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 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. It is quite apropos as the season of spiritual holidays is here.
Mukhayriq was a wealthy and learned leader of the tribe of Tha’labah. He fought with Prophet Muhammed 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 Muhammed. His tribe’s men declined saying that it was the day of Sabbath. Mukhayriq chastised them for not understanding the deeper meaning of Sabath and announced to his people that if he died in the battle his entire wealth should go to Muhammed.
Mukhayriq died in battle against the Meccans. And when Muhammed, who was seriously injured in that battle, was informed about the death of Mukhayriq, Muhammed said, “He was the best of Jews.”
Muhammed inherited seven gardens and other forms of wealth from Mukhayriq. Muhammed 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 Muhammed 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 Muhammed that is referred to by historians as the Constitution of Medina. The first Islamic state, a multi-tribal and multi-religious state, established by Muhammed in Medina was based on this social contract.
According to Article 2 of the Constitution, all 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 Muhammed in accordance to 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’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 was a true citizen of the state of Medina and he gave his life in its defense. He was a Jew and he was an Islamic hero and his story must never be forgotten and must be told and retold. When Muslims forget to remember his, and other stories that epitomize interfaith relations they diminish the legacy of Islam and betray the cause of peace.
If Muslim Imams told his story in their congregations in America and elsewhere, I am confident that it will contribute to manifestations of 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.
Muqtedar Khan is Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and a fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.