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The Battle of the Trench (Al-Ahzaab)
category: History & Biographies
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The siege continued for a month or so with the Muslims becoming hungry and weary while the transgressors remained calm and confident, having been provided with arms and food. Following such a situation, the hypocrites showed their true mettle such that many of them asked permission from the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) to return to Madeenah on the pretext that they had come in a hurry leaving the doors of their houses unlocked. In reality however, they just simply wanted to withdraw from the battlefront.
The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) and his companions (radiallahu 'anhum) endured the days in nervousness, being harassed by the enemy in front and worried by the menace of the Jews in the rear. Then one day, Nu’aym b. Mas’ud belonging to the Ghatfan came to the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) and told him that he had secretly embraced Islam, but his own people did not know of it. He also offered to do whatever he was ordered. The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) replied, “You are the only one there, so remain with them and try to help us, for war is but a strategy and a clever device.”
After taking the Prophet’s (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) permission, Nu’aym b. Mas’ud went off to Banu Quraydha. He talked to them in a way that they began to think whether they had taken a correct decision in abandoning the Muslims, their next-door neighbors, for the sake of the distant tribes like the Quraysh and the Ghatfan. He further advised them that it would be wise of them to demand some notable members of the Quraysh and Ghatfan chiefs as hostages before joining their cause, so that they got a fair deal from their allies. Bani Quraydha expressed their gratefulness to Nu’aym for his excellent advice.
Nu’aym then proceeded to meet the leaders of the Quraysh and after assuring them of his sincerity, told them that Bani Quraydha were disgusted on taking sides with them. They were thinking of demanding some of their nobles as hostages, to serve as a guarantee, thereby making sure that the promise made to them by the allies was not broken. He also said that Bani Quraydha had actually sent word to Muhammad (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) that they would hand over to him, a few chiefs of the two tribes to prove their sincerity to him, so that he might cut off their heads. Nu’aym divulged the same story to the Ghatfan people as well. The seeds of distrust thus sowed by Nu’aym between Bani Quraydha, on the one hand, and the Quraysh and the Ghaftan, on the other, made each cautious as well as suspicious of the other party. Abu Sufyan decided upon general attack, and they demanded hostages from the Quraysh and Ghatfan before pooling with them. The stratagem of Nu’aym b. Mas’ud proved a complete success. The Quraysh and the Ghatfan were convinced that the news brought by Nu’aym was entirely correct and they promptly turned down the demand of the Jews. Bani Quraydha, on their part, became dead sure that their allies were not sincere to them. The frustration suffered by the allied forces smashed their unity and exhausted their patience.
Then, in a cold and cloudy night, a violent hurricane from the desert uprooted the tents of the nomads and overthrew their cooking pots. The severe weather, sent by God, disheartened the enemy. Calling his men, Abu Sufyan said to them, “O Quraysh, it is no longer a fit place to camp here. Our horses have died, Bani Quraydha have not kept faith with us and we have heard dreadful tidings of them. You can see the destruction caused by the gale; we have neither a cooking pot at its place, nor can lit a fire, nor have a tent standing, nor yet a shelter to bank on. You can leave now, for I have also decided to go.” Abu Sufyan then got up abruptly and going to his camel which was hobbled, mounted upon it and beat it, not freeing it from its knot until it had stood up.
When the Ghatfan learnt that the Quraysh had departed, they also vanished amidst the darkness of the desert.
Hudhayfa b. Al-Yaman, who had been sent by the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) to spy the movement of the enemy, returned with the news of their departure when the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) was offering prayers. He told the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) what he had seen. (Muslim, Chap. Ghazwatul Ahzab) No trace of the enemy was left at the break of dawn when the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) and the Muslims left their camp, not to the trench, but to their houses in Madeenah where they laid down their arms. (Ibn Kathir, Vol. III pp. 214-21)
This was a miracle brought about by the mercy of God, as the Qur’an says about it: “O ye who believe! Remember Allah’s favor unto you when there came against you hosts and we sent against them a great wind and hosts ye could not see. And Allah is ever Seer of what ye do,” [Qur'an 33: 9]
“And Allah repulsed the disbelievers in their wrath; they gained no good. Allah averted their back from the believers. Allah is strong, Mighty.” [Qur'an 33:25]
And then the billowy clouds that had covered the heavens disappeared without any rainstorm or thunderbolt, leaving the sky of Madeenah as clear as ever. The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) said to his companions: “The Quraysh shall not come at you after this year, but you would attack them after that.” (Ibn Kathir, Vol. III, p. 221)
Seven Muslims laid down their lives in the battle of the Trench while they killed four of the infidels.
ANALYSIS OF THE BATTLE
The battle resulted in utter defeat for the Qurayish-led alliance under Abu Sufyan and a complete triumph for the Muslims under the great Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam).
The following are the reasons that account for such an outcome:
1. Disunity in the Pagan camp and difference in the aims of each group. Quraysh's aim was to destroy Islam while Ghatfan hoped to loot the city and impose a tax on its population. This explains their acceptance of the offer made by the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) to take a third of the fruit produce of Madeenah in exchange for their withdrawal from the battle, an offer that was refused by the Ansaar. The Quraydha Jews, even from the very beginning, were reluctant in their acceptance of the plan of their brothers in religion. Their attitude was characterized by great hesitancy and distrust of their allies from the start of the siege. They were hoping that the allied forces of Quraysh and Ghatfan would finish the job and destroy the Muslims without any real sacrifices from them.
2. The Muslims' choice of a defensive stance inside Madeenah which was protected naturally from three sides. The trench established on the fourth side completed the fortification of the city and fulfilled the following two important roles: See the Sura (chapter) of Al Ahzab.
First: It caused a complete surprise, which destroyed the pagans' battle plans.
Second: It deprived the aggressors the chance to fight in a battle that they hoped to win because of the supremacy in their numbers and equipment.
3. The flexible defensive tactics applied by the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) whereby his forces were always ready to move towards any gap for reinforcement. Also, the regular patrols and guard work deprived the pagans the chance to penetrate at the Muslim’s line of defense.
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