By: Seyyed Ali Shahbaz
The 17th of Shawwal is a memorable day in history. It is the anniversary of an immortal event that occurred in 5 AH (627 AD) and made Islam triumphant over a joint Arab-Israelite plot. The enemies intended to end the life and mission of the Seal of Messengers and wipe out the few faithful Muslims from the face of the Earth, with the help of the 5th column in Medina, that is, the hypocrites, whose hearts were devoid of faith while outwardly they professed Islam.
The holy Qur’an mentions this crucial happening in the Surah titled “al-Ahzaab”, which means The Confederates or The Allies, that is, the pagan Arabs and the Israelites, who besieged Medina with an overwhelming force, but God Almighty routed them with strong winds and a sandstorm in what became known as the Battle of the Ditch – in reference to the digging of a wide trench around the city as a barrier to invasion, an unprecedented practice in Arabia.
The Muslims dug a ditch, which the disbelievers were unable to cross, and eventually the enemy retreated in disarray. This is mentioned in the holy Qur’an in order to remind the believers of Divine Favours to them, so that they may obey the commandments of the Almighty Creator, including proper conduct towards Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his Ahl al-Bayt or Blessed Household.
The hypocrites are warned of the consequences if they do not stop their bad behaviour, while the true believers are promised of great reward for their sacrifices in the way of God.
The Ayahs of this Surah undoubtedly refer to one of the greatest events in the history of Islam, when the person, who stands to this day as the model for every true believer, and whose faith in God and the Prophet, single-handedly brought victory to Islam and humanitarian values.
“And when the hypocrites were saying, as well as those in whose hearts is a sickness, ‘Allah and His Prophet did not promise us [anything] except delusion.’
“And when a group of them said: ‘O people of Yathreb! [This is] not a place for you, so go back!’And a group of them sought the Prophet’s permission, saying, ‘Our homes lie exposed [to the enemy],’ although they were not exposed. They only sought to flee.
“Had they been invaded from its flanks and had they been asked to apostatize, they would have done so with only a mild hesitation; though they had certainly pledged to Allah before that they would not turn their backs [to flee], and pledges given to Allah are accountable.” (Holy Qur’an 33:12-to-15)
Here is a summarized account of the Battle of the Ditch and the heroic exploit of the indisputable Champion of Islam, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS), who defeated the joint plot of the Arabs and the Israelites.
To defend the city against the mighty horde led by the archenemy of Islam, Abu Sufyan, the Muslims dug a ditch around the sensitive parts of Medina on the suggestion of Salman Farsi, the Prophet’s Iranian companion. When the Arab-Israelite force arrived, it was surprised to see a ditch around Medina, and decided to besiege the city in order to break the will of the Muslims.
As days passed and no breakdown of moral occurred amongst the defenders in Medina, the fearsome Arab pagan warlord, Amr ibn Abduwad, along with some of his accomplices, spurred his horse to leap across the ditch at its narrowest point and challenged the terrified Muslims to personal combat. None of the companions of the Prophet dared to rise up against this veritable giant who had a nasty reputation of physical strength, except for Imam Ali (AS).
The Imam invited Amr to Islam but received a negative reply. A duel then took place and Imam Ali (AS), despite receiving a wound on his forehead, knocked out Amr to the ground.
At this moment, the fallen foe, turned out to be a coward, and spat at the Imam in a bid to avoid certain death. On this insult, Imam Ali (AS) gently withdrew to allow his emotions to cool down so that personal feelings do not mix up with pure and sincere jihad in the way of God.
The Arab infidel rose to his feet and renewed the life-and-death struggle, but this time the flashing sword of Imam Ali (AS), the famous double-bladed Zu’l-Feqar, made short work of the opponent who fell down dead to the ground.
The Imam then scattered the companions of Amr, and this valorous feat sent shivers down the spine of the Arab-Israelite hordes, making them break ranks and flee, as fierce winds unleashed a terrible sandstorm on the other side of the ditch.
Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) thanked God Almighty and expressed the famous statement this day, saying:
“The Stroke of Ali (AS) on the Day of Khandaq is superior to the worship of Thaqalayn (mankind and jinn).”