The Banu Qaynuqa
The early part of the Quran was written while Muhammad lived in Mecca, a town with very few Jews and no Jewish tribes. At the time, he presented himself to the Meccans as a Jewish prophet based on the stories that he learned from those Jews whom he met on his travels – and from his cousin Waraqa, a convert from Judaism (the Quran actually addresses this accusation, as “Allah” denies it).
When Muhammad relocated to Medina, there were three Jewish tribes living there already whose good graces he needed to stay in (initially) since he and his small band of Muslim immigrants were in a position of relative weakness. He tried to convince these Jews that he was the last in the succession of their own prophets and even changed the Qibla (direction of prayer) toward Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish world.
The Jews at Medina were not impressed with Muhammad’s esoteric claims, particularly since there were obvious discrepancies between their Torah and his version of the same stories. (In the Quran, history from the Bible is presented immaturely, and sounds more like a series of fairy tales with the same redundant moral – believe in Muhammad’s claims about himself or face earthly destruction and eternal torment).
When asked why he didn’t provide proof of his prophethood by performing some sort of miracle, as the prophets of the past had done, Muhammad came up with a clever excuse by saying that there was no point in doing so since the Jews had “rejected” past prophets anyway (Quran 3:183-184). Thus, Muhammad had nothing to offer but his own testimony.
The prophet of Islam did not handle the Jewish rejection well, particularly since his people had been relying heavily on his many claims of being a prophet in the same mode as Moses, Abraham and Jesus. Muhammad “resolved” his dilemma by claiming that the Jews of Medina were heretics and he arbitrarily dismissed their version of the Torah by claiming that they had corrupted it and “hidden” the verses that supported his claims of being a prophet. (Interestingly, despite the many Jews who converted to Islam, either out of compulsion or free will, no one ever produced the “uncorrupted” Torah that was supposed to have existed).
Following Muhammad’s victory against the Meccans at Badr, his wealth and power had increased to the point of being able to take care of his “Jew problem.” The words of the Quran become noticeably harsher toward the “People of the Book” in the Medina portion of the text, and his actions become confrontational.
Although much is made of the “Constitution” of Medina, the treaty that Muhammad created for all of the local tribes on his arrival, contemporary Muslims are often reluctant to admit the injunction that cancelled out this treaty less than two years later:
Having announced his intentions, Muhammad looked for an excuse to take land from those Jews who refused to convert to Islam. His first target was a tribe that had recently been aligned in a conflict against the other two. Muhammad guessed correctly that the other Jewish tribes would not come to the assistance of the Banu Qaynuqa if he laid siege to them.
Muhammad’s excuse is said to be an incident in which a Muslim was killed by an angry Jewish mob. That the mob was angry because the Muslim in question had just murdered a Jewish merchant over a woman’s honor is sometimes conveniently forgotten by contemporary apologists, who nonetheless admit that Muhammad chose to lay siege to the Qaynuqa stronghold rather than mediate a peaceful resolution to the agitation.
This point is important. According to Muslim historians, the first blood shed was when a Jew was murdered by a Muslim for playing a prank on a Muslim woman (by lifting her dress). The Muslim was killed in retaliation by those who had just witnessed the murder.
On what basis is physical violence – much less murder – justified by a prank of this sort? Moreover, if Muhammad believed in the Old Testament law of “an eye for an eye,” why did he not recognize the legitimacy of the second killing against the disparity of the first?
In any event, the self-proclaimed prophet of God responded with self-serving force against a people that had welcomed him to their community less than two years earlier. Unprepared for battle, the Qaynuqa surrendered to their former guest without a fight.
Muhammad wished to slay the entire tribe outright, but was talked out of it by a mutual Arab friend, who was horrified by his intentions:
Muhammad was thus talked into allowing the Jews of Qaynuqa to escape only with a few tools and the clothes on their back. He confiscated their wealth and land, taking a fifth for himself and giving the rest to the other Muslims. (According to the Qur’an, this was their punishment for not believing in Muhammad 3:10-12).
The man who had saved the lives of the Jews was later called a hypocrite by Muhammad, and it is evident that he deeply regretted his decision not to slay the Qaynuqa. One of the nine Quranic verses that prohibit Muslims from taking Jews and Christians as friends was “revealed” at this time.
Thus was Muhammad able to fulfill his own promise that “those who resist Allah and his Messenger will be humiliated” (Quran 58:20), further solidifying his credibility with the Muslims – and inspiring fourteen centuries of relentless Jihad in the name of following his example.