Center for the Study of Political Islam International

The Battle of the Ditch

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Mohammed and the Unbelievers

The Battle of the Ditch



I662 After the second of the three clans of Jews had been cleansed from Medina there was no violence for nearly two months. Then Mohammed led his men out to fight an Arab tribe, a large group of non-believers who were well armed. No fighting occurred as each was afraid of the other.


I666 Mohammed had been in Medina four years. It had been a year since the Battle of Badr, and it was time to meet the Meccans again as promised. He went to Badr and waited for eight days. Abu Sufyan set out with his army to Badr, but it had been a dry year and there was no pasture for the animals; and no pasture meant no milk from the animals for food. Abu Sufyan decided to turn back and wait another year and hope for enough rain for good pasture. The only damage to the Meccans was some insulting poetry written by Muslims.


M289 It had been about a year since his last marriage and now Mohammed added a new wife, Zaynab, daughter of Khuzaimah, who was the widow of his cousin killed at Badr. She only lived a year or two and was noted for her charity. His next wife, Um Salaam, was a widow as well; her husband had been mortally wounded at Uhud.


M290 Mohammed had an adopted son, Zaid, and one day he went by his house. Mohammed went inside but Zaid was not there. The next part is not clear, but Mo-hammed saw his daughter-in-law, Zaynab bint Jahsh, in a thin dress, and her charms were evident. Mohammed was smitten and said, “Gracious Lord! Good Heavens! How you turn the hearts of men!”

M290 Zaynab had indeed turned the head of the future king of Arabia, and she told her husband what Mohammed had said. The stepson went to Mohammed and said he would divorce Zaynab so he could have her. Mohammed said no, but Zaid went ahead and divorced her anyway. In Arabia, a union between a man and his daughter-in-law was incest and forbidden. While Mohammed was with Aisha he had a revela-tion and said, “Who will go and congratulate Zaynab and tell her that Allah has blessed our marriage?” The maid went right off to tell her the good news. So Mo-hammed added another wife—his ex–daughter-in-law. Since Zaid was not really a son, there was no incest.M291 Aisha never liked the beautiful Zaynab. Since the permission to marry had come from Allah, Zaynab lorded it over the other wives. They had been chosen by Mohammed, but she had been chosen by Allah.

The Koran:33:4 Allah has not given any man two hearts for one body, nor has He made your wives whom you divorce to be like your mothers, nor has He made your adopted sons like your real sons. [Previous to this verse, an Arab’s adopted children were treated as blood children. This verse relates to verse 37 of this sura.] These are only words you speak with your mouths, but Allah speaks the truth and guides to the right path. Name your adopted sons after their real fathers; this is more just in Al-lah’s sight. But if you do not know their fathers’ names, call them your brothers in the faith and your friends. There will be no blame on you if you sin unintentionally, but that which you intend in your heart will be held against you. Allah is forgiving and merciful.

33:37 And remember when you said to your adopted son [Zaid], the one who had received Allah’s favor [converted to Islam], “Keep your wife to yourself and fear Al-lah,” and you hid in your heart what Allah was to reveal, and you feared men [what people would say if he married his daughter-in-law], when it would have been right that you should fear Allah. And when Zaid divorced his wife, We gave her to you as your wife, so it would not be a sin for believers to marry the wives of their adopted sons, after they have divorced them. And Allah’s will must be carried out.

M292 It was about this time that the veil was imposed on women. No longer would any man, except the wife’s relatives, see the face of any of Mohammed’s wives. Mo-hammed now had many wives, and people were in and out of his apartments. He had just seen what happened when men saw young and beautiful women. His wives be-came “mothers of the faithful” and could not remarry after Mohammed died.


I668 Mohammed returned to Medina and rested for some months. Then he set out on a raid to Dumatul Jandal but found no success in locating the enemy nonbelievers.


I669 Some of the Jews decided they needed to destroy Mohammed, and to do that they needed allies. Since allies were to be found in Mecca, they went there and par-leyed with the leaders of the Quraysh. Since this was a war of religion, the first thing the Quraysh wanted was proof of religious supremacy to Mohammed. The leaders said to the Jews, “You are people of the book, and you know our disagreement. Who has the better religion, the Quraysh or Mohammed?” The leaders of the Jews replied that the Quraysh had the better religion.

I669 So the Koran says:

4:51 Have you not seen those [Jews allied with the Meccans] to whom part of the Scriptures were given? They believe in idols and sorcery, and they say of the kafirs, “These are guided on a better path than the believers.” It is on these whom Allah has laid His curse. Those who are cursed by Allah will have no one to help them.

I669 That answer put the Quraysh in a good mood, and they were willing to fight Mohammed. Then the same Jews went to the Arab tribe of the Ghatafans and made an alliance with them to fight Mohammed.

I670 Mohammed had many spies in Mecca, so in no time he knew of the coming fight, and he set out to prepare for it. A Persian suggested to Mohammed that he build a trench as a barrier against the Meccans and their allies. Although this type of warfare was unknown to the Arabs, Mohammed was the master of war and saw that it would provide a good defense. For eight days the Arabs worked at building a trench around the weak points of Medina. To help with morale, Mohammed personally pitched in and took his turn at manual labor.

I671 Not predisposed to hard manual labor, the trench-diggers often left work early. The labor problems even worked their way into the Koran:

24:62 Only those who believe in Allah and His Messenger are the true believers, and when they are gathered together, do not leave until they have sought his permission. Those who ask your permission are the ones who truly believe in Allah and His Messenger. And when they ask your permission to leave for personal reasons, give permission to whom you please, and ask Allah for His indulgence on their behalf, for Allah is indulgent, merciful.

I673 The work was done just in time. The Quraysh and the other allies camped near the trench. Mohammed and his army camped on their side of the trench and sent the women and children to the forts.

I674 A Jew who had been exiled from Medina and moved to Mecca went to the last remaining Jewish tribe in Medina. The Jewish forts were outside the city and the trench defending Medina. At first the Jewish chief would not even open the door to the Jewish ally of the Meccans, but he relented when the visitor said the chief would not admit him because he was too stingy to feed him. At the insult to his hospitality, the Jewish chief opened the fort door. Once inside the visitor said, “Kab, I have brought you a great army and a chance for immortal fame. I am here with the Quraysh and their allies who want to crush our common enemy, Mohammed. We will not leave until we destroy him.” The chief replied, “You are a rain cloud with thunder and lightning but no rain. Go away.” And they argued back and forth. The visitor said that, if the allies left without killing Mohammed, then he would come back to the fort and await a common fortune with the last clan of Jews in Medina.

I675 The Jewish chief relented and agreed to help. Mohammed’s spies brought him this news before nightfall. So Mohammed sent his own agents to speak with the chief of the Jews. If the discussion went well, they could announce it to all; but, if not, they were to use coded language so they would not lessen the Muslims’ morale.

I675 The agents returned with a coded message: The last of the Jewish tribes was not going to help Mohammed. Coding the message had not helped morale; as time dragged on, muttering started inside the Muslim camp. One man said they had been promised the wealth of Rome and Persia and they were not even able to go to the privy safely. Another clan chief talked in public about returning to his home.

I676 Time pressed on for twenty days, and the Meccans were not capable of dealing with a new defensive strategy of a trench. They weren’t helped by the custom of ro-tating the overall command on a daily basis to different chiefs.

I677 Mohammed was in a bad spot, but his morale never flagged. His creativity in war showed itself again. He had said that war was deception and now was the time to put it to use. He sent an agent to the largest of the allies of the Quraysh, the Ghata-fans. Mohammed proposed a deal. The Ghatafans would go back home and Mo-hammed would pay them a third of the date crop of Medina the following year. There was a tentative agreement. When Mohammed talked about the plan with the two Medinan Arab clan chiefs, they balked. Basically, they said the Ghatafans could go to Hell; they would never impoverish themselves for nonbelievers. Mohammed went along with them.

I677 The “war” dragged on. A small party of the Meccans crossed the trench and skirmished, losing one man. Arrows were shot across the trench without effect. One arrow did hit Saed, chief of a Medinan clan. The small wound in his arm would play a great role later, but it was of no tactical importance now.

I681 One of the Ghatafans approached Mohammed saying he was a Muslim but no one else knew it. Mohammed told him, “Go and sow distrust among our enemies. War is deceit.”

B4,52,268 Mohammed said, “War is deceit.”

I681 Off the secret agent went to the Jews of Medina, for he had been a great “friend” of theirs in the past. Talking to the chief, the agent reminded him of the good times and then argued that, when the war was over, the Jews of Medina would still be in Medina and the Quraysh, the Ghatafans, and the rest of the Meccans and their allies would go home. And where would that leave the Jews? If things went badly the others could cut and run, but the Jews could not. He advised them not to fight alongside the Meccans. After the Meccans were gone, the Jews would be subject to Mohammed’s vengeance. “Before you fight alongside them,” Mohammed’s agent said, “demand that the Meccans send you some of their sons as hostages to ensure that they will fight and won’t leave you alone to suffer.”

“Good advice,” thought the Jews.

I681 The agent then went to Abu Sufyan and told him of his affection for him and his tribe. He had some confidential information that Abu Sufyan needed to know. Could he keep this quiet? He told them, “The Jews have regretted siding with you against Mohammed. They have a deal with him. They plan to ask for some of your chiefs and sons so they can be handed over to Mohammed. If the Jews ask for security hostages, don’t do it.”

I682 Next the agent of Mohammed went to the Ghatafan Arabs. He told them he was their best friend and repeated what he had told the Quraysh.

I682 Time was running out. The weather was bad. Food for troops and fodder for the animals was in short supply. It was time to finish this war. The Meccans and the Ghatafans sent representatives to the Jews of Medina and said it was time to fight and they needed to fulfill their end of the deal and send warriors. The Jews told them the next day was the Sabbath and they would not fight on their holy day. They would need some security hostages to ensure that the Meccans and their allies did not run off and leave the Jews to Mohammed alone.

I682 When the representatives came back with this message, it was very clear that the Jews were traitors and that Mohammed’s agent had told them the truth. They were allies no more, the lying Jews and the Meccans.

B4,52,86 Mohammed said, “When you face your enemy be patient.”

I683 That night was miserable—rainy, with a very cold wind. The next morning, Abu Sufyan, the chief of the Quraysh, saddled his camel and said, “This is not a per-manent camp; our horses and camels are dying. I am leaving and you can do as you wish.” The Meccans left as losers. Mohammed had won again.


T1438 Mohammed sent two men to Mecca to kill his rival, Abu Sufyan. The plan was simple and the leader was from Mecca so he knew it well. They set out on one camel for Abu Sufyan’s home where one man would stand watch and the other would go in and put a knife in him. But the assisting Muslim wanted to go to the Kabah and pray. The leader argued against it because he was well known, but the other Muslim insisted. So they went to the Kabah and, sure enough, the leader was recognized. The Meccans set up a cry of alarm and the men fled Mecca. There was no way to kill Abu Sufyan now.

T1439 The Muslims ran to a cave on the outskirts of Mecca. They placed rocks in front of the cave and waited quietly. A Meccan approached the cave while cutting grass for his horse. The Muslim leader came out of the cave and killed him with a knife thrust to the belly. The man screamed loudly, and his companions came run-ning; however, they were more concerned with their dying comrade than the killers and left carrying the body. The Muslims waited for a while and then fled again.

T1440 On their way back to Medina, the Muslims met a one-eyed shepherd. It turned out that they were related by clan ties. The shepherd said he was not a Muslim nor would he ever be. As they sat talking, the shepherd lay back and went to sleep. The leader took his bow and drove its tip down through the shepherd’s one eye, into his brain, and out the back of his head. Then they headed on back to Medina.

T1440 On the road, the leader saw two Meccans who were enemies of Islam. He shot one and captured the other and marched him to Medina. When they got to Mo-hammed with the captive and told him the whole story of the killing, Mohammed laughed so hard they could see his back teeth. Then he blessed them.