Tactics of Hamas and the Prophet's Treaty of Hudaibiyya
27 Oct, 2006
Update on 07 Jan 2009.
When the Ottoman rulers relaxed its vigilance toward Jewish migration to Palestine, the persecuted Jews from the Muslim world as well as East Europe started moving to so-called Jewish holy land in the hope of living in their ancestral land in greater peace and dignity. As migrating Jews started settling in depopulated areas of Palestine, what is now Israel, by purchasing lands from "absentee Palestinian landlords", suspicion grew amongst the Arabs, in the backdrop of the Zionist movement, that the Jews were migrating to Palestine for creating a Jewish state in the Ottoman Empire. There arose opposition to Jewish migration and Arab persecution of Jews.
At the end of the First World War, the British allies occupied Palestine from the Ottoman Empire. For a settlement of the occupied land, Britain and its allies that included the United States decided in favor of self-determination. In large parts of Palestine, where Arabs were dominant, the State of today's Jordan was created; the newly-created Arab state kicked out its small Jewish inhabitants. For the remaining smaller piece of land—some 45,000 sq. km., having a mixed population of Jews, Christians and Arab Muslims—it was decided to create two different states: one for Arabs, the other for the Jews. This was outlined in the Balfour Declaration (1917), adopted by the League of Nations. The Arab had no fuss with the creation of the new state of Jordan, but were hell-bent against the creation of a Jewish home in Jew-dominated areas. They wanted a Palestinian state free of all Jews; violent persecution of Jews began; many horror incidents of violence against the Jews followed. In the midst of Nazi anti-Semitism in Germany, another attempt by the League of Nations to create a Jewish home in 1937 was foiled by the Arab rejection.
Later on, the United Nations' mandate to create a Jewish home was again rejected by the Arab in 1948; they wanted nothing short of a Palestine, denuded of all Jews. In the midst of these uncertainties and continued Arab violence, the Jews declared the creation of Israel. The Arab world in their attempt to wipe out the Jewish population declared war against the newly created Israeli state; Israel survived the Arab scourge at the cost of 10% of its population. The Arab world attacked Israel again in 1956; Israel survived again. Then in 1967, Egypt planned another surprise attack, which was uncovered; Israel passed intelligence to the US, the latter to Egypt's ally Russia. When Russia passed the message to Egypt, it scrapped the plan as Israel was well-prepared to foil it.
As Egypt was in search of another opportunity to strike the Jewish state, Israel took a preemptive step and attacked Egypt; Egypt's Arab allies—Jordan, Syria, Iraq—joined the war. The Arab world suffered a miserable defeat. On previous occasions, Israel merely survived the Arab assaults at the cost of heavy casualties; this time, it gained a triumphant victory and occupied a large chunk of the Arab lands that included Sinai and Gaza from Egypt, West Bank from Jordan, Golan Heights from Syria. Israel's incredible defeat of the major allied of Arab powers single-handedly brought a new realization to Arab nations that their dream of destroying the Jewish state, their perennial desire, cannot be materialized anymore, definitely not under the current strategy. Under this new reality, Egypt and later Jordan, who had lost much of the occupied land in the Six-Day War, slowly extended hands of peace to Israel. As of now, only three Muslims countries out of 57—namely Turkey, Egypt and Jordan—recognize the existence of the Jewish state.
Although some moderate Muslim states have extended peace to the Zionist state, other fanatic Islamic nations—lead by Iran, Iraq and Syria—have kept the fight for the destruction of Israel alive in one guise or another. The first was the emergence of Arafat-led Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorist outfit, which was in a ruminant stage during the 1967 war. After a couple of decades of deadly campaign of terror, PLO also came to the realization that the resilient Zionist state could not be destroyed. It abandoned its congenital charter of Israel's destruction, and instead, succumbed to the idea of recognizing her legitimate existence.
With PLO joining the peace camp, at least outwardly, new and more deadly terrorist outfits—namely Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Al-Aqsa Martyrs brigade—emerged to perpetuate the campaign for Israel's destruction. One day, these apparently incorrigible militant groups might, out of despair, also decide to offer peace to Israel. Most likely, there will emerge new violent Islamist groups to perpetuate the conflict.
While such has been the reality of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the world has been left guessing as to why this perennial conflict of our time cannot be solved; instead, it becomes increasing violent and complicated time passes. One must investigate the fundamental commands of Islam, which drives these Islamists groups, to grasp the crux of the conflict. It is important to investigate the commands of the Koran and examples of Prophet Muhammad (Sunnah), which determines the bedrock of Islamic ideals and laws for eternal times. This essay will point to the Koranic verdicts and Prophet Muhammad's tactics in similar circumstances in order to identify the root of the tactics, the involved Jihadi groups apply in this conflict.
Regarding Jews (also Christians), Allah commands Muslims in the Koran: "Fight the Jews and Christian, until they are subdued to dhimmi status and pay poll-tax (Jiziya) in humiliation" [Q 9:29]. About one of Prophet's last wishes in his dead-bed, according to Ibn Hisham (Ibn Ishaq), was: "Let there remain no faith than Islam in Arabia" . Islamic traditions also record one of Prophet's death-bed wishes as: "Lord! Destroy the Jews and Christians." Thus, a Jewish state cannot exist in the Arab Peninsula with honor and dignity as per Islam. The attack on Israel by the Arab states initially, and later by various terrorists groups, is only an extension of this command of Islam.
Let us now investigate how the tactics of Prophet Muhammad are being applied in minute details by the various Islamist groups in Palestine. In five years of the Prophet Muhammad's emigration (Hijra) from Mecca to Medina (622 CE), Muslims had exterminated the Jewish tribes of Medina, who refused to submit to Islam; the last Jewish tribe of Banu Quraiza was exterminated in 627: their 800-900 adult men were slaughter en masse, their women and children were captured as slaves; their lands and assets were confiscated as spoils of war [Koran 33:26-27; Ibn Hisham, p684ff; Ibn Sa'd p53f].
With no adversary in the vicinity of Medina, the confident Prophet cast his eye on Mecca, his ancestral city, the inhabitant Koreish of which had rejected his new religion. Muhammad urged all the tribes to join an expedition during the lesser pilgrimage (Omra) in 628; some 1500 armed men assembled behind him and advanced towards Mecca seeking to capture Mecca and the Ka'ba, the most sacred idol-shrine for the pagans of the Arab Peninsula. As the news of the advancing Muslim force arrived in Mecca, the Koreish assembled their force, determined to resist Muhammad's army.
It should be noted that the Muslims had attacked Mecca trade-caravan passing through routes around Medina starting in 623, which resulted in complete stoppage of Mecca's life-sustaining trades with Syria. This had led to a number of blood-letting attacks and battle, in which the Meccans had lost many of their fellow citizens. Also during the early days of his preaching in Mecca, the Prophet had also laid out a claim that the sacred temple of Ka'ba was founded by Abraham and his son Ishmael and that, it belonged to his own God, Allah.
Learning of the preparation of the Koreish and sensing a definite bloodbath, Muhammad stopped at a place, called Hudaibiyya, and sent an emissary to Mecca to inform that, he came only to perform Omra, not war. Muhammad persisted on entering the Ka'ba for performing Omra peacefully. The Mecca citizens, on the other hand, adamant against allowing Muhammad to enter their city and their sacred temple of centuries, which would be a case of extreme embarrassment for them, too. They were were worried of an armed confrontation, given Muhammad's ability to cause bloodshed as happened in previous occasions.
At one point, Prophet's son-in-law Othman was sent to the Koreish camp for negotiations. It was taking a bit long for him to return and rumors started brewing in the Muslim camp that Othman had been murdered. Muhammad quickly assembled his followers under an acacia tree and bounded them one by one by a pledge to stand by 'Othman to the death', which famously became known as "Pledge of the Tree" in Islamic annals. Muslims' religious fervor had been exited to such a pitch that they were in a suicidal mood to rush upon the enemy at once.
Just about that time, Othman returned, avoiding a sheer blood-bath. Realizing Muhammad's determination to enter Mecca and sensing that a military confrontation would cause heavy bloodbath on both sides, the Meccans agreed to Muhammad's demand to enter the Ka'ba for performing pilgrimage but starting only next year. So, a truce was signed, the Treaty of Hudaibiyya, which demanded no hostility from either side for ten years; during this period, the Meccans would evacuate the city for three days to allow Muslims to perform the Omra pilgrimage peacefully.
Next year (629), Muhammad back to Mecca during the pilgrimage; the Meccans retired to the mountains for three days allowing Muslims perform the pilgrimage without interference. By the following year (630), Muslim army had grown strong enough to overrun Mecca. Muhammad could not wait until the expiration of the ten-year Hudaibiyya Treaty; he started preparation to attack Mecca to capture the city and the Ka'ba.
Hearing the news of build-up of a massive force in Medina, the helpless leader of Mecca, Abu Sufian, a father-in-law of Muhammad, proceeded to Medina to plead with the Prophet against attacking his people. He had to return empty-handed after Muhammad denied him a meeting.
Throwing away the treaty, Muhammad soon marched on to attack Mecca. As Muhammad's forced approached Mecca, Abu Sufian once again set forth to negotiate with Muhammad. His brother Al-Abbas, who had just joined the Muslim camp, presented him with the choice of submission to Islam or death: "See ye not the myriad of candles above the camp? Believe (in Islam); cast thy lot with us; else thy mother and thy house will weep for thee." Al-Abbas brought Abu Sufian to Muhammad's presence and Muhammad demanded that he accept Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah. When Abu Sufian showed hesitancy, Al-Abbas exclaimed: "Woe is thee! It is not time for hesitancy, this. Believe and Testify forthwith with the creed of Islam, or else, thy neck shall be in danger." Abu Sufian had no option but to convert instantly. He returned to his people asking them to submit to Islam to save their life, or else, shut themselves in their houses to avoid definite death at the hands of Muhammad's invincible army. Thereupon, Muhammad's army entered the city, captured the Ka'ba and destroyed all idol-gods therein: the rule of Islam was established over the city.
One must take note of the brilliant tactics, Muhammad had applied, by signing the Treaty of Hudaibiyya. It would have been disastrous for Muhammad to engage in a head-on battle with 1500 men when the Koreish could assemble a 10,000-strong force. However, Muhammad was ruthlessly intent on overrunning Mecca at an opportune time in order to capture the Ka'ba, which had become the focus of Islamic creed, toward which they turned five times a days while saying prayers. He, therefore, signed a temporal ceasefire in stead of offering a term of permanent peaceful coexistence, whereby both parties could use the Ka'ba for pilgrimage. This treaty gave him an opportunity to build up his force, so that it becomes strong enough to overrun Mecca at a later time. Although a ten-year truce was signed, Muhammad broke the agreement and attacked Mecca within two years as his force became strong enough to overrun the coveted city.
From the treaty of Hudaibiyya and the subsequent capture of Mecca and the Ka'ba two years later, the evident message of the master tactician Prophet of Islam is such:
When you are weaker against your enemy, do not jump into a suicidal war. In stead, sign a truce of nonaggression for a while during which you could build up the force and ammunition and when you are strong enough to overrun the enemy, dump the truce and launch the attack.
Exactly the same message was resonated in former Malaysia leader Mahathir Muhammad's famous 2003 OIC Speech in Kuala Lumpur, which urged the Muslim world to walk in the footsteps of the Prophet. He said:
"The Quran tells us that when the enemy sues for peace we must react positively. True the treaty offered is not favorable to us. But we can negotiate. The Prophet did, at Hudaibiyah. And in the end he triumphed."
"1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews. There must be a way. And we can only find a way if we stop to think, to assess our weakness and our strength, to plan, to strategize and then to counter attack."
He further added:
"We are enjoined by our religion to prepare for the defense of the Ummah. Unfortunately we stress not defense but the weapons of the time of the Prophet. Those weapons and horses cannot help to defend us any more. We need guns and rockets, bombs and warplanes, tanks and warships for our defense."
Whether heeding to the entreaty of the Malaysian leader or not, the current strategy of various Islamist groups—Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah—fighting for the destruction of Israel, clearly demonstrates their adoption of exactly the same strategy the Prophet had applied at Hudaibiyya at the dawn of Islam. With Israel's insurmountable power at the present, these terrorist groups, intent on destroying the Jewish state as and when the opportunity comes, are insisting on a ceasefire (2006), not offer a permanent term of peaceful coexistence. They seek this period of truce to build up the military might—namely recruiting fighters, acquiring weapons and if possible nuclear weapons—for inflicting a decisive death-blow to the tiny Jewish state, eventually. Iran, the mother of these terrorist outfits, is rushing fast to acquire the nuclear weapons in defiance of the world. The hope is that as soon as a surefire opportunity to launch a devastating blow arrives, the ceasefire would be thrown in the waste-dump and Israel will be turned into ashes.
Such a strategy was effectively applied by Hezbollah; it used a long-held ceasefire to stock up its weaponry, strengthen its defenses and increase its recruitment such that the Israeli army, known to be invincible in the Middle East, had to offer a ceasefire in its recent war against Hezbollah (2006). Hamas was also applying similar tactics over the years as a guerrilla group. However, the new reality after the Palestinians overwhelmingly voted the Jihadi group to power in a free and fair un-Islamic democratic election; they are facing a difficult choice unlike Hezbollah in Lebanon, who does not have the responsibility of governing the people. Hamas now shoulders the responsibility of running and financing the state machinery. Heavily dependent on aid from the West, the latter stopped giving aid to the Hamas Government because that its charter calls for the destruction of Israel, a sovereign UN member state. The humanitarian aid, however, has continued to flow.
This has put the Hamas Government in a difficult position. It has failed to pay salaries to civil servants, teachers and doctors, resulting in a dire situation in Palestine. Under such hopeless situation, the moderate president Mahmoud Abbas has stepped in to salvage the situation. He was negotiating on the formation of a Unity Government between his Fatah and Hamas; he pleaded with Hamas to recognize the Jewish state as part of the Unity Government, hoping that such a government would receive Western aid. There seems to have been some initial agreement on part of Hamas on such an arrangement since President Abbas declared at a recent UN General Assembly in New York that a Coalition Government is going to be formed between Hamas and his Fatah party which will recognize Israel's legitimate existence. After this announcement, Hamas quickly denied such an agreement—undauntedly a slap on the face of the Palestine president.
However, further intense negotiation followed under the mediation of Egypt and Qatar without a breakthrough. President Abbas declared all avenues of negotiation with Hamas have failed. Verily so! Accusing President Abbas of ruining the formation of Unity Government, Hamas spokesperson said:
Hamas has denied talks were at a dead end, but said the latest initiative, presented in Gaza by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, was unacceptable because it included recognition of Israel.
Hamas says it will never recognize Israel and will abide only by peace agreements with the Jewish state that it believes are in the interests of the Palestinian people. [Reuters, October 24th, 2006]
By peace agreement, they meant a temporary truce or ceasefire of hostility, not a permanent agreement for peaceful co-existence with Israel. The strategy of the noble Prophet of Islam at Hudaibiyya, also urged upon by great Mahathir Muhammad, is being applied in detail by Hamas. Howsoever difficult the situation be, they must not offer terms of "permanent peace" to the enemies of Islam, whom the Prophet had commanded to exterminate from Arabia as one of his wishes, so commands Allah [Koran 9:23]. Allah and his Prophet must be giving a 'bravo' to Hamas sitting in heaven. And Dr Mahathir, a modern protégé of Muhammad of the 7th century, couldn't expect anything better.
Readers may wish to refer to my recent debate on the Hudaibiyya Treaty for clear understanding of the issues involved.
 Prophet's biography by Ibn Hisham, p1021
 Prophet's biography by Ibn Hisham, p 740ff; Al-Waqidi, p214ff; Ibn Sa'ad, p69ff
 Prophet's biography by Ibn Hisham, p 802ff; Al-Waqidi, p319ff; Ibn Sa'ad, p96ff