The Battle of the Trench was a fortnight-long siege of Yathrib (now known as Medina) by Arab and Jewish tribes. The strength of the confederate armies is estimated around 10,000 men with six hundred horses and some camels, while the Medinan numbered 3000. The battle began on March 31, 627.
The outnumbered defenders of Medina, mainly Muslims led by Islamic prophet Muhammad, opted to dig and fight from a trench rather than face the tribes in the open. The trench together with Medina's natural fortifications rendered the confederate Cavalry (consisting of horses and camels) useless, locking the two sides in a stalemate. Hoping to make several attacks at once, the confederates persuaded the Banu Qurayza to attack the city from the south. However, Muhammad derailed the negotiations, and broke up the confederacy against him. The well-organized defenders, the sinking of confederate morale, and poor weather conditions caused the siege to end in a Fiasco.
The siege was a "battle of wits", in which Muslims diplomatically overcame their opponents with very few casualties. Efforts to defeat the Muslims failed, and Islam became influential in the region. As a consequence, the Muslims besieged the Qurayza, and upon the latter's unconditional surrender. The defeat also caused the Meccans to lose their trade and much of their prestige.
The battle is also referred to as the Battle of Confederates (Arabic غزوة الاحزاب). The Qur'an uses the term confederates (Arabic الاحزاب) in Sura Al-Ahzab to denote the confederacy of pagans and Jews against Islam.
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The men from Banu Khuza'a reached Muhammad in four days, warning him of the Confederate armies that were to arrive in a week. The ditch was dug on the northern side only, as the rest of Yathrib was surrounded by rocky mountains and trees, impenetrable to large armies (especially cavalry). The digging of the ditch coincided with a near-famine in Medina. Women and children were moved to the inner city., and included all inhabitants of Medina over the age of 15, except the Banu Qurayza (the Qurayza did supply the Muslims with some instruments for digging the trench). Since sieges were uncommon in Arabian warfare, the arriving confederates were unprepared to deal with the trenches dug by the Muslims. The Confederates tried to hurl bodies of horsemen in hopes of forcing a passage, but the Medinans entrenched rigidly prevented such a crossing. Both of the armies gathered on either side of the trench spent two or three weeks exchanging insult in prose and verse, backed up with arrows fired from a comfortable distance. According to Rodinson, there were three dead among the attackers and five among the defenders. On the other hand, the harvest had been gathered and the besiegers had some trouble finding food for their horses. Those horses were no use to them in the attack.
The Quraysh veterans grew impatient with the deadlock. A group of militants led by ‘Amr bin ‘Abd-e-Wudd and Ikrimah attempted to thrust through the trench and managed to cross the trench occupying a marshy area near the hillock of Sala. 'Amr's challenge to the Muslims to a duel was accepted by Ali ibn Abi Talib. After a short engagement, Ali killed 'Amr and the confederates were forced to withdraw in the state of panic and confusion. Although the Confederates lost only two men during the encounter, they failed to accomplish anything important. So far the Qurayza had tried to remain neutral,
Akhtab eventually managed to enter and persuade them that the Muslims would surely be overwhelmed if they opened a second front against them The sight of the Confederate armies, surging the land with soldiers and horses as far as the eye could see, swung the opinion in the favour of the Confederacy.
Muhammad sent three leading Muslims to bring him details of the recent developments. He advised the men to openly declare their findings, should they find the Qurayza to be loyal, so as to increase the morale of the Muslim fighters. However, he warned against spreading the news of a possible breach of the pact on the Qurayza's part, so as to avoid any panic within Muslim ranks.
Crisis in MedinaEdit
Muhammad attempted to hide his knowledge of the activities of Banu Qurayza; however, rumor soon spread of a massive assault on the city of Medina from Qurayza's side designed to capture the defenders' families which severely demoralized the Medinans.
Muslims found themselves in greater difficulties by the day. Food was running short, and nights were colder. The lack of sleep made matters worse.
Quran describes the situation in surah Al-Ahzab:
Immediately after hearing the news of the Qurayza , Muhammad had sent 100 men to the inner city for protection. Later he sent 300 horsemen (cavalry was not needed at the trench) as well to protect the city. protesting Medina had never sunk to such levels of ignominy. The negotiations were broken off. While the Ghatafan did not retreat they had compromised themselves by entering negotiations in with Medina, and Confederacy's internal dissension had increased.
Aftermath:Siege and demise of the Banu QurayzaEdit
Following the retreat of the Confederate army, the Banu Qurayza strongholds were besieged by the Muslims. After a 25 day siege the Banu Qurayza unconditionally surrendered. When Banu Qurayza surrendered, Muslims seized their stronghold and their stores. On the request of the Banu Aus, who were allied to the Qurayza, Muhammad chose one of them, Sa'ad ibn Mu'adh, as an arbitrator to pronounce judgment upon them. Sa'ad, who would later die of his wounds from the battle, decided the men shall be killed and women and children left alone. Muhammad approved of this decision, and the next day the sentence was carried out. - were bound and placed under the custody of Muhammad, who had killed Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf, while the women and children were placed under Abdullah ibn Salam, a former Rabbi who had converted to Islam. The Meccans had exerted their utmost strength to dislodge Muhammad from Medina, and this defeat caused them to lose their trade with Syria and much of their prestige with it. Watt conjectures that the Meccans at this point began to contemplate that conversion to Islam would be the most prudent option.
The main contemporary source of the battle is the Sura Al-Ahzab of Quran. Although Quran doesn't speak about the events, it reveals psychological and social situation of people of Medina and different approaches toward the battle among them. Quran has considered as the "most trustworthy source" for reconstruction of the life of the historical Muhammad is the Quran. The Qur'an in its actual form is generally considered by academic scholars to record the words spoken by Muhammad because the search for variants in Western academia has not yielded any differences of great significance.
Next in importance are the historical works by writers of third and fourth century of the Muslim era. These include the traditional Muslim biographies of Muhammad and quotes attributed to him (the sira and Hadith literature), which provide further information on Muhammad's life. The earliest surviving written sira (biographies of Muhammad and quotes attributed to him) is Ibn Ishaq's Life of God's Messenger written some 120 to 130 years after Muhammad's death. Although the original work is lost, portions of it survive in the recensions of Ibn Hisham and Muhammad. Another early source is the history of Muhammad's campaigns by Al-Waqidi (d. 823).
- Primary source
- Guillaume, Alfred, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah. Oxford University Press, 1955. ISBN 0-1963-6033-1
- Secondary source
- Heck, Gene W. "Arabia Without Spices: An Alternate Hypothesis", in: Journal Of The American Oriental Society 123 (2003), p. 547-567.
- Muir, William, A Life of Mahomet and History of Islam to the Era of the Hegira, vol. 3. London: Smith, Elder & Co, 1861.
- The Battle Of The Trench
- Al-Ahzab (the Confederates) Invasion
- A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims;The Battle of the Trench by Sayed Ali Asgher Razwy
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