The Treaty of Hudaybiyya

In 628 CE, Muhammad and a band of 1400 Muslims marched out from Medina armed only with animals to sacrifice in Mecca on pilgrimage.  For some time they had been barred from entering Mecca to worship at the Ka’ba by the pagan Meccans.  Battles had ensued between the two sides.  Now they tried a different tack: go peacefully and avoid bloodshed.  This new Medinan surah recounts aspects of this journey and the “triumph” (the name of the surah) that resulted.

The Muslims were met by the Meccans outside the city in a small town called Hudaybiyya.  They were stopped there and barred once again from entering Mecca but this time a treaty was drawn up between the two sides in which the Muslims would be granted free access to Mecca and the Ka’ba for the following ten years in order to complete their pilgrimages and sacrifices.  The Meccans even agreed to leave the city so the Muslims could worship in peace.  This became known as the Treaty of Hudaybiyya.  The treaty lasted all of one year, but it was the first time the nascent Muslims were acknowledged by their neighbors to be a legitimate bargaining power, one with which it might be better to strike a treaty than to fight.  In this way, the Treaty was most certainly a triumph. 

Hudaybiyya today

Much of the surah takes up the issue of loyalty within the Muslim group.  As the plan for the peaceful pilgrimage to Mecca was birthed and vetted amongst the people, the desert Muslim tribes were not especially fond of the plan.  They offered up excuses and stayed home.  There was no war booty to be had in the campaign.  Worse, there was the very real possibility of the loss of possessions or even death.  Thinking with earthly minds, this pilgrimage didn’t make sense.  God says he is less than impressed.  He will be dealing with them. 

Three passages stood out to me in this surah.  First:

Those who pledge loyalty to you [Prophet] are actually pledging loyalty to God himself — God’s hand is placed on theirs. (48:10)

We can conclude from this ayah that a Muslim who pledged fidelity to Muhammad would place their hand on his.  Then it was as if God were placing his hand on the top of the other two, to seal the pledge.  What strikes me is the rare anthropomorphism assigned to Allah in this passage.  Allah has so often been described in purely spiritual ways.  Allah is almost never described in bodily fashion (in fact, I can’t recall a passage at all so far in our reading).  And yet he is here.  Interesting! 

The second passage also has to do with the body, but this time the Muslim’s:

You see them kneeling and prostrating, seeking God’s bounty and His good pleasure: on their faces they bear the marks of their prostrations. (48:29)

Does this have a spiritual connotation?  Probably.  Commentator Ali says  this refers to gentleness, kindness, and love.  But it is also likely meant physically.  Daily prayer, five times a day, forehead to the ground — well, that’s going to leave a mark!  It is very admirable when your spiritual devotion leaves a physical mark on your person.

The third passage appears to be an expansion of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower.  This ayah describes what a firmly devoted worshiper is like:

This is how they are pictured in the Torah and the Gospel: like a seed that puts forth its shoot, becomes strong, grows thick, and rises on its stem to the delight of its sowers. (48:29)

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