Treaty of Hudaibiyah

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Ancient Makkah. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 628 A.D., a year after the victory at the Battle of the Trench, the Prophet Muhammad announced that he planned to make the pilgrimage (Umrah) to Makkah.  Since pilgrims are forbidden from carrying arms, the Muslims would be walking right into enemy territory with no protection.  Nevertheless, about a thousand other Muslims volunteered to accompany the Prophet on this journey.  Dressed in the traditional, simple white cloths of religious pilgrims, the Muslims set out for Makkah.

The Quraish tribe of Makkah remained hostile, but faced a predicament.  By Arab tribal code, they could not attack peaceful pilgrims, or prevent them from approaching the Ka’aba. Uthman bin Affan was sent by the Prophet to reiterate the message that they came not to fight, but to perform pilgrimage.

The Muslim pilgrims camped at the area called Hudaibiyah, just on the outskirts of Makkah, while they awaited a response through Uthman bin Affan.  Eventually, the Makkans sent an envoy and agreed to negotiate a treaty with the Muslims.  This was an unprecedented sign of political recognition of the growing Muslim community.  In the end, the agreement included the following terms:

  • The Muslims would presently leave without performing pilgrimage, but would be allowed to return for three days the following year.
  • Both sides would cease hostilities for a period of ten years. The Makkans would refrain from any further attacks against the Muslims or their tribal allies, and vice versa.
  • Both parties would be free to enter into alliances with other tribes as they wished.
  • Anyone citizen of Makkah wishing to find refuge in Madinah would be turned back, but the reverse was not true. Anyone from Madinah wishing to find refuge in Makkah would be allowed to stay.

Even with the wording of the agreement, the Prophet Muhammad showed that he was willing to compromise.

  For example, when the Prophet instructed his scribe to write “Muhammad the Messenger of Allah,” the Makkan envoy protested that he believed Muhammad to be no such thing.  The Prophet relented and instructed his scribe to change the words to “Muhammad the son of Abdullah.”

At first, many members of the Muslim delegation felt insulted by the disrespectful behavior of the Makkans and the unfavorable terms of the agreement.  They considered it a disgrace and defeat, and questioned why the Prophet would ever agree to such humiliation.  The Prophet Muhammad, however, agreed to the terms in an attempt to end hostilities by peaceful means.  With wisdom and farsightedness, he insisted that his followers honor the terms of the agreement.  Many of them were reluctant and even angry, including Umar ibn Khattab. The Prophet Muhammad had never faced such a challenge to his leadership, but through quiet example he showed his followers that it was a wise decision.

This simple act of leadership impressed many of the Bedouin tribes, even more of whom came to embrace Islam and join the Muslim community.  In a subsequent revelation, the Quran called the Treaty of Hudaibiyah “a manifest victory” (Quran 48:1) and put to rest any remaining misgivings that the Muslims felt.

In 629 A.D., as agreed, the Muslims were allowed to visit Makkah for a three-day pilgrimage.

The following year (630 A.D.), the Quraish violated the Treaty of Hudaibiyah by attacking one of the Muslims’ tribal allies.  The Prophet Muhammad proceeded to lead a force of 10,000 men to march upon Makkah.  Recognizing defeat, the Quraish laid down their weapons and allowed the Muslims to enter the city.  The Muslims had won back Makkah without shedding a single drop of blood.

The Prophet Muhammad’s first act was to destroy the pagan idols in and around the Ka’aba, dedicating it again to the worship of One True God.  His next act was to forgive all members of the Makkan community for the decades of hostility and warfare.  His kindness and patience impressed many, and within a few years nearly all the tribes of Arabia had joined the Muslims as either allies or as brethren in faith.