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The Battle of the Trench (Al-Ahzaab)


category: History & Biographies


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Very often, so they say, a little food sufficed for a large number of persons or even the entire army of three thousand workers.

Jabir Ibn Abdullah (radiallahu 'anhu) says: “When we we’re digging at the trench a huge mass of rock appeared as an obstruction. The people went to the Prophet and told him that a piece of boulder had hindered their work. Saying, “I shall go down’, he stood up revealing two stones tied against his belly, as we had been working for three days without eating food. The Prophet then took the pick-mattock and struck it, rendering it to become like a mound of sand falling apart. I then left the Prophet and went to my house. I asked my wife if she had anything, for I had seen the Prophet very hungry. ‘Yes’, said she, ‘I have a little barley and a ewe.’ I killed the ewe and she grinded the barley and we put the meat in a pot for cooking. When the meat was being cooked and the flour had been kneaded, I went to the Prophet and told him secretly that I had a little food for him, so he might come over with one or two more persons. The Prophet asked me how much victuals I had and I told him I had enough for the guests. The Prophet replied, ‘It is too good and sufficient.’ Then he asked me to go back and tell my wife not to remove the pot nor bake the dough until he had arrived. The Prophet invited all the people, Ansaar and Muhaajirun alike, who came with him. I went back to my wife and told her if she knew that the Prophet had invited all the people, Muhajirin and Ansaars and that everybody present there was coming with him. She asked, ‘Did the Prophet ask you about the amount of food available?” I replied in the affirmative. Then the Prophet arrived and told the people to enter the house. He took pieces of the loaves of bread and placing meat on them, distributed to the people turn after turn whereas he kept the oven and the pot covered with a cloth. With this, he was able to share loaves of bread and portions of meat to all his companions until everyone was satisfied. Then he asked my wife and me to eat for we were also without food for a few days, and just give the rest to others. (Al-Bukhaari, Bab-ul-Khandaq)

Another version of the incident related by Jabir (radiallahu 'anhu) narrates that he went to the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) and told him in a whisper that he had killed a ewe and had little barley which had been grounded. And so he asked the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) if he might come with a few persons to share in the preparation. But the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) said aloud. “You who are working at the trench, Jabir has prepared a banquet.”


The Muslims had hardly finished work on the trench when the Quraysh arrived and encamped outside Madeenah. They had ten thousand well-equipped warriors with them. Ghatfan came with their confederate tribes and encamped with the Quraysh. The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) assembled his three thousand men to face them, the trench intervening between the camps of the two armies. Bani Quraydha, the Jewish tribe of Madeenah, had made a treaty with the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) for the defense of the city. However, Huyayy b. Akhtab, the chief of Bani Nadir, departed early from the city and coaxed Bani Quraydha into breaking the pledge previously made by them.

The Muslims were placed in a desperate position, with insecurity and fear gripping the city. The faint-hearted hypocrites now showed their true colors, even sowing seeds of discontent among the rank and file. The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) at once realized the dangerous plight of the Muslims in general, and that of the Ansaar in particular, who had always had to bear the major brunt of war with the infidels. The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam), therefore, proposed that it might be worthwhile to make peace with Bani Ghaftan by giving them one-third of Madeenah’s date harvest. The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) did not want the Ansaar to be troubled any more for his sake. But S’ad b. Mu’adh and S’ad b. ‘Ubada, the two chiefs of Aus and Khazraj, did not agree to the suggestion. They said, “O Messenger of God, when we and the Ghatfan were polytheists and idolaters, neither serving God nor knowing Him, they got none of our dates except as guests or by purchase. Shall we give them our property after God has honored us with Islam and your guidance? No, by Allah, we shall give them anything but the sword until God decides between us.”

“As you please,” replied the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam), giving up such an idea. (Ibn Kathir, Vol. III, pp. 202-3)


The army of the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) pitched their tents behind the trench and watched day and night. Beyond the trench, the allied forces had positioned themselves but the impasse continued for a few days without any actual fighting between the two armies. Then the enemy cavalry charged ahead and on coming nearer, suddenly realized the wide ditch ahead. The unexpected filled them with consternation.

“A novel device, a wily ruse,” they exclaimed in amazement. How could the ditch be crossed, they asked one another and decided to go around the trench to find where it was the narrowest. Some of them beat their horses so that they jump over the moat and bring them to the vicinity of Madeenah. One of these was the well-known warrior, ‘Amr b. ‘Abdu Wudd, who was considered a match for a thousand horsemen. After crossing the ditch, he stopped and challenged anyone to fight him.

‘Ali (radiallahu 'anhu) immediately sprang forward and said to him, “’Amr, you declare to God that if a man of Quraysh offered you two alternatives you would accept one of them.

“Yes, I do,” replied ‘Amr.

“Then” answered Ali (radiallahu 'anhu), “I invite you to Allah and His Prophet and to Islam.”

‘Amr countered, “It’s of no use to me.”

“Then I challenge you to face me,” rejoined ‘Ali (radiallahu 'anhu).

“Why”, asked ‘Amr, “O son of my brother, by God, I do not want to kill you.”

“But,” retorted ‘Ali (radiallahu 'anhu), “I do want to kill you!”

‘Amr was enraged. He dismounted his horse, hamstrung it and slapped its face, then he turned to ‘Ali (radiallahu 'anhu). ‘Amr fought, jostled with ‘Ali (radiallahu 'anhu), made blows and parried, but ultimately ‘Ali (radiallahu 'anhu) cut off ‘Amr’s head with a sweeping slash of his scimitar. Two of Amir’s comrades who had stormed the trench with him immediately darted back to their horses.


‘Aisha (radiallahu 'anhaa) who was then in the citadel of Bani Haritha with other Muslim women, was young enough to screen herself from men. She says that S’ad b. Mu’adh (radiallahu 'anhu) passed her way. He was putting on a coat of mail so small that his hands were fully exposed. He was reciting some verses when his mother told him to hurry up lest he should be late. 'Aisha (radiallahu 'anhaa) then called the attention of Sad’s mother: “Umm S’ad, by God, I wish that his coat of mail were longer.” The fear expressed by ‘Aisha (radiallahu 'anhaa) ultimately proved to be well-grounded for S’ad was later found to be shot by an arrow on his arm and died of excessive bleeding (Ibn Kathir, Vol. III, p. 207) during the subsequent battle with Bani Quraydha.


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