Mukhayriq 'the best of the Jews'

There are many stories that contemporary imams rarely tell their congregations. The story of Mukhayriq, a rabbi from Medina, is one such story. I have heard the stories about the battle of Uhud, one of prophet Muhammad's major battles with his Meccan enemies, from imams and Muslim preachers hundreds of times, but not once have I heard the story of Mukhayriq, who died fighting in that battle against the enemies of Islam.

So, I will tell the story of Rabbi Mukhayriq -- the first Jewish martyr of Islam. It is quite apropos, as the season of spiritual holidays has begun.

Mukhayriq was a wealthy and learned leader of the tribe of Tha'labah. He fought with Prophet Muhammad in the battle of Uhud on March 19, 625 AD, and was martyred in it. That day was a Saturday. Rabbi Mukhayriq addressed his people and asked them to go with him to help Muhammad . His tribe's men declined, saying that it was the day of Sabbath. Mukhayriq chastised them for not understanding the deeper meaning of Sabbath and announced that if he died in the battle, his entire wealth should go to Muhammad .

Mukhayriq died in battle against the Meccans. And when Muhammad , who was seriously injured in that battle, was informed about that death of Mukhayriq, Muhammad said, "He was the best of Jews."

Muhammad inherited seven gardens and other forms of wealth from Mukhayriq. Muhammad used this wealth to establish the first waqf -- a charitable endowment -- of Islam. It was from this endowment that the Prophet of Islam helped many poor people in Medina.

When Muhammad migrated form Mecca to Medina in 622, he signed a treaty with the various tribes that lived in and around Medina. Many of these tribes had embraced Islam, some were pagan and others were Jewish. All of them signed the treaty with Muhammad that is referred to by historians as the Constitution of Medina. The first Islamic state, a multi-tribal and multi-religious state, established by Muhammad in Medina, was based on this social contract.

According to article 2 of the constitution, all the tribes who were signatories to the treaty constituted one nation (Ummah). Mukhayriq's people, too, were signatories to this treaty and were obliged to fight with Muhammad in accordance with article 37 of the constitution, which says: "The Jews must bear their expenses and the Muslims their expenses. Each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document. They must seek mutual advice and consultation, and loyalty is a protection against treachery. A man is not liable for his ally's misdeeds. The wronged must be helped."

In a way, Rabbi Mukhayriq, who was also a well-respected scholar of Jews in Medina, was merely being a good citizen and was fulfilling a social contract. But his story is fantastic, especially for our times, when we are struggling to build bridges between various religious communities. Mukhayriq's loyalty, his bravery, his sacrifice and his generosity are inspirational.

Perhaps it is about people like Mukhayriq that the Quran says: "And there are, certainly, among Jews and Christians, those who believe in God, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to God. They will not sell the Signs of God for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord" (3:199).

Mukhayriq was a true citizen of the state of Medina, and he gave his life in its defense. He was a Jew, and he was a true Islamic hero, and his story must never be forgotten.

If Muslim imams told his story, I am confident that it would contribute to manifestations of increased tolerance by Muslims toward others. There are many such wonderful examples of brotherhood, tolerance, sacrifice and good citizenship in Islamic traditions that undergird the backbone of Islamic ethics. I wish we told them more often.

Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware. He is also the Director of the Islamic Studies Program. He earned his Ph.D. in International Relations, Political Philosophy, and Islamic Political Thought, from Georgetown University.

Islam | Religion | 2009-12-04 |