Jews and Arabs: First Contacts

The Jews of Medina rejected the prophecy of Muhammad.

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Jews Rejected Muhammad's Prophecy

He was, however, bitterly disappointed. Despite their rivalries, which sometimes resulted in fratricidal wars and separate alliances with Arab tribes, the Jews of Medina unanimously rejected the Prophet. They criticized or mocked his revelations and in certain cases gave political support to his opponents.

Muhammad therefore reversed his policy: his order to change the qibla--the direction of the Muslim prayer--from Jerusalem to Mecca, signified that he had abandoned all attempts to win over the Jews. He also decided to evict the Jews from the peninsula, and began by severing the alliances of each Jewish tribe with its Arab neighbors.

The Qaynuqa were the first to suffer. After their surrender, they were forced to leave Medina and shortly afterwards migrated to Syria. The Nadir capitulated after their palm trees had been cut down, and the tribe proceeded to the oasis of Khaybar, 150 kilometers north of Medina. The Qurayza suffered the worst fate. All their men were put to death and the women and children sold into slavery.

The last Jewish opposition to Muhammad was in Khaybar, where the Jews formed a coalition with local Arabs. In June 628, however, Muham­mad conquered the oasis. The Jews were allowed to remain there but had to pay heavy taxes. All religions previously existing in the Arabian Peninsula thus became minorities under the rule of Islam.

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Menachem Ben-Sasson

Menachem Ben-Sasson is a Professor of History at Hebrew University's Institute of Jewish Studies.