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Khaybar

(1,227 words)

Author(s): Shari Lowin
Located approximately 150 kilometers (93 miles) north of Medina, the oasis of  Khaybar was one of the largest Jewish settlements in Arabia and played an important role in the consolidation of Muḥammad’s political power. Like the Jewish tribes in Medina, the Khaybari Jews derived much of their wealth from commerce and agriculture. They also manufactured textiles and metal implements, and stockpiled these in their fortresses. When the Banū ’l-Naḍīr were expelled from Medina in 624, many found a refuge in Khaybar. Three years after the expulsion, the Muslims turned their sights on Khayb…

Constitution of Medina

(693 words)

Author(s): Shari Lowin
According to the early Islamic historians  Ibn Isḥāq and al-Wāqidī, Muḥammad struck an agreement with the inhabitants of Medina (originally Yathrib) shortly after he arrived there in 622. Many historians refer to this document as the Constitution of Medina. Ibn Isḥāq’s Sīra, or canonical biography of the Prophet, is the only historical source to preserve the text. In Ibn Isḥāq’s work, the document defines the relationship between three groups in Medina: the Muslim emigrants from Mecca who came to Medina in the first wave, Medinese converts to Islam, and some of the Jews of Medina. The ag…

Banū ʾl-Naḍīr

(572 words)

Author(s): Shari Lowin
The Banū ʾl-Naḍīr were one of the three major Jewish tribes in Medina (Yathrib) during the time of Muḥammad, along with the Banū Qurayẓa and Banū Qaynuqāʿ. Some Arabic sources provide a genealogy of the Naḍīr (and Qurayẓa) linking them to the biblical Aaron, thus explaining the title al- kāhinān (Ar. the two priestly tribes). Their origins are otherwise murky. For example, the early Arab historian al-Yaʿqūbī, in the second half of the ninth century, maintains that they were Judham Arabs who converted to Judaism and settled in Mount Naḍīr, hence, their name( Taʾrīkh, ed. Houtsma, vol. 2,…

Kaʽb al-Aḥbār

(441 words)

Author(s): Shari Lowin
Kaʽb al-Aḥbār (d. ca. 652), an early Yemenite Jewish convert to Islam, is widely credited in Islamic sources as a major source of Isrā’īliyyāt (Israelite tales). Scholars have posited that the name Kaʽb al-Aḥbār is the Arabic transcription of Jacob or ‘Aqiba he-ḥaver, either an honorific or a title indicating a scholar in a yeshiva. There is little concrete information about Kaʽb’s life or the circumstances of his conversion. According to Muslim traditions, he arrived in Medina during the caliphate of ʽUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb (r. 634–644) and became one of his closest advisers. …

Isrā’īliyyāt

(509 words)

Author(s): Shari Lowin
Isrāʾīliyyāt are extra-scriptural narrative supplements to the Qur’ān. The name derives from both their content and their origin. Traditionally, the term applies to narratives about the Children of Israel, the Banū Isrāʾīl. More commonly, it refers to stories and traditions about biblical figures, prophets, whose narratives are also often known as qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ (Stories of the Prophets). Traditional accounts of their origin explain that these stories entered the Islamic corpus through Jewish, and sometimes Christian, converts to Islam, such as Kaʽb al-Aḥbār and ʽAbdallah ib…

Banū Qaynuqāʾ

(550 words)

Author(s): Shari Lowin
The Banū Qaynuqāʾ were the only one of the three major Jewish tribes in Medina (Yathrib) that did not own major agricultural tracts in or around the city. Unlike the other two Medinese Jewish tribes, they made their living as goldsmiths, from their ownership of a marketplace, and possibly from some date orchards. Lecker maintains that Muḥammad’s real reason for the assassination of Kaʽb ibn al-Ashraf, the leader of the Jewish Banū ʾl-Naḍīr, was that he tried to prevent Muḥammad from establishing a new marketplace near the one owned by the Banū Qaynuqāʾ. C…

Kaʽb al-Ashraf

(370 words)

Author(s): Shari Lowin
Kaʽb al-Ashraf was an opponent of Muḥammad in Medina and the leader of the Banū ʾl-Naḍīr, a Jewish tribe, of which his mother was a member (his father was an Arab). Kaʽb’s claim to fame derives mainly from his assassination by Muslims, apparently acting on orders from Muhammad. The Islamic sources disagree as to the reason for the assassination. Some (e.g., al-Wāqidī, the early historian of the Prophet’s military campaigns) attribute it to Kaʽb’s poetic satires against Muḥammad and his Companions, which culminated in his going to Mecca to inci…

Banū Qurayẓa

(606 words)

Author(s): Shari Lowin
The  Banū Qurayẓa were one of the three major Jewish tribes in pre-Islamic Medina (Yathrib). As with the other Jewish tribes, the Banū ʾl-Naḍīr and the Banū Qaynuqā’, the Islamic sources are murky on their origin. Some maintain that the Banū Qurayẓa and the Banū ʾl-Naḍīr were descended from the biblical Aaron, hence their nickname al-kāhinān (Ar. the two priestly tribes). Others claim that all three groups were Arab clans that had adopted Judaism. Like the other two Jewish tribes, the Banū Qurayẓa were wealthy and owned many fortresses in Yathrib. T…

Hijaz

(943 words)

Author(s): Shari Lowin
Hijaz is a region in northwestern Arabia situated on the Red Sea between the Gulf of Aqaba and ʿAsīr. It is home to the Muslim sacred cities of Mecca and Medina. Lacking clearly defined boundaries, the term Hijaz (Ar. al-Ḥijāz) refers generally to the region along the Red Sea coast. While scholars agree that the word means “the barrier,” they do not agree as to the reason; the dispute centers on which particular mountain chain the “barrier” refers to. Although Jews were a powerful presence in the Hijaz by the time of Muḥammad, scholars are uncertain about the origin of Jew…