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What About The Killing of Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf ?

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The Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ar­ies and the ene­mies of Islam have alleged that the Prophet Muham­mad(P) was an assas­sin” who would kill his oppo­nents in the mid­dle of the night using deceit and lies”. They cite the events of the killing of Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf as evi­dence for their claims. Our con­tention is that these big­ots are abus­ing the his­tor­i­cal events sur­round­ing these inci­dents. This is because they are unaware of the cir­cum­stances lead­ing to their killing, or why the Prophet(P) had allowed it to happen. 

It is, there­fore, our wish to dis­cuss this issue in its prop­er per­spec­tive, and sti­fle their lies once and for all, insha’Allah.

Who Was Kaab al-Ashraf ?

Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf was a Jew. He used to insult Mus­lims and espe­cial­ly Mus­lim women. He had been lat­er killed by a Mus­lim, through the per­mis­sion of the Noble Prophet(P). This account is present in Sir­at Rasul Allah by Ibn Ishaq.1

The fol­low­ing is the account in our own words :

    The Prophet asked who would get rid of Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf for him. A Mus­lim man respond­ed that he would. Sad­ly, the Mus­lim who agreed with the Prophet did not eat for three days (except for that which was required). When this was informed to the Prophet, the Prophet asked him the rea­son. The man told him that he had tak­en a respon­si­bil­i­ty (to kill Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf) which he could not han­dle. So the Mus­lim asked the Prophet’s per­mis­sion to tell lies or to deceive Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf. The Prophet gave him per­mis­sion. The Mus­lim went to Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf, said some­thing decep­tive, and made him come out of his house and then killed him. 

The attack raised by anti-Islam­ics here is that the Prophet(P) gave anoth­er man to do the job and gave him per­mis­sion to lie.

We must, first of all, under­stand that the sit­u­a­tion of the Mus­lims was very pre­car­i­ous, even in the after­math of their vic­to­ry at Badr. Even though the Quraysh Mec­ca­ns were defeat­ed and had retreat­ed back to the city to lick their wounds and mourn their dead, the Mus­lims still face the dan­ger of inter­nal dis­sent with­in the walls of Madinah. 

Indeed, the Mus­lims had just expelled the Banu Qaynuqa from their homes after their open dec­la­ra­tion of war against the Prophet and the ear­ly Mus­lim community. 

The Banu Qaynuqa were the first of the Jews to break their agree­ment with the Mus­lims and go to war and had to be dealt with swift­ly so as to quash any ideas of the oth­er Jew­ish tribes to insti­gate a war against the Mus­lims.2

It was with­in the con­text of this sit­u­a­tion that Ka’ab bin Al-Ashraf took advan­tage of, by inveigh­ing against the Prophet and recit­ing vers­es bewail­ing the Quraysh who were slain at Badr. 

Among the lines of the afore­men­tioned vers­es are :

Badr’s mill ground out the blood of its people
At events like Badr you should weep and cry
The best of the peo­ple were slain round their cisterns
Don’t think it strange that the princes were left lying.
How many noble hand­some men,
The refugee of the home­less was slain,
Lib­er­al when the stars gave no rain,
Who bore oth­ers’ bur­dens, rul­ing and tak­ing their due fourth,
Some peo­ple whose anger pleas­es me say
Ka’ab b. al-Ashraf is utter­ly dejected”.
They are right. O that the earth when they were killed
Had split asun­der and engulfed its people,
That he who spread the report had been thrust through
Or lived cow­er­ing blind and deaf.
I was told that all the Banu’l-Mughi­ra were humiliated
And brought low by the death of Abu’l-Hakim
And the two sons of Rabi’a with him,
And Munab­bih and the oth­ers did not attain (such hon­our) as those who were slain
3

In the last stan­za of this poet­ry by Ka’ab, he had com­mit­ted a trans­gres­sion of the ear­li­er covenant signed between the Mus­lims and his tribe with the fol­low­ing words of incitement :

I was told that al-Harith ibn Hisham
Is doing well and gath­er­ing troops
To vis­it Yathrib with armies,
For only the noble, hand­some man pro­tects the lofti­est rep­u­ta­tion.
Ibid.

Fur­ther­more, Ka’b had com­posed sev­er­al ama­to­ry vers­es in defama­tion of the hon­our of a Mus­lim woman by the name of Ummu’l-Fadl bint al-Harith :

Are you off with­out stop­ping in the valley
And leav­ing Ummu’l-Fadl in Mecca ?
Out would come what she bought from the ped­lar of bottles,
Hen­na and hair dye.
What lies twixt ankle and elbow in motion
When she tries to stand and does not.
Ibid., p. 366

The sig­nif­i­cance of what lies twixt ankle and elbow in motion” is explained in the foot­note by the trans­la­tor of Ibn Ishaq’s Sir­at Rasul Allah as :

Pre­sum­ably her but­tocks are meant ; they would be between her ankle and her elbow as she reclined. Large and heavy but­tocks were marks of female beau­ty among the old Arabs.4

A poet of pre-Islam­ic days express­es the Arab sen­ti­ment of chasti­ty and vir­tu­ous­ness in a cou­plet, which depicts a love­ly pic­ture of Arab wom­an­hood : If my glance meets the looks of a neigh­bour­ing maid­en, I cast my eyes low until her abode takes her in”.

Hence, it was with­in the con­text of the above incite­ments made by Ka’ab bin Al-Ashraf which was why the Mus­lims were agi­tat­ed when their women were being dis­hon­oured and pub­lic sen­ti­ment called for his punishment.

Pun­ish­able Treason

As we have stat­ed before, Ka’ab’s actions were against a clause in the Mad­i­nah Covenant signed between the Mus­lims and the Jews of Madinah. 

The rel­e­vant stip­u­la­tion of this covenant is as follows :

Loy­al­ty is a pro­tec­tion against treach­ery. The freed­men of Tha­l­a­ba are as them­selves. The close friends are as them­selves. None of them shall go out to war save with the per­mis­sion of Muham­mad, but he shall not be pre­vent­ed from tak­ing revenge for a wound. He who slays a man with­out warn­ing slays him­self and his whole house­hold unless it is one who has wronged him, for God will accept that. The Jews must bear their expens­es and the Mus­lims their expens­es. Each must help the oth­er against any­one who attacks the peo­ple of this doc­u­ment. They must seek mutu­al advice and con­sul­ta­tion, and loy­al­ty is a pro­tec­tion against treach­ery. A man is not liable for his ally’s mis­deeds. The wronged must be helped. The Jews must pay with the believ­ers so long as the war lasts. Yathrib shall be a sanc­tu­ary for the peo­ple of this doc­u­ment. A stranger under pro­tec­tion shall be as his host doing no harm and com­mit­ting no crime. A woman shall only be giv­en pro­tec­tion with the con­sent of her fam­i­ly. If any dis­pute or con­tro­ver­sy like­ly to cause trou­ble should arise it must be referred to God and to Muham­mad the apos­tle of God. God accepts what is near­est to piety and good­ness in this doc­u­ment. Quraysh and their helpers shall not be giv­en protection.

His acts were open­ly direct­ed against the Com­mon­wealth, of which he was a mem­ber. It is there­fore clear that Ka’ab bin Al-Ashraf’s antag­o­nism towards the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty was his own undo­ing, and was no longer pro­tect­ed by the covenant that he him­self had violated. 

Akram Diya’ al-Umari remarks :

The killing of Ibn al Ashraf might be seen as an act of treach­ery, but on fur­ther reflec­tion, one real­izes that Ibn al Ashraf was par­ty to the treaty accord­ing to the Doc­u­ment by which the Jews of Banu al-Nadir and oth­ers were com­mit­ted. By slan­der­ing the Prophet, who was the head of state, and by show­ing his sym­pa­thy for the ene­mies of the Mus­lims (lament­ing their dead and incit­ing them against the Mus­lims), Ibn al Ashraf had bro­ken the treaty and declared war on the Mus­lims, and his blood could be shed with impuni­ty. As for his being deceived and killed by those he had trust­ed, such action is legal­ly per­mis­si­ble (ja’iz) in the case of those who have declared war on the Mus­lims, and it was car­ried out by order of the Mes­sen­ger (See al Tahawi, Mushk­il al-Athar). The Mes­sen­ger, how­ev­er, did not blame Banu al-Nadir for Ibn al Ashraf’s crime ; it was suf­fi­cient to have him killed for his treach­ery. The Prophet, in fact, renewed his treaty with them (Banu al-Nadir).5

How­ev­er, some may object that Ka’ab bin Al-Ashraf was mere­ly com­pos­ing poet­ries” as a form of free­dom of expres­sion”, and there­fore was not caus­ing any harm” to any­one around him. Those who say this cer­tain­ly do not under­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of the blas­phe­mous poet­ry by Ka’ab bin Al-Ashraf. Ara­bic poet­ry is a pri­ori very influ­en­tial and can­not be thought of in the terms of Eng­lish poet­ry or any oth­er forms of poet­ry in oth­er languages. 

As Philip K. Hit­ti him­self notes :

No peo­ple in the world, per­haps, man­i­fest such enthu­si­as­tic admi­ra­tion for lit­er­ary expres­sion and are so moved by the word, spo­ken or writ­ten, as the Arabs. Hard­ly any lan­guage seems capa­ble of exer­cis­ing over the minds of its users such irre­sistible influ­ence as Ara­bic.6

After not­ing Ka’ab bin Al-Ashraf’s acts of incite­ment and false accu­sa­tions towards Mus­lim women, Haykal says that :

The read­er is per­haps aware of Arab cus­toms and ethics in this regard, and can appre­ci­ate the Mus­lims’ anx­i­ety over such false accu­sa­tions direct­ed against their wom­en’s hon­our.7

Cer­tain­ly, the read­er would agree with us that free­dom of expres­sion” cer­tain­ly does not include the right to defame the hon­our of anoth­er or to incite aggres­sion against a legit­i­mate Government. 

Hence it is clear that by mod­ern terms today, Ka’ab bin Al-Ashraf will be duly charged with sedi­tion against the State and for out­rag­ing the mod­esty of a Mus­lim woman.

A Pub­lic Tri­al for War Criminals ? 

Con­tro­ver­sial­ists have stig­ma­tized this exe­cu­tion as an assas­si­na­tion”. And because a Mus­lim was sent secret­ly to kill each of the crim­i­nals, in their prej­u­dice against the Prophet(P) they shut their eyes to the jus­tice of the sen­tence, and the neces­si­ty of a swift and secret exe­cu­tion. There exist­ed then no police court, no judi­cial tri­bunal, nor even a court-mar­tial, to take cog­ni­sance of indi­vid­ual crimes. 

In the absence of a State exe­cu­tion­er, any indi­vid­ual might become the exe­cu­tion­er of the law. This man had bro­ken their for­mal pact — it was impos­si­ble to arrest him in pub­lic, or exe­cute the sen­tence in the open before their clans, with­out caus­ing unnec­es­sary blood­shed, and giv­ing rise to the feud of blood and ever­last­ing vendet­ta. The exi­gen­cies of the State required that what­ev­er should be done should be done swift­ly and noise­less­ly upon those whom pub­lic opin­ion had arraigned and condemned.

Con­clu­sions

It is clear that where the killing of Ka’ab bin Al-Ashraf was con­cerned, it was done as a deter­rent against crimes com­mit­ted against the pub­lic and infringe­ments of the pro­mul­gat­ed law. In light of this, there was locus stan­di to take action on this mat­ter. What was done to stop Ka’ab Al-Ashraf from spread­ing his mis­chief was total­ly justified.

In con­sid­er­ing the pun­ish­ments that were dealt with the ene­mies of Islam, we must not for­get, first, that they were polit­i­cal actions made nec­es­sary by the con­di­tions of the time ; sec­ond, that none of them were exces­sive­ly unac­cept­able by the usages or mores of that time.

And only God knows best !Endmark

  1. We have depend­ed upon the trans­la­tion of Ibn Ishaq’s Sir­at Rasul Allah by A. Guil­laume, The Life of Muham­mad (Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1978).[]
  2. Ibid., p. 363[]
  3. Ibid.[]
  4. ibid.[]
  5. Akram Diya al Umari, Mad­i­nan Soci­ety At The Time of The Prophet, (Inter­na­tion­al Insti­tute of Islam­ic Thought, 1991)[]
  6. Philip K. Hit­ti, His­to­ry of the Arabs, 10th edi­tion (Macmil­lan Press, 1970), p. 90[]
  7. M. H. Haykal, The Life of Muham­mad (North Amer­i­can Trust Pub­li­ca­tions, 1976), p. 244[]

3 Comments

  1. Rubin, U. (1990). The Assas­si­na­tion of Kaʿb b. al-Ashraf. Oriens, 32, 65 – 71. doi:10.2307/1580625

  2. shadowofears Reply

    The mur­ders of the Bible’s Prophets :

    In his list of non­sen­si­cal arti­cles, Silas of the Answer­ing Islam” team, wrote a num­ber of arti­cles invent­ing lies against Prophet Muham­mad peace be upon him while so hyp­o­crit­i­cal­ly ignor­ing the same inci­dents (“mur­ders” as he called them) that hap­pened from the Bible’s own Prophets !

    Let us look at few exam­ples of the Bib­li­cal Prophets’ mur­ders”:

    Killing of Inno­cent Children :

    The fol­low­ing verse was sent to me by broth­er Jib­ril ; may Allah Almighty always be pleased with him.

    2 Kings 2
    23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walk­ing along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. Go on up, you bald­head!” they said. Go on up, you baldhead!”
    24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD . Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.

    Impor­tant Note : When Prophet Muham­mad peace be upon him tried to migrate from Mec­ca to the city of Al-Ta’if, the pagans there had their own chil­dren throw rocks on the Prophet until his face and body were swollen and bleed­ing. The Prophet peace be upon him prayed for the peo­ple of Al-Ta’if to be Guid­ed to Islam. And ulti­mate­ly they were Guid­ed and they embraced Islam.

    While Prophet Muham­mad loved and for­gave chil­dren for throw­ing stones at him, the Bible shows ZERO tol­er­ance to even inno­cent name-call­ing from chil­dren ; let alone hav­ing them throw­ing stones!!

    Num­bers 31:17 – 18
    Now kill all the boys [inno­cent kids]. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for your­selves every girl who has nev­er slept with a man.”

    Accord­ing to the his­tor­i­cal elab­o­ra­tions about Num­bers 31:17 – 18 Bib­li­cal Vers­es in the Jew­ish Tal­mud, the girls in every girl who has nev­er slept with a man” were AS YOUNG AS 3 YEARS OLD, and were forced into SEX !

  3. hi
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