Back in the day, when Arabs lived in tribes mostly in the desert and were nomads, oftentimes there would be a "blood rivalry" - someone in Tribe A might have killed someone in Tribe B, so Tribe B needed to get revenge. It was a bloody cycle of violence, and every once in a while they would have a "hudna". This hudna would be a break in the fighting while both camps re-grouped and got ready for the next round of fighting.

This may put some of the recent events in Israel in the Summer of 2003 in perspective.

In the western media (read: CNN) they have been throwing around the term "cease-fire". This is a translation of the Arabic hudna; but it hides the cultural connotations of a hudna and what it ultimately means, more fighting after it is over. The Arab terrorists used the three-month period to re-arm, and attacked the Israelis with yet another unfortunate pigua on September 9th at Cafe Hillel.



Stagmeister is correct in that CNN, and pretty much all mainstream media, is leaving out the cultural and historical connotations of what a "hudna" really is, but he is incorrect in his definition of what a Hudna is. Unfortunately, he is misinformed, and I've seen many copy the incorrect explanation given by Zionists and Israeli right-wingers. I will do my best to correct this.

A "Hudna" is an Arabic term, meaning "truce." In Islamic tradition, this denotes a historical event. The first Islamic truce was declared in the year 628 CE at Hudaibiya. This was the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and the Muslim community had struggled for years against the pagan chiefs of Mecca and after two major battles. After so much fighting, and six years after the hijra when the Muslims left Mecca to Medina, Muhammad had a dream that he went to the holy Ka'aba in Mecca unopposed. He took this as a good omen, and he and his followers embarked on a pilgrimmage to the city, despite the fact that it was under enemy control.

Mecca, at the time, was still under the control of the pagan leaders, who despised the Muslims and were engaged in a war. By that point, they had fought to exterminate the growing Muslim community at Medina and lost, losing terribly despite very good odds in their favor at the Battle of Badr, and winning a battle at Uhud, but losing at the Battle of the Ditch. The fighting was at a form of standstill, the polytheist Meccan leaders failed three times to wipe the Muslims out.

Muhammad (pbuh) and the Muslims who came with him dressed into simple pilgrim clothing called an ihram, which is a white robe consisting of 2 wrapped sheets. Most of them left their weapons at home and set out towards Mecca, some on horseback or camel, others on foot. The group accompanying him was about 1400 men.

Being an Arab custom, they were entitled, as all other Arabs, to visit the Sacred Enclosed Sanctuary of the Ka'aba. However, the Quraysh tribe who ruled over the city took this as a very serious threat. They sent Khalid ibn al-Walid with a troop of two hundred horses to bar the pilgrims' entry by force of arms. The Prophet (pbuh), had no intention to fight and therefore changed his route and went to the nearby plain of Hudaibiya, ten miles outside of Mecca, where they remained for the next few days. During that time, negotiators were sent from the Quraysh to draw up a treaty with the Muslims.

The Treaty of Hudaibiya (sometimes referred to as the Pact of Hudaibiya) was signed between Muhammad (pbuh) and the Meccans. The following terms and conditions were agreed upon:

  • There would be peace for ten years. During this period, Muslims could go into Mecca and the Quraysh could go to Syria through the Muslim areas. This was the Hudna (truce)
  • There would be a one-sided extradition; any Meccan who defected to the Muslim side would be handed back to the Quraysh upon demand, but any Muslims who left and sided with the Meccans would not be handed back.
  • The Muslims would have to go back home this year. They would be free to make the pilgrimage the next year, but could only stay in Mecca for three days during that time.
  • Any tribe that wished to side with the Meccans or Quraysh would be permitted to do so.
At the time, this was a big disappointment for the Muslim followers. They expected to make the pilgrimage and were turned back. They felt that the treaty was far too unfair against the Muslims, but Muhammad (pbuh) managed to show them what a blessing this was in disguise. They asked him whether this was a victory for them, and he replied yes. (I'll skip over the Quranic verses dealing with this situation that were revealed during this time)

The consequences were many; The Treaty and the Hudna proved to be one of the most important things for the future of Islam. The Muslims got their chance to make the pilgrimage in the year 7 AH. Peaceful contacts were established between Mecca and Medina. The People of both sides could meet freely. With no war or interference by the Quraysh, the religion began to spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula. New Muslim converts (reverts*) flocked to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in crowds of hundreds and then soon in the thousands. Many tribes left Quraish alliance and joined Muhammad (pbuh). Muhammad (pbuh) started sending Ambassadors and emissaries to many tribes and nations inviting them to Islam. During this time, Khalid ibn al-Walid came to Medina and also accepted Islam, leaving the Meccan side. He later led the Muslim army to defeat the Roman army in the year 8 AH.

In the year 8 AH, two years after the treaty was signed, the Banu Bakr tribe, who was allied with the Quraysh, attacked the Khuza'ah tribe, which had a treaty with the Muslims. This was in flagrant violation of the treaty, one report even states that many of the Khuza'ah were killed even as they sought sanctuary. Muhammad (pbuh) gave the Quraysh three options: Either pay compensation to the victims, terminate their alliance with the Banu Bakr tribe, or consider the Treaty dissolved. Due to arrogance, the Quraysh decided they would do neither of the first two, and consider the pact null and void.

Muhammad assembled a force of 10,000 Muslims and marched to Mecca. His forces boldly marched into the city, taking it without any bloodshed. Muhammad (pbuh) personally ordered his companions not to kill Abu Sufiyan, the leader of the Quraysh of Mecca. Upon assuming control, he granted a general amnesty to the people, surprising since up until that point they were his fiercest enemies.

The Muslims learned many lessons from this Treaty and the Hudna; on the face of it, the terms looked unfavorably against the Muslims, as well as degrading. But they trusted the judgment of their leader, Muhammad (phuh). Also, they learned that persuasion is better than force.

Unfortunately, I have been reading some "revisionist" versions of these events in Israeli, Zionist, and otherwise right-wing newspaper editorials. According to their version, Muhammad broke the truce over a minor infraction and conquered Mecca, using the "cease-fire," as they translate Hudna, as cover to rebuild their military force. The connotation of their interpretation of events is "Don't believe the Arabs, don't believe any cease-fire with them." Of course, "Hudna" became a popular vocabulary word when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2003, as there was a sort of Hudna in place between Israel and Palestinian militant groups. The ceasefire eventually collapsed, but it's arguable over who actually broke it first.

/me grumbles at how Israeli and Palestinian commentators once again see things completely differently, to the exclusion of each other.


* Muslims prefer to use the term "reverts" because of the belief that everyone is born Muslim, but made into another religion by their family and culture. Accepting Islam is said to be "reverting" into their religion.

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