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The Great Victory at Khayber

By: Ayatullah Ja'far Subhani
The historians and biographers of Islam have written in detail, on the conquest of Khayber and one learns a number of facts by studying these writings. We mention here what has been written by the biographers of the Prophet by way of narration of events, and shall undertake its scrutiny later.
The texts and pages of the history of Islam relating to this battle show that, without the bravery and self-sacrifice of the Commander of the Faithful, it would not have been possible to conquer the dangerous forts of the Jews of Khayber. Though some writers have tampered with facts and replaced them by myths, yet a considerable number of research scholars have paid due tributes to Ali in the matter. A summarized version of this historical event as collected from various history books is given below: When Ali was appointed by the Prophet to conquer the Forts of Watih and Sulalim (the same forts which the two earlier commanders had failed to conquer and had dealt an irreparable blow to the prestige of the army of Islam by showing a clean pair of heels) he put on a strong coat of mail and fastened his sword, Zulfiqar, to his belt. He then proceeded to the fort with the special courage which behoves the champions in the field and installed the standard of Islam, which the Prophet had given him, at a place near Khayber. In the meantime the Gate of Khayber was opened and the brave men of the Jews came out. First of all Marhab's brother came forward. His formidable mien and yelling voice was so terrifying that the soldiers, who were behind Ali, stepped back involuntarily. However, Ali stuck to his place like a mountain. Soon after Ali struck Harith down, his wounded body lay on the ground, and he breathed his last.
The death of Harith made Marhab very sad. He came forward to avenge his brother's death in such a state that he was armed to teeth.He had put on a Yemen coat of mail on his body and was wearing a cap made of a particular stone on his head which he had covered with a helmet. According to the custom of the champions of Arabia he recited the following epic verses: "The doors and walls of Khayber testify that I am Marhab. I am an experienced warrior and am equipped with weapons of war.
If time is victorious I too am victorious. Warriors who face me in the battlefield are coloured with their blood".
Ali also recited epic verses in reply and cast his own position as a soldier, and the strength of his arms, and said: "I am the same person whom his mother called Haydar (lion). I am a valiant person and a lion of the jungles (of bravery). I have powerful hands and a strong neck. In the battlefield I strike the people with awe like a lion".
The epic verses from both the sides came to an end. The thunderous sound of the blows of swords and spears of the two warriors created a peculiar awe in the minds of the on-lookers. Suddenly the sharp and knocking sword of the hero of Islam struck the head of Marhab and cut his shield, helmet, stone-cap and head up to teeth into two parts. This blow was so severe that some Jewish soldiers, who were standing behind Marhab, ran away and took refuge in the fort, and some others who did not flee fought hand to hand with Ali and were killed. Ali pursued the fleeing Jews up to the gate of the fort. During this struggle one of the Jewish soldiers struck the shield of Ali with his sword and it (i.e. the shield) fell down from his hand. Ali immediately turned to the fort, pulled off its gate and used it as a shield till the end of the fight. And when he threw it on the ground ten strong soldiers of Islam including Abu Raf'e tried to turn it upside down but failed to do so.[506] As a result of this the fort, for the conquest of which the Muslims had been waiting for ten days, was conquered in a short time.
Ya'qubi says:[507] "The gate of the fort was made of stone and was four zara'[508] long and two zara' wide.
Shaykh Mufid quotes the story of pulling off the Gate of Khayber from the Commander of the Faithful on the authority of a special source in these words: "I pulled off the gate of Khayber and used it as a shield. After the end of the combat I placed it like a bridge on a ditch which had been dug by the Jews. Then I pitched it into the ditch". A person asked him: "Did you feel it heavy?" Ali replied: "I felt it to be as heavy as my shield".[509]
The historians have quoted very surprising things about the gate of the fort of Khayber and its peculiarities and the valour which Ali displayed in conquering this fort. The fact is that such feats cannot be performed with the usual human strength. However, Ali has explained the matter himself and has thus removed all doubts and suspicions. For, in reply to an enquiry made by a person, he said: "I didn't pull off that gate with human strength. I did it with the strength granted me by Allah, and on account of my firm faith in the Day of Judgement".[510]

TAMPERING WITH FACTS
Justice demands that we should admit that Ibn Hisham and Abu Ja'far Tabari have given a comprehensive account of the fighting of Ali in Khayber and have narrated the minutest details of the event. However, in the end, they have mentioned the imaginary possibility of Marhab having been killed at the hands of Muhammad bin Maslamah and say: "Some believe that Marhab was killed at the hands of Muhammad bin Maslamah, because he was appointed for the purpose by the Prophet so that he might avenge the killing of his brother by the Jews at the time of the conquest of the Fort of 'Na'im and he might have succeeded in accomplishing this task".
This possibility is so unfounded that it cannot at all compare with the authentic and successively narrated history of Islam. Moreover, a number of difficulties are inherent in this fiction as we mention below:
1. Tabari and Ibn Hisham have quoted this fiction from a distinguished companion of the Prophet viz. Jabir bin Abdullah and the narrator of this story has quoted this anomalous matter from that great man, when the fact is that Jabir had the honour of accompanying the Prophet in all the battles, but he could not participate in this battle.
2. Muhammad bin Maslamah was not so brave that he could have become the Conqueror of Khayber and he did not show any proof of bravery in his life. In the second year of migration he was appointed by the Prophet to kill the Jew, Katb bin Ashraf, who was inciting the idolaters to rise against Islam, after the Battle of Badr, and to fight with the Muslims once again. He was, however, so much frightened that he did not eat or drink anything for three nights and days and the Prophet criticized him on account of this fear. He said in reply: "I don't know whether or not I shall succeed in this task". On observing this state of affairs the Prophet sent four persons with him so that they might put an end to the mischief of Katb bin Ashraf, who was trying for the renewal of hostilities between the idolaters and the Muslims. They chalked out a special plan for the purpose and killed the enemy of Allah at midnight. However, on account of excessive fear and dread, Muhammad wounded one of his own companions.[511] Certainly a person with such a morale could not push back the warriors of Khayber.
3. The Conqueror of Khayber did not only combat with Marhab and kill him, but after Marhab was killed some persons fled and some others came in the battlefield one by one and engaged with him in single combat. The Jewish warriors who fought with Ali after Marhab had been killed were (i) Dawud bin Qubus (ii) Rabi' bin Abil Haqiq (iii) Abul Ba'ith (iv) Marrah bin Marwan (v) Yasir Khayberi (vi) Zajih Khayberi.
These six persons were the champions of the Jews outside Khayber and were considered to be the greatest obstacle in the way of the conquest of the forts of Khayber. And all of them, while singing epic verses and challenging the opponent for a fight were killed at the hands of the Commander of the Faithful. In the circumstances it should be judged as to who could be the Conqueror of Khayber and the killer of Marhab. Because, if Muhammad bin Maslamah were the killer of Marhab he could not have returned to the camping-place of Islam after killing Marhab and ignored the warriors at the back of Marhab, because he should have fought with those persons as well, whereas all historians are unanimous that these persons fought with Ali and were killed at his hands.
4. This myth of history is opposed to repeated traditions quoted from the Prophet, because he said about Ali: "I shall give this standard to a man at whose hands victory will be accomplished", and on the following day he gave the standard of victory in his hand. And one of the greatest impediments in the way of victory was Marhab of Khayber, whose bravery had made two commanders of Islam flee the field. Now if the killer of Marhab had been Muhammad bin Maslamah it was only appropriate that the Prophet should have uttered the aforesaid sentence about him and not about Ali.
The famous historian Halabi says: "There is no doubt about the fact that Marhab was killed at the hands of Ali''.[512] Ibn Athir says that the biographers and traditionalists consider Ali to be the killer of Marhab and repeated narrations have been quoted confirming this fact.
Tabari and Ibn Hisham have been somewhat disturbed and have mentioned the event of the defeat and return of the two commanders, who were appointed to conquer the fort before Ali, in such a manner that it does not conform with the purport of the sentence which the Prophet uttered about Ali. For the Prophet had said about Ali: "Who does not run away" i.e. he is a commander who does not run away, whereas the two earlier commanders had actually run away and had vacated the entrenchments. The aforesaid two writers have not, however, mentioned this point and have narrated the event in such a way as if they performed their duty fully but could not succeed in conquering the fort.
References:
[506] Tarikh-i Tabari, vol. II, page 94.
[507] Tarikh-i Ya'qubi, vol. II, page 46.
[508] One zara' is about 15 inches.
[509] al-Irshad, page 59.
[510] Biharul Anwar, vol. XXI, page 21.
[511] Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. Il. page 65.
[512] Seerah-i Halabi, vol. III, page 44.

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