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Khaybar fort
Khaybar fort
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Country  Saudi Arabia
Region Al Madinah Region
Time zone AST (UTC+3)

Khaybar[note 1] (Arabic: خيبر‎‎, IPA: [ˈxɑjbɑrˤ, ˈxajbɑr, ˈχæjbɑr, ˈχɛjbɑrˤ]) is the name of an oasis some 153 km to the north of Medina (ancient Yathrib), Saudi Arabia. Before the rise of Islam, this fortress town was inhabited in former times by Jewish tribes. It fell to Muslim forces in 629 AD


Pre-Islamic Khaybar

In 567, Khaybar was invaded and vacated of its Jewish inhabitants by the Ghassanid Arab Christian king Al-Harith ibn Jabalah. He later freed the captives upon his return to the Levant. A brief account of the campaign is given by Ibn Qutaybah,[1] and confirmed by the Harran Inscription.[2] See Irfan Shahid's Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century for full details.[3]

Khaybar in the 7th century

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In the 7th century, Khaybar was inhabited by Jews, who pioneered the cultivation of the oasis[4] and made their living growing date palm trees, as well as through commerce and craftsmanship, accumulating considerable wealth. Some objects found by the Muslims when they entered Khaybar — a siege-engine, 20 bales of Yemenite cloth, and 500 cloaks — point out to an intense trade carried out by the Jews. In the past some scholars attempted to explain the siege-engine by suggesting that it was used for settling quarrels among the families of the community. Today most academics believe it was stored in a depôt for future sale, in the same way that swords, lances, shields, and other weaponry had been sold by the Jews to Arabs. Equally, the cloth and the cloaks may have been intended for sale, as it was unlikely that such a quantity of luxury goods were kept for the exclusive use of the Jews.[citation needed]

The oasis was divided into three regions: al-Natat, al-Shikk, and al-Katiba, probably separated by natural divisions, such as the desert, lava drifts, and swamps. Each of these regions contained several fortresses or redoubts containing homes, storehouses and stables. Each fortress was occupied by a separate family and surrounded by cultivated fields and palm-groves. In order to improve their defensive capabilities, the settlers raised the fortresses up on hills or basalt rocks.


Jews continued to live in the oasis for several more years afterwards until they were finally expelled by caliph Umar. The imposition of tribute upon the conquered Jews of the Khaybar Fortress served as a precedent. Islamic law came to require exaction of tribute known as jizya from dhimmis, i.e. non-Muslims under Muslim rule.

For many centuries, the oasis at Khaybar was an important caravan stopping place. The center developed around a series of ancient dams built to hold run-off water from the rain. Around the water catchments, date palms grew. Khaybar became an important date-producing center.

Military campaigns of Muhammad in Khaybar

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Battle of Khaybar

The Battle of Khaybar took place in May/June 628.[5] The Jewish Banū *Naḍīr of *Medina, who claimed to be descendants of Aaron the priest, owned lands in Khaybar and had castles, fortresses, and their own weapons there. After Muhammad expelled them from Medina in 625, their leaders moved to their estates in Khaybar in order to prepare for war against Muhammad and to recruit the aid of Arab tribes. Muhammad first sent disguised guests to the homes of the leaders of Banū Naḍīr who then killed their hosts. Muhammad's victory over the Jews of Khaybar in the subsequent battle was also aided by the distance of the settlements and their castles from one another, the absence of coordination between the fighting forces, the death of the leader Sallām ibn Mishkam, and a Jew who showed the Muslims the secret entrances to one of the fortresses. The castles of Khaybar had tunnels and passages which in wartime enabled the besieged to reach water sources outside the castles.[6] Between 16-18 Muslims were killed and 93 Jews.[7] After the Muslim victory, Muhammad, concerned that Khaybar would remain desolate and would not continue supplying its agricultural produce to the Hejaz, signed an agreement with the Jews which allowed many of its inhabitants to remain on their lands, while requiring payment of half their crops to the conquerors. From a legal point of view the pact was defective, since it did not define the situation of the Jews and did not say whether they were to remain the owners of the soil which they were to cultivate. In later years Muslim jurists defined this settlement as land tenure with rent paid in produce. One version of this agreement was copied by Joseph *Sambari in the 17th century. According to Muslim sources, Muhammad returned to the Jews copies of the Torah seized during the siege, since he opposed desecrating them. After captives of war and slaves from other countries were brought to Khaybar and the people of Hejaz became more accustomed to agriculture, the caliph Omar decided to expel the Jews of Khaybar in 642 under the pretense that before his death Muhammad had commanded that two religions could not exist simultaneously in the Hejaz.[6]

Expedition of Fadak

In 627 Muhammad also ordered the Expedition of Fadak to attack the Bani Sa‘d bin Bakr tribe, because Muhammad received intelligence they were planning to help the Jews of Khaybar.[8] In this expedition 1 person was captured by Muslims, the rest of the tribe fled.[9]

Expulsion of the Jews from Khaybar

During the reign of Caliph Umar (634-644), the Jewish community of Khaybar were transported alongside the Christian community of Najran to the newly conquered regions of Syria and Iraq. As a settlement, Umar issued orders that these Christians and Jews should be treated well and allotted them land in their new settlements equivalent to the land they initially owned. However, Umar also forbade non-Muslims to reside in the Hejaz for longer than three days.[10] Since then, the Jews of Khaybar traveled around many areas throughout the Islamic Empire as artisans and merchants and maintained a distinctive identity until the 12th century.

The Journey of Benjamin of Tudela

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Benjamin was a Jew from Tudela in Spain. He travelled to Persia and Arabia in the 12th century. He visited and described Khaybar and neighboring Tayma some time around 1170, mentioning these places as Jewish habitations.[11]


Historically, Khaybar is known for growing dates. The dates raised in the region were generally exported to Medina.[12]

See also


  1. Other standardized Arabic transliterations: Ḫaybar / ḵaybar. Anglicized pronunciation: /ˈkbər/, /ˈkbɑːr/.
  1. Ibn Qutaybah: al-Ma'arif
  2. Harran Inscription
  3. Irfan Shahid: Byzantium and the Arabs in the sixth century, p. 322
  4. Yāqut, Šihāb al-Dīn ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Ḥamawī al-Rūmī al-Baġdādī (ed. Ferdinand Wüstenfeld), Mu’jam al-Buldān, vol. IV, Leipzig 1866, p. 542 (reprint: Ṭaharān 1965, Maktabat al-Asadi); Hayyim Zeev Hirschberg, Israel Ba-‘Arav, Tel Aviv 1946, p. 343 (Hebrew).
  5. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. (free online)
  6. 6.0 6.1 I. Ben-Ze'ev, Ha-Yehudim ba-Arav (19572), index; H.Z. Hirschberg, Yisrael ba-Arav (1946), index; I. Ben Zvi, in: Keneset, 5 (1940), 281–302; J. Braslavsky, Le-Ḥeker Arẓenu (1954), 3–52 (English summaries: 3–4, English section); S.D. Goitein, in: KS, 9 (1932/33), 507–21; Caetani, in: Annali dell' Islam, 2 (1905), 8–41; R. Leszynsky, Juden in Arabien zur Zeit Mohammeds (1910)
  7. Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, p. 238. (online)
  8. Mubarakpuri, The Sealed Nectar, p. 211. (online)
  9. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  10. Giorgio Levi Della Vida and Michael Bonner, Encyclopaedia of Islam, and Madelung, The Succession to Prophet Muhammad, p. 74
  11. The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela (ed. Marcus Nathan Adler), Oxford University Press, London 1907, pp. 47-49.
  12. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

External links