The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and Quraysh’s CVE Program

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and Quraysh’s CVE Program on

Mohamed Ghilan

The sixth year after the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ migrated from Mecca to Medina witnessed one of the most significant events for early Muslims. After ten years of persecution and torture in Mecca, followed by six years of skirmishes and full-blown battles with Quraysh, Muslims had finally asserted themselves as an indomitable presence in the region. They were not some fringe cult led by a madman or a sorcerer as was claimed. Despite Quraysh’s military and public relations efforts to stamp out the light, their darkness could not overcome it. This is when the Beloved ﷺ  was shown in a dream that he and his companions entered Mecca to perform Umrah (a minor pilgrimage) in the sanctuary from which they were barred to enter. Upon waking he ﷺ  told his companions of this dream and they all rejoiced, believing it was a sign from God they would finally enter Mecca that year.

When the Beloved ﷺ embarked on this journey he was accompanied by his wife Umm Salama and around 1500 Companions. In spite of being in a state of open war with Quraysh, they did not take any weapons other than what a traveller carried. Imagine setting forth directly to where your enemy resides and has tanks, machine guns, and weapons that could eviscerate you in seconds, but you were only carrying a handgun in case someone tried to mug you on the way there. But that was the point. They were not going for a fight.

As the events developed, which can be reviewed in texts relating the biography of the Beloved ﷺ, the Umrah was ultimately suspended for that year as part of a treaty drawn up between the Prophet ﷺ and Quraysh. What I would like to put a spotlight on here in the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah is one clause, which created much storm within the Beloved's camp due to its sheer injustice. This article of the Treaty stated that “Whoever flees from Quraysh to Muhammad must be refused refuge and returned to them, and whoever flees from Muhammad to Quraysh will be granted refuge and not returned to him.” On the surface of it, the whole treaty was unilateral in favor of Quraysh. Indeed, the Companions objected very strongly when the Beloved ﷺ agreed to it. But the thing about it, which they would recognize later on, is that for the Beloved ﷺ, the negotiations were not about politics or some temporal notion of justice. There was something greater at stake.

While the treaty was still being written and yet to be signed, a Muslim man who was imprisoned in Mecca had escaped and came running in his chains, throwing himself into the midst of the Companions seeking their protection. Abu Jandal ibn Suhayl was facing persecution and punishment by his own father for having entered into Islam, much in the same way many Muslims who had migrated from Mecca also faced. The Companions’ initial instinct was to save him, but his father was not having it. When the Beloved ﷺ pointed out that technically they had not signed the Treaty yet and could take Abu Jandal to Medina with him, Quraysh threatened they would nullify the whole thing. The Beloved ﷺ conceded and ordered his companions to return Abu Jandal to his father, who in turn slapped his face and dragged him back to where he was being held. As he was being pulled away he looked back with pleading eyes and cried out, “O Muslims! Am I to be returned to the polytheists so they may test me in my religion?” The Prophet ﷺ replied,

O Abu Jandal, be patient and count on God, for He will give you and those persecuted along with you ease and opening. We have become bound with a peace treaty to the people here. We have promised them to keep it, and they gave us a covenant with God, so we will not commit treachery against them.”

After the Beloved ﷺ returned with his companions to Medina and got settled, another Muslim man being tortured in Mecca managed to escape and made it all the way to Medina. Quraysh sent two men after Abu Baseer Utbah ibn Usayd ath-Thaqafi to extradite him and invoked the Treaty with the Beloved ﷺ, who in turn obliged with their demand.

On their way back Abu Baseer managed to get a hold of one of the men’s sword and killed him with it. The other escaped him and ran back to Medina and in ironic twist of fate sought refuge with the Prophet ﷺ from a man he was shortly before seeking refuge from him. When the Beloved ﷺ saw him coming he said, “He saw something scary.” The man told the Beloved ﷺ that Abu Baseer killed his partner and he was sure he would be next. At this point Abu Baseer reached the Beloved ﷺ and said, “O Prophet of God, by God you have fulfilled your part of the deal and returned me to them, then God saved me from them.” The Beloved ﷺ responded, “What an instigator of war, if he had people to support him!” Abu Baseer understood from this that the Beloved ﷺ would still return him to Quraysh if they demanded it again, and now that he killed one of their men, torture is the least of his worries. So he left Medina and set up camp by the coast of the Red Sea.

Remember Abu Jandal being sent back in Mecca? Well, he managed to escape a second time from his captivity, but knowing he would not be given refuge in Medina as per the Treaty, he joined Abu Baseer in his camp. They were later joined by anyone who was able to escape from Mecca until a group with a significant number of them took shape and a decision was made that from Quraysh’s perspective would in today’s political discourse be called “radical”. Any time Abu Baseer’s group got wind of a caravan coming out of Mecca they raided it, killing the men and taking the wealth and goods they had. To stop these raids Quraysh made a rational decision and a plea to the Beloved ﷺ, where they amended the Treaty’s clauses and gave him the right to give refuge to those who escape from Mecca. It was at this point that the Beloved ﷺ officially ordered Abu Baseer’s group to desist from their activities and come to him in Medina.

Life was quite different 1400 years ago. However, although we cannot make direct comparisons between the context in which Muslims live in today and that of early Muslims, there are important insights to be had from the incidents related here. For one, the Beloved ﷺ upheld the trust of the Treaty, and refused to break its clauses, even when it was clearly unjust towards the Muslim community. In fact, this was such a big deal for the Companions that it was the only time they did not immediately obey the Beloved ﷺ when he ordered them to do something (when he commanded them to slaughter their sheep after he accepted the terms of the Treaty they lingered and did not obey him until they saw him sacrifice his).

It is also important to note that we do not see the Qur'an or the Beloved ﷺ directly engaging in theological terms with what Abu Baseer and his group were doing. Abu Baseer’s group was a problem created by two and only two things: Quraysh’s persecution and torture of Muslims, and the unjust clauses they insisted on having in the Treaty that ensured their continued oppression of Muslims in Mecca. The only reason Quraysh was motivated to amend the Treaty and remove that clause was economic interest. If you cannot ensure stability of your business environment, soon enough no one will be doing business with you, and Mecca does not have its own natural resources to be self-sustainable for its inhabitants. Its very existence as a city in the desert reaping the benefits of Abraham peace be upon him’s prayer is a miracle in its own right,

The reason Abu Baseer and his group were not directly engaged with theologically by the Qur'an or the Beloved ﷺ may be illustrated by an Arabic proverb that says, “Hunger is kafir (i.e., a disbeliever).” It is a metaphor to describe the state one gets into when they feel extreme hunger that is not of their own choice. In times of extreme deprivation humans can descend into a state of chaos where survival becomes king. This is why, for example, Umar ibn al-Khattab decided to suspend the theft punishments during the period of drought and famine under his rule, because implementing them would not be in accordance with what the Sharia stands or aims for.

An inconvenient truth about the human condition from a religious perspective is that spirituality can sustain a person for only so long before most people break down. There comes a point when talking about religion and Sharia is not only ineffective, but can even backfire. Before the Companions left Mecca some of them would succumb under extreme duress and curse the Beloved ﷺ  as they were commanded by their persecutors just to stop the torture. When asked about this he ﷺ said, “If they come back at you again – do the same thing.” In other words, these offensive utterances externally forced onto your tongue are not sinful because your heart does not contain them.

Keeping in mind the political context and realities in which they were living in, when Abu Baseer formed his group and raided Quraysh’s caravans the Beloved ﷺ did not tell him to stop. He simply upheld his end of the Treaty with Quraysh and did not become more involved in a problem he himself did not create. His role as a Messenger of God did not come into effect in that capacity for Abu Baseer and his men until the Treaty reflected it. That was the point when they officially came into Medina under the Prophet’s rule. And here is where one of the many problems with government-sponsored Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs lies.

These initiatives are formulated with the assumption that government policies can be left unchanged while placing the full burden on scholars and imams in Muslim communities to “de-radicalize” those who have fallen victim to extremist ideologies necessarily born out of the conditions created by such policies. What is more, they also suggest that Muslim communities are “not doing enough” to stop youth radicalization. This toxic mix is not only rooted in fantasy, it also stigmatizes the Muslim community, and delegitimizes scholars and imams as “Scholars of the Government”.

The reality is that radicalism is a political problem, not an Islamic one. It is well established now that the more observant a Muslim becomes, the less likely they are to become “radicalized” or be swayed into extremist ideology that leads to violence. From a theological perspective, the Muslim community is fully equipped with the teachings to birth contributing, productive, and peaceful citizens in any society, something we have already been doing without being asked or told to. It may serve us better to look at radicalization through the lens of gang research than to pathologize a whole religion and in turn further marginalize Muslim communities.

None of this is to say we should not be challenging ideologies that preach violence and hatred. This is something already being done by Muslim scholars without having them acting as government stooges. Furthermore, we should not be bullied by nationalist jingoistic rhetoric that brands American Muslims as “anti-American” into being silent about our government’s imperialistic foreign policies. If we are really serious about countering violent extremism, we must address the policies that make violence appear as the only option one can have if they want to change their conditions.

If Muslims are lacking in anything, it could be argued that we may not be involved to the extent we potentially could in the political process to have our say in policy making. How else can we explain the development and deployment of insidious programs like CVE that by design securitize our relationship with the government? What we certainly do not lack, however, is proper knowledge and interpretation of our tradition or how to teach it to our youth. Most importantly, we do not need the stamp of approval from politicians and governments to tell us what is “authentic” to Islam vs. what is not, or a “good boy” pat on the head from people who supposedly work for us.


By Mohamed Ghilan , 26 Sep 2016

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