THE TURN OF THE TIDE
Muhammad led three expeditions in which no fighting took place. The second of these was the promised appointment at Badr. The Muslims went and waited for the Meccans, but Abű-Sufyân only came so far and then turned back.
10.1 The Battle of the Trench: a “Jewish plot”
If Mecca wanted to survive at all it had to eliminate Muhammad’s power in Medina, because he had effectively blockaded its trade with Syria. As a background for the Battle of the Trench, which took place in March 627, Ibn-Isâq does not look at this economic factor but blames the Meccan plan for a final counter-attack on a Jewish plot.
A group of Jews of the Nadîr and Wâ’il clans formed a party against the Messenger of God... They came to Mecca and asked the Quraysh people to join them in getting rid of Muhammad altogether. The Meccans said to them, “Jewish people, you are the first Scripture people and know our quarrel with Muhammad. Is our religion better or his?” They said, “Your religion is better than his, and you are more in the right. About them came the Qur’ân verse (4:51-2,54-5):
Have you not seen those who were given part of the Scripture? They believe in Jibt and Tâghűt and say to the unbelievers that these are better guided than those who believe. God has cursed them, and anyone God has cursed will not find him a helper... Are they jealous of what God has given some people in his favour? (that is, prophecy) We gave the family of Abraham the Scripture and wisdom and a great kingdom. Some of them believe in it, while others turn from it and Hell will suffice for their burning. (2:214-15)
10.2 Preparations for battle
The Meccans were delighted with the Jews’ proposal to fight the Messenger of God, and hurried to prepare. The same Jews went off to the Ghatafân clan and invited them to join the war against the Messenger of God, telling them that they would help them and that the Meccans had already agreed to join. So the Ghatafân clan also joined. The Meccans set off under the leadership of Abű-Sufyân, and the Ghatafân clan under `Uyayna ibn-Hisn...
When the Messenger of God heard what they planned to do, he had a trench dug around Medina and worked on it himself, telling the Muslims to expect God’s reward. The Muslims worked hard with him, following his example. But the Hypocrites dragged their feet and began hiding their intentions by working slackly or slipping away to their families without telling or getting permission from the Messenger of God. If a Muslim had any urgent matter he would first tell the Messenger of God, get permission and when he finished come back to his work, from a desire to do good. Concerning these came a Qur’ân verse (24:62)... Concerning those who snuck away from the job without permission came the next verse (24:63)... (2:216-17)
10.3 The siege
When the Messenger of God had finished the trench, the Meccans came and camped where the torrent-beds of Rűma meet.. with 10,000 Ethiopian troops and followers from the Kinâna and Tihâma clans. The Ghaafân clan also came with followers from Najd... The Messenger of God and the Muslims came out with 3,000 men. He set up camp with the trench to protect him from the enemy. (2:219-20)
As the siege went on, the Meccans won over to their side one of Muhammad’s allies, Ka`b ibn-Asad, and this caused some demoralization among the Muslims.
The situation became serious and fear was everywhere. The enemy came from above and below, so that the believers imagined anything and the hypocrisy of the Hypocrites began to show. Mu`attib ibn-Qushayr said, “Muhammad used to promise us that we would chop the treasures of Chosroes and Caesar, but today none of us is safe even to go to the toilet. Aws ibn-Qayzî even said before all the people, “Messenger of God, our houses are exposed to the enemy. Give us permission to go back to our home which is outside Medina.” The Messenger of God and the polytheists remained 20 days or nearly a month without fighting except for shooting arrows and maintaining a siege. (2:222-3)
10.4 An incident with the Jews
During the siege there was some individual fighting, such as between `Alî and a few Meccans who managed to cross the trench. The only other incident related illustrates the desire to blame the whole trouble on the Jews, as-Safiyya bint-`Abdalmuttalib, who was in Fâri`, the fort of Hassân ibn-Thâbit, relates:
Hassân was here with us and the women and children when a Jew passed by and began to go around the fort. The Qurayza Jews had gone to war and cut us off from the Messenger of God, so that there was no one to protect us. The Messenger of God and the Muslims were at the throats of their enemies and could not withdraw and come to us even if they did get a message.
I said, “Hassân, this Jew, as you can see, is going around the fort. By God I suspect he is examining it to go and report our weak spots to the Jews behind us, while the Messenger of God and his companions are occupied. Go down and kill him.” He said, “May God forgive you. You know I would never do such a thing.” When he said that and I saw that he would do nothing, I tied my garments, took a club, went down from the fort after him and hit him with the club till I killed him. When I finished with him I returned to the fort and said, “Hassân, go down and strip him. I could not do so because he was a man.” He answered, “I have no need to strip him, Safiyya.” (2:228)
Muhammad used all his diplomatic ingenuity to get the upper hand, but this was not nearly as effective as the military strategy of having dug a trench. The Meccans are said to have remarked: “This is a device which the Arabs have never employed”, and Ibn-Hishâm adds: “It is said that Salmân the Persian advised the Messenger of God to make it.” (2:224) Muhammad sent false messages to the Meccans and to the Qurayza Jews to sow mistrust between the two. This may have helped weaken the alliance he supposed existed between them, but the decisive factor leading to the Meccan withdrawal was the weather and their inability to cross the trench:
10.5 Sabotage of the alleged Qurayza-Meccan alliance
Nu`aym ibn-Mas`űd came to the Messenger of God and said, “I have just become a Muslim and my people do not know about it. Give me any order you like.” The Messenger of God said, “You are only one man among us, so go and stir up mistrust among the enemy to draw them off us if you can, for war is deceit.” So Nu`aym went to the Qurayza clan, with whom he was friendly in former days and said, “..The Meccans and Ghatafân people are not like you. This is your town, and your wealth, children and wives are here. You cannot leave it. But the Meccans and Ghatafân came to make war on Muhammad and his companions and you have joined them, but their town, wealth and wives are elsewhere. If they see a chance they will make the most of it, but if not they will go back home and leave you to face the man alone in your own town and you will not be able. So do not fight with them until they give you hostages from their chiefs who will be their guarantee that they will fight Muhammad until you make an end of him.” The Qurayza people thought this was a good idea.
Then he went to the Meccans and said to Abű-Sufyân and his men, “You know my affection for you and that I left Muhammad. I have heard something I think you should know, but keep it quiet.” They said, “Go on.” He said, “The Jews regret opposing Muhammad and have told him so, adding, ‘Do you want us to get hold of some chiefs of the Meccans and the Ghaafân and hand them over to you for you to cut their heads off? Then we will help you to finish off the rest of them.’ Muhammad agreed; so if the Jews come asking you for hostages, do not give them any.” Then he went to the Ghatafân and said the same thing to them..
On one Friday evening Abű-Sufyân and the Ghatafân leaders sent `Ikrima with a delegation to the Qurayza clan saying, “We have no home here. The horses and camels are dying. So get ready to fight until we finish with Muhammad.” The Qurayza replied that today is the Sabbath when we do not work... Moreover we will not fight Muhammad with you until you give us hostages for us to hold until we finish with Muhammad...”
When the messengers returned with the reply, the Meccans and the Ghatafân said, “By God what Nu`aym said is true. Tell the Qurayza people that we will not give them one hostage...” And when the messengers reached them, the Qurayza people said, “What Nu`aym said is true... Tell them that we will not fight Muhammad unless you give us hostages.”
The Meccans and Ghatafân refused, and God broke up their alliance with the Qurayza. God also sent bitter cold wind against them in the winter nights which upset their cooking-pots and overthrew their tents. (2:229-31)
10.6 The Meccans give up
Then Abű-Sufyân said, “Men of Quraysh, you are not in a fixed home; the horses and camels are dying; the Quraya clan has broken their word and we have heard disturbing things about them; and you can see the violent wind which leaves us neither cooking-pots nor fire nor tents. March off, for I am going.” Then he got on his camel, which was hobbled, and beat it. It got up on its three legs and, by God, only got free when it was up... When the Ghaafân heard, they also went home.
In the morning the Messenger of God and the Muslims left the trench and returned to Medina, laying aside their arms.
All in all, six Muslims and three Meccans were killed in the Battle of the Trench.
10.7 Revenge against the Qurayza Jews
The Battle of the Trench was a victory for the Muslims in that they succeeded in defending Medina against the Meccans without any great loss. But it was not another Badr where they dealt a severe blow on their enemies. Their hunger for a resounding victory was satisfied by turning on the last major clan of Jews in Medina. Ibn-Ishâq offers no hard evidence for treachery on their part, but suspicions were building up, and a revelation decided the matter:
At the time of the salât of zuhr Gabriel came wearing an embroidered turban and riding on a mule with a saddle covered with an embroidered cloth and said, “Have you put down your arms, Messenger of God?” He said, “Yes.” Gabriel said, “The angels have not laid down their arms yet, and I am just coming back from pursuing the enemy. God commands you, Muhammad, to march on the Qurayza clan. I am going now to shake their forts.”
The Messenger of God ordered the mu’adhdhin to call the people to hear and obey; they should not do the salât of `asr until they reached the Qurayza forts. He sent `Alî ahead with his banner and the men followed quickly until they reached the forts. There he heard talk insulting the Messenger of God, so went back and met the Messenger of God on the way and said, “It is not necessary for you to come near these despicable people.” He answered, “Why? I think you heard them say something insulting to me.” He said, “Yes, Messenger of God.” He said, “If they see me they will not speak that way.” When the Messenger of God came near their forts he said, “Brothers of monkeys, has God shamed you and brought his revenge upon you?” They answered, “You are not an ignorant person.”.. (2:233-4)
The Messenger of God besieged them for twenty-five nights until they were tired and God cast fear into their hearts. Now Huyayy ibn-Akhtab had gone with the Qurayza people into their fort when the Meccans and Ghatafân people had left them, keeping his promise to Ka`b ibn-Asad. When they were sure that the Messenger of God would not withdraw from them until he had finished them, Ka`b said, “Jewish people, you see what has happened to you. I propose to you three ways out. Take whichever you like.” They said, “What are they?” He answered:
“(1) We can follow this man and believe in him, for God has made it clear to you that he is a prophet that has been sent and whom you find mentioned in your Scripture. This way you will save your lives, property, children and women.” They said, “We will never abandon the authority of the Torah or change it for another.”
He said, “If you refuse me that, then (2) let us kill our children and women and send out to Muhammad and his companions men brandishing swords. We will leave no encumbrance behind us until God judges between us and Muhammad. If we perish, we perish; we will not have left behind us children to worry about. But if we win, then, by my life, we will find women and children.” They said, “Shall we kill these poor people’ Of what use would life be after that?”
He said, “If you refuse me that, then (3) tonight is the Sabbath. Perhaps Muhammad and his companions feel secure from us. So go down and maybe we can take them by surprise.” They answered, “Shall we break the Sabbath, and do what you know those people long ago did and were turned into apes.” He said, “None of you from the day of your birth has ever passed a single night resolved to do anything.
Then they sent word to the Messenger of God asking for Abű-Lubâba to come and consult with them. The Messenger of God sent him, and when they saw him the men got up to meet him, while the women and children came up weeping in his face, and he felt sorry for them. They said, “Abű-Lubâba, do you think we should submit to Muhammad’s judgement?” He said, “Yes,” pointing with his hand to his throat, meaning that it would be slaughter. (2:235-6)
During the siege one Muslim was killed by a millstone thrown on him which smashed his head. As the Jews realized that they could not hold out, a few Jews of other clans became Muslims:
Tha`laba ibn-Say`a, his brother Usayd, and Asad ibn-`Ubayd of the Hadl clan, accepted Islam the night on which the Quraya surrendered to the judgement of the Messenger of God... (2:238)
In the morning they submitted to the judgement of the Messenger of God. Men of the Aws clan jumped up and said, “Messenger of God, they are allies of us, not of the Khazraj, and you know how you recently dealt with the allies of our Aws brothers.” - Now the Messenger of God had besieged the Qaynuqâ` Jews who were allies of the Khazraj who had submitted to his judgement. `Abdallâh ibn-Ubayya had asked him for them and he gave them to him. — So when the Aws men spoke this way, the Messenger of God said to them, “Will you be satisfied if one of your own men makes the judgement?” They said, “Yes.” So the Messenger of God appointed Sa`d ibn-Mu`âdh. The Messenger of God had put Sa`d in a tent belonging to a woman of the Aslam clan called Rufayda, inside his mosque. She used to take care of the wounded and nurse the Muslims who needed it. When Sa`d was wounded by an arrow at the Battle of the Trench, the Messenger of God told his men to put him in the tent of Rufayda until he could visit him soon. So when he appointed him to judge the Quraya Jews, his people came to him and carried him on a donkey on which they had put a leather cushion, since he was a heavy man. As they brought him to the Messenger of God they kept telling him, “Deal kindly with your allies. The Messenger of God appointed you only so that you could do so. When they persisted he said, “The time has come for Sa`d in the cause of God not to care about anyone’s blame.” Some of his people who were with him returned to the `Abdalashhal clan and announced to them the death of the Qurayza men before Sa`d reached them, because of what they heard from him.
When Sa`d reached the Messenger of God and the Muslims, the Messenger of God said, “Rise for your master.” So they got up... and he said, “Do you bind yourselves to accept the judgement I give?” They said, “Yes,” and he added, “And does it bind this person here?” not mentioning the Messenger of God out of respect. He said, “Yes.” Sa`d said, “Then I judge that the men should be killed, their property be divided and their women and children be made slaves.”..
The Qurayza people came out and the Messenger of God imprisoned them in Medina.. while he went to the market and dug a trench. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in that trench as they were brought to him in batches. Among them was the enemy of God Huyayy ibn-Akhtab and Ka`b ibn-Asad, their leader. There were 600 or 700 in all, although some say as many as 800 or 900. As they were being taken out in batches to the Messenger of God, they asked Ka`b, “What do you think will be done with us?” He answered, “Will you never understand? Don’t you see that the guard keeps coming back for more of men and none of them return? By God, it is death.” This continued until the Messenger of God had finished with them. (2:238-41)
Only one woman was killed, for throwing the millstone on the Muslim, according to Ibn-Hishâm. (2:242)
Then the Messenger of God divided the property, women and children of the Qurayza among the Muslims. He himself took a fifth and proclaimed that a horseman should get three shares, two for the horse and one for its rider, while a man without a horse got one share. There were thirty-six horses in that battle. It was the first booty on which lots were cast and the fifth taken, setting a precedent and sunna for subsequent raids.
Then the Messenger of God sent Sa`d ibn-Zayd with some of the captives to Najd and he sold them for horses and weapons.
The Messenger of God chose one of the women for himself, Rayhâna bint-`Amr (n.8).. and she remained with him in his possession until he died. The Messenger of God proposed to marry and put the veil on her, but she said, “Messenger of God, ‘If you just keep me in your possession it will be easier for me and for you.’ So he left her that way. When she was captured she showed aversion to Islam and clung to Judaism; so the Messenger of God put her aside and felt disappointed, but later while he was with his companions he heard the sound of sandals coming behind him and said, “This is Tha`laba ibn-Say`a coming to tell us that Rayhâna has accepted Islam.” and he came up to announce the fact. This gave him pleasure. (2:244-5)
When the affair of the Qurayza Jews was finished, the wound of Sa`d ibn-Mu`âdh opened again, and he died from it, a martyr. (2:250)
Reference to both the Battle of the Trench and the attack on the Quraya Jews in found in the Qur’ân 33:9-27,60-62.
10.8 The assassination of Sallâm ibn-Abî-l-Huqayq
The Battle of the Trench left neither the Meccans nor the Muslims in a position of unquestioned superiority. Neither side could knock out the other, and the prospect of a dragged out no-win war could seriously damage the Muslim cause which depended on faith and not blood relationship.
The balance of power lay with the nomadic Arab tribes. If Muhammad could win these over he could force Mecca to submit. His strategy now seems to have turned in that direction, as evidenced by the present incident, a hit-squad operation resembling the assassination of Ka`b ibn-al-Ashraf, which we saw in chapter 7.
After the Battle of the Trench and the affair of the Qurayza Jews, came the case of Sallâm ibn-abî-l-Huqayq, who was one of those who had collected the mixed tribes together against the Messenger of God. Now before the Battle of Uud the Aws had killed Ka`b ibn-al-Ashraf for his hostility to the Messenger of God and for instigating people against him; so this time the Khazraj asked the Messenger of God for permission to kill Sallâm ibn-al-Huqayq, who was in Khaybar, and he granted them permission... Five men of the Khazraj went.. As they left, the Messenger of God appointed `Abdallâh ibn-`Atîk as their leader and forbade them to kill women or children.
When the group arrived at Khaybar they came to the compound of Sallâm by night and locked every house in the compound from the outside. Sallâm was in an upper room reached by a ladder. They climbed up to his door and asked to come in. His wife came out and asked, “Who are you?” They said, “Some nomads looking for supplies.” She said, “Your master is inside. Go in and see him.” When we entered we locked the door of the room fearing any disturbance. His wife shrieked and warned him of us; so we rushed at him with our swords as he was on his bed. By God, the only thing that guided us to him in the darkness of the night was his whiteness, like that of an Egyptian blanket. When his wife shrieked one of our men lifted his sword against her but then remembered the Messenger of God’s prohibition and let down his hand. Otherwise we would have killed her. After we had struck him with our swords, `Abdallâh ibn-Unays shoved his sword into his belly until it went right through him, as he was saying, “It is enough. It is enough.”
As we went out, `Abdallâh ibn-`Atîk, who had poor sight, fell from the ladder and hurt his arm very badly; so we carried him to one of the channels from their springs and went in. The people put on lights and searched for us everywhere until they gave up, returned to their master and gathered around him as he was dying. We said, “How can we learn whether the enemy of God has died?” One of us said, “I will go and find out.” So he went off and mingled with the people. “I found his wife and some Jewish men gathered around him. She held a lamp and was looking at his face and said, ‘By God, I heard the voice of `Abdallâh ibn-`Atîk, but decided I must be wrong, because how could he be in this country?’ Then she looked at his face and said, ‘By the God of the Jews, he is dead.’ I never heard sweeter words than these.”
When he brought us the news we carried our companion to the Messenger of God and told him that we had killed the enemy of God, but disagreed among ourselves who had done it, each one claiming the honour. He asked for our swords, looked at them and said of the sword of `Abdallâh ibn-Unays, “This one killed him. I see traces of food on it.” (2:273-5)
10.9 Some conversions and expeditions
At this point Ibn-Ishâq records the conversions of two future military generals of Islam, `Amr ibn-al-`Âs and Khâlid ibn-al-Walîd. (2:276-71) These men were impressed by Muhammad’s growing power and decided to join him, although Ibn-Ishâq also relates an improbable audience of `Amr with the Ethiopian Emperor who urged him to accept Muhammad as a prophet.
Muhammad set out with an expedition to punish the Liyân tribe who had treacherously murdered his missionaries, as related in chapter 8. Muhammad’s moves became known to the Liyân before he arrived and they prepared their defence; so the Muslims turned back. (2:279-81)
Muhammad led another expedition against some Ghatafân Arabs who had raided his camels, killed the shepherd and abducted his wife. There was a minor engagement in which one Muslim and one Ghatafân man were killed, but the rest escaped. (2:281-89)
10.10 Expedition against the Mustaliq nomads and marriage to Juwayriya (n.9)
The Messenger of God attacked the Mustaliq nomads in December 627. He had received news that they were gathering against him under the leadership of al-Hârith ibn-abî-Dirâr, the father of Juwayriya. When the Messenger of God heard this he marched against them and met them at a watering place of theirs called al-Muraysî`.. In the battle God defeated the Mustaliq. Some were killed and the Messenger of God took their children, wives and wealth as booty. One Muslim was killed by a man of the Ansâr in error... (2:289-90)
When the Messenger of God distributed the captives, Juwayriya bint-al-Hârith fell to Thâbit ibn-Qays or to a cousin of his, and she gave him a deed of redemption. She was a most beautiful woman who captivated everyone who saw her. She came to the Messenger of God asking his help regarding her redemption and `Â’isha remarked, “By God, as soon as I saw her at my door I disliked her because I knew that he would see in her what I saw.” She went in and told the Messenger of God, “I am Juwayriya, daughter of al-Hârith, the leader of our people, and I have suffered the misfortune of which you are aware. I have been given to Thâbit ibn-Qays or his cousin, but gave him a deed of redemption and came to you for help in the matter.” He answered, “Would you like something better than that?” She said, “What, Messenger of God?” He answered, “I will pay your redemption and marry you.” She said, “Yes, Messenger of God.”
When the news of this marriage spread, people said, “Our captives are the in-laws of the Messenger of God;” so they released them, about 100 families. I do not know a woman who was a greater blessing to her people than she.
After they had accepted Islam, the Messenger of God sent al-Walîd ibn-`Utba to them. When they heard he was coming they rode out to meet him, but when he learned of this he was afraid and went back to the Messenger of God, saying that they meant to kill him and prevent him from collecting the sadaqa. The Muslims, including the Messenger of God, seriously considered raiding them, but then a delegation of the Mustaliq came to the Messenger of God saying, “We heard that your messenger was coming; so we went out to welcome him and give him the sadaqa that we collected, but he ran back. Now we hear that he told the Messenger of God that we were coming out to kill him. By God, we did not come out for that. So God revealed (Q 49:6-7): “Believers, if an evil man comes to you with a report, examine it, so that you do not attack a people in ignorance and repent of it later. Know that the Messenger of God is among you. If he were to obey you in most matters, you would be in trouble.” (2:294-6)
During this raid the Ansâr and the Emigrants almost battled one another over some taunts made by some individuals. Muhammad had all he could do to calm them down and prevent bloodshed.
Domestic trouble was brewing for Muhammad over the latest addition to his collection of wives, but the advantages of winning a tribe over to Islam by this means were greater in his eyes than the potential dangers.
10.11 The trial of `Â’isha
While returning from this expedition, `Â’isha’s displeasure over Juwayriya was overshadowed by another event which led to her being accused of adultery. According to her report:
Whenever the Messenger of God wanted to travel he used to cast lots among his wives as to which of them should accompany him. For the raid on the Mustaliq the lot fell on me; so he took me along. The wives on these occasions used to eat just snacks and no meat to make them heavy. While the camel was being saddled, I sat in my hawdaj; then the men would pick me up, lifting the hawdaj from below, putting it on the back of the camel and tying it with a rope. Then they would lead the camel by its head.
When the Messenger of God was returning from that journey he camped near Medina for part of the night, then gave the men permission to set off, and they did. I went out to relieve myself and was wearing a safâr necklace. When I finished, it fell off my neck without my knowing it. When I came back to the camel I felt my neck and noticed that the necklace was gone. The men had already started leaving, and I returned to the place I went and looked for it until I found it. Meanwhile my camel guides came, saddled the camel and took the hawdaj, thinking I was in it, and put it on the camel and tied it, never doubting that I was in it, and went off. When I returned to the camp I found no one and no one answered my calls, for they had all gone.
So I wrapped myself in my cloak and lay down, knowing that when I was missed they would return for me. By God, I was lying there when Safwân ibn-al-Mu`attal passed by. He also had fallen behind the caravan for some reason and did not spend the night with the men. He saw my form and came right up to me. He had seen me before the veil was prescribed for us, and when he saw me said, “We belong to God and to him we return’ It is the wife of the Messenger of God,” while I was wrapped in my garments. He said, “What kept you back? God pity you’”, but I said nothing to him. Then he brought his camel and told me to ride it while he stayed behind me. So I rode it, while he led the camel by its head, and we went off fast in search of the caravan. By God, it was morning before we reached them and they had not yet missed me. When they had camped and rested for a while, the man appeared leading me. Right away the liars began spreading their reports and the army was disturbed, but I was unaware of all this.
We came to Medina and I soon became very sick and still heard nothing. The Messenger of God and my parents heard but told me nothing. I only noticed that the Messenger of God kept aloof from me. Any other time I was sick he would come and sympathize and show me attention, but this time he did not and I resented it. When he came in and my mother was there nursing me all he would say was, “How is she?” I was offended when I saw his harshness and said, “Messenger of God, permit me to go to my mother’s house so that she can nurse me.” He said, “I have no objection;” so I was taken to my mother’s, still not knowing anything of the case until I recovered from my illness about twenty days later.
Now we were Arabs and did not have toilets in our houses as foreigners have and which we despise. We used to go to the open fields of Medina, the women in the night. I went out one night with Umm-Mistah a cousin of Abű-Bakr. As she was walking she stumbled on her gown and said, “May Mistah stumble,” Mistah being a nickname of `Awf. I said, “By God’s life, that is a bad thing to say about one of the Emigrants who fought at Badr.” She said, “Have you not heard the news?” I said, “What news?” and she told me what the liars were saying. I was amazed and she said that is what they are really saying. By God, I was unable to go to the toilet and returned, unable to stop crying until I thought my crying would burst my liver. I told my mother, “God forgive you. Men have said all that about me and you never told me anything.” She answered, “My daughter, do not take the matter seriously. By God, you will hardly find a beautiful woman with a man who loves her when her rival wives and other men do not gossip about her.”
The Messenger of God then preached to his men in assembly, although I did not know. He praised God, then said, “Men, why should some people offend my regarding my family and say false things about them? By God, I know only good of them. And they say that about a man of whom, by God, I know nothing but good and who never enters any of my rooms except in my company.”
The worst of the gossipers was `Abdallâh ibn-Ubayy among the Khazraj, along with Mistah and Hamna bint-Jahsh, since her sister Zaynab bint-Jahsh was one of the Messenger of God’s wives and only she could rival me in his favour. But God protected Zaynab by her religion and she only said good things. But Hamna, her sister, spread the report all over, opposing her for the sake of her sister, and she suffered from that.
After the Messenger of God made that speech Usayd ibn-Hudayr said, “Messenger of God, if they are of the Aws let us rid you of them, and if they are of the Khazraj command us, for, by God, they should have their heads cut off. Then Sa`d ibn-`Ubâda, who before that had been thought a pious man, stood up and said, “By God’s life, you lie. Their heads shall not be cut off. You only said this because you knew that they are from the Khazraj. You would not have said this if they were from your own people.” Usayd answered, “By God’s life, you lie. You are a hypocrite and are defending the hypocrites.” Feelings ran high and there was almost a fight.
Then the Messenger of God came to see me. He called `Alî and Usâma ibn-Zayd and asked their advice. Usâma praised me highly and said, “They are your family and we know only good of them. This is a lie and untrue. But `Alî said, “Messenger of God, women are plentiful. You can easily change one for another. Ask the slave girl and she will tell you the truth.” So he called Burayra to ask her. `Alî beat her hard and told her, “Tell the Messenger of God the truth’” She answered, “By God, I know only good of her. The only complaint I have of `Â’isha is that when I am kneading dough and tell her to watch it she falls asleep and the sheep comes and eats it.”
Then the Messenger of God came to me while my parents were present and an Ansâr woman and the two of us were crying. He sat down and praised God, then said, `Â’isha, you have heard what people are saying about you. Fear God and, if you have abandoned the evil that they are saying, repent to God, for God receives the repentance of his servants.” By God, when he said this my tears stopped altogether. I waited for my parents to answer him for me, but they said nothing. By God, I thought I was too insignificant for a Qur’ân passage to be revealed concerning me which would be recited in the mosques and during salât. But I was hoping that the Messenger of God would get some message or see something in his sleep by which God would clear away the lie from me, since God knew my innocence. As for a Qur’ânic revelation concerning me, I thought myself too insignificant for that.
When I saw that my parents would not say anything, I asked them why? They said, “By God, we do not know what to answer.” By God, I do not know of a house that suffered as much as Abű-Bakr’s family those days. When they kept silent I began to cry again and said, “By God, I will never repent to God of what you mentioned. By God, I know that if I affirmed what people say, while God knows my innocence, I would be saying what never happened. But if I deny what they say, you would not believe me.” I tried to remember the name of Jacob but could not and said, “But I will say as did the father of Joseph, ‘Courage is beautiful, and God’s aid is to be asked against what you describe.’” (Q 12:18)
By God, the Messenger of God did not move from where he was sitting when God put him into one of his trances. He was wrapped in his garment and a leather cushion put under his head. When I saw that, by God I felt no fear or alarm, since I knew I was innocent and that God would not treat me unjustly. But when the Messenger of God came to himself I thought that my parents would die from fear that God would confirm what people were saying. When the Messenger of God recovered and sat up sweat was falling from him like a winter shower. He began wiping it from his brow and said, “Good news, `Â’isha’, God has revealed your innocence.” I said, “Praise be to God’” Then he went out and delivered a sermon to the people and recited to them what God had revealed. (Q:24:11-15) Then he gave orders for Mistah and Hassân ibn-Thâbit and Hamna bint-Jash, who were among the worst slanderers, to be flogged with the prescribed number of lashes. (2:297-302)
To analyze this episode, we can see that Muhammad’s enemies had a good pretext for mocking him: His wife was out most of the night alone with another man. Muhammad himself at first believed that `Â’isha was guilty. He no doubt wanted a quiet inquiry and judgement and hoped the matter would quickly blow over. But his enemies would not let him have it that way. It was an excellent opportunity for them to embarrass Muhammad himself and discredit his cause. The situation became so serious that he was forced to find a quick and final solution. He first had to assess what political repercussions any decision might have and then try to get a clear case: a confession or solid testimony. He came to realize that a condemnation of `Â’isha would represent a triumph for the Hypocrites and have a long-term bad effect on the Muslim community. He also came to realize that her innocence, at first improbable, could be credibly sustained before the public. But the evidence at hand was not conclusive. A Qur’ân revelation served to decide the matter definitively. It also elicited greater faith in him from his supporters, increasing his authority and imposing silence on the Hypocrites.
This is the argument of Fred M. Donner, “Muhammad’s political consolidation in Arabia up to the conquest of Mecca”, The Muslim World, 69 (1979), p.229ff.
Eighty lashes, according to Qur’ân 24:4.