“Our Prophet (peace be upon him) was forced into war when the polytheists broke their treaty.”
Less than two years after making a treaty with the people of Mecca, Muhammad returned with an army and took the city by surprise. Although this has been a traditional source of pride for Muslims down through the centuries, contemporary scholars are more apt to construct excuses for Muhammad’s action, since it contrasts with the claim that Islam is a religion of peace.
Rather than making the case that Muhammad was forced into war, which the historical account clearly does not support, today’s apologists argue that he was justified in taking Mecca on the basis that the other party had violated the treaty between them. Of particular interest are the technicalities concerning alliances.
After the treaty of Hudaibiya was made, two feuding tribes aligned themselves on opposite sides of the Meccan-Muslim divide. The tribe allied with the Meccans had suffered a series of murders at the hands of the other prior to the alliance, which they sought to avenge.
Rather than get bogged down with names for the moment, let’s summarize it as follows:
This is detailed in Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 803, in which Tribe A is called the Banu Bakr and Tribe B is the Khuza’a. Although the Khuza’a had started the original chain of murder, the fact that they were attacked by the tribe allied with the Meccans after allying with the Muslims constituted a technical breach of the treaty – which Muhammad then capitalized on by marching his superior forces into Mecca and establishing the authority of Islam by force.
On the surface then, it would appear that the Meccans were the first to violate the treaty. Even though most Muslims admit that the Meccans did not want a war, they still insist that Muhammad was justified in taking Mecca because of the treaty violation.
But, in fact, Muhammad was the first to violate the Treaty of Hudaibiya. Even the Qur’an acknowledges this, which means any knowledgeable Muslim must as well.
The terms of the treaty specified that any Muslim who flees Mecca for Medina (where Muhammad resided) must be returned. But when a group of Muslims did exactly that a few weeks after the treaty signing, Muhammad did not return all of them, but kept the women. A verse from Allah arrived conveniently to justify his decision (60:10).
Today’s Muslims have only one answer for this: Allah gave Muhammad His personal permission to break the treaty. It is an obvious double standard, but one that they are comfortable with, since Muslims believe their religion makes them superior. (It remains unclear as to why Allah had Muhammad sign on to terms that were intended to be violated).
Eschewing technicalities at this point, the apologists then begin to talk of the seriousness of violations, claiming that the killing of those tribe members allied with the Muslims constituted a graver offense. They are correct, of course, but there is yet another piece to the story that drives home the double standard all the more:
As it turns out, Muslims were murdering Meccans after the treaty signing and prior to the revenge killings between the allied tribes!
Bukhari 50:891 tells of a man named Abu Basir who embraced Islam and then killed a Meccan. Muhammad sends the man to live on the coast, where he forms a group of seventy Muslims who support themselves by attacking Meccan caravans. According to the Hadith, he and the other Muslims “killed them and took their property.” Muir words it as follows, “They waylaid every caravan from Mecca (for since the truce, traffic with Syria had again sprung up) and spared the life of no one.”
Attacking and killing Meccans was an obvious violation of the treaty of Hudaibiya, but the victims did not want war with Muhammad and thus did not march against him. Yet, Muhammad jumped on the first excuse to attack the Meccans, even though they were not threatening him. His adversaries wanted peace, but he wanted power. Needless to say, they had little choice but to surrender to him without a fight.
The dual ethics of Islam are ingrained in the faith, including the disparate treatment of unbelievers. It should be no surprise that Muhammad held others to standards by which he was personally unwilling to abide. In this case, he was the first to violate the treaty of Hudaibiya. Thus did he establish an example for his followers: a promise to non-Muslims is not obligatory for the believer. As Abu Bakr, himself a military leader, put it:
Muhammad no doubt would have agreed:
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