MEDINA (Ar. Madīna; ancient name, Yathrib), city in fertile valley of the *Hejaz in northern *Arabia. Along with *Tayma and *Khaybar, Medina was a leading Jewish community in ancient Arabia. Prior to the expulsion of most of Medina Jewry by *Muhammad (620s) the oasis was largely inhabited by Jews. According to legend, the Jewish community dates from Moses' war against the Amalekites, the Babylonian Exile (c. 586 B.C.E.), Antiochus IV'S persecutions, and the defeat by Rome (70 C.E.). In any case, by the early centuries of the Christian era the population of Medina consisted mostly of Jewish tribes (according to some Arabs, up to 20 tribes), either of Judean-Palestinian, mixed Judeo-Arabic, or Arab proselyte origin. Remains of their life survive, including castles, courtyards, and wells, the first of which were dug by the *Naḍīr tribe who inhabited the best lands and cultivated date palms west of the city. The two other major tribes were the *Qurayẓa, who occupied an area in the southeastern part of the town, and the *Qaynuqāʿ, who were among the earliest settlers and resided in the central market. Other tribes included the Thalaba (northeast of the city) and the Anī, a tribe of Arab proselytes who lived in the Qubā area (south of Medina). There was a continuous Arab migration to the area and many Arab tribes assimilated into the Jewish milieu, accepting Judaism and acquiring skills such as writing, which up to that time was known only by Jews. The two major Arab tribes, the Aws and the Khazraj, settled in the area, coming from South Arabia in the middle of the fifth century. They came because the breaking of the Maʾrib dam had ruined their lands. Some of the Arabs lived among the Jews, others in areas far from Jewish settlement. They were subjects of the Jewish tribes. The Khazraj gained some independence from the Jews in later times after a bloody battle, which according to legends broke out as a result of the Jewish king Faytun's demand to exercise the jus primae noctis on Arab subjects. Henceforth domination of Medina gradually passed to Arabs; the Jewish tribes aligned themselves with the Aws or the Khazraj, who threatened to confiscate the Naḍīr lands. Fighting between these two major tribes and their Jewish clients (Naḍīr and Qurayẓa with Aws; the Qaynuqāʿ with the Khazraj) characterized the sixth century and is recalled in Arabic poetry, including that of the Jew *Samuel b. Adiya. The bloody battles ended with the victory of the Aws and peaceful settlement with the Khazraj. Shortly before Muhammad's arrival in Medina the Jewish population had reached between 8,000 and 10,000, forming a majority of the city's inhabitants. The presence of so large and vital a Jewish community (though Arabic in language, customs, and behavior) provided an atmosphere conducive to the acceptance of monotheism among Arabs. Hence, Muhammad's message found a receptive audience among many Arabs and a few Jews. Most Jews, however, scorned Muhammad, deriding his prophetic pretensions and adaptations of biblical material. Concerned about the effect of such vehement opposition, Muhammad began to expel the Jewish tribes with whom he had formerly signed an agreement. The Qaynuqā and the Nadīr were expelled from Medina in 624 and 626, respectively. The Qurayẓa men were annihilated in 627 and the women and children were sold into slavery. The Jewish tribes apparently did not assist one another or unite against the common enemy, each meeting its fate as an individual tribe. The small Jewish population which remained in Medina was powerless and could not cause Muhammad much trouble. The community eventually dwindled and died out.


Baron, Social2, 3 (1957), 60–80; H.Z. Hirschberg, Yisrael ba-Arav (1946), index; H. Hirschfeld, in: REJ, 7 (1883), 167–93; 10 (1885), 10–31; S.D. Goitein, in: Tarbiz, 3 (1932), 410–22; A. Katsh, Judaism and the Koran (1954), index; W.M. Watt, Muhammad at Medina (1956), 192–220; M. ibn Isḥāq, Life of Muhammad, tr. by A. Guillaume (1955), index; J.M. Landau, The Hejaz Railway and the Muslim Pilgrimage (1971); N. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book (1979); G. Newby, A History of the Jews of Arabia: From Ancient Times to Their Eclipse under Islam (1988); M. Cohen and A. Udovitch, Jews among Arabs: Contacts and Boundaries (1989); M. Lecker, Muslims, Jews and Pagans: Studies on Early Islamic Medina (1995); idem, "Zayd b. Thābit, 'A Jew with Two Sidelocks': Judaism and Literacy in Pre-Islamic Medina (Yathrib)," in: JNES, 56 (1997).

[Ze'ev A. Maghen (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.