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Philosophy of Siyar and the Peace Treaty of Hudaybiya

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Endeavor for Renewal

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Philosophy of Siyar and the Peace Treaty of Hudaybiya

Question: It was previously stated that it is definitely necessary to compare the time of the noble Prophet with ours, and find out the points that relate to our time. In this respect, could you evaluate the Treaty of Hudaybiya, in terms of the messages it gives for today?

Answer: Muslims always need to refer to the discipline of Siyar, the biographies of the noble Prophet, as a very important source. It shows how the Qur’an should be understood and elucidates established principles in religion. The noble Messenger of God indicated by personal example—with his blessed life, words, attitudes, behaviors, and explanations—how to lead a life in compliance with the Divine revelation. His blessed Companions, each of whom was a master of language, interpreted these two holy sources correctly, conveyed their meanings correctly, and left a path for the later generations to follow. I think the deliverance of contemporary believers also depends on following their example, as stated by the noble Prophet as “My Companions are like stars; whichever of them you follow, you will find right guidance.”[1]

A great interpreter: Time

Although the events that occurred in the time of the noble Prophet were minor events on their own, they serve as a reference for all events in the greater scale that will take place until the end of the world. Every happening of that period bears some tips for solving the situations to be faced in future periods. People who take those tips as starting points can come up with solutions for the problems in their time, by taking into consideration the conditions of their own time and the cultural level of the people who lived in those days. This holds true for finding alternative solutions to the problems in today’s rapidly globalizing world. In order to fulfill these problems in the best way it is necessary both to know the life of the noble Prophet well and to interpret and analyze the contemporary age well. It is possible to study all books of Siyar and to tell them to others. You may have gained very good insight into the events of those times, to the degree of feeling yourself like one of the actual characters of the stories, and feel due sadness or joy according to the narration at hand. However, if you simply suffice with that much and fail to grasp the open ends in them and to figure out how they can fill certain gaps in our time, then you gain nothing but a good narration of historical events. Naturally, along the course of fourteen centuries of Islamic history, certain points about the philosophy of Siyar are much referred to and some events in the time of the blessed Prophet were interpreted in terms of social history. It is a reality that there are very serious sociological differences between the conditions in those interpreters’ time and the present. Some of the earlier philosophical considerations were put aside in time, some became outdated and new ways of thinking developed instead. For this reason, even though it is possible to benefit from earlier commentaries and perspectives, it is hard to claim that they suffice to shed light on contemporary issues. Only those who successfully take time, the greatest interpreter, into consideration can come up with a sound philosophy of Siyar for our time; they are the ones who deserve to be called “children of their time” (ibnu’z-zaman). When Siyar is viewed from such a perspective, it will be seen that it is such a pure and fresh fount of wisdom. Those who know how to benefit from it will gain very much from it. When we view the Treaty of Hudaybiya mentioned in the question, we see that it conveys so many messages of wisdom for our time.

The sun of mildness that melted the ice of hatred

In the sixth year of the Hijra, the noble Prophet promised his Companions for Umrah (Minor Pilgrimage) and he set forth toward the Ka’ba in order to teach them how to fulfill Umrah in compliance with the essentials and spirit of Islam. However, the Quraysh tribe rigidly wished to prevent it. In the vicinity of Mecca, the Messenger of God sent a man to express that they only wished to make Umrah. However, some people from the Quraysh attempted to kill the envoy. After that, Uthman ibn Affan was sent, but they caught and imprisoned him.[2] Upon this, the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, gathered Muslims for a pledge of allegiance.[3] As a consequence of these events, the tension was high. The Companions had their hands on the hilts of their swords and were ready to react. The noble Prophet had promised for a pilgrimage and they had covered the 400 km distance under the conditions of those times, by riding camels and horses. They had come as near as Jeddah, but the polytheists prevented their advance. Had the blessed Prophet taken it as a matter of honor and gestured them forward, the Companions would not have feared the horsemen of Khalid ibn al-Walid, or the Meccan army of ten thousand armed soldiers. They would have fought their way on and reached the Ka’ba. However, such a course of action would not have been of help in terms of their noble ideals. There were so many people before them, who would hopefully, with time, believe in one God. The Messenger of God, who was an ever-sensible person, perspicaciously reckoned the likely consequences and signed a peace Treaty with the Meccan polytheists in Hudaybiya. As he had taken the pledge of allegiance from his Companions that they would fight until death if necessary, he astutely turned that loyalty into a peace treaty.[4] People who swore allegiance under such a difficult situation would much more easily obey orders upon returning to Medina without confrontation. As this matchless perspicacity and sagacious attitude of the noble Prophet can be seen as a consequence of Divine inspiration, it can also be seen as natural outcome of his character.

The articles of the treaty were seemingly disadvantageous to Muslims.[5] First of all, 1500 people[6] whose hearts were burning with the desire to visit the Ka’ba would not go beyond Hudaybiya but return to Medina. Outwardly, it seemed to be a loss. However, these people, who found security thanks to the Treaty of Hudaybiya, would disperse to the region among different tribes and invite them to the verses of the Qur’an and beauties of Islam. At the same time, the peaceful atmosphere brought by the agreement began to transform the rigid attitude of the Meccans to a milder one. Within one or two years, very important personalities as Khalid ibn al-Walid, Amr ibn al-As and Uthman ibn Talha[7] felt the void of meaning on the side they supported, grew aware of the developing power before them, and came to Islam not by force but by their voluntary choice. Since they had not faced any coercion about accepting Islam, their hearts were not broken. It was not only these three people; there were hundreds or thousands of these converts in the same situation. Thanks to the blessed Prophet’s mild character, the opposing parties came to their senses, one by one, within the peaceful atmosphere generated by the Treaty of Hudaybiya and they voluntarily accepted Islam. The Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, who had envisioned all of those developments with a holistic perspective, did not give priority to reaching to the Ka’ba or even conquering Mecca, but he targeted conquering hearts. For this reason, he preferred peace even though the conditions were seemingly disadvantageous. At the same time, he did not let neighboring tribes say “Muslims entered the holy Ka’ba by bloodshed.” Mecca was conquered after a short while without bloodshed or disrespect to the holy shrine.[8] Only a limited group of people reacted during their entrance to Mecca, and they were people who had not grasped the essence of the issue.[9] However, it was a minor and exceptional situation.

Doors of hearts being opened within the atmosphere of peace

This event, which we relate with its general outlines, has some points to provide today’s people with inspiration. In today’s world, where distances have become diminished through means of transport and communication, people with different faiths and cultures coexist. For example, when you visit a country in Africa you see that some people continue their tribal religions and some people follow Christianity. Some of these people are even more devout Christians than their counterparts in the West. On the other hand, some of them display a negative and biased attitude toward Islam. If any good relations are to be built with them, it is necessary to astutely analyze the present picture and act sensibly by calculating every detail well. The issue has no tolerance for offensiveness. You can never build good relations with an attitude of total disregard for their values. On the contrary, it is possible to build a warm relationship through dialogue, tolerance, respecting everybody’s position, recognizing their being honored with the best pattern of creation, and acknowledging that every one of them is a bright mirror to the Divine, with respect to their essence and potentials. After gaining real insight into all of these aspects and saying, “I am a child of this time and living in such a society,” it is necessary to determine a style. I think one of our greatest shortcomings is developing a universal discourse to embrace everyone. Just as there are dialogue centers, I wish there were centers of discourse development to let people of our time acquire a refined manner; I wish it would be possible to explain how to “establish dialogue with people from different cultural backgrounds and understandings without offending them.” Muslims have two important sources in their hands, in the Qur’an and Sunnah. These can offer solutions for the problems of any era. Introducing their beauties to different societies and children of different cultures requires speaking the same language. Then it is necessary to understand others’ feelings and know their sensitivities about issues such as language, culture and the like. Trying to voice one’s own truths without taking these into consideration is a mistake. People who are solely concentrated on their own car cannot be good drivers. You need to watch others who steer on the same road and act accordingly. Speaking haphazardly with occasional outbursts of emotion can be grossly offensive if you do so unaware.

Getting back to our main subject, the Hudaybiya example provides a tip for this issue. We need to seek ways for peace in a smaller world, no matter what faith other people follow. To this end, it is possible for civil society organizations to sign treaties about relations between societies, such as a treaty of Africa, the Far East, or Canada etc. Against possible attacks or biased attitudes, we must find an opportunity to show that we intend no harm. This way, we can express ourselves better. As believers, we do not intend any harm to anybody at all. But we need to have a suitable ground to present our true character and let others listen to us. It is necessary to know that others will trust you as much as they recognize you together with your heart and inner world. In short, good developments in today’s conditions can only happen within an atmosphere of friendship, alliance, and support. If we come together with people of different cultures and understandings, hold hands, eat at the same table and have the same tea, then we have an opportunity to know one another better. Others’ knowing us with our own depths and cultural riches can only be realized thus. People who live in different cultural regions of our time can only rid themselves of prejudices through such interaction and dialogue.

[1] Aliyyulqari, Al-Asraru’l-Marfua, p.388
[2] Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Musnad, 4/323–325
[3] Ibn Hisham, As-Siratu’n-Nabawiyya, 4/283
[4] Ibid.
[5] Sahih al-Bukhari, Shurut, 15; Sahih Muslim, Jihad, 90–92
[6] Sahih al-Bukhari, Maghazi, 35; Sahih Muslim, Imara, 67–72
[7] Ibn Sa’d, At-Tabakatu’l-Kubra, 4/252; 7/395; Al-Waqidi, Kitabu’l-Maghazi, 1/748
[8] Ibn Hisham, As-Siratu’n-Nabawiyya, 5/42–68
[9] Ibid., 5/66–67