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The Unlettered Prophet (41)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)


Cancellation of  the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah


Orders to review Agreements with the Idolaters

Reconciliation and the environment of peace created a negative impact on some Muslims. Before the agreement, Muslims held great hatred for idolatry and its believers because of lack of communication with them. Under the altered circumstances, love for family and friends was renewed and exchanges of messages and letters began. Similarly, some idolaters found this rejuvenation of relationships, revival of love and desire for co-existence to be satisfactory, but they were still not willing to listen to the call towards faith. Obviously, this was not in alignment with the demands of the Prophet (sws)’s status as a messenger. His objective was not merely the establishment of peace within the country. He had been bestowed with prophethood so that he could establish the superiority of guidance from God and the religion of truth over and above all religions in Arabia. This objective required that Arabs should abandon their original religious views and beliefs and accept Islam. Thus, it became necessary to clarify to the idolaters that peace and reconciliation were of no importance for God and His Prophet (sws). Rather, it was required to turn towards the faith of Islam. Hence, those tribes that had signed agreements with Muslims and were considering these as their safety nets were to understand that this safety would be taken away from them and that they would be either forced to accept Islam or be ready for armed battle with Muslims. In the second situation, Muslims would be assigned responsibility to destroy them.

These were the conditions under which the Prophet (sws) was ordered not to sign any new agreement with the idolaters and, instead, to review those that already existed. For this, the following guiding principles were laid out in the first 15 verses of Surah Tawbah.

1. Maintaining relations of love and friendship with idolaters was not concomitant with the religion of monotheism. The idolaters themselves did not possess true feelings of respect and consideration for Muslims. Why did people of faith have a soft corner for them?

2. The agreements with idolaters that did not have a time limit and were for friendship only were to be brought to an end after a notice period of four months. At the end of this period, their situation would be the same as that for other idolaters. They would not enjoy any special status.

3. Idolaters who had made agreements of a specific duration and did not honour those and conspired against Muslims were to have their agreements brought to an end after four months, even if their duration extended beyond the four months. The reason was that no agreement could be held sacred from one side only.

4. Tribes that respected their agreements and did not conspire with the enemy were to have their agreements remain active until the end of the stipulated period. But when this period ended, the agreements were not to be extended. These tribes, too, would come within the ambit of other idolaters. Biographers have written about the Banu Ḍamra, the Banu Mudlaj and the Banu Kananah that they had always honoured their agreements and that these were also active at the time, so they were secure until the end of their stated remaining periods.

5. Only the agreement that was made in the neighbourhood of the Ka‘bah possessed the sanctity of being honoured by Muslims as long as the other party did the same. The only such agreement was the treaty of Hudaybiyyah, signed with the Quraysh. The duration of this treaty was 10 years. The policy given for this was based upon the attitude of the Quraysh. Muslims were to honour it because it was sacred on account of being signed within the Haram, but as soon as the Quraysh were guilty of violating it, Muslims too would be released from their responsibilities under the general policy given for all idolaters. After this, the same law would apply to the Quraysh as to other idolaters.

6.      At the end of all agreements, Muslims would remain in a state of war with the idolaters until the latter came to believe, offer ṣalah and pay zakah. If they began to fulfill these obligations of the faith, they were to be included within the fraternity of Muslims. They would possess all rights which other Muslims possessed. If they acted against Muslims, believers would be within their rights to take any sort of armed action against them.

7. During the action against idolaters, if any of them wished to listen to the Qur’an and know more about the faith, he would be given the opportunity and would be protected during this period.

8. This policy related to idolaters would be announced during the time of Hajj so that far flung tribes of the Arabian Peninsula would also know that their status as idolaters would no longer be acceptable in the land.

9. It is difficult to state, with any degree of certainty, the time of revelation of these verses related to acquittal and cutting off of relationships with idolaters of Arabia. It suffices for our guidance that these verses contained the policy related to the Quraysh, that the agreement should was to be honoured until they did so, but if they violated it, Muslims were to enter into war with them. The Prophet (sws) and the Companions of the Baut-i Ridwan had gone to Makkah and offered ‘umrah in Dhu al-Qa‘dah, 7 AH; hence the Hudaybiyyah treaty had been valid until then. After the treaty had been violated, Makkah was attacked during Ramadan, 8 AH. Therefore, in our view, the above verses of Surah Tawbah must have been revealed sometime between these two significant events, probably mid 8 century AH. By that time, the idolaters of Arabia had had time to remove their concerns about Islam, since they had lived in an era of peace for one and a half years. There is evidence that they had had used this time to their benefit. It was also the right time to bring to an end the protection afforded by the agreements to the remaining incalcitrant idolaters.

Some historians have suggested that the possible time for revelation of these verses might have been the Hajj period and have given the argument that Abu Bakr (rta) had been assigned the role of the Emir for this hajj. As he left for hajj, the Prophet (sws) sent ‘Ali (rta) after him to Makkah and instructed him to recite these verses to the gathering at hajj. If these verses had been revealed before, Abu Bakr (rta) could have recited them himself. Sending ‘Ali (rta) for a public announcement meant that they were revealed after Abu Bakr (rta) had left. If this view is accepted, it must also be believed then that the instruction to fight with the Quraysh came 15 months after the victory of Makkah. It is extremely ridiculous that an order would be given when it had already been implemented 15 months earlier. If it is said that verses related to the Quraysh might have been revealed earlier, but those related to the overall policy came later during 9 AH, this is not likely. These verses give special mention to the Quraysh, as compared with other idolatrous tribes and exempted them from the instructions that were specific to other tribes. There is a sense of continuity as one reads through the verses. There is no feeling of a break that may indicate that different parts may have been revealed at different times.

Additionally, in light of these verses, the Prophet (sws) gave a grace period of four months to some people for reflection, as will be discussed later. This also shows that these verses must have been revealed before the victory of Makkah.

The reality is that, after deliberating upon the instructions given at many places in the Qur’an, the Prophet (sws) was given a full plan for a particular action and he was to implement it gradually, according to circumstances until the entire plan was completed. A similar plan was also given in Surah Tawbah. Some parts of this were acted upon during the period of peace, some during the victory of Makkah and some during the hajj of 9 AH, under the leadership of Abu Bakr (rta).

As far as the point related to sending ‘Ali (rta) to announce the verses during the hajj indicating that the verses had been revealed close to the departure of Abu Bakr (rta) is concerned, it is not necessary that this should be so. The verse said that it should be publicly announced during the day of hajj. The first hajj in which Muslims could participate was that hajj. During the hajj of 8 AH, Muslims had not yet recovered from the battles against the Quraysh, the Thaqif and Hawazin, to the extent that they could perform Hajj. ‘Ali (rta) was assigned to make this announcement in order to give the matter the necessary importance. When the participants of hajj came to know that a special ambassador had arrived to inform them of instructions from the Prophet (sws), the matter would have doubled in significance in the eyes of every person. This is why it is not wise to assess the timing of revelation of an instruction by noting the time of its implementation.       

The verse of Surah Tawbah which states the policy about the treaty of Hudaybiyyah is as follows:  

How can there be a league, before Allah and His Messenger, with the Pagans, except those with whom ye made a treaty near the sacred Mosque? As long as these stand true to you, stand ye true to them: for Allah doth love the righteous. (9:7) 

Subsequently, it is said: “But if they violate their oaths after their covenant, and taunt you for your Faith – fight ye the chiefs of Unfaith: for their oaths are nothing to them: that thus they may be restrained.” (9:12) 

The verse uses the words “chiefs of Unfaith.” This can be applied to no group except the Quraysh. The whole of Arabia was subject to them in terms of religious matters. They occupied the status of leaders and guides. They were behind each and every propaganda, conspiracy or political manoeuvre and did not hesitate to harm either the Prophet (sws) or Muslims. So, Muslims were instructed to keep to the treaties with them, but if they violated these in their arrogance, the former were justified in returning kind with kind.


Advice on Obedience to the Announcement of Dispensation 

It has been explained above that the general environment of peace had also affected Muslims negatively. When the announcement to dispense with connections with the idolaters was made, all agreements with them were declared invalid after a notice period of four months and Muslims were told to fight them at the end of this period, these instructions did not hold well with the Muslims whose relatives had not yet accepted Islam. The Qur’an reprimanded these Muslims in the strictest terms and asked them not to befriend those who were their enemies as well as of God’s. While they were thinking well of the idolaters, the latter were blinded by their hatred and enmity of Islam and were ready to crush those well-wishers whenever they found a chance. God asked the Muslims to follow the practice of Abraham (sws), explaining that when he and his followers had declared dispensation from his nation and its idols, they kept their feelings of love for them aside and did not accept anything less than faith for a reconciliation with them. They were steadfast in what they did and put all their belief in support from God. This was the sort of attitude that was befitting of the faithful, not that of communicating with idolaters in secret. These instructions were revealed in Surah Mumtahinah. It was said:


O ye who believe! Take not my enemies and yours as friends [or protectors],- offering them [your] love, even though they have rejected the Truth that has come to you, and have [on the contrary] driven out the Prophet and yourselves (from your homes], [simply] because ye believe in Allah your Lord! If ye have come out to strive in My Way and to seek My Good Pleasure, [take them not as friends], holding secret converse of love [and friendship] with them: for I know full well all that ye conceal and all that ye reveal. And any of you that does this has strayed from the Straight Path.

If they were to get the better of you, they would behave to you as enemies, and stretch forth their hands and their tongues against you for evil: and they desire that ye should reject the Truth.

Of no profit to you will be your relatives and your children on the Day of Judgment: He will judge between you: for Allah sees well all that ye do.

There is for you an excellent example [to follow] in Abraham and those with him, when they said to their people: “We are clear of you and of whatever ye worship besides Allah. we have rejected you, and there has arisen, between us and you, enmity and hatred for ever,- unless ye believe in Allah and Him alone”: But not when Abraham said to his father: “I will pray for forgiveness for thee, though I have no power [to get] aught on thy behalf from Allah.” [They prayed]: “Our Lord! in Thee do we trust, and to Thee do we turn in repentance: to Thee is [our] Final Goal.” (60:1-4)

According to narratives, these verses were specially directed towards one of the companions, Hatib (rta) who had attempted to provide information of the planned attack on Makkah to the Quraysh. This shows that, along with dispensation from agreements with idolaters, Muslims were also advised that they should demonstrate heartfelt disillusionment and acquittal from the idolaters. Therefore, all these verses were revealed a few months before the victory of Makkah and not 9 AH.


Violation of the Agreement by the Quraysh

It must be remembered that there was one group within the Quraysh that had resisted any effort of reconciliation in Hudaybiyyah. They had ridiculed the group from the elite who voted in support of the reconciliation. They had tried to incite the feelings of Muslims in order to goad them to war but the latter thwarted every such effort. They had tried to worsen the situation by making an attempt to kill the Prophet (sws), but even then the Muslims controlled their anger. Since the majority of the Quraysh and their influential leaders had become tired of constant fighting, the treaty of Hudaybiyyah was signed and those emotional leaders were unsuccessful in forcing their decisions upon the majority. When the Banu Khuza‘ah became the allies of the Muslims and the Banu Bakr allies of the Quraysh, and thus parties to the agreement, those leaders found an opportunity to sow the seeds of mischief. There was a history of enmity between the two tribes. They became involved in a brawl once and the Quraysh leaders decided to teach the Banu Khuza‘ah a lesson for siding with Muslims. They equipped the Banu Bakr with funds, arms and men and provoked them to attack the Banu Khuza‘ah. The Banu Bakr made a surprise attack and killed 20 of the Banu Bakr’s men.  The Banu Khuza‘ah were forced to take refuge within the boundaries of the Haram but the attackers, goaded on by the Quraysh, violated the sanctity of the Haram itself. The Banu Khuza‘ah gave information of this rebellion to the Prophet (sws) through their representative, ‘Amr ibn Salim and then their leader, Badil ibn Waraqah went to Madinah with a delegation. The Prophet (sws) reassured his allies that the rebellion would not be ignored.

When the Quraysh leaders pondered over the events, they realized the severity of the situation. They had become guilty of violating the agreement by siding with the Banu Bakr against the Banu Khuza‘ah, because attacking any ally of a party was the same as attacking the party itself. To recompense for this rebellion, they sent their leader, Abu Sufyan, to Madinah, to apologize to the Prophet (sws) and request for the agreement to be kept intact. Not only did Abu Sufyan request the Prophet (sws) himself, but also urged the active Muslims leaders; Abu Bakr (rta), ‘Umar (rta) and ‘Ali (rta) to plead with the Prophet (sws) on his behalf. But no one paid any heed to his pleadings. Before this event, the verses which said that the future of this agreement depended upon the attitude of the Quraysh had been revealed. As long as they respected the agreement, Muslims would do the same. When they violated it, Muslims were to end it. Hence, in response to Abu Sufyan’s request, the agreement was cancelled.

Some biographers are of the view that Abu Sufyan had requested for an extension of the duration of the agreement. This would have been useless because the agreement was valid for a decade and only one and a half years had passed. The arrival of Abu Sufyan in Madinah could not have meant anything other than an attempt to save the agreement.

Similarly, some biographers refer to a rarely quoted narrative to say that after violation of the agreement by the Quraysh, the Prophet (sws) put forward three suggestions to them: they could pay the blood money of those killed from the Banu Khuza‘ah; they could desist from supporting the Banu Bakr or an announcement be made of the agreement coming to an end. The Quraysh accepted the third suggestion. This narrative cannot be correct in any way. Firstly, according to this, the person who sent the message from the Quraysh about accepting the third option was an unknown entity, whereas normally, responsible people of the respective sides present and accept suggestions in matters of international significance. Secondly, in this case, Abu Sufyan’s mission to go to Madinah loses its purpose. Thirdly, the Prophet (sws) had been assigned by God after the revelation of the verses of Surah Tawbah, to end the agreement and fight the leadership of the idolaters so that their power over the Ka‘bah would end and God’s promise of victory over them would be fulfilled. It is inconceivable that the Prophet (sws) take an action contrary to instructions that had come through the revelation. Hence, in our opinion, this narrative is baseless. The reality is that Abu Sufyan had gone to Madinah to request continuity of the agreement but the Prophet (sws) did not consider this worthy of attention. Then it became clear not only to the Quraysh, but to every person who kept a keen eye on the situation that the old hostility between Muslims and the Quraysh had been revived and that both were now in a state of war. In other words, the treaty of Hudaybiyyah proved to be a precursor to the victory over Makkah and one violation by the Quraysh facilitated the path to this grand victory.     


(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)


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