The Battle of the Trench took place after the campaign against Banu Nadir, who had been expelled from Medina for their treachery and who had mostly joined their Jewish brethren in Khaybar.
In the fifth year of Hijra, a group of those Jews including Sallam ibn Abi al-Huqayq and Huyayy ibn Akhtab, together with a number of Banu Wa’il, left for Makka. They urged the Quraysh to make war on the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SWS), upon him be peace and blessings, and promised help and support.
The Jewish group then went to the tribes of Ghatafan and Qays Aylan and guaranteeing them help also, encouraged them to fight against God’s Messenger (SWS).4
These intrigues of the Jews resulted in the formation of a great confederacy against Islam. It consisted of the Makkan polytheists, the desert tribes of central Arabia, the Jews previously expelled for treacheries from Medina, the Jews (Banu Qurayza) remaining in Madina, and the hypocrites led by ‘Abdullah ibn Ubayy ibn Salul. The last two constituted a treacherous network within Medina.
When God’s Messenger (SWS), upon him be peace and blessings, heard, through his intelligence service, of the gathering of the allies or confederates (ahzab) against him, and the strength of their desire to fight against him, he consulted his Companions, as he always used to do. It was their unanimous view that they should remain in Medina and fight from there. Salman al-Farsi (RA) suggested to God’s Messenger (SWS) that they should dig a trench around Medina.
The trench took six days of feverish work to dig. God’s Messenger had divided them into groups of ten people and put them to a competition. It was a hard task and time was restricted; what was more, hunger struck them all; yet all the Companions (RA) worked enthusiastically. In order not to feel hunger, each fastened a rock around his belly. While digging they recited:
We are those people who
Took the oath of allegiance to Muhammad;
Therefore we shall fight in the way of God
As long as we live.
By God, if God had not enabled us to,
We would have neither been guided
Nor given alms, nor performed prayers.
Send down unto us calmness and tranquility
And make our feet firm if we confront the enemy!5
The Messenger (SWS), who dug alongside them, and had fastened around his belly two rocks, answered them with the couplet:
O God, the real life is the life of the Hereafter
So, forgive the Helpers and the Emigrants.
The allies advanced against Madina in the hope of destroying the Muslims in a battle to be fought in an open field. However, when they faced a new strategy of God’s Messenger, they took the first blow. Numbering around 10,000 (some say as many as 20,000) men, they camped near the ditch. The Madinan fighting strength was no more than 3,000, and the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza and the Hypocrites were a source of weakness as they were treacherously colluding with the enemy. As stated in the verses of the Qur’an (al-Ahzab, 33.12-20) when the Hypocrites first saw the enemy, they were already in a defeatist mood. Not content with disloyalty themselves, they tried to infect others, who made paltry excuses to withdraw from the fight. If the enemy were to gain entrance, they were ready to betray the city to the enemy.
God’s Messenger’s (SWS) sagacity and military genius showed themselves once more during this war. He had kept them confined within the city and stationed them in a way that they could safeguard their homes against possible attacks from Banu Qurayza. It was the most critical moments of the war when Banu Qurayza sent a man into the city to spy into the conditions of the Muslim women. However, when this man was killed by Safiyya (RA), the Prophet’s (SWS) aunt, their hopes were frustrated.7
While the war was continuing with exchanges of arrows and stones, God’s Messenger (SWS), upon him be peace and blessings, did not neglect to make diplomatic attempts to disunite the Allies. He contacted the leaders of Ghatafan and, offering them peace, urged them to withdraw with their people from the war. Nu‘aym ibn Mas‘ud was one of the leaders of the Allies, who before the battle, had come to Madina to sow discord; instead, he then began to incline towards Islam. During the battle, he secretly entered Islam and, ordered by God’s Messenger, proceeded to stir up Banu Qurayza. Nu‘aym set Banu Qurayza against the Quraysh by telling them that they would be abandoned by the Makkans and should refuse to help unless they were given hostages from the Quraysh. To the Quraysh, on the other hand, he said that Banu Qurayza would not fulfil their promise to help and would attempt to stall by asking for Qurayshi hostages to share their plight in the case of defeat. This stratagem succeeded. Dissension among the Allies grew.8
God’s Messenger (SWS), supported by the mountain Sal behind, had ordered a point in the trench to be made narrower. He had expected that leading horsemen of the Quraysh would try to cross the trench through that narrow spot. It happened as he had expected, and some of the most renowned warriors of the Quraysh attempted to cross the trench and volunteered for single combat with Muslim fighters. Among them were ‘Amr ibn ‘Abd Wudd, Ikrima ibn Abi Jahl, Hubayra ibn Abi Wahb, Durar ibn al-Khattab and Nawfal ibn ‘Adbullah ibn al-Mughira.
Boasting of his strength and fighting ability, Amr ibn ‘Abd Wudd dismounted from his horse in the face of Sayyidina Ali (RA), who was ordered by the Messenger (SWS) to fight against ‘Amr. ‘Amr advanced towards Sayyidina Ali (RA) with his sword drawn. He brought his sword quickly against him but he got his sword caught in the shield of Sayyidina Ali (RA). Sayyidina Ali (RA), in return, struck a fierce blow against Amr and the dust rose up around them. Then the words, Allahu akbar – God is the Greatest – were heard: Ali had killed his opponent.9
Dirar, Hubayra and Nawfal were also killed by Ali (RA).10 The attempts of other horsemen or generals of the Quraysh to cross the trench were all brought to naught.
The siege lasted 27 days. It caused the Muslims much suffering, from hunger, cold, an unceasing shower of arrows and stones, and attempts and concentrated assaults to cross the trench, and betrayals and intrigues within the city. The Qur’an describes this situation as follows:
When they come against you from above you and from below you, and when your eyes swerved and your hearts reached your throats, while you thought thoughts about God; there it was that the believers were tried, and shaken most mightily. And when the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is sickness, said, ‘God and His Messenger promised us only delusion.’ And when a party of them said, ‘O people of Yathrib, there is no abiding here for you, therefore return!’ And a party of them were asking leave of the Prophet, saying, ‘Our houses are exposed’; yet they were not exposed; they desired only to flee. (al-Ahzab, 33. 10-13)
After a close investment of four weeks, during which the enemy were disheartened by their ill success and the believers proved their steadfastness and loyalty, there was a piercing blast of the cold east wind. The enemy’s tents were torn up, their fires were extinguished, the sand and rain beat in their faces, and they were terrified by the portents against them. They had already well nigh fallen out among themselves. Hudayfa al-Yamani, who was sent by God’s Messenger (SWS) to spy on the movements of the enemy, heard Abu Sufyan’s shouting: ‘Come on, we are returning!’11 The Muslims were victorious by God’s help; there were hidden forces – the Angels – that helped them:
O believers, remember God’s blessing upon you when hosts came against you, and we loosed against them a wind, and hosts you saw not; and God sees the things you do. (al-Ahzab, 33.9)
While digging the ditch, the Companions (RA) had been unable to break a huge rock and referred the matter to God’s Messenger (SWS), upon him be peace and blessings. The Messenger (SWS) struck the rock with the pickaxe in his hand. In the light of the sparks caused by the blow, Holy Prophet (SWS) predicted: I have been given the keys to the Kingdom of Persia; my Community will conquer it. Holy Prophet (SWS) struck the rock a second time and, again in the light of the sparks caused by the blow, declared: God is the Greatest. I have been given the keys to the Empire of Byzantium. My Community will conquer it.12
The Battle of the Trench was the last attempt of the Quraysh to destroy Islam and the Muslims. Following their withdrawal in defeat and humiliation, God’s Messenger declared: From this moment we will march upon them; they will no longer be able to raid us.13
When the Allies were routed and turned their backs in flight from the Muslims, God’s Messenger (SWS), upon him be peace and blessings, turned his attention to Banu Qurayza. They had betrayed their agreement with God’s Messenger and been allied with the Quraysh against the Muslims. They had also given asylum to the leaders of Banu Nadir, like Huyay ibn Akhtab, who had been expelled from Medina, and never refrained from conspiracies against the Muslims.
No sooner had God’s Messenger (SWS) arrived home from the Battle of the Trench than Archangel Gabriel (AS) came and said to him: ‘I have not taken off my coat of mail, and I am going upon Banu Qurayza’.14
God’s Messenger (SWS) ordered his Companions (RA) to march upon Banu Qurayza and had his tent pitched opposite their fortresses. If Banu Qurayza had asked the Messenger (SWS) for forgiveness, he would have forgiven them, but they preferred resistance. The Messenger (SWS) remained besieging Banu Qurayza for twenty-five days. At last they asked the Messenger (SWS) for surrender terms, agreeing that they should submit to the judgment of Sa‘d ibn Mu’adh (RA), who decreed the sentence according to the Torah. This was the end of the conspiracies of Banu Qurayza, as well as the Jewish presence in Medina.15
Sa‘d ibn Mu‘adh (RA) was among the leaders of the Helpers. He had been wounded in the Battle of the Trench and prayed to God: ‘O God! If I am able to fight once more beside God’s Messenger, make me live. Otherwise, I am ready to die’. So, he died a martyr shortly after the Jewish conspiracies ended.16
1. I. Hisham, 3.94; I. Sa‘d, 2.59.
2. I. Hisham, 3.213.
3. I. Kathir, 4.178-9.
4. I. Hisham, 3.225-6; Waqidi, 441-3.
5. Bukhari, “Manaqib al-Ansar,” 9, “Maghazi,” 29; Muslim, “Jihad,” 123-5.
6. Bukhari, “Manaqib,” 9; Muslim, “Jihad,” 127.
7. I. Hisham, 3.230; I. Kathir, al-Bidaya, 4.116.
8. I. Hisham, 3.239.
9. I. Hisham, 3.240-2.
10. I. Hisham, 3.235-6.
11. I. Kathir, 4.123.
12. I. Hisham, 3.243.
13. Bukhari, “Maghazi,” 29; I. Hanbal, 4.262.
14. Bukhari, “Maghazi,” 30.
15. I. Hisham, 3.249-51.
16. I. Hisham, 3.238, 262; I. Sa‘d, 3. 423-4; Tabari, Tarikh, 3.49.
The main contemporary source of the battle is the 33rd Surah of the Quran.
The Sunni Muslim Mufassir Ibn Kathir mentions that [Quran 33:10–22] is about this incident in his book Tafsir ibn Kathir, and his commentary on this verse mentions the reason and event of the Battle, his commentary is as follows:
Allah tells us of the blessings and favors He bestowed upon His believing servants when He diverted their enemies and defeated them in the year when they gathered together and plotted. That was the year of Al-Khandaq, in Shawwal of the year 5 AH according to the well-known correct view. Musa bin `Uqbah and others said that it was in the year 4 AH. The reason why the Confederates came was that a group of the leaders of the Banu Nadir, whom the Messenger of Allah had expelled from Al-Madinah to Khaybar, including Sallam bin Abu Al-Huqayq, Sallam bin Mishkam and Kinanah bin Ar-Rabi`, went to Makkah where they met with the leaders of Quraysh and incited them to make war against the Prophet. They promised that they would give them help and support, and Quraysh agreed to that. Then they went to the Ghatafan tribe with the same call, and they responded too. The Quraysh came out with their company of men from various tribes and their followers, under the leadership of Abu Sufyan Sakhr bin Harb. The Ghatafan were led by `Uyaynah bin Hisn bin Badr. In all they numbered nearly ten thousand. When the Messenger of Allah heard that they had set out, he commanded the Muslims to dig a ditch (Khandaq) around Al-Madinah from the east. This was on the advice of Salman Al-Farisi, may Allah be pleased with him. So the Muslims did this, working hard, and the Messenger of Allah worked with them, carrying earth away and digging, in the process of which there occurred many miracles and clear signs. The idolators came and made camp to the north of Al-Madinah, near Uhud, and some of them camped on the high ground overlooking Al-Madinah, as Allah says:
(When they came upon you from above you and from below you,) The Messenger of Allah came out with the believers, who numbered nearly three thousand, or it was said that they numbered seven hundred. They had their backs towards (the mountain of) Sal` and were facing the enemy, and the ditch, in which there was no water, was between the two groups, preventing the cavalry and infantry from reaching them. The women and children were in the strongholds of Al-Madinah. Banu Qurayzah, who were a group among the Jews, had a fortress in the south-east of Al-Madinah, and they had made a treaty with the Prophet and were under his protection. They numbered nearly eight hundred fighters. Huyay bin Akhtab An-Nadari went to them and kept trying to persuade them until they broke the treaty and went over to the side of the Confederates against the Messenger of Allah . The crisis deepened and things got worse… [Tafsir ibn Kathir on Quran 33:10]
On the day of Al-Khandaq (Battle of the Trench) the medial arm vein of Sa’d bin Mu’ad (RA) was injured and the Holy Prophet (SWS) pitched a tent in the mosque to look after him. There was another tent for Banu Ghaffar in the mosque and the blood started flowing from Sa’d’s (RA) tent to the tent of Bani Ghaffar. They shouted, “O occupants of the tent! What is coming from you to us?” They found that Sa’d’ (RA) wound was bleeding profusely and Sa’d (RA) died in his tent. Sahih al-Bukhari, 1:8:452
On the day of Al-Ahzab (i.e. clans) the Holy Prophet (SWS) said, (After this battle) we will go to attack them (i.e. the infidels) and they will not come to attack us.” Sahih Bukhari, 5,59,435
Abdullah b. Zubair (RA) reported on the Day of the Battle of the Trench: I and Umar b. Abu Salama (RA) were with women folk in the fort of Hassan (b. Thabit) (RA). He at one time leaned for me and I cast a glance and at another time I leaned for him and he would see and I recognised my father as he rode on his horse with his arms towards the tribe of Quraizah. ‘Abdullah b. ‘Urwa (RA) reported from Abdullah b. Zubair (RA): I made a mention of that to my father, whereupon he said: ” My son, did you see me (on that occasion)?” He said: “Yes”. Thereupon he said: “By Allah, Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) addressed me saying: I would sacrifice for thee my father and my mother”. Sahih Muslim, 31:4940
Bir hurmati Habib bir hurmati Anzalta Surat al-Fatiha – for all who were involved with the Battle of the Trench and relayed it’s history.