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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.”[1]

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.[2]

This seems very convincing. Some scholars have actually argued that it was indeed so,[3] and I was once very convinced with it as well that I published an article mentioning it.[4]


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.”[5] 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’,[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

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.


[1] 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.

[2] Ismail ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged), trans. Safiurrahman Al-Mubarakfuri, vol. 3 (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2003), 184–89.

[3] Ahmed Al-Dawoody, The Islamic Law of War: Justifications and Regulations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 27.

[4] Fajri Matahati Muhammadin, “Comparing International Humanitarian Law and Islamic Law on War Captives: Observing ISIS,” Jurnal Dauliyah 1, no. 2 (2016): 129.

[5] The Jewish Publication Society of America, The Torah: Five Books of Moses, chap. Deuteronomy 20: 15.

[6] 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.

[7] 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, 2019, https://www.adathshalom.org/RK/about_the_extermination_of_the_Canaanites.pdf.

[8] Ismail Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged), trans. Safiurrahman Al-Mubarakfuri, vol. 4 (Riyadh: Darussalam, 2003), nn. 355–356.

[9] 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!

[10] I look forward if anyone could help enlighten me on this, if any narrations actually mention it.