The Battle of Khandaq (Moat) or Ahzab
Upon settling down at Khaybar, the Banu Nadhir decided to seek revenge against the Muslims. They contacted the Meccans, and 20 leaders from the Jews and 50 from the Quraish made covenant in the Ka'bah that so long as they lived, they would fight Muhammad. Then the Jews and the Quraish contacted their allies and sent emissaries to a number of tribes. Banu Ghatfan, Banu Asad, Banu Aslam, Banu Ashja', Banu Kinanah and Banu Fizarah readily responded and the coalition contributed ten thousand soldiers who marched upon Medina under the command of Abu Sufyan.
When news of these preparations reached Medina, the Holy Prophet consulted his companions. Salman al-Farsi advised to dig a moat on the unprotected side of Medina.
Muslims were divided into parties of 10, and each party was allotted 10 yards to dig. The Holy Prophet himself participated in this task. The khandaq (moat) was completed in nick of time: just 3 days before the host of the enemies reached Medina. The Muslims could muster only three thousand men to face this huge army.
Huyaiy ibn Akhtab, head of Banu Nadhir, met secretly with Ka'b ibn Asad, head of Banu Quraizah, a Jewish tribe still in Medina. Banu Quraizah, on his instigation, tore down the treaty, which they had concluded with the Muslims.
This treachery and danger from inside Medina, when Muslims were surrounded by the combined armies of pagans and Jews of all of Arabia on the outside, had a telling effect on the Muslims. As a meager safeguard, Salimah ibn Aslam was deputed with only two hundred men to guard the city from any attack by Banu Quraizah. The enemy was astonished to see the moat because it was a new thing for the Arabs. They camped on the outside for 27 (or 24) days. Their number increased day by day, and many Muslims were extremely terrified, as the Qur'an gives us the picture. Surah al-Ahzab describes various aspects of this siege. For example, see the following verses:
When they came upon you from above you and from below you, and when the eyes turned dull, and the hearts rose up to the throats, you began to think diverse thoughts about Allah. There, the believers were tried, and they were shaken a tremendous shaking. (Qur'an, 33:10-11)
At that time, many hypocrites, and even some Muslims, asked permission to leave the rank of the Muslims and to return to their homes:
And when a party of them said:O people of Yathrib! There is no place for you to stand, and a party of them asked permission of the Prophet saying: Verily our houses are exposed, and they were not exposed; they only desired to fee away. (Qur'an, 33:13)
The bulk of the army, however, steadfastly bore up the hardship of inclement weather and rapidly depleting provisions. The coalition's army hurled arrows and stones at the Muslims.
Finally, a few of the Quraish's more valiant warriors, 'Amr ibn 'Abdwadd, Nawfil ibn 'Abdullah ibn Mughirah, Dhirar ibn Khattab, Hubairah ibn Abi Wahab, 'Ikrimah ibn Abi Jahl and Mirdas al-Fahri, succeeded in crossing the moat.
'Amr called for battle; nobody responded; he was considered equal to one thousand warriors. History accounts state that all the Muslims were as though birds were sitting on their heads: they were too afraid to raise their heads.
Three times did the Holy Prophet exhort the Muslims to give battle to Amr. Three times it was only 'Ali who stood up. In the third time, the Holy Prophet allowed 'Ali to go. When 'Ali was going to the battlefield, the Holy Prophet said:
"The whole faith is going to fight the whole infidelity."
'Ali invited 'Amr to accept Islam, or to return to Mecca, or to come down from his horse since 'Ali had no horse and was on foot. 'Amr alighted from his horse and a fierce battle ensued. For a while, so much dust covered both warriors that nobody knew what was going on. Once 'Amr succeeded in inflicting a serious cut on 'Ali's head, yet after some time, 'Ali killed 'Amr. Concerning this battle, the Holy Prophet said:
"Verily, one attack of 'Ali in the Battle of Khandaq is better than the worship of all human beings and jinns, up to the Day of Resurrection."
This killing of 'Amr demoralized the pagans, and all his companions fled away except Nawfil, who was also killed by'Ali.
The Muslims were short of provisions. The Holy Prophet had to tie a stone on his stomach in order to lessen the pangs of hunger. Abu Sa'eed al-Khudri said: "Our hearts had reached our throats in fear and desperation." On the other hand, the besieging army was getting restive; it could not put up any further with the rain and cold; its horses were perishing and provisions nearing exhaustion. The Holy Prophet went to the place where the Mosque of Victory (Masjid-ul-Fath) now stands and prayed to Allah. A fierce storm raged which uprooted the tents of the enemies; their pots and belongings went flying in all directions; an unbearable terror was cast in their ranks. The Meccans and the pagan tribes fled away. The first to flee was Abu Sufyan himself who was so upset that he tried to ride his camel without first untying its rope. This episode is referred to in the Qur'an in this ayat:
O ye who believe! Remember the bounty of Allah unto you when came upon you the hosts, so We sent against them a strong wind and hosts that ye saw not: and Allah is seeing all what you do (Qur'an, 33:9)
And also in ayat 25 which says:
And God turned back the unbelievers in their rage; they did not achieve any advantage, and Allah sufficed for the believers infighting, and
Allah is Strong, Mighty. (Qur'an, 33:25)
'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud was interpreting this ayat in (Tafsir ad-Durrul-Manthur) thus:
"And God sufficed the believers (through 'Ali ibn Abi Talib) in their fight"
As a direct result of this defeat of the infidels' combined forces in the Battle of Ahzab, the influence of the Quraish waned, and those, tribes who were till then hesitating to accept Islam out of their fear of Quraish began to send deputations to the Prophet. The first deputation came from the tribe of Mazinah, and it consisted of four hundred persons. They not only accepted Islam but also were ready to settle down at Medina. The Prophet advised them to return to their homes.
Likewise, a deputation of a hundred persons came from the Ashja' and embraced Islam. The tribes of Juhainah lived near them and were influenced by their conversion. One thousand of their men came to Medina and entered the fraternity.
Elimination of the Bann Quraizah
According to the terms of the treaty which the Banu Quraizah had contracted with the Muslims, they were bound to assist the Muslims against outside aggression. But, not to speak of assisting the Muslims or even remaining neutral, they had sided with the Meccans and joined the besieging foe. What was worse, they had tried to -attack the fortress where Muslim women and children had been lodged for safety. Living in such a close proximity to Medina, they had become a serious menace. As soon as the siege of their own town was lifted, the Muslims surrounded the Banu Quraizah's fortress. For some time they resisted but they ultimately opened the gates of their fortresses on the condition that their fate should be decided by Sa'd ibn Ma'adh, chief of the Aws. Basing his judgement upon the direction contained in the Old Testament itself, Sa'd ruled that the fighting men should be killed and their women and children made captive. The sentence was carried out. It was in this connection that the following ayats were revealed:
And He drove down those of the people of the Book who backed them from their fortresses, and He cast awe into their hearts: some you killed and you took captive another part (of them). And He made you inherit their land and their dwellings and their properties, and (to) a land which ye have not yet trodden, and God has power over all things. (Qur'an, 33:26-27)
Many critics had described this punishment as harsh. But what other punishment could be meted out to them? They had violated the pact and, instead of helping the Muslims, they joined the forces of their enemies and had actually besieged the Muslims. There were no prisons where prisoners of war could be detained nor any concentration camps where they could be put to forced labor, and the capture of women and children, thoughk appaling to the notions of the present age, was probably the only method known in those days to provide sustenance to them when the earning members of their families had lost their lives. At any rate, this was the customary aftermath of a war.