When Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh cast a judgment towards the Banū Qurayẓah for their treason, the content of the judgment sounded strikingly similar towards provisions in Jewish Law. Additionally, it just so happened that Banū Qurayẓah was a Jewish Tribe. So, did Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh really apply Jewish Law?
The ill-fate of Banū Qurayẓah was
sealed when, during the Battle of Khandaq, they betrayed the Muslims in a way
that may have led to the latter’s annihilation. Long story short, the Banū
Qurayẓah was at the mercy of the Muslims. Banū Qurayẓah agreed to surrender to
the judgment of Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh who was the Chief of their ally tribe Banū Aws.
His judgement would echo through history: all grown up men should be executed,
women and children should be enslaved.
Why such a harsh punishment? That
is a discussion for another day. What I wish to discuss in this article is
whether Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh applied Jewish Law. If we refer directly to the Torah
in Deuteronomy 20 verses 13-14, it says (in English translation):
“and when the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, you shall put
all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the
children, the livestock, and everything in the town—all its spoil—and enjoy the
use of the spoil of your enemy, which the Lord your God gives you.”
The contents of the
aforementioned verse seem to coincide with Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh’s judgment. Additionally,
at the period in Madinah, applies Jewish law to the Jews.
This seems very convincing. Some
scholars have actually argued that it was indeed so,
and I was once very convinced with it as well that I published an article
Upon further examination, there
are some points that need to be discussed further regarding this claim:
First, was it the wrong verse?
The following verse in
Deuteronomy 20 (i.e. 15) explains that verses 13-14 above apply to “all towns
that lie very far from you, towns that do not belong to nations hereabout.”
Verse 16 reads: In the towns of the latter peoples, however, which the Lord
your God is giving you as a heritage, you shall not let a soul remain alive.”
Abdullah Yusuf Ali notes that
Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh’s judgment was the ‘milder option’,
because Banū Qurayẓah is not a town that “lie very far from you” as Deuteronomy
20: 13-14 requires for such a punishment. Banū Qurayẓah should have been
punished by the harsher Deuteronomy 20: 16. This may require further
examination since commentaries mention that Deuteronomy 20: 16 only applies to
the People of Canaan.
Abdullah Yusuf Ali seems to imply that Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh was doing an act of mercy by choosing the lesser punishment. However, this also shows that Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh applied the wrong verse!
Second, the question of spoils of war.
There are two sub-points here. The
first sub-point is that the judgment of Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh does not actually
contain anything about spoils of war. Rather, the wealth of Banū Qurayẓah was
naturally divided among the Muslims once their owners are either executed or
enslaved. This minor ‘technicality’ seems to be missing from those who claim
that Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh’s judgment coincides with Jewish Law.
Second sub-point, the narrations
say that spoils of war are not made ḥalāl
for the peoples before the ummah of
Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ.
Meanwhile, the cited verses from Deuteronomy 20 seem to allow the taking of the
spoils of war. Therefore, at least in this simple understanding, the it cant be
Jewish Law that Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh used.
However, regarding this second
sub-point, there are two issues also:
Under this perspective, its either Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ was wrong (na‘ūẓubillāh) or the Jewish Laws, in its form today, has been corrupted. There are verses in the Qur’ān suggesting that the ahl al-kitāb have made alterations in their book, such as Surah al-Baqarah verses 75 and 79. However, it is the bible fabrications by the Christians which are most discussed and better documented regarding this issue. I have not found much material on the fabrication of Jewish texts, especially the Torah.
Another issue to explore is the distinction between ghanīmah and fay. It is the former that, in the narrations, were not made ḥalāl for the peoples before the ummah of Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ. But do these narrations include fay also in terms of ‘not being ḥalāl for the previous peoples’? Did the Jewish law separate the two?
Therefore, this second sub-point may
require further examination.
Third, after over a millennium, why now?
Such assertion that Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh applied Jewish law is difficult to find in classical literature. So far I have checked related narration surrounding this judgment from the sīrah of Ibn Isḥāq, Ibn Kathīr, and Al-Mubarakfuri, aḥadīth from the kuttub al-sittah, and Ibn Ḥajar Al-ʿAsqalānī’s Fatḥ Al-Bārī, and I have found nothing so far pointing to this direction.
Rather, these assertions are
found in contemporary literature. If it was true that Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh applied
Jewish law, perhaps it would have been found in classical literature. After
all, as mentioned earlier, when Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ applied Jewish laws towards
the Jewish people it was quite clearly mentioned so.
Additionally, while the Banū Aws
tribe (which Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh was Chief) was allied with Banū Qurayẓah, it is
hard to find evidence (other than baseless speculation) that Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh
was familiar with Jewish law in order to apply it anyways. In the little
material I could find about him, he does not seem to be like Salmān al-Fārisī
who had a spiritual journey exploring other faiths deeply before finding Islam.
Whatever was the virtue and
justice behind Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh’s judgment, that is another story for a separate
research (which, at the time I am writing this article, I am currently writing something
that touches this issue briefly). The question at hand is whether Sa‘d ibn
Mu‘ādh applied Jewish Law towards Banū Qurayẓah to punish them for their betrayal
towards the Muslims.
There are some issues that may
require further examination, and I am open to further feedback on the matter. Considering
all the previously mentioned points, I must now change my position on this matter.
The truth is that, as it stands, the claim that Sa‘d ibn Mu‘ādh applied Jewish
Law is difficult to agree with.
 The Jewish Publication Society of America, ed., The Torah: Five Books of Moses (Illinois: Varda Books and the Jewish Publication Society of America, 2001), chap. Deuteronomy 20: 13-14.
Ismail ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir
(Abridged), trans. Safiurrahman Al-Mubarakfuri, vol. 3 (Riyadh: Darussalam,
Ahmed Al-Dawoody, The Islamic Law of
War: Justifications and Regulations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011),
Fajri Matahati Muhammadin, “Comparing International Humanitarian Law and
Islamic Law on War Captives: Observing ISIS,” Jurnal Dauliyah 1, no. 2 (2016): 129.
The Jewish Publication Society of America, The Torah: Five Books of Moses, chap. Deuteronomy 20: 15.
Abdullah Yusuf Ali, trans., The Holy
Qur’an: English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary (Madinah: King
Fahd Holy Qur’an Printing Complex, n.d.), nn. 3703–3704.
Hetty Lalleman, “The Conduct of War: Lessons from Deuteronomy 20,” Jubilee
Centre: Biblical Thinking for Public Life, 2004,
http://www.jubilee-centre.org/conduct-war-lessons-deuteronomy-20/. There is further discussion
also regarding the interpretation of these verses and the Jewish laws of war.
See: Rivon Krygier, “Did God Command the Extermination of the the Canaanites ?
The Rabbis’ Encounter with Genocide,” adathshalom.org, accessed December 7,
Ismail Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir
(Abridged), trans. Safiurrahman Al-Mubarakfuri, vol. 4 (Riyadh: Darussalam,
2003), nn. 355–356.
 See: Ahmed Deedat, The Choice: Dialog Islam-Kristen (Jakarta: Al-Kautsar, 2012), Book 2. Although, some verses of the Torah may indicate this fabrication by themselves. Jeremiah 8: 8 reads: “How can you say, ‘we are wise, And we possess the instruction of the Lord’? Assuredly, for naught has the pen labored, for naught the scribes!”. See: The Jewish Publication Society, trans., JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh: The Traditional Hebrew Text and the New JPS Translation, Second (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2000), chap. Jeremiah 8: 8. Note: I thank Nuruddin Al-Akbar for his additional information regarding the Tanakh!
look forward if anyone could help enlighten me on this, if any narrations actually