The prophet Muhammad had participated in several battles in the larger defensive war after his migration to Madinah in the tenth year of his prophetic ministry. There was the battle of Badr in which a small Muslim army of untrained 313 had a resounding victory over a 1,000 well trained Makkan army. Nevertheless, God reserved the applause of ‘a great victory,’ not for any armed struggle, but for a peace treaty, which the common Muslim opinion held as acceptance of humiliating terms by the prophet.
What an amazing emphasis on peace, dialogue and coexistence in Islam as opposed to armed struggle and war, even if defensive!
The Quranic verse we are talking about is from the beginning of Surah Fatah (the Victory):
|Surely we have granted you (Muhammad) a clear victory. (Al Quran 48:1/1)||
إِنَّا فَتَحْنَا لَكَ فَتْحًا مُّبِينًا
The Treaty of Hudaybiyyah (Arabic: صلح الحديبية) was an important event that took place during the formation of Islam. It was a pivotal treaty between Muhammad, representing the state of Madinah, and the Quraysh tribe of Makkah in March 628 (corresponding to Dhu al-Qi’dah, 6 AH). It helped to decrease tension between the two cities, affirmed a 10-year peace, and authorized Muhammad’s followers to return the following year in a peaceful pilgrimage, later known as The First Pilgrimage.
According to Muhammad Asad in the introduction to this surah:
TOWARDS the end of the sixth year of the hijrah, the Prophet decided to perform, accompanied by his fol- lowers, the ‘lesser pilgrimage’ or ‘pious visit’ (‘um- rah) to Mecca. Although for nearly six years there had been a more or less permanent state of war between the Muslim community at Medina and the pagan oligarchy of Mecca, the Prophet did not anticipate any hostilities on that occasion, since the month of Dhu ’l-Qa‘dah, in which he intended to reach Mecca, was one of the four “sacred months” during which, in accordance with time-honoured Arabian custom, all warfare was outlawed, and particularly so in and around the Holy City. A call was issued to some of the allied bedouin tribes in the vicinity of Medina to join the Prophet on this pilgrimage, but most of them excused themselves on some pretext or other (see note 10 on Verse 11 of this surah). Thus, the Prophet’s party which set out for Mecca consisted of only 1400-1500 men, all of them dressed in the pilgrim’s garb (ihram) and, apart from their sheathed swords, unarmed.
According to Muhammad Asad there is consensus of opinion that this surah commemorating the victory in the form of an amazing treaty was revealed during the Prophet’s return march from Hudaybiyyah to Madinah, in 628 CE or the sixth year after his migration from Makkah to Madinah.
Muhammad had a premonition that he entered Makkah and did tawaf around the Ka’bah. His Companions in Madinah were delighted when he told them about it. They all revered Makkah and the Ka’bah and they yearned to do tawaf there. In 628, Muhammad and a group of 1,400 Muslims marched peacefully without arms towards Makkah, in an attempt to perform the Umrah (pilgrimage). They were dressed as pilgrims, and brought sacrificial animals, hoping that the Quraish would honor the Arabian custom of allowing pilgrims to enter the city. The Muslims had left Madinah in a state of ihram, a premeditated spiritual and physical state which restricted their freedom of action and prohibited fighting. This, along with the paucity of arms carried, indicated that the pilgrimage was always intended to be peaceful.
Muhammad and his followers camped outside of Makkah, and Muhammad met with Makkan emissaries who wished to prevent the pilgrims’ entry into Makkah. After negotiations the two parties decided to resolve the matter through diplomacy rather than warfare, and a treaty was drawn up.
What is most instructive about this treaty is that even though the Makkans were polytheist and Muhammad’s arch enemies and had persecuted the prophet and his followers for 13 long years in Makkah, chased them to Abyssinia when some of his followers had migrated there and later attacked Madinah three times after his migration there, he did not hesitate to negotiate peace with them in good faith.
Could he have given us a brighter example to be flexible and negotiate peace and coexistence with others?
According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in the introduction to this surah:
A Madinan surah, al-Fath was revealed while the Prophet was returning to Madinah from the area of Hudaybiyah, just outside of Makkah, during the month of Dhu’l-Qa‘ dah in the year 6/628. The Prophet had set out on a pilgrimage to Makkah with many pilgrims, fourteen hundred according to most accounts. They donned the pilgrim garb and were unarmed, save for sheathed swords used mostly for hunting. They stopped at Hudaybiyah, and the Quraysh refused them entry into the sacred precinct. There, the Muslims and the Quraysh agreed upon a treaty, known as the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, which stipulated the following: both parties would cease hostilities for ten years; neither would interfere with the free movement of the other; the Prophet and his followers would abandon the pilgrimage that year, but then be allowed to perform the pilgrimage every year for the following ten years; any man who left the Quraysh to join the Muslims would be returned to the Quraysh, but any man who left the Muslims for the Quraysh would not be returned to the Muslims; and any tribes that wished to enter into an alliance with the Muslims were free to do so, as were any that wished to enter into an alliance with the Quraysh.
Some of the Prophet’s Companions, however, considered the terms unfavorable for the Muslims and even tantamount to defeat. Nonetheless, the Prophet accepted the terms, and the treaty worked quickly and decisively to the advantage of the Muslim side. The freedom of any tribe to ally with either the Muslims or the Quraysh absolved the tribes of their former alliances, and some that had been allied with the Quraysh quickly switched to the Muslims. The concluding of a treaty with the Quraysh clearly demonstrated that the Muslims had acquired at least equal footing with the Quraysh, which was a feat in and of itself.
It was not an easy negotiation or no brainer. It was a hard fought victory, through flexible negotiation with the Makkan ambassador and then the prophet had to sell it through patience and wisdom to his followers, who were on the verge of breaking down. According to Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun and now a popular writer on religions, in her book, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet:
But the pilgrims were still mutinous and there was a dangerous moment when they seemed on the point of rebellion. After the treaty had been witnessed, Muhammad cried aloud that they would now observe the rites of the pilgrimage right there in Hudaybiyah, even though they had not reached the Ka’aba. Every man would shave his head and they should sacriﬁce the seventy consecrated camels. There was absolute silence. Unmoving, the pilgrims stared bitterly at Muhammad. In despair, he retreated to his tent, knowing that if he lost their obedience and support at this crucial moment all was lost. What should he do? he asked Umm Salamah, who had been watching the scene from his red-leather tent. She had judged the situation perfectly: Muhammad should go out to the people once more, she told him, and refuse to speak to anyone until he had sacriﬁced his own camel in front of the whole pilgrim body. It was exactly the right decision. The dramatic and spectacular blood-letting immediately broke the tension. Muhammad left his tent, looking neither to right nor to left, strode over to the camel he had consecrated and performed the ritual sacriﬁce. It was a holy action, familiar to all the Arab pilgrims, but it was also an act of deﬁance and independence because Muhammad was breaking with tradition in sacriﬁcing the camel outside Mecca itself. It released some spring of recognition in the silent crowd, broke through the torpor of depression and incomprehension and pro- vided a catharsis. Immediately the men leaped to their feet and raced over to the other camels, probably intensely relieved to be able to do something at last. They sacriﬁced the animals, crying aloud the ancient Arab formula, ‘In thy name, O al-Llah!’ and adding the Muslim slogan, ‘al- Llahu Akbar!’ When Muhammad called one of the Helpers to him and asked him to shave his head, the Muslims nearly fell over one another in their eagerness to do the same, and set about each other’s heads with such a frenzy of enthusiasm that Umm Salamah said later that she was ‘afraid they would inﬂict mortal wounds in their zeal.
The treaty was quite controversial initially for many reasons. Originally, the treaty referred to Muhammad as the Messenger of God, but this was unacceptable to the Quraish ambassador Suhayl ibn Amr. Muhammad compromised, and told his cousin Ali to strike out the wording. But Ali said, “I will not be the person to rub it out”, after which Muhammad himself rubbed out the words. (Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:49:862, Sahih Muslim, 19:4404).
Another point of contention, was that the Muslims objected over a clause of the treaty that said that any citizen from Makkah entering Madinah was eligible to be returned to Makkah (if they wanted), while the reverse was not true, and any Muslim from Madinah entering Makkah was not eligible to be returned to the Muslims, even if Muhammad himself requested. (Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:50:874)
A condition was also placed that the Muslims could not enter for their pilgrimage at that time, but could return the following year. The treaty also assured a 10-year peace.
After the signing of the treaty, there was still great resentment and fury among the Muslims because they did not like its stipulations. Muhammad, binding onto the Islamic ethic “fulfill every promise” ordered that Muslims do exactly as the treaty says. Also, many Muslims thereafter objected, when Muhammad told them (thrice) to perform their rites there and then. (Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:50:891)
Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan was the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan. From 1954 to 1961 he served as a member of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. He again represented Pakistan at the UN in 1961–64 and served as president of the UN General Assembly in 1962–63. Returning to the International Court of Justice in 1964, he served as the court’s president from 1970 to 1973. Let me quote him as he describes the negotiations of the treaty in the following words in his biography, Muhammad Seal of the Prophets:
After some further interchange of messages Quraish deputed Suhail bin Amr, one of their leading chiefs, and other representatives with power to conclude a treaty of peace. When the Holy Prophet saw Suhail, he observed, ‘There comes Suhail; now, if God so wills, the affair would be resolved.’ (The root of the word Suhail is sahl, meaning easy.) When Suhail arrived with his companions, he said, ‘We are ready to come to a settlement.’ The Holy Prophet, peace be on him, said that he too was ready and summoned Ali to act as the scribe of the treaty, the purport of which was understood between the two sides, and the details of which would be put into shape during the writing of it. When Ali arrived, the Holy Prophet started dictating, and told him to write, ‘In the name of Allah, Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim’, to which Suhail immediately demurred, saying, ‘We have no knowledge of Rahman; begin as is the Arab custom with: In Thy name, O Allah.’ The Muslims were excited and insisted that the opening words should be as the Holy Prophet had dictated, but he told them there was no harm in adopting the suggestion of Suhail. The dictation proceeded: ‘These are the conditions of peace between Muhammad the Messenger of God and…’, ‘Stop again,’ interposed Suhail. ‘If thou art what thou sayest, we would not have taken up arms against thee. Write, as the custom is, thine own name and thy father’s name.’ ‘Write, then,’ continued the Holy Prophet, ‘between Muhammad son of Abdullah, and Suhail son of Amr,’ whereupon Ali protested that having already inscribed the words Messenger of Allah, he felt it would be a sacrilege to rub out those words. The Holy Prophet thereupon himself rubbed out those words and the writing preceded as Suhail had desired. The terms of the treaty were: ‘War shall be suspended between Quraish and the Muslims for ten years. Whosoever wisheth to join Muhammad, or enter into treaty with him, shall have liberty to do so; and likewise, whosoever wisheth to join Quraish, or enter into treaty with them. If a man from among Quraish goeth over to Muhammad without the permission of his guardian, he shall be sent back to his guardian; but should any of the followers of Muhammad return to Quraish, they shall not be sent back. Muhammad shall retire this year without entering the City. In the coming year, Muhammad may visit Mecca, he and his followers, for three days, during which Quraish shall retire and leave the City to them. But they may not enter it with any weapons, save those of the traveller, namely, to each a sheathed sword.’
While the treaty was being inscribed Suhail’s son, Abu Jandal, wearing handcuffs and chains and bearing marks of injuries all over his body, staggered into the Muslim camp and told the Muslims that he had embraced Islam and was being kept in durance and tortured, as they could see from his chains and injuries. He begged that he should not be returned to Quraish as he would not be able to survive further torment. On his side Suhail demanded that he should be handed over into his custody. The Holy Prophet was deeply moved by the condition of Abu Jandal and pleaded with Suhail to let Abu Jandal remain with the Muslims, but despite the repeated pleas of the Holy Prophet, Suhail was adamant and his claim was admitted. As he was dragged away, the Holy Prophet said to Abu Jandal, ‘Have patience and put thy trust in the Lord. He will work out for thee, and for others likeminded with thee, a way of deliverance. We are unable to help thee, as we have entered into an agreement with the Meccans, and we cannot go against our word.’
The Muslims were much agitated over this incident and Umar, being unable to restrain himself, approached the Holy Prophet and inquired, ‘Are you not the Messenger of Allah?’ To which he replied, ‘Certainly.’ Then Umar asked, ‘Are we not based upon truth, and our enemies on falsehood?’ To which the Holy Prophet replied, ‘That is so.’ ‘Then why should we submit to such humiliation in the matter of our faith?’ The Holy Prophet pointed out, ‘Umar, I am the Messenger of Allah, and know what He desires. I cannot go against it, and He alone is my Helper.’ Umar was still not satisfied and asked: ‘Did you not tell us that we would perform the circuit of the House?’ To which the Holy Prophet rejoined, ‘Indeed I did, but did I also say that it would happen this very year?’ Umar confessed that such had not been the case, on which the Holy Prophet counselled him, ‘Then wait; you will, God willing, certainly enter Mecca and perform the circuit of the Ka’aba.’ Still excited, Umar approached Abu Bakr and had a similar exchange with him. Abu Bakr admonished him, ‘Umar, hold yourself in check, and do not let your grip on the stirrup of the Messenger of Allah be loosened, for by God, he to whom we have sworn allegiance is certainly true.’ Umar subsequently confessed that, in his momentary excitement, he said all this to the Holy Prophet and to Abu Bakr, but was soon overtaken by remorse and sought to wash out this stain of weakness through prayer, and fasts and almsgiving and the freeing of slaves.
The inscribing of the treaty was completed and it was attested, on behalf of the Muslims, by Abu Bakr, Uthman, Abdul Rahman bin Auf, S’ad bin Abi Waqqas, and Abu Obadiah. A copy was handed to Suhail bin Amr who returned with it to Mecca. The original was retained by the Holy Prophet.
Sir William Muir (27 April 1819 – 11 July 1905) was a Scottish Orientalist, scholar of Islam, and colonial administrator. He evaluates the treaty in his book ‘Life of Muhammad’ on page 35 and 36 of Volume IV, (the PDF file is available here: Muir’s book about the prophet Muhammad), in the following words:
The people, led by the vision to anticipate an unopposed visit to the Ka’aba, were crestfallen at the abortive result of their long journey. But, in truth, a great step had been gained by Muhammad. His political status, as an equal and independent power, was acknowledged by the treaty: The ten years’ truce would afford opportunity and time for the new religion to expand, and to force its claims on the conviction of Quraish; while conquest, material as well as spiritual, might be pursued on every other side. The stipulation that no one under the protection of a guardian should leave Quraish without his guardian’s consent, though unpopular at Madinah, was in accordance with the Arab society; and the Prophet had sufficient confidence in the in the loyalty of his people and the superior attraction of Islam, to fear no ill effect from the counter clause that none should be delivered up who might desert his standard. Above all, it was a great and a manifest success that free permission was conceded to visit Makkah in the following year, and for three days occupy the city undisturbed.
We have modernized the spellings in the above quote.
The key message of flexibility of thought and being always open to peace and negotiation, in this treaty, has been nicely captured by two non-Muslim biographers of the Prophet Muhammad.
Francesco Gabrieli writes in Muhammad and the Conquests of Islam:
The struggle with Makkah, after the unsuccessful siege of the ‘war of the ditch,’ moved into a new and surprising phase with the episode of Hudaibiyah, which shows us a pliant, opportunist Muhammad, open to negotiation and compromise. . . At the edge of the sacred ground of Makkah, the Prophet halted his armed advance and stooped to bargain with his enemies, to the astonishment and discomfiture of his own companions . . . This episode will serve to give the measure of the Prophet’s tactical ability, of the absolute obedience he was able to command from his followers, and of the situation, by now seriously weakened, of the Quraysh.
RVC Bodley writes in his biography of the Prophet Muhammad, The Messenger:
In point of fact, that treaty was Mohammed’s masterpiece of diplomacy. It was a triumph. No one, except perhaps Soheil, had thought back as had Mohammed when the Quraishite stood before him. No one, except those two, recollected the beatings, the stonings, the escape by night, the hiding in the cave. No one thought of the hazardous exile with the seventy followers. The contrast between now and then was unbelievable, miraculous. That the Quraishites were willing to treat with Mohammed at all, to recognize him as someone worthy of their attention, to admit him as the ruler of an Arab community, was beyond the bounds of all expectations. But, apart from his personal triumph over men who had vowed to capture him, alive or dead, Muhammad saw what no other Muslim did, the far‑reaching effects of the treaty.
He was not a man to quibble over small details. … If Soheil’s limited mentality could not reconcile itself to calling someone who had been a traveling salesman by a grandiloquent title, it did not really matter. If a Muslim phrase in referring to God was upsetting to a Quraish ear, it was not important enough to break off negotiations.
What was important was to have free access to Makkah. Muhammad knew that the day he and his men could set foot in the Holy City, it would not be long before they would be there permanently. …
What, however, Muhammad chiefly saw in having this peace treaty with Makkah was the effect it would produce on the local tribes. He was right in this too. Within a few days of signing the document which had caused so much stir among his own people, chiefs from all around were coming to swear allegiance.
Umar was confounded. During the space of one week there had been more converts to Islam than in the six preceding years. 
If the prophet was so open to peace with the polytheists of Makkah, should not the Muslims living in the West receive pluralism and multiculturalism with open arms in the Western countries? Should not the Muslims be ever ready to negotiate with the Jewish majority in Israel and the Hindu majority in India?
And last but the not the least, should not the Muslims in the Muslim majority countries be ever ready for secularism and equal rights for the non-Muslim minorities, since they are already signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, remembering the prophet’s absolute commitment to the terms of treaties, even at significant cost?
It is only those who don’t have confidence in their religion or philosophy that are belligerent. One who knows that his or her religion is inferior to none and who has confidence in his or her cause, can be patient in peaceful coexistence and freedom of speech, like the prophet Muhammad was.
Section 1: Hudaibiyah Treaty a Great Victory
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
|48:1. Truly We have granted you (Muhammad) a manifest victory.||
إِنَّا فَتَحْنَا لَكَ فَتْحًا مُّبِينًا
|48:2. That God may forgive you your past and future sins, complete His grace upon you and guide you to a straight path.||
لِّيَغْفِرَ لَكَ اللَّـهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِن ذَنبِكَ وَمَا تَأَخَّرَ وَيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكَ وَيَهْدِيَكَ صِرَاطًا مُّسْتَقِيمًا
|48:3. And help you mightily!||
وَيَنصُرَكَ اللَّـهُ نَصْرًا عَزِيزًا
|48:4. It was He who made His tranquility descend into the hearts of the believers, to add faith to their faith—the forces of the heavens and earth belong to God; He is all knowing and all wise.||
هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ السَّكِينَةَ فِي قُلُوبِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ لِيَزْدَادُوا إِيمَانًا مَّعَ إِيمَانِهِمْ ۗ وَلِلَّـهِ جُنُودُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ وَكَانَ اللَّـهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا
|48:5. So as to admit believing men and women into Gardens graced with ﬂowing streams, there to remain, absolving their bad deeds—a great triumph in God’s eyes.||
لِّيُدْخِلَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا وَيُكَفِّرَ عَنْهُمْ سَيِّئَاتِهِمْ ۚ وَكَانَ ذَٰلِكَ عِندَ اللَّـهِ فَوْزًا عَظِيمًا
|48:6. And to torment the hypocritical and idolatrous men and women who harbor evil thoughts about God–it is they who will be encircled by evil!–who carry the burden of God’s anger, whom God has rejected and for whom He has prepared Hell, an evil destination!||
وَيُعَذِّبَ الْمُنَافِقِينَ وَالْمُنَافِقَاتِ وَالْمُشْرِكِينَ وَالْمُشْرِكَاتِ الظَّانِّينَ بِاللَّـهِ ظَنَّ السَّوْءِ ۚ عَلَيْهِمْ دَائِرَةُ السَّوْءِ ۖ وَغَضِبَ اللَّـهُ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَنَهُمْ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُمْ جَهَنَّمَ ۖ وَسَاءَتْ مَصِيرًا
|48:7. The forces of heaven and earth belong to God; He is almighty and all wise.||
وَلِلَّـهِ جُنُودُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ وَكَانَ اللَّـهُ عَزِيزًا حَكِيمًا
|48:8. We have sent you [Muhammad] to bring good news and to give warning.||
إِنَّا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ شَاهِدًا وَمُبَشِّرًا وَنَذِيرًا
|48:9. So that you (people) may believe in God and His Messenger, and support Him, honor Him, and praise Him morning and evening.||
لِّتُؤْمِنُوا بِاللَّـهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَتُعَزِّرُوهُ وَتُوَقِّرُوهُ وَتُسَبِّحُوهُ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلًا
|48:10. Those who pledge loyalty to you (Prophet Muhammad) are actually pledging loyalty to God Himself–God’s hand is placed on theirs–and anyone who breaks his pledge does so to his own detriment: God will give a great reward to the one who fulﬁls his pledge to Him.||
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يُبَايِعُونَكَ إِنَّمَا يُبَايِعُونَ اللَّـهَ يَدُ اللَّـهِ فَوْقَ أَيْدِيهِمْ ۚ فَمَن نَّكَثَ فَإِنَّمَا يَنكُثُ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَنْ أَوْفَىٰ بِمَا عَاهَدَ عَلَيْهُ اللَّـهَ فَسَيُؤْتِيهِ أَجْرًا عَظِيمًا
Most of the introduction to this surah above is pertaining to this verse.
According to Muhammad Ali:
The victory referred to is that gained by the truce at Hudaibiyah in 6 A.H. (B. 64:37). The fact that there was no actual ﬁghting at Hudaibiyah has led many to think that the words contain a prophecy about the conquest of Makkah, which, however, is referred to later on in the third section of this chapter. The truce at Hudaibiyah was surely a real Victory for the Muslims, because it opened the way for the propagation of Islam among the disbelievers, and by putting a stop to hostilities gave the opponents an occasion to ponder over the merits of the religion against which they had hitherto struggled in Vain on the ﬁeld of battle. As a result of this truce large numbers came over to Islam, and the words are thus prophetical, and their truth was demonstrated long after their revelation. It may be added here that ‘Umar had some misgivings as to the good of the truce concluded at Hudaibiyah; he thought that the truce was not honourable for the Muslims, for the conditions to which they yielded were disadvantageous to them. One of the conditions of the truce was that, if anyone from among the Makkans came over to the Holy Prophet, he would return him to the Quraish, though he were a Muslim, while the Quraish were not bound to return anyone who deserted the Prophet and joined the Quraish. The Muslims felt it very hard that one of their brethren should be returned to suffer persecution at the hands of the disbelievers; but, as the Quraish refused to make a truce unless this condition was included, the Holy Prophet accepted it. Immediately afterwards Divine revelation dispelled all those misgivings, and declared the truce to be a great victory leading to glorious results, as it actually proved to be.
According to Muhammad Abdel Haleem, in the introduction to this surah:
When the Prophet had a vision that he and his followers would be performing pilgrimage to Mecca (verse 27). They set out, but the Meccans decided to bar them at Hudaibiyah from reaching the town and sent emissaries to have discussions with the Prophet. In the end the Prophet agreed a treaty that he and the believers would not enter Mecca that year, but would do so the next year. Seeing the long-term signiﬁcance of this treaty, in the interests of peace he agreed to a truce of ten years during which time, if any Meccan went over to his side, he would return him to the Meccans, but if any of his people went over to the Meccans, they would not return them. Throughout the sura the Prophet is assured that this treaty that God has given him is a great breakthrough (cf verses 1-3, 18-21, 27). The believers are reassured that their self—restraint and obedience to the Prophet were inspired by God (verses 4-5, 24-6). The sura condemns both the hypocrites in Medina (verse 6) and the idolaters of Mecca (verses 6 and 26) and closes by praising the believers (verse 29).
In this verse and in verse 18 of this surah, Allah has called in very pithy language, loyalty and submission to the Prophet Muhammad as loyalty and submission to Allah, as he is the messenger and representative of God. In a similar metaphor describing the battle of Badr, Allah says: “And you (Muhammad) threw not the pebbles when you did throw, but it was Allah Who threw, that He might overthrow the disbelievers and that He might confer on the believers a great favour from Himself. Surely, Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” (8:17)
The verses 48:10 and 48:18 describe the pledge that the believers took at the hand of the holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him. This pledge has a special importance in the history of Islam and is known as ‘Bai’at-al-Rizwan’ (Covenant of the pleasure of Allah). Everyone of those who took the oath remained proud of it to the end of his days.
Some allies of the Makkans urged them to let the Muslims perform the circuit. “The Muslims are not asking for anything major, they only want to perform Umrah, let us not deprive them of this right,” the allies advised. But, their admonition fell on deaf ears. Seeing such adamant behavior, the tribal allies were fed up with the Makkans. They said that the Makkans did not want peace and they threatened to dissociate themselves from the Makkans. This softened the Makkan’s attitude. On learning about these developments, the Holy Prophet decided to send another emissary, to the Makkans, to directly put across to them his peaceful intentions. To ensure the security of the emissary he wanted to send someone who would be well connected in Makkah. He chose Hazrat Uthman (who later became the third Caliph of Islam). Hazrat Uthman belonged to a resourceful family of Makkah, and this would shield him from any danger that propped up. The Holy Prophet also gave a letter to him for the Quraish. He also instructed him to try to contact the poor Muslims left behind in Makkah, in order to reassure them that Allah would soon open some way for them and that they should continue to be patient and steadfast. Hazrat Uthman received protection from his relatives and conveyed the message to the Quraish. The Quraish received the message and because of Hazrat Uthman’s ties with some of the influential people they offered him to perform the circuit if he so willed. But, the faithful Hazrat Uthman declined, “No, thank you, I will not perform the circuit unless it is in company of my master”. Hazrat Uthman repeatedly tried to persuade the Makkan leaders to pay heed to the Holy Prophet’s suggestions. But, the Makkans were insistent that they will not let Muslim’s perform circuit this year. So Hazrat Uthman finally decided to return, at that point a section of the Quraishites decided to detain him, in order to negotiate better terms from the Muslims. Meanwhile, rumor spread in the Muslim camp that he had been murdered. Anxiety and alarm spread through out the camp. The Holy Prophet himself began to suspect deceit. He assembled the companions and addressed them very passionately, “The life of an envoy is held sacred among all nations. I have heard that the Makkans have murdered Uthman. If this be true, then equitable retaliation in the matter of the slain is prescribed for us. We will undertake that no matter what the consequences are.” The companions were hearing him spell bound, the Holy Prophet continued: “Those of you who will solemnly promise that if they have to go further, they will not turn back except as victors, should come forth to take a pledge on my hand.” The Holy Prophet had hardly finished speaking when all companions rushed forward enthusiastically to take the pledge. All those who could fit in close to the Holy Prophet put their hands together and the Holy Prophet put his right hand on top of them. Those who could not squeeze in close to the Holy Prophet put their hands on the shoulders of those ahead of them. When every body was assembled, the Holy Prophet put his left hand on other hands and said: “This is for Uthman, for if he had been here, he would not have hesitated in making this holy pact, but, he is busy with the work of Allah and His messenger.” Of the fifteen hundred present that day all took the pledge except one hypocrite who held back. They all sedately promised that if the Muslim envoy had been murdered, they would not go back. They would either take Makkah by dusk or they would all die fighting.
The full import of this pledge can be realized only if we imagine the circumstances of the Muslim party. They were very minimally armed, there was no hope of any succor as they were two hundred and fifty miles away from their center. The Makkans were very well entrenched in their city, had all the resources available to them and had support of their allies. This was indeed a supreme demonstration by the Muslims of conviction, bravery, dedication and above all trust in Allah. No wonder Allah looked at it with such love and compassion: “Surely Allah was well pleased with the believers when they were swearing allegiance to thee under the tree, and He appreciated the surge of faith in their hearts, and He sent down tranquility on them, and He rewarded them with a victory near at hand” (48:18).
When the Quraish heard about this pledge they became apprehensive. They let Hazrat Uthman go free, and decided to come to terms with the Muslims on the condition that they will go back this year and come back next year for Umrah. They sent Suhail bin Amr and few others with him to the Muslim camp to decide on the details of the treaty.
The above is the historic significance of the pledge. The contemporary leaders of some of the sects in Islam also take a pledge from their followers. How similar is it in the eyes of God would depend on the detail of the pledge and the leader. The prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, was a paragon of virtue, compassion, justice and wisdom. Each sect and leader has to ask themselves, how is the leader exceling in these qualities and how much are they reflecting the qualities of Muhammad.
However, the prophet was unique in the sense that he was both a religious and a secular leader and was the head of the state. Present day religious leaders don’t have secular authority with the only exception of Iran.
The Supreme Leader of Iran (Persian: رهبر معظم ایران, translit. rahbar-e mo’azzam-e irān), also called the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution (رهبر معظم انقلاب اسلامی, rahbar-e mo’azzam-e enghelāb-e eslāmi), officially in Iran, called the Supreme Leadership Authority (مقام معظم رهبری, maqām mo’azzam rahbari), is the head of state and highest ranking political and religious authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The armed forces, judicial system, state television, and other key governmental organizations are under the control of the Supreme Leader of Iran. The current longtime Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, has been issuing decrees and making the final decisions on economy, environment, foreign policy, education, national planning such as population growth, and everything else in Iran. Khamenei also makes the final decisions on the amount of transparency in elections in Iran and has fired and reinstated Presidential cabinet appointments.
The international leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, takes an annual pledge from the members, which is called the International Bayyat. He has, however claimed that his leadership is purely religious and spiritual and he has no secular claims and ambitions. An official press release by the community in 2014 was titled: Head of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community: “True Khilafat is Spiritual Leadership and Has No Interest in Power or Government” and stated:
Speaking about the institution of Khilafat, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad said: ‘Today the Institution of Khilafat – that is the institution of spiritual succession that leads the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – is keeping Islam’s true teachings alive.’
Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad continued: ‘The Khilafat of the Ahmadiyya Community can never depart from Islam’s core teachings of fulfilling the rights owed to God and to mankind. Today, the institution of Khilafat is striving for peace in every possible way and to spread love and affection throughout the world.’
Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad said: ‘Let me make it clear that the institution of Khilafat leading the Ahmadiyya Community has no interest in power or government. Rest assured that true Khilafat has no worldly or political objectives. The sole concern of the Ahmadiyya Khilafat is that the people of the world come to recognise their Creator and bow down before the One God.’
We have brought out only these two sects here to make the following point:
‘Bai’at-al-Rizwan’ (Covenant of the pleasure of Allah), was unique in the sense that a religious and spiritual leader and a prophet of God was taking a pledge as a general and military leader as well. In today’s context there is separation between religious and secular leadership in general. So good Muslims, in this day and age, should submit to the good recommendations of not only their religious leaders but also to their secular leaders and from verses like this one could infer patriotic and pro-establishment ideas, rather than a constant belligerence by the Muslim masses towards the secular leaders. Please also read 4:58-59.
There are two other verses in the holy Quran with a similar language, 9:33 and 61:9. Is it the victory of individual Islamic teachings over others where they differ or some sort of political victory of the Muslims? The opinions differ, over time and place.
Many Islamic scholars are now making a favorable case for the assertion that secular governance is what the holy Quran wants and not some sort of ‘Shariah Law.’ If that be true, political victory of the Muslims, if not accompanied by improvement in human rights and good governance becomes a meaningless goal anyways. Please read an article: Why Secularism Is Compatible with the Quran and Sunnah — And an ‘Islamic State’ Is Not.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr and colleagues say in their recent commentary regarding 61:9:
He it is Who sent His Messenger with guidance and the Religion of Truth to make it prevail over all religion is repeated verbatim in 9:33 and 48:28. Guidance can here be seen as a reference to the Quran (Aj, Al) or to the truth itself (Q). All religion is understood to mean all religions (Q); see 9:32—33c; 48:28c. Almost all classical commentators interpret Religion of Truth here and in 9:33 and 48:28 as a reference to Islam and thus see all three verses as a reference to the triumph of Islam over all other religions. But as the Quran attests to the veracity and salviﬁc efﬁcacy of other religions (see, e.g., 2:62c; 5:69c), the Religion of Truth can be more broadly understood to mean all revealed religions. From this perspective, the disbelievers’ aversion to the completion of God’s Light in v. 8, can be understood as a reference to the idolaters who desire to extinguish the light of all revelation and to the People of the Book, most of whom reject the completion of revelation in the Prophet Muhammad. V. 9 would then refer only to the idolaters, as they are opposed to all truthful religion, whereas the People of the Book still seek the Religion of Truth in one form or another. See the essay ‘The Quranic View of Sacred History and Other Religions.’
Zia H Shah MD, the Chief Editor of the Muslim Times, has addressed this issue in some detail in an article published in the Muslim Sunrise: Rising of the Sun from the West in the Latter Days.
Would people of one sect exclusively demonstrate the superiority of many of the Islamic teachings or would this honor be shared by the Muslims from all sects and all walks of life?
One way to answer this question is by demonstrating that this honor would not be exclusive to the Muslims either. This becomes apparent when we look at the success of many of the non-Muslim writers in presenting Islam to the world in very glowing colors; for example, Karen Armstrong, Prof. John Adair, Craig Considine and John Andrew Morrow. And what about all the Christian and Jewish scientists who are making discoveries that establishing truth of many of the verses of the Quran?
Another way to tackle this issue is to ask the rhetorical question, does anyone know or care, what sect the most recognized Muslim, boxer Muhammad Ali or the most read Muslim author, Dr. Maurice Bucaille, who penned the Bible, the Quran and Science, belonged to? God’s plans are always more generous, profound and multidimensional and not limited by our parochial or myopic thoughts.
In other words this verse talks about the victory of everlasting principles and teachings of Islam and not of few individuals. Allah is Most Gracious and Merciful and no one can try to monopolize His Grace.
In this sense every one who contributes to the dignity of humans, human rights, women rights, universal brotherhood, secular governance, freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and speech and freedom of religion is contributing to the victory of Islam. Additionally, the human consensus that developed in 1949, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, can be considered to be great victory of Islamic principles over all others. Sir Zafrulla Khan, the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan and one time President of United Nations General Assembly, wrote a book to show parallels between Islam and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected and it has been translated into over 500 languages.
1. Karen Armstrong. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. A Phoenix paper back, published in 2001. Page 222.
2. Francesco Gabrieli; Muhammad and the Conquests of Islam.
3. RVC Bodley. The Messenger. Double Day and Company Inc, 1946. Page 257-258.