Hudaybiya: Islam's victory by nonviolent resistance

Which one event does the Qur'an describe as the Prophet Muhammad's "manifest victory"?
A. The Prophet's re-entry into Mecca.
B. The Muslim conquest of the entire Arabian Peninsula.
C. A nonviolent Muslim movement resulting in a peace treaty and compromise with long-time enemies.

It may come as a surprise, but the answer is C. True, the Arab Spring showed the world that Muslims can embrace nonviolent resistance to successfully effect change, but this commitment to nonviolence has rarely been described as a religious expression grounded in Islam. Many in the West have thus raised the fear that Islamic-minded movements in the post-revolutionary Arab world - Tunisia's Ennahda or Egypt's Muslim Brothers, for instance - simply used nonviolence as a convenient way to assume power, after which they will turn to force and repression. This fear is overblown, for Muslims can indeed use Islamic religious tradition to firmly ground the principles of nonviolent resistance and faithful compromise with secularists and non-Muslims for the common good. And nothing can do that better, in my opinion, than reviving the legacy of a event in the Prophet Muhammad's life that occurred at a barren camp named Hudaybiya - an event Islamic tradition calls a "manifest victory ".1

Before discussing this event, it is worth remembering the legacy of the first thirteen years of Muhammad's prophetic mission in Mecca (610-622) - a period that so powerfully inspired Gandhi's Afghan counterpart in the independence struggle, Khan Abdul-Ghaffar Khan, and his Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) towards a deeply devout Muslim commitment to nonviolence. "There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or Pathan [Afghan] like me subscribing to the creed of nonviolence..." said Khan, "It was followed fourteen hundred years ago by the Prophet [please be upon him] all the time he was in Mecca."2 

No one can dispute Khan's assessment. Mecca's wealthy elite vehemently opposed the Prophet's monotheistic message and unleashed a heavy toll of physical and economic persecution upon Islam's weakest followers. Nevertheless, Muhammad unconditionally forbade retaliation and enjoined a complete and patient commitment to nonviolence. When persecution became intolerable, he and the early Muslims migrated to Medina, where he established a sovereign state in 622. Only then did Islam permit military action. The young Medinan state saw a series of battles with its Meccan enemies - Badr in 624, Uhud in 625, and the unsuccessful siege of Medina in 627 3- resulting in increasing Muslim regional influence. Though war brought its political gains, the Prophet would soon show that he had never abandoned nonviolent resistance - it would bring forth his greatest victory.

Each year, the far-flung Arabian tribes would converge in Mecca for pilgrimage to the temple of their patriarch Abraham4 (peace be upon him). In the spring of 628, seeking to underscore his claim that Abraham was indeed not a polytheist, the Prophet did what many would describe as daringly foolish and led 1400 followers into enemy territory, intent on peacefully performing pilgrimage. Bound by an ancient code of nonviolence, the Muslim pilgrims could carry no more than travelers' swords for self-defense and would have been no match for the Meccan cavalry sent to rout them. Evading the cavalry and encamping within the sacred vicinity of Mecca, the Prophet had essentially led his followers into a lion's den.

Like all nonviolent resistance movements, the Muslims at Hudaybiya were at once incredibly weak and incredibly powerful - "weak" in being unable to match any abject brutality unleashed upon them, but "powerful" in that the public outrage elicited by such brutality would be far too socially costly to the powers in control. Neither the British Raj nor Jim Crow could afford to crack down on nonviolent protesters without earning the world's condemnation. Likewise, in the sacred context of pilgrimage, the Meccans could not afford to massacre peaceful pilgrims without earning the condemnation of the entire Arabian Peninsula. After a prolonged stalemate, the Prophet [please be upon him] called the two parties towards a peace treaty.

Peace often requires seemingly difficult compromises. The treaty dictated that Muslims would return to Medina unable to perform pilgrimage until the following year, that anyone would be free to apostate from Islam, and that all male, Muslim refugees were to be returned to their Meccan captors. The Prophet's acceptance of these terms led to considerable dissension among his own followers until a new Qur'anic revelation described the events as a "manifest victory" (48:1)5. Suppressing their personal emotions, the Muslims would have to trust that nonviolent engagement and political compromise were in themselves a victory.

Historians now recount how more people became Muslim in the following years of peace than in all the previous years of Muhammad's prophetic mission. When Mecca's allies later broke the peace to resume hostilities, the Muslims conquered the city without fighting and completely forgave their former enemies. Although this military accomplishment was a "victory," the Prophet made sure to remind everyone that Islam's "manifest victory" had already occurred at Hudaybiya long before6. It was nonviolence, not war, and political compromise, not rigid adherence to dogma, that brought that victory.

But in an age of conflict between "Muslims" and "the West," it is certain that both Muslim extremists and anti-Islamic polemicists will dispute any Islamic justification for nonviolent resistance. I will just briefly address a few objections from both these groups, who, though nominally opposed to one another, remarkably speak with a single voice.

1) "Hudaybiya was not a true commitment to nonviolence - the Muslims had pledged to defend themselves physically if the Meccans attacked."7 If the Meccans saw it fit to break the sacred code and spill blood, the Muslim pilgrims certainly could not expect Meccan brutality to stop at a beating and a prison sentence. Rather, they expected being massacred. In that context, the Prophet and his followers clearly saw fighting back with the little means they had as far more honorable than fleeing from their cause, even if it meant certain death. This commitment, an inspiration to all Muslims engaged in civil disobedience, by no means made their movement any less nonviolent - the Meccans themselves acknowledged such.

2) "Any Islamic justification for nonviolence has been abrogated - From the time hostilities with Mecca resumed, Muslims were bound to perpetual warfare with disbelievers until the end of time." The Qur'an's ninth chapter8 did enjoin Muslims to fight the Meccans after the treaty of Hudaybiya was broken, but it would be ridiculous to suggest that this would eternally prohibit Muslims from ever again turning to nonviolence or compromise. This very chapter itself calls for continued commitment to peace with polytheists who "neither failed you anywhere nor supported anyone against you" (9:4). And the Prophet himself would never forget Hudaybiya's legacy, for he reminded everyone of this "manifest victory" on his return to Mecca.

3) "Hudaybiya's true legacy is one of deception - Muhammad [please be upon him] made a treaty when weak only to break it when stronger." This charge simply does not stand up to historical record. Though the Prophet took a dangerous risk in leaving behind Medina's security, determined nonviolent resistance is never truly "weak." And while Muslim strength did increase in the following years of peace, history recounts the Prophet's faithful compliance to the treaty, broken by Mecca's allies. Hindsight is 20/20, but Hudaybiya was declared a "manifest victory" long before the eventual outcomes were known - when all that were apparent were nonviolent action, a failed pilgrimage attempt, and a difficult compromise for the sake of peace.

So what victory should Islamic-minded parties in today's post-revolutionary Arab world work towards? Some in the Muslim world may aspire to establish societies devoted to God's "sharia" or well-trodden path, but in focusing on this "end," they may unfortunately turn to whatever means deemed necessary, however violent or duplicitous. By contrast, Hudaybiya's legacy should remind all devout Muslims that real victory is achievable through constructive, lawful means. In this particular case, true and lasting victory was achieved through firm adherence to nonviolent resistance and non-dogmatic compromise with opposition. A resulting civil society arising from these principles - one at least able to ensure individual liberties and minority rights - may surprise some people but may be closer in line to the Prophet Muhammad's powerful precedent at Hudaybiya - Islam's one and only "manifest victory."


1. Arabic: Fath Mubeen.
2. Easwaran, Eknath. Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan, a Man to Match His Mountains. Petaluma, CA: Nilgiri Press, 1999. 
3. Known as the Battle of the Trench, or Khandaq.
4. The Hajj.
5. The first verse of Sura al-Fath reads Inn? fatahn? laka fatham mubeen? - "We have indeed opened for you a manifest victory."
6. Abdullah ibn Mughaffal narrates, "I saw the God's Messenger ﷺ reciting Sura al-Fath (melodiously) on his she-camel on the day of Mecca's conquest." (Bukhari)
7. Known as the Pledge of the Tree, or Bay'at ash-Shajara.
8. The Chapter of Repentance, or Sura at-Tauba.


Dewan-Syed Adnan Majid is a student of Medicine and Neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego and had previously completed a Bachelor of Science degree at Stanford University. I grew up in New Orleans, LA.

Previously published at

  Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured, Life & Society, Middle East
  Topics: Islam, Makkah (Mecca)
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Older Comments:
Can one point any ruler in history who lived the life of the
second Caliph Omar?.He was clad in one shirt with many patches in
it,carried water to widows homes on his own shoulders,who slept
on bare floor,went about bazaars alone wherever he went.He knew
no porters or courtiers and forerunners and with all that
inspired such respect and awe that Arabia and Persia trembled at
his name and earth shook in whichever direction he turned.For
example Alexander the Great or Timur were held in awe as they
moved with 30,000 troops each to guard their persons but when
Omar went Syria he had none with him but the camel on which he
rode.If we study the personality of Omar from various angles you
would find he was once Alexander,Aristotle,Messiah and many
others.Example Alexander was a conqueror and ruler but had to
lean on the wisdom and advice of Aristotle at every step.But
Omar stood alone by his own worth.He dismissed Khalid Bn Walid
known for his military feats and triumphs so that people should
stop relying on him instead of God. Scholars like Abdullahi Bn
Abbas Abu Huraira compared with knowledge of Omar the difference
of master and pupils.So Omar like Alexander the Great conquering
lands after lands living simple life magnanimous justice and
love for his subject followed the life of the Prophet.At the
time of Hudaibiyya Omar challenged the decision of the Prophet
because of injustice against Muslims yet he had to contend with
the decision of Rasulullulah not challenging that decision.
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J. M. A. FROM USA said:
I am an atheist whose lack of belief was born of an inability to overcome doubt. There was a wall between my desire for simplicity and my understanding of the meaning to life. In vain I searched for a genuine faith in the divine; my insistence I retained the religion of my youth could never persuade my mind that religion was factual. As a Catholic I felt incomplete, so I searched for answers in Islam. You are thorough, well reasoned, factual (in so much as one can be when discussing belief,) and you seem quite convinced that your understanding is the intended. I admire your position, however my cynicism opens a door in the hallway of faith I'd rather remain closed.
Are their truly 2 people alive for whom the same entirety of belief is shared? Are our holy texts judged by the interpretation of context or the merits of their words alone? Is some combination always at play, and if so, how can anyone say what should be acceptable by any other followers? I abhor violence, particularly violence carried out for the sin ofdisagreement, but the disagreement over the value of violence is itself a disagreement. At what point is that rift wide enough to deny one the right to speak without fear? It terrifies me to imagine the call of love and brotherhood drowning in the blood of intolerance. I see it approaching from all sides. However you understand God, spread that understanding aggressively. I want to believe, but I'm afraid I'm incapable of such passion. I want calls of peace to reign, suppressing calls of war.
We shouldn't accept the hatred because it is a weakness, a manifestation of fear.
Fear of thoughts not shared, or fear of being proven wrong I can't say, but not a subject all the guns in existence can decide in this life.

I grew up in New Orleans, and went to school with an Adnan Majid, to whom I looked up. I graduated in 2003.
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Hi Romesh

I appreciate your interest in learning about Islamic history. However, the source and understanding the circumstances is as significant as history itself. History can be distorted to propogate controlled misleading information. So, please read history as an unbiased reader from different sources and come to a conclusion. Islam is what it is, regardless of how people (even muslims) interpret and practices.Try to learn a bit more about Islam as a religion and be your judge.

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Ah, unfortunately 1400 years of Islam's relationship with the rest of the world makes a mincemeat of non-violence nature of that concept. Remember, in 622, Islam was barely starting and was extremely weak and vulnerable. When Islam got strong, it forgot non-violence and emphasized Jihad for conquests.

Will muslims learn anything from 622? I am under no delusions. The world cannot ignore 1400 years of history.
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