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The Unlettered Prophet (34)
Amin Ahsan Islahi
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)


A Clear Victory

(The Treaty of Hudaybiyyah)


The futility of the Battle of Ahzab which had been the result of joint planning between the Jews and Quraysh was a cause of great frustration for the two groups. The Quraysh felt that there were slim chances of defeating the Muslims. It would not be an easy task to recoup the resources which they had already gathered and used by mobilising the entire Arab world and had then been humiliated after attacking Madinah. Even if this were possible, how could anyone have garnered the courage and will for another action exactly the same as the previous one, especially because there was no certainty that they would be successful this time. This was the reason why the Quraysh were quiet for a while after the Battle of Ahzab.

Contrary to the Quraysh, Muslims learned their lessons from this battle and it proved to be a blessing for them. Because of it, they were freed from the only Jewish tribe, the Banu Qurayẓah, which lived in the surroundings of Madinah. The hypocrisy of the hypocrite group that had acted as the fifth column during the battle with an aim to harm the Muslims became evident to all. The circumstances and outcome of this battle profoundly increased loyalty to Islam and belief in help from God among sincere followers of the faith.

The Jews of Khyber had not yet lost hope. They continued to hatch conspiracies although they did not have much success.


Plan of the Prophet (sws) for ‘Umrah 

A year after the Battle of Ahzab, the situation changed extraordinarily, to the surprise of Muslims, Jews and Quraysh alike. The Prophet (sws) dreamt that he had entered the Ka‘bah along with his Companions who had shaved their heads. This act of shaving the head related to the Ka‘bah pilgrimage is part of undertaking the ‘umrah. The Prophet (sws), therefore, interpreted this to mean that he would offer the ‘umrah and carry out its requirements with his Companions. Although the Quraysh had closed the doors of the Ka‘bah to Muslims and the nature of their political relationships with Muslims was also not such that the latter could think of making a journey to Makkah, yet the Prophet (sws), considering his dream to be a sign from God, announced to all Muslims in and around Madinah that he planned to offer ‘umrah in the month of Dhu al-Qa‘dah and that they should be ready to accompany him.

This decision of the Prophet (sws) was neither emotional nor made in a hurry, in the light of the dream. It was aimed towards obeying an instruction from God. A prophet’s dreams are a form of revelation, although details are somewhat vague and their purpose becomes clear later. However, the prophet is assigned to understand this hidden meaning and to implement it accordingly. For example, Abraham (sws) dreamt that he was slaughtering his son and he decided to act upon this, thinking of it as a sign and instruction from God. But just as he was about to do so, he was stopped. It was revealed to him that the dream was a test for him and not an instruction for the slaughter of his son. The real interpretation of the dream was to devote his son to the service of the House of God. Abraham (sws) therefore, dedicated Ishmael (sws) to the custodianship of the Ka‘bah. In exactly the same manner, the Prophet (sws)’s preparations to proceed to Makkah were in obedience to God’s instructions and there was no political reason for the same.

When Orientalists pick up their pens to write a biography of the Prophet (sws), they will go to any length. The famous Orientalist Montgomery Watt states on the subject of Hudaybiyyah in his book “Muhammad at Medina” that the purpose of this journey for ‘umrah was to show to the Arabs that Islam was not a foreign religion which was not rooted within Arabia. It had its roots in Arabia and Muslims were as interested in the worships of Hajj and ‘umrah as were other Arabs. Hence, if Islam were to gain prominence, the centrality of Makkah would not be affected. This speculation from Watt could have been accepted had the worships of hajj and ‘umrah or the centrality of Makkah as a policy of Islam were derived through this journey of the Prophet (sws). The reality is that many years before, the Quran had already accused the Quraysh of turning the centre of tawhiid, built by their father, Abraham (sws), into a fort of polytheism and had mutilated the worship of God into mere rituals. The status of the Quraysh was therefore, that of a traitor that had usurped the resources of the House of God. After this, during the first year of migration, the Ka‘bah had been declared the qiblah for Muslims and thus made the centre of the Muslim nation. Appropriate changes were also made in the worship acts. Instructions were given to free it from the usurpers by using armed attacks. All of these matters were discussed in Surah Baqarah which was revealed immediately after migration. The battles of Badr, Uhud and Ditch took place after this. Whether this was clear or not to Watt, the Arabs were very clear that the centre of Muslims was the Ka‘bah and they wanted to revive the nation of Abraham (sws).   

Some biographers, such as Hussain Hekal of Egypt have suggested that the purpose of the Prophet (sws)’s journey was to offer hajj. This speculation too is wrong due to many reasons. Firstly, it is known that the Prophet proceeded to Makkah as soon as the month of Dhu al-Qa‘d began. If he had wished to perform Hajj, the journey would have been undertaken towards the end of Dhu al-Qa‘dah so that return was possible after two to three weeks. For the final journey, the Prophet (sws) had used just such a schedule. If he had wished to offer hajj and left at the beginning of Dhu al-Qa‘dah, it would have meant an absence of 50-55 days from his centre. This would not have been judicious during those tumultuous times. Secondly, the Prophet himself declared his purpose being that of performing ‘umrah during negotiations on the treaty of Hudaybiyyah. Thirdly, in the event of not being able to perform ‘umrah, he paid its qada in the form of the ‘umrah the next year. Had the hajj remained unoffered, the qada would have been that of hajj. It is therefore correct to say that the Prophet (sws) set out to offer ‘umrah and not hajj.

The Prophet (sws)’s announcement and intent to proceed for ‘umrah in the light of his dream overjoyed the Muslims who began to make preparations on the one hand and created doubts and fears in the hearts of hypocrites and weak Muslims on the other. They began to think of excuses to avoid the discomforts of the journey. Hypocrites living around Madinah declared the journey to be suicide. According to tradition a pilgrim in the state of ahram could keep one sword in its sheath for self defence. The enmity of the Quraysh was evident to the hypocrites. They knew well that the Quraysh were lusting for the Prophet (sws)’s blood and that they would consider unarmed Muslims arriving in Makkah as easy prey. They could not believe, therefore, that Muslims would be able to protect themselves from the warring Quraysh. They were of the firm opinion that those going to Makkah would not return alive. Referring to these fearful doubts of the hypocrites, the Qur’an said:  

Nay, ye thought that the Messenger and the Believers would never return to their families; this seemed pleasing in your hearts, and ye conceived an evil thought, for ye are a people lost [in wickedness]. (48:12) 

Some Muslims thought of this pilgrimage in terms of monetary benefits. They believed that those participating in wars hoped for booty in case of victory whereas this journey was not only dangerous but also devoid of any possibility of financial advantages. It was, therefore, of no use to participate in such a mission. Thus, hypocrites and those Muslims avoided the journey and stayed at home.  

Departure for Makkah

As soon as the month of Dhu al-Qa‘dah in 6th Hijri began, the Prophet (sws) gave orders to proceed on the journey, in which 1400-1500 faithful Muslims accompanied him. They had 70 camels for sacrifice. Collars were hung around the necks of these camels to demarcate their sacrificial nature. At the predetermined place of Dhu al-Halifah, the entire group put on their ahram for ‘umrah and proceeded to Makkah. Bisr bin Sufyan Ka‘bi (rta) was sent forward to do a reconnaissance so that he could inform of any unexpected move on the part of the enemy. According to established norm, every pilgrim had one sword in his sheath and no other war equipment. 

Two stops before Makkah, Sufyan Ka‘bi (rta) informed the Prophet (sws) that the Quraysh were under a misunderstanding. They believed that the Muslims wanted to overpower them under the guise of offering ‘umrah. Since both the Quraysh and Muslims were in a state of war with each other, the former had vowed that they would not allow the latter to enter Makkah. They were ready to fight and had also called upon their allied tribes: their armies called Ahabish.1 As an initial tactic, 200 soldiers under the command of Khalid ibn Walid had been posted at Dhu Tuwa. According to narratives, after hearing this, the Prophet (sws) said with great sorrow: “regrets upon Quraysh. They have been destroyed by their desire to wage war. Even then, they have not learned any lesson. It could have been that they may not have come between the Arabs and myself. They would not have suffered at all. Had the Arabs killed me, their desire would have been fulfilled. If Almighty Allah had given me power over the Arabs, the Quraysh would have accepted Islam in vast numbers. And if they had not, then they would have chosen the way of war, of which power they possess. They harbour great misgivings about me. By God, I shall continue to struggle with them, armed with the message that Allah has given to me until it dominates them or I die.”

These words of the Prophet (sws) carry great significance. They contain the expression of love of kinship and generosity that he held for his people, as well as severe pain at the foolishness and non compromising nature of the Quraysh. In spite of this, he has clearly expressed his firm desire to meet the obligations of his status because there was no possibility to make any compromise on this. 


Entry in the Bounds of Haram

The Prophet (sws) consulted his Companions in the light of the information received from his informant. The consensus was to take a route other than the main road. The Prophet (sws) turned to the right of the main route with guidance from a Companion who knew the way and, after passing through difficult pathways and rocky places, reached the plains of Hudaybiyyah during the night. This is only nine miles from Makkah and marks the beginning of the Haram. (Today, this place is called Shamisiyyah. Documents of pilgrims are checked here). This was a foresighted action. Obviously, if the caravan had not left the main route, they would have been barred from progress just two stops from Makkah. It could have been possible that a fight ensued and the desire to pay respects to the Haram would have remained just a desire. By changing the direction of the caravan, God postponed the danger of meeting the Quraysh and enabled the group to reach a place which was within the boundaries of the Haram. Here, the members of the group were relieved, in that even if they had not entered the Haram, they were at least inside its boundaries. The danger of any battle was also reduced because fighting within the Haram boundaries was not allowed according to Arab tradition. If the Quraysh violated this, they would have been criticised in all of Arabia. Muslims, therefore, possessed a dual protection here. One was due to the sacred month and the other because of their location around the Haram. They were safe from the Quraysh.

According to narratives, the she camel, al-Qaswa, of the Prophet (sws), stopped at a place in Hudaybiyyah and despite many efforts, did not move. People considered this to be the whim of an animal but the Prophet (sws) said that “being whimsical is not in the nature of al-Qaswa. It seems as if the God who had stopped the feet of elephants in their track has also stopped the feet of this camel. Hence, everyone should stop here. Today, whatever anyone asks of me which is meant to pay tribute to anything declared by God as sacred, I shall not desist in acting upon it.”2 The Prophet (sws) was referring to the incident of the People of the Elephant that had occurred about eight years earlier. At that time, the ruler of Yemen, Abrahah, had attacked Makkah. When his army marched into Mina, the elephants that were a part of the army stopped at the Valley of Muhassar and refused to get up. God had put brakes on their feet to ensure that the sanctity of His House would not be destroyed. The Prophet (sws) deduced from the stopping of al-Qaswa that if the Muslims were to move away from Hudaybiyyah, the Quraysh would be ready to fight and would not stop at destroying the sanctity of the House of God. Therefore, for the sake of protecting the Haram’s sanctity, the Prophet (sws) gave orders for camping at Hudaybiyyah. That his fears were absolutely correct came to be known later as circumstances unfolded.

When the Quraysh troops marching towards ‘Asfan came to know that the Muslim caravan had turned away to the left, they returned to the city to carry out its defence. When they found that the Muslims had reached Hudaybiyyah, they proceeded to Hudaybiyyah. One of their groups surrounded the camp of the Muslims to keep a watch over them. Observing the stopping of al-Qaswa as a sign from the unseen and assessing a real possibility of an attack from the Quraysh, the Prophet (sws), in answer to the hostile and hard approach of the Quraysh, decided to soften his own stance. The reason was not any weakness, but the desire to obey and respect God’s instructions which has been termed as reverence and piety by God Himself.


Such [is his state]: and whoever holds in honour the symbols of Allah, [in the sacrifice of animals], such [honour] should come truly from piety of heart. (22:32)


This verse, related to the obligations of hajj and ‘umrah had been revealed earlier.



(Translated by Nikhat Sattar) 




1. Ibn Kathir, Al-Sirah al-nabawiyyah, vol. 4, 225.

2. Ibn Sa‘d, Al-Sirah al-nabawiyyah, vol. 1, 413.


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