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Prophet Muhammad's Diplomatic Tactics in Alliances, Guarantees and Agreements

Throughout history in international relations, agreements have taken second place after wars. The flow of history has been determined by wars and agreements.

Determining which purposes were basic to the agreements of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is connected to knowing the spirit and basic principles dominant in his diplomacy. As founder and leader of Islamic society, he had the goal of preparing a foundation for the application of divine instructions in his own society and to take, by every possible means, the message he brought to individuals and societies he came into contact with. His agreements should be evaluated from this perspective before anything else. He was not pursuing exploitation of another political unit by intervening in their internal affairs or the establishment of hegemony over people by creating pacts through agreements. He knew that the transmission of Islam would be more effective in an environment of peace and security provided by agreements. Due to religion being a belief system before anything else, he could only enter societies by means of the hearts of individuals. For this reason, he never used force or declared war against those who did not prevent his call and invitation; he took as an essential principle being a sultan of hearts, not bodies.

The command in the Holy Quran, “Let there be no compulsion in religion,” (Al-Baqara 256) required this. Attempting to force people to adopt a belief or ideology or wanting to shape their minds with pressure would not do anything but increase the number of hypocrites. In that case, why did Islam make jihad mandatory? Jihad is for removing obstacles to the conveyance of the divine message to people and to create a foundation for people to be able to know Islam with common sense, far removed from pressure and anxiety, and to be able to make choices with their own free will. On the other hand, jihad gives the opportunity for presenting the Islamic religion as a functional, individual and practical system instead of just a theoretical message.

Because peace is the most suitable foundation for calling people to Islam and for conveying its noble values, the Prophet always took peace as a basis of his politics. War was secondary. Peace being fundamental is tied to the judgment of Quranic verses: “God forbids you not , with regard to those who fight you not for your Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them” (Al-Mumtahana 8); “But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou also incline towards peace, and trust in God. For He is the One that heareth and knoweth all things” (Al-Anfal 61).

Also with these, Allah warns not to forego controlling the enemy by trusting agreements. The Prophet’s application of some tactics against tribes that he had agreements with stems from this cautious approach, not from having made the agreement with the goal of deceit and ill-intention.

During the early days of his prophecy, the Prophet began to call people to Islam, beginning with those close to him. He made his call to all Meccans either individually or in groups. Meanwhile, he took advantage of the status of Mecca as a trade and cultural center. Participating in the fairs held in Mecca and its surroundings, he also invited those coming from outside of Mecca to Islam. At this point his behavior deserves our attention. When the Quraish tribe persisted in their stubbornness, in spite of all the efforts in Mecca to call them to Islam, he concentrated his activities on those coming from outside of Mecca.

It seemed impossible for Prophet Muhammad to remain in Mecca and call people from outside of Mecca to Islam in front of the Quraish’s eyes and to develop power against the Quraish who were the leaders of the Arabian Peninsula. Under these conditions the best path was to make a base outside of Mecca and to take root there and to become an organized power. The migration to Abyssinia should be seen as an activity within the framework of the search for a central base.

Migration to Abyssinia

The Abyssinia migration comprises a very important focal point in the Prophet’s politics of apostleship during the Meccan period. When we examine this migration event carefully, we understand that we are face to face with a far-sighted founder of a state. Those who look at the event superficially and those who do not interpret the data in the sources carefully think that this migration was only made to escape the torture of the Meccans. If that had been the case, there should have been weak and orphaned Muslims in the convoy. However, the opposite was the case. In particular, the first migrants were members of prominent Quraish families and people who would perform important functions in Islamic history in later years.

There being a small number of people in the first migration and the majority going later on strengthens the probability that the first group were given the task of a vanguard group to control whether or not it was safe. There is also a strong probability that the Prophet sent a secret and private message to Negus, the Emperor of Abyssinia with the first convoy.

However much it is known that Abyssinia immigrants returned when they learned that the Meccans had accepted Islam, it is not proof that the Abyssinia emigration was not for the purposes of finding a base and to keep some distinguished Muslims safe from probable risks. It might have been thought that when conditions changed in Mecca, the base in Abyssinia could be abandoned and activities could be continued in Mecca. In addition, the Prophet’s intention to make a new evaluation of the situation could have been a part of this return to Mecca.

Another proof that the emigration to Abyssinia carried important strategic calculations is the strong reaction shown to it by the pagans. Sending their top diplomats who were in close dialogue with Abyssinia with valuable gifts, they wanted the immigrants back. If those who went there had been weak people escaping from oppression, there were many other weak Muslims in their hands in Mecca for the Quraish to fulfill their sadistic pleasures of oppression. This concern stemmed from their worry that Islam would take root in a place far from their control and develop into a force against them. In other words, they must have understood the strategy of the migration very well.

The emigrants to Abyssinia stayed there until it became apparent that Medina could be a base and a center for immigration. Some of them came to Medina in the first years of the migration, and some remained in Abyssinia until year 7 of the Hijrah (migration) or, in other words, until the Jewish problem in Medina was resolved and the Hudaybiyah peace was signed. Again, this was not a place of escape from Abyssinian oppression and it shows that the Prophet wanted to keep some of the Companions there until the situation in Mecca was stabilized. In this case we can say that Abyssinia was first tried as a base and then kept as a precautionary center after the Hijrah to use if needed.

Aqaba Oaths of Allegiance

In Medina Arabs lived together with Jews. The two Arabic tribes of the city, the Avs and the Hazrach, constantly fought with one another. In order to prevent these two tribes from joining forces against them, the Jews constantly fanned the animosity between them and gained great profits from the trade they made as a consequence. The Jews constantly told the Arabs that a prophet was going to come to them who would destroy the pagans. Under the influence of the Jews, the Medina Arabs were also waiting for a prophet. Going to Mecca to get support from the Quraish against the Hazrech, Iyas Muaz met with the Prophet and became a Muslim. He was the first Muslim from Medina. Those from Medina knew about the call to Islam from the first days of the mission. In addition, the Prophet’s grandfather Hashim had married a woman from the Nejjar clan of Medina named Selma bint Amr. She gave birth to Abdulmuttalib. For this reason, the Prophet had relatives in Medina. He also had some friends and acquaintances in Medina from the time he was busy with caravan trade. In other words, the people of Medina knew Prophet Muhammad well. In the Buas battles between the Avs and Hazrach tribes they gave each other heavy losses. They finally found the hostility between them to be meaningless. Both sides had begun to think of uniting under a leader they could follow. This search for a leader played a facilitating role to an important degree in the future foundation of the Medina Government with the Prophet as head of state.

While these conditions continued in Medina, a group from the Hazrech tribe going to Mecca for the pilgrimage heard the Prophet’s call to Islam. As he did every year at the pilgrimage, Prophet Muhammad invited all the tribes from the vicinity to Islam. When those from Medina listened to the Prophet, they said, “This is the prophet the Jews have foretold. Let’s submit to him before they do.” These people were six in number. When they returned to Medina, they explained Islam to the people.

The next year twelve Muslims from Medina secretly met with the Prophet at a place called Aqaba near Mecca. The Prophet received an oath from them in regard to not practicing polytheism, committing fornication, killing their children, making slander and rebelling against legally approved issues in Islam. He indicated that if they conformed to these, they would enter heaven. Mus’ab b. Umayr’i was sent after them to spread Islam in Medina. Islam received so much interest in Medina that in a short time there at least one person in every household became Muslim, with the exception of a few houses.

Called the First Aqaba Oath, the above oath has the character of an agreement on Islam’s creed and basic principles with the Muslims of Medina, which was determined to be a center for Islam. With this oath, the Prophet registered the new religion’s ideology. In other words, this oath had the character of a declaration putting forth the principles of the state that was being planned. The seeds of the foundation of faith of an individual Islamic state were planted in the hearts of these twelve people. The activities at this new center bore fruit in a short period of time: in the pilgrimage season a year later the Prophet received an oath from seventy-three new Muslims from Medina. These seventy-three people meeting secretly with the Prophet without the knowledge of the pagans in the Medina convoy shows that the convoy was composed of those who could keep secrets, and the selection of twelve prominent representatives during the oath-making shows that representational oath was taken from those in Medina. Mus’ab b. Umayr’s being at their head makes one think that the convoy did not come to Mecca simply for the pilgrimage, but for an organized meeting. With this second agreement with local Muslims from the new Islamic base, a promise is taken from them that they will protect Islam and Muslims against every kind of danger. It indicates that they will have great responsibility for the Islamic state that is to be established, and it reminds them that they have taken great risks upon themselves with this agreement.

Even though the Aqaba oaths do not have the nature of an agreement made by a state that has gained an individual and official status with another state, matters like the terms used in the oaths and representatives giving allegiance on behalf of groups they represent show that the oath carries a character of an agreement and alliance. At that time in the Arabian Peninsula as a requirement of social status, tribes comprised individual political units and an agreement could only be made among tribes. Therefore, this oath was not just an Islamic initiation ceremony.

It is interesting in respect to the role the Aqaba oaths played in the institutionalization of Islam that immediately after this event, Surat al-Hajj, verse 39 of the Quran was revealed giving permission to Muslims for war. With this verse, the message was given to Muslims to complete their other organization that would enable them to immediately take the pagans to account. As a matter of fact, the Prophet had commanded the Muslims in Mecca to immigrate to Medina as soon as the jihad verses were revealed. It can be said that preparations for the Muslims’ first jihad, the Battle of Badr, began with this oath.

The importance of the migration in regard to tactic and strategy is a subject that needs to be taken up on its own. This much can be said: the Islamic community, which had been bound under the rule of the Quraish, who dominated the religious, cultural and economic aspects of the Arabian Peninsula, found a solid base to stand on and obtained their freedom. We can understand the strategic importance of the migration from the extremely strong reaction the Meccan pagans gave.

Medina Constitution

After the Hijrah, the biggest problem the Prophet faced was establishing unity in the cosmopolitan Medina society. It was necessary to put out of the way any potential danger from within Medina while struggling with the Quraish. In order to open up flanks, the center should not be problematical. Consolidating unity among Muslims by making the Ansar (residents of Medina) and Muhajirun (immigrants to Medina) brothers to one another, the Prophet documented brotherhood with a written text. It would only be possible to unite with Jews and non-Muslim Arabs on common interests of people from Medina. As a result of negotiations, a text emerged that put forth the rights and responsibilities of each group. This text is referred to under the heading in classical sirah of “agreements made in Medina.” Compilers of the last period accept this as the “first constitution in world and Islamic history.”

Uniting all the groups in Medina under his rule at their own will, the Prophet recorded one more of important and successful turning points of politics. The statement at the top of the document, “The Quraish and Yathrib (Medina) believers and those in allegiance to them constitute a community separate from other people,” is very striking. When passages are classified under topics, this document includes around fifty articles. It sets rules for many matters that are included in modern constitutions like state integrity; structure; organs; who is responsible for the administration, the judiciary, and legislation; belief and religious freedom; the sovereignty of law; the concept of country; relations between individuals and administration; and rights and responsibilities.

The rules of the Constitution that revolved around common interests of the citizens of Medina can be summarized as follows: Except for religious wars, an attack made on one of the parties will be mutually defended; economic responsibilities like paying ransom and compensation will be met mutually; the ties of one party will be binding on the others; most importantly, no party can cooperate with the Quraish for any reason. Thus, during the struggle against the Quraish and in the midst of the activities to spread Islam, treachery and dissention from the non-Muslims in Medina were prevented; the roads to friendship between the Quraish and parties in Medina were closed; and an opportunity was born for non-Muslims in Medina, who were allies with Muslims in the new Islamic state and who lived intimately with them, to get to know Islam first-hand and through living examples.

Alliance Agreements

Establishing security and unity in Medina and getting acceptance of his sovereignty, Prophet Muhammad began political relations with tribes outside of Medina. He made agreements with surrounding tribes via detachments of troops or delegations he sent to them.

In the second year of the migration he made agreements with the following tribes between Medina and Mecca: Banu Damra, a three days distance from Medina, and their branch, Banu Gifar; several weeks later with the Banu Juhayna living in Buvat; and four months later the Banu Mudlich living in Zulushayra. At the end of the same year an agreement was made with the Ashlam Tribe. Similar expressions are used in all these agreements: they guarantee that the parties will not attack each other, and that they will remain neutral or when one of the parties is attacked, they will help each other.

With these agreements, the Prophet made agreement with these tribes before the Quraish did, prevented opportunistic attacks from their neighbors, and secured his surroundings while struggling with the Quraish. Beyond all these, with the agreements, the caravan route of the Quraish was put under control and blockade since the above named tribes were all located on the caravan route.

Shortly after the migration, the tribes on the roads going north to the coast from Mecca had become Muslim or allies of Muslims.

This economic war the Prophet waged against the Quraish was supported with another tactic. He sent five-hundred pieces of gold to Mecca, which was suffering from famine because they could not send caravans, and had it distributed to the poor, aimed at gaining the sympathy of the people.

The Prophet announcing the Huzaa Tribe as an ally of the Muslims as a result of the Hudaybiyah peace was another part of his policy to put the Quraish under blockade. This tribe was close to Mecca. There is a letter of friendship of the Prophet’s showing the cooperation between them. He would get secret information from members of this tribe regarding the Quraish.

Hudaybiyah Peace

While, on the one hand, exhausting his strength for struggle by putting the Quraish under blockade, on the other hand, the Prophet was seeking an opportunity to sign a peace with them. By means of this peace he would be able to realize some plans easily. As a matter of fact, the Jews were about to be a big danger for Medina. The Haybar Jews were trying to ally with the Fadak Jews by giving them Haybar’s dates. Without resolving the Jewish matter, Muslims could be hit from behind by the Jews while at war with the Quraish or, while at war with the Jews, they could be hit from behind by the Quraish. As a matter of fact, the treachery of the Banu Qurayza Jews in the Battle of the Ditch had caused the Muslims some major difficulty. In addition, in case of a peace to be made with the Quraish, power could be gained in regions like Bahrain, Amman and Yemen, which were under the control of Iran who had been defeated by the Byzantines. It would be easier to spread Islam in an environment of peace.

In the 6th year of the Hijrah the Prophet headed off with 1400 Companions for the purpose of visiting the Kaaba. It can be thought that, by taking advantage of amnesty during this month when war was forbidden, there was an aim to make a dialogue with the Quraish with this trip. The Prophet had announced that he would make an agreement with the Quraish regardless of the conditions, and he informed the Quraish of this decision. Actually, the Quraish who had become greatly weakened economically were in favor of this peace. After long negotiations the agreement was signed.

Although at first glance some rules of the agreement may appear to be against the Muslims, actually it was a great conquest. The farsightedness of the Prophet’s insistence upon signing this agreement in spite of all the resistance from the Companions was understood later. As a matter of fact, while returning to Medina after signing this agreement, Surat Al-Fath was revealed and Allah announced that this peace was a clear victory.

Zuhri explains clearly why the Hudaybiyah peace was a conquest: “There could be no greater conquest than this in Islam. Previously people (pagans and believers) would fight when they came face to face. When peace was signed, war was left aside and people were sure of each other. When they met face to face, they talked and debated. Some became Muslim when Islam was explained to them. Within two years after this peace, the number of new Muslims was greater than the previous number of Muslims.”

With this agreement, the Quraish accepted the Islamic state as a party and officially recognized it. More than that, they showed their weakness by signing the peace and they indicated that they were abandoning struggle. For this reason, the authority among the Arabs was completely shaken and Muslims began to assume the authority. This event elevated Muslims in the eyes of all Arabs. After this they began to enter Islam in large groups. Also during this period of peace, the Prophet, sending letters of invitation to all rulers and administrators he could reach with the means of that time, conveyed Islam’s message to very distant places. The Jewish presence in Medina was eradicated at this time. Also the abrogation of this peace by the Quraish gave a legitimate necessity for the Meccan conquest. Islam’s sovereignty was completed in Arabia with this conquest.

For the entire text, please see, Polat, Salahattin, ¨¨Hz. Peygamber`in (SAV) İttifak, Teminat ve Anlaşmalarındaki Diplomatik Taktikler (The Prophet Muhammad`s Diplomatic Tactics in Alliances, Guarantess and Agreements),¨¨ Erciyes UIFD, 5, 1988.


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