This questions is not a duplicate of this one or this one.

For those who don't know the story of Banu Qurayza, I can point to the wikipedia article which, while not being my primary source, is sufficiently well documented to serve as a first source about this subject to someone who wants to get acquainted with it.

To summarize for those who don't know, in the siege of the Trench, the Muslims came closer to complete defeat and anihilation than ever before because, in part, of the treacherie of one of the Jewish tribes of Medine called Banu Qurayza. The Muslims ultimately won when the Meccians retreated (due to a storm) and Banu Qurayza were punished by killing all the adult males, dividing their posessions and enslaving their women and children. This is usually explained by the immense danger that the Muslims faced and the need for an exemplary retribution.

Some accounts say that the "men" were distinguished from the "boys" by checking pubic hairs. Some accounts say 600 men were slain, some talk about as high a number as 900. I am willing to concede that it was only 2 men and that they were all 30 years old. I have a habit of avoiding debates on shaky basis: If there is more than one source or account, I simply do not debate it.

As such, I am not concerned with the number of men that were killed, or their age. As the title suggests, this is a question about the enslavement of the rest.

I am also willing to say that all the women were grown women and, without exception, may have deserved to be enslaved (I am, of course, not of such a mind, but I am trying to limit the scope of the question so as to avoid useless or off-topic answers).

But the children? In light of this question, it seems clear that, in the afterlife, children will not be punished for the sins of their parents, but what of this life?

Let us be clear, while there are multiple contradictory sources on the number of deaths, or the identity of the executioners, there is not a single source that does not agree with the general and unavoidable consensus that the children were enslaved. I have been studying religion for well over 15 years now, and was troubled by this story (and others similar to this one) for a long time.

There are some historians that say that it was common practice in the Arab peninsula, and some others who say that it was not. Some other historians say that it was Jewish law, but taking the loser's women and children was also carried out for non-Jewish by Muslim armies on other occasions. But regardless of whether it was custom, or Jewish law, the fact that it was carried out and accepted by the prophet is a validation of that practice, making it Islamic.

My questions are these:

  • How can the punishing of the children for the sins of their parents be considered just.

  • Is there any account about these children ? Meaning, when reaching an adult age, were they offered freedom ?

  • Is there any later hadiths forbidding enslaving children in the context of war ?

A side note: Please avoid comparing "Islamic slavery" to "real slavery" (it was better, the slaves had rights, they were treated well, there are a lot of ways they can be freed, it was a lot worse in the Americas, etc., I have had these debates before, this is not the place for it, and it was vastly addressed in this question and in this one). Whether or not the enslaved children were fed honey and grapes and slept on feathers is of no relevance to the question.

  • Well AFAIK they were judged based on their own book and shari'a! And also based on the punishment for those who broke their pledges legacy.quran.com/8/56-57! And scholars only spoke about Rayhana who's considered as mother of believers.
    – Medi1Saif
    Mar 29, 2016 at 9:51
  • 1
    Banu Qurayza is judged according to the Torah. Btw, there are scholars who doubt the historicity of this event. You might want to see this: haqq.com.au/~salam/misc/qurayza.html
    – SpiderRico
    Mar 29, 2016 at 13:43

1 Answer 1


Is there any account about these children ? Meaning, when reaching an adult age, were they offered freedom ?

We have at least two witnesses of the people of banu Quraydha or Qurayza whom some of us may know. One is the later wife of the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) -some scholars say she was only his concubine- Rayhana ريحانة بنت زيد (May Allah be pleased with her) and the Sahabi who later narrated the sahih Hadith which you may find in Jami' at-Tirmdihi, Sunan ibn Majah, Sunan abi Dawod and Sunan an-Nasa-i 'Attiyyah al-Qurazi عَطِيَّة الْقُرَظِيّ (May Allah be pleased with him) whom both ended as captives after the Battle of Ahzaab.
This my indicate that any of them who became Muslim was freed later.

Is there any later hadiths forbidding enslaving children in the context of war ?

Well ahadith on the matter of war are apparently only speaking about killing children and woman (See also in Sahih Muslim and also in Sunan ibn Majah and in Sunan abi Dawod and also in Muwatta' Malik). And the sunni scholars have consensus on the 4 possible treating for prisoner of war: killing, enslaving, ransom or release them. The choice of that is in the hands of the authorities and should be applied according to a certain scale based on the hostility (to Islam and Muslims) and (their) belief. For details read for example here (in Arabic) and maybe this Post might be helpful!

Note that some scholars consider a child that was captured alone (without any of the parents) as Muslim, so in that case that would mean it's not allowed to enslave them! I'm still looking for the statement of abu Huraira which is the basis of this opinion!

How can the punishing of the children for the sins of their parents be considered just.

Yes, from our point of view now 1400 years later this is/sounds not just.
One must be aware of the situation: The Muslims and Jews had a pact according the constitution of Medina which was violated by Banu Qanuqa' before and later by Banu Nadir both were expelled from Medina. During to the Battle of al-Ahzaab (trench or confederates) Banu Qurayza didn't supported and fight beside the Muslims according the pact, but they fought beside the attacking non-Muslims both are very hard violations of this pact. Now one must consider two points:

  • what would be the fate of the Muslim community if the attacking party of Banu Qurayza and the Ahzaab won this siege?
    The Ahzaab planed to extinguish the Muslim community!
  • what would the Muslims expect from Banu Qurayza if they only expelled them after winning the Battle after such a hard violation of the pact?
    The experience from the expelling of Banu Qaynuqa' and Banu Nadir taught Muslims that won't make an end to their hostility against Islam and the Muslim community.

Yes the punishment is still not just if we see it from our "Modern" perspective. But here either the Muslims should show force and frighten their enemies or they would have been extinguished!

The Punishment came from a former intercessor (as quoted in the wikipedia article you linked) of Banu Qurayza based on their own book and law (Deuteronomy 20: 12-14). Sa'ad ibn Mu'aad (May Allah be pleased with him) considered this verdict as just.

One must also take into account the the "number" of executed and enslaved people might be exaggerated as this was the case at the time!

And i think the cause for this enslavement and severe punishment was the grandeur of the committed violation of the pact, so this should be considered as a kind of exception!

Some side notes

  • Be aware that a woman or child can only become a prisoner of war if they were at the scene of fighting or near it as they are considered as a kind of war booty! For children this would be rarely the case in a battle on the battlefield.
  • And as stated enslavement is not the only option the authority of a winning Muslim army should apply, maybe it's even the last option according the scale scholars made!

Some more references (all in Arabic):

  • On the case of Banu Qurayza: here, here and here (the last one seems not to work at the moment).
  • On prisoner of war: here and to some extent here.

Answer for your Title Question

In Islam everybody should be judged for his own sins because of Verses like:

And every soul earns not [blame] except against itself, and no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another. Then to your Lord is your return, and He will inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. (6:164)


Every soul, for what it has earned, will be retained (74:38)

For a comparison to other beliefs see for example here, here and here

And Allah knows best!

  • Thank you for you answers. The final post you gave was indeed helpful, I don't really understand why the question was closed. I voted to reopen it. It may be less clear than my own but it is still clear. And different (more general, one might say) than mine. I am not sure whether one of them should be marked as duplicate. (His is "can a child be a slave" while mine is "can a child become a slave as a spoil of war"). But in any case, your answer is interesting. So they were offered their freedom not because they were innocent of the sins of their fathers but because they became Muslims.
    – ZakC
    Mar 29, 2016 at 21:20
  • @ZakC well I'm still thinking how much history i should add to my answer. But would you expect from women and children of a killed or executed enemy to remain peaceful to you? One shouldn't forget if Banu Qurayza were victorious how would they have treated the Muslims?
    – Medi1Saif
    Mar 30, 2016 at 5:51
  • Well certainly not, but it seems clear to me that if you don't trust someone, you don't let him prepare your food make your bed (where he could put a scorpion) and sleep in the same house as you. You cannot possibly suggest that the only way to deal with a 2 year old whose father you killed (rightly or not) is to make him your slave.
    – ZakC
    Mar 30, 2016 at 7:10
  • So enslavement in this case was to some extent regarded as an act of mercy, as Muslims should treat their slaves well. And I think the enslaved women and children were totally aware that in case they did something bad they might probably been judged again according their own scripture! And the hope that people see how "good" Muslims are and therefore become good Muslims must also be taken into account!
    – Medi1Saif
    Mar 30, 2016 at 7:15

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