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A Medina Rabbi Who Died Fighting For Prophet Muhammad – OpEd

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Rabbi Mukhayriq of Medina was the first Jewish martyr of Islam; according to Dr. Muqtedar Khan, a Professor of  Political Science at the University of Delaware, and Director of its Islamic Studies Program. Rabbi Mukhayriq was a wealthy and learned leader of the tribe of Tha’labah who fought along side Prophet Muhammad in the battle of Uhud and was martyred on Saturday, March 19, 625 C.E.

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That Saturday morning. Rabbi Mukhayriq had addressed his people and asked them to go with him to help Prophet Muhammad. His tribe’s men declined, saying that it was the Sabbath and fighting on the Sabbath was forbidden by God, except for self defense. Rabbi Mukhayriq chastised his congregation for not seeing a deeper meaning of the pagan Arabs of Mecca’s coming attack on Prophet Muhammad that Sabbath; and announced that if he died in the battle his entire wealth should go to Prophet Muhammad.

Rabbi Mukhayriq did die that Sabbath day in battle against the pagan Meccans. When Prophet Muhammad, who was seriously injured in that same battle, was informed about the death of Rabbi Mukhayriq, Prophet Muhammad said, “He was the best of Jews.”

Prophet Muhammad inherited seven gardens and other forms of wealth from Rabbi Mukhayriq and used this wealth to establish the first waqf — a charitable endowment — of Islam. It was from this Jewish endowment that the Prophet of Islam helped many poor people in Medina.

When Prophet Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina in 622, he signed a treaty with the various tribes that lived in and around Medina. Many of these tribes had embraced Islam, some were pagan and others were Jewish. All of them signed the treaty with Prophet Muhammad that is referred to by historians as the Constitution of Medina. Thus the first Islamic state, a multi-tribal and multi-religious state, established by Prophet Muhammad in Medina, was based on this social contract.

According to article 2 of the constitution, all the tribes who were signatories to the treaty constituted one nation (Umma). Rabbi Mukhayriq’s people, too, were signatories to this treaty and were obliged to fight with Muhammad in accordance with article 37 of the constitution, which says: “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.”

Prophet Muhammad’s Charter/Covenant of Medina was designed to govern a multi-religious pluralistic society in a manner allowing religious freedom for all. As the Qur’an states: (49: 13) “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know (respect) each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)”.

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The Charter’s 47 clauses protect human rights for all citizens, including equality, cooperation, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

Clause 25 specifically states that Jews and pagan Arabs are entitled to practice their own faith without any restrictions: “The Jews of the Banu ‘Auf are one community with the Muslim believers, their freedmen and their persons, except those who behave unjustly and sinfully for they hurt but themselves, and their families.

(26-35) The same applies to the Jews of the Banu al-Najjar, Banu al-Harith, Banu Sai’ida, Banu Jusham, Banu al-Aus, Banu Tha’laba, and the Jafna, a clan of the Tha’laba and the Banu al-Shutayba. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. The freedmen of Tha’laba are as themselves. The close friends of the Jews are as themselves.

So the Covenant of Medina was the first political document in history to establish religious freedom as a fundamental constitutional right. According to the Arab historian al-Samhudi”, more than twenty Jewish tribes were settled in and around Medina. (See Barakat Ahmad, Muhammad and the Jews: A Re-Examination. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House 1979 p.29)

Unlike Prophet Muhammad’s hometown tribes who continually persecuted and denigrated Prophet Muhammad, the Arab tribes of Yathrib, were well disposed to receive the Prophet’s message because the town had for centuries been inhabited by Jews who were descended from Jews how had fled south from the Land of Israel escaping from the Roman Empire’s occupation, and large numbers of local Arabs who had converted to Judaism.

The “Charter of Medina” created a new multi-tribal ummah/community soon after the Prophet’s arrival at Medina (Yathrib) in 622 CE. The term “constitution” is a misnomer. The treaty was more like the American Articles of Confederation that proceeded the U.S. Constitution because it mainly dealt with tribal matters such as the organization and leadership of the participating tribal groups, warfare, the ransoming of captives, and war expenditure.

Two recensions of the document (henceforth, “the treaty”) are found in Ibn Ishaq’s Biography of Muḥammad (sira) and Abu ʿUbayd’s Book of State Finance (Kitāb al-amwāl). Some argue the final document actually comprises several treaties concluded at different times as additional tribes joined in.

So Rabbi Mukhayriq, this well respected Jewish scholar in Medina, was merely being a good citizen and was fulfilling his social contract. “But his story is fantastic, especially for our times, when we are struggling to build bridges between various religious communities. Rabbi Mukhayriq’s loyalty, his bravery, his sacrifice and his generosity are inspirational. Rabbi Mukhayriq, a true citizen of the state of Medina, gave his life in its defense. He was a Jew, and he was a true Islamic hero, and his story must never be forgotten.” said Dr. Kahn,

Perhaps it is about people like Rabbi Mukhayriq that the Quran says: “There are, certainly, among Jews and Christians, those who believe in God, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to God. They will not sell the Signs of God for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord” (Qur’an 3:199).

Did Rabbi Mukhayriq believe that Prophet Muhammad was indeed a legitimate prophet of the One God, who had sent so many prophets to Banu Israel? I believe he did.

First of all, Rabbi Mukhayriq may have heard directly from Prophet Muhammad that at Sinai, when Allah gives the Jewish People the Torah, He also makes a covenant with the Children of Israel. Allah raises the mountain above the whole Jewish people saying, “Hold firmly to what We have given you (the Torah) and remember what is in it.” (Qur’an 2:63)

The rabbi must have known that there is a similar narrative in the Talmud, that Prophet Muhammad could not have known about without a Divine source: “Rav Avdimi said: “The Holy One, lowered the [uprooted] mountain over them like a bucket, and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, fine; but if not, here will be your grave.” (Talmud Shabbat 88a)

Second, Rabbi Mukhayriq may have believed that Prophet Muhammad was not only a Prophet, but was also one of God’s Anointed; who with his Arab followers would enable and facilitate the Jewish people’s return to the land of Israel as is predicted in the Bible; just as the Persian King Cyrus the Great (who is called one of God’s Anointed by Prophet Isaiah) had enabled and facilitated the return of Jews to Israel eleven centuries earlier.

The fact that the Persians had just a few years previously (614 CE) captured the Land of Israel from the Eastern Roman Empire may, in the rabbi’s mind, have stimulated this belief. This event is mentioned in the Qur’an: “The (Roman) Byzantines have been defeated in the nearest land. But they, after their defeat, will overcome (their enemies) within three to nine years. To Allah belongs the command before and after.” (30:2-4)

Perhaps this unorthodox rabbi saw the arrival of Prophet Muhammad in Medina only eight years after the Persians had captured Jerusalem, as God’s answer to Rabbi Mukhayriq’s Messianic hopes, and viewed fighting alongside Prophet Muhammad as his personal voluntary fight in support of monotheism, as well as a witness to his faith in the imminent arrival of one of God’s Anointed Messiahs (not the final Son of David Messiah, but like Elijah, Cyrus, or the Son of Joseph Messiah) who will precede the Son of David Messiah:

“See, I will send Prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful [Judgement]  day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”(Malachi 4:5-6)

Rabbi Mukhayriq may also have believed that Prophet Muhammad’s total rejection of polytheism would someday lead to the destruction of the 360 idols housed in the Ka’bah; and other polytheistic practices of Jahiliyyah would received similar treatment. The Arabs were extremely immersed in superstitious beliefs and activities like Tatayyur (belief in omens), Tanjeem (astrology), Tabarruk (seeking blessing from objects) and Kahanah (soothsaying); that had been condemned by Allah 1,800 years earlier in the Torah of Musa: 

“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 

“Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” (Deuteronomy 18:9-15) This could refer to Prophet Muhammad who was a non-Jewish prophet for the world’s polytheists; and a descendant of Prophets Abraham and Ishmael.

Thus, this unorthodox rabbi viewed fighting alongside Prophet Muhammad as his personal voluntary fight in support of monotheism as well as a witness to his faith in the arrival of one of God’s Anointed Messiahs (although everyone has heard of the final Son of David Messiah, the rabbis also speak of a Son of Joseph Messiah who will precede the the Son of David Messiah).

The Qur’an refers to Prophet Abraham as a community or a nation: “Abraham was a nation/community [Ummah]; dutiful to God, a monotheist [hanif], not one of the polytheists.” (16:120) If Prophet Abraham is an Ummah; then fighting between the descendants of Prophets Ishmael and Isaac is a civil war and should always be avoided.

If all Arabs and Jews can live up to the ideal that ‘the descendants of Abraham’s sons should never make war against each other’ is the will of God; we will help fulfill the 2700 year old vision of Prophet Isaiah: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel  will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:23-5)

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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