Prophet Muhammad’s wisdom at the Battle of the Trench

Combat between Ali ibn Abi Talib and Amr Ben Wad near Medina.
Combat between Ali ibn Abi Talib and Amr Ben Wad near Medina. Unknown artist.

Our common history hasn’t always been one of perpetual evolution, good deeds and benevolence. Indeed, many senseless wars were fought, brother killing brother, ever-escalating in reciprocal feelings of resentment and vengefulness.

Some of these we might want to forget, except perhaps those grave errors from which we derive lessons for the present. Others however, are recalled with greater eagerness, and such is the heroic, for the Muslims, Battle of the Trench of 627CE.

Only a few decades earlier, Islam was born when a small number of individuals were inspired by the revelations of Prophet Muhammad. At the time, these followers weren’t numerous and those devoted, as well as Prophet Muhammad himself, were shunned and resented by the higher-ups of the city.

Soon they were forced to abandon Mecca in order to avoid prosecution, moving to the former city of Yathrib in 622 which Muhammad later renamed as Medina. This migration later became known as the Hijrah.

After the fabled Hijrah, their first consecutive years in Medina were marked by tensions with the Arabic and Jewish tribes in Mecca and in the city itself.

From 624 – 625 the tribes Banu Nadir and Banu Qaynuqa invaded attempting to assassinate Muhammad. After their failure, he had expelled the tribes involved from the city of Medina, consequently initiating the formation of an alliance against Muhammad and the Muslims.

Within a year, the Banu Nadir merged in union with the Banu Qurayza, Quraysh and Ghatafan tribes by disaccord with his ways, some of them in hope to bring revenge against their expulsion from the city.

In 627, the alliance had gathered near 10,000 men and 600 horsemen to wage war against the muslims of Medina. Once the army had set out for Medina, Muhammad’s messengers warned him four days in advance of the upcoming attack allowing him to gather a force of 3,000men.

Being outnumbered as they were, Salman Al-Farsi (the first man to convert to Islam) proposed a stratagem of entrenchment due to superior numbers of enemy troops and the tactical positioning of steep mountains surrounding Medina. Thus in four days, the Muslims dug out a trench preventing passage to the city in-between the mountains.

In January, the forces met at the trench which the horsemen of the alliance attempted to cross by force with their cavalry. Such a passage proved to be impossible due to the rigid position of the Muslims, and so began the 27 day siege of Medina, a military strategy to which the Arabs were not accustomed to.

The deadlock became tiresome for both sides and the leader of the Banu Nadir, Huyayy ibn Akhtab set out alone through the mountains to Medina. He attempted to convince the remainder of the Qurayza tribe inside the city to break their pact with Muhammad as the Muslim forces were certain to be overwhelmed by the imposing size of the confederate army.

Eventually, the Qurayza conceded and decided to join the allied forces. Muhammad quickly grew aware of the situation and sent 400 troops, including 300 cavalry men (useless at the trench) to protect the city.

By that time, the men in the trenches were reaching their physical limits and morale was growing low with rumours of the betrayal creeping in. On the other hand, the confederate forces were likewise growing tired from the lack of provisions and sick from the cold winter winds that the Muslims avoided in the trenches. Divisions would emerge in the alliance.

To the Muslims’ luck, Nuaym Ibn Masud, an Arab leader trusted by the members of the alliance and a clandestine convert to Islam came to visit Muhammad. Together, they forged a plan to propagate disarray among the alliance themselves and the Qurayza.

Promptly, Nuaym went to the city warning the members of Qurayza that if the siege failed, they would be at the mercy of Mohammed, unprotected by the confederates.

In parallel the Ghatafan tribe, seeking only plunder from the war, entered long negotiations with Mohammed and Nuaym to stop the siege in exchange for provisions. Indeed, discord and mistrust spread like wildfire within the confederacy, fuelled by the adversity of the weather conditions. With no more hope of receiving help from the internal Qurayza, Huyayy ibn Akhtab fled and soon the sabotaged confederacy finally abandoned the battlefield.

Indeed, the situation for the Muslims seemed dire until the very end but the resolve of Muhammad and his leaders stayed unshakable, leading them to undeniable victory. This is history that reminds us of the strong will of our predecessors that they have passed onto us through the faith in Islam which sustained the soldiers through odds that were overwhelmingly against their favour.

Such events cannot be forgotten, serving a great lesson to those who lose hope in difficult situations as he who persists until the end will always receive help from God.