The Treaty of Al-Hudaybiyah is one of the most significant and oft-quoted events in the seerah. It is often portrayed as an example of compromise and enlightened pragmatism on the part of the Prophet ﷺ. One will find many today using the Treaty as a precedent for leaving core tenets of the deen for the sake of a perceived benefit in a political or related context. This article looks at this important incident from the seerah and clarifies its implications with reference to key moments of the incident.
Some people today have even used it to justify completely impermissible compromises or to lessen the importance of offensive jihad due to their misunderstanding of the incident. It is easy upon a first, shallow reading to be under the impression that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ surrendered an obligation in exchange for “peace and security” but a holistic reading unveils the genius of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ and that it was in fact a masterful strategic move for the spread of the deen and manipulation of public opinion, achieving what an all-out battle could not.
The context of Hudaybiyah: The Hajj
Six years had elapsed since the emigration of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ from Makkah. By now he ﷺ had become reassured about his army and the general state of the Islamic society in Madinah. The polity established by the Prophet ﷺ had become a major force of contention for all the Arabs.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ was continually thinking of new moves which would enable him to strengthen the Islamic Message, which in turn would lead to the weakening of his enemies.
News had already reached Allah’s Messenger ﷺ that the people of Khaybar and Makkah were conspiring to raid the Muslims. Muhammad ﷺ designed a plan with the aim of appeasing the people of Makkah. It was hoped that this would result in them leaving a way clear for the Messenger of Allah ﷺ to pursue his Da’wah within the Arabian Peninsula as well as to isolate the Jews of Khaybar from their allies, the Quraysh. To achieve this, the plan called for a peaceful visit to the Sacred House of Allah.
He ﷺ knew that his plan would be easy to fulfil because the Arabs would not fight during the sacred months. He ﷺ also knew that the Quraysh were divided and had become fearful of the Muslims, therefore they would have to think twice before attempting any rash move against him. So he ﷺ decided to go to the Sacred House as a pilgrim, and reasoned that if the Quraysh were to prevent him then he would use this as a powerful propaganda tool against them and this would serve to further promote the Message of Islam in the eyes of the general public.
With the above in mind, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ announced that he was to go on the Hajj in the sacred month of Dhul al-Qa’dah and he sent to the other Arab tribes enjoining them to take part in the pilgrimage to the Sacred House peacefully. The purpose of this last move was to signal to the Arabs that he ﷺ was coming out as a pilgrim and not as a raider. He ﷺ had asked the non-Muslim Arabs to join him although they were not of his Deen simply because he wanted to emphasise that he did not want to fight.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ left Madinah with 1,400 men and seventy camels leading them on his she-camel, Quswa’. He ﷺ was in Ihram for the purpose of clarifying to the people that he did not intend to fight and that he simply wished to visit the Sacred House of Allah. Six or seven miles after leaving Madinah, Allah’s Messenger ﷺ and the Muslims reached a place called Dhil Halifah, and there they donned the pilgrim garb. Then they marched towards Makkah.
The Quraysh heard that the Muslims had come for Hajj and not to fight, but they feared that it was a ploy that Muhammad ﷺ was using to enter Makkah. This possibility was never far from their minds and they decided to prevent Muhammad ﷺ from entering the city.
The Quraysh prepare an army
The Quraysh, therefore, appointed Khalid ibn al-Walid and ‘Ikrimah ibn Abi Jahl at the head of a great army that included a cavalry of two hundred. The army of the mushrikeen set off from Makkah towards the pilgrims in order to prevent them from going there. They encamped at Dhi Tuwa to await the coming of the pilgrims. Information about the movements of the Quraysh reached the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and when he entered the village of ‘Usfan he met a man from Banu Ka’ab and asked him about them; he replied:
There are the Quraysh who have heard of your coming and have come out with their milch-camels and have put on leopard skins, and have encamped in Dhi Tuwa swearing that you will never enter Makkah in defiance of them. This man Khalid ibn al-Walid is with their cavalry which they have sent in advance to Kura’ al-Ghamim.
Kura’ al-Ghamim was about eight miles from Usfan where the Muslims were encamped.
When Allah’s Messenger ﷺ heard this he said:
Woe to Quraysh, war has devoured them! What harm would they have suffered if they had left me and the rest of the Arabs to go our own way? If they should kill me that is what they desire, and if Allah should provide me with victory over them they would enter Islam in flocks. If they do not do that, they will fight while they have the strength, so what are the Quraysh thinking of? By Allah, I will not cease to fight for the mission with which Allah has entrusted me until He makes it victorious or I perish.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ reflected on the plan that he had designed and he thought hard about the situation. He had already decided on a peaceful strategy and had not prepared for battle, but the Quraysh had sent an army to fight him though he did not want to fight. Would he go back, or change his plan and fight? He knew very well that the Muslims had enough Iman to face their enemy and engage in a battle with the Quraysh if they were left with no choice but to fight.
The aim of the Prophet ﷺ
However, Allah’s Messenger ﷺ had not come out for war and he had decided not to fight. He had instead come out to accomplish the Hajj and had only peace in mind. He ﷺ thought that if he was prevented from fulfilling the Hajj, which he expected, he wanted it to be peacefully; neither aggressive prevention nor a Hajj performed under hostile circumstances.
The peaceful plan which Allah’s Messenger ﷺ had masterminded was designed to create a stir within Makkah and amongst the Quraysh about the glory and nobleness of the Message of Islam, and to contrast it with the misguidance, arrogance and aggression of the Quraysh. This public opinion was crucial and it had to be built if the Islamic Da’wah was to have the right grounds to make an impact, prosper and spread. Public opinion was one of the most important contributory factors which would help to spread the Da’wah and enable it to emerge victorious. Allah’s Messenger ﷺ was in danger of slipping in his chance to gain this upper hand if he fought, so he decided not to change his original plan and to continue on in peace.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ thought long and hard about his next move. His shrewdness and statesmanship were far better than any other person. He decided to go with his original plan lest he miss the opportunity that presented itself and lest his plan backfired. Otherwise, the Quraysh would be gifted with an excuse to launch a smear campaign amongst the Arabs against him, resulting in shifting the positivity that surrounded the expanding Muslim polity.
Allah’s Messenger ﷺ then called on the Muslims: “Who will take us out by a way in which we shall not meet them?” A man volunteered to do so and he took them by a rugged rocky tract between passes which was very hard on them until they managed to emerge from it into a valley below Makkah in a place called al-Hudaybiyah. There they camped. When the armies of Khalid and ‘Ikrimah saw them they became scared and galloped back to defend Makkah. The Muslims’ daring move sent shivers down the disbelievers’ spines. They could not believe that the Muslims had managed to out-manoeuvre them and turn up at their doorstep unchecked. The disbelievers stationed themselves in Makkah while Allah’s Messenger ﷺ and his army stationed themselves in al-Hudaybiyah. The two camps faced each other and each thought about what action to take against the other. Some Muslims predicted that the Quraysh would never allow them to perform the Hajj and that they were preparing for war. They thought that there was no other way for them but to fight the Quraysh, crush them and then perform the Hajj. In so doing, they maintained that this would see off the Quraysh once and for all.
The Quraysh, meanwhile, flirted with the idea of fighting the Muslims, even if this meant perishing itself, but this idea soon evaporated for they knew that the Muslims were formidable opponents. Thus, the Quraysh opted to wait for the Muslims to make the first move.
In order to achieve what he ﷺ had really come for, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ firmly adhered to his original plan ever since he had put on Ihram in Madinah. He ﷺ simply remained stationed in Hudaybiyah, waiting to see what the Quraysh would do next. He ﷺ knew that the Quraysh were scared of him and that they would soon send out envoys to negotiate with him about his coming on Hajj, so he ﷺ patiently awaited their representatives.
The Quraysh sends delegations to the Prophet ﷺ
The Quraysh first sent Budayl ibn Warqa’ with some men of the Khuza’ah tribe to ask Allah’s Messenger ﷺ what he had come for, and after a short exchange of words they were convinced that the Muslims had not come out to fight but to visit the Sacred House and venerate the sacred precincts.
The envoys returned to inform the Quraysh and persuade them of this, but the Quraysh accused them of being biased towards Muhammad ﷺ and did not trust them. The Quraysh sent out another delegation and it too returned shortly with the same findings. Then the Quraysh sent to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ al-Hulays, chief of al-Ahbash (Abyssinians) to negotiate. Quraysh was counting on al-Hulays to stop Muhammad ﷺ while they actually meant to incite him against Muslims. The Quraysh hoped that once he had failed in his negotiations with Muhammad ﷺ his hatred towards Muhammad ﷺ would increase and he would become more determined to defend Makkah. However, when the Messenger of Allah ﷺ heard that al-Hulays was coming he ﷺ ordered the sacrificial animals to be let loose to meet him so as to demonstrate to him and make him realise that what the Muslims intended was Hajj and not war.
Al-Hulays saw the animals going past him from the side of the valley and people about to perform ‘Umrah, through observing their camp site engulfed in an atmosphere of worship, and that they did not appear to be equipped for fighting. This impressed him greatly, and he was certain that these people really had come to worship and not to fight, so he went back to the Quraysh even before meeting Allah’s Messenger ﷺ and he informed them of what he had seen. He demanded that the Quraysh allow the Muslims to perform the Hajj, and became furious threatening to withdraw his troops if the Quraysh attempted to come between Muhammad ﷺ and the Ka’bah!
The Quraysh, however, managed to calm him by changing their tone to a conciliatory one, and they asked him for extra time in the hope of obtaining more acceptable terms. He agreed so and the Quraysh then sent ‘Urwa ibn Mas’ud al-Thaqafi after reassuring Thaqafi that they trusted his judgement. He went to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ and tried in vain to convince him to go back.
Eventually, he had to concede that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ was in the right. So he returned to the Quraysh and said to them the famous words:
O people of Quraysh! I have been to Chosroes in his kingdom, Caesar in his kingdom, and the Negus in his kingdom, but never have I seen a king among a people like Muhammad among his Sahabah; whenever he performed his ablutions they performed ablutions the same way he did. If a hair of his head fell they ran to pick it up. They will never abandon him for any reason, so make up your mind.
The Quraysh turn to more hostile means
This only served to increase the Quraysh’s hostility and stubbornness and further negotiation and debate went on to no avail. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ thought about sending a delegation himself, presuming that maybe the Quraysh’s envoys were too scared to approach him. He ﷺ thought that his representative might be able to persuade them and so he sent to them an envoy, but they hamstrung the camel that he was riding on and tried to kill him. Fortunately, the al-Ahbash troops protected him. The Quraysh’s animosity grew by the day and they sent their louts out at night to throw stones at the Muslims’ camp. This angered the Muslims and caused them in turn to want to fight the Quraysh, but the Messenger of Allah ﷺ managed to calm them down. Next, the Quraysh sent fifty men with orders to surround the Messenger of Allah’s camp and beat them, but they were caught and brought before the Messenger of Allah ﷺ who forgave them and let them go their own way.
This last development had a profound effect on the people of Makkah and it proved without a shadow of a doubt that Muhammad ﷺ had been truthful all along. It demonstrated to them that he had genuinely come to perform the Hajj and not to indulge in warfare. With this move he ﷺ thus managed to motivate public opinion in Makkah in his favour. Now if he was to enter the city and the Quraysh attempted to prevent him the people of Makkah and the Arabs would back him all the way and support him against them. The Quraysh, therefore, ceased their provocative activities and began to seriously contemplate peace. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ decided to send another envoy to negotiate with the Quraysh and he asked ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab to go, but ‘Umar told him:
O Messenger of Allah, I fear for my life with the Quraysh, there is no more of Banu ‘Adi ibn Ka’ab in Makkah to protect me and the Quraysh know of my enmity and my rough treatment of them. However, I recommend a man more prized there than myself, ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan.
‘Uthman as envoy and the rising anger of the Muslims
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ then summoned ‘Uthman and sent him to Abu Sufyan. So ‘Uthman went off and conveyed the Messenger of Allah’s ﷺ message to them. They said to him, “If you want to go around the Sacred House, go around it.” He said, “I cannot do so until the Messenger of Allah ﷺ does so.”
‘Uthman then initiated peace negotiations with the Quraysh, but they continued to reject the idea. The negotiations were extensive and proved difficult at times, however the Quraysh’s position began to shift from a categorical refusal to an attempt to reach a compromise which would satisfy both parties. They searched together for a way out, they took to ‘Uthman’s style and felt at ease with him, and so it was that they ultimately endeavoured to work to secure an end to the crisis and thereby terminate their state of war with Muhammad ﷺ.
When ‘Uthman extended his stay and was nowhere to be seen in Makkah, a rumour broke out in the Muslim camp that the Quraysh had killed him. The Muslims were incensed by the news and they all reached for their swords ready to do battle with the Quraysh. At this point, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ found it necessary to review his whole plan now that the Quraysh had apparently betrayed ‘Uthman in the sacred month, despite being an envoy. Because of this, he ﷺ said, “We shall not leave until we fight the enemy.”
The Pledge of Ridwan: the fight until death
He ﷺ summoned his Sahabah and stood under a tree where he sought an undertaking (pledge), and it was there that they all pledged to him that they would fight until death. Once the pledge had been given, Allah’s Messenger ﷺ clapped his hand against the other as a pledge on behalf of ‘Uthman, as if he had been with them. The pledge became known as the Bay’at al-Ridwan regarding which Allah (swt) said:
Indeed, Allah was pleased with the Believers when they gave their Ba’yah (pledge) to you under the tree, He knew what was in their hearts, and He sent down “As-Sakinah” (Calmness and tranquillity) upon them, and He rewarded them with a near Victory [TMQ Al-Fath 48:18].
New negotiations: now with Suhayl ibn ‘Amr
Once the Ba’yah had been given, and while the Muslims were preparing for battle, news reached the camp that ‘Uthman had not been killed. Soon after ‘Uthman returned and briefed the Messenger of Allah ﷺ about what the Quraysh had said. Peaceful negotiations then resumed between Allah’s Messenger ﷺ and the Quraysh. The Quraysh then sent Suhayl ibn ‘Amr to negotiate with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ over the issue of the armistice to be signed between the two camps, and as well over the broader issues concerning the performance of the Hajj and ‘Umrah. In the case of the latter the condition was that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ should only be allowed back the following year.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ agreed to conduct peace negotiations on these terms because they secured for him what he had really come for in the first place. It would not matter therefore whether he visited the Sacred House this year or the next. What he ﷺ truly wanted was to isolate Khaybar from the Quraysh and to remove all the obstacles that stood between him and the Arabs which hindered his Da’wah and conveyance of the Message of Islam. That is why he wanted to sign a treaty with the Quraysh and hold a truce which would put a halt to their war. As for the Hajj and ‘Umrah, he could always perform that next year.
Allah’s Messenger ﷺ entered into long and delicate negotiations with Suhayl ibn ‘Amr about the truce and its conditions. The negotiations proved to be hard at times and were threatened with collapse had it not been for the shrewdness of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. The Muslims followed the developments closely and thought that the negotiations were about the ‘Umrah, whereas the Messenger of Allah ﷺ was all along aiming at securing a broader truce. Therefore, the Muslims were irritated, but Allah’s Messenger ﷺ thought this to be a blessing, for he conducted the negotiation the way he wanted, regardless of the details and short term benefits. A deal was struck between the two sides once certain specific conditions had been laid down.
Muslims angered over conditions of the negotiations
These conditions triggered the anger of the Muslims and they tried to persuade the Messenger of Allah ﷺ to reject them and resort instead to war. ‘Umar jumped up and went to Abu Bakr saying, “Why should we agree to what is demeaning to our Deen?” ‘Umar tried to force Abu Bakr to go with him to persuade the Messenger of Allah ﷺ not to accept the terms. Abu Bakr, however, tried to dissuade him from pursuing such an initiative, but to no avail. ‘Umar ended up going to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ on his own. He spoke to him ﷺ and expressed his anger and exasperation. However, that did not diminish Allah’s Messenger’s determination and perseverance, reminding ‘Umar:
I am Allah’s slave and His Messenger. I shall not go against His commandment and He will not make me the loser.
In drawing up the treaty, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ summoned ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and told him to write, “In the name of Allah, ar-Rahman, ar-Raheem.” Suhayl said, “Hold it! I do not recognize ar-Rahman, ar-Raheem, but write ‘In your name, O my Lord’.” The Messenger of Allah ﷺ told ‘Ali to write the latter and he did so. Then he ﷺ said, “Write ‘This is what Muhammad the Messenger of Allah has agreed with Suhayl ibn ‘Amr’.” Suhayl said, “Hold it! If I witnessed that you were Allah’s Messenger I would not have fought you. Write your own name and the name of you father.” The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Write ‘This is what Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah has agreed with Suhayl ibn ‘Amr’.” After these opening lines the treaty between the two sides was written comprising the following terms:
1) To lay aside from war and refrain from hostilities during the period of the truce.
2) If anyone from the Quraysh embraced Islam and came to Muhammad ﷺ without the permission of his guardian, he would return him to them, and if anyone from those with Muhammad came to the Quraysh, they need not return him to Muhammad.
3) Whosoever wished from amongst the Arabs to enter into an alliance with Muhammad could do so, and he who wished to enter into an alliance with the Quraysh could do so.
4) The Muslims and Muhammad’s Companions had to retreat from Makkah that year and return the following year when they would be free to enter Makkah and stay there three nights. They would be allowed to carry swords in their sheaths and nothing more.
5) The treaty was for a limited period of time, ten years from the date of its ratification.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ and Suhayl signed the treaty amidst agitation and anger of the Muslim army. Suhayl returned to Makkah leaving the Messenger of Allah ﷺ disturbed and exasperated by the reaction of the Muslims. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ felt awkward and depressed about the stand of the Muslims, their eagerness and zeal to fight, and he went to his wife Umm Salamah who was accompanying him and confessed to her his anguish. She said to him:
O Messenger of Allah, verily the Muslims will not disobey you, they only are zealous about their Deen and their Iman in Allah and your Message, shave your head and slaughter your animals and you will find that the Muslims will follow suit, then march with them back to Madinah.
Surah Al Fath is revealed
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ came out and shaved his head, marking the ‘Umrah after which he felt calm and satisfied. When the Muslims saw him in that state they rushed to slaughter the animals and shave their heads. Then Allah’s Messenger ﷺ returned with the Muslims to Madinah. When they were half way back, Sura al-Fath was revealed. Allah’s Messenger ﷺ recited it in its entirety and it was then that everyone realized that the treaty of Hudaybiyah was indeed a clear victory for the Muslims.
As soon as the Muslims had arrived in Madinah, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ began drawing up plans to deal with Khaybar and spread the Message of Islam beyond the Arabian Peninsula while strengthening Islam within it. He ﷺ wanted to take advantage of his truce with the Quraysh to concentrate on abolishing a few pockets of resistance and to establish foreign ties. The treaty enabled him ﷺ to achieve this.
The Treaty proves to be a strategic masterstroke
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ managed to carry out the plan that he had so shrewdly pieced together under the pretext of performing the Hajj. Despite all the various difficulties and obstacles, he ﷺ managed to achieve all of the political goals he had set out to achieve. Thus, without a shadow of a doubt, the treaty of Hudaybiyah was a great victory. Some of its achievements were:
1) The Messenger of Allah ﷺ managed to create public opinion for the Message of Islam among the Arabs in general and among the Quraysh in particular. This enhanced the respect of the Muslims and diminished that of Quraysh.
2) The belief and trust of the Muslims in Allah’s Messenger ﷺ was demonstrated. It proved that the Iman of the Muslims was unshakable, their courage and readiness to sacrifice themselves were second to none.
3) The Muslims learned that political manoeuvres were an effective means to promote the Islamic Da’wah.
4) The Muslims who remained in Makkah among the disbelievers formed a pocket within the enemy’s stronghold.
5) The Hudaybiyah treaty demonstrated that the method in politics is derived from the same thought (source), truthfulness and faithfulness. However, the means must be coupled with shrewdness, and this can be achieved by concealing the means and the real aims from the enemy.
Were elements of the Hudaybiyah Treaty examples of “compromises” in the core principles? A response
Some have used elements of the events surrounding Hudaybiyah as a license for various forms of “compromise”, from treaties with “Israel” to things like participation in systems founded entirely on kufr.
Some have claimed that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ took a weak position and compromised the strong position that Islam deserved in this situation, for instance regarding the clause that no Muslim would be allowed to travel from Makkah to Al-Madinah without the permission of its people whereas anyone who wished to leave from Al-Madinah and return to Makkah could do so without conditions.
The key thing to note here is that the clauses of this treaty, and the Messenger ﷺ’s negotiation of them, were divinely inspired. This was the Prophet ﷺ acting in his capacity as a Messenger, choosing for his ummah those things which he was specifically receiving divine guidance on, as opposed to, for instance, situations of war tactics and similar for which he often resorted to his Companions for advice on.
This is evinced by the fact that the Sahaabah (rah) themselves did not fully understand this clause at first and when questioned, the Prophet ﷺ said that he would not disobey Allah. This clause ended up giving greater strength to the Muslims in the longer run while the Sahaabah naturally did not have the foresight to comprehend this at the time. The Prophet ﷺ made the issue clear by stating that this was from the revelation of Allah and that he was fulfilling what had been commanded to him (as above).
So this is an example of the Prophet ﷺ implementing the command of Allah and those who have claimed that it was an example of “compromise” on core principles – and thus an indication that such principles may indeed be compromised based on the exigencies of certain situations – need to revisit the detailed history of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah in order to come to a better understanding of these particulars.
To the contrary of these claims, and as the above has made clear, it is now well known that the conditions of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah only gave strength to the Muslims and their cause in the longer run. The clause mentioned above allowed the Da’wah in Makkah to become stronger. It should be remembered that it was in fact this very treaty that, in the years to follow, allowed the Muslims to go on and remove the enemy of Khaibar who had been planning to join forces with the Quraysh of Makkah against the Muslims prior to the treaty.
Indeed, in due course, this treaty was key to the overwhelming conquest of Makkah after only two years, as it was its violation by the Quraysh that gave the Prophet ﷺ the mandate to march on Makkah, after he had used the terms of the treaty in his favour to consolidate, build alliances, send out delegations and further strengthen the Muslims’ hand in the meantime!
Such was the significance of this treaty and the great victory for Islam that resulted from it that Allah سبحانه وتعالى mentioned in the Qur’an that “Verily we have provided you with a clear victory” (Al-Fath 1).
Another alleged example of “compromise” raised by some is the Prophet’s ﷺ agreement to remove the words “ar-Rahmaan ir-Raheem” and “Muhammad Rasool-Allah” from the treaty, as described above.
Again, these were not compromises in the sense that some claim today, where they use this incident to justify making halal the haram, or taking a path to politics that is replete with unjustifiable compromises of the faraaidh of Islam.
In responding to this, it should be recalled that it was not fard for the Prophet ﷺ to begin the treaty in these words, rather it was of the Mandubat (recommended) to begin with such words. Hence, it was definitely not haram to remove them, nor was it an instance of compromising core principles to do this. Only someone ignorant of the usul and hukm shar’i on these matters would claim that this is an example of the Prophet ﷺ compromising. Yet it is an unfortunate reality that some of those who use such incidents – mischaracterising them as they do – use them for completely inappropriate ends.
We ask Allah ﷻ to give us detailed and clear understanding of the seerah such that we only take lessons from it that are correct and in line with what took place. Indeed the confusion some have created as regards Hudaybiyah show the importance of having such an understanding of the seerah.
And our last prayer: All praise belongs to Allah.
This article has been partially adapted from the book The Islamic State by Sheikh Taqiuddin Nabhani, with parts consolidated from The Sealed Nectar (Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri) and Seerah Ibn Hisham.