Tactical Hudna and Islamist Intoleranceby Denis MacEoinMiddle East Quarterly (extracts)Summer 2008, pp. 39-48The use by Westerners of the word hudna highlights an anomaly. Whenever journalists, diplomats, or commentators covering the Middle East use a non-English word, it will almost always be Arabic or perhaps Persian; seldom do they use any Hebrew words. Never has a U.S. or British newspaper, for example, used the Hebrew word for cease-fire (hafsakat esh). This is odd as Israel is the other side to these cease-fires. The majority of Arabic terms reproduced in Western language newspapers are concerned with either military topics (jihad, mujahideen, fida'iyin, shahid) or religious affairs (fatwa, mulla, ulema, ayatollah, Shari'a, Allahu akbar). There is nothing wrong with borrowing Arabic words. However, doing so without understanding the word's nuance and historical development will render deficient any understanding of that word's true meaning.Here, it might be possible to consider hudna somewhat of an exception—it can be translated accurately as truce or cease-fire. Its contemporary usage — at least in English and other European languages — is exclusive to the conflict between Israel and its adversaries, whether Islamist terror groups in Gaza, the West Bank, or southern Lebanon, or states such as Syria. In Iran, it is used alongside the Persian term aramesh. Still, hudna retains a historical context that colors its meaning, if not in Western papers, then in Arabs' understanding.The concept of hudna deserves a close look: It is not a Qur'anic term, nor is it the only Arabic word for a cease-fire or truce; others include: muhadana, muwada'a, muhla, musalaha, musalama, mutaraka, andsulh. But hudna is the most prominent. It is the first word used in Muslim history to mean cease-fire, specifically in the context of the seventh century Truce or Treaty of al-Hudaybiyya, often termed the Sulh al-Hudaybiyya (peace of al-Hudaybiyya).Named after a village outside Mecca, the truce came six years after Muhammad and his followers abandoned Mecca for Yathrib, today's Medina. This move, known as the hijra (emigration) is of enormous significance for the classical understanding of jihad, inasmuch as it sets a pattern of retreat followed by regrouping and rearming, which permits an attack on the territory previously left behind. In March 628 C.E., Muhammad and his followers sought to return to Mecca to perform a pilgrimage. At Hudaybiyya, Muhammad "marched till he reached al-Hudaybiyya which lies at the limit of the Haram [sacred territory of Mecca] area at a distance of nine miles from Mecca." Muhammad and the rulers of Mecca, most of whom had yet to convert to Islam, negotiated a truce, the essence of which was to permit the Muslims to return unarmed on pilgrimage each year for the next decade. It came to an end two years later, however, following an infraction by a tribe allied tothe Meccans. In 630, Muhammad entered Mecca with a small, armed force and took the city peacefully. Hudna, in other words, amounted to a temporary truce.Today, radical groups and conventional Muslims alike often use the term hudna when they divide areas not controlled by Islamists into a realm of Islam (dar al-Islam) and a realm of war (dar al-harb), or pagan ignorance (jahiliyya). The leading exponent of this latter concept was Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) who, in his 1964 treatise, Ma'alim fi 'l-tariq (Milestones), wrote:Lastly, all the existing so-called "Muslim" societies are also jahili societies. We classify them among jahili societies not because they believe in other deities besides God or because they worship anyone other than God, but because their way of life is not based on submission to God alone. Although they believe in the unity of God, still they have relegated the legislative attribute of God to others and submit to this authority, and from this authority they derive their systems, their traditions and customs, their laws, their values and standards, and almost every practice of life.For Qutb's fellow travelers and intellectual successors, Muslim countries that are not theocracies—any state except Iran, Saudi Arabia to a limited degree, or Sudan—are treated as though they had reverted to paganism.Fear of FitnaOver the course of history, hudna became the standard term to describe a cessation of hostilities during jihad. Muslims distinguished the hudna from other forms of disengagement, such as those applied to tribal feuds, clashes between city factions, rebellions against the monarch or his provincial governors, or fitna, sedition or civil strife. Fitna was the greatest fear of classical Muslim society, which aspired above all things for perfect order both under a caliph or sultan and under religious law as mediated by the ulema or religious scholars, and, more narrowly, the fuqaha or jurisprudents.By being unaware of fitna, most journalists ignore something vital to the course of Islamic civilization and the development of Islamic thought. For all the greatness of their architecture, scholarship, and literature, traditional Islamic societies were prey to disintegration. Muslim societies lacked the stability of China. Western societies overcame such tensions by creating nation-states. This did not mean that either Chinese power or European states remained constant over time, only that they were remarkably stable when compared to Muslim dynasties—at least those that arose before gunpowder enabled leaders to retain control through sheer force….The House of IslamShould a Muslim victory seem remote, the caliph could declare a truce in the interests of the umma. Rudolph Peters, Islamic law professor at the University of Amsterdam states, "According to some schools of law, a truce must be concluded for a specified period of time, no longer than ten years." Hanafi law, however, permits the Muslims to terminate a truce arbitrarily: The "imam may denounce the armistice whenever the continuation of warfare is more favorable for the Moslems than the continuation of peace," he continues. Such a truce is necessary when the Muslims are weak relative to their enemies. It can also occur when there is fitna within an Islamic state. These truces serve as protection against further violence to enable Muslims to regroup and gather their strength, whereupon they can issue a fresh declaration of jihad. Such a treaty is a hudna, distinct from sulh where the non-Muslim state pays tribute to a more powerful Muslim one, oran 'ahd, a covenant of security, in which protection for Muslims is reciprocated. ….What Went Wrong?What went wrong? Muslims face a horrid choice: Either God is punishing them for some collective sin, or God has abandoned them. It is unthinkable that communities like the Christians and Jews, whom Islam teaches to be inferior, or even outright idolaters such as the Japanese should enjoy the good things that had been promised to the Muslims in the Qur'an. But, there is a flip side: If enough Muslims believed that God is punishing them or had abandoned them, faith would be undermined, and Islamic society would break down….Modern HudnaWhat does this mean for the present hudna, or any that is likely to follow it? The jihad is waged against the entire world, but Israel has become its focus. Since the jihad is deemed unending, and since Israel is going to stay, there will be no end to the religiously-inspired struggle. The Hamas covenant, for example, is unequivocal: "There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through jihad. Initiatives, proposals, and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."The best that the international community can hope to achieve is a political solution, but this cannot occur unless a way is found not only to control the violent tendencies of the extremists but also to rework Muslim theology and social thought. There is no Muslim equivalent to Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist Judaism. Almost all the great Muslim thinkers of the last century have been deeply conservative….Can Western governments do anything to prevent a new hudna running its usual course? Diplomats may propose carrot and stick strategies, offering financial and political incentives to dismantle the culture of violence with disincentives for any return to killing. In the end, though, the onus is on the Palestinians and their allies. If they could impose a hudna on their own side and not fire Qassam and Grad rockets, smuggle weapons, or infiltrate suicide bombers into Israel, there could be a chance for Gaza to develop. But such a scenario is a pipe dream so long as Hamas remains a viable entity.Denis MacEoin holds a Ph.D. in Persian studies from the University of Cambridge. He taught Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University and was for many years an honorary fellow at Durham University. He is currently the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Newcastle University and author of The Hijacking of British Islam (Policy Exchange, 2007).