The People of the Ditch

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

It is found in the books of tafasir, exegesis, the story behind the Revelation of some verses in Surah al-Buruj.  Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) said that among the people who came before, there was a king who had a sorcerer, and when that sorcerer became old, he said to the king, “I have become old and my time is nearly over, so please send me a boy whom I can teach magic.”  So, he sent him a boy and the sorcerer taught him magic.  Whenever the boy went to the sorcerer, he sat with a monk who was on the way and listened to his speech and admired them.

So, when he went to the sorcerer, he passed by the monk and sat there with him; and on visiting the sorcerer, the latter would thrash him.  So, the boy complained about this to the monk.  The monk said to him, “Whenever you are afraid of the sorcerer, say to him, ‘My people kept me busy.’  And whenever you are afraid of your people, say to them, ‘The sorcerer kept me busy.’”

So the boy carried on like that for some time.  Then a huge terrible creature appeared on the road and the people were unable to pass by.  The boy thought, “Today, I shall know whether the sorcerer is better or the monk is better.”  So, he took a stone and said, “O Allah!  If the deeds and actions of the monk are Liked by You better than those of the sorcerer, then Kill this creature so that the people can cross.”  Then he struck it with a stone killing it and the people passed by on the road.

The boy came to the monk and informed him about it.  The monk said to him, “O my son!  Today you are better than I, and you have achieved what I see!  You will be put to trial.  And in case you are put to trial, do not inform about me.”

The boy used to treat the people suffering from congenital blindness, leprosy, and other diseases.  There was a courtier of the king who had become blind and he heard about the boy.  He came and brought a number of gifts for the boy and said, “All these gifts are for you on the condition that you cure me.”

The boy said, “I do not cure anybody; it is only Allah Who Cures people.  So, if you believe in Allah and supplicate to Him, He will Cure you.”  So, he believed in and supplicated to Allah (s.w.t.), and Allah (s.w.t.) Cured him.

Later, the courtier came to the king and sat at the place where he used to sit before.  The king asked, “Who gave you back your sight.”

The courtier replied, “My Lord.”

The king tortured him and did not stop until he told him about the boy.  So, the boy was brought to the king and he asked him, “O boy!  Has your magic reached to the extent that you cure congenital blindness, leprosy and other diseases?”

He replied, “I do not cure anyone.  Only Allah can Cure.”

The king asked, “Me?”

The boy replied, “No.”

The king asked, “Do you have another Lord besides me.”

The boy answered, “My Lord and your Lord is Allah.”

So, he tortured him also until he told about the monk.  Then the monk was brought to him and the king said to him, “Abandon your religion.”  The monk refused and so the king ordered a saw to be brought which was placed in the middle of his head and he fell, sawn in two.  Then it was said to the man who used to be blind, “Abandon your religion.”  He refused to do so, and so a saw was brought and placed in the middle of his head and he fell, sawn in two.

Then the boy was brought and it was said to him, “Abandon your religion.”

He refused and so the king sent him to the top of such and such mountain with some people.  He told the people, “Ascend up the mountain with him until you reach its peak, then see if he abandons his religion; otherwise throw him from the top.”

They took him and when they ascended to the top, he said, “O Allah!  Save me from them by any means that You Wish.”  So, the mountain shook and they all fell down and the boy came back walking to the king.

The king asked, “What happened to your companions?”

The boy replied, “Allah Saved me from them.”

So, the king ordered some people to take the boy on a boat to the middle of the sea, saying, “If he renounces his religion, free him; but if he refuses, drown him.”

So, they took him out to sea and he said, “O Allah!  Save me from them by any means that You Wish.”  So they were all drowned in the sea, except the boy.

Then the boy returned to the king and the king asked, “What happened to your companions?”

The boy replied, “Allah, Saved me from them.”  Then he said to the king, “You will not be able to execute me until you do as I order you.  And if you do as I order you, you will be able to kill me.”

The king asked, “And what is that?”

The boy said, “Gather the people in one elevated place and tie me to the trunk of a tree; then take an arrow from my quiver and say, ‘In the Name of Allah, the Lord of the boy.’  If you do this, you will be able to kill me.”

So he did this, and placing an arrow in the bow, he shot it, saying, “In the Name of Allah, the Lord of the boy.”  The arrow hit the boy in the temple, and the boy placed his hand over the arrow wound and died.

The people proclaimed, “We believe in the Lord of the boy!”

Then it was said to the king, “Do you see what has happened that which you feared has taken place?  By Allah, all the people have believed.”

So the king ordered that ditches be dug at the entrances to the roads and it was done, and fires were kindled in them.  Then the king said, “Whoever abandons his religion, let him go, and whoever does not, throw him into the fire.”

The people were struggling and scuffling in the fire, until a woman and her baby whom she was breastfeeding came and it was as if she was being somewhat hesitant of falling into the fire, so her baby said to her, “Be patient mother!  For verily, you are following the truth!”

He gave them a choice to either accept Judaism or be killed, but they chose death.

Imam Ahmad (r.a.) and Imam Muslim (r.a.) recorded this hadits.  Imam Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn Yasar (r.a.) related this story in his book of sirah with some differences from that which has just been related.  Then, after Imam ibn Ishaq (r.a.) explained that the people of Najran began following the religion of the boy after his murder, Christianity.

He said, of the king in this story, “Then Dzu an-Nuwas came to them with his army and called them to Judaism.  He gave them a choice to either accept Judaism or be killed, so they chose death.  Thus, he had a ditch dug and burned some of them in the fire in the ditch, while others he killed with the sword.  He made an example of them until he had killed almost twenty thousand of them.  It was about Dzu an-Nuwas and his army that Allah Revealed to His Messenger:

Woe to the makers of the pit (of fire), fire supplied (abundantly) with fuel: Behold!  They sat over against the (fire), and they witnessed (all) that they were doing against the believers.  And they ill-treated them for no other reason than that they believed in Allah, Exalted in Power, worthy of all Praise! ― Him to Whom Belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth!  And Allah is Witness to all things. (Surah al-Buruj:4-9)”

Imam Muhammad ibn Ishaq (r.a.) explained in his book of sirah that the one who killed the People of the Ditch was Dzu an-Nuwas, and his name was Zur’ah.  In the time of his kingdom, he was called Yusuf.  He was the son of Tuban As’ad ibn Abi Karib, who was the Tubba’ who invaded Madina and put the covering over the Ka’bah.  He kept two rabbis with him from the Jews of Madina.  After this, some of the people of Yemen accepted Judaism at the hands of these two rabbis, as Imam ibn Ishaq (r.a.) mentioned at length.  Dzu an-Nuwas killed twenty thousand people in one morning in the ditch.  Only one man among them escaped.  He was known as Daws ibn Dzu Tsa’laban.  He escaped on a horse and they set out after him, but they were unable to catch him.  He went to Caesar, the suzerain of Sham then.

Caesar wrote to the Najashi of Abyssinia.  So, he sent with him an army of Abyssinian Christians, who were lead by Aryat and Abrahah.  They rescued Yemen from the hands of these Jews.  Dzu an-Nuwas tried to flee but eventually fell into the sea and drowned.  After this, the conquered kingdom of Dzu an-Nuwas remained under Christian power for seventy years.  Then the power was divested from the Christians by Sayf ibn Dzi Yazin al-Himyari when the emperor of Persia sent an army to Yemen.  Sayf al-Himyari conquered Yemen from the Abyssinians and returned the kingdom back to the people of Himyar, the Yemenis.


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