Location : 96 kms from Medina
When was the battle fought : 24th Rajab 7 A.H
Muslim Army : 1,400
Jews Army : 14,000
Khyber was a locality at a distance of about 96 Kms from Madina. It consisted of eight (or ten) popular and very strong forts where the Jews lived and also gave refuge to the enemies of Islam. They had become an active center of conspiracies against Islam. In the 7th Hijrah, our Holy Prophet Mohammad(sawaw) got information about the conspiracy being hatched by the Jews against Muslims in connivance with other hostile elements of Islam. He(sawaw) decided to take on the challenge.
Preparation for War
In a consultative meeting, it was decided by the Muslims to take on the enemy outside Madina. A force of 1,400 muslim fighters (History of Muslims of the World by K.A.Hameed) set out of Madina to protect themselves and their homeland against a Jewish force of more than 14,000 fighters (Allama Tabrisi). Before the start of the battle, the Prophet Mohammad(sawaw) took ill. Imam Ali(a.s.) was also not able to participate in this battle in the beginning due to a illness in his eyes.
The battle starts
The battle started with the siege of the forts at Khyber. The siege continued for a period of about one month. Some individual battles were followed by a general assault from both sides for three continuous days but a decisive result could not be achieved. This was mainly due to the fact that the Prophet Mohammad(sawaw) was not commanding the military moves himself as well as because Imam Ali(a.s.) was not taking part in the battle. The so called “Mujahideen-e-Islam” who always complained of not being given sufficient chance to show their skills were in charge and no victory was in sight.
In Tarikh Abul Fada (Vol1 page 187) it is stated that “Due to the illness of Prophet Mohammad(sawaw), Hazrat Abu Bakr took the banner and went to fight but returned unsuccessful and then Hazrat Umar took the banner and fought even harder but he as well returned unsuccessfully. Thereafter, Prophet Mohammad(sawaw) was informed of this situation”. It is quite clear that the Prophet(sawaw) never awarded the banner to any of the two, they took it by themselves and went to fight and returned unsuccessful.
After five days of general battle, Prophet Mohammad(sawaw) declared that “Tomorrow I will award the Standard of the Islamic forces to a man who loves Allah(swt) and his Prophet(sawaw) and Allah(swt) and his Prophet(sawaw) love him. He is the one who attacks forcefully and does not run away from the battlefield and he will not return until Allah(swt) grants victory on his hand”. Every Sahabi was waiting and wishing to be awarded this honor.
The next day Prophet Mohammad(sawaw) called for Imam Ali(a.s.). People said that Ali(a.s.) was suffering from a disease in his eyes but the Prophet(sawaw) insisted on him being called and when he arrived, the Prophet(sawaw) applied his saliva on the eyes of Imam Ali(a.s.) which cured him instantly and then he prayed to Allah(swt) and awarded him the standard of Islam.
Advances of Imam Ali(a.s.)
Imam Ali(a.s.) led the Islamic forces to the strongest fort of Khyber named QAMOOS and when they came near, the battle was started by the Jews. One of their strongest man, Haris, attacked and martyred two Muslims after which Imam Ali(a.s.) took on Haris and killed him instantly. He was followed by the strongest man among the Jews – Marhab. Marhab faced the same fate. His body was equally divided into two parts by the zulfiqar of Imam Ali(a.s.).
After this, general battle started. The Muslim forces fought with a lot of courage under the leadership of Imam Ali(a.s.). Upon realizing that they were losing the battle, the Jews started running towards the fort and closed the huge iron gate of the fort from inside. This was the gate which used to be opened and closed by 40 strong men. Imam Ali(a.s.) alone lifted and broke the gate in one strong jolt. He then used the same gate to make a bridge on a trench so that the Islamic forces could enter the fort and conquer it.
The remaining frightful Jews cried of mercy and Imam Ali(a.s.) ordered to stop the battle and declare peace for them who had surrendered. One after the other, the muslim fighters under the leadership of Imam Ali(a.s.) conquered various forts of this stronghold and completed the grand victory of Islamic forces over the Jews.
Brother Mohsin Naquvi Adds:
Marhab’s mother had had a dream in her youth and when Marhab was only a baby. In her dream she had seen that a lion had killed her. Because of that dream, she used to say to her son (when he had grown up and had become a renowned fighter in Arabia): Son, never fight a man whose name resembles the meaning of ‘lion.’
In all previous sorties the Prophet of Islam would appoint a commander and then send some soldiers under the command of that commander to attack the fort.When the Prophet (pbuh) asked Ali to take charge and attack, Imam Ali(a.s.) did not bother about the soldiers. He took the banner in one hand, the sword in the other hand and marched uphill on the double. The only companion who went with him was Abu Rafay (other Muslim soldiers followed later), the personal attendant of the Prophet on whose authority the whole story is told. Abu Rafay narrates: When we arrived at the top of the hill, we were out of breath, because Ali had been marching on the double uphill. He established the banner in the rocks and looked upto the fort.
When we arrived at the gate of the fort, there was an old Jewish guard watching us approach from one of the turrets. He looked at Imam Ali(a.s.) and shouted – Who are YOU? Notice the emphasis on YOU. Imam Ali(a.s.) replied by reciting the following verse:
anal lazi sammatni ummi hydara
zarghaamu aajaamin, laithun, qaswara
Translation: I am the one who was named HYDER by his mother, I am the lion of the valley, I am the great lion, the lion who attacks his prey by chasing it.
The old man turned to his people inside the fort and said: YOU ARE DESTROYED!!!
Shah Abdul Haq Muhaddith Dehlavi writes: Apparently, the old man had read some FAZA’EL of Imam Ali(a.s.) in his books and he recognized him for those. That is why he said what he said to his own people. It is indeed true that Imam Ali(a.s.) was named HYDER by his mother in his infancy.
What is curious is that Imam Ali(a.s.) uses three more words meaning ‘lion’ of different qualities. Here is an explanation: But before that, let us read some Urdu poetry, which in its simplicity and recording of fact is an all-time classic.
PATTHAR PA ALAM DEEN KA GARA KIS NE
LALKAAR KE MARHAB TO PACHAARA KIS NE
AS-HAAB-E-PAYAMBER SABHI THAI HAZIR
KAHDO DAR-E-KHYBER KO UKHAARAA KIS NE
The Imam comes to this world with a covenant with Allah that he would protect and preserve the law of Allah. If in that process the Imam needs to raise his sword he will do that with that intention and full committment to welcome martyrdom or win over the enemy. The main purpose of an Imam’s life is to guide people and lead people. His main purpose in life is not killing people. But, if it comes to that, the Imam will not relent.
That is why Imam Ali(a.s.) comes to the battlefield reciting those famous verses in which he uses three different words for the word lion. That was the indication that the Imam will first try HIDAYAT and then if all else fails he will not back away from using the sword. He wanted Marhab to remember his mother’s dream. And if he had any sense he would go back and not confront Imam Ali(a.s.). As we saw, the old Jewish guard did recognize Imam Ali(a.s.) for his FAZA’EL. But Allah had destined something else for Marhab.
We feel good about Imam Ali(a.s.) killing Marhab and Haris and pulling the gate of Khyber from its hinges. But those things really did not make Ali great. What made Imam Ali(a.s.) great was his devotion to Islam and his full commitment to the commands of the Prophet. After the famous hadeeth of Khyber when Imam Ali(a.s.) was ready to leave, he asked a question of the Prophet as to how long he should fight. The Prophet replied: Either until you are victorious or they accept Islam. He added: And remember ALi, if a single non-Muslim accepts Islam on your invitation, it is better for you than having a herd of one hundred red camels.
That is why, after all the victory, Imam Ali(a.s.) did not bother to collect even the personal armour of his slain enemies, let alone looting wealth from the fort, which other Muslims did do after him, and it was quite legitimate in the circumstances. Reports tell us that he came down the hill of Khyber after victory totally empty-handed…. That is what made Ali great.
As Imam Ali(a.s.) was coming down the hill, the Prophet of Islam waited to greet him. Suddenly from one side, J’afar bin Abi Talib appeared who was now returning from Abyssinnia (Habsha) after twelve years’ stay there. The Prophet was doubly pleased. He put his one arm round Imam Ali(a.s.)’s shoulder, the other round J’afar’s shoulder. He would look at Ali and then at J’afar and would say:I don’t know what makes me happier today, my brother Ali conquering the fort of Khyber or my brother J’afar returning from Habsha after twelve years. It was definitely one of the happiest moments in the life of te Prophet of Islam.
The hadeeth of Khyber is also the true manisfestation of Imam Ali(a.s.)’s personality. The Prophet had said: Tomorrow mrning shall I give this banner to a MAN, who attacks repeatedly, and does not retreat. He loves Allah and his Rasool and Allah and His Rasool love him. Allah will give victory(FATAH) on his hands.
There is not a single Companion for whom the Prophet of islam had fulfilled the prophecy of Allah’s love like that. It was reserved for Imam Ali(a.s.), and him alone. The Prophet had ascribed in so many words Imam Ali(a.s.)’s non-compromising attitude to his mission, and Imam Ali(a.s.)’s future life became a living proof to that.
Then the Prophet had used the word FATAH in his statement. This word is used in three different meaning is Arabic. The miracle of the Prophet’s speech is that all three meanings came true in this story.
Fatah means: 1. To open, 2. To conquer, and, 3. To begin
Imam Ali(a.s.) was victorious, he opened the closed gate of Khyber, and, the conquest of Khyber turned out to be the beginning of a long-lasting prosperity on the Muslim community.