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The Battle of the Trench (Arabic: غزوة الخندق, translit. Ghazwah al-Khandaq) also known as the Battle of the Confederates (Arabic: غزوة الاحزاب, translit. Ghazwah al-Ahzab), was a 27 - day long siege of Yathrib (now Medina) by Arab and Jewish tribes. The strength of the confederate armies is estimated around 10,000 men with six hundred horses and some camels, while the Medinan defenders numbered 3,000. The battle coincided with harsh winter weather of January/February 627.
After their expulsion from Mecca, the Muslims fought the Meccan Quraysh at the Battle of Badr in 624, and at the Battle of Uhud in 625. Although the Muslims neither won nor were defeated at the Battle of Uhud, their military strength was gradually growing. In April 626 Muhammad raised a force of 300 men and 10 horses to meet the Quraysh army of 1,000 at Badr for the second time. Although no fighting occurred, the coastal tribes were impressed with Muslim power. Muhammad also tried, with limited success, to break up many alliances against the Muslim expansion. Nevertheless, he was unable to prevent the Meccan one.
As they had in the battles of Badr and Uhud, the Muslim army again used strategic methods against their opponents (at Badr, the Muslims surrounded the wells, but did not deprive their opponents of water since Ali did not want to follow the footsteps of the Meccan army; at the Battle of Uhud, Muslims made strategic use of the hills). In this battle they dug a trench to render the enemy cavalry ineffective.
The reason for this battle was to defend Medina from attack, after Banu Nadir and Banu Qaynuqa tribes formed an alliance with the Quraysh to attack him as revenge for expelling them from Medina during the Invasion of Banu Qaynuqa and Invasion of Banu Nadir. The Muslim scholar Ibn Kathir states: "The reason why the Confederates came was that a group of the leaders of the Jews of Banu Nadir, whom the Messenger of Allah had expelled from Al-Madinah to Khaybar, including Sallam bin Abu Al-Huqayq, Sallam bin Mishkam and Kinanah bin Ar-Rabi`, went to Makkah where they met with the leaders of Quraysh and incited them to make war against the Prophet".
Although it is called both 'battle' and 'war', the conflict was settled mainly through non-fighting. The Muslims had secured their position in Yathrib by digging trenches in front of the unprotected parts of the town, making it difficult to pass for intruders. The trenches were not wide, 150 years later they could be bridged simply by throwing a few high doors across them. According to the legends, the trenches were made during 6 days of intense labour. Its background may both have been rumors of the attack, but it may also have been planned ever since the defeat of the Muslims in the Battle of Uhud.
The attacking army was made up of 4,000 men from Mecca, 5,000 from their allies, while the Muslims counted 3,000. Not that the numbers ever came to matter. The attackers could only pass the trench at one point, where they ended up in limited man-to-man fights. After about 2 weeks the moral of the attacking forces was virtually gone, and then a violent wind with torrents of rain lasting for 3 days destroyed what was left. The siege was lifted, the attackers returned home.
In the aftermath, it is told that Muhammad came to know that the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza in Yathrib had promised to assist the attackers. He responded with besieging their quarter of the town, and either he or his general Saad bin Muadh had all male members of the tribe executed, between 600 and 900 in numbers, while all women and children were enslaved. This was the first example of Muslim religious cleansing, bridging the tradition of brutal intolerance inherent to Islam back to its founder.
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