Ka’b Bin Ashraf: Was His Killing Ordered?

October 11, 2012 by  


By TMO Editor-in-Chief Dr. Aslam Abdullah

The killing of Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf, a poet from the Tayy tribe is mentioned in Sahih Bukhari, Sahi Muslim, Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d as well as in Ibn Hisham’s work on the life of the Prophet (s). Many of Muslim scholars have challenged the authenticity of the incident related with Asma bin Marwan, but a great majority of them accept that this Ka’b ibn Ashraf was killed at the behest of the Prophet (s). Many have used this incident to support the killing of anyone who insults the Prophet (s).

Based on the analysis of the incident, the message of the Quran and the character of the Prophet (s) it can safely be concluded that the Prophet (s) did not have and could not have a share in his killing if it ever took place.

One of the problems of the biographers and narrators of the campaigns of the Prophet (s) is that they generally narrate untrustworthy and fabulous details of such anecdotes and do not substantiate their assertions with any concrete facts.

The earliest biographer of the Prophet (s), Ibn Ishaq, did not give any indication in his book that the Prophet ever prayed for and asked his followers to get rid of Ka’b, while the later biographers and muhaditheen not only accepted those narratives but also wrote extensively about it and added on their own details.

Based on the readings of the divine message and the character of the Prophet (s), there is nothing substantial to prove that Prophet (s) instigated his followers to kill his opponents including Ka’b bin Ashraf for their role in instigating the Makkans to destroy the emerging Islamic state.

In Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari the story giving details about the killing of Ka’b is attributed to Jabir bin Abdullah, Ibn Abbas and Akrama.

Jabir bin Abdullah was a minor when the alleged incident took place. He was not allowed to participate in the battle of Uhud because of his age, which took place after the alleged killing.

Ibn Abbas was in Makka at the time of this incident and still a child, even younger than Jabir. Ikrama was the servant of  Ibn Abbas and in the words of Yahya bin Saeed al Ansari, Ali Ibn Abdullah bin Abbas, Ibn al Mosayyb, Ata Ibrahim bin Masirua, Muhammad bin Sireen, Kasim and Abdullah bin Omar, was a liar. How his accounts did have precedence over the character of the Prophet (s) and the dictates of Allah is a matter of further research and investigation.

In The Sealed Nectar, Biography of the Noble Prophet (s), Saifur Rahman al Mubarakpuri, reproduces the event in the following words.

“Ka’b ibn al-As Ka‘b bin Al-Ashraf was the most resentful Jew at Islam and the Muslims, the keenest on inflicting harm on the Messenger of Allah and the most zealous advocate of waging war against him. He belonged to Tai’ tribe and his mother was from Banu Nadeer. He was a wealthy man known for his handsomeness, and a poet living in luxury in his fort south east of Medina at the rear of Banu Nadir’s habitations.

“On hearing the news of Bard, he got terribly exasperated and swore that he would prefer death to life if the news was true. When this was confirmed he wrote poems satirizing Muhammad, eulogizing Quraish and enticing them against the Prophet. He then rode to Makkah where he started to trigger the fire of war, and kindle rancor against the Muslims in Medina. When Abu Sufyan asked him which religion he was more inclined to, the religion of the Makkans or that of Muhammad and his companions, he replied that the pagans were better guided. With respect to this situation, Allah revealed His Words:

“Have you not seen those who were given a portion of the Scripture? They believe in Jibt and Taghût, and say to the disbelievers that they are better guided as regards the way than the believers (Muslims).” [4:51]

“He then returned to Medina to start a fresh campaign of slanderous propaganda that took the form of obscene songs and amatory sonnets with a view to defaming the Muslim women.

“At this stage, the situation became unbearable and could no longer be put up with. The Prophet (s) gathered his men and said: “Who will kill Ka‘b bin Al-Ashraf? He had maligned Allah, and His Messenger.” Thereupon, Muhammad bin Maslamah, ‘Abbad bin Bishr, Al-Harith bin Aws, Abu ‘Abs bin Hibr and Salkan bin Salamah, Ka‘b’s foster brother, volunteered to do the job.

“Muhammad bin Maslamah said: “O Messenger of Allah, do you wish that I should kill him?” He said: “Yes.” He said: “Permit me to talk (to him in the way I deem fit).” He said: “Talk (as you like).” So, Muhammad bin Maslamah came to Ka‘b and talked to him, saying: “This man (i.e. the Prophet) has made up his mind to collect charity (from us) and this has put us to a great hardship.”

When he heard this, Ka‘b said: “By Allah you will be put to more trouble by him.” Muhammad bin Maslamah answered: “No doubt, now we have become his followers and we do not like to forsake him until we see what turn his affairs will take. I want that you should give me a loan.” He said: “What will you mortgage?” Muhammad answered: “What do you want?” The immoral and heartless Jew demanded women and children as articles of security against the debt. Muhammad said: “Should we pledge our women whereas you are the most handsome of the Arabs; and the son of one of us may be abused by saying that he was pledged for two wasq (measurement unit of weight) of dates but we can pledge you (our) weapons.” Ka‘b agreed. Salkan bin Salamah, Abu Na’ilah, at another time, went to see Ka‘b for the same purpose and there were more or less the same subjects, only that Abu Na’ilah would bring him some companions. The plan was successful and provided for the presence of both men and weapons.

On Rabi‘ Al-Awwal 14th, at night, the year 3 A.H. the people said good bye to the Prophet and set out in the Name of Allah to implement the carefully drawn plan. The Prophet stayed back praying for them and supplicating Allah to render them success. The men went and called upon him at night. He came down although his wife warned him not to meet them alleging that: “I hear a voice which sounds like the voice of murder.” He said: “It is only Muhammad bin Maslamah and my foster brother Abu Na’ilah. When a gentleman is called at night even if he be pierced with a spear, he should respond to the call.” Abu Na’ilah said to his companions: “As he comes down, I will extend my hand towards his head to smell and when I hold him fast, you should do your job.” So when he came down, they talked together for about an hour. They then invited him to go out and spend a nice time in the moonlight. On the way out, Abu Na’ilah remarked: “I smell the nicest perfume from you.” Ka‘b said: “Yes, I have with me a mistress who is the most scented of the women of Arabia.” Abu Na’ilah again said: “Allow me to smell (the scent on your head)”. He said: “Yes, you may smell.” So he caught it and smelt. Then he said: “Allow me to do so(once again).” He then held his head fast and said to his companions: “Do your job.” And they killed him. The group of men came back after fulfilling their mission. One of them Al-Harith bin Aws was wounded by mistake with the swords of his men, and was bleeding badly. When they reached Baqee‘ Al-Gharqad, they shouted, “Allah is Great”. The Prophet heard them and realized that they had killed the enemy of Allah. As they saw him, he said: “Cheerful faces are yours.” In reply, they said: “And yours O Messenger of Allah.” They handed the head of the tyrant over to him. He entertained Allah’s praise for their success. He then applied his saliva to Al-Harish’s wound and it healed on the spot.

“When the Jews learned about the death of their tyrant, Ka‘b bin Al-Ashraf, they were scared and even their stone like hearts were in the grip of inexpressible panic. They realized that the Messenger of Allah would thenceforth never hesitate to use force when good words and admonition failed. They remained silent and resigned, and faked adherence to covenants.

“Now the Prophet was free to collect his thoughts and give himself up to resolving foreign affairs, and facing dangers that could be carried with hostile wind blowing again from Makkah.”

Mubarakpuri took  part of the story from Sahih Bukhari vol 5 #369 and added details without giving their sources.

“It is narrated Jabir Abdullah: Allah’s messenger said “Who is willing to kill Ka`b bin al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His apostle?” Thereupon Maslama got up saying, “O Allah’s messenger! Would you like that I kill him?” The prophet said, “Yes”. Maslama said, “Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Ka`b). The Prophet (s) said, “You may say it.”

Maslama went to Ka`b and said, “That man (i.e. Muhammad) demands Sadaqa (i.e. Zakat) [taxes] from us, and he has troubled us, and I have come to borrow something from you.” On that, Ka`b said, “By Allah, you will get tired of him!” Maslama said, “Now as we have followed him, we do not want to leave him unless and until we see how his end is going to be. Now we want you to lend us a camel load or two of food.” Ka`b said, “Yes, but you should mortgage something to me.” Maslama and his companion said, “What do you want?” Ka`b replied, “Mortgage your women to me.” They said, “How can we mortgage our women to you and you are the most handsome of the Arabs?” Ka`b said, “Then mortgage your sons to me.” They said, “How can we mortgage our sons to you? Later they would be abused by the people’s saying that so and so has been mortgaged for a camel load of food. That would cause us great disgrace, but we will mortgage our arms to you.”

“Maslama and his companion promised Ka`b that Maslama would return to him. He came to Ka`b at night along with Ka`b’s foster brother, Abu Na’ila. Ka`b invited them to come into his fort and then he went down to them. His wife asked him, “Where are you going at this time?” Ka`b replied, None but Maslama and my (foster) brother Abu Na’ila have come.” His wife said, “I hear a voice as if blood is dropping from him.” Ka`b said, “They are none by my brother Maslama and my foster brother Abu Na’ila. A generous man should respond to a call at night even if invited to be killed.”
“Maslama went with two men. So Maslama went in together with two men, and said to them, “When Ka`b comes, I will touch his hair and smell it, and when you see that I have got hold of his head, strike him. I will let you smell his head.”

“Ka`b bin al-Ashraf came down to them wrapped in his clothes, and diffusing perfume. Maslama said, “I have never smelt a better scent than this.” Ka`b replied, “I have got the best Arab women who know how to use the high class of perfume.” Maslama requested Ka`b “Will you allow me to smell your head?” Ka`b said “yes.” Maslama smelt it and made his companions smell it as well. Then he requested Ka`b again, “Will you let me (smell your head)?” Ka`b said “Yes”. When Maslama got a strong hold of him, he said (to his companions) “Get at him!” So they killed him and went to the prophet and informed him.”

In Sahih Muslim the incident is narrated in the following manner.

It has been narrated on the authority of Jabir that

“the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: Who will kill Ka’b bin Ashraf? He has maligned Allah, the Exalted, and His Messenger. Muhammad b. Maslama said: Messenger of Allah, do you wish that I should kill him? He said: Yes. He said: Permit me to talk (to him in the way I deem fit). He said: Talk (as you like). So, Muhammad b. Maslama came to Ka’b and talked to him, referred to the old friendship between them and said: This man (i. e. the Prophet) has made up his mind to collect charity (from us) and this has put us to a great hardship. When be heard this, Ka’b said: By God, you will be put to more trouble by him. Muhammad b. Maslama said: No doubt, now we have become his followers and we do not like to forsake him until we see what turn his affairs will take. I want that you should give me a loan. He said: What will you mortgage? He said: What do you want? He said: Pledge me your women. He said: You are the most handsome of the Arabs; should we pledge our women to you? He said: Pledge me your children. He said: The son of one of us may abuse us saying that he was pledged for two wasqs of dates, but we can pledge you (cur) weapons. He said: All right. Then Muhammad bin Maslama promised that he would come to him with Harith, Abu ‘Abs b. Jabr and Abbad b. Bishr. So they came and called upon him at night. He came down to them. Sufyan says that all the narrators except ‘Amr have stated that his wife said: I hear a voice which sounds like the voice of murder. He said: It is only Muhammad b. Maslama and his foster-brother, Abu Na’ila. When a gentleman is called at night even it to be pierced with a spear, he should respond to the call. Muhammad said to his companions: As he comes down, I will extend my hands towards his head and when I hold him fast, you should do your job. So when he came down and he was holding his cloak under his arm, they said to him: We sense from you a very fine smell. He said: Yes, I have with me a mistress who is the most scented of the women of Arabia. He said: Allow me to smell (the scent on your head). He said: Yes, you may smell. So he caught it and smelt. Then he said: Allow me to do so (once again). He then held his head fast and said to his companions: Do your job. And they killed him.”

The two narratives in the books of ahadith differ in details. In the narrative of Bukhari, two men accompanies Maslama while in the narrative of Muslim, four men accompanies him. In the narratives of Mubarakpuri, we read about one of the person bleeding due to injuries while in the accounts of the Bukhari and Muslim no such details are found.

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