A Jew as an Islamic Hero

A Jew as an Islamic Hero

There are many stories that contemporary Imams rarely tell their congregations. The story of Mukhayriq, a Rabbi from Madina is one such story.

I have heard the stories about the battle of Uhud, one of Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) major battles with his Makkah enemies, from Imams and Muslim preachers hundreds of times, but not once have I heard the story of Rabbi 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.

Mukhayriq was a wealthy and learned leader of the tribe of Tha’labah. He fought along side the Prophet in the battle of Uhud, 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 the Prophet. 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 to his people that if he died in the battle his entire wealth should go to the Prophet.   Mukhayriq died in battle against the people of Makkah. And when the Prophet, who was seriously injured in that battle, was informed about that death of Mukhayriq, said, “He was the best of Jews”.

The Prophet inherited seven gardens and other forms of wealth from Mukhayriq. He 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 Madina.

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

According to Article 2 of the constitution, all the tribes, who were signatory to the treaty, constituted one nation (Ummah). Mukhayriq’s people too were signatories to this treaty and were obliged to fight with the Prophet in accordance with the Article 37 of the constitution, which I reproduce here: 

Article 37 of the Constitution of Madina 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. 

In a way Rabbi Mukhayriq,  a well-respected scholar of Jews in Madina, 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’s story is a story of an individual’s ability to transcend communal divides and to fight for a more inclusive idea of community. He gave his life in its defence. He was a Jew and he was a true Islamic hero and his story must  be told and retold. When Muslims forget to remember his, and other stories that epitomise interfaith relations, they diminish the legacy of Islam and betray the cause of peace.

If our Imams told his story in their congregations in America and elsewhere, I am confident that it will contribute to increased tolerance by Muslims towards 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.