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  • Writer's pictureMaulana Wahiduddin Khan

Avoid Confrontation

The year after the Battle of the Trench, in 628 C.E., the Prophet Muhammad had a dream. At this time, he was in Madinah. In the dream, he saw himself and his Companions visiting the House of God in Makkah. His Companions were very pleased to hear this, for it meant that, after a lapse of six years, they would soon be going to Makkah and visiting the Kabah.

In accordance with this dream, the Prophet set out for Makkah with 1400 of his Companions. When they reached Ghadir Ashtat, they heard that the news of their journey had reached the Quraysh1 . Indignant at the idea of the Muslims visiting the Kabah, they had amassed an army and vowed to prevent the Prophet and his Companions from entering Makkah, although it was contrary to Arab tradition to prevent anyone from visiting the Kabah. The Prophet was acting under divine inspiration: perhaps that is why he remained calm when he heard of the Quraysh’s reaction. He learnt from informers that Khalid ibn al-Walid, intent on blocking the Muslims’ path, had advanced with two hundred cavalrymen to Ghamim. On hearing this, the Prophet changed route, deviating from a well-frequented path to a little-known and arduous route, which led him to Hudaybiyah. In this way, he avoided clashing with Khalid’s army.

This is how the historian Ibn Hisham1 in his biography of the Prophet describes these events:

“Who can show us a path not occupied by the Quraysh?” the Prophet asked. Someone volunteered to do so and then proceeded to guide the Muslims by a route which led through arduous, rocky and mountainous passes. The Muslims had great difficulty in crossing these passes, but when they had done so and emerged upon an open plain, the Prophet called on them to seek forgiveness of God and turn to Him. This they did, and the Prophet said that this was the word of forgiveness which the Israelite's had been called upon to utter, but they had failed to do so.

This was obviously a trying time for the Muslims, but they had to face their trial with patience and forbearance. This was the path laid down for them by God. Even the slightest hesitation to follow that path was to be considered a transgression, for which forgiveness had to be sought. That is why the Prophet urged his followers to repent and seek forgiveness for any weakness or irritability they may have shown at that taxing time. Difficulties were to be faced with fortitude. No impulse was to cause one to deviate from the path of God.

In order to survey the situation, the Prophet made a halt at Hudaybiyah, which is situated nine miles from Makkah. From Hudaybiyah he sent one Kharash ibn Umayyah on camelback to inform the Makkans that the Muslims had come to visit the House of God, not to do battle. On reaching Makkah, Kharash’s camel was slaughtered, and attempts were made to murder him as well but somehow he managed to escape and return to Hudaybiyah. The Prophet then sent Uthman to appeal to the Makkans to refrain from hostilities and tell them that the Muslims would return quietly to Madinah after performing the rites of Umrah1 . The Makkans paid no heed and took him prisoner. Later, Mikraz ibn Hafs, along with fifty men, attacked the Muslims at night, raining stones and arrows. Mikraz was captured, but no action was taken against him: he was released unconditionally. Then, as the Muslims were praying in the early morning, eighty men from Tanim attacked them. They were also taken captive and then allowed to go free unconditionally.

Lengthy negotiations with the Quraysh ensued. Finally, a truce was agreed upon between the two sides. At first sight, this truce appeared to amount to an outright victory for the Quraysh and defeat for the Muslims. The Prophet’s followers could not understand how, when God had given them tidings of a visit to the House of God, the Prophet could have agreed to return to Madinah without performing the visit. They would be allowed to come the following year but would have to leave the Makkah after a stay of only three days. Humiliating clauses such as this, exacerbating as they were for the Muslims, were all accepted unquestioningly by the Prophet. It seemed to be an acceptance of defeat.

The Quraysh deliberately acted in an aggressive manner in order to offend the Prophet. They wanted to provoke him into initiating hostilities so that they could find an excuse for fighting him. To prevent a visit to the Kabah was in itself quite contrary to Arab tradition. Moreover, it was the month of Dhul Qadah, which was one of four months considered sacred in Arab lore, in which fighting was prohibited. The Quraysh wanted to fight the Muslims, but they did not want to be accused of having desecrated the holy month. They wanted to be able to lay the blame at the door of the Muslims, who were few in number at that time and not even equipped for battle. There the Muslims were, stranded some 250 miles from home, right on the border of the territory of their opponents. It was a perfect opportunity for the Quraysh to unleash a savage onslaught on the Muslims and give full vent to their antagonism.

The Quraysh did everything they could to provoke the Muslims into starting a fight, but the Prophet ignored every provocation; he scrupulously avoided falling into their trap. The situation was so grave that Abu Bakr1 was the only one of the Companions not to feel that in accepting the seemingly humiliating peace terms they had bowed before the aggressor. The Companions were even more astonished when a verse of the Quran was revealed which referred to the agreement as a ‘clear victory’. “What kind of victory is this?” one of them protested. “We have been prevented from visiting the House of God. Our camels for sacrifice have not been allowed to proceed. God’s Prophet has been forced to turn back from Hudaybiyah. Two of our persecuted brethren, Abu Jandal and Abu Basir, have been handed over to their persecutors.”

Yet, it was this humiliating treaty that paved the way for a great Muslim victory.

The Treaty of Hudaybiyah appeared to be a capitulation before the opponents of the Muslims but, in fact, it gave the Muslims an opportunity to consolidate their position. The Prophet accepted all the Quraysh’s demands, in return for a single assurance from them— namely, that they would cease all hostilities against the Muslims for ten years. Continual raids and threats of warfare had prevented the Muslims from pursuing constructive missionary work. As soon as the Prophet returned from Hudaybiyah, he intensified missionary work in and around Arabia, the groundwork having been done beforehand. Now that peace prevailed, the message of Islam started spreading rapidly. The Prophet also turned his attention to building up the influence of Islam in Madinah. The culmination came within only two years of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah: the Quraysh surrendered without even putting up a fight. There was no further barrier now to the Prophet’s triumphant entry into Makkah.

The deliberate imposition of a humiliating retreat from Makkah had paved the way for a great victory.

People nowadays tend to resort to violence on the slightest provocation from their opponents. When the losses of meaningless war are pointed out to them, they seek to justify themselves by saying that they were not the aggressors and that their opponents had forced them to take to fighting. “We didn’t fight!” they retort. “It was those people who did it! They conspired against us to make us fight.”

Such people do not know that “not to fight” is not simply that if no one fights you, you do not fight with anyone. Rather, “not to fight” means that if someone comes to fight you, still you should not fight with him. Non-violence does not mean remaining peaceful so long as no one is acting violently towards you. Rather, it means to refrain from violence even in face of violence. If someone seeks to provoke you, you should not allow yourself to get provoked. If someone conspires against you, you should render the conspiracy ineffective through wisdom and silent, positive action.

To fight one’s enemies is no way to succeed in life. Only by avoiding conflict can one consolidate one’s strength. Then alone will one be able to overcome one’s foes. To fight at the slightest provocation and ignore the need to quietly build up one’s own strength is to condemn oneself to destruction. Such conduct can never lead to success in this world of God. The Prophet achieved success by pursuing a policy of non-confrontation; how, then, can his followers succeed by pursuing a policy of confrontation? How can they be called his followers when they are blind to his example?

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