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Peace and the Spread of Islam

By Dr. Ja`far Sheikh Idris

Invite (people) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful Preaching, and argue with them in the best ways." [16:125]

On his way back to Madinah after the conclusion of the peace agreement of Hudaybiyah with the unbelievers of Quraysh, the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, received revelation from Allah. It was Suratul Fat'h which starts with the words: "We have granted you a victory which is clear victory." [48:1]

"Was this a victory, O Messenger of Allah?" One man asked. The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, answered. "Yes, by whom in whose hand is my soul, it is a victory."

Why did the man ask? What kind of victory was it? And what is the lesson for us in this kind of victory?

The man -he was no less than Umar ibnul Khattab- asked because the term of the agreement were apparently not in favor of the Muslims who had come to perform Umrah, which was something of a right to all Arabs during the Jahiliyyah period. However, the Quraysh who were in a state of war with the Muslims saw in their performing the Umrah a kind of victory for them, despite the Prophet's repeated assurances that their intention was purely religious, and that they had no intention of fighting. Quraysh insisted however, that the Muslims could not perform the Umrah that year but could come to do so next year on certain conditions. The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, agreed and signed with them an agreement for the cessation of hostilities for ten years. But the agreement, which in fact lasted for only two years, included the stipulation that:

If any man from us came to you, you must return him even if he accepted your religion."

So what kind of victory was it?

Ibn Hajar says in his book Fat'h al-Bari that Allah called it victory because of the great consequences that followed from it. He reports az-Zuhri, the great scholar, as saying:

"No victory in Islam was greater than Hudaybiyah. It used to be only fighting when people (meaning Muslims and non-Muslims) met. But when there was a truce, when the war stopped, and when people felt safe, they began to meet and talk to each other and negotiate. As a result, no thinking person to whom Islam was presented in that time [of the truce] but accepted it. The number of people who embraced Islam in those two years was equal to, or greater, than the number of all who had been Muslims before."

Ibn Hisham concurs:

"The evidence for this is that when the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, went to Hudaybiyah he was accompanied by one thousand and four hundred Muslims, but when after two years he marched to conquer Makkah there were ten thousand with him."

And Ibn Hajar explains:

"Because of the peace, which prevailed among them, people mixed with each other without any reprehension. Muslims recited the Qur'an to the polytheists, and debated with them openly about Islam without any fear, while earlier they used to speak to them about this only secretly." We learn from the comments of these three great scholars of people embracing Islam.

We also conclude that the reason for those was the state of peace that replaced that of war and fighting.

What lesson is there for us in all this? The main lesson, I think, is that if a state of peace with non-Muslims is found to be more conducive to the spread of Islam than that of war, then it should be, not only preferred, but actively sought and maintained. This should be so even if Muslims have the power and the means to fight and conquer the non-Muslims.

Instead of fighting or antagonizing them they should invite them and argue with them in the best of manners. In doing so they would be emulating the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam. Look at the nice but firm words of the message, which he sent to the polytheists;

"We have not come to fight any one; we have come only to perform Umrah. Quraysh has been exhausted and devastated by war. If they will, I will give them time during which they let me alone with the people. If I come victorious then if they wish to embrace what other people embraced, they can do so, if not they would at least have had a respite. If they refuse, then by Him in whose hands is my soul, I will fight them until my neck is severed, and Allah will execute His command."

It seems to me that Muslims living in Western democratic countries where they are given the freedom, even it be a relative one, to practice their faith and preach it, are living in a situation which is very much like that of the two years of the Hudaybiyah truce. It is, therefore, incumbent upon them to do their best to maintain this peaceful environment, and exploit it to invite people to Islam in a way that is wise, nice and intellectual, in accordance with the Qur'an injunction:

"Invite (people) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful Preaching, and argue with them in the best ways." [16:125]

The enemies of Islam in the West know very well that the best way to stop or hinder the spread of Islam is by presenting Muslims as terrorist enemies who would stop at nothing short of the destruction of Western civilization. Those native Muslims who advocate violence (which does not achieve anything positive any way) are in fact playing into the hands of their enemies. They give them the best evidence to convince people that Muslims are indeed, as the hostile media depicts them, destructive elements that should be fought at all costs.

I was in the United States when the Oklahoma tragedy occurred and I witnessed the great fear in which Muslims, especially those who frequent the masajid, lived when a so called expert declared in the media that the explosion was an act of Muslims. And I witnessed the great sigh of relief they felt when it was ultimately found out that the perpetrators were Christian Americans. It is very natural to have such a feeling in situations like these when you are a minority living under jurisdiction of a non-Muslim majority.

It may be because of this that Muslims were ordered not to rise a hand against the polytheists when they were still living amongst them in Makkah. They were allowed and subsequently ordered to fight only after they migrated and had their own land.

It is important for Muslims to be keen on maintaining this environment of freedom for another good reason -it will not last. Democratic countries are ready to let minorities like Muslims enjoy freedom so long as they are not envisaged to be a threat to secularism. Once they are feared to be, then the secularists are sure to sacrifice democracy to save secularism. This happened in many countries, and is bound, I think, to happen in the West.

I know that this is a sensitive topic that can easily be misunderstood. So let me emphasize that I am not here advocating pacifism. Being a realistic religion, Islam is not and cannot be pacifist. But being realistic does not condone senseless violence, which helps only to frighten people away from Islam. Neither do I want to give the impression that every peace treaty is a Hudaybiyah. Some of them can be utterly defeatist and bring nothing but harm to the cause of Islam. I only want to stress that war and violence are not ends in themselves; the noble aim is to guide people to the path of Allah. If peaceful coexistence with non-Muslim is found to be more conductive to this aim. Then it should be chosen.