Thursday, May 23, 2013

Jewish Tribes That Lived in Arabia

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                   

                                                                 Arabia Before Islam

When the 1st Temple fell in Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE,  many Jewish people were taken as prisoners.  Nebuchadnezzar was the King of Babylon from 605-562 BCE.  He had conquered all the lands from the Euphrates River  to the Egyptian frontier, including Judah.  It was in 597, after Judah revolted, that he dispatched contingents which captured Jerusalem and replaced the young King Jehoiachin who was only 18 years old  ruling from 598-597 BCE ( 3 months and 10 days of ruling)  with his own choice of 21 year old Zedekiah (born 618 BCE) , son of King Josiah in 597-586 BCE. Jehoiachin was taken to exile in Babylonia and kept in detention until 561 when he was released after  36 years of imprisonment.

Zedekiah had a horrible ending after being a king for 11 years.  He had conspired with Egyptians causing the Babylonians to invade and capture Jerusalem.  He tried to run away but was caught and tried.  His sons were killed before him, his eyes were put out and he was put into prison in Babylon until he died at age 32.  Nebuchadnezzar had exiled 8,000 of the local aristocracy to Babylon. Zedekiah was the last King of Judah.   His accounts of these events are preserved in the British Museum.  Gedaliah tried to perpetuate Judah.  He had been a member of the former royal house, but this attempt ended with his assassination in 582.  The descendants of the exiles in Babylonia continued to cherish their national and religious ideals wherever they were living.

Some of the captured Jews must have made their way to the modern-day Saudi Arabia and settled there in Medina. Medina was originally called Yathrib and was about 200 miles to the north of Mecca, where Mohammad was born and raised in the Quraysh tribe of the clan of Hashim.  Medina had originally been settled by 3 Jewish tribes that arose in Medina well before the days of Mohammad (570-632 CE) .

 They were the Banu Qainuqa/Kainuka,  Banu Nadir and Banu Qurayza/Banu Kuraiza.  Arabs of the area, called the Yathribites, also lived there.  Evidently the Jews had told the townspeople about Moses and their prophets and had assured them of the coming of a Messiah someday.  When Mohammad came to convert everyone to Islam, the townspeople thought he was the Messiah and also a man of ability who was familiar with the inner councils of the Quraysh, and who could lead them in their rivalry against the city of Mecca.  He was then looked upon as not only  a prophet of Allah, but also the head of a state.  The two offices became combined.

Banu Kainuka had no land.  They lived from trading and as goldsmiths.  They were the first to suffer from the hostile attitude of Mohammad after his failure to win the Jews over to Islam.  They were attacked and besieged in their strongholds in the year of 624 CE and were forced to surrender after 15 days of holding out from attack.  Mohammad first wished to have all the men executed by spared them on condition that they leave Medina.  They had to leave all their property in the hands of the new Muslims.  The Jews migrated to the Jewish centers in Wadi-I-Kura and later further north to Adhriat.

Banu-L-Nadir had settled in a piece of land that they owned and had landed estates and strongholds.  They worked and cultivated the soil, engaged in moneylending and traded in weapons and jewels, so that they were a wealthy tribe.  They also were besieged in their forts by Mohammed and surrendered after about 2 weeks in 626 CE.  Their property that they couldn't take with them was confiscated.  They were permitted to leave, according to some sources.  Others say this tribe was the most hostile to the pressure of Mohammad, the Islamic Prophet who called for their conversion to follow Islam.  Many Jews from this tribe were killed.  Mohammed had amassed 10,000 followers to help in his conversions, so it must have happened.    They left by heading north and founded new settlements, partly in Khaibar and partly in Syria.

It was said that Raihana or Rayhana bint Zaayd ibn Amr, a very beautiful woman of the Banu Nadir tribe, was married to Mohammed, which is said not to be true.  The story is that she was married to a man from the Banu Kuraiza/ Qurayza tribe and when his tribe was defeated by Muhammad, she became a slave as the men were all killed.  Mohammad offered to marry her if she converted to Islam and she refused.  She could have been turned into his concubine, but she died a slave a year before Mohammad did in 631 CE, so she died very young.  She must have been living with him, and had refused to wear the hijab which caused a lot of arguing between them.  She was buried in Jannat al-Baqi cemetery.

 Mohammad  had taken Safiyya, who did convert but didn't enter into much  like his other wives, in total said to have had 12.  "Safiyya bint Huyayy was a noblewoman, the daughter of Huyayy ibn Akhtab, chief of the Jewish tribe Banu Nadir, and wife of Kenana ibn al-Raabi  a commander. Before her marriage to Kenana she had been married to the poet Sallam ibn Mishkam, who had divorced her.  In 629, at the Battle of Khaybar,  Banu Nadir was defeated,  Safiyya's father was killed in battle, her husband was executed, and she was taken as a prisoner. Muhammad freed her from her captor Dihya and proposed marriage, which Safiyya accepted."

Banu Kuraiza lived in several villages to the south of Medina and their main occupation was agriculture.  When Islam arose in about 610 CE, they numbered 750 fighting men and held some fortified positions in the neighborhood.  They were the last Jews to be attacked by Mohammed who charged them with treason.  When they had to surrender, they were treated more cruelly than their two other fellow-tribes.  The men were executed and the women and children were sold into slavery.    Among the Kuraizans were several poets who wrote in Arabic.  Their verses are still in existence.

Other Jewish tribes in existence during Muhammed's time were the Banu Auf, Banu Harith, Banu Jusham, Banu Alfageer, Banu Najjar, Banu Sa'ida, and Banu Shutayba.

There was a covenant made between the Muslims and the Jews of Medina who had been living on the land for the past 1,216 years.  It was the world's first constitution according to the Muslims. It gave various rights to Jews foreshadowing the Muslim treatment of the dhimmis-the People of the Book in Islamic lands. The document detailed the rights and responsibilities of outsiders, outlining the rights of the Banu Auf tribe and other Jewish tribes, mandating mutual defense and declaring off-limits any cooperation with the Quraysh tribe.   Saying that the Jews of the Banu Auf are one community with the "believers" was a remarkable statement, and one which Islamic apologists of today never tire of quoting.  It was soon superseded in the life of the Muslims by statements that were the opposite.  The mutual defense provision had one exception.   The Jews agreed to fight alongside the Muslims except in the case of a holy war.

"Jews who follow us shall not be wronged nor shall his enemies be aided.  They shall contribute to the cost of war as long as they are fighting alongside the "believers"  The Jews of the Banu Auf are one community with the "believers".  The Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs, their freedmen and their persons except those who behave unjustly and sinfully, for they hurt but themselves and their families.  The same applies to the Jews of the Banu al- Najjar, Banu al Harith, Banu Sa'ida, Banu Jusham, Banu al-Aus, Banu Tha'laba, and the Jafna, a clan of the Tha'laba and the Banu al-Shutayba."

Perhaps this meeting of Jews and Muslims caused certain ideas to be added to the Koran where matters did not go well, and possibly why we find a mingling of DNA between some of the 2 people.

The Truth about Muhammad by Robert Spencer
Middle East Past & Present by Yahya Armajani and Thomas M. Ricks, textbook, 2nd edition, 1986


  1. This was very interesting! Have been doing a little research on the Nader/ nadir family in Syria. Thanks for the interesting information.on the tribe banu nadir.

  2. Happy to hear from someone who was interested in this. So some went to Syria. That is also very interesting. Thanks for sharing.