Did Jews Get Expelled From Arabia?

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Kaleef K. Karim & Aliyu Musa Misau

This article examines an incident that occurred at the time of Caliph Umar ibn Khattab (ra), concerning the expulsion of Jews from the Hejaz region.

“It has been narrated by ‘Umar b. al-Khattib that he heard the Messenger of Allah say: I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim.” (Sahih Muslim Book 19, Hadith 4366).

The above Hadith often gets misquoted. If one were to read it at face value, one would think and believe this is what Muhammed (p) intended all along, that is for the non-Muslims to be exiled out of Arabia without reason. However when we examine why they were expelled, one would realise that it wasn’t because they were non-Muslim, rather it had more to do with the fact of the hostilities which they committed against the Muslim community, and continued to do even after the Prophet’s (p) demise.

To begin with, what does Arabian Peninsula mean when the term was used 1400 years ago? Geographically speaking, the Arabian Peninsula is not what is thought to be by modern terminology. The Arabian Peninsula may mean Arabia as a whole (Middle-East) by today’s thinking, but originally the term was the surrounding areas of Makkah and Madinah – Hijaz. This has been stated my many medieval scholars, that the Hadith specifically speaks about the Hijaz region, Makkah and Madinah only.

The following sources state and understood that the Jews and the Christians are not allowed in the region of al-Hijaz surrounding Makkah and Madinah – not the whole middle-east:

Professor Jonathan A.C. Brown:

“… This was not accomplished until the reign of the second Caliph, Umar, who acted on the Prophet’s order and expelled the Jews of khaybar, north of Medina, from the Hejaz.
… “Bukhari notes that it was the area of the twin shrine cities of Mecca and Medina, extending south to the mountains of Yemen and east across the craggy ridges of the Hejaz to the central Arabian oases of Yamama (near present-day Riyadh). Hence Malik had concluded that Umar had not expelled the Jews of the Tayma oasis in the northern Hejaz because it was not considered part of the Peninsula of the Arabs. In later centuries Christian merchants would even accompany Hajj caravans from Syria down into the Hejaz until they were within three days travel of Medina. Furthermore, medieval ulama recognized that the Peninsula of the Arabs could not include Yemen, since Jewish communities flourished there since the beginning of Islam.” [1]

 

Kitab al-Maghazi – Al-Waqidi:

“When news about the Messenger of God’s conquest of Khaybar, Fadak, and Wadi al-Qura, reached the Jews of Tayma they made peace with the Messenger of God on the jizya, and their property was established in their hands. During the caliphate of Umar, he expelled the Jews of Khaybar and Fadak, but he did not expel the Jews of Tayma and Wadi al-Qura, because the latter were within the land of al-Sham. It was believed that land from below Wadi al-Qura to Medina was the Hijaz. And what was north of the Hijaz was part of al-Sham.” [2]

Thus shows, historically speaking, that the term Arabian Peninsula was exclusively applied to south of Hijaz, and was never applied to other areas of the Arabian Peninsula. A map of this (below) should shed more light where this expulsion was specific to:

map hijaz

The Hadith under discussion on Jews being expelled was specifically referring to the red area highlighted as being the Arabian peninsula, at the time of the Prophet (p). Some other sources go as far as to say it was only the south of Hijaz, the north (above Madina) was not included.

Looking at the map we see that Arabian Peninsula was pointed to the surrounding areas of Makkah and Madinah, not the whole Middle-East.

Having previously written about the Jews of Khaybar, Dr. Shawqi Abu Khalil pointed out that the Jews of Khaybar hired soldiers from the people of Ghatafan to fight against the Muslims. In return, they would give the Ghatafan tribe a certain percentage of their yearly harvest. [3]

When the Jews of Khaybar were surrounded by the Muslims for what they did, they surrendered and made a treaty with the Prophet (p). Prophet (p) told them that they could stay on the land of Khaybar as long as they gave half of harvest they produced and abided by that treaty. If they broke the treaty i.e., became hostile, show aggression, or hurt the Muslims, they would be expelled from the land, and this was exactly what they did at the time of the Caliphate of Umar – this we shall write about further in the article. This treaty is confirmed in the following early sources:

Kitab Futuh al-Buldan:

THE TERMS MADE
“Al-Husain ibn-al-aswad from Muhammad ibn-Ishak who said: – I once asked ibn-Shihab about Khaibar and he told me that he was informed that the Prophet captured it by force after a fight, and that it was included among the spoils which Allah assigned to his Prophet. The Prophet took its fifth and divided the land among the Moslems. Those of its people who surrendered did so on condition that they leave the land; but the Prophet asked them to enter into a treaty, which they did.” (Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, volume 1, page 43) [4]

In Kitab ul-Amwaal – Abu Ubayd Ibn al-Qasim tells us that Umar Ibn Khattab expelled the people Hijaz because they broke a treaty. The breach was from them, not the Muslims:

Abu Ubaydah said: ‘We see that he (Prophet) only said this as the breach (of the treaty) was from them and out of the issue that transpired after the treaty. This is clear in the letter that Umar wrote to them before his expulsion of them.” [5]

In the above two reports we see that there was a treaty between the Jews and the Muslims. If they had broken any of that treaty i.e., as stated earlier by being hostile, using aggression against the Muslim community, they would be expelled.

The last part of this question regarding the expulsion of the Jews from Hijaz is, why were the Jews expelled from Hijaz? From a number of authentic early sources, we are told that the Jews mistreated, and or murdered, and had beaten Muslims. And this led to Caliph Umar expelling them from Hijaz.

In this report from Kitab Futuh al-Buldan it says that they mistreated Muslims:

“UMAR EXPELS THE PEOPLE OF KHAIBAR
During the caliphate of Umar ibn-al-Khattab, a pestilence spread among them and they mistreated the Moslems. Umar, thereupon, made them evacuate the land, divided what they had among the Moslems who already had a share in it.” (Kitab Futuh al-buldan, volume 1, page 42) [6]

In the following report (Sahih al-Bukhari), we are told that Ibn Umar went to do business in Khaybar – he was attacked and had his shoulder dislocated. The other sources mentioned also that Ibn Umar’s companions were beaten in Khaybar:

“Narrated Ibn `Umar: When the people of Khaibar dislocated `Abdullah bin `Umar’s hands and feet, `Umar got up delivering a sermon saying, “No doubt, Allah’s Messenger made a contract with the Jews concerning their properties, and said to them, ‘We allow you (to stand in your land) as long as Allah allows you.’ Now `Abdullah bin `Umar went to his land and was attacked at night, and his hands and feet were dislocated. …” (Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 3, Book 50, Hadith 890)

Sirat Rasul Allah – Ibn Ishaq:

Nafi client of Abdullah b. Umar told me from Abdullah b. Umar: With al-Zubayr and al-Miqdad b. al-Aswad I went out to our property in Khaybar to inspect it, and when we got there we separated to see to our individual affairs. In the night I was attacked as I was asleep on my bed and my arms were dislocated at the elbows. …
They reset my arms and then took me to Umar who said, ‘This is the work of the Jews.’ Then he got up and addressed those present saying that the apostle had arranged with the Jews of Khaybar that we could expel them if we wished; that they had attacked Abdullah b. Umar and dislocated his arms, as they had heard in addition to their attack on the Ansari previously, there was no doubt that they were the authors of these outrages because there was no other enemy on the spot. Therefore if anyone had property in Khaybar he should go to it, for he was on the point of expelling the Jews. And he did expel them.” [7]

 

Kitab Futuh al-Buldan:

UMAR DIVIDES KHAIBAR
“… The Prophet turned Khaibar over to the hands of its people on condition that they give him one-half of the produce. Thus they held it during the life of the Prophet, Abu-Bakr and the early part of the Caliphate of Umar. Then Abdullah ibn-Umar visited them for some purpose and they attacked him in the night. He [Umar], therefore, turned them out of Khaibar and divided it among those of the Moslems who were present [in its battle] giving a share to the Prophet’s wives.” (Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, volume 1, page 49) [8]

Kitab al-Kharaj – Yahya Ibn Adam:

“… The Prophet gave Khaybar to its inhabitants (for cultivation) against payment of half of the produce, and the palm trees – as we think – against payment of the fifth of the yield, and it remained in their possession during the lifetime of the Prophet, Abu Bakr and Umar. Then Abdullah ibn Umar came to them on some business, and they attacked him at night and wounded him.” [9]

 

Musnad Ibn Hanbal:

“It was narrated that Abdullah bin Umar said: az-zubair, al-Miqdad bin al-Aswad and I went out to our property in Khaibar to take care of it. When we got there, we dispersed, each man going to his property. I was attacked under cover of night when I was sleeping on my bed and my arms were dislocated at the elbows. … They treated my arms then they brought me to Umar who said: This is the work of some Jews. Then he stood and addressed the People and said, ‘O people, the Messenger of Allah made a deal with the Jews of Khaibar on the basis that we could expel them whenever we want. They have attacked Abdullah bin Umar and dislocated his arms, as you heard about their attack on the Ansari before him. We do not doubt that they are the ones who did it, as we no other enemy but them. Whoever has property in Khaibar, let him go there, for I am going to expel the Jews. Then he expelled them.” (Musnad Ibn hanbal, volume 1, page 76) [10]

 

In this report, from Kitab Futuh al-buldan, we are told that the Jews of Khaybar used to mistreat Muslims and broke the hands of Umar’s son by hurling him off a roof, trying to murder him:

UMAR DIVIDES KHAIBAR
“It was stated by Nafi that during the caliphate of Umar ibn-al-Khattab, the people of Khaibar mistreated the Moslems and deceived them and broke the hands of the son of Umar by hurling him from the roof of a house. Consequently, Umar divided the land among those of the people who had taken part in the battle of Khaibar.” (Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, volume 1, page 45) [11]

In this last report, Islamic scholar, Muhammad Saʻid Ramaḍan Buṭi, mentions besides hurting Ibn Umar that they also murdered an innocent Muslim and this subsequently led to Umar expelling them.

“As we saw in the account of the Battle of Khaybar, the Jews of Khaybar were allowed to remain in their homes and till their land, keeping one-half of its produce. This situation continued until the caliphate of Umar ibn al-Khatab. However, they killed one of the Helpers and attacked him with Abdullah ibn Umar, pulling his hands out of their sockets.
Speaking to the Muslims, Umar said, ‘The Messenger of God (pbuh) declared to the Jews that, although he was allowing them to remain in their land, we possessed the right to expel them should we choose to do so. Now, however, as you are aware, they have murdered one of the Helpers and assaulted Abdullah ibn Umar, wrenching his hands out of their sockets. They are only remaining enemy; hence, if anyone has possessions in Khaybar, let him claim them now, for I am bout to expel the Jews.” [12]

In some of the reports it is stated that Umar accused them of the crimes and hence they were exiled out of Hijaz. Such wordings should be taken with a grain of salt. Umar Ibn Khattab would never carry out such a big command unless he fully investigated that Jews of Khaybar were clearly the ones who carried out the crimes against Ibn Umar and other Muslims. Note: this wasn’t the first time they attacked and even killed Muslims, if one reads the above narrations carefully, one would realise that they committed various other crimes before Ibn Umar’s incident.

Umar Ibn Khattab was a man of truth and stood up to justice, even if it were against his own people (Muslims). We have a report where a non-Muslim was killed by a Muslim and after investigation, Umar executed the Muslim man for taking an innocent non-Muslim life:

“… As for a Muslim who kills a dhimmi, the ruling is that he should be executed in retaliation (qisas). This happened during Umar’s caliphate, when a Muslim killed a dhimmi in Syria, and was executed in retaliation.” [13]

There is another report cited by critics that Muhammed (p) all along wanted to expel Jews from Arabia:

“Two Deens (religions) shall not co-exist in the Arabian Peninsula’ … ” (Muwatta Malik Book 45, Hadith 18)

From the above it is deduced by critics and orientalists alike that Muhammad (p) wanted to exile Jews out of Arabia long before Umar became Caliph.

The narration is very odd to say the least. If such a ‘plain’ commandment was given, why didn’t the Prophet (p) himself execute such order when he was still alive?

Why did the first Caliph Abu Bakr Siddiq (ra) not carry out the commandment of the Prophet (p) if such a ruling was indeed given out?

Why didn’t the many Sahabas (Companions) who knew of this Prophetic saying inform the Caliph at the time of such an order being in place?

Why didn’t Umar ibn Khattab (ra) carry out the commandment of expelling the Jews from Hijaz, but only did so towards the end of his life?

The only probable explanation is that such commandment was only given of the Jews of Hijaz if they were to break the treaty that was between Muslims and them (Kitab amwaal, Abu Ubayd). And hence, would make more sense that the two religions will not exists because at the time, the Jews of Khaybar were very hostile to the Muslim community, as we have already read about them, that they committed all kinds of crimes against Muslims.

Conclusion:

It is very important whenever we read religious scripture, not to rush to make judgement on it without thorough investigation of the historical circumstances why they were revealed to get a better understanding.

One who is not well learned in Islamic history could make all kinds of conclusions reading the two Hadith cited, and at times could have dire consequences when used by extremists from those who call themselves ‘Muslim’ and bigoted supremacist Christians and hate-filled Zionists and their likes. The former would use such Hadith to oppress minorities who have lived in Middle-East for centuries without problems. Whereas the latter would disseminate false information regarding these Hadith to layman who don’t have no knowledge on Islamic history and he or she would go around attacking innocent Muslims who have done nothing to deserve any of it.

From the above reports, we gather that “the Jews of Hijaz” were not expelled because of their faith. Rather, historical reports tell us they were hostile and committed many crimes against the Muslims. For those who claim that Jews were expelled because of Prophet Muhammed’s command on his death-bed, fail to demonstrate that his command of expelling the Jews from the Arabian Peninsula (specifically Hijaz) was on condition that they abided by the treaty set after the incident of Khaybar. If they failed abide by the pact then they would no longer have a right to live in the land (Kitab al-amwaal, Abu Ubayd).

Furthermore, we have to remember, the Muslim community had many external and internal enemies in Hijaz, where they wanted to put an end to the nascent Muslim community. So, Umar ibn Khattab couldn’t take any chances in giving the Jews of Khaybar more chances when they were external threat that could jeopardize lives of Muslims. Them being expelled from Hijaz was more to do with the fact that they broke the treaty, murdered, mistreated Muslims and attacked companions and Umar’s son. Hence, the only way for there to be peace in Madinah and Makkah, without lives being lost on both sides, Umar decided to carry out the Prophet’s command in expelling them since they broke the treaty and were threat to the Muslim community at the time, 1400 years ago. [14] [15]

References:

[1] Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy [Copyright 2014] By Jonathan A. C. Brown, page 127
[2] The Life of Muhammad: Al-Waqidi’s Kitab Al-Maghazi, [Translator Rizwi Faizer], page 350
[3] Dr. Shawqi Abi Khalil:
“The Jews of Khaibar contacted the people of the Ghatafan tribe, who were known to be mercenaries for hire. As a reward for fighting the Muslims, the Jews of Khaibar offered them a percentage of their yearly harvest, which consisted mainly of fruits and dates. They furthermore established alliances with the tribes of Fadak, Taima and Wadi Al-Qura; together, they were to launch a surprise attack on Al-Madinah. Having been informed of their plans, the Muslims who witnessed Al-Hudaibiyah travelled to Khaibar, in order to bring an end to the plotting of its inhabitants and their allies.”
Atlas of the Qur’an – Places. Nations. Landmarks. By Dr. Shawqi Abu Khalil, page 307 – 308
[4] Kitab Futuh Al-Buldan, By al-Imam abu-l Abbas Ahmad Ibn-Jabir al-Baladhuri, (Translated by Philip Khuri Hitti, PH. D.), [New York – Columbia Univeristy, Longmans, Green & Co., Agents – London: P. S. King & Son, LTD. 1916], volume 1, page 43
[5] Kitab al-Amwaal, Abu Ubayd ibn al-Qasim, page 100
[6] Kitab Futuh Al-Buldan, By al-Imam abu-l Abbas Ahmad Ibn-Jabir al-Baladhuri, (Translated by Philip Khuri Hitti, PH. D.), [New York – Columbia Univeristy, Longmans, Green & Co., Agents – London: P. S. King & Son, LTD. 1916], volume 1, page 42
[7] Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah – The Life of Muhammad Translated by A. Guillaume, Page 525
[8] Kitab Futuh Al-Buldan, By al-Imam abu-l Abbas Ahmad Ibn-Jabir al-Baladhuri, (Translated by Philip Khuri Hitti, PH. D.), [New York – Columbia Univeristy, Longmans, Green & Co., Agents – London: P. S. King & Son, LTD. 1916], volume 1, page 49
[9] Taxation in Islam [‘Kitab al-Kharaj’] By Yahya b. Adam, (Translated: A. Ben Shemesh), page 39
[10] English Translation of Musnad Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal, volume 1, page 76
[11] Kitab Futuh Al-Buldan, By al-Imam abu-l Abbas Ahmad Ibn-Jabir al-Baladhuri, (Translated by Philip Khuri Hitti, PH. D.), [New York – Columbia Univeristy, Longmans, Green & Co., Agents – London: P. S. King & Son, LTD. 1916], volume 1, page 45
[12] The Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography & A Brief History of the Rightly guided caliphate By Muḥammad Saʻid Ramaḍan Buti, page 529
[13] Umar Ibn Al-Khattab – His Life & Times [International Islamic Publishing House], By Dr. Muhammad as-Sallabi, volume 1, page 528
[14] Classical scholar As-Suyuti (1445 – 1505) informs us that this group was expelled to Syria:
“Ibn Saa’d says that OMAR established meal-houses, and placed within them flour and parched barley-meal, and dates and currants, and what might be necessary to aid the disabled traveller, and he stored along the road between Mecca and Medina, what would relieve those unable to continue their journey. He likewise demolished the Mosque of the Prophet and increased and enlarged it and floored it with pebbles. It was he who expelled the Jews from Hijaz TO SYRIA, and transferred the people of Najran to Kufah. …” (History Of The Caliphs by Jalalu’ddin As Suyuti, [Calcutta: Printed by J. W. Thomas, Baptist Mission Press, And Published By The Asiatic Society, 57, Park Street., 1881]Translated From The Original Arabic by Major H. S. Jarrett, page 142)
[15] “He demolished the Mosque of the Prophet, added to it, expanded it and floored it with pebbles. He was the one who evicted the Jews from the Hijaz (and sent them) to Syria, and evicted the people of Najran (and sent them) to Kufa. …” (The History Of The Khalifas Who Took The Right Way – A Translation Of The Chapters On al-khulafa ar-Rashidun from Tarkh al-Khulafa of Jalal ad-Din As-Suyuti [3rd revised edition –Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd., 1415/1995], page 143)

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