[Excerpts, with occasional modest edits, from The Real Muḥammad: In the Eyes of Ibn Isḥāq, copyright 2013, TEI Publishing House. All quotations from the Sīrat Rasūl Allāh (“Life of the Messenger of Allāh”) are from the translation by Alfred Guillaume (Oxford University Press), copyright 1955. These stories are faithfully passed along from the most ancient, extant and authoritative biography of Muḥammad. All Muslims are called to imitate Muḥammad in their daily lives, and Muslim scholars know that Ibn Isḥāq is the best source for the historical Muḥammad, despite concern for various hon-historical material. The question is this: Can Muḥammad satisfy the Muslim thirst for freedom? How many people, of their own volition, would follow Muḥammad if they were free to choose otherwise? The same question is freely received by Muslims who would question Christians who follow Jesus as the Son of God]

The Muslims Immediately Break the Treaty of Ḥudaybiya

John C. Rankin

Before Muḥammad returns to Mecca after his exile, he negotiates a treaty in Ḥudaybiya  with the Qurayshi polytheists for access to the sacred enclosure …

One man who had been imprisoned in Mecca, Abū Baṣīr ‘Utba b. Asīd b. Jāriya, is returned there in the name of the treaty, as Muḥammad says: “ ‘You know the undertaking we gave these people and it ill becomes us that treachery should enter our religion. God [Allāh] will bring relief and a way of escape to those helpless like you, so go back to your people [the Quraysh, from whom he came prior to his conversion].’ He [Abū Baṣīr] said, ‘Would you return me to the polytheists who will seduce me from my religion?’ He [Muḥammad] said, ‘Go, for God [Allāh] will bring relief and a way for escape for you and the helpless ones with you.’ ”

For Muḥammad, this treaty is no more than a way-station, something to be endured for as short a season as possible. He does not like it, but exigency prevails, as he senses a strategic longer term purpose in it. He thus makes the same promise to Abū Baṣīr as he did just prior to Abū Jandal.

“So he went with them [his guards] as far as Dhū’l-Ḥulayfa where he and the two men sat against a wall. Abū Baṣīr said, ‘Is your sword sharp, O brother of B. ‘Āmir?’ When he said that it was he [Abū Baṣīr] said he would like to look at it. ‘Look at it if you want to,’ he replied. Abū Baṣīr unsheathed it and dealt him a blow that killed him. The freedman [the other guard] ran off to the apostle who was sitting in the mosque, and when the apostle saw him coming he said, ‘This man has seen something frightful.’ When he came up the apostle said, ‘What’s the matter, woe to you?’ He said, ‘Your man has killed my man,’ and almost at once Abū Baṣīr came up girt with the sword, and standing by the apostle he said, ‘Your obligation is over and God [Allāh] has removed it from you. You duly handed me over to the men and I have protected myself in my religion lest I should be seduced therein or scoffed at.’ ”

Muḥammad’s language is interpreted by Abū Baṣīr that Allāh brings “relief” in deceiving and killing his (naively trusting) guard. “The apostle said, ‘Woe is his mother, he would have kindled a war had there been others with him.” Yet Muḥammad does not seek to honor the treaty and return him to the Quraysh. He gives tacit affirmation to what Abū Baṣīr has done. Even as he say that “it ill becomes us that treachery should enter our religion.” Were he to honor it, he would send Abū Baṣīr to the Quraysh under his own guards, along with the bloodwit for the man Abū Baṣīr killed.

Then Abū Baṣīr went off until he halted at al-‘Iṣ in the region of Dhū’l- Marwa by the sea-shore on the road which Quraysh were accustomed to take to Syria. The Muslims who were confined in Mecca heard what the apostle had said of Abū Baṣīr[,] so they went out to join him in al-‘Iṣ. About seventy men attached themselves to him, and they so harried Quraysh, killing everyone they could get hold of[,] and cutting to pieces every caravan that passed them, that Quraysh wrote to the apostle begging him by the ties of kinship to take these men in, for they had no use for them; so the apostle took them in and they came to him in Medina.

The companions have in their souls Muḥammad’s directives not to have any equal dealings with the polytheists, and are deeply affronted by the terms of the treaty of Al-Ḥudaybiya. Even if Muḥammad says it is Allāh’s will for this “near victory,” they want a total victory immediately, and via an unobstructed path. So Abū Baṣīr succeeds in making a spectacle of the treaty, the seventy other imprisoned men bolt the treaty, having “heard what the apostle had said,” i.e., a rationalization to break the treaty, and accordingly, wage war on the Quraysh, who yield them back to Muḥammad without exercising their treaty rights to keep them in confinement. Thus, Muḥammad succeeds all around. The Quraysh want the treaty to work, but Muḥammad is glad to undermine it. The Quraysh, too, will not take legal or military action to enforce it themselves – they are psychologically defeated already, reduced to begging.

“When Suhayl heard that Abū Baṣīr had killed his ‘Āmirī guard he leant his back against the Ka‘ba and swore that he would not remove it until this man’s bloodwit was paid. Abū Sufyān b. Ḥarb said, ‘By God [Allāh], this is sheer folly. It will not be paid.’ Three times he said it.” Resignation of spirit.

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