Story of Mohammed - Edith Holland

The Siege of Medinah

On the day after the battle of Uhud, Mohammed led out the remnants of his defeated army to follow the movements of the Meccans, fearing they might return to attack Medinah. A banner was placed in the hands of Abi Nair, who, though still suffering from his wounds, mounted his horse, and rode in the direction of Meccah to scout for signs of the enemy. The object of this expedition was to show that if their city should be threatened the Moslems were still able and ready to defend it. The Kuraysh had, in fact, halted and discussed the plan of an attack on Medinah, but the army was too exhausted for further efforts, and in the end it was decided to continue the homeward march. Mohammed and his small force remained in the field for five or six days, when, being satisfied that the Meccans had really departed, they returned to Medinah.

Mohammed, whose firm belief in the final triumph of Islam never seemed to waver, tried to raise the drooping spirits of his followers. It was through their disobedience to his commands, he told them, that the battle had been lost. If the archers had remained where they were posted, and resisted the temptation to plunder, victory would have been on the side of the Moslems.

There is no doubt that the defeat of Uhud had the effect of weakening the Moslem cause, just as the victory of Badr had strengthened it. Those desert tribes who were against the Prophet saw their opportunity of raiding the territory of Medinah, and several expeditions had to be despatched to protect the property of the citizens. One tribe in particular behaved in a most treacherous manner; the Prophet was asked by one of the chiefs of this tribe to send missionaries to instruct the people in the new faith, but when the missionaries arrived they were massacred almost to a man. The Jews, too, entirely disregarding their treaty, stirred up the people to revolt and laid a plot against the Prophet's life. The tribe thus suspected of treachery was ordered to quit the city, and on refusing was besieged. After the siege had lasted fifteen days the Jews submitted and agreed to emigrate. They were allowed to take all their goods with the exception of their arms. Thus, as the Prophet had told them, war was ordained for the Moslems whether they liked it or not. For their very existence they must fight continually, and it is a wonder that the hard-pressed band of Believers managed to hold their own against so many enemies.

About this time the widow of a citizen of Medinah who had been killed at Uhud begged the Prophet to redress her wrongs. She had two daughters, but her husband's brother had taken possession of the whole inheritance, leaving nothing for the widow and her daughters. This was in accordance with the custom of the times, as, among the ancient Arabs, women did not usually inherit property. But Mohammed, recognizing the injustice of this, made a law entitling women to a share of the property left by their husbands or fathers. The exact amount of this share depended on circumstances. We often hear of the subjugation of Eastern women, but this is due more to the general idea in the East of the position of women than to any regulations made by Mohammed. For he did a great deal to improve the condition of women in Arabia, and made various laws for their benefit.

Some people are under the impression that the Mohammedans believe that a woman has no soul. This is a strange error, for the Koran expressly states that all who have faith and do good works, whether they be men or women, shall enter Paradise. There is a story told about an old woman who asked the Prophet what she should do to be able to enter Paradise. Mohammed replied that no old women would be admitted, upon which the woman wept until he explained that his meaning was that at the resurrection they would all be made young again.

You will remember that after the battle of Uhud, Abu Sufyan had challenged the Moslems to meet him at Badr in a year. When the time for this appointment drew near Mohammed appealed to his followers to arm themselves and march out with him. But many were disinclined to venture, the remembrance of Uhud being still fresh in their minds. The Prophet, upbraiding his men for their cowardice, swore that he would go to Badr even though none should follow him. For very shame the Moslems volunteered to go and fight, and in the end fifteen hundred men assembled. This was a larger force than Mohammed had ever led before, but when he arrived at Badr there was no enemy to fight with!

The Kuraysh had marched out of Meccah with an army of two thousand foot soldiers and fifty horsemen, but finding no pasture on the way to feed their numerous camels (the season being an unusually dry one) they had returned home.

It was the time of the annual fair at Badr, and the Moslems pitched their camp and remained there a week. From warlike enterprises they turned their thoughts to commerce, and, having exchanged their goods to advantage, returned well satisfied to Medinah. This affair was named the second Badr.

But though Abu Sufyan did not keep his appointment at Badr, he had not given up the chief aim of his life. He was still fixed in his determination to overthrow the power of Mohammed, of the exile who had left his native city a hunted fugitive, and was now as a king with an army of devoted followers at his beck and call.

Abu Sufyan took some time to mature his plans, and it was not till the spring of A.D. 627, two years after the battle of Uhud, that he was ready to march out of Meccah at the head of ten thousand men, many of the desert tribes having joined the standard of the Kuraysh.

Terror and dismay prevailed in Medinah when news came that such an overwhelming force was approaching to besiege the city. Mohammed, who seems to have had the useful gift of being able to think quickly in an emergency, immediately prepared his plans for the defence of the town.

For the first time in Arab warfare entrenchments were used; a Persian convert named Salman, who had been present at sieges in other countries, suggested the idea. The solid stone houses of Medinah, built closely together, made a good fortification on one side of the town, but there were large open spaces to the south and east which were quite unprotected. Along these it was proposed to dig a deep trench, and the work was begun without delay. Shovels and pick-axes were collected, as well as baskets in which to remove the soil, for the Arabs had no wheel-barrows. All the clans joined in the work, as they had done at the building of the mosque; as the Prophet worked he sang the accustomed chant:

"O Lord, there is no happiness but in Paradise,

Then have mercy on the Helpers and the Refugees,"

while the labourers answered:

"Unto Mohammed have we pledged our faith,

To fight his foes and flee not until death."

In six days a wide and deep trench had been dug along nearly all the unprotected parts of the town. The houses outside this trench were deserted, and all the women and children were placed in the towers within the town. The preparations were hardly completed when the enemy appeared.



The new method of fortification surprised and disconcerted the Meccans. Accustomed to use their swords in hand-to-hand fighting, they were not prepared to find a barrier placed between them and their foes. They even said that the Moslems were acting against all the traditions of Arab warfare and taking an unfair advantage. The effect of archery was first tried; showers of arrows and stones from catapults were aimed at the Moslem camp, doing, however, little damage. A sudden assault was then made at a point where the trench was narrow and weakly defended, and a few bold horsemen put spurs to their horses and cleared it. One of these was killed by Ali, who engaged him in single fight, and the rest were dispersed. Thus the first day passed in fruitless attempts to come to close quarters with the defenders of Medinah.

In the night a council of war was held in the Meccan camp, and it was decided to make use of the large numbers of men at the disposal of the besiegers by surrounding the town and pressing the attack from all sides at once. The garrison of Medinah, numbering about three thousand men, were severely tried by these methods; there were not enough men to guard the long line of defences, and the harassed soldiers never knew at what point the next attack would be directed. But the Moslem outposts were so watchful that it seemed impossible to take them unawares. Even at night there were constant alarms; Khalid, the leader who had secured the victory at Uhud, laid schemes to surprise the defenders, and led several gallant night attacks, but all to no purpose, and he never succeeded in crossing the trench. Another brave commander called Amr distinguished himself by several daring attempts to force a way into the town, but he, too, was unsuccessful.

In the early part of the siege, Abu Sufyan had sent envoys to the chiefs of the Jewish tribe of Kuraizah, proposing that they should break their treaty with Mohammed and join the Meccan army. The Jews, thinking that the Kuraysh and their allies must, in the end, overcome the Moslems, agreed to these proposals and went over to the enemy, thus deserting the Prophet at his greatest need, for he could ill spare any men from his already small garrison. The Kuraizah were afterwards bitterly to repent their treacherous conduct.

The besieged garrison were indeed in sore straits; the town was full of treachery, and if the enemy had succeeded in forcing the defences, the Moslem rear would have been attacked by the Jews and the Hypocrites, who were only waiting to see which way the tide turned. As we read in the Koran, "The enemy came upon them from above and from beneath; Lad the sight became confused, and hearts reached to the throats."

Getting no rest night or day, the Moslem soldiers were completely worn out, and it became absolutely necessary to divide the army in two sections so that one half of the men might sleep while the others kept watch on the defences. With the numbers on duty so reduced, the utmost alertness was required to guard against surprises. We can judge of the vigilance of the defenders of Medinah by the fact that after a siege of twenty days the Meccan army of ten thousand men had been unable to capture the city.

The leaders of the Kuraysh were disheartened at the ill-success of their enterprise; the men were suffering from the bleak and wintry weather, and the horses and camels were dying for want of forage, which was very scarce and quite insufficient for the needs of such a large army. One night a violent storm arose, piercing gusts of wind swept across the plain, and heavy rains drenched the shivering men in the Meccan camp. The wind increased to a hurricane, the camp fires were extinguished, tents were blown down, and the scene was one of wild confusion. Suddenly Abu Sufyan resolved to break up the camp and march homeward. The army, only too eager to obey his orders, hurriedly prepared for departure, while some, in their terror, spread the alarm that Mohammed had raised the storm by enchantment. When morning dawned, the Meccan host had vanished, not one of the enemy was in sight. So ended the siege of Medinah, afterwards known as the "Battle of the Ditch."

When the army of the Kuraysh dispersed, the allies returned to their respective homes, and the Jewish tribe of Kuraizah repaired to their fortress a few miles distant from Medinah. But their faithless desertion of the Moslems in their hour of need was not to remain unpunished. Mohammed, perhaps fearing the presence so near home of his avowed enemies, marched forth and besieged the Kuraizah in their stronghold. After holding out for about three weeks the Jews surrendered on condition that their punishment should be decided by a member of the tribe of Aus, with which they were allied. Mohammed agreed, and a chief of the tribe came to pronounce judgment. His sentence was terribly severe, for he condemned all the men to be executed, and the women and children to be sold as slaves. It is much to be regretted that Mohammed allowed this sentence to be carried out, although it cannot be denied that the Jews had behaved treacherously in breaking their treaty with the Prophet at a moment of such grave peril, and in joining the enemies of Medinah. The sentence of death in such cases was not unusual in olden times, though according to our present ideas it seems very severe justice.