23.10 Arbitration in the Case of Banu Qurayza
By nature Mohamed was generous and tolerant; he never bore a grudge, but did his best to mitigate the after-effects of what people did to wrong themselves. The Jewish tribes who had plotted to assassinate him were allowed to leave Medina and to take whatever they would with them except weapons. What he did was for protection rather than revenge. To all the Quraysh nobles who had persecuted him and the Muslims for years, he was to give a free pardon after the liberation of Mecca. The Koran says to him:
We have not sent you, except out of mercy to mankind. (21:107)
By refusing the decision of Mohamed, Banu Qurayza were rejecting the mercy of Allah for the arbitration of man at a time when what they needed was mercy and not justice. Justice in the case of a traitor, according to the rules of men, was death. What they needed was the mercy of Allah, and that only the Messenger of Allah would give, but they appealed to their former allies, Al-Aws, to intercede for them as the tribe of Banu Qaynuqa had appealed to Al-Khazraj after they had been defeated.
Accordingly, Al-Aws went to Mohamed and said,
"Messenger of Allah, would you not allow us what you have allowed Al-Khazraj and their allies?"
"Certainly," said Mohamed,
"Would you like one of you to be arbiter between Banu Qurayza and me?"
"Yes," answered Al-Aws.
“Then let them choose one of you to be arbiter between them and me,” said Mohamed
He gave up his right as the wronged party, his authority as the victor, and allowed Banu Qurayza to choose whom they would. But as if fate insisted on making Banu Qurayza sign their own doom; it let them choose the one man they should not have chosen, Sad ibn Muadh. They forgot it was Sad who had come to warn them not to break their covenant; they forgot it was Sad who had heard them revile the Prophet and wish the Muslims an evil fate. They forgot that it was before him that they had revealed that they respected neither oath nor treaty, city or land, but only their Jewish race.
Before accepting to be arbiter between Mohamed and Banu Qurayza, Sad made both parties sign and swear to accept his decision, and then he asked Banu Qurayza to step down from their forts and lay down their weapons. His decision was read out to them.
All the men of Banu Qurayza were to be put to death and all the women and children were to be taken as slaves. Had they accepted Mohamed's decision, they would not have come to this fate, but they trusted more in their allies among men than in the mercy of Allah.
Mohamed did not revoke the decision of Sad since he had sworn to abide by it, but he made one request. He stipulated that families should not be separated, and thus he taught his Companions:
"He who separates mother and child shall be separated from those he loves in the eternal life."
Before being put to death, the men of Banu Qurayza were offered Islam. Islam wipes clean what was before it, and whatever a man has done in ignorance before Islam is not held against him. He is accepted as a brother, new-born, by the rest of the Muslims. Only four men accepted, saving themselves, their families, and their possessions. All the rest refused, while one of the elders of Banu Qurayza declared it was an epic that Elohim had written for the tribes of Banu Israel.
In principles and basic tenets there is no difference between Judaism and Islam, in ritual there is much difference, but how often men adhere to the form rather than the core.
Sad ibn Muadh, the head of Al-Aws, who was the arbiter in the case of Banu Qurayza, had received a fatal arrow wound in the fighting with Quraysh immediately before the siege of Banu Qurayza. He said,
"My Lord, if there still remains war with Quraysh, let me live for it for I would struggle against none more willingly than those who have injured the Messenger, driven him out, and insulted him. My Lord, let this be martyrdom for me (in case there is no war) and do not let me die until I have had satisfaction from Banu Qurayza."
After Quraysh returned to Mecca in frustration, they were never to raise a sword against the Messenger again, and Sad died of his wounds.