Banu Judham

The Judham (Arabic: بنو جذام, Judhām) was an Arab tribe that inhabited the southern Levant and northwestern Arabia during the Byzantine and early Islamic eras (5th–8th centuries). Under the Byzantines, the tribe was nominally Christian and fought against the Muslim army between 629 and 636, until the Byzantines and their Arab allies were defeated at the Battle of Yarmouk. Afterward, the Judham converted to Islam and became the largest tribal faction of Jund Filastin (district of Palestine).

Banu Judham
بنو جذام
Banner of Banu Judham
LocationSouthern Levant and Northwestern Arabia
Descended fromKahlan ibn Saba
ReligionPaganism, Later Islam

The genealogical origins of the Judham are unclear. They may have been descendants of the northern Arabs, though the tribe itself claimed Yemenite (southern Arab) origins. However, this may have done to draw closer to their Yemenite allies in Syria.


Before the advent of Islam in the early 7th century, the Judham nomads roamed the desert frontier areas of Byzantine Palestine and Syria, controlling places such as the Madyan, Amman, Ma'an, Adhruh, Tabuk as far south as Wadi al-Qura.[1] On the eve of the Muslim conquests, they dominated the territory extending from the environs of Tabuk northward to the areas east of the Wadi Araba valley and the Dead Sea, including the Balqa region around modern Amman.[2]



The Judham traced their descent to the Yemenite progenitor Kahlan ibn Saba and claimed close kinship ties with the tribes of Lakhm and Amila.[1] The 9th-century Arab genealogist and historian Ibn Abd Rabbihi recorded that the Judham, Lakhm (progenitor's name was Mālik) and Amila (progenitor's name was al-Ḥārith) were all sons of ʿAdī ibn al-Ḥārith ibn Murra ibn Udad ibn Zayd ibn Yashjub ibn ʿArīb ibn Zayd ibn Kahlān ibn Sabaʾ.[3] As such, the Judham and Lakhm were, on record, brother tribes.[4] The Lakhm were mainly concentrated in the northern Euphrates valley, but they maintained smaller numbers in Palestine where they intermixed with the Judham.[4] The tribes' genealogical claims may have been made out of political convenience to draw closer to each other and their Yemenite allies in Syria.[1] Their rivals claimed that the Judham, Lakhm and Quda'a were all northern Arabs descended from Nizar ibn Ma'add that forged Yemenite genealogies for political considerations.[1]

Byzantine period

The Judham served as foederati (tribal confederate troops) of the Byzantines and through their contact with the latter became Christians, albeit superficially.[1][5][6] However, their Christianity was disputed by the 9th-century historian Hisham ibn al-Kalbi who asserted that during the Byzantine era, the Judham worshiped the pagan idol al-Uqaysir.[1] Some sections were also inclined towards Judaism, however, few actually converted to the faith.[7] The Jewish tribe of Banu Nadir in Yathrib (Medina) descended from the Judham.[1]

Early Islamic era

During the lifetime of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, the Judham rejected Islam and remained loyal to the Byzantine Empire.[8] They blocked Muhammad's northward expansion into Syria by fighting alongside the Byzantines at the Battle of Mu'ta in 629.[1] One of their clans, the Dhubayb, afterward converted to Islam, but the tribe as a whole still opposed the Muslims, who launched punitive expeditions against them under the command of Zayd ibn Haritha and Amr ibn al-As.[1] The Islamic prophet's expedition to Tabuk in 630 was partly a response to reports that the Judham and Lakhm were mobilizing with the Byzantine army in the Balqa.[2] A certain leader of the Judham in the area of Amman or Ma'an, Farwa ibn Amr, embraced Islam and was consequently crucified by the Byzantine authorities, though the historian Fred Donner holds the story of Farwa "may be merely a pious legend".[2] After the death of Muhammad in 632, the Dhubayb defected from the nascent, Medina-based Muslim state and was the target of an assault by the Muslim general Usama ibn Zayd at the beginning of Caliph Abu Bakr's reign (632–634).[9]

The Judham formed part of the Arab contingents of Byzantine emperor Heraclius's army at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636, but were defeated.[1] A number of Judham clans also fought in the Muslims' ranks at Yarmouk, suggesting political divisions within the tribe played a role determining a clan's allegiance with the Byzantines or the Muslims.[10] Though the Judham and Lakhm converted to Islam as the Muslim conquest of the Levant proceeded,[1] their earlier service with Byzantines was likely the reason Caliph Umar (r. 634–644) excluded the two tribes from the distribution of war spoils during a summit of the Muslim armies at Jabiya in 637 or 638.[11]

In the Muslim military administration of Syria, the Judham became the largest faction in Jund Filastin (military district of Palestine).[1] In the First Muslim Civil War, the Judham fought in the army of Syria's governor Mu'awiya I against the Iraq-based forces of Caliph Ali (r. 656–661).[12] At the Battle of Siffin in 657, they formed the following contingents: the Judham of Palestine led by Rawh ibn Zinba, the Judham and Lakhm under Natil ibn Qays and Judham infantry led by Maslama ibn Mukhallad al-Ansari.[12] Natil belonged to the Judham's preeminent clan, the Sa'd ibn Malik, and was referred to in the sources as sayyid Judhām bi-l-Shām (leader of the Judham of Syria).[13] Rawh was younger than Natil and hailed from the Sa'd ibn Malik's brother clan, the Wa'il ibn Malik.[13] The Sa'd traditionally provided the chiefs of at least a large part of the Judham and there are no indications in the sources of a rivalry between the Sa'd and Wa'il clans during the pre-Islamic period.[14] Rivalries for leadership of the tribe between Natil and Rawh developed during the caliphate of Mu'awiya I (661–680).[15]

During the reigns of Mu'awiya I and Yazid I (r. 680–683), the Quda'a tribal confederation, of which the Banu Kalb were the leading component, obtained high ranks and privileges in the caliphs' courts. The other tribes in Syria sought to join or oust the Quda'a from its position of power.[16] From the pre-Islamic period until the end of the Sufyanid period in 684, the Quda'a claimed genealogical descent from the Ma'add, a northern Arabian tribe mentioned in the 4th-century Namara inscription.[17] During the Sufyanid period, the Judham (along with the Lakhm and Amila tribes) were held by most sources to be of Yemeni (south Arabian) descent, though there were also sources which claimed they were descendants of the Qanas branch of the Ma'add tribe or the Banu Asad, another branch of the Ma'add.[18] As Rawh sought to forge stronger ties to the Banu Kalb, he petitioned Yazid to recognize the Judham as descendants of Ma'add and thus kinsmen of the Quda'a; Natil opposed Rawh's initiative and insisted on affiliation with Qahtan, the progenitor of the Yemenite tribes.[18]

Following the death of Yazid's son and successor Mu'awiya II in 684, the Judham under Natil allied with Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, a rival, Mecca-based claimant to the caliphate, while Rawh supported the Umayyad Marwan I.[1][19] Following Marwan's victory over the supporters of Ibn al-Zubayr at the Battle of Marj Rahit in 684, the Quda'a and the Kalb changed genealogical affiliation to the Qahtan and formed the Yaman (Yemenite) confederation in opposition to the pro-Zubayrid Qays tribes of northern Syria.[20] The Judham remained allies of the Kalb and together the two tribes formed the linchpin of the Yaman confederation in Syria during the struggle with the Qays.[1] Natil fled Palestine or was killed and by the reign of Caliph Abd al-Malik (r. 685–705), Rawh became the undisputed leader of the Judham.[21] The tribe remained closely allied with the Umayyads until their demise in 750.[1]

Middle Islamic era

A branch of the Judham called the Banu Bayadh or al-Bayyadhiyin were recorded as inhabiting the northern Sinai Peninsula by the 10th-century geographer al-Hamdani and later inhabiting the Syrian Desert oasis of Qatya in the 13th-century.[22] At least part of the Judham eventually fused with the Amila in the Galilee area, and in the early 11th century, they moved into southern, present-day Lebanon.[23] In the Mamluk era in the 13th–15th centuries, the historians Ibn Fadlallah al-Umari and al-Qalqashandi mention that the Banu Sakhr tribe inhabiting the province of al-Karak in modern Jordan belonged to the Judham, though in the Banu Sakhr's modern-day oral traditions, they claim descent from an 18th-century tribe of the Hejaz which entered modern Jordan in the 19th century.[24]


  1. Bosworth 1965, p. 573.
  2. Donner 1981, p. 105.
  3. Ibn Abd Rabbih, ed. Boullata, pp. 296–297.
  4. Gil 1997, p. 19.
  5. Ian Gilman; Hans-Joachim Klimkeit (11 Jan 2013). Christians in Asia before 1500. Routledge. p. 83. ISBN 9781136109782.
  6. Smith, Gerald Rex; Smart, James R.; Pridham, Brian R., eds. (1 Jan 1996). New Arabian Studies, Volume 3 (illustrated ed.). University of Exeter Press. p. 95. ISBN 9780859894791.
  7. Gil 1997, p. 18.
  8. Gil 1997, p. 24.
  9. Donner 1981, p. 106.
  10. Donner 1981, pp. 147–148.
  11. Donner 1981, p. 320, note 267.
  12. Hasson 1993, p. 97.
  13. Hasson 1993, p. 98.
  14. Hasson 1993, p. 99.
  15. Hasson 1993, p. 109.
  16. Crone 1994, p. 44.
  17. Crone 1994, p. 46.
  18. Crone 1994, p. 44, note 235.
  19. Gil 1997, p. 76–77.
  20. Crone 1994, p. 47.
  21. Hasson 1993, p. 117.
  22. Bailey 1985, pp. 20–21.
  23. Prawer 1985, p. 91.
  24. Al-Bakhit 1995, p. 882.


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