Yathrib had been chosen by Allah to shelter the Messenger of God (Peace be upon him) after his migration and to bring forth not only the first Islamic Society but also to serve as a focal point for the universal call of Islam. The great honor accorded to the city makes it necessary to know its distinctive features. Such as its physical, social and cultural conditions, the Arab tribes living there and their mutual relations, the economic and political manipulations of the Jews and their fighting spirit as well as the way of life sustained by its fertile land. Various religions, cultures and communities flourished in the city tremendously, contrary to Makkah, which was dominated by one faith and one cultural pattern. The details given here, albeit briefly, depict the state of affairs in Madinah when the Prophet (Peace be upon him) made his debut in that city.
The view preferred by historians about Jewish settlements in Arabia, at large and those in Madinah, in particular, is that they date from the first century A.D. Dr. Israel Welphenson writes that:
"After Palestine and Jerusalem were laid waste in 70 A.D. and the Jews dispersed to different parts of the world, a number of them made their way to Arabia. This is in accordance with the Jewish historian Josephus, who was himself present at the siege of Jerusalem and had led the Jewish units on several occasions. Arab sources also corroborate his statement."
Three Jewish tribes, Qaynuqaa', an-Nadhir and Quraydha, were settled in Madinah. The number of adults belonging to these tribes was over two thousand where Qaynuqaa' was estimated to have seven hundred combatants, with an-Nadir having almost the same number too, while the grown-ups of Quraydha were reported to be between seven and nine hundred. (1)
These tribes were not in good terms and very often they are caught in confrontations with one another. Dr. Israel Welphenson says:
"Bani Qaynuqaa' were set against the rest of the Jews because they had sided with Bani Khazraj in the battle of Bu'ath in which Bani an-Nadir and Bani Quraydha had inflicted a crushing defeat and massacred Bani Qaynuqaa' even though the latter had paid bloodwit for the prisoners of war. The bitterness among the Jewish tribes continued to persist after the battle of Bu'ath. When Bani Qaynuqaa' subsequently fell out with the Ansaar, no other Jewish tribe came to their aid against them (Ansaar)." (Al-Yahud fi Balad il'Arab, p. 129)
The Qur'an also makes a reference to the mutual discord between the Jews:
"And when We made with you a covenant (saying): Shed not the blood of your people nor turn (party of) your people out of your dwellings. Then ye ratified (Our covenant) and ye were witnesses (thereto).
"Yet it is you who slay each other and drive out party of your people from their homes, supporting one another against them by sin and transgression - and if they come to you as captives ye would ransom them, whereas their expulsion was itself unlawful for you. [Qur'an 2:84-5]
The Jews of Madinah had their dwellings in their own separate localities in different parts of the city. When Bani an-Nadir and Bani Quraydha forced Bani Qaynuqaa' to relocate their settlement in the outskirts of the town, they took up their quarters in a section of the city. Bani an-Nadir had their habitation in the higher parts, some four or five kilometers from the city towards the valley of Bathan, which houses some of the richest groves and agricultural lands of Madinah. The third Jewish tribe, Bani Quraydha, occupied a vicinity known as Mehzor, which is a few kilometers. to the south of the city. (2)
The Jews of Madinah lived compact settlements where they had erected fortifications and citadels. They were however, not independent but lived as confederate clans of the stronger Arab tribes which guaranteed them immunity from raids by the nomads. Predatory incursions by the nomadic tribes being a perpetual menace, the Jewish tribes had to always seek the protection of one or more chieftains of the powerful Arab tribes.(3)
RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS OF THE JEWS
The Jews considered themselves to be blessed with divine religion and law. They had their own seminaries, known as Midras which imparted instruction in their religious and secular life, science, law, history and the Talmudic lore. Similarly, for offering prayers and performing other religious rites, they had synagogues where they normally put their heads together to discuss their affairs. They observed the laws brought about by the Pentateuch together with the many other rigid and uncompromising customary rules imposed by their priests and rabbis and celebrated Jewish feasts and fasted. As for example, they commemorate, on the tenth day of the month of Tishri, The Fast of the Atonement. (Banu Israel Fil-Qur'an wal Sunnah, pp. 80-81)
The financial relationship of the Medinan Jews with the other tribes was mainly limited to lending money on interest or on security or sequestration of personal property upon payment failure. In an agricultural region like Madinah, there was ample scope for money-lending business since the farmers very often needed capital for purposes of cultivation. (Banu Israel Fil-Qur'an wal Sunnah, pp. 80-81)
The system of lending money was not limited merely to pledging personal property as security for repayment of the loan, for the lenders very often forced the borrowers to pledge even their women and children. The incident relating to the murder of K'ab b. Ashraf, narrated by Al-Bukhaari, bears a testimony to the prevailing practices.
"Muhammad b. Maslamah said to K'ab: "Now, we hope that thou wilt lend us a camel-load or two (of food). K'ab answered: I will do so (but) ye shall pledge something with me. [The Muslims] retorted: what dost thou want? - (K'ab) replied, "Pledge your women with me". Then they responded, "How can we pledge our women with thee, the most beautiful of the Arabs? K'ab parried, "Then pledge your sons with me. [The Muslims] countered, "How can we pledge our sons with thee, when later they would be abused on this account, and people would say: "They hath been pledged for a camel-load or two (of food)! This would disgrace us! We shall, however, pledge our armor with thee. (4)
Such transactions produced naturally, enough hatred and repugnance between the mortgagees and the mortgagors, particularly since the Arabs were known to be sensitive where honor of their womenfolk is concerned.
Concentration of capital in the hands of the Jews had given them power to exercise economic pressure on the social economy of the city. The stock markets were at their mercy. They rigged the market through hoarding, thereby creating artificial shortages and causing rise and fall in prices. Most of the people in Madinah detested the Jews owing to such malpractices of usury and profiteering, which were against the substance of the common Arabs. (Banu Israel Fil-Quran wal-Sunnah, p. 79)
With their instinctive tendency of avarice, the Jews were bound to follow an expansionist policy as pointed out by De Lacy O' Leary in "Arabia Before Muhammad".
"In the seventh century, there was a strong feeling between these Bedouin (5) and the Jewish colonies because the latter, by extending their agricultural area, were encroaching upon the land which Bedouins regarded as their own pastures. (Arabia Before Muhammad, p.174).
The Jews being driven by nothing but their haughty cupidity and selfishness in their social transactions with the Arab tribes, Aus and Khazraj, spent lavishly, though judiciously, in creating a rift between the two tribes. On a number of occasions in the past, they had successfully pitted one tribe against the other, leaving both tribes worn out and economically ruined in the end. The only objective Jews had set before themselves was how to maintain their economic dominion over Medina.
For many centuries, the Jews had been waiting for a redeemer. This belief of the Jews in the coming prophet, about which they used to talk with the
Arabs, had prepared the Aus and the Khazraj to give their faith readily to the Prophet. (Dr. Mohammed Syed al-Tantawi, Banu Israel fil-Qur'an wal-Sunnah, pp. 73-101.)