An understanding of the concept of Treaty in Al-Islam

Before anyone can look into the various meanings of Al-Hudaybiah treaty, or any Muslim treaty hoping perhaps  to ascertain the meaning of certain approaches or tactics used to arrive at agreements, or to enforce agreements, etc. one must understand some very basic facts about Islam as understood and observed through the intent, meaning, and objectives of Islamic law. Such a basic understanding would make it clear that the much talked about Al-Hudaybiyah treaty is a model for peace between Muslims and Pagans, and not between Muslims and people of the Book, neither Christians, Muslims or Jews, and this might be an important distinction.  It was not an agreement  between conflicting armies of monotheists, or people of the Book, described in the Qur’an as those who had followed the progression of prophet Abraham’s righteous progeny through Mosaic law, the teachings of Jesus, and later the teachings of Muhammad. In fact, the prophet Muhammad never led, or engaged in any battles that pitted Muslims against other Muslims, Christian or Jewish armies.  Neither was there ever an open military, or violent dispute over the content of his message, or his claim to prophet hood between either member of this group, and the prophet Muhammad never went into battle to claim territory belonging to either group, or anyone else to place under Muslim rule. There were occasions when Muslims and Jews met in conflict during the lifetime of the prophet, when certain Jewish tribes of Arabia joined with the Pagans to fight against the prophet Muhammad in the battle of the Trench, or Al-Azhab (The Confederates), which took place in A.H. 5, or five years following the (hijrah) migration of the prophet Muhammad  from Mecca to Medina. Historically, whenever the Jewish tribes engaged Muslim armies, or militias, they did so usually as part of coalitions with larger Pagan tribes, and armies.

The legitimate cause for militarism in Islam of course impacts the character of agreements, which is why it is important that history regarding the prophet Muhammad, and the types of military campaigns he undertook, and their causes be set straight. Contrary to the history of Islam dictated and advanced by antagonistic Zionist scholars and commentators, and some of the Orientalist scholars of the past, the  prophet Muhammad never led Muslims to battle in an attempt to spread Islam  by the sword, or to convert  Pagans, or anyone else to monotheism, and neither did he ever lead anyone into battle to force the idea upon the people of the monotheist sects that a new book of revelation was being sent down by God through Angel Gabriel, and taught to the prophet Muhammad, who had been commissioned by God to teach this message. God had revealed to Muhammad, according to the Qur’an, in very clear and unambiguous terms,  that no human being should be compelled by another human to believe in God, or to accept and believe in either  prophet hood, or the Divine message, which was later named Islam. Neither was anyone to be punished by Muhammad, or his followers because they refused to accept or believe in God, or the prophet Muhammad or the new message. “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from falsehood. Whoever rejects evil and believes has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks” (Holy Qur’an, 2:256). “Say; (Muhammad), Oh you that reject faith, I worship not that which you worship, nor will you worship that which I worship, and I will not worship that which you want me to worship, nor will you worship that which I want you to worship, to you your way, and to me mine” ( Holy Qur’an, Chapter Kafirun, “The rejecters” verses 1-6).

God made it very clear to the prophet Muhammad, that the human species must be free to choose, since we must be judged, and no one should meet God on the day of Judgment and when questioned as to our crimes, or good deeds, respond that we have lived our lives under duress, and did not have choices. For if such should be the case, there could not be a just accounting, nor could there be rewards or punishment, and neither could we ever re-enter the Garden, whether or not the garden is a metaphor, symbolizing some serene state, or is literally a place of repose near to God. The entire concept of justice as we understand it generally would have been completely turned upon its head if God should have decided to place mankind in bondage to other human beings, and punished us for choices made by others, and not according to our individual intent, choices and actions. It would be equally unjust if the so-called righteous were to enslave mankind and force upon us good deeds, since we would not have performed such deeds as a matter of our own independent judgment and choice. “We did indeed offer the Trust to the heavens, and earth, and mountains but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof. But man undertook it, he was wrong in his estimation of his own attributes in comparison to God’s attributes  (meaning that mankind is zalum “unjust” and jahul “ignorant”).   The result of that is that God must punish the hypocrites, men and women, and the unbelievers, men and women, and God turns in Mercy to the believers,  for God is Oft Forgiving and Most Merciful” ( Holy Qur’an 33:72-73).

Islam also disagrees with the idea of vicarious atonement, or spiritual burden sharing, which is made most obvious through Islam’s renunciation of the idea that Adam was cursed by God, and his progeny born in sin, and that Jesus was therefore crucified to atone for the original sin of Adam and all of mankind ( Holy Bible, Romans3:23-28). The Qur’anic position on the false charge of blasphemy against prophet Jesus, is that it was an unjustifiable charge, and the perceived crucifixion an injustice, carried out in an attempt to end prophet hood, and the message from going forth into other regions of the earth and to all people. It was also an attempt to silence Jesus who had come to restore the law, and to admonish the tribe of Israel for repeatedly violating God’s laws.

The ancient Hebrew tribes believed in ritual atonement and using animal sacrifices as scapegoats and sprinkling of animal blood to remove sins.( Holy Bible, Leviticus 16:1-34). This seems to have become the archetype for the characterization of  the Christian belief in Jesus’ crucifixion as the supreme act of atonement, the shedding of perfect blood, and sacrificing life to once and for all time attain forgiveness for the original sin of Adam supposedly passed on to his progeny. The Qur’an says by comparison in Chapter 17, verse 15, ” Who receives guidance receives it for his own benefit. Who goes astray does so to his own loss. No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another.”  Chapter 4, verses 110-112, says; ” If any one does evil or wrongs his own soul but afterwards seeks God’s forgiveness, he will find God oft’ forgiving, most merciful. And if any one earns sin, he earns it against his own soul; for God is full of knowledge and wisdom. But if anyone earns a fault or a sin and throws it on one that is innocent, he carries upon himself both a falsehood and a flagrant sin.”

The Qur’an teaches that each individual is in pledge for his or her own deeds, and will be judged separately, and punished or rewarded according to their own choice and actions, which is also why Muslims deplore and reject the idea of collective punishment, as does most of the civilized world. It is for this reason also that Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet, and intercessor through whom we can beseech God, but not as a God, or literal son of God, as in offspring or descendant. The point being that freedom of the human body, heart and soul, and its responsibilities in respect to God and man, are so strongly emphasized in Islam that it is impossible for an honest and sincere examiner of the text of the Qur’an to come away with the idea that the prophet Muhammad sought to spread Islam by the sword, or that any of the battles fought throughout Islam’s early history were to punish for rejection of Muhammad. It is clear within the text of the Qur’an that there were never attempts to establish a personality cult surrounding Muhammad, or the message, nor to claim territory or land based upon the common beliefs of a people. Proof of this is found in the fact that the first community over which the prophet Muhammad had authority was a pluralistic society of Muslims and Jews who had collectively issued an invitation to the prophet to leave Mecca where he was being persecuted and to migrate to, and lead the village of Yathrib, later known as Medina.  Battles when fought, were fought to remove impediments from the path to God, and to benefit humanity in the search for God, and answers to life’s challenges that can only be explained by God, who is the Creator of all things. In Islam, we believe that mankind’s success is dependant upon an opportunity to search for the truth, and anyone who seeks to prevent or inhibit the human search for truth and perfection, and the performance of religious rites, is attempting to prevent humanity from achieving levels of mastery that are by right our inheritance from the prophets.  This also explains why Muslims could never justify religious hatred, or political hatred, greed, revenge or anger that would cause them to seek to eliminate a race of people, or to punish groups of people for the injustices committed by individuals from that same group, nor would any Muslim army ever seek to resolve any dispute through attrition, or genocide.

Recognized barriers to freedom might be tyrants who would attempt to prevent the people from worshipping God, or learning about God, or studying different ideas about God, seeking to prevent people from choosing to believe or disbelieve in God, or to practice their obligatory religious rites once having affiliated themselves with a certain belief or organized religion. Obstacles to religious freedom might also be observed as ideas that cause mankind to be deceived and to fall into ruin because of bad judgments, and wrong thinking. Ideas such as those advanced by polytheist and atheist, suggesting that God does not exist, or that there are many gods, or promoting actions or beliefs prohibited by God. The Qur’an says “like for like,” so the prophet Muhammad would not have fought ideas with violence, but rater with preaching, and teaching.  He was given permission to fight those who attacked the city of Medina, or who had attempted to take the property belonging to the people. He was given the right to protect the private property, and the safety of the community, and to safeguard people’s freedom.

For Americans these issues are clearly understood if we view them as the same universal concepts of freedom, and rights presented in our US Constitution that protects religious freedom, free speech, the right to political association, and public assembly, and that makes it the citizen’s duty to uphold and protect these inalienable rights and to safeguard our country against violence, treason, and also sedition. So central are these rights to human freedom, that in the United States there are civil statutes that make it a crime to conspire to prevent other citizens from practicing, or enjoying such rights. An example might be 42 USC 1985(3) “Cause for action for conspiracies to deprive the people of their Constitutional Rights.”  Of course from a layman’s point of view it stands to reason that anyone who would make this charge against a person or group would have to have clean hands themselves, meaning that they cannot be guilty of abusing their constitutional rights hoping to, or attempting to  prevent other citizens from enjoying their rights, nor does it seem reasonable that a person would be able to invoke this statute to claim a right to undermine the constitution, or to cause harm to the country or its people, through violence or treason. The same is true in respect to Islam, which is why the Qur’an says that only those who believe and practice monotheist Islam can legitimately lead, or rule, or even negotiate the rights and well being of Muslims. The very idea that freedom is essential to a quality life, and also to a nation’s security was recognized in the Holy Scriptures  long before such ideas became the basis for the secular civil laws of modern nations, and the idea of a righteous and moral leadership to oversee and protect such rights and freedoms is also not unique to al-Islam. It is important to mention also, that the Jewish faith also understands this requirement for leadership and legitimacy in respect to representation in  treaty negotiations on behalf of a community of monotheist, or people claiming to have descended from a monotheistic tradition. Theodore Hertzl, one of the founders of modern Zionism spoke of this in The Jewish State under the heading Negotiorum Gestio.  Whereas there are many Orthodox Jews who would argue that Zionism is not Judaism, like many sects that have claimed to represent Islam, and Christianity, yet have deviated from the path of monotheism, Zionism is presently recognized by world governments and others as the legitimate voice of Judaism in the world, hence we refer to the Zionist state as the Jewish state, and it is generally assumed that Zionist ideology has served until now as the guiding principles behind its historic behaviors.

If this is true, then the idea that only a Jewish person can negotiate the fate of Israel is recognized, even though this idea might complicate the ability for Zionist Jews to negotiate viable treaties with non-Jews since non-Jews, in this case Christian and Muslim Palestinians, are also guided by a self interest, and a law that seeks to protect their interest. There is sufficient concern expressed regarding Israel’s and the United State’s lack of trust in respect to Palestinian sincerity when it comes to negotiations and treaties, while little attention is given to the fact that Palestinian suspicion is also perhaps well founded, considering the Zionist rules of negotiating explained by Hertzl who said, ” The gestio is intended to work for the good of the dominus, the people to whom the gestor himself belongs”  meaning exclusively the Jewish people. The complicating idea is not necessarily this concept alone, since it is generally recognized and accepted by all of the monotheist faiths, as a right. Yet, what might be complicating is the fact that this gestio, so far as he or she is negotiating with non-Jews, may not consider its self  to be bound by any rules or laws or agreements that might be interpreted as “bad” for Israel, making it almost impossible to understand how much trust to place in truces and agreements reached without knowing or understanding the actual rules that are guiding and controlling the Zionist perspective and concept of binding agreement, and the rights of non-Jews.  Does Israel recognize treaties between Jews and non-Jews as binding, or does it only recognize treaties between Jews? If so, are we to assume that Jews must negotiate on either side for the well being of Israel, and might this explain why traditionally Washington has employed mostly Zionist Jews to oversee its Middle East policy? 

In respect to Al-Hudabiyah, no violence ever occurred, and the truce was entered into, hoping to prevent a violent conflict. This single aspect of the treaty might disqualify it for use as a treaty by which to end a violent conflict, yet there may be observable principles within al-Hudabiyah which might be helpful in respect to the resolution of any type of conflict involving Muslims, even though we would have to find some basis upon which to premise an expansion of ideas to include cessation of violence once violent conflict has ensued. In my opinion this basis is the Islamic rule that charges the people of God with the preservation of life, since life is sacred, and the laws that prohibit the taking of life except for a just cause. Even if the cause for war is just, life must be taken sparingly, and only when absolutely necessary, which means that diplomacy must be given every chance,  up to and until it is clear that the other side will not cease to attack.

To understand the difference between the Qur’anic position towards Pagans and monotheist, which is perhaps the most glaring distinction between al-Hudabiyah and Palestinian/Israeli negotiations, one might look in Chapter 9, named Taubah, or The Repentance. It is also referred to as Baraat, or “Immunity.” In this chapter of the Qur’an God provides a clear description of believers, unbelievers, pagans and hypocrites promising each a certain and unfavorable destiny, depending upon their actions, while also holding out the opportunity for forgiveness for all, even the imperfect believers. Note that no one was told to engage the other militarily due to differences in belief, or because of race, color, or socio-economic standing.

Chapter 9 also deals with the requirements of a newly established society of believers and their rights to self defense and treaty with enemies both of the people of the Book and pagans, and also hypocrites. Qur’anic scholar Abdullah Yusef Ali summarizes this Chapter of the Qur’an saying: ” The sacred duty to fulfill all obligations of every kind, to Muslims and non-Muslims, in public as well private life is a cardinal feature of Muslim ethics. The question, “what is to be done with those who abuse this principal by failing in their duty, but expect Muslims to do their part, is not solved by a general denunciation of treaties, but rather by a careful consideration of the cases where there has been fidelity and where there has been treachery.  There we are enjoined to give the strictest fidelity, as it is a part of righteousness and our duty to God.”

Chapter 9 begins saying, ” A declaration of immunity from God and His apostle, to those of the Pagans with whom you have contracted alliances. Go you then for four months, backwards and forwards as you will throughout the land, but know that you cannot frustrate God, but God will cover with shame those who reject Him.” This verse, which was read aloud to the public by the prophet’s cousin and son in law,  Ali ibn Abu Talib, informed both Muslims and pagans that if there would be treachery between them, and continuous breaking of treaties,  God would not stand as witness to their alliances, and so they should be dissolved. They were told to take a four month period to test one another’s sincerity. If during the four months the Muslims were true and the pagans true, the treaties would continue, as attested to in the following verse 4, where it says, “The treaties are not dissolved with those Pagans with whom you have entered an alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor aided any one against you. So fulfill your engagements with them, for God loves the righteous.” Then in verse 5 it says: ” But when the forbidden months have ended then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and use every stratagem of war against them until they repent…” Yusef Ali explains this verse saying: ” the emphasis is on the first clause; it is only when the four months grace period has passed and the other party shows no signs of desisting from their treacherous designs by right conduct that the state of war supervenes between faith and unfaith.” This is validated by another verse in this same chapter, verse 7, where it says; “As long as these stand true to you, stand you true to them, for God doth love the righteous.”

The general understanding of the concept of treaty in Islam, seems to be that treaties should not be used as a stratagem in war, but rather they should be honored as a means by which mankind can arrange to live in peace based upon agreements wherein each nation’s or group of people’s rights are recognized and explained, and where needs for security, and other interests are also addressed. The general idea of treaty in Islam, it could be said, is to both prevent and to end conflicts, violent and non-violent.

In the Qur’an, Muslims are told to honor all treaties with all people or nations. We are also told to fight those who fight us, especially if they are fighting us because of what we believe. ” To those who against war is made, permission is given to fight because they have been wronged, and verily God is most powerful for their aid ” (Holy Qur’an 22:46).  In respect to the people of the Book, God also says in this chapter that we must oppose their false teachings, should they become apostates, renouncing their belief in One God, the day of Judgment, and the laws of God. In many English translations the word “fight” is used to describe this struggle against the false teachings of Christians, Muslims or Jews who deviate from the basic tenets of monotheism, yet there is no reason to believe that  this means literally warfare, since the Arabic word jihad does not mean violence or war. Its strictest definition means to struggle against or to oppose. The way to struggle against such teachings would reasonably, and obviously be to teach the truth, which is the method employed by all prophets. No one should understand better than a Muslim that belief cannot be coerced, and truth cannot be imposed through violence. The Qur’an says: ” Struggle against those who believe not in God, nor the last day, nor hold that forbidden what has been forbidden by God and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the true faith, even if they are people of the Book…” Yet, other than in instances where they have deviated from monotheism, the Muslim is told to treat them with respect, and refrain from any conflict with them, even violent conflict, unless of course they attack first.  In Chapter 13, of the Qur’an, verses 36-38 and 40-41, we read: ” Those to whom we have given the Book rejoice at what has been revealed unto you (Muhammad), but there are those among the tribes who reject a part thereof. Say: ” I am commanded to worship God, and not to join partners with Him. Unto Him do I call, and unto Him is my return.” Thus have We revealed  it to be a judgment of authority in the Arabic language. Were thou to follow their desires after the knowledge which has reached thee, then would thou find no protector or defender against God…Whether we show thee (Muhammad)  part of what we promised them, or call to ourselves thy soul before it is all accomplished, thy duty is to make the message reach them. It is our part, to call them to account.” 

Perhaps the reason for the apparent distinction in relations between sects of the Book, and those of Pagans is found in God’s repeated promise to bring the sects of the Book together again under the worship of One God, even though, according to the prayer of Abraham, this unification would not seek to establish a hierarchy of belief, or authority among monotheist, but rather would be an aspect of the separation, or sorting out as mentioned in both the Bible and Qur’an, in preparation for the Day of Judgment. This is also referred to sometimes as the “harvesting” where monotheist and polytheist will be separated, and like will be joined with like, and each judged accordingly,( Holy Bible Matthew 8:11-12), ” Verily I (Jesus) say unto you, that many shall come from the East and the West and shall sit down with Abraham…” Or as is mentioned in Matthew 13:33, ” The Kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid inside three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened.” 

The treaty of al-Hudaybiyah causes us to understand perhaps three important things about treaty obligations as understood in Islam,1. Muslims can enter into treaties to prevent violent conflicts 2.  Muslims can enter into treaties that are binding for a temporary period of time 3. Even when treaty periods expire, Muslims cannot resort to violence, or return to violence unless the enemy returns to, or initiates violence first. In other words, the Muslim is not considered to be at peace only so long as we are under a binding agreement. The Muslim is to be considered at peace so long as we are not being attacked, or unlawfully oppressed or threatened with violence, even if there is no agreement to explain the terms of such peace.

The specific lessons to be learned from al-Hudaybiyah treaty might be 1.The well being and survival of the Ummat is a priority for Muslim leadership2. Peace is always an objective since it generally serves to preserve life, and property, even the lives of unbelievers, and in Islam life is sacred, and placed under the care of the vice regent to be protected and  preserved and not ended casually, or without just cause. 3. At times it may be necessary to temporarily limit rights and  freedoms hoping to achieve security for the Ummat, at least until war, violent conflict, or non-violent conflict is ended, and normalcy re-established.

Al-Islam is a rich way of living that is warm, and compassionate in its treatment of such important topics as the Muslim conduct of state, while strong and unyielding toward evil. Islam is also simple enough that any human being, whether knowledgeable of religion or not, can perhaps grasp the worldview of the Muslim and understand our history, and the great potential of the more than 1.5 billion people in the world who adhere to this way of life.  We are taught in Islam, that humanity is one body and that if any part of the body is hungry, we are all hungry. We are taught that if any part of this body is in pain, we are all hurting. The Qur’an teaches us to be wary of the type of oppression and injustice that normalizes or institutionalizes evil. The idea of treaty, or the reaching of understandings and human cooperation through diplomacy is a primary aspect of the Islamic world vision, since it allows the Muslim to learn about the needs of others, as well as to explain our own needs. With such knowledge, the world can have peace so long as there is a desire for cooperation based mutual respect. The only other option is war, perpetual conflict and violence, which when you think about it, is not really an option, or choice at all, but rather it is a most horrendous human failure. An example of our inability to believe not only in other human beings, but also in God’s ability to take a good intention, and make it into a powerful act, or idea…and such is peace, a most powerful act, and idea.

The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women and host a weekly internet radio program at IBN.Net, named “A Civilizational Dialogue.” (1-2 PM each Wednesday). The author is also head of the International Assoc. for Muslim Women and Children, an accredited NGO with the UN Division on the Rights of the Palestinians.