference of 300 between the two figures. It shows that the Jews who gave that information preferred to give exaggerated numbers rather than the real number - to cause hesitation in minds - and Ibn Ishaq wrote down what he heard as it was without filtering.

It is also interesting that while describing that incident, Ibn Ishaq did not even give a sound chain of narrators; on the contrary, he regarded the following expression sufficient: “A scholar in whom I trust told me...”. It means that this narration is also weak in terms of chain of narrators.

6) In a narration that Abu Islam al-Maghribi verified and declared as “sound”, the number was determined as only 40. Accordingly, Sad b. Muadh decreed as follows: “The male Jews (who fought actually / who were warriors) will be killed; their families will be taken captive, and their property will be distributed (as booty)”. The Prophet (pbuh) applied that decree; however, he forgave only “Amr b. Sad” among the Jewish men - since he had not betrayed. (see Ibn Zanjuya, al-Amwal, h. no: 359)

However, in a narration that Tirmidhi describes as “sound”, the number is mentioned as 400. (Tirmidhi, 1582) Ibn Hajar states that the narrations determining the number of people who were killed as 400 are sound. (see Fathul-Bari, 7/414)

In fact, according to the information given by Ibn Ishaq, those who deserved to die were gathered in a woman’s house. (Ibn Hisham, ibid) A woman’s house could only accommodate 40 people especially under the conditions of that time. It is not possible to contain more people as expressed by other numbers. It shows that the numbers that are given are exaggerated. However, there are also narrations that those Jews were gathered in two houses. (see Ibn Hajar, ibid)

It is understood from all those explanations that only the fighting men of Sons of Qurayza Jews were killed. It is highly probable that most of them were killed during the battle. Others were executed after they were captured as punishment for betrayal. The number of those who were killed is between 40 and 400. No woman was killed except for one woman who was killed as retaliation. None of the young and old people who did not fight was killed.

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