Qaynuqāʿ, Banū

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QAYNUQĀʿ, BANŪ , a large, strong Jewish tribe in *Medina (pre-Islamic Yathrib) that became famous in Islamic historiography through its conflict with *Muhammad in the battle of Buʿāth several years before Muhammad's arrival at Medina. The Qaynuqāʿ fought against the other two large Jewish tribes of Medina, *Naḍīr and *Qurayẓa. Before *Islam the market of the Qaynuqāʿ was the central market of Medina. But when Muhammad attempted to gain a foothold there, it was the Naḍīr leader *Kaʿb ibn al-Ashraf who prevented him from doing so. The Qaynuqāʿ were goldsmiths; their bayt almidrās was located in their town, al-Quff. They owned at least two fortresses as well as an unknown number of date orchards (amwāl, sing. māl) that were seized by Muhammad. Unlike the Naḍīr and Qurayẓaʿ, the Qaynuqāʿ did not own large agricultural lands.

The Qaynuqāʿ lived in the Sāfil a of Medina or Lower Medina, close to Muhammad's first territorial basis. Consequently, when the conflict between Muhammad and the Jews began, they found themselves in a precarious situation, the more so since they were allied with the strong Arab tribe of Khazraj that was far more loyal to Muhammad than the other large Arab tribe, the Aws. The sources provide a variety of reasons for Muhammad's attack on the Qaynuqāʿ where one good reason would have sufficed. But one has to bear in mind that Muhammad's biography is not only a history book and that for its compilers justification of Muhammad's actions was at least as important as historical fact. The fall of the Qaynuqāʿ is connected to internal Arab tribal politics. Qaynuqāʿ's allies from among the Khazraj were the ʿAwf ibn al-Khazraj, who were divided into two subsections led respectively by 'Abdallāh ibn Ubayy and ʿUbāda ibn al-Ṣāmit. ʿAbdallāh, arguably the strongest Arab leader in Medina before Muhammad's arrival, was steadfast in his support of his Jewish allies, reportedly reasoning that he feared that the Jews might gain the upper hand over Muhammad. ʿUbāda, who was younger, repudiated his alliance with them. This left them exposed to Muhammad's attack, because internecine fighting within the ʿAwf over the alliance with the Qaynuqāʿ would have been inconceivable. However, Ibn Ubayy managed to prevent the execution of the Qaynuqāʿ men, literally compelling Muhammad to let them go into exile. The many weapons found in their fortress included some fine items that are often listed among Muhammad's own weapons. One of them was a coat of mail called al-Sughdiyya or "the Soghdian" that had belonged to ʿUkayr al-Qaynuqāʿī; allegedly it had been carried by David when he killed Goliath. With regard to the expulsion of the Qaynuqāʿ, Muhammad's biography is probably not nuanced enough, since there are indications that a significant number of them lived in Medina after the supposed expulsion of the whole tribe. One assumes that part of the Qaynuqāʿ, perhaps even a whole subsection, was not expelled. Jews from the Qaynuqāʿ participated in Muhammad's expedition against Khaybar in 7/628, receiving a modest share of the spoils. In due course they converted to Islam, although some of them were branded hypocrites who had embraced Islam outwardly only.


The chapter on the siege of the Qaynuqāʿ in Muhammad's Arabic biographies; A.J. Wensinck, "Ḳainuḳā," in: eis, 4, 645b–646a; idem and R. Paret, "Ḳainuḳā," in: eis2, 4, 824a–b; M. Lecker, The "Constitution of Medina": Muhammad's First Legal Document (2004), index; idem, Jews and Arabs in Pre- and Early Islamic Arabia (1998), index.

[Michael Lecker (2nd ed.)]