Banu Nadir’s Treachery: Quran 59:2-14

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Background

These verses were revealed concerning a Jewish tribe Banu Nadir, who resided in Madinah (Asbab Al-Nuzul by Al-Wahidi, Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, Asad, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn ‘Abbas).

The Banu Nadir were banished from Madinah as a consequence of them breaking the treaty, siding with the enemies against the Muslims in the battle of Badr and Uhud. And supplying the enemies with arms and money. The last straw which got them banished, was when their leaders plotted to assassinate Prophet Muhammed (p).

For further details on Banu Nadir’s treachery, please click on the following article: “Analysing The Banu Nadir Incident“.

Analysing Verses

59:02 It is He who expelled the ones who disbelieved among the People of the Scripture from their homes at the first gathering. You did not think they would leave, and they thought that their fortresses would protect them from Allah ; but [the decree of] Allah came upon them from where they had not expected, and He cast terror into their hearts [so] they destroyed their houses by their [own] hands and the hands of the believers. So take warning, O people of vision.

59:05 Whatever you have cut down of [their] palm trees or left standing on their trunks – it was by permission of Allah and so He would disgrace the defiantly disobedient.

59:06 And what Allah restored [of property] to His Messenger from them – you did not spur for it [in an expedition] any horses or camels, but Allah gives His messengers power over whom He wills, and Allah is over all things competent.

59:07 And what Allah restored to His Messenger from the people of the towns – it is for Allah and for the Messenger and for [his] near relatives and orphans and the [stranded] traveler – so that it will not be a perpetual distribution among the rich from among you. And whatever the Messenger has given you – take; and what he has forbidden you – refrain from. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.

59:08 For the poor emigrants who were expelled from their homes and their properties, seeking bounty from Allah and [His] approval and supporting Allah and His Messenger, [there is also a share]. Those are the truthful.

59:11 Have you not considered those who practice hypocrisy, saying to their brothers who have disbelieved among the People of the Scripture, “If you are expelled, we will surely leave with you, and we will not obey, in regard to you, anyone – ever; and if you are fought, we will surely aid you.” But Allah testifies that they are liars.

59:12 If they are expelled, they will not leave with them, and if they are fought, they will not aid them. And [even] if they should aid them, they will surely turn their backs; then [thereafter] they will not be aided.

59:14 They will not fight you all except within fortified cities or from behind walls. Their violence among themselves is severe. You think they are together, but their hearts are diverse. That is because they are a people who do not reason.

Commentaries

Dr. Muhammad Asad:

“1 For this and the subsequent historical references, see the introductory note to this surah. The tribe of Banu ‘n-Nadir – who, as Jews, are naturally termed ahl al-kitab (“followers of earlier revelation”) – are characterized as “such as were bent on denying the truth” (alladhina kafaru, see note 6 on 2:6) because they treacherously turned against the Prophet despite their earlier admission that he was truly the bearer of God’s message announced in their own holy scriptures (Deuteronomy xviii, 15 and 18).
2 Lit., “from whence they bad not thought [it possible]”: an allusion to the last-minute, unexpected failure of ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy to come to their aid.
3 As mentioned in the introductory note, the Banu ‘n-Nadir had originally concluded a treaty of mutual non-interference with the Muslim community, and were to live at Medina as its friendly neighbours; and even later, when their hostility to the Muslims had become apparent and they were ordered to emigrate, they were to be allowed to retain ownership of their plantations. Subsequently, however, they forfeited by their treachery both their citizenship and the rights to their landed property, and thus “destroyed their homes by their own hands”.
4 For this condemnation of the Banu ‘n-Nadir, see note 1 above. As regards my rendering of the verb shaqqa as “they cut themselves off”, see note 16 on 8:13.
5 I.e., to facilitate the military operations against the strongholds of the Banu ‘n-Nadir (‘Abd Allah ibn Masud, as quoted by Zamakhshari et al.). It should, however, be noted that apart from such stringent military exigencies, all destruction of enemy property – and, in particular, of trees and crops – had been and continued to be prohibited by the Prophet (Tabari, Baghawi, Zamakhshari, Razi, Ibn Kathir), and has thus become an integral part of Islamic Law.
6 Lit., “from them”: i.e., from the Banu ‘n-Nadir.
7 I.e., “you did not have to fight for it, since the enemy surrendered without giving battle”. The term fay’ (a noun derived from the verb fa’a, “he returned [something]” or “turned [it] over”) is applied in the Qur’an and the Traditions exclusively to war-gains – whether consisting of lands, or tribute, or indemnities – which are obtained, as a condition of peace, from an enemy who has laid down arms before actual fighting has taken place (Taj al-‘Arus). 8 Sc., and not to individual Muslim warriors. As so often in the Qur’an, the expression “God and the Apostle” is here a metonym for the Islamic cause, resp. for a government that rules in accordance with the laws of the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet.
9 Cf. 8:41, which relates to booty acquired in actual welfare, out of which only one-fifth is to be reserved for the above five categories (see note 41 on 8:41). In distinction from all such booty, the gains obtained through fay’ are to be utilized in their entirety under these five headings. As regards the term ibn as-sabil (“wayfarer~’), see surah 2, note 145.
10 Respectively, in later times, the head of an Islamic state, who has to decide – in the light of the exigencies – how the share of “God and His Apostle” is to be utilized for the common weal.
11 For this rendering of the term muhajirun (“emigrants”), see surah 2, note 203.
12 I.e., before the coming to them of “those who have forsaken the domain of evil” (see next note).
13 This relates, in the first instance, to the historical ansar (“helpers”) of Medina, who had embraced Islam before the Prophet’s and his Meccan followers’ coming to them, and who received the refugees with utmost generosity, sharing with them like brethren their own dwellings and all their possessions. In a wider sense, the above refers also to all true believers, at all times, who live in freedom and security within the realm of Islam, and are prepared to receive with open arms anyone who is compelled to leave his homeland in order to be able to live in accordance with the dictates of his faith.
14 Thus, greed, niggardliness and covetousness are pointed out here as the main obstacles to man’s attaining to a happy state in this world and in the hereafter (cf. surah 102).
15 I.e., all who attain to a belief in the Qur’an and its Prophet (Razi).
16 I.e., the hypocrites of Medina (see introductory note as well as next note).
17 The Banu ‘n-Nadir. From the construction of the next verse it appears that the whole of this passage (verses 11-14) was revealed before the actual advance of the Muslims against the Nadir strongholds: verses 12-14 might be of a prophetic nature, predicting what was yet to happen (Zamakhshari). Alternatively, the passage may be understood in a wider, timeless sense, applying to the falsity and futility inherent in all “alliances” between, on the one hand, people who openly deny the truth and, on the other, half-hearted waverers who have neither the will to commit themselves to a spiritual proposition nor the moral courage to declare openly their lack of belief.
18 Inasmuch as they do not – or, at best, only half-heartedly – believe in God, the tangible, material dangers facing them in this world arouse in them a far greater fear than the thought of His ultimate judgment.
19 The meaning is: “Even if they were able-which they are not – to put forth against you a truly unified front, they will always fight you only from what they regard as well established ‘positions of strength’.” [1]

Malik Ghulam Farid:

“3016. There lived in Medina three Jewish tribes – Banu Qainuqa, Banu Nadir, and Banu Quraizah, The verse refers to the banishment from Medina of the Banu Nadir. This tribe like Banu Qainuqa before them had acted treachersly towards Muslims on several occasions. They had hatched plots and entered into secret alliances against the, with their enemies. They had repeatedly broken their plighted word and had repudiated the solemn agreement that they would remain neutral between the Holy Prophet and his enemies, and even had conspired to take his life. Their leader Ka’b bin Ashraf had gone to Mecca to enlist the help of the Quraish and of other pagan tribes around Mecca to drive out the Muslims from Medina. After the temporary reverse suffered by Muslims at Uhud, their machinations and defiance of the Holy Prophet had greatly increased. It was when the cup of their iniquities had become full to the brim and their presence in Medina had proved to be a constant source of mortal danger to Muslims and the Muslim State that the Holy Prophet had to take action against them. He laid siege to their fortresses and, after vainly holding out for about 21 days, they surrendered. They were told to leave Medina upon which they all left for Syria, only two families choosing to remain behind at Khaibar. The Holy Prophet was exceptionally kind and considerate to them. He allowed them to carry their goods and chattels with them. They departed from Medina in perfect safety, but not until they despaired of the help they expected from their Meccan allies and from the Hypocrites of Medina, and had also found that their fortresses, which they thought were impregnable, could not save them. In view of their evil designs and machinations, their conspiracies and secret plots, their repeated acts of treachery and infidelity and the breach of their plighted word every now and then, the punishment meted out to them was extremely light. The reference in the words, at the time of the first banishment, may be to the banishment of Banu Qainuqa from Medina after the Battle of Badr, or the words may refer to the banishment by the Holy Prophet from Medina of all the three above-mentioned Jewish tribes. …
3017. In view of the material resources, political alliances and organization of the Jews of Medina, the Muslims could never think that the Jews could be driven out of Medina so easily and without any loss of human life on either side.
3018. Before departing from Medina the Banu Nadir had destroyed, with their own hands, their houses and other movable property before the very eyes of Muslims. The Holy Prophet had given them ten days to dispose of their affairs as they liked. This the Jews of Medina were the originators of the scorched earth policy, centuries before the Russians had adopted it in World War II.
3019. The exile of the banu Nadir from Medina was a very light punishment. They deserved a much heavier punishment, and had they not been exiled they would have been severely punished in some other way.
3020. The reference is to the cutting, by orders of the Holy Prophet, of the palm trees of Banu Nadir who, as stated in v. 3, had shut themselves up in their fortresses in defiance of the Holy Prophet’s orders to surrender. After the siege had lasted for some days, the Holy Prophet, in order to compel them to surrender, ordered that some of their palm trees of the Linah kind, of which the dates are of very inferior quality and quite unfit for human consumption, (Al-Raud al-Unuf), should be cut down. It was after only six trees had been cut down, that they surrendered (Zurqani). The orders of the Holy Prophet were extremely light and lenient and quite in conformity with the laws of civilized warfare.
3021. As ‘Fai’ consists of such booty as is attained without difficulty or labour and accrues to Muslims without war, the soldiers have no share in it, and the whole of it goes to the public treasury. The verse may have special reference to the spoils the Muslims got from the Jews of Khaibar. It lays down the principle that the circulation of wealth should not remain confined to the privileged and propertied class. As an individual’s health requires that his physical needs be reasonably met, the health of the society requires that material goods be widely distributed and wealth be in easy circulation. This is the basic principle of Muslim economics.
Finding humanity ground down under the tyranny of vested interests, Islam propounded measures that broke the barriers of economic caste and enormously reduced the injustice of special privilege. It does not, however, oppose the profit motive or economic competition, but only insists that acquisitiveness and competition be balanced by fair play and compassion. Since human nature automatically takes care for the former, it falls to social laws to safeguard the latter. The Zakat is Islam’s basic device for institutionalising regard for the need of others, but it is supplemented by a number of other measures.
3022. The words, whatsoever the Messenger gives you, take it, show that the Sunnah forms an integral part of the Islamic Law.
3023. The words constitute a great testimonial to the Spirit of self-sacrifice, hospitality and goodwill of the Ansar (Helper). The refugees (Muhajirin) from Mecca came to them, deprived and denuded of all their possessions, and they received them with open arms and made them equal partners in their belongings. The bond of love and brotherhood which the Holy Prophet established between the Refugees from Mecca and the Helpers of Medina and to which this verse bears and eloquent testimony, stands unrivalled in the whole history of human relationship.
3024. The words may apply to the Refugees who came later to Medina, or to all the coming generations of Muslims.
3025. The hypocrites had urged the Jews of Medina to defy the Holy Prophet and break their plighted word with him, holding out to them false promised of help and succour in time of need. But when relying upon their promises the Jews defied the Holy Prophet and marched against him, they left them in the lurch.
3026. the verse means that the disbelievers, particularly the Jews and the hypocrites of Medina, present a false facade of unity against Islam, but as they have no common cause to fight for, and as their interest are diverse and divergent, there can possibly exist no real unity among them. There were three parties in Arabia who appeared to be united against the Muslim State – the Jews, the hypocrites of Medina and the pagan Quraish of Mecca. The Quraish saw in the rising power of Islam a great danger to their all-around supremacy, the hypocrites (of whom Abd Allah bin Ubayy was the leader) to their domination in Medina and the Jews to their organization and racial superiority. Having no common objective their seeming unity had no real basis and it never materialized in time of danger.” [2]

Maulana Muhammad Ali:

“2a. The banishment spoken of here took place six months after the battle of Uhud, when the Banu Nadir, a Jewish tribe of Madinah, who had at first entered into a covenant with the Holy Prophet, showed signs of treachery and were punished with banishment (B). This is called the first banishment, to distinguish it from the second, which took place in the time of ‘Umar, when the Jews settled at Khaibar were banished to Syria, and which is prophetically referred to here. The following detailed account is given by Rz: The Banu Nadir made a treaty with the Holy Prophet to stand neutral between him and his enemies. When he was victorious at Badr, they said that he was the Prophet promised in the Torah, on account of the victory, but when the Muslims suffered a loss on the day of Uhud, they (i.e., the Banu Nadir) repudiated their vow and broke the agreement. Ka‘b, son of Ashraf, went to Makkah with forty horsemen and made an alliance with Abu Sufyan. As a consequence, Ka‘b was murdered, and the Holy Prophet told the tribe to leave Madinah. They wanted ten days for preparation, but ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy (the head of the hypocrites) advised them not to leave Madinah but to fight against the Prophet, promising the help of his own men. He also assured them that, if they were compelled to go forth, he would go with them. So they fortified themselves within their strongholds. After having remained besieged for twenty-one days, and having despaired of help from the hypocrites, they surrendered. The Prophet raised the siege on condition that they should depart from Madinah. With the exception of two families that chose to remain at Khaibar, they all went to Syria. Dr. Prideaux says that the Prophet ordered a party of the Muslims to pursue the emigrants, and that thus they were all put to death. Sale has shown in his note on this verse that the incident from which Dr. Prideaux draws this strange conclusion relates really to the murder in cold blood of seventy Muslims, who, being invited to preach Islam, were treacherously put to death by an Arab tribe.
2b. The Banu Nadir, being granted ten days in which to collect and take with them such of their property as they desired, devoted the time at their disposal to the destruction of their houses, lest they should be a source of strength to the Muslims. What remained of them was demolished by the Muslims.
7a. This verse relates to property acquired in war, which is called fai’, being derived from af a’a, which occurs in this verse, another kind, called ghanimah, being mentioned in 8:41, for which see 8:41a. The word af a’a means, He restored to the Muslims, or gave to them as spoil, the property of the disbelievers (LL). Hence fai’ comes to mean such of the possessions of the disbelievers as accrue to the Muslims without war, or such as are obtained from the believers in a plurality of gods after the laying down of arms (LL). The fai’ is not distributed among the warriors for the reason that there has been no fighting. It is described here as being for Allah and for the Messenger, the near of kin, the orphans, the needy and the wayfarer. From this it will be seen that the whole of it was to be distributed in exactly the same manner as the one-fifth of the ghanimah, for which see 8:41a. A reference to that note will show that the Prophet’s share was for the benefit of the Muslims. Bd states that there are three different opinions as to the Prophet’s share after his death. According to one it should go to the Imam or the head; according to a second, it should be spent on the army and the fortification of the boundaries; and according to a third, it is for the benefit of the Muslims in general. The lives of the Holy Prophet and his earlier successors — a conqueror like ‘Umar, before whom, wearing patched clothes, was brought all the hoarded wealth of Persia and Syria — are a sufficient testimony that the Prophet’s share was always spent for the benefit of the Muslims. In fact, this share was considered as a part of the Bait al-Mal, the public treasury, for when, after the Holy Prophet’s death, his daughter Fatimah claimed a share of Fidk, which was also a part of fai’, Ab∂ Bakr refused it on the ground that it was not the personal property of the Holy Prophet, and he decided in fact that a prophet does not leave any property to be inherited by his heirs. The feud which thus arose has rent the Muslim world into two great schools. The prohibition contained in the words so that it be not taken by turns by the rich among you is directed against the Prophet’s share being inherited at all. It may be added that under modern conditions when the soldiers are paid by the State, all spoils of war may be treated as fai’.
8a. It should be noted that the Refugees in general did not receive any share of this property: it was only to the poor among them that something was given for maintenance, the reason for which is clearly stated in the verse, viz., they had lost everything and had to leave their homes as well as their property. It is necessary to remember, moreover, that one of the important heads of expenditure in the Bait al-Mål was the help of the poor and those who were unable to earn their own livelihood. It was under that head that the Refugees who had lost all their wealth and homes and were still so poor that they could not carry on any business of their own, were to receive anything from what the Banu Nadir left, all of which formed part of the public treasury.
9a. By those who made their abode in the City and in faith are meant the Ansar or the Helpers, i.e., the Muslim residents of Madinah. Dar means a house or a mansion as well as a country, or a city or a town or village (LL), and with the article al, al-Dar means al-Madinah or the City of the Prophet (LL). The meaning is that they made an abode in the city of the Prophet and the faith; the faith being likened to a place of abode. Before them signifies before their (i.e., the Refugees’) coming to Madinah. When the Muslims fled from Makkah, they found a refuge in Madinah, where the Muslim inhabitants received them as if they were their brothers, lodging them in their own houses, and many of them were still living in the houses of their benefactors, when the banishment of the Banu Nadir took place. On this the Holy Prophet asked the Helpers to consent to one of two proposals, i.e., to have a share of what was acquired from the Banu Nadir and give part of their houses and wealth to the Refugees, or to let the (poor) Refugees alone have a share in that property, so that with it they might build their houses and make a start in some business or trade. The Ansar replied that they were willing that the Refugees alone should have a share, and, notwithstanding that, they might continue to lodge in their houses (Rz).
10a. This verse contains two directions for all future Muslim generations, viz., to pray for the forgiveness of earlier generations that have passed away before them and to pray for their hearts to be free from all spite towards their living Muslim brethren.
11a. The hypocrites deceived the Jews with false promises, and thus encouraged them to fight against the Prophet.
15a. According to some, this description applies to the Banu Qainuqa‘, and according to others, to the Quraish slain on the field of Badr.” [3]

Maulana Mufti Mohammad Shafi:

“… Up to the point of the battle of Uhud, they apparently kept to the terms of the treaty. But after that battle, they betrayed the treaty and started conspiring secretly, in that a leader of Banu Nadir, Ka’b Ibn Ashraf, went to Makkah with a caravan of forty Jewish members to carry favour with the pagan Quraish who were anxious to avenge the defeat of the battle of Badr, and had gone to the battle of Uhud for that reason but were eventually defeated in the latter battle as well. The defeated men returned and the Jews met them. They conspired and agreed to wage a war against the Messenger of Allah and the Muslims. Ka’b Ibn Ashraf with his forty Jewish members and Abu Sufyan with his forty members of pagan Quraish entered the Sacred Mosque and, holding on the curtain of the House of Allah, pledged that they would jointly fight the Muslims and annihilate them. When, after this pledge, Ka’b Ibn Ashraf returned to Madinah, Jibra’il descended and informed the Messenger of Allah about the entire episode and the details of the pledge. In the meantime, the Holy Prophet issued the command to kill Ka’b Ibn Ashraf. A noble Companion Muhammad Ibn Maslamah killed him. Subsequently, Banu Nadir hatched many different plots to harm the Messenger of Allah, one of which was, as reported earlier, their plot to kill him. …” [4]

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References:

[1] The Message of The Quran translated and explained by Muhammad Asad, Page 1156 – 1159
http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/private/cmje/religious_text/The_Message_of_The_Quran__by_Muhammad_Asad.pdf
[2] The Holy Qur’an – Arabic Text With English Translation & Short Commentary By Malik Ghulam Farid,
Page 1118 – 1122
[3] The Holy Quran Arabic Text with English Translation, Commentary and comprehensive Introduction by Maulana Muhammad Ali, Page 1074 – 1078
[4] Maarif-ul-Quran: Quran Translation and Commentary by Maulana Mufti Mohammad Shafi, page 370
http://www.islamicstudies.info/quran/maarif/maarif.php?sura=59

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