As Hizballah fires its Khaibar-1 rockets into Israel, Kuwaiti demonstrators recently chanted, “Khaybar, Khaybar, ya Yahoud, jaish Muhammad sa yaoud” – that is, “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return.” (The Kuwait Times rendered this as “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Zionists, The Army of Muhammad is coming,” but this is probably sanitized for Western consumption: it is unlikely that the protestors chanted “Zionists” rather than “Jews” – the former doesn’t rhyme in Arabic as does the latter, and the chant with “Jews” is rather common.) Meanwhile, last Thursday, the Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon’s leading Shi’ite cleric, praised Hizballah for waging a “new battle of Khaibar.”
Reporting Fadlallah’s remarks, AP blandly noted that “at Khaibar, the name of an oasis in what is now Saudi Arabia, Islam’s prophet Muhammad won a battle against Jews in the year 629.” Reality was somewhat different. As I explain in my forthcoming book, The Truth About Muhammad (coming October 9 from Regnery Publishing), Muhammad was not responding to any provocation when he led a Muslim force against the Khaybar oasis, which was inhabited by Jews – many of whom he had previously exiled from Medina. One of the Muslims later remembered: “When the apostle raided a people he waited until the morning. If he heard a call to prayer he held back; if he did not hear it he attacked. We came to Khaybar by night, and the apostle passed the night there; and when morning came he did not hear the call to prayer, so he rode and we rode with him….We met the workers of Khaybar coming out in the morning with their spades and baskets. When they saw the apostle and the army they cried, ‘Muhammad with his force,’ and turned tail and fled. The apostle said, ‘Allah Akbar! Khaybar is destroyed. When we arrive in a people’s square it is a bad morning for those who have been warned.’”
The Muslim advance was inexorable. “The apostle,” according to Muhammad’s earliest biographer, Ibn Ishaq, “seized the property piece by piece and conquered the forts one by one as he came to them.” Another biographer of Muhammad, Ibn Sa‘d, reports that the battle was fierce: the “polytheists…killed a large number of [Muhammad’s] Companions and he also put to death a very large number of them….He killed ninety-three men of the Jews…” Muhammad and his men offered the fajr prayer, the Islamic dawn prayer, before it was light, and then entered Khaybar itself. The Muslims immediately set out to locate the inhabitants’ wealth. A Jewish leader of Khaybar, Kinana bin al-Rabi, was brought before Muhammad; Kinana was supposed to have been entrusted with the treasure of on of the Jewish tribes of Arabia, the Banu Nadir. Kinana denied knowing where this treasure was, but Muhammad pressed him: “Do you know that if we find you have it I shall kill you?” Kinana said yes, that he did know that.
Some of the treasure was found. To find the rest, Muhammad gave orders concerning Kinana: “Torture him until you extract what he has.” One of the Muslims built a fire on Kinana’s chest, but Kinana would not give up his secret. When he was at the point of death, one of the Muslims beheaded him. Kinana’s wife was taken as a war prize; Muhammad claimed her for himself and hastily arranged a wedding ceremony that night. He halted the Muslims’ caravan out of Khaybar later that night in order to consummate the marriage.
Muhammad agreed to let the people of Khaybar to go into exile, allowing them to keep as much of their property as they could carry. The Prophet of Islam, however, commanded them to leave behind all their gold and silver. He had intended to expel all of them, but some, who were farmers, begged him to allow them to let them stay if they gave him half their yield annually. Muhammad agreed: “I will allow you to continue here, so long as we would desire.” He warned them: “If we wish to expel you we will expel you.” They no longer had any rights that did not depend upon the good will and sufferance of Muhammad and the Muslims. And indeed, when the Muslims discovered some treasure that some of the Khaybar Jews had hidden, he ordered the women of the tribe enslaved and seized the perpetrators’ land. A hadith notes that “the Prophet had their warriors killed, their offspring and woman taken as captives.”
During the caliphate of Umar (634-644), the Jews who remained at Khaybar were banished to Syria, and the rest of their land seized.
Thus when modern-day jihadists invoke Khaybar, they are doing much more than just recalling the glory days of Islam and its prophet. They are recalling an aggressive, surprise raid by Muhammad which resulted in the final eradication of the once considerable Jewish presence in Arabia. To the jihadists, Khaybar means the destruction of the Jews and the seizure of their property by the Muslims.
That Khaybar is repeatedly invoked today as a historical model for Hizballah should be a matter of grave concern for Western analysts and policymakers. It should play a significant role in discussions of whether and how a ceasefire should be pursued, and how much of a Hizballah presence can be tolerated indefinitely in Lebanon. But because most Western analysts are still dogmatically committed to the proposition that Islam has nothing, or nothing important, to do with the present global unrest, they recuse themselves from considering such data.
The costs of this willful blindness will do nothing but continue to mount.