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Hudaybiya: Islam’s Victory by Nonviolent Resistance

By Adnan Majid

Which one event does the Qur’an describe as the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ (peace be upon him) “manifest victory”?

  1. The Muslim conquest of the entire Arabian Peninsula, Jerusalem, and beyond
  2. The Prophet’s ﷺ re-entry into Mecca and the destruction of the pagan idols in the temple of Abraham ((The Ka`bah))`alayhi assalaam (peace be upon him)
  3. A nonviolent Muslim movement resulting in a peace treaty and compromise with long-time enemies

It may come as a surprise, but the answer is C. True, the Arab Spring showed the world that Muslims can embrace nonviolent resistance to successfully affect change, but this commitment to nonviolence has rarely been described as a religious expression grounded in Islam. Many in the West have thus raised the fear that Islamic-minded movements in the post-revolutionary Arab world—Tunisia’s Ennahda or Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, for instance—simply used nonviolence as a convenient way to assume power, after which they will turn to force and repression. This fear is overblown, for Muslims can indeed use Islamic religious tradition to firmly ground the principles of nonviolent resistance and faithful compromise with secularists and non-Muslims for the common good. And nothing can do that better, in my opinion, than reviving the legacy of an event in the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ life that occurred at a barren camp named Hudaybiya—an event Islamic tradition calls a “manifest victory” ((Arabic: Fath Mubeen)) .

Before discussing this event, it is worth remembering the legacy of the first thirteen years of Muhammad’s ﷺ prophetic mission in Mecca (610-622 AD)—a period that so powerfully inspired Gandhi’s Afghan counterpart in the independence struggle, Khan Abdul-Ghaffar Khan, and his Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) towards a deeply devout Muslim commitment to nonviolence. “There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or Pathan [Afghan] like me subscribing to the creed of nonviolence…” said Khan, “It was followed fourteen hundred years ago by the Prophet [ﷺ] all the time he was in Mecca.” ((Easwaran, Eknath. Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan, a Man to Match His Mountains. Petaluma, CA: Nilgiri Press, 1999.))

No one can dispute Khan’s assessment. Mecca’s wealthy elite vehemently opposed the Prophet’s ﷺ monotheistic message and unleashed a heavy toll of physical and economic persecution upon Islam’s weakest followers. Nevertheless, Muhammad ﷺ unconditionally forbade retaliation and enjoined a complete and patient commitment to nonviolence. When persecution became intolerable, he and the early Muslims migrated to Medina, where he established a sovereign state in 622 AD. Only then did Islam permit military action. The young Medinan state saw a series of battles with its Meccan enemies—Badr in 624, Uhud in 625, and the unsuccessful siege of Medina in 627 ((Known as the Battle of the Trench, or Khandaq)) —resulting in increasing Muslim regional influence. Though war brought its political gains, the Prophet ﷺ would soon show that he had never abandoned nonviolent resistance—it would bring forth his greatest victory.

Each year, the far-flung Arabian tribes would converge in Mecca for pilgrimage to the temple of their patriarch Abraham ((The Hajj)) (peace be upon him). In the spring of 628, seeking to underscore his claim that Abraham was indeed not a polytheist, the Prophet ﷺ did what many would describe as daringly foolish and led 1400 followers into enemy territory, intent on peacefully performing pilgrimage. Bound by an ancient code of nonviolence, the Muslim pilgrims could carry no more than travelers’ swords for self-defense and would have been no match for the Meccan cavalry sent to rout them. Evading the cavalry and encamping within the sacred vicinity of Mecca, the Prophet ﷺ had essentially led his followers into a lion’s den.

Like all nonviolent resistance movements, the Muslims at Hudaybiya were at once incredibly weak and incredibly powerful—“weak” in being unable to match any abject brutality unleashed upon them, but “powerful” in that the public outrage elicited by such brutality would be far too socially costly to the powers in control. Neither the British Raj nor Jim Crow could afford to crack down on nonviolent protesters without earning the world’s condemnation. Likewise, in the sacred context of pilgrimage, the Meccans could not afford to massacre peaceful pilgrims without earning the condemnation of the entire Arabian Peninsula. After a prolonged stalemate, the Prophet ﷺ called the two parties towards a peace treaty.

Peace often requires seemingly difficult compromises. The treaty dictated that Muslims would return to Medina unable to perform pilgrimage until the following year, that anyone would be free to apostate from Islam, and that all male, Muslim refugees were to be returned to their Meccan captors. The Prophet’s ﷺ acceptance of these terms led to considerable dissension among his own followers until a new Qur’anic revelation described the events as a “manifest victory” (48:1) ((The first verse of Sura al-Fath reads Inná fatahná laka fatham mubeená – “We have indeed opened for you a manifest victory.”)) . Suppressing their personal emotions, the Muslims would have to trust that nonviolent engagement and political compromise were in themselves a victory.

Historians now recount how more people became Muslim in the following years of peace than in all the previous years of Muhammad’s ﷺ prophetic mission. When Mecca’s allies later broke the peace to resume hostilities, the Muslims conquered the city without fighting and completely forgave their former enemies. Although this military accomplishment was a “victory,” the Prophet ﷺ  made sure to remind everyone that Islam’s “manifest victory” had already occurred at Hudaybiya long before ((Abdullah ibn Mughaffal narrates, “I saw the God’s Messenger ﷺ reciting Sura al-Fath (melodiously) on his she-camel on the day of Mecca’s conquest.” (Bukhari))) . It was nonviolence, not war, and political compromise, not rigid adherence to dogma, that brought that victory.

But in an age of conflict between “Muslims” and “the West,” it is certain that both Muslim extremists and anti-Islamic polemicists will dispute any Islamic justification for nonviolent resistance. I will just briefly address a few objections from both these groups, who, though nominally opposed to one another, remarkably speak with a single voice.

1) “Hudaybiya was not a true commitment to nonviolence—the Muslims had pledged to defend themselves physically if the Meccans attacked ((Known as the Pledge of the Tree, or Bay’at ash-Shajara.)) .” If the Meccans saw fit to break the sacred code and spill blood, the Muslim pilgrims certainly could not expect Meccan brutality to stop at a beating and a prison sentence. Rather, they expected being massacred. In that context, the Prophet ﷺ and his followers clearly saw fighting back with the little means they had as far more honorable than fleeing from their cause, even if it meant certain death. This commitment, an inspiration to all Muslims engaged in civil disobedience, by no means made their movement any less nonviolent—the Meccans themselves acknowledged such.

2) “Any Islamic justification for nonviolence has been abrogated. From the time hostilities with Mecca resumed, Muslims were bound to perpetual warfare with disbelievers until the end of time.” The Qur’an’s ninth chapter ((The Chapter of Repentance, or Sura at-Tawba)) did enjoin Muslims to fight the Meccans after the treaty of Hudaybiya was broken, but it would be ridiculous to suggest that this would eternally prohibit Muslims from ever again turning to nonviolence or compromise. This very chapter itself calls for continued commitment to peace with polytheists who “neither failed you anywhere nor supported anyone against you” (Qur’an 9:4). And the Prophet ﷺ himself would never forget Hudaybiya’s legacy, for he reminded everyone of this “manifest victory” on his return to Mecca.

3) “Hudaybiya’s true legacy is one of deception; Muhammad [ﷺ] made a treaty when weak only to break it when stronger.” This charge simply does not stand up to historical record. Though the Prophet ﷺ took a dangerous risk in leaving behind Medina’s security, determined nonviolent resistance is never truly “weak.” And while Muslim strength did increase in the following years of peace, history recounts the Prophet’s ﷺ faithful compliance to the treaty, broken by Mecca’s allies. Hindsight is 20/20, but Hudaybiya was declared a “manifest victory” long before the eventual outcomes were known—when all that were apparent were nonviolent action, a failed pilgrimage attempt, and a difficult compromise for the sake of peace.

So what victory should Islamic-minded parties in today’s post-revolutionary Arab world work towards? Some in the Muslim world may aspire to establish societies devoted to God’s “sharia” or well-trodden path, but in focusing on this “end,” they may unfortunately turn to whatever means deemed necessary, however violent or duplicitous. By contrast, Hudaybiya’s legacy should remind all devout Muslims that real victory is achievable through constructive, lawful means. In this particular case, true and lasting victory was achieved through firm adherence to nonviolent resistance and non-dogmatic compromise with opposition. A resulting civil society arising from these principles—one at least able to ensure individual liberties and minority rights—may surprise some people but may be closer in line to the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ powerful precedent at Hudaybiya—Islam’s one and only “manifest victory.”

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  • Nice article. I believe non violence is an ideal way to counter oppression. However I also believe oppressor does not have right to tell oppressed to use non violence

  • So you’re basically saying that we let the non muslims invade our lands and brutally kill our women and children and we sit back and do nothing and just offer them peace treaties?

    • Salam Alaikum Sister Fatima,

      Thank you so much for expressing your concerns, which a few other readers may have had. I really appreciate that. I’m sure though it is clear to you by now, having read the article, that that is not what the article is basically saying. Rather the article argues that use of nonviolent resistance and political compromise is squarely grounded in the sunna of our Messenger, may peace and God’s blessings be upon him. Fourteen centuries ago, this Messenger so clearly demonstrated to us what much of the world has come to realize – that resistance guided by wisdom and insight is far more effective than violence sparked by passions.

      That’s not to say that the powerful example of Hudaybiya excludes the possibility of armed resistance. The events in Syria today clearly demonstrate that armed resistance, as long as it doesn’t transgress the bounds of God, is necessary in the face of brutality. But your question reveals an interesting notion – one that some Muslims may hold but which so often is proven wrong – that the methodologies of nonviolent resistance and the openness to compromise are in some way “weak” and that violence is the only expression of strength.

      In my opinion, that notion springs from emotional reactions and not deep wisdom – but it’s not an uncommon thing. The Companions themselves, may God be pleased with them, also expressed the same gut feelings at Hudaybiya, just like you are now. Their first reaction was shock that the Messenger was agreeing to such “humiliating terms.” How could they stand by so defeated!? How could they see their brother Abu Jandal in chains, forced back into captivity!? Umar (ra) went as far as to raise his voice to the Messenger, questioning the Messenger’s wisdom.

      But the Messenger (saws) stood firm to the wisdom he had been given, and the companions, true believers, suppressed their emotions and followed suit. Umar would hold to the lesson he learned, and there was nothing he would regret more than his behavior at Hudaybiya. Their first emotions were wrong, but when they followed their Messenger, God blessed them and sent tranquility in their hearts.

      I’m reminding us of this so that we may ponder as to whether we are having the same emotions and the Companions on the day of Hudaybiya. Would we think that the Messenger, peace and God’s blessings be upon him, was just “sitting back and doing nothing and just offering the enemies peace treaties”? A’udhubillah, neither of us, my sister, would want to say that.

      Hudaybiya is just one element of the comprehensive body of the Messenger’s sunna, which included both nonviolence as well as taking up arms when necessary, always holding to God’s bounds and never transgressing. But Hudaybiya is a very significant element of the sunna – its importance cannot be denied – for it was the “manifest victory” which led directly to the culmination of the Messenger’s mission – the re-establishment of correct worship of the One God at the Sacred House. Its lessons should never be brushed aside but should rather resonate with us always.

      Once again, Sister Fatima, thank you for expressing your concern.

      Your brother,

      • God forbid, that was not my intent at all. I merely meant to say that we must not overlook the aspects of the Sunnah where our beloved Prophet SAW did take up arms against the enemy. And let me tell you they’re countless. He himself took part in so many Gazwa’at(cant recall the number at the moment). The wisdom of making any such decision changes with the situation. What we may think as ‘violence’ may be the most beloved act in the eyes of Allah and who we may regard as Islamic extremists maybe the guardians of our Ummah. As an example i would like to quote the instance where Prophet Muhammad SAW appointed Saad ibn Maaz RA for the fate of his tribe and the Banu Qurayza agreed to his appointment.He declared that all adult male members of the tribe should be executed and all women and children enslaved. This action was liked by Allah as was revealed to the Prophet SAW later on. Many choose to target this as a weak point in the life of our Prophet and deem it as an act of extreme ‘violence’ but the wisdom behind this action and if it was the right thing to do then was known only to those who went through the events leading up to it.

        In the sunnah we find both. The use of force coupled with nonviolent negotiation. HOWEVER, a point regarding Hudaibiya is that it was done from a position of strength. Meaning, the Quraysh were afraid that Muslims would run them over after the occurence of Bayt e Rizwan. So technically, Prophet SAW had a upper hand.

        While in Makkah when the Prophet & his companions were weak, the Prophet was offered several negotiation point, for example, become a king, marry the most beautiful women, one year we follow your God and one year you follow our gods, etc etc. HOWEVER, he never negotiated then. He was firm in his stance.

        And this is not to imply that we are in Meccan times but it definitely defines the attitude the Muslim should have.

        Unless, you somehow think that Muslims today are strong and NOT weak, then I’d say it is no point discussing with you anymore.


        • Salam Alaikum Sister Fatima,

          Thank you for clarifying your views a bit. I completely agree with you that the wisdom of making any decision depends on the situation, and as I had mentioned before, warfare is indeed justified when it holds within God’s bounds, as we find directly in the sunna. However, I’m still a little confused by what you are arguing. Sorry for that.

          You seem to be suggesting that the sunna of Hudaybiya is less relevant today because there the Messenger (saws) had the “upper hand,” whereas Muslims today are invariably “weak.” Thus we should rather look to those times when the Messenger was in a position of weakness, i.e. in Mecca. There, he “never negotiated” with the polytheists. And yet you stop yourself from advocating the complete nonviolence that the Messenger (saws) demonstrated in Mecca – why is that aspect of the sunna irrelevant? I’m afraid I find your argument quite inconsistent.

          There are a number of points I’d like to address. Firstly, in my opinion, there is a major difference between political compromise and compromise over religious matters. As you rightly point out, the Messenger (saws) never compromised with regards to religious matters at any time in his life. He indeed rejected the Meccan plea to stop preaching monotheism in return for kingship or power. However, that did not prevent the Messenger (saws) from making political alliances and negotiating with polytheists when necessary, even in the Meccan period. For instance, after the death of his protector Abu Talib (himself a non-Muslim) and after meeting stones and hatred in Ta’if, the Messenger could not return to Mecca until requesting the protection of Mut’im ibn Adi. Mut’im was a polytheist to the end of his life, yet that did not prevent the Messenger (saws) from negotiating such a political alliance.

          Even at Hudaybiya, the political compromises that the Messenger (saws) made never undermined the truth of religion. When the Prophet acceded to Suhail ibn Amr’s objection to the term “Ar-Rahman,” it could never threaten the fact that God is indeed Ar-Rahman. And when he acceded to Suhail’s objection that he was “God’s Messenger,” it could never threaten the fact that Muhammad, may peace and God’s blessing be upon him, is indeed God’s Messenger. These were non-dogmatic political compromises that made the treaty more palatable to the Meccan polytheists, but they in no way undermined or threatened the essence of Islam.

          Secondly, you are correct in my opinion to say that the Messenger had the upper hand at Hudaybiya, but I’ll stress my opinion that the strength did not derive from a show of military power. Militarily, the “conventional wisdom” of the age held that the Muslims were clearly weak and could be easily defeated. The cowardly desert bedouins, for instance, decided to stay back because, as the Quran records, they “thought that the Messenger and the believers would never again return to their families” (48:12). And when the possibility of fighting arose and the Prophet called upon them to make the Pledge of the Tree (Shajarah/Ridwan), the Muslims themselves seemed very conscious of the dire situation they were in. Individuals like Salama ibn al-Akwa’ and ‘Abbad ibn Tamim recalled that they were making a pledge “to die” – indeed, the possibility of being massacred was hovering over them. (Others clarified that the Messenger didn’t ask them “to die” but rather to “not run away”, but in that situation, the two things may have meant the same thing for many).

          The Quran does promise that had it come down to fighting, the Muslims would have been successful (48:25) – but only with the same divine help that gave the Muslims victory at Badr over an army three times the size. What’s most amazing about this verse is that it states the reason God prevented them from fighting was to protect the good Meccan believers who, in the tumult, would have been killed by Muslims unknowingly. The treaty was thus the ideal way by which God protected Muslims from the grievous sin of killing an innocent person by accident! Contrast this with the crooked outlook of some who consider themselves to be “guardians of the Ummah,” fighting the “kuffar” in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, or wherever – and yet having no qualms that the vast majority of their victims are innocent people, sometimes even praying in mosques!

          May God guide them and us and protect us from their evil.

          As far as your last question, I wouldn’t say that the Muslims today are clearly weak or strong. But the events of the past year have made me confident that Muslims indeed have an amazing, undeniable strength, taking down dictators one by one, alhamdulillah. In my opinion, Tunisians, Egyptians, and so many other Muslims found that strength walking in the footsteps of their Messenger at Hudaybiya, whether they knew it or not. Of course, the work is not done, but it is a bright beginning.

          Sorry for my verbosity – but I love discussing this topic. Thanks for your thoughts.

          Keep well,

        • Walaikum Assalam.

          “Thus we should rather look to those times when the Messenger was in a position of weakness, i.e. in Mecca. There, he “never negotiated” with the polytheists. And yet you stop yourself from advocating the complete nonviolence that the Messenger (saws) demonstrated in Mecca – why is that aspect of the sunna irrelevant?”

          Because the verse, ‘Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not’, had not been revealed at that time. It is as simple as that.

          Only one more thing i’d like to say, you really think the killings in the mosque are because of the same people? If thats the case im afraid you really need to get your facts right.

          I dont think theres any point of explaining my opinion any further.

          JazakAllah Khayr for your replies.

          May Allah guide us all to the right path.

  • The article itself is really well written. I did have a question though. As I have heard it, and I am sure many others including you have heard the same account, the treaty was declared a manifest victory because Prophet Muhammad knew it would be broken and they would have an excuse to attack. Of course, I am not sure if there is any evidence that this was the intent all along, but many portray it this way in order to chalk up another miracle. Thanks for the article.

    • Salam Alaikum Habeeb,

      Really appreciate your question, and it raises a very important point. The events at Hudaybiya can indeed be interpreted in divergent ways, and the article was just one way of doing so. Generally, the two main opposing narratives I see are as follows:

      Cynical anti-Muslim view: After having a dream, Muhammad [saws] told his followers they would be able to make pilgrimage but on the way realized he wouldn’t be able to. Possibly fearing for his life, he settled for a treaty. In order to save face for the embarrassment that his prophecy would not come true, he declared it a “manifest victory” in the Quran and pointed out that he didn’t necessarily mean for pilgrimage that particular year. From then on, he looked to every excuse to break the treaty.

      General Muslim view: The Messenger (saws) had a dream that showed the Muslims performing pilgrimage but did not have explicit details of when. Trusting God, the Messenger and the Muslims set off as pilgrims. God gave him important wisdom guiding him through the ordeal, and despite the objections of some people around him, that wisdom was to negotiate a treaty, which at first seemed “humiliating.” God, knowing the future, knew that the treaty would culminate in the eventual opening of Mecca and declared it a “manifest victory” in His Revelation – long before the results were known. In that sense, the events of Hudaybiya are definitely a miracle – from God.

      But is there any indication that the Messenger (saws) himself, when making the treaty, knew exactly how the “manifest victory” would play out in the future? Did the Messenger himself know then that they would eventually conquer Mecca in two years?

      I’m personally not so sure of that, but of course I have no knowledge of what the Messenger (saws) did or didn’t know. However, I haven’t come across any account where the Messenger (saws) tells anyone a prophesy as to how Hudaybiya would lead directly to the conquest of Mecca (I may well be mistaken, so please correct me if so).

      When many of the Companions (ra) were dumbfounded that the Prophet (saws) was accepting this “humiliating defeat,” the Messenger, as far as I know, didn’t tell them anything to the effect of: “Trust me, sooner or later this treaty will be broken and will lead to our conquering Mecca.” Rather, when they asked why they wouldn’t be performing pilgrimage, the Messenger pointed out that his dream would indeed be fulfilled in truth – only in the following year as stipulated in the treaty. The main point here is that the Messenger never gave the impression that there would be an eventual “victory” (i.e. conquest of Mecca) that would come IN SPITE of the treaty… rather he stressed faithful compliance to the treaty, since the fulfillment of prophesy was to be attained UNDER THE TERMS of the treaty.

      This is an important distinction, since the take-away message that some of us may get from Hudaybiya is that we should only accept a position of “weakness” (i.e. nonviolence and political compromise) if we can eventually show our “strength” (i.e. militarily). And since we do not know the future nor receive revelations that our political compromises are in fact “victories,” we can never be sure when the “best time” is to apply the sunna of Hudaybiya (and ergo, we must always default to using military strength). This line of reasoning is based on the suggestion that the Prophet knew that an eventual “victory” would come IN SPITE of the treaty. But as far as I know (and again, I may well be mistaken), the first time the Messenger (saws) indicated that the conquest of Mecca was a direct follow-up to Hudaybiya was after the fact – when he melodiously recited Sura Al-Fath upon entering Mecca. By that time, the Companions may have come around to figuring out that connection for themselves – hindsight is 20/20, of course.

      Of course, the Messenger (saws) may well have known the future by God’s leave and may not have openly revealed that information to anyone else, but I think we’d just be left speculating here. Rather, the main take-away I see in Hudaybiya is the Prophet’s faithful compliance to his oaths and his trust in God throughout the whole process. Nonviolence and political compromise are thus not “necessary evils” or expressions of “weakness” before an eventual military victory; rather they are potent expressions of wisdom and political “strength.” This doesn’t mean that armed resistance, holding within God’s bounds, is never justified – of course it is. Rather the article points out that we should never immediately consider the methodology of Hudaybiya as “weak” or a “special case” irrelevant for today, but we should instead readily draw lessons from it in our daily lives.

      I am very interested in hearing more alternative perspectives on the events of Hudaybiya – especially those questioning my opinions in the article. It’s always a good check against falling into our over-speculation about these historical events, for, as always, God knows better.

      Take care!

  • I really love this article, especially “Suppressing their personal emotions, the Muslims would have to trust that nonviolent engagement and political compromise were in themselves a victory” – it really rings true in my mind for the challenges we are being faced with as an Ummah today. In my view, violence is neither effective nor helping our state. Reading articles like this really helps to draw out the inspiration from our history and helps us think of other ways we can achieve more effective results. There are some incredible minds out there that are capable of producing lasting and effective change if we can learn to think outside the realm of emotive / passionate retaliation… I’m really hoping that Inshallah Allah will guide us to a more balanced and effective conclusion, as Lord knows what we’re seeing and enduring is heart breaking in so many ways.

  • I just have one question, why does spreading the word of God involve expanding political boundaries? No religion in the world has spread without conquests. Today when any country or power invades or attempts to encroach on another’s land, a large part of the world protests. But this was commonplace in earlier times and countries were taken over in the name of religion. Why do we not condemn these past actions? How does spreading a religion (which is essentially a way of connecting with God) relate to increasing your political clout? Haven’t we somewhere along the way lost the very essence of what a religion is supposed to be?

  • In my opinion, the real problem is that we fail to make a distinction between whether we have a just cause to fight and whether it is practically feasible to fight. Palestinians (as well as other Muslims) have a valid reason to fight for, but comparing the strengths of them vs. Israel, it won’t be successful at this point. It is perhaps also beneficial to quote the example of Salah-ad Din al-Ayyoobi: During his leadership, he even made treaties with Cursader kingdoms for many years so that he could fix problems within the Muslim lands first.

  • the islamic concept is a very simple one to understand – albeit often very difficult to do right every time all the time.

    be prepared to defend your territory, because otherwise you might become oppressed and your oppressors will prevent your people’s practice of Islam. but very extremely sparing of that ability, favouring all peaceful means so long as it can provide a better outcome, and absolutely not initiate the hostilities or break a treaty. when obligated to defend yourself or allies, do not be excessive or destroy the innocent – including non-human creatures and their homes. be ready to cease hostilities as soon as an opportunity for peace presents itself. when without power to defend, stay patient or emigrate to seek Allah’s help.

    it is conceptually extremely simple and consistent with the tenets of faith. but even with clear faith, just like points of fiqh, we may disagree on whether the situation has tipped into validating war, or not yet, but it should not cause serious rifts so long as we’re deliberating by the same rules above, as we can only do our best effort. but more often though, we do not – we make exceptions for ourselves, try to reinterpret these ground rules to make it more ‘likely’ for our favoured conclusion to be justified to others. it is our emotions of dissatisfaction, anger, shame, loss, resentment, revenge, fear and hatred that makes it difficult to follow these rules and is the reason we make so many excuses and exceptions for our particular situation.

  • Salam Alaikum Kirana,

    Thank you for your thoughts. What you describe of Islam’s position on fighting is a very principled one, but I think it’s very true when you say that emotions of dissatisfaction, anger, shame, revenge, hatred, etc. all can come in to sway us away from holding to Islam’s ideal.

    Some verses from Surah Shura (42:36-43) come to mind. The believers are first described “idhaa maa ghadeboo hum yaghfiroon” – when they are angry, they forgive. But then we are told “idhaa asawbahumu l-baghyu hum yantaseroon” – when a great wrongdoing afflicts them, they defend themselves. Are the two contradictory?

    Well, I don’t believe so, especially when we realize that defending oneself and seeking justice does not require that we be driven by the emotional whims of anger and hatred. The former verse seems to focus on the emotional state of the believer, to rise above anger and become “kaadhemeena l-ghaith wa l-‘aafeena ‘ani n-naas” (those who suppress their anger and pardon humanity, 3:134). The latter verse reminds us that suppressing our anger doesn’t mean that we should let ourselves be pushed around. Even when war is the only way to defend oneself and seek justice, the fighter should enter battle free from rage, as in the example of ‘Ali (r.a./a.s.) when he refrained from killing his enemy who spat at him.

    Some have translated “yantaseroon” as “taking revenge” but I think this is a poor translation. From what I understand, and I hope the scholars can correct me, the term “yantaseroon” means simply to seek justice for a wrongdoing. By contrast, “taking revenge” in modern English has an additional connotation of being motivated by anger and hatred. It is on account of these negative emotions that simply “taking revenge” often leads to a departure from the sunnah of our Messenger (saws).

    For instance, some among us may say, “The Israelis kill our innocent children, so there’s nothing wrong when Palestinians kill their innocent children.” This, in my opinion, is horrendously indefensible and a corrupted understanding of qisaws (reciprocation). Would these people also say, “We can rape their women and men if they rape our women and men”? Can we become so clouded by our anger so as to come to opinions like these? But when we rise above these emotions, I believe most believers will see that the Quran’s injunction “‘aaqiboo bimithli maa ‘ouqibtum bih” (punish with the like of what you were punished with, 16:126*) cannot be twisted so as to justify committing all the evil that the Messenger (saws) explicitly prohibited.

    God know better, and may He forgive me for any wrong I say.

    Keep well!

    *PS: Verse 2:194 says something similar – “faman i’tadaa ‘alaikum, fa’tadoo ‘alaihi bimithli ma’tadaa ‘alaikum” – but as far as I know, this is specifically in relation to defending oneself from attack during the sacred months when fighting is prohibited – not a general allowance to reciprocate agression, which would contradict with the preceding verse 2:190, “wa laa ta’tadoo, innallaha laa yuhebbu l-mu’tadeen” (do not transgress, God does not love transgressors).

  • As-salaam-u-alaykum

    I was reading your article and have to say quite thought-provoking 🙂

    I apologise if I ask out of ignorance, but I genuinely would like to know the caravan raids involving Abu Baseer (RA). This is when the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah had just come into operation. Abu Baseer (RA) was a newly reverted Muslim, and he fled to Medina to be with the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). However, due to the Treaty, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had to return Abu Baseer back to Mecca, as was requested by the Meccan Pagans.

    As Abu Baseer left with two Meccan Pagans, they stopped at a particular place en route to Mecca. Abu Baseer managed to kill one of the Pagans, whereas the other fled. Abu Baseer returned to Medina, and told Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that Allah had saved him. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) replied “Woe to his mother! What excellent war-kindler he would be if only he had supporters”. (could someone explain what this literally means?) It is stated that this was a subtle clue for Abu Baseer to leave Medina and live somewhere else, or he would have to be returned to Mecca again.

    Now whilst he lived elsewhere on the coastal plains which was strategically en route to the Syrian caravan trade from Mecca, he and other muslim reverts (who joined him from Mecca) would attack the Quraish caravans and kill the infidel merchants within hence looting their goods.

    My concern with this is that would this be considered banditry? Or am I misunderstanding something? Was it due to the endless persecutions and tortures he suffered by the Meccan Pagans and because of that he wanted revenge? – something similar to the caravan raids that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) allowed when he first entered Medina; was it also because he was a freshly new revert and was not aware of the Islamic values? Could it also be that because Abu Baseer (RA) and his band of fellow Muslims were not part of the Medinan Community, they could do whatever they liked to the Quraish?

    The comment made by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) “Woe to his mother! What excellent war-kindler he would be if only he had supporters” – is that allowing Abu Baseer to stir trouble against the Quraish? or was it an Arabic idiom that when translated sounds a bit harsh? I mean I can understand that Abu Baseer (RA) was out of jurisdiction for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to act upon, as the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah was a contract between the Meccan Pagans and the Medina Muslims – it wasn’t Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) “problem”.

    I just feel a bit confused that why would Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) allow Abu Baseer (ra) to stir trouble especially when it risked upholding the Treaty.

    Also there are some who will say that this event allows Muslims to attack the non-muslims if they are at war with them. This partly explains why you will see some Muslims today will attack civilians amongst the enemy’s side.

    I hope I haven’t offended anyone by asking such questions – just need clarification.

    Jaza K’Allah Khair


  • Wa ‘alaykum salam wa rahmatullah Adam!

    No offense at all and jazakallah khair for the question! As far as I know (and anyone, please correct me if I’m wrong), the information about Abu Basir comes from a hadith that al-Bukhārī and Abū Dāwūd recorded from Ma’mar, who heard it from al-Zuhrī, who heard it from ‘Urwah b. Zubayr, who heard it from a certain al-Miswar b. Makhramah. Though there are considerable differences between the two records, both records say that God’s messenger (s) said of Abū Basīr, “Wayla ummihī, mis’ara ḥarbin law kāna lahū aḥad.” My parsing of the statement is the following:

    Wayla (Woe to) ummihī (his mother) mis’ara (a kindler) ḥarbin (of war) law (if) kāna (there was) lahū (to him) aḥad (anyone) -“Woe to his mother, a war kindler were anyone to be with him.”

    Despite the english translation, I can find no indication that God’s messenger (s) was acknowledging Abū Basīr’s “excellence” in any way. Rather, I see nothing but disapproval in the statement “mis’ar ḥarb.” Thereafter, “law kāna lahū aḥad” is a subtle statement indicating “no one here will support you.”

    Abū Basīr’s raids are only mentioned in the record al-Bukhārī records from ‘Abdullāh b. Muḥammad from ‘Abd al-Razzāq from Ma’mar and not in the record that Abū Dāwūd records from Muḥammad b. ‘Ubayd from Muḥammad b. Thawr from Ma’mar. There may be many reasons for that, but even the former record certainly shows no indication that God’s messenger (s) ever approved this action.

    As for the reports of raids in the early Madinan period, our strongest and earliest historical record (the Qur’an) certainly suggests that it was not the case that the Quraysh were minding their own business. Sūrah Hajj (22:39), widely considered the verse that gave Muslims permission to fight, states “Udhina li lladhīna yuqātalūna bi anna hum ḍhulimū – Permission is given to those who are being fought because they are oppressed.” It is clear here that the referents of this verse were 1) being actively fought against and 2) oppressed.

    Hope that helps! God bless you!


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