‘The Treaty of Hudaybiyyah’

Surah 48 (Al-Fath/Victory): 24 

It is He who restrained their hands from you, and your hands from them, in the hollow of Mecca, after that He made you victors over them.
God sees the things you do.

[‘The Koran Interpreted’, Arberry, 1955 (British orientalist; his translation considered by many to be the most elegant English translation of the Qur’an)]


With the horses and weapons purchased with the spoils of the Banu Qurayza and with the Meccans humbled by their failure to capture Medina and proven inability to defend their trade routes, Muhammad is said to have led a large group of followers (Ibn Ishaq reports the figures of seven hundred and fourteen hundred) to Mecca, ostensibly to make a pilgrimage, bringing with them seventy camels to sacrifice. A Meccan force came out and intercepted him at Hudaybiyyah. Ibn Ishaq records that after the exchange of some vulgar unpleasantries between the two parties, Muhammad sent his son in law Uthman, whom as has been noted above was also the cousin of Abu Sufyan, to attempt to negotiate their right of entry . As the negotiations took longer than expected, a rumour circulated that Uthman had been killed, and Muhammad took oaths from his men that they would fight the Meccans, the pledge of allegiance under a tree referred to in {48.18} (produced in 〈46.〉 following).


As it turned out, the negotiations led to an agreement between Muhammad and the Meccans ‘to lay aside war for ten years during which men can be safe and restrain from hostilities.’ During their return trip to Medina, Muhammad is said to have announced all of Surah 48, beginning: ‘Truly We have granted thee a manifest victory‘. {48.25} seems to suggest that the reason for what was obviously a disappointment – ‘it is they who disbelieved and turned you away from the Masjid al-Haram’ – is because otherwise innocents – ‘believing men and believing women whom you know not’ – would have died in the fighting.
Ibn Ishaq’s explanation of Surah 48 is particularly unconvincing. This explanation, which recalls God’s promise in Genesis (18.16-33 ) to spare the people of Sodom and Gomorrah if ten righteous people were to be found there, makes little theological sense for it supposes that God could not have protected anyone whom He desired to from the fighting. Nor does the explanation match Ibn Ishaq’s narrative, since the Meccans had initially left their city to confront Muhammad and the plans to storm the city had been based upon a false and readily disprovable premise that Uthman had been killed. Moreover, if Muhammad had led several hundred of his men to Mecca, who must have been well-armed for an assault upon the city there and then to avenge the death of Uthman to have been contemplated, then the possibility of fighting must have been in the ‘pilgrims” minds at the time when they had set out from Medina. This being the case, it would have been unnecessary for Muhammad to have taken pledges of allegiance (from each of his hundreds of apparently loyal followers individually?) under a tree (a rare phenomenon in the Hijaz). Surah 48 castigates ‘the Bedouin who stayed behind’ for their hypocrisy, and by implication cowardice or at least a lack of commitment, {48.15-16} (produced at 〈46.〉) but this criticism could hardly be justified if what had been initially been intended had been a peaceful pilgrimage.


Surah 48 is usually entitled ‘The Victory’, presenting the ‘restraining of hands’ as a triumph, not in itself, but because it opened the way to ‘a victory in the near future’ and ’an abundance of booty’ {48.18-19}, 〈46.〉