Plunder (Ghanîmah) in Jihãd
The Evidence of the Sunnah

Did the Prophet appropriate plunder (ghanîmah) for his own use? The relevant Revelations and ahãdîs have already been discussed in detail, and the part of Khums, the holy one-fifth of the plunder in the Islamic scheme of things, analysed threadbare. But here again the Prophet’s own practice (Sunnah) has to be mentioned if only to round off the discussion. A proper analysis of this single topic would require a whole book; here I shall content myself with a bare outline.

(1) According to the biographers, the Prophet received his one-fifth starting from the raid of Nakhla (late 623 AD) in which one Koreishite was killed and two of them made captives, the booty obtained being meagre. But as the earliest of the Prophet’s biographers, Ibn Ishãq, reflected, “This was the first booty which the Muslims obtained, the first captives they seized, and the first life they took.” The amount of ransom money charged was 40 ounces of silver for each of the two captured Koreishites.

(2) In comparison, the loot from the Battle of Badr (624 AD) was considerable. Besides a vast amount of garments and articles of leather, the number of camels captured was 114 and that of horses 10, the captive Koreishites totalling 70.1 According to Margoliouth’s calculation, the ransom money charged was 100,000 dirhems. The Prophet received a clear one-fifth of these. Over and above, he took the camel of Abu Jahl,2 his most inveterate Koreishite enemy happily “sent to hell” on the battlefield, as also the famous sword Zulfiqãr. These constituted his special share as the chief of his team.

(3) The largest amount of plunder earned during the Prophet’s ten years’ residence at Medina was obtained at the cost of the Jews. A short account of these earnings should elucidate the relevant Sunnah for plunder with more vividness than any other event could.

As is well known, the Prophet's conquering career started with his migration to Medina in September 622 AD. In the history of Islam the event is known as the Migration (hijrah) with a capital M. The Prophet’s previous career of 12 or 13 years’ preaching at Mecca had enlisted very few converts. In Medina, indeed he was received with the honour due to a monarch, but this was not accompanied by any accession of wealth or property. The first gainful exploit of Muslims was the victory of Badr. But the plunder obtained therefrom, though opulent, was not considerable enough to feed the growing Muslim population indefinitely. It seems to be this consideration above any other which actuated the Prophet for extirpating the thriving Jewish settlements around Medina and attaching their property to the nascent Islamic state. It has been argued that the Jews themselves had behaved treacherously with him. But if “all earth belongs to Allah and His Prophet” such a rationalisation is hardly necessary. In any event, after the victory of Badr the Jewish tribes of Medina started being a prey to the Prophet’s repeated assaults. Banu Kainuka was the first tribe to be thrown out. This event occurred close on the heels of Badr. After the reverse at Uhud (625 AD), it was the turn of the Banu Nazir to be banished. Banu Kuraizah, as mentioned earlier, were exterminated after the Battle of Ahzãb (627 AD). All these were Jewish tribes of Medina.

The very next year saw the raid upon Khaibar (628 AD), that is, on the Jews who resided far from Medina. They were retained in their settlements on condition of tilling their own lands and paying half their produce to the Islamic state. This seems to be the first imposition of jizyah in the history of Islam. The extirpation or subjugation of Jews in all these cases was followed by extortion of a vast amount of ghanîmah (plunder).

(a) Property worth thousands of dirhems, if not more, accrued from the expulsion of Banu Nazir (625 AD). This tribe had rich and extensive agricultural lands, all of which was appropriated by the Prophet. This was because the Nazirites were conquered without engaging in regular warfare, so that their property was counted as Fai (gift) in Islam’s technical vocabulary.3 As Abdul Hamid Siddiqi’s commentary on a hadîs elaborates:

“The properties abandoned by Banu Nazir were the ones which Allah bestowed upon his Apostle for which no expedition was taken either with cavalry or camel. Those properties were particularly meant for the Holy Prophet. He would meet the annual expenditure of his family from the income thereof and would spend what remained for purchasing horses and weapons for preparation of Jihãd” (Sahih Muslim, No. 4347).

(b) The plunder accruing from the extermination of the entire male population of Banu Kuraizah is best described in Muir’s language. As he puts it:

“The booty was divided into four classes - lands, chattels, cattle and slaves; and Mohammad took a fifth of each. There were (besides the children who counted with their mothers) a thousand captives; from his share of these, Mohammad made certain presents to his friends of slave girls and female servants. The rest of the women and children he sent to be sold among the Bedawi tribes of Nejd, in exchange for horses and arms in the service of the State; for he kept steadily in view the advantage of raising a body of efficient cavalry. The remaining property was divided among the 3,000 soldiers of Medîna, to the highest bidders among whom the women also were sold.

“The whole booty at the prize valuation would thus be 40,000 dînãrs. Mohammad sold a number of State slaves to ‘Othmãn and ‘Abd-ar-Rahmãn, who made a good speculation therefrom. They divided them into old and young. ‘Othmãn took the old, and found as he expected much money on their persons. Large sums were obtained from the Jews of Kheibar and other places for the ransom of such of the women and children as they were interested in.”4

This single example brings out the Prophet’s practice regarding ghanîmah (plunder) with a vividness which a hundred pages of theoretical discussion would hardly equal.

(c) But even this booty, vast as it was, was small compared to what the Prophet wrested from the Jews of Khaibar. After their defeat, “When the Moslems came to apportion their spoils they found that the conquest of Khaibar surpassed every other benefit that God had conferred on their Prophet. The leader’s one-fifth enabled him to enrich his wives and concubines, his daughters and their off-spring, his friends and acquaintance, down to the servants. Eighteen hundred lots were portioned out for the fourteen hundred fighters; the two hundred horsemen got, according to custom, treble lots… Moreover there was no fear of this wealth melting away as the former booty had melted; for the Jews remained to till the land which became the property of the robbers.”5

Did the Prophet appropriate female slaves in conformity with the Koranic injunction6 on concubinage? Biographers mention Raihãna, the Jewess of Banu Kuraizah, chosen by the Prophet as his concubine after she had refused to espouse Islam, that being the condition for legal marriage. But Raihãna’s story does not figure prominently in the canonical ahãdîs, which, while mentioning nine wives (apart from the long-deceased Khadija) and two concubines, dilate only on Maria, the handsome Coptic slave girl presented to the Prophet by the Christian governor of Egypt. It is not clear why Maria, who had apparently turned Muslim, was not given the benefit of legal marriage. That she was a slave could be no objection, for the Prophet could well have manumitted her. In fact, canonical ahãdîs refer to the similar case of Safiyya with much fanfare. As Muslim writers make much of this case and cite it as an example of the Prophet’s noble heart, I will describe it in some detail.

Safiyya’s father Huyayya belonged to Banu Nazir. After the expulsion of his tribe from Medina, he had taken refuge at Khaibar, and, because of his warlike activities, had been assassinated by killers sent by the Prophet with an express order. Her husband Kinãna was cruelly tortured and murdered in cold blood after the conquest of Khaibar, again by the Prophet’s express order. In the distribution of spoils, Safiyya actually fell to the lot of Dihya, a handsome Muslim, in whose shape Gabriel is said to have often visited the Prophet. The full story is told by Imam Muslim on the authority of Anas, the Prophet’s personal attendant. As Anas relates:

“We took the territory of Khaibar by force. There came Dihya and he said: Messenger of Allah, bestow upon me a girl out of the prisoners. He said: Go and get any girl. He made a choice of Safiyya. There came a person to Allah’s Apostle and said: Safiyya is worthy of you only… When Allah’s Apostle saw her he said [to Dihya]: Take any other woman from among the prisoners… He then granted her emancipation and then married her… On the way Umm Sulaim embellished and then sent her to the Holy Prophet at night. Allah’s Apostle appeared as a bridegroom in the morning” (Sahih Muslim, No. 3325).

This narrative tells its own story in the simplest language possible. But to illustrate how devout Muslims view such examples of Sunnah, one more word is necessary. Imam Muslim himself has entered this hadîs in his collection, not as an example of ghanîmah (plunder) earned by the Prophet from his ghazwah (expedition) but as an instance of the high morality involved in emancipating a slave woman before marrying her! Needless to say, Safiyya had not been a slave woman prior to her being treated as lawful plunder. The learned Pakistani translator of Sahih Muslim is not satisfied even with this elucidation. Not to be outdone by the venerable Imam of aforetime, he has added his own encomium on the Prophet’s noble character on the strength of this very hadîs. He speaks of a Revelation (without actually citing it) that “her marriage with the Holy Prophet was a dire necessity in the larger interest of the Islamic State”!!  Nor does he stop even at that. He adds in so many words that “It is easy to talk of noble things and high ideals, but it is difficult to put them into practice.”!!! Obviously, he enters the event in the register of the Prophet’s noblest deeds. Comment is superfluous.7


1 These are Sir William Muir’s figures. Margoliouth says that the camels numbered 150.

2 His real name was Abu Hakm (father of wisdom). But as he was resolutely opposed to Islam, the Prophet named him Abu Jahl (father of folly).

3 Fai is Koranic rather than Prophetic. “And that which Allah gave as spoil to his Messenger from them, ye urged not any horse or camel for the sake thereof. But Allah giveth lordship to His Messenger over whom He will” (K 59/6).

4 The Life of Mahomet, p. 320 and n.

5 D.S. Margoliouth, Mohammed and the Rise of Islam, pp. 361-62.

6 K 4/24; also see above.

7 Margoliouth says that the Arabic word ‘Safiyya’ means ‘titbit’ i.e. an article specially selected by the conqueror out of the booty. He denies that Safiyya had been her real name. Comment again is superfluous.

Back to Contents Page   Back to VOI Books   Back to Home