The Concept of Hudna (Truce) in Islamic Sources

Prof Mustafa Abusway | March 15th, 2013 - 9:40 am
6 August 2006

“The Concept of Hudna (Truce) in Islamic Sources”
(Preliminary Article)

By Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway *


The original state that should prevail between Muslims and non-Muslims is that of peace, not war. If an armed conflict emerges, then this state should be considered temporary; effort should aim at restoring the original state of peace. The ethos that should prevail between all the members of the human family is that of cooperation.  It is convivencia, civilizational cooperation, rather than Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”!  The Qur’an declares the raison d’etre of the pluralism of creation in the following verse:

O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.”
(Qur’an, 49:13)

It is obvious that in order that we “know” and engage each other for the good of humanity, international relations should be regulated.  International law and treaties become imperative.

The Islamic worldview advocates respect for treaties signed with other states or parties.  In fact, the Qur’an makes it a religious obligation to fulfill them:

“…And those who keep their treaty when they make one…”

(Qur’an 2:177)

 “Yes, whoever fulfils his covenant (bi-`ahd-ihi) and fears God much; verily, then God loves those who are the pious.”

(Qur’an 3:76)

“O you who believe! Fulfill your indentures…”

(Qur’an 5:1)

 “Successful indeed are the believers…who faithfully observe their trusts and their covenants” (Qur’an 23:1-8)


The traditions and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) confirm the Qur’anic dictum vis-à-vis the fulfillment of covenants, treaties, and promises. Al-Bukhârî and Muslim reported in their two independent compendia of Hadith, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah, that the Messenger of God (Peace be upon him) said:

The signs of the hypocrite are three: when he speaks he lies; when he makes an oath he breaks it; and when he is entrusted with something he betrays that trust.”

The version of Muslim has the additional wording, ”Even if he fasts, prays and thinks that he is a Muslim.”

In addition, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal reported in his Musnad, on the authority of Anas, that the Messenger of God (Peace be upon him) said:

There is no faith for the one who could not be trusted and no religion for the one who does not keep his promises.”

The relationship with the other is based on respect. Unless there is a declared act of war or hostility, Muslims are required to be humane and caring:


God does not forbid you respecting those who have not made war against you on account of [your] religion, and have not driven you forth from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly; surely God loves the doers of justice.

God only forbids you respecting those who made war upon you on account of (your) religion, and drove you forth from your homes and backed up (others) in your expulsion, that you make friends with them, and whoever makes friends with them, these are the unjust.

(Qur’an, 60:8-9)


In the case of a potential or an actual armed conflict, Muslim should be looking for signs that the enemy is looking for a political solution, an inclination to peace:
And if they incline to peace, incline thou also to it, and trust in Allah. Lo! He, even He, is the Hearer, the Knower.
(Qur’an, 8:61)


Classical Muslim scholars of the philosophy of law (Usul Al-Fiqh) found that the aims of Islamic Law (Maqasid al-Shari`ah) are five:  life, religion, intellect, progeny and property. Modern Muslim scholars included ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ among the aims of the Shari`ah. I added ‘protection of the environment’ to the list.  It is obvious that a state of peace is directly related to the fulfillment of Maqasid al-Shari`ah.

The Treaty of Hudaybiyya:

In the year 6 AH/628 C.E., a group of at least 1,400 Muslims embarked on a trip towards Mecca in order to perform the minor-pilgrimage (`umrah).  They marched till they reached al-Hudaybiyya, which lies at the edge of the Haram [sacred territory of Mecca].


The Muslims were dressed for the performance of the `umrah and they brought along with them sacrificial animals, as they hoped that the Meccans would allow them to enter the city.  The Meccans however made it clear to the Muslims that they were not welcomed that year. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) wanted to avoid bloodshed.  Therefore, the two parties decided to resolve the matter through diplomacy, rather than warfare. Before the negotiations even began, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) declared that he would accept whatever condition Quraysh makes, in which they show their respect to that which God had prohibited, for the Prophet wanted to show kindness to kindred.


The text of the treaty of Hudaybiyya:


In the name of Allah

 These are the conditions of peace between Muhammad, son of Abdullah and Suhail son of ’Amr [the envoy of Mecca].

There will be no fighting for ten years in which people will be safe and stop from attacking one another. And amongst us what is vice should be prevented, and there shall be no theft or treachery.

He who goes to Muhammad from those of Quraish without permission from his guardian, will be returned to them [i.e. Quraish]. But if anyone from amongst those with Muhammad goes to the Quraish, he will not be returned [to the Muslims].

Anyone who wishes to join Muhammad and to enter into any agreement [and become and ally] with him is free to do so. Anyone who wishes to join the Quraishand to enter into any agreement [and become and ally] with them is free to do so.

This year, you [i.e. Muhammad] will go back without entering Mecca. But next year, we [i.e. Quraish] will evacuate Mecca so that you [Muhammad] and your companions can enter and stay for three days [to perform the minor pilgrimage]. [The Muslims] will be unarmed except for sheathed swords which wayfarers have with them.”


Quraysh and its allies breach the treaty:


Near the end of the seventh year after migration (Nov. 629), Quraysh and the tribe of Banu Bakr attacked the Banu Khuza`ah tribe, who were allies of the Muslims.

(Khuza’ah had done nothing to provoke this attack. They took refuge in the precincts of the Ka`bah but their enemies pursued them even there, and killed a number of them. Others saved their lives by seeking the protection of Budail bin Waraqa and his friend, Rafa’a, in their houses, in Makkah. )

This incident directly violated the treaty of Hudaybiyya and Banu Khuza`ah appealed to the Prophet for help and protection.
However, even then the Prophet did not act in haste. Instead, he sent a letter to Quraysh demanding payment of blood money for those killed, and a disbandment of their alliance with the Banu Bakr. Otherwise, the Prophet said, the treaty would be declared null and void.

Quraysh then sent an envoy to Madina to announce that they themselves considered the ‘Treaty of Hudaybiyya’ null and void. However, they immediately regretted this step and Quraysh’s leader Abu Sufyan himself traveled to Madina to rectify the contract. Despite being the greatest enemy and persecutor of the Muslims, no hand was laid on him. He was permitted to enter the Prophet’s mosque and announce that he was reinstating the Treaty of Hudaybiyya.” His tardy announcement was unheeded by the Muslims and Abu Sufyan returned to Makkah in humiliation before his people.

It was only then, after the Muslims had honored a treaty that was largely disadvantageous to them, after they refused to respond to the Quraysh’s breach of the contract, and the Quraysh’s subsequent nullification of said contract, that the Prophet prepared to retake Makkah.

Islamophobic Misconceptions about the Treaty of Hudaybiyya: 

            The following are only representative examples of misconceptions about the Treaty of Hudaybiyya. They are used to undermine Muslims’ attempts to conclude ceasefires, truces and peace-treaties.  They all base their positions on the misconception that Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) breached the treaty.  This is a bizarre position since the only original historical sources that documented the Treaty of Hudaybiyya and its aftermath are the Islamic ones; all of them show how the Muslims fulfilled their part with no exception.  The motives behind these misconceptions are questionable!

(1) Dr. Mordechai Kedar

In an article titled “I believe Arafat”, Dr. Kedar wrote about Yasir Arafat’s address to the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah (May 15, 2002) on the occasion of the 54th anniversary of the 1948 Nakba.  In his address, Arafat promoted the vantage point of the “Hudaybiyya Conciliation Accord”.

Dr. Kedar had the following comment regarding Arafat’s position:

“I do indeed believe Arafat’s message: he does wish to come to an agreement with the Israelis, but, as he points out to his followers, any agreement with non-Muslims… is simply a modern version of Hudaybiyya. As such, in accordance with Islamic principles which form the basis of the political culture in the Arab sphere, such a commitment may (or must) be broken at the right time.”(

I find Dr. Kedar’s position very disturbing since I know first hand that his knowledge of Arabic is excellent and, therefore, it cannot be a problem of translation.

(2) Asaf Maliach

In an article titled “Hamas’ Post-Election Strategy”, Asaf Maliach had the following entry on the Treaty of Hudaybiyya and his perceived implications for the modern scene:

…The Hudaybiyya Treaty allowed Muhammad and the Muslims to strengthen their ranks without needing to worry about a confrontation with the Quraysh tribe. After only two years (630 CE) the Muslims annulled the agreement and conquered Mecca. This agreement has since been exploited more than once by radical Muslim organizations that seek to justify the annulment of agreements signed with those characterized as “enemies”.

The Position of the Companions of the Prophet regarding the Treaty of Hudaybiyya:

The Companions of the Prophet were not happy with the Hudaybiyya Hudna treaty.

Al-Bukhari narrated in his Sahih that Umar bin Al-Khattab said:

“I went to the Prophet and said, ‘Aren’t you truly the Apostle of God?’

 The Prophet said, ‘Yes, indeed.’

 I said, ‘Isn’t our Cause just and the cause of the enemy unjust?’

 He said, ‘Yes.’

 I said, ‘Then why should we be humble in our religion?’

He said, ‘I am God’s Apostle and I do not disobey Him, and He will make me victorious…”

What could be learned from this treaty?

1. Despite the dissatisfaction of the companions, the Qur’an described it as a great victory or Fath:
“Surely We have given to you a clear victory”  (Qur’an, 48:1)

2. The Hudna is a matter of Shura, concluded by the leader of the faithful

3. Regardless who the other party (signatory to the treaty) is, their request should be answered positively, as long as it does not violate the Shari`ah.

4. It is permissible for the Muslim leader to initiate the request for the Hudna, as long as it is of interest for Muslims:

5. The property of the non-Muslim signatories to the treaty is protected.

6. Treaty is not binding to Muslims who are not living under the Jurisdiction of the Imam (This is especially true today because several Muslims states and entities exist at the same time, and there is no agreement amongst them that one speaks in the names of the others!)

Duration of the Hudnah:

            The Shafi`i school of jurisprudence set the limit of the hudna at 10 years, following the original stated duration of the Treaty of Hudaybiyya. If the treaty does not specify the time limit, it is considered invalid.

The Maliki school of jurisprudence does not specify a time limit and they leave this matter to the jurisdiction of the head of state.

Of course, this discussion of the duration of the hudna is only a glimpse of what’s available in the books of jurisprudence..

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