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The Just and Kind Dealings of the Prophet (ﷺ) with the Jews

Posted by Abu Iyaad
Thursday, Nov 09 2023
Filed under Miscellaneous

See related: Professor of Jewish Studies David J Wasserstein: How Islam Saved the Jews. Quote: "ISLAM SAVED JEWRY. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth."

A LARGE NUMBER of Jews had congregated in and around Madīnah (originally, Yathrib) as they were expecting the arrival of a Prophet mentioned in their books who they believed would give them victory and authority of the Pagan Arabs. Among them was a Cohenite leadership from the descendants of Hārūn (Aaron). Their religion was abrogated with the sending of the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and the revelation of the Qurʾān. The learned amongst them knew Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) was mentioned in their scriptures and some of their sages accepted Islam, such as ʿAbd Allāh bin Sallām (رضي الله عنه).

When the Prophet of Islām came, he expected and anticipated their support as they were People of Scripture, especially against the enmitious and warring Pagan Arabs who were determined to kill the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and his followers and extinguish his message. And since the Jews claimed to be monotheists, then naturally, they should ally with the Muslims.

In this context, the Prophet Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) had relations with Jews and Christians while in Madīnah. Many delegations of Christians would come to him to learn about Islām. From them were the delegations of Najrān whom he would graciously accommodate. Most of them became Muslims after discussions and debates with the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) towards the end of his prophethood. As for his relationship with the Jews, it was one of justice and kindness.

SHORTLY after the hijrah to Madīnah, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) laid down a constitution (dustūr) for the protection of al-Madīnah from the warring and enmitous Pagan Arabs. In it the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) declared, in what amounts to an agreement and alliance between the inhabitants of Madīnah:[1]

[For the Jews of Banū ʿAwf are one community with the Believers. To the Jews their religion and to the Muslims their religion, their leaders and themselves - except the one who oppresses and sins, for he only destroys himself and the people of his household. For the Jews of Banū al-Najjār is the same as what is for the Jews of Banū ʿAwf. For the Jews of Banū al-Ḥārith is the same as what is for the Jews of Banū ʿAwf. For the Jews of Banū Sāʿidah is the same as what is for the Jews of Banū ʿAwf. For the Jews of Banū Jashm is the same as what is for the Jews of Banū ʿAwf. For the Jews of Banū al-ʿAws is the same as what is for the Jews of Banū ʿAwf. And for the Jews of Banū Thaʿlabah is the same as what is for the Jews of Banū ʿAwf, save whoever transgresses and sins for he only destroys himself and the people of his household... and that the expenditure of the Jews is upon them and the expenditure of the Muslims is upon them.

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) guaranteed them the right to life, freedom of religion, right of property and ownership, right of protection and defence, right of justice and the right of judging by their own laws in their internal affairs.

From their notables who became Muslim and were among the Prophet's Companions include:

  • ʿAbd Allāh bin Sallām (رضي الله عنه), who was learned scholar from the tribe of Banū Qaynaqāʿ.
  • Asad bin Kaʿab al-Quraḍhī (رضي الله عنه), who was from Banū Qurayḍhah.
  • Yāmīn bin ʿUmayr (رضي الله عنه) from Banū al-Naḍīr.
  • Rifāʿah bin Quraḍhah al-Quraḍhī (رضي الله عنه) also from Banū Qurayḍhah

Under the chapter heading, “The Jewish Neighbour,” the famous collector of Prophetic traditions, Imām al-Bukhārī relates the following authentic tradition from the commentator of the Qurʾān, Mujāhid (d. 102H), who said:[2]

I was with ʿAbdullāh bin ʿAmr (a companion of the Prophet) whilst his servant was preparing a sheep (for a meal) and he said, ‘O servant! When you have finished (cooking the meal) then begin by offering to our Jewish neighbour (first).’ So a man present said, “The Jew, may Allāh rectify you?’ He replied, ‘I heard the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) advising with (kindness) to the neighbour (with such emphasis) until we feared he would relate to us (through revelation) that the (neighbour) is to inherit (from his fellow neighbour)’.

As for his justice, when al-Ashʿat bin Qays, a man from the Muslims, disputed with a man amongst the Jews regarding some land in Yemen and no clear proof was presented, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) judged in favour of the Jew.[3]

Likewise, when the Jews of Khaybar killed ʿAbd Allāh bin Sahl (رضي الله عنه), the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) did not demand blood-money from the Jews for this killing due to the absence of any clear evidence against them and instead he paid the blood-money to the family of ʿAbd Allāh bin Sahl from the treasury of the Muslim.[4]

In fact, he permitted the Jews to judge according to their own law in disputes between them and did not impose upon them in their own disputes unless they came and sought his judgement in a dispute.[5]

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) behaved with justice, benevolence, good manners and fulfilment of trusts. From his good behaviour with the Jews in particular is that he would visit their sick as is related by Anas bin Mālik that a boy amongst the Jews who would serve the Prophet in his chores fell sick and he went to visit him and invited him to Islām. The boy’s father ordered his son to obey the Prophet, indicating the reverence and respect which Jews had for the Prophet. The Jewish boy became a Muslim.[6]

He would accept gifts from the Jews and also had trade dealings with the Jews. ʿĀʿishah (رضي الله عنها) reported that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) purchased some food from a Jew on credit and mortgaged his iron shield for it.[7]

The Jews would often pass by him and ask him questions on religious matters. On an occasion they asked him about the soul (rūḥ) as a result of which a verse in the Qurʾan was revealed.

He would also supplicate for them for guidance and rectification.

Alongside this, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) meted out justice to anyone who acted treacherously or with treason, violated the covenants, disturbed the peace and worked mischief and corruption on earth.[8]

As for Banū Qaynaqāʿ, they were loyal to ʿAbd Allāh bin Ubayy, a chief hypocrite and instigator against the Muslims. They were boisterous and threatening, and after they were subdued in battle and forced to surrender, they were exiled from Madīnah. This was in the 2nd year after hijrah.

Thereafter, Banū Naḍīr were exiled from Madīnah because they broke the covenant they had with the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and had attempted to assassinate him on two occasions, at the instigation of the polytheists, but failed each time. This was one in a chain of events that led to their exile. This was in the the 3rd year after hijrah.

As for Banū Qurayḍhah, then they acted treacherously by breaking their covenant and in a most pressing time, during the Battle of the Trench, when a Pagan alliance of ten thousand had come to Madīnah for battle against the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and had besieged the city. They plotted against him (from within) in order to support the alliance, desiring victory for the Pagan alliance. After the battle, with the retreat of the Pagans they retreated to their fortress, knowing their treachery had been uncovered. They were besieged for 25 days after which they surrendered and judgement was pronounced upon them by Saʿd bin Muʿādh (رضي الله عنه), upon their request, thinking that because of their good relation with him, he would give them favourable judgement. He judged them with the judgement of their Torah in relation to the rules of siege and surrender. This took place towards the end of the 5th year of hijrah.

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) continued with his message and call after his truce with the Meccan Pagans at Hudaybiyyah in the 6th year of hijrah. In the later years of prophethood, many of the tribes of the People of Scripture became Muslim.

Aside from the these tribes who acted treacherously, the relations with the rest of the Jews, as per the covenants and agreements were maintained with the general guiding principle in these relations being based on the verse:

لَّا يَنْهَىٰكُمُ ٱللَّهُ عَنِ ٱلَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَٰتِلُوكُمْ فِى ٱلدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُم مِّن دِيَٰرِكُمْ أَن تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوٓا إِلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُقْسِطِينَ

Allāh does not forbid you regarding those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes from being righteous towards them and acting justly towards them. Indeed, Allāh loves those who act justly. (60:8).

For details and commentary on this verse refer to: On Kindness and Justice to Non-Muslims Living Under Islamic Rule

From the era of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) until the Zionist project of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Jews have fared well under Islāmic rule, much better than in Europe and this is testified to by many Jewish scholars and authors. The Europeans expelled them from their lands over the centuries[9] with accusations of various sorts, and the Jews often sought sanctuary in Muslim lands from persecution.

By way of example only, in a Los Angeles Times article, William Montalbano writes:[10]

The Jews of Istanbul, who have lived for centuries along the shores of the Golden Horn, never tire of one particular sea story: In 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from the tiny port of Palos... because the harbors at Cadiz and Seville were jammed with boatloads of Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain by his royal sponsors. Columbus went west to uncertainty. Around 60,000 Jews exiled that year by Ferdinand and Isabella came east to official welcome in lands of the Ottoman Empire. Thousands more joined them after an interim stop in Portugal.

Now, their Turkish descendants are preparing a year-long celebration of a Jewish tradition that since the 15th Century has flourished in an Islamic universe... ‘We want to send the world a message that we have been living here peacefully for centuries while other Jewish communities have suffered in many lands of Europe,’ said Sami Kohen...

1. This is mentioned by the historians Muḥammad bin Isḥāq, Ibn Hishām and likewise, Abū ʿUbayd al-Qāsim bin Sallām, Ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī and others.
2. Related by al-Bukhārī in al-Adab al-Mufrad.
3. The story is related in both al-Bukhārī and Muslim.
4. Related by al-Bukhārī (no. 6769) and Muslim (no. 1669).
5. The Islāmic Sharīʿah grants religious minorities the right to judge by their own laws indicating that it is fairer and more accommodating than secular laws in which everyone is obligated to abide by a law which they may or may not be in agreement with. In this regard, the Islāmic Sharīʿah is more tolerant of other faiths than secular constitutions and laws.
6. Related by al-Bukhāri (no. 1356).
7. Related by al-Bukhārī (no. 1990) and Muslim (no. 1603).
8. Hence, those who resorted to treachery after ratifying their covenant and plotted with outside enemies to murder the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) in order to put an end to the Muslim state were delivered justice. They were not wronged because they chose treachery with full knowledge of the outcome.
9. “Jews were expelled from England (1290), France (14th century), Germany c(1350s), Portugal (1496), Provence (1512), and the Papal States (1569).” Encylopedia Britannica.
10. For Jews, a 500-Year Turkish Haven, Los Angeles Times, 2nd November 1991.

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© Abu Iyaad — Benefits in dīn and dunyā


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