Battle of the Trench (Islamic History)
Battle of the Trench
THE BATTLE OF THE DITCH
The Battle of the Ditch took place in Shawwal 5 A.H. It was a decisive battle but it presented to the Muslims grave trials that they had not previously experienced. Allah says in the Qur’an:
When they came against you from above you and from below you, and when your eyes swerved and your hearts reached your throats, and you thought thoughts about Allah; there it was that the believers were tried, and shaken most mightily. (33: 11)
The Jews instigated these hostilities. People from the Banu’n-Nadir and the Banu Wa’il went to the Quraysh in Makkah, calling on them to fight the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah. The Quraysh who had already experienced war with the Prophet were reluctant to get involved again. However, the Jewish delegation painted such a rosy picture of the outcome that they agreed to co-operate.
‘We will support you,’ the Jews promised, ‘until you obliterate him.’
That delighted the Quraysh. They were eager to carry out the Jews’ ideas. They gathered their forces and prepared for battle. The Jewish delegation then went to the Ghatafan tribes and invited them to join the Quraysh. After the Ghatafan agreed to join in, they went to other tribes, presenting them with the same plan backed by the Quraysh.
Thus an alliance was formed between the Quraysh, the Jews, and the Ghatafan against the Muslims.
Certain conditions were drawn up. The Quraysh had to gather four thousand fighters and the Ghatafan six thousand, making ten thousand in all. This vast army was to be commanded by Abu Sufyan ibn Harb. The Jews agreed to give one year’s harvest of Khaybar to the Ghatafan to compensate them for their military expenses.
WISDOM IS THE LOST PROPERTY OF THE BELIEVER
The Muslims decided to fortify themselves in Madinah and defend the city. Their army numbered less than three thousand so Salman al-Farsi suggested that a ditch should be dug around the city for protection.
‘In Persia,’ Salman said, ‘when we feared invaders, we would dig a ditch around us to keep them at bay.’ The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah agreed to his suggestion and a ditch was dug on the exposed side from where they feared the enemy would attack. The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah planned the work and assigned forty cubits of digging to each group of ten Muslims. The length of the ditch was about five thousand cubits and its depth varied between seven and ten cubits. Its width was at least nine cubits.
THE SPIRIT OF EQUALITY AND MUTUAL SUPPORT AMONG THE MUSLIMS
The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah helped to dig the ditch and encouraged the Muslims working alongside him. Although it was bitterly cold and food was in short supply, the work proceeded smoothly.
Abu Talhah said, ‘We complained to the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah of hunger and we showed him the stones that we had tied round our bellies to ease the pain. Then the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah showed us that he had two stones on his belly.’
In spite of all this they were happy, praising Allah and chanting poems. No one complained or expressed any regrets.
Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) said, ‘The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah went out to the ditch when the Muhajirun and Ansar were digging in the bitterly cold morning air. They had no slaves to do it for them. Seeing their state of fatigue and hunger, he said:
O Allah! True life is the life of the Next World. So forgive the Ansar and the Muhajirun.
In response they said:
We are those who have given homage to Muhammad.
To fight in jihad as long as we have life.
The Muslims came upon a large rock which their picks could not shift. When they complained to the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah about it, he took up a pick, saying, ‘In the name of Allah.’ His first blow broke off a third of the rock and sent sparks flying.
‘Allah is greater!’ he said, ‘I have been given the keys of Syria. By Allah, I see its red castles, if Allah wills.’
He struck at the rock a second time and another third broke off.
‘Allah is greater. I have been given the keys of Persia and, by Allah, I see the white castles of al-Mada’in.
With his third blow, he invoked the name of Allah and the rest of the rock shattered.
‘Allah is greater!’ he exclaimed, ‘Allah is greater! I have been given the keys of the Yemen. By Allah, I see the gates of San’a’ from here.
A number of miracles were witnessed by the Companions at this time. Once when the ground was too hard to dig in part of the ditch, the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah called for some water, spat into it and prayed a supplication willed by Allah. When he poured the water over the hard ground, it became soft like sand. On other occasions, a great blessing would appear when a small amount of food could satisfy a large number of Muslims or even be sufficient for an entire army of three thousand workers.
“When they came to you from above you and from beneath you”
The Muslims had scarcely finished work on the ditch when the Quraysh and the Ghatafan arrived and pitched camp outside Madinah with ten thousand warriors. The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah assembled his three thousand Muslims, keeping the ditch between them and the enemy.
A treaty existed between the Muslims and the Madinan Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayzah. Huyayy ibn Akhtab, the chief of Banu’n-Nadir encouraged the Jews to break the treaty. When the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah heard of this, he realised that it was a serious setback and everyone feared the consequences. Some of the hypocrites displayed their hypocrisy openly. The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah even considered making a treaty with the Ghatafan, giving them one-third of Madinah’s dates in order to make things easier for the Ansar who always bore the greatest hardships during wars.
He rejected that option after Sa’d ibn Mu’adh and Sa’d ibn ‘Ubadah advised him to remain firm, upright and resolute before the enemy and to refuse any compromise.
‘Messenger of Allah,’ they said, ‘We and these people all used to associate other things with Allah and worship idols; none of us worshipped nor recognised Allah. They would not eat a single date except through hospitality or purchase. Now that Allah has honoured us with Islam and guided us to it and made us mighty by you and Himself, shall we still give them our property? By Allah, we have no need to and, by Allah, we will not give them anything but the sword until Allah decides between us and them.’
The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah and the Muslims remained besieged by their enemies but no fighting took place. However, some of the mounted Quraysh galloped their horses up to the edge of the ditch. When they saw the ditch, they Said, ‘By Allah, this is a device which the Arabs have never used!’
Then, having found the narrowest part, they beat their horses until they jumped over the ditch into the territory of Madinah. Among them was the famous horseman Amr ibn Abd Wudd who was said to be the equal of a thousand horsemen. He stopped and asked, ‘Who will face me?’
Ali ibn Abi Talib sprang forward and said, ‘Amr!
You swore by Allah that if a man of the Quraysh offered you two alternatives, you would accept one of them!’
‘Yes, I did.’
‘I call you to Allah and to His Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) and to Islam,’ Ali said.
‘I have no need of that.’
‘Then I call on you to encounter me.’
‘Nephew,’ said Amr to Ali, ‘By Allah, I do not want to kill you.’
‘But, by Allah,’ Ali replied, ‘I want to kill you.’
Amr was so furious that he leapt from his horse, hamstrung it, and slapped its face. Then he advanced on Ali who fought back. They circled one another, thrusting and parrying. Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) eventually beheaded Amr with a sweeping blow of his sword. The other horsemen rapidly retreated back across the ditch.
A MOTHER ENCOURAGING HER SON TO FIGHT AND GAIN MARTYRDOM
Before the veil was prescribed, A’ishah, Umm al-Mu’minin, said that she was with the Muslim women in the fortress of Banu Harithah when, ‘Sa’d ibn Mu’adh passed by wearing armour so short that his forearm was exposed. He was chanting some verses and his mother called, “Catch up, my son. By Allah, you are late.” ‘
A’ishah continued, ‘I said to her, “Umm Sa’d, I wish Sa’d’s armour were longer than that.”
What A’ishah feared took place. Sa’d ibn Mu’adh was hit by an arrow which severed a vein causing excessive bleeding. He died a martyr in the subsequent battle with the Banu Qurayzah.
TO ALLAH BELONG THE ARMIES OF THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH
Their enemies laid siege to the Muslims for about a month. They invaded all the surrounding areas creating great hardship. The hypocrites showed their true colours; some even asked the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah if they could go into Madinah because they had left their houses unlocked. In reality, they only wanted to flee from the battlefront.
While the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah and his Companions kept a close watch on the enemy besieging them, Nu’aym ibn Mas’ud from the Ghatafan came up to him to say,
‘Messenger of Allah, I have become a Muslim but my people do not know that. Tell me what you want me to do and I will do whatever you wish.’
The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah replied, ‘You are the only Muslim there, so stay among our enemies and try to help us in whatever way you can. War is a clever device.’
Nu’aym ibn Mas’ud then went to the Banu Qurayzah and aroused doubts in their minds about their position. He mentioned their alliance with the Quraysh and Ghatafan who were distant tribes, and their antagonism towards the Muhajirun and Ansar who were their close neighbours. He suggested they should not fight alongside the Quraysh and Ghatafan until they had taken some leaders as hostages for security. They answered, ‘You have given us good advice.’
When he went to talk to the Quraysh, he told them that the Jews were regretting what they had done and would be asking for some of their leaders to be held hostage as security that the treaty would not be broken. He also said that when they handed them over to the Prophet and his Companions, they would strike off their heads. Then he told the Ghatafan the same story as he had told the Quraysh. The seeds of distrust that he planted in their minds put the two groups on their guard and made them angry with the Jews. A split developed between the allies as a result, and each of them feared the others.
When Abu Sufyan and the leaders of the Ghatafan were ready to fight a decisive battle with the Muslims, the Jews put it off, demanding hostages from both sides first. The Quraysh and Ghatafan were convinced that Nu’aym ibn Mas’ud had told them the truth so they refused to grant the Jews’ request. The Jews were also convinced that he had told them the truth. Thus their distrust of each other broke their unity and they split up.
Allah supported His Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) by causing a hurricane to blow during the cold wintry nights. It blew down the enemy’s tents and overturned their cooking-pots. The men were disheartened. Abu Sufyan got up and said,
‘Company of Quraysh! By Allah, we are not in a permanent camp. The horses and camels are dying. The Banu Qurayzah have broken their promise to us and we have heard things about them which we dislike. We have suffered from the harshness of the wind as you can see and we are left without a cooking pot, or a fire. Not even a tent is standing up. Leave now, for I am going.’
Abu Sufyan went to his camel which was hobbled and mounted it. He beat it but did not unhobble it until it was standing.
When the Ghatafan heard that the Quraysh had departed, they also left. The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah was standing in prayer when his spy, Hudhayfah ibn al-‘Yaman, informed him of what had taken place. In the morning the Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah left the ditch and returned to Madinah. All the Muslims followed him, laying down their weapons. Allah Almighty spoke the truth:
O you who believe, remember Allah’s blessing on you when hosts came against you, and We loosed against them a wind, and hosts you did not see. Allah sees what you do. (33: 9) and, Allah sent back those that were unbelievers in their rage and they attained no good. Allah spared the believers of fighting. Surely Allah is Strong, Mighty. (33: 25)
The hardships of war were over and the Quraysh never again returned to fight the Muslims.
The Messenger(sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) of Allah said, ‘The Quraysh will never raid you after this year. Rather you will raid them.
Seven Muslims were martyred on the Day of the Ditch while four idol-worshippers were killed by the Muslims.