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

What really happened with the Banu Qurayza?

Part 3: Muhammad's appointment of Sa`d bin Mu`adh,
his judgment, its execution and conclusions

In the last part we have investigated the personality of Sa`d bin Mu`adh is, his character, his hatred for the Jews, and in particular his last wish of finishing off the Banu Qurayza. That was a long chapter. For reminder and summary, let us requote a few pertinent statements:

"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." [Sirat, p. 301]

'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.' [Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 59, Number 462]

The last direct encounter of Sa`d with the Banu Qurayza ended in insult:

[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 ... [page 453]

His last will:

"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." [page 459]

Is there any room for ambiguity in these statements? Muhammad knew all this. Muhammad was a great leader. He knew his men and he in particularly knew Sa`d. Could it be that this information is the reason why he gave the judgement of the Qurayza to Sa`d?

In part 1, we saw that Muhammad had intended to kill the Banu Quaynuqa`, but he was hindered forcefully. Somehow his intention to kill the Banu al-Nadir didn't work out either. Now, he has conquered the Banu Qurayza and they know Muhammad desires to kill them. Abu Lubaba knows he wants to kill them wholesale, the tribe of al-Aus know it and therefore they jump to their feet as soon as they learn of the surrender of the Banu Qurayza and start pleading for them, appealing not to Muhammad's mercy, but to his justice in dealing with them just as he listened in the earlier case and gave the judgment to their brother tribe the Khazraj. "Be just Muhammad, for our sake," they plead.

We need to examine this intercession and Muhammad's response. Pay close attention to the sequence of words in this crucial passage.

In the morning they [the B.Quraiza] submitted to the apostle's judgement and al-Aus lept up and said, 'O Apostle, they are our allies, not allies of Khazraj, and you know how you recently treated the allies of our brethren.' Now the apostle had besieged B. Qaynuqa` who were allies of al-Khazraj and when they submitted to his judgement `Abdullah b. Ubayy b. Salul had asked him for them and he gave them to him; so when al-Aus spoke thus the apostle said: 'Will you be satisfied, O Aus, if one of your own number pronounces judgement on them ?' When they agreed he said that Sa`d b. Mu`adh was the man. [page 463]

The Aus are refering back to the similar incident with the Banu Qaynuqa`. In that case the forceful intercession of `Abdullah b. Ubayy b. Salul from the Khazraj resulted in sparing the life of the tribe and they were sent into exile instead. So the Aus appeal to Muhammad that he may remember this and deal in equal manner with them and their allies. That would only be just. Muhammad can not really argue against an appeal to justice and does not want to be seen as favoring one tribe of his followers over another. How does he react? What did the Aus hear Muhammad ask?

'Will you be satisfied, O Aus, if one of your own number pronounces judgement on them ?'

This is deliberately ambiguous. The natural sense is that the group of the al-Aus interceding with Muhammad took his question "you, O Aus ... one of your own" as addressed to THEM, who were standing in front of Muhammad and interceding with him. Even if some of them might have been suspicious about who that might be, what can they really respond to that offer? They could hardly answer him "Wait a minute. How do you mean this?" Most likely, they looked at each other and thought this couldn't have resolved any better. There was no choice but answering this question with "yes". Maybe Muhammad would even leave the choice of the judge to them? The question does NOT say: "Will you accept whomever I appoint from among you?" The question is so open-ended, they cannot possibly say "No" to it. However, after they have committed to this solution, THEN Muhammad appoints Sa`d who has this strong hatred for the Jews, and Muhammad knows Sa`d will judge exactly as Muhammad wanted it to be.

Is that not at least a if not the natural way of understanding this exchange? Muhammad was very clever in his way of asking them, nevertheless getting his will in the end, and even looking merciful and generous while doing so. Howver, in Part 2 we gave plenty of evidence that Muhammad knew the mind of Sa`d very well and he knew what decision this man would make.

We know that Sa`d was at this time in a tent, on his bed, and this was in Medina, some distance away from the fort of the Banu Qurazya. Sa`d was not in the immediate vicinity, he had a mortal wound. He was sick, and he was very weak. When the al-Aus went to get Sa`d they had to help him on the donkey to bring him. He was so weak, he couldn't even walk, or get on his donkey by his own strength. He was certainly not the obvious choice among the Aus for this judgment. Certainly not obvious for the Aus who interceded with Muhammad. But as already indicated, even if they had thought of it, they could hardly respond "no" to Muhammad's offer.

Sa`d is thus appointed and the Sirat continues:

The apostle had put Sa`d in a tent belonging to a woman of Aslam called Rufayda inside his mosque. She used to nurse the wounded and see to those Muslims who needed care. The apostle had told his people when Sa`d had been wounded by an arrow at the battle of the Trench to put him in Rufayda's tent until he could visit him later. When the apostle appointed him umpire in the matter of B. Qurayza, his people came to him and mounted him on a donkey on which they had put a leather cushion, he being a corpulent man. As they brought him to the apostle they said, 'Deal kindly with your friends, for the apostle has made you umpire for that very purpose.' When they persisted he said, 'The time has come for Sa`d in the cause of God, not to care for any man's censure.' Some of his people who were there went back to the quarter of B. `Abdu'l-Ashhal and announced to them the death of B. Qurayza before Sa`d got to them, because of what they had heard him say. [page 463]

Not surprising, Sa`d is true to his character. When he heard he was chosen to speak judgment on the Banu Qurayza, he knows well what Muhammad had him chosen for. He would be doing the will of God (??) and not the desires of his friends who were to weak and mild with those enemies of God and his apostle. Muhammad could depend on one of his most loyal friends that he would do his will.

When Sa`d reached the apostle and the Muslims the apostle told them to get up to greet their leader. The muhajirs of Quraysh thought that the apostle meant the Ansar, while the latter thought that he meant everyone, so they got up and said 'O Abu `Amr, the apostle has entrusted to you the affair of your allies that you may give judgement concerning them.' Sa`d asked, 'Do you covenant by Allah that you accept the judgement I pronounce on them?' They said Yes, and he said, 'And is it incumbent on the one who is here ?' (looking) in the direction of the apostle not mentioning him out of respect, and the apostle answered Yes. Sa`d said, 'Then I give judgement that the men should be killed, the property divided, and the women and children taken as captives.' [Sirat, page 464]

Carefully look at the question posed by Sa'd. He asks "Do YOU accept my judgment on THEM?' This means, the Banu Qurayza were NOT asked, but this question was addressed to the Muslims, especially the tribe of Aus and to Muhammad.

There was no refusing of Muhammad's judgment, the Banu Qurayza had surrendered to Muhammad unconditionally. It was the tribe of al-Aus who had pleaded for them and Muhammad tricked them with a clever response. Sa`d was appointed and Muhammad would get his way. At this point, the Aus can no longer refuse the judgment of Sa`d having agreed to it prior in their pleading with Muhammad. They can only accept the situation as it is now.

But it is important, this is only a decision of acceptance by the al-Aus. The Banu Quraiza are not even present. They were not asked. After they had already surrendered unconditionally, they had no voice in the matter anymore.

What is Muhammad's response to this cruel judgment? The text continues:

`Asim b. `Umar b. Qatada told me from `Abdu'l-Rahman b. `Amr b. Sa`d b. Mu`adh from `Alqama b. Waqqas al-Laythi that the apostle said to Sa`d, 'You have given the judgement of Allah above the seven heavens'.

That doesn't sound "shocked". This is approval if not exuberance that Sa`d made the "right" decision. There is no grief, no pity. It is praise for his decision.

If Muhammad was sure about God's judgement how could he give it to Sa`d and risk that other than God's judgement will come to pass? On the other hand, if God had not given him a specific command about the judgement, how does Muhammad dare to ascribe to God this cruel judgement that came out of the evil desires of merciless men?

The text of Sirat continues:

Then they surrendered, and the apostle confined them in Medina in the quarter of d. al-Harith, a woman of B. al-Najjar. Then the apostle went out to the market of Medina (which is still its market today) and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches. Among them was the enemy of Allah Huyayy b. Akhtab and Ka`b b. Asad their chief. There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900. As they were being taken out in batches to the apostle they asked Ka`b what he thought would be done with them. He replied, 'Will you never understand? Don't you see that the summoner never stops and those who are taken away do not return? By Allah it is death!' This went on until the apostle made an end of them.

Huyayy was brought out wearing a flowered robe in which he had made holes about the size of the finger-tips in every part so that it should not be taken from him as spoil, with his hands bound to his neck by a rope. When he saw the apostle he said, 'By God, I do not blame myself for opposing you, but he who forsakes God will be forsaken.' Then he went to the men and said, 'God's command is right. A book and a decree, and massacre have been written against the Sons of Israel.' Then he sat down and his head was struck off. [Sirat, page 464]

Apparently Muhammad himself worked on the digging of the trench into which the massacred Jews were to be thrown. But he did not only take part in those preparations, the formulation of the text states that HE sent for them and STRUCK OFF their heads. This sounds like he personally struck off at least the heads of those two mentioned men and maybe of more. Beheading 600-700 men one by one takes a substantial time and strength. Certainly this was not done by one man alone but by many. Whoever was appointed to execute the bulk of this judgement, one has to be really numbed in ones conscience to strike off hundreds of heads, looking into they eyes of the victims to be killed. The text describes then a number of these beheadings and the conversations that took place between the executioners and the executed. I will spare the reader the gory details.

We need to recognize that Muhammad got rid of a large group that was challenging his sole authority and power over Medina, and which was in particular refusing to believe him to a true prophet from God. The latter was probably the more important. As long as there were people of the book who knew their scriptures Muhammad's position of spiritual and subsequently political authority was challenged. We have seen in this story that the Jews would rather die than deny the word of God in the Torah and convert to Islam. This can be supported with much further evidence as reported outside these few pages. The elimination of the challenge to his spiritual authority might well have been Muhammad's main motivation.

However, Muhammad also had had huge spoils from this "final solution". At least 600 grown men are killed (those with the ability to fight). This represents probably something like 500 families, each of which on average would have at least a wife and a child, probably several. Consider, 1/5 of the possessions of a whole tribe (possessions of 100 families for Muhammad) plus the profit from selling the women as slaves.

The judgment over the Banu Quraiza (by Sa`d b. Mu`adh) was:

Then I give the judgment that the men should be killed, the property divided, and the women and children be taken captives.

Muhammad answers in endorsement of this:

You have given the judgement of Allah above the seven heavens. [page 464]

The story continues ...

Then the apostle divided the property, wives and children of B. Qurayza among the Muslims, and he made known on that day the shares of horse and men, and took out the fifth. [1/5 of all booty in all raids/wars was the personal property of Muhammad.] ...

Then the apostle sent Sa`d b. Zayd al-Ansari brother of b. `Abdu'l-Ashhal with some of the captive women of B. Qurayza to Najd and he sold them for horses and weapons. [page 466]

What more can we say? What else need we say?

A few days after the massacre of the Banu Quraiza, Sa`d bin Mu`adh dies. It is relevant to take into account Muhammad's evaluation of Sa`d bin Mu`adh's life and character. We read:

When the affair of B. Qurayza was disposed of, Sa`d's wound burst open and he died a martyr therefrom.

Mu`adh b. Rifa`a al-Zuraqi told me: Anyone you like from the men of my people told me that Gabriel came to the apostle when Sa`d was taken, in the middle of the night wearing an embroidered turban, and said, 'O Muhammad, who is this dead man for whom the doors of heaven have been opened and at whom the throne shook?' The apostle got up quickly dragging his garment as he went to Sa`d and found him already dead.

`Abdullah b. Abu Bakr told me from `Amra d. `Abdu'l-Rahman: As `A'isha was returning from Mecca with Usayd b. Hudayr he heard of the death of a wife of his, and showed considerable grief. `A'isha said: 'God forgive you, O Abu Yahya, will you grieve over a woman when you have lost the son of your uncle, for whom the throne shook?'

One I do not suspect told me from al-Hasan al-Basri: Sa`d was a fat man and when the men carried him they found him light. Some of the disaffected said, 'He was a fat man and we have never carried a lighter bier than his.' When the apostle heard of this he said, 'He had other carriers as well. By Him Who holds my life in His hand the angels rejoiced at (receiving) the spirit of Sa`d and the throne shook for him.'

Mu`adh b. Rifa`a told me from Mahmud b. `Abdu'l-Rahman b. `Amr b. al-Jamuh from Jabir b. `Abdullah: When Sa`d was buried as we were with the apostle he said Suhbana'llah and we said it with him. Then he said Allah akbar and the men said it with him. When they asked him why he had said Subhana'llah he said 'The grave was constricted on this good man until God eased him from it'.

Muhammad's evaluation of Sa`d? He was a good man. Everything else we might be able to accept, but calling Sa`d good certainly puts a question mark of doubt behind the issue what moral categories Muhammad was thinking in. In what standard could anyone call Sa`d bin Mu`adh "a good man"? Is "goodness" the equivalent of unquestioning loyalty to Muhammad and doing what he says? And furthermore he claims "The throne of God shook when Sa`d died"?

There are a number of hadith confirming the above in regard to Muhammad's evaluation of Sa`d, expressing his utter admiration of one of his most loyal companions:

Volume 3, Book 47, Number 785:

Narrated Anas:

A Jubba (i.e. cloak) made of thick silken cloth was presented to the Prophet. The Prophet used to forbid people to wear silk. So, the people were pleased to see it. The Prophet said, "By Him in Whose Hands Muhammad's soul is, the handkerchiefs of Sad bin Mu'adh in Paradise are better than this." Anas added, "The present was sent to the Prophet by Ukaidir (a Christian) from Dauma."

Volume 5, Book 58, Number 146:

Narrated Al-Bara:

A silken cloth was given as a present to the Prophet . His companions started touching it and admiring its softness. The Prophet said, "Are you admiring its softness? The handkerchiefs of Sad bin Muadh (in Paradise) are better and softer than it."

Similar hadith are found in Volume 4, Book 54, Number 471, 472, Volume 7, Book 72, Number 727.

Volume 5, Book 58, Number 147:

Narrated Jabir:

I heard the Prophet saying, "The Throne (of Allah) shook at the death of Sad bin Muadh." Through another group of narrators, Jabir added, "I heard the Prophet : saying, 'The Throne of the Beneficent shook because of the death of Sad bin Muadh."

Muhammad has only praise and delight for this man. He fully endorsed his judgement and it was the judgement that fulfilled his intentions.

It is an important Islamic principle that we are judged by our intentions.

What is your verdict on Muhammad based on these reports from the Muslim sources?

There is one more aspect that needs to be taken into account. Muhammad's intention was the massacre of the tribe in the case of all three Jewish tribes. It didn't work out in the first two cases, but he made sure the third tribe would not get away and his plans would not again be thwarted.

All three tribes are accused of breaking their treaties. If Muhammad would have acted on the basis of law from God he would have judged them consistently. We see that "circumstances" played a much more important role in determining the punishment for these tribes. If it was right to let them go, why did he not let the Banu Qurayza go into exile? If it was right to execute them, why did he give in to `Abdullah b. Ubayy b. Salul and let him prevent the execution of the judgment of God? No true prophet would give in to a misguided companion who wants to stop God's righteous decree. This inconsistency shows that Muhammad was guided chiefly by his own desires of vengeance against those who would not accept him as a messenger from God rather than by a law of consistent justice as it comes from God. The judgement is about offending Muhammad, not about offending God, and Muhammad decided according to expediency. It was desirable for him to massacre the Banu Qaynuqa` but when there was strong resistence from his followers against this it became more expedient to relent at this time. In the case of the Banu Quraiza though Muhammad would make sure they didn't get away again.

This is how the sources look to me when I read the Sirat. I have presented you my understanding and am interested to hear how you read this and where I might have overlooked anything that is essential and would throw a different light on the events. Are there other early sources that are of higher authenticity that must lead us to different conclusions?

May we all seek the truth of God with sincere hearts. May we all whole-heartedly embrace his truth and follow him as those who surrender our lives to the Lord, but let us also be careful to not believe every claim.

There is a right choice and there are many wrong choices. This world has seen more false prophets than true prophets. We need to ask from the Lord that he may give us wisdom and understanding to discern and recognize His truth.

"Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me,
an I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me
when you seek me with all your heart.
I will be found by you",
declares the Lord.

(Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 29:12-14)