The Siege of Taif

The Banu Thaqif lived at the city of Taif just to the South of Mecca.

They worshipped the Goddess Allat and had a great bejeweled statue of her. The Goddess of Allat had been worshipped in Arabia for at least 1,000 years, we know this because Herodotus mentions her as an Arabian Goddess back in the 5th century BC. (Herodotus - Histories I:131) Whilst Muhammad was becoming more and more powerful, it was not easy for him to persuade the Arabs to give up belief systems that had become so steeped in tradition.

The Banu Thaqif were prepared to defend their city and Muhammad ordered the Muslims to besiege it. The siege was a long drawn out affair with casualties on both sides, the Muslims did manage to breach the walls of Taif by using a catapult, however each time the Muslims tried to get through the breach, the Pagan defenders pushed them back. (Husayn, pg. 279) The siege had lasted one month and the sacred months in which no fighting is allowed was about to begin. Muhammad gave up on the siege, he destroyed the vineyards and orchards around Taif (Haykal) and retreated, but he vowed to resume his war with Taif after the sacred months were over. (Haykal & Koran 9.5)

In the meantime, the Banu Thaqif sent peace delegations to Muhammad. Muhammad would not accept peace until they agreed to accept Islam and destroy the temple of the Goddess Allat. The Banu Thaqif were willing to accept Islam but asked that they be allowed to keep their temple of Allat for three years, Muhammad rejected this condition. Then they reduced the period to two years, one year and finally to one month. (Husayn, pg. 280 & Haykal) But this was one area that Muhammad would not accept any negotiation. For Muhammad, surrender to him meant surrendering to Allah and that meant that no Pagan religion could be tolerated whatsoever. Muhammad is reported to have replied:
“You accept Islam, or else I shall send one to you who is from me. He will cut your necks and enslave your women and children and confiscate your wealth and property.” (Al-Isti`ab, Vol 2, Pg. 477, cited in Husayn, pg. 281)
The Banu Thaqif finally consented on the condition that they themselves would not have to be the ones to destroy their temple. This Muhammad could agree to, he appointed Abu Sufyan (his former enemy who had adopted Islam to avoid a battle during the conquest of Mecca) to go to Taif and destroy the idol. Abu Sufyan and his men destroyed the temple whilst the women of the Banu Thaqif watched moaning and crying, but noone dared to stop the Muslims. (Haykal)