Muḥammad: Orders Any Jew to be Killed, and the Affair of Muḥayyiṣa and Ḥuwayyiṣa
John C. Rankin
“The apostle said, ‘Kill any Jew that falls into your power.’ Thereupon Muḥayyiṣa b. Mas‘ūd leapt upon Ibn Sunayna, a Jewish merchant with whom they had social and business relations, and killed him. Ḥuwayyiṣa was not a Muslim at the time though he was the elder brother. When Muḥayyiṣa killed him[,] Ḥuwayyiṣa began to beat him, saying, ‘You enemy of God [Allāh], did you kill him when much of the fat on your body comes from his wealth?’ Muḥayyiṣa answered, ‘Had the one who ordered me to kill him ordered me to kill you[,] I would have cut your head off.’ He said that this was the beginning of Ḥuwayyiṣa’s acceptance of Islam. The other replied, ‘By God [Allāh], if Muhammad had ordered you to kill me you would have killed me?’ He said, ‘Yes, by God [Allāh], had he ordered me to cut off your head I would have done so.’ He [Ḥuwayyiṣa] exclaimed, ‘By God [Allāh], a religion which can bring you to this is marvelous!’ and he became a Muslim.’ ”
Now Muḥammad’s war ratchets up even further, where an elder brother displaying a conscience, yields to the harsh instincts of his younger brother, amazed at such brazenness, which impresses him enough to thus abandon conscience. Carte blanche permission is given by Muḥammad to any Muslim to kill any Jew and without cause. Muḥayyiṣa immediately takes Muḥammad’s word and kills a Jewish merchant with whom he used to do business, a man who was a friend. Ibn Hishām’s note* on what follows between Muḥayyiṣa and his non-Muslim brother Ḥuwayyiṣa sets the table with a prior history between Muḥammad and Muḥayyiṣa – namely Muḥammad’s ordering and supervision of the beheading of four hundred Jewish men as “the faces of Khazraj showed their pleasure,” and in so doing, Ḥuwayyiṣa’s participation. Thus, as Muḥayyiṣa tells his brother he would do so to him if ordered by Muḥammad, Muḥayyiṣa converts to Islām, seeing this as a “marvelous” religion. This response can only be understood in a culture where violence and the murder of a brother can be honored, whether in Arabia preceding Islām, or within Islām as it conquers.
* Ibn Hishām’s adds this account: “Abū ‘Ubayda told me on the authority of Abū ‘Amr, the Medinan, when the apostle got the better of the B. Qurayẓa he seized about four hundred men from the Jews who had been allies of Aus against Khazraj, and ordered that they should be beheaded. Accordingly Khazraj began to cut off their heads with great satisfaction. The apostle saw that the faces of Khazraj showed their pleasure, but there was no such indication on the part of Aus, and he suspected that that was because of the alliance that had existed between them and the B. Qurayẓa. When there were only twelve of them left he gave them over to the Aus, assigning one Jew to every two of Aus, saying, ‘Let so-and-so strike him and so-and-so finish him off.’ One of those who was so handed over to them was Ka‘b b. Yahūdhā, who was an important man among them. He gave him to Muḥayyiṣa and Abū Burda b. Niyār (it was Abū Burda to whom the apostle had given permission to sacrifice a young goat on the feast of Aḍhā). He said, ‘Let Muḥayyiṣa strike him and Abū Burda finish him off.’ So Muḥayyiṣa fetched him a blow, which did not cut in properly, and Abū Burda dispatched him and gave him the finishing stroke. Ḥuwayyiṣa, who was still an unbeliever, said to his brother, Muḥayyiṣa, ‘Did you kill Ka‘b b. Yahūdhā?’, and when he said he did, he said, ‘By God [Allāh], much of the flesh on your belly comes from his wealth; you are a miserable fellow, Muḥayyiṣa.’ He replied, ‘If the one who ordered me to kill him had ordered me to kill you, I would have done so.’ He was so amazed at this remark and went away astounded. They say that he used to wake up in the night astonished at his brother’s words, until in the morning he said, ‘By God [Allāh], this is indeed a religion.’ Then he came to the prophet and accepted Islām. Muḥayyiṣa then spoke the lines which we have written above.” Thus, between Ibn Isḥāq’s main text, and Ibn Hishām’s notes, we have two different stories, the first in a one-on-one context, the second in a mass beheading, with two different principal Jewish men involved.