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Setting the Record Straight: Countering British Media’s False Narratives on Khaybar

In their recent publications, prominent British media outlets Sky News and LBC have distorted a 7th-century battle into a false Muslim-led massacre. This distortion not only tarnishes their journalistic integrity and impartiality but also reveals a significant lack of scholarly acumen and academic literacy in accurately portraying historical events. By causing such disrepute, both organizations now warrant diminished credibility.

On October 29th, LBC titled their headline: “Two arrested at London Palestine protest for alleged anti-Semitic chant referencing historic Jewish massacre.” Hours later, Sky News echoed this claim, using identical wording to reference Khaybar in their coverage of the Met Police’s advisory on extremism.

It seems that in mid-2021, the Metropolitan Police allegedly employed a similar phrasing, potentially establishing a precedent later echoed by British media.

The phrase “Khaybar Khaybar Ya Yahud, Jaish Muhammad Sauf Ya’ud” was allegedly chanted by two women at a Pro-Palestine rally in Central London a day before the headlines. It translates to “Khaybar Khaybar oh Jews, the army of Mohammed is returning.” Following this incident, both individuals were arrested on charges related to hate speech.

The intention here is not to delve into the historical or contextual nuances of the chant or to explore the legal intricacies of the case. Instead, the focus is on repelling the accusation leveled against Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم and the Sahabah (companions) as orchestrators of a massacre of Jews.

The forthcoming will clarify the historical context of the ‘Battle of Khaybar’—a confrontation between the Jewish Hijazite clans and the emerging Islamic state of Madinah led by the Prophet Muhammad. Khaybar was an oasis town in Northwestern Arabia, approximately 150 km from Madinah (formerly Yathrib).

Among the tribes inhabiting Khaybar was Banu Nadir, who had previously been neighbours to the Muslims in Madinah. 

The Banu Nadir had been engaged in a series of treacherous actions, notably aiding adversaries aiming to eradicate the newly established Muslim community. The collaboration of Banu Nadir with the Meccans against the Muslims during the Battle of Uhud, negatively impacted the trust that had been established after the consolidation of the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم in Madinah. 

This was understood to contravene the agreed upon constitution of Madinah, as the tribe’s actions breached a clause committing Muslims and Jews to each other’s wars and prohibiting  treachery. An unsuccessful assassination plot against the Islamic Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم further exacerbated hostilities.

It is understood that Banu Nadir extended an invitation to the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم for a religious debate at a specific location, stipulating that he should bring three people while they would bring three of their own. In reality, they had their daggers wielded, planning to assassinate him at the rendezvous. The plan was intercepted, as a sincere woman from Banu Nadir sent her nephew, a Muslim from the Ansar, to warn the Prophet as he was on his way. This account is corroborated in Musannaf Abdul Razzaq. Contemporary writer Saifurahman Mubarakpuri, the author of a biography of the Prophet’s life entitled the Sealed Nectar, alternatively mentions a divine revelation conveyed by Archangel Gabriel that disclosed the plot.

Abdulrahman Ibn Ka’ab Ibn Malik‘s narration in Sunan Abi Dawud 3004, vividly highlights this invitation and further recounts the events preceding and following the invasion of Banu Nadir. He specifically mentions that the tribe had “gathered in treachery” (ا ْج َم َع ْت َب ُنو ال َّن ِضی ِر ِبا ْل َغ ْد ِر). A section of it reads:

َف َل َّم ا َك ا َن ا ْل َغ ُد َغ َد ا َع َل ْی ِھ ْم َر ُس و ُل َّ ِالله ص ل ى الله ع ل ی ھ و س ل م ِب ا ْل َك َت ا ِئ ِب َف َح َص َر ُھ ْم َف َق ا َل َل ُھ ْم ” إ ِ َّن ُك ْم َو َّ ِالله لا َ َت أ ْ َم ُن و َن ِع ْن ِد ي إ ِ لا َّ ِب َع ْھ ٍد ُت َع ا ِھ ُد و ِن ي َع َل ْی ِھ “.َفأََبْواأَْنُیْعُطوهُ َعْھًداَفَقاَتَلُھْمَیْوَمُھْمَذلَِك

“When the next day came, the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) went out in the morning with an army, and surrounded them.
He told them: I swear by Allah, you will have no peace from me until you conclude a treaty with me. But they refused to conclude a treaty with him. He therefore fought them the same day.”

Grade: Sahih in Chain (Al-Albani)

It is not reasonable to believe that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would have pursued a new treaty if he did not view the integrity of the prior agreement as having been compromised. After the battle in 625 CE and subsequent surrender, tribe members were deported from Medina and permitted to take whatever their camels could carry, culminating in a grand display at their departure. Many tribesmen, after being expelled from Madinah, found refuge in the Jewish strongholds of Khaybar.

In 627 CE, Banu Nadir chief Huyayy ibn Akhtab joined the Meccan-Bedouin coalition against the Muslims. This coalition sought to besiege and annihilate Medina, persecuting the Islamic community that had broken off from Makkah. Under his leadership, Banu Nadir also sought to incite Banu Sulaym against Muslims, although only managing to gather a reinforcement of 700 men due to sympathies of some of its leaders toward the Muslims.

Similar advances were made to persuade Bani Amir, who declined on account of maintaining loyalty with the Muslims. Huyayy was successful however, in bribing Banu Ghatafan and Bani Asad with harvest shares, amassing a force of 2,000 men and 300 horsemen against the Prophet Muhammad.

Now that the contextual underpinnings and causative factors precipitating the conflict have been explained, herein follows a succinct summary of the Battle of Khaybar.

In Khaybar, there were a total of eight fortresses, five situated on one side and three on the other, forming the complex’s defensive structure. The attack on Khaybar in May or June of 628 CE targeted these forts, which were not consolidated as a single entity but instead were widely dispersed and operated independently. The assault was unforeseen by Khaybar’s residents, who fled upon witnessing the invading forces, as they cried “Muhammad with his force.” Indeed, the Jews of Khaybar had contemplated a pre-emptive strike on Medina, but never executed their plans.

The Jews of Khaybar mustered a force of approximately ten thousand warriors. When war seemed imminent, the tribal chieftain Kenana ibn al-Rabi’ allegedly made a trip to his allies in the Ghatafan tribe and promised them half of the annual date harvest in exchange for reinforcements.

The Muslims, confident of their victory, had no pre-war council and were prepared primarily for the campaign’s plunder. The initial Muslim force at the onset of the Khaybar campaign comprised around 1,600 soldiers. They faced a sizable opposition, as the Jewish community boasted an estimated 10,000 fighters, supplemented by an expected 4,000 soldiers from the Ghatafan tribe.

During the Khaybar campaign, the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم sequentially targeted Khaybar’s minor strongholds, starting with Na‘im. Marhab, the fortress leader, was confronted by ‘Amr bin Al-Akwa‘, who faced a fatal injury when his sword recoiled. ‘Ali bin Abi Talib later killed Marhab, and Az-Zubair bin Al-Awwam defeated Yasir, Marhab’s brother in a famous battle. Amidst this, the Ghatafan were nowhere to be seen, as they had allegedly retreated in concern for their own undefended homeland.

The Jews initially held out, but subsequently fled from Na’im to As-Sa’b, which was overrun by Al-Hubab bin Al-Mundhir Al-Ansari. This siege resulted in significant advances for Muslims. The evacuation of An-Natat, followed by resistance in the Az-Zubayr fort, commonly known as the “citadel,” concluded in a three-day siege.

Following this, a Jewish spy disclosed a water source in exchange for impunity, leading to fierce clashes resulting in fort conquests and eventual retreats to ’Abi Castle and An-Nizar. An-Nizar, another formidable fortress, succumbed to relentless siege efforts when the Muslims utilized rams to penetrate its walls.

When the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم and his army approached Al-Katiba in the other part of Khaybar, they besieged the forts, starting with Al Qamus, which lasted for fourteen days.

The Jews entrenched themselves within their fortifications. Al Qamus was inhabited by Kenanah’s family, a prominent and influential clan of the Bani Nadir. After realizing the futility of

his resistance, Kenanah came out to negotiate just as the Muslims were about to break the last line of defense.

There is a discrepancy in historical accounts regarding the conquest of this section of Khaybar. Ibn Ishaq reported that Al-Qamus fort was taken by force. In contrast, Al-Waqidi reported that the forts were secured mostly via peaceful negotiations, with minimum force used. In his view, the other two forts surrendered without a fight. Seerah books like Martin Lings’ “Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources” mention around 20 Muslim casualties and approximately 93 for the Jews in the conflict.

As a result of the Muslim victory, the Jews of Khaybar were required to leave the region and hand over their valuables as part of a deal.

The Muslims would stop fighting and not harm any Jews. Following the agreement, several Jews contacted the Prophet Muhammad and asked to continue cultivating their orchards and staying in the oasis. In exchange, they would give the Muslims half of their product. He agreed.

The portrayal of barbaric Muslims targeting innocent, non-combatant, and historically persecuted Jews is a blatantly false fabrication. There was no indiscriminate killing by the Muslims. Instead, they were involved in a battle with armed opponents who had been treacherous, and posed a threat to the nascent Muslim community.

Their conflicts, including those with Jewish adversaries, were in line with the principle of defending themselves against aggression, much like their confrontations with fellow Arab tribes, the Romans, and the Persians.