February 4th, 2009 by Guest Writer

Editor’s Note: A guest article from author Joel Richardson. Learn more at his website www.JoelsTrumpet.com.

The Covenant with Death & the Treaty of Hudaibiyah

In war, one of the greatest mistakes that one can make is to not know your enemy.  Just recently, I was enjoying breakfast with one of my daughters at a local Pancake House managed by a family from Saudi Arabia.  The owner and I are very friendly and always strike up a conversation whenever I visit.  The other day I asked him how many languages he spoke.  I was surprised when he said that he is presently studying Hebrew.  “Hebrew, really?  Why are you learning Hebrew?” I asked.  At this point, he leaned over to me and lowered his voice.  Scanning the room before he spoke, he whispered to me, “You know… always know your enemy.”  I didn’t push my friend as to why a Saudi immigrant in the Midwest of the United States would feel as though Jews or Israelis were his enemies, but it made for an enlightening episode into my Muslim host’s mindset.

Today the Nation of Israel, more than ever is being pushed from all sides to come to the negotiating table and agree to allow the Palestinian people a state of their own side by side with the State of Israel.  Many from among the Israeli-leadership in fact believe that such an agreement is their only solution for long-term “peace and security.”  But do these Israeli leaders truly know with whom they are dealing?  Have these Israeli leaders ever truly taken the time to really study the tenants and history of Islam in order to understand the system that guides every aspect of those who they will someday trust as “peace-partners?”

Beyond the general fact that lying and deceitfulness find a rich seed-bed in the religion of Islam, there is also a very specific piece of Islamic history that must be fully understood by anyone who thinks that peace between Jews and radical Muslims is possible. Specifically within Islamic history, I am referring to what is known as the Treaty of Hudaibiyah. One cannot even begin to approach understanding modern day Middle East politics until one first understands the history and meaning of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah.

The Treaty of Hudaibiyah

While Islam was still in its infancy, Muhammad’s small but growing band of followers found themselves living in Medina after being driven out of Mecca due to a conflict with Muhammad’s former tribe of Quraysh.  At the time, the various surrounding Arab tribes would make religious pilgrimages to the pagan shrine in Mecca known as the Ka’ba, but because the tribe of Quraysh was the guardian and custodian of the shrine, the followers of Muhammad were not allowed to make such pilgrimages.

One night, Muhammad claimed to have received a revelation from Allah in a dream.  He claimed that Allah told him that he and his followers would make the pilgrimage to Mecca.  Following this alleged revelation Muhammad prepared his people to travel to Mecca for the pilgrimage.  However, while attempting to sneak into the city, at a place called the Spring of Hudaibiyah, they were intercepted by Meccan / Qurayashi troops.  It was here that the men of Quraysh disrespected Muhammad in front of his followers, and did not allow them to go forward to make pilgrimage.  However, they did negotiate with the Islamic believers and struck a deal that became known as the Treaty of Hudaibiyah which reads as follows:

In your name, O Allah. These are the terms of the truce between Muhammad, the son of Abdullah and Suhayl, the son of Amr (of Mecca).  Both parties have agreed to lay down the burden of war for ten years. During this time, each party shall be safe, and neither shall injure the other; no secret damage shall be inflicted, but uprightness and honor shall prevail between them. The Muslims shall return (to Medina) this year without performing Umrah (the pilgrimage). In the coming year, you may enter it (Mecca) with your companions, staying therein for three days, bearing no arms except the arms of the traveler, with swords remaining in their sheaths. If a Quraysh person comes to Muhammad (i.e., after accepting Islam) without the permission of his guardian, Muhammad shall return him to them, but if one of Muhammad’s people come to the Quraysh, he shall not be returned. Whoever wishes to enter into covenant with Muhammad can do so, and whoever wishes to enter into covenant with the Quraysh can do so.”

It is obvious as one reads the treaty that the Quraysh were the ones in a position of strength and were in fact being quite generous to the relatively smaller band of Islamic believers, which numbered only a little over a thousand men.  While Muhammad and his band were prepared to enter Mecca (according to Muhammad’s alleged revelation from Allah), they ended up being turned away until the following year, though they were allowed to return to Medina unharmed and recruit as many others from outside the Quraysh tribe as they wished.  With the Islamic believers being the weaker and smaller group, the agreement not to attack each other for ten years was a generous concession on the Quraysh’s part.

The result of this humiliating encounter and treaty was that the Islamic believers were covered with shame and began to grumble against Muhammad.  They were terribly embarrassed that their great leader had been treated so poorly and did nothing to respond other than to roll over and agree to the treaty.  They were also a bit disillusioned because Muhammad had obviously prophesied falsely regarding his followers making the pilgrimage.  But above all, regarding the treaty, there were whines of “no fair” heard throughout the Islamic camp.  How could the greatest people on the earth (as Muhammad was in the habit of classifying them) be so humiliated?   A Hadith of Bukhari records the arrogance and the offense of the Islamic camp:

At that time ‘Umar came (to the Prophet) and said, “Aren’t we on the right (path) and they (pagans) in the wrong? Won’t our killed persons go to Paradise, and theirs in the Fire?” The Prophet replied, “Yes.” Umar further said, “Then why should we let our religion be degraded and return before Allah has settled the matter between us?”

Sahih Bukhari 6.367

Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul records another conversation that broke out among two of Muhammad’s closet friends, Umar, and Abu Bakr, the very men who would later become the first and second Caliphs after Muhammad:

Umar jumped up and went to Abu Bakr saying, “Is he not God’s apostle, and are we not Muslims, and are they not polytheists?” to which Abu Bakr agreed, and he went on: “Then why should we agree to what is demeaning to our religion?”

Sirat Rasul page 504

But Muhammad’s response to his followers was typical of other false prophets whose prophecies fail-he simply painted a new bulls-eye around their arrow.  Muhammad argued that Allah had never said that they would make pilgrimage “this year” but that they would simply make it someday. Al-Bukhari records this rather humorous event:

Umar said, “I went to the Prophet and said, ‘Aren’t you truly the Apostle of Allah?’ The Prophet said, ‘Yes, indeed.’ I said, ‘Isn’t our cause just and the cause of the enemy unjust?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Then why should we be humble in our religion?’ He said, ‘I am Allah’s Apostle and I do not disobey Him, and He will make me victorious.’ I said, ‘Didn’t you tell us that we would go to the Ka’ba?’ He said, ‘Yes, but did I tell you that we would visit the Ka’ba this year?’

Sahih Bukhari 3.891

After hearing all of the grumbling within his camp, Muhammad awoke the following morning claiming that Allah had “sent down” another revelation explaining that what had happened was in fact a “great victory” for the Islamic believers.  This “revelation” which reads much like a desperate defense can be found in Surah 48 of the Quran.  It begins with “Surely We (Allah) have given to you a clear victory.” And so after a dismal failure, Muhammad declared “clear victory.” The pattern displayed here by Muhammad can be seen in many Muslims even today.

What may have been Muhammad’s greatest genius was also contained in this “revelation.”  His men, many angry and less than enthusiastic, assembled to hear him out.  It was at this time that Muhammad suddenly announced glad tidings:  The booty from the Jewish village of Khaibar would soon belong to them.  Muhammad announced that the majority of the booty from plundered villages and cities would belong to the soldiers in his camp, as well as the women and children that they took as slaves.  Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir narrates this event:

When those of the people whom he wanted had assembled, he recited: “We have given thee (O Muhammad) a signal victory.” A person from the Companions of Muhammad said, “O apostle of Allah, is it a victory?” He replied, “By Him in whose hand is my soul, it is surely a victory.” Then (the booty of) Khaibar was allotted to the participants of al-Hudaybiyya in eighteen shares.

A Turn of Events

The story continues with what turned out to be a very poor turn of events for the tribe of Quraysh.  Within only weeks of being humiliated, Muhammad began attacking and pillaging several wealthy Jewish villages and cities.  The Islamic believers who participated in these attacks were promised and received a large portion of the booty that they seized as well as the women and children, which they took as slaves. This incentive became a powerful motivating force in gaining new recruits to the Islamic movement, resulting in staggering growth in the period immediately following these events. The Sirat Rasul (early biography of Muhammad) records the benefits of this treaty:

…He (Allah) has wrought a near victory, the peace of al-Hudaybiyya. No previous victory in Islam was greater than this. There was nothing but battle when men met; but when there was an armistice and war was abolished and men met in safety and consulted together none talked about Islam intelligently without entering it. In those two years double as many or more than double as many entered Islam as ever before.”

Sirat Rasul page 507

Muhammad Breaks the Treaty

Soon thereafter, the Treaty was tested for the first time.  Some Qurayshi Meccan women had married some of the followers of Muhammad.  Therefore, according to the tenants of the Treaty, the Qurayshi family members of the women came to Muhammad and asked him to return the women.  But Muhammad refused this request. He broke his end of the deal.  Instead, Muhammad only had the dowries returned but not the women.

“Umm Kulthum migrated to the apostle during this period. Her two brothers Umara and Walid, sons of Uqba came and asked the apostle to return her to them in accordance with the agreement between him and Quraysh at Hudaybiyya, but he would not. Allah forbade it…

Sirat Rasul page 509

Muhammad’s reason for violating the Treaty of course was another convenient revelation from Allah.

Thereafter some believing women who were immigrants came. (Allah sent down: O ye who believe when believing women come to you as emigrants). Allah most high forbade them to send them back, but ordered them to restore the dowry.”

Sunan Abu Dawud volume 2, #2759

Once again, Muhammad placed the responsibility for his inability to keep his word on Allah.  This fact is important because when one surveys the various Muslim apologists’ version of events, they never mention the fact that Muhammad was the one who broke the Treaty.

When the Treaty was made, Muhammad’s followers numbered under 1,500 men, but within two years, after destroying the seven Jewish villages and assuming all of their wealth and wives, the movement had grown to over 10,000 men.  They were no longer the weaker of the two parties to the Treaty.  It was at this time that Muhammad exploited a minor infraction in the Treaty-forgetting of course his earlier blatant violation-and the Muslims attacked Mecca and destroyed the power of the Quraysh.  Muhammad and his followers were now the undisputed rulers of Mecca.

Hudaibiyah as a Modern Muslim Political Tool

The point of course in recalling all of this history is to demonstrate the fact that Muhammad was a brazen opportunist.  But remember, he is also the supreme example for all Muslims today, thus many in the Islamic world do not view peace treaties in the same way that non-Muslims would.  Muslims do not understand treaties as binding agreements, but rather as opportunities to grow stronger or buy time or to look peaceful.  But the purpose is never to simply make peace with the infidels.  Some may claim that this is a bigoted and unfair claim.  My response is that such objections are ignorant and based on propaganda or wishful thinking concerning the nature and goals of Islam. In Islam, concepts such as honor, ethics, or obligations are only afforded a secondary importance against the imperial importance that is given to establishing the supremacy and domination of Islam throughout the whole world.  Muslims today clearly understand “Hudaibiya” to be a code-word, which in brief, means “kiss the hand of your enemy until you have the opportunity to cut it off.”  Do not be deceived.

In May of 1994, Yasser Arafat addressed a group of Muslims in Johannesburg South Africa.  However, what Arafat didn’t know was that a journalist by the name of Bruce Whitfield secretly recorded the portion of his speech that was in English. At this time, things were looking good for the Middle East Peace Process.  Many felt as though tensions were winding down.  However, it was during this speech that Arafat spoke of the ongoing “jihad to liberate Jerusalem.”  Those Israelis who had trusted Arafat’s previous promises of peace and good-will were shocked.   But even more damaging to the Peace Process were Arafats comments regarding the Treaty of Hudaibyah.  Referring to the Peace Agreement that he had only recently made with Israel, Arafat was recorded as saying:

I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh in Mecca… The prophet had been right to insist on the agreement, for it helped him defeat the Quraysh and take over their city of Mecca. In a similar spirit, we now accept the peace agreement, but [only in order] to continue on the road to Jerusalem.

Lessons from the Prophet Muhammad’s Diplomacy

After this speech, Arafat frequently made mention of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah and clearly expressed that it was a model for his own “diplomacy.”  Though this allusion to the Treaty may be obscure to most non-Muslims, many Muslims are familiar with the prophet’s agreement with the Quraysh. Mentioning it in Johannesburg and often afterwards was Arafat’s method of sending a clandestine message about his intentions toward Israel, one intelligible to Muslims but not to the rest of the world.  This is in fact a common practice by Muslim leaders, however it is never used when they know that “the enemy is listening,” and rarely are they caught on tape. In 2003 however, the Malaysian Prime minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad was caught discussing the Treaty of Hudaibiyah model for diplomacy.

At Hudaibiyah [Muhammad] was prepared to accept an unfair treaty, against the wishes of his companions and followers. During the peace that followed he consolidated his strength and eventually he was able to enter Mecca and claim it for Islam… That briefly is the story of the struggle of the Prophet. We talk so much about following the sunnah of the Prophet. We quote the instances and the traditions profusely. But we actually ignore all of them. If we use the faculty to think that Allah has given us then we should know that we are acting irrationally. We fight without any objective, without any goal other than to hurt the enemy because they hurt us. Naively we expect them to surrender. We sacrifice lives unnecessarily, achieving nothing other than to attract more massive retaliation and humiliation. It is surely time that we pause to think. But will this be wasting time? For well over half a century we have fought over Palestine. What have we achieved? Nothing. We are worse off than before. If we had paused to think then we could have devised a plan, a strategy that can win us final victory. Pausing and thinking calmly is not a waste of time. We have a need to make a strategic retreat and to calmly assess our situation.The Quran tells us that when the enemy sues for peace we must react positively. True the treaty offered is not favorable to us. But we can negotiate. The Prophet did, at Hudaibiyah. And in the end he triumphed… The enemy will probably welcome these proposals… Of late because of their power and their apparent success they have become arrogant. And arrogant people, like angry people will make mistakes, will forget to think. They are already beginning to make mistakes. And they will make more mistakes. There may be windows of opportunity for us now and in the future. We must seize these opportunities.


Today, as we open the newspapers, almost daily we read comments made by the Israeli leadership that the Israelis will do “anything possible” to achieve a lasting regional peace.  We read that Israel is willing to make “sweeping, painful and difficult concessions” in exchange for peace with its Arab neighbors.  The establishment of an official Palestinian State is one step closer to being implemented.  But we have seen this kind of thing before.  In 1993, the Oslo accords were made.  Back then Israel also made “sweeping, painful and difficult decisions.”  Where did it get them?  Palestinian suicide bombings and attacks have never stopped, nor has the hatred of the surrounding nations ever abated. A proper understanding of peace treaties in Islamic history and thought gives insight into why this is happening… the surrounding Arab nations are proudly following in the footsteps of Muhammad, the prophet and messenger of their god.

About the Author: Joel Richardson is the author of Antichrist: Islam’s Awaited Messiah, co-editor of Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out, and co-author with Walid Shoebat of God’s War on Terror: Islam, Prophecy and the Bible.  Joel has been actively involved in outreach to Muslims since the early 1990’s.

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