Part 1: The siege, the surrender & the intercession of al-Aus

What really happened with the Banu Qurayza?

Part 2: Who is Sa`d bin Mu`adh?

After a siege of 25 days, the Banu Qurayza surrendered to Muhammad unconditionally. Some members of al-Aus interceded with Muhammad on their behalf, and he asked them if they would accept the judgment of one of their own tribe. They agreed, and Muhammad then appointed Sa`d bin Mu`adh. In order to understand the significance of this appointment, we need to understand the character of this man, his former encounters with the Banu Qurayza and his attitude to the Jews in general.

We will present source material as found in the Sirat Rasul Allah by Ibn Ishaq, edited by Ibn Hisham, in the translation by A. Guillaume, as well as narrations from Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.

In the Sirat, p. 301, we read that at the Battle of Badr:

The foe was routed. God slew many of their chiefs and made captive many of their nobles. Meanwhile the apostle was in the hut and Sa`d b. Mu`adh was standing at the door of the hut girt with his sword. With him were some of the Ansar guarding the apostle for fear lest the enemy should come back at him. While the folk were laying hands on the prisoners the apostle, as I have been told, saw displeasure on the face of Sa`d at what they were doing. He said to him, "You seem to dislike what the people were doing." "Yes, by God," he replied, "it is the first defeat that God has brought on the infidel and I would rather see them slaughtered than left alive."

The fact that Sa`d b. Mu`adh was Muhammad's personal body guard indicates that he was quite close to Muhammad and Muhammad would have known Sa`d probably better than many others among his companions. This special closeness is confirmed in further sources presented below.

Sa`d's reply to Muhammad's question states it very strongly that he is not a friend of making prisoners of those who do not believe in Muhammad but would rather see them killed.

Would it be wrong to see this as an indication of what Muhammad could expect when appointing Sa`d as judge over the Banu Qurayza? Muhammad himself had asked him at that time and received this reply. He was well aware of general disposition of Sa`d.

Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 48, Number 829 reports the events around an accusation of immorality on the part of `A'isha. This hadith is very long, therefore only the part giving information about Sa`d b. Mu`adh will be quoted.

Narrated Aisha:

.... Then she told me the rumors of the false accusers.

My sickness was aggravated, and when I returned home, Allah's Apostle came to me, and after greeting he said, 'How is that (girl)?' I requested him to allow me to go to my parents. I wanted then to be sure of the news through them I Allah's Apostle allowed me, and I went to my parents and asked my mother, 'What are the people talking about?' She said, 'O my daughter! Don't worry much about this matter. By Allah, never is there a charming woman loved by her husband who has other wives, but the women would forge false news about her.' I said, 'Glorified be Allah! Are the people really taking of this matter?' That night I kept on weeping and could not sleep till morning. In the morning Allah's Apostle called Ali bin Abu Talib and Usama bin Zaid when he saw the Divine Inspiration delayed, to consul them about divorcing his wife (i.e. 'Aisha). Usama bin Zaid said what he knew of the good reputation of his wives and added, 'O Allah's Apostle! Keep you wife, for, by Allah, we know nothing about her but good.' 'Ali bin Abu Talib said, 'O Allah's Apostle! Allah has no imposed restrictions on you, and there are many women other than she, yet you may ask the woman-servant who will tell you the truth.' On that Allah's Apostle called Buraira and said, 'O Burair. Did you ever see anything which roused your suspicions about her?' Buraira said, 'No, by Allah Who has sent you with the Truth, I have never seen in her anything faulty except that she is a girl of immature age, who sometimes sleeps and leaves the dough for the goats to eat.' On that day Allah's Apostle ascended the pulpit and requested that somebody support him in punishing 'Abdullah bin Ubai bin Salul. Allah's Apostle said, 'Who will support me to punish that person ('Abdullah bin Ubai bin Salul) who has hurt me by slandering the reputation of my family? By Allah, I know nothing about my family but good, and they have accused a person about whom I know nothing except good, and he never entered my house except in my company.'

Sad bin Mu'adh got up and said, 'O Allah's Apostle! by Allah, I will relieve you from him. If that man is from the tribe of the Aus, then we will chop his head off, and if he is from our brothers, the Khazraj, then order us, and we will fulfill your order.'

Is Muhammad's suggestion to kill the person? It might not be entirely clear what he meant by "punishing", but it might well be killing as some other parallel hadith accounts (quoted below) state. Nevertheless, Sa`d was the first to respond and to spell out the punishment as "chop off the head of the man" who suggested immoral behavior on the part of Aisha. Did he just know Muhammad's mind very well, or was it only his own desire to settle opposition and insult to Muhammad by the way of execution? Whatever we can conclude from this, we do learn that Sa`d b. Mu`adh is ready to shed the blood of anyone who casts doubt on Muhammad or his family.

After some more time and a verbal fight between Aus and Khazraj, the hadith continues:

... Allah's Apostle was standing on the pulpit. He got down and quietened them till they became silent and he kept quiet.

At this time, Muhammad does not take Sa`d up on his offer. Whatever Muhammad's intention was at this occasion, he knew how Sa`d reacted and what his leanings are in situations like these.

Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 59, Number 462 is more explicit in Muhammad's request what to do with the man ...

Narrated 'Aisha: ...

So, on that day, Allah's Apostle got up on the pulpit and complained about 'Abdullah bin Ubai (bin Salul) before his companions, saying, 'O you Muslims! Who will relieve me from that man who has hurt me with his evil statement about my family? By Allah, I know nothing except good about my family and they have blamed a man about whom I know nothing except good and he used never to enter my home except with me.' Sad bin Mu'adh the brother of Banu 'Abd Al-Ashhal got up and said, 'O Allah's Apostle! I will relieve you from him; if he is from the tribe of Al-Aus, then I will chop his head off, and if he is from our brothers, i.e. Al-Khazraj, then order us, and we will fulfill your order.'

It is again unambiguous, Sa`d jumps quickly to Muhammad's request.

On that, a man from Al-Khazraj got up. Um Hassan, his cousin, was from his branch tribe, and he was Sad bin Ubada, chief of Al-Khazraj. Before this incident, he was a pious man, but his love for his tribe goaded him into saying to Sad (bin Mu'adh). 'By Allah, you have told a lie; you shall not and cannot kill him. If he belonged to your people, you would not wish him to be killed.'

On that, Usaid bin Hudair who was the cousin of Sad (bin Mu'adh) got up and said to Sad bin 'Ubada, 'By Allah! You are a liar! We will surely kill him, and you are a hypocrite arguing on the behalf of hypocrites.'

Sa`d is accused he might not keep this word since he would not kill one of his own people. But Sa`d cousin makes it clear that their allegiance to Muhammad is stronger than tribal ties. They would indeed kill anyone offensive to Muhammad, even from their own tribe or family. A similar hadith is found in Volume 6, Book 60, Number 274.

Volume 4, Book 56, Number 826:

Narrated 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud:

Sa'd bin Mu'adh came to Mecca with the intention of performing 'Umra, and stayed at the house of Umaiya bin Khalaf Abi Safwan, for Umaiya himself used to stay at Sa'd's house when he passed by Medina on his way to Sham. Umaiya said to Sad, "Will you wait till midday when the people are (at their homes), then you may go and perform the Tawaf round the Ka'ba?" So, while Sad was going around the Ka'ba, Abu Jahl came and asked, "Who is that who is performing Tawaf?" Sad replied, "I am Sad." Abu Jahl said, "Are you circumambulating the Ka'ba safely although you have given refuge to Muhammad and his companions?" Sad said, "Yes," and they started quarreling. Umaiya said to Sad, "Don't shout at Abi-l-Hakam (i.e. Abu Jahl), for he is chief of the valley (of Mecca)." Sad then said (to Abu Jahl). 'By Allah, if you prevent me from performing the Tawaf of the Ka'ba, I will spoil your trade with Sham." Umaiya kept on saying to Sad, "Don't raise your voice." and kept on taking hold of him. Sad became furious and said, (to Umaiya), "Be away from me, for I have heard Muhammad saying that he will kill you." Umaiya said, "Will he kill me?" Sad said, "Yes." Umaiya said, "By Allah! When Muhammad says a thing, he never tells a lie." Umaiya went to his wife and said to her, "Do you know what my brother from Yathrib (i.e. Medina) has said to me?" She said, "What has he said?" He said, "He claims that he has heard Muhammad claiming that he will kill me."

She said, By Allah! Muhammad never tells a lie." So when the infidels started to proceed for Badr (Battle) and declared war (against the Muslims), his wife said to him, "Don't you remember what your brother from Yathrib told you?" Umaiya decided not to go but Abu Jahl said to him, "You are from the nobles of the valley of Mecca), so you should accompany us for a day or two." He went with them and thus Allah got him killed.

In this account we learn that Muhammad has the intention to kill, and Sa`d knows Muhammad's intention. Assuming that Sa`d did not lie in this, we conclude again, that Sa`d was close enough to Muhammad to know of his intentions in such issues. We see that Sa`d has great contempt for those who do not accept Muhammad. He is very impolite and shouts at the chief of the city in which he is only a visitor and guest - even against the wish of his host. At the least, Sa`d has a bad temper and he threatens with (Muhammad) killing them. Nearly the same hadith can be found in Volume 5, Book 59, Number 286.

There is more testimony of his general attitude and the way he usually seems to have spoken about the Jews:

Volume 6, Book 60, Number 252:

Narrated Musab:

I asked my father, "Was the Verse:-- 'Say: (O Muhammad) Shall We tell you the greatest losers in respect of their deeds?'(18.103) revealed regarding Al-Haruriyya?" He said, "No, but regarding the Jews and the Christians, for the Jews disbelieved Muhammad and the Christians disbelieved in Paradise and say that there are neither meals nor drinks therein. Al- Hururiyya are those people who break their pledge to Allah after they have confirmed that they will fulfill it, and Sad used to call them 'Al-Fasiqin (evildoers who forsake Allah's obedience).

It is not stated which Sa`d is refered to, but it seems probable that it is the same Sa`d bin Mu`adh who again voices his intense dislike of the Jews and Christians. Would anyone be surprised if his dislike or even hatred would influence his judgement on the Banu Qurayza? Could it be that Muhammad was not aware of Sa`d bin Mu`adh's general attitude? It seems unlikely to me.

Later Sa`d thought it to be more useful to have the Banu Qurayza dead rather than alive. However, he thought that he himself would be more useful to Muhammad alive instead of dead:

Volume 5, Book 59, Number 378:

Narrated Khabbab bin Al-Art:

We migrated in the company of Allah's Apostle, seeking Allah's Pleasure. So our reward became due and sure with Allah. Some of us have been dead without enjoying anything of their rewards (here), and one of them was Mus'ab bin 'Umar who was martyred on the day of the battle of Uhud, and did not leave anything except a Namira (i.e. a sheet in which he was shrouded). If we covered his head with it, his feet became naked, and if we covered his feet with it, his head became naked. So the Prophet said to us, "Cover his head with it and put some Idhkhir (i.e. a kind of grass) over his feet or throw Idhkhir over his feet." But some amongst us have got the fruits of their labor ripened, and they are collecting them.

Narrated Anas: His uncle (Anas bin An-Nadr) was absent from the battle of Badr and he said, "I was absent from the first battle of the Prophet (i.e. Badr battle), and if Allah should let me participate in (a battle) with the Prophet, Allah will see how strongly I will fight." So he encountered the day of Uhud battle. The Muslims fled and he said, "O Allah ! I appeal to You to excuse me for what these people (i.e. the Muslims) have done, and I am clear from what the pagans have done." Then he went forward with his sword and met Sad bin Mu'adh (fleeing), and asked him, "Where are you going, O Sad? I detect a smell of Paradise before Uhud." Then he proceeded on and was martyred. No-body was able to recognize him till his sister recognized him by a mole on his body or by the tips of his fingers. He had over 80 wounds caused by stabbing, striking or shooting with arrows.

See also Muslim, Book 19, Number 4683.

We have collected now most of the info on Sa`d before the incident with the Banu Qurayza. Let us observe some details closer to the event.

At the beginning of the Battle of the Ditch, when the Banu Qurayza dissolved a treaty between them and Muhammad (the sources are not very clear what kind of treaty this was), Sa'd had been appointed one of the messengers from Muhammad to the Qurayza to find out if that was true, but when he arrived there we read of this encounter:

[T]hey spoke disparagingly of the apostle, saying, `Who is the apostle of God? We have no agreement or undertaking with Muhammad.' Sa`d b. Mu`adh reviled them and they reviled him. He (Sa`d) was a man of hasty temper and Sa`d b. `Ubada said to him, 'Stop insulting them, for the dispute between us is too serious for recrimination.' Then the two Sa`ds returned to the apostle ... [Sirat, p. 453]

According to Ibn Ishaq Sa'd was a man of a bad temper and he came away from his last encounter with the B. Qurayza from insulting each other, only having been stopped by the other Sa'd, but not really "done with them". Would these last memories influence his decisions? Muhammad certainly knew of what had happened as he would have had the envoys report to him of their mission.

Before we reach the crucial event that Sa`d is mortally wounded in this battle we find him expressing his mind clearly again in this passage (the parts in [...] are my explanatory comments):

When conditions pressed hard upon the people the apostle ... sent to ... [the] leaders of Ghatafan [one of the tribes fighting against Muhammad] and offered them a third of the dates of Medina on condition that they would go back with their followers and leave him and his men, so peace was made between them so far as the writing of a document. It was not signed and was not a definite peace, merely peace negotiations. When the apostle wanted to act he sent to the two Sa`ds and told them of it and asked their advice. They said: 'Is it a thing you want us to do, or something God has ordered you to do which we must carry out? or is it something you are doing for us?' He said: 'It is something I am doing for your sake. By God, I would not do it were it not that I have seen the Arabs have shot at you from one bow, and gathered against you from every side and I want to break their offensive against you! Sa`d b. Mu`adh said: 'We and these people were polytheists and idolaters, not serving God nor knowing him, and they never hoped to eat a single date (of ours) except as guests or by purchase. Now, after God has honoured and guided us to Islam and made us famous by you, are we to give them our property? We certainly will not. We will give them nothing but the sword until God decide between us.' The apostle said: 'You shall have it so.' Sa`d took the paper and erased what was written, saying, 'Let them do their worst against us!' [Sirat, page 454]

Sa`d hasa fierce spirit, and is more willing than Muhammad to sacrifice even his own people in this war, instead of making peace. If he is willing to rather lose and have his own tribe killed, will such a man have mercy on his enemies? Again, these are Sa`d's words spoken to Muhammad. He knows it well.

Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 59, Number 448:

Narrated 'Aisha:

Sad was wounded on the day of Khandaq (i.e. Trench) when a man from Quraish, called Hibban bin Al-'Araqa hit him (with an arrow). The man was Hibban bin Qais from (the tribe of) Bani Mais bin 'Amir bin Lu'ai who shot an arrow at Sad's medial arm vein (or main artery of the arm). The Prophet pitched a tent (for Sad) in the Mosque so that he might be near to the Prophet to visit. When the Prophet returned from the (battle) of Al-Khandaq (i.e. Trench) and laid down his arms and took a bath Gabriel came to him while he (i.e. Gabriel) was shaking the dust off his head, and said, "You have laid down the arms?" By Allah, I have not laid them down. Go out to them (to attack them)." The Prophet said, "Where?" Gabriel pointed towards Bani Quraiza. So Allah's Apostle went to them (i.e. Banu Quraiza) (i.e. besieged them). They then surrendered to the Prophet's judgment but he directed them to Sad to give his verdict concerning them. Sad said, "I give my judgment that their warriors should be killed, their women and children should be taken as captives, and their properties distributed."

Narrated Hisham: My father informed me that 'Aisha said, "Sad said, "O Allah! You know that there is nothing more beloved to me than to fight in Your Cause against those who disbelieved Your Apostle and turned him out (of Mecca). O Allah! I think you have put to an end the fight between us and them (i.e. Quraish infidels). And if there still remains any fight with the Quraish (infidels), then keep me alive till I fight against them for Your Sake. But if you have brought the war to an end, then let this wound burst and cause my death thereby.' So blood gushed from the wound. There was a tent in the Mosque belonging to Banu Ghifar who were surprised by the blood flowing towards them . They said, 'O people of the tent! What is this thing which is coming to us from your side?' Behold! Blood was flowing profusely out of Sad's wound. Sad then died because of that."

We learn that "Nothing is more beloved to Sa`d than to fight the disbelievers." Need we say much more?

We learn also that Sa`d was severely wounded in some of the last days of the battle of the Ditch, i.e. shortly before the siege on the Banu Qurayza and soon after it he died of this wound. Interestingly there is no mentioning of a broken treaty and treason, but the reason for the attack is (supposedly) a vision of Gabriel ordering Muhammad to attack the Banu Qurayza.

Ibn Ishaq's report how Sa`d was wounded and what he said in response is a bit more detailed than the above hadith.

Abu Layla `Abdullah b. Sahl b. `Abdu'l-Rahman b. Sahl al-Ansari, brother of B. Haritha, told me that `A'isha was in the fort of B. Haritha on that day. It was one of the strongest forts of Medina. The mother of Sa`d b. Mu`adh was with her. `A'isha said: 'This was before the veil had been imposed upon us. Sa`d went by wearing a coat of mail so short that the whole of his forearm was exposed. He hurried along carrying a lance, saying the while,

His mother said, "Hurry up, my boy, for by God you are late." I said to her, "I wish that Sa`d's coat of mail were longer than it is", for I was afraid for him where the arrow actually hit him. Sa`d was shot by an arrow which severed the vein of his arm. The man who shot him, according to what `Asim b. `Umar b. Qatada told me, was Hibban b. Qays b. al-`Ariqa, one of B. `Amir b. Lu'ayy. When he hit him he said, "Take that from me, the son of al-`Ariqa." Sa`d said to him, "May God make your face sweat (`arraq) in hell. O God, if the war with Quraysh is to be prolonged spare me for it, for there is no people whom I want to fight more than those who insulted your apostle, called him a liar, and drove him out. O God, seeing that you have appointed war between us and them grant me martyrdom and do not let me die until I have seen my desire upon B. Qurayza."' [Sirat, page 459]

When Sa`d is mortally wounded, his last wish is to see his desire upon the Banu Qurayza. He does not spell it out explicitly, but is there any doubt as to what this desire might be?

Muslim, Book 25, Number 5473:

Narrated Jabir ibn Abdullah:

Sa'd ibn Mu'adh received a wound of the arrow in his vein. Allah's Messenger (peace_be_upon_him) cauterised it with a rod and it was swollen, so the Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) did it for the second time.

The last three quoted passages give again evidence of our introductory statement, that Sa`d was very close to Muhammad. When Sa`d was wounded he let a tent be put up near himself, so that he could visit him more easily in his bed of sickness (Bukhari). In Muslim, we read that Muhammad was even personally caring for him and treating his wounds. This is clear evidence for their personal closeness. Would Muhammad not have known about Sa`d's above expressed "last desire"?

Sa`d received this wound in the Battle of the Ditch which ended before the siege of the Banu Qurayza began. The siege lasted 25 days before the Banu Qurayza finally surrendered. Muhammad had put up Sa`d's tent beside his own so that he could easily visit him and he was personally attending to his wound. We are not told about their personal conversations when Sa`d received the visits and care of Muhammad, but it could hardly be called excessive speculation that Sa`d would also have expressed to Muhammad his desire to see the end of the Banu Qurayza at some time during these nearly four weeks of siege and fighting against the very people that were the object of his desire.

It is not a minor issue, that Sa`d had received a mortal wound. When people are under high pressure this often brings out the worst in them. Severe sickness like a moral wound is such stress on the body. Sickness hardly ever makes people mild and merciful to others. Furthermore, at that time there were no painkillers as we have them today. Sa`d was dying and he was most likely in pain from this wound. In a healthy state, Sa`d was already seeking the death of Muhammad's enemies, the fact that he was terminally ill would only make him more cruel than he already was.

Bukhari also states that against the common Muslim claim, that the Banu Qurayza had surrendered to Muhammad's judgment, but he then gave this judgement to Sa`d. The reason for this shift will be the focus of the next part of our investigation.

We have seen the character of Sa`d, his readiness to shed blood, his great hatred for the Jews, and we know that Muhammad was very close with Sa`d and knew of his desires.

Against this background information, we need to look more closely at the intercession of some members of al-Aus and the appointment of Sa`d as the judge.

Part 3: Appointment of Sa`d bin Mu`adh, his judgment, its execution and conclusions