Tuesday 12 July 2022

Rules in Islam for keeping covenant (or otherwise) with others

War and peace are fought and kept while remaining under some rules which should not be broken unilaterally. Islam is one such religion which emphasises the need to keeping covenants with non Muslims and even within themselves so that no wrongs or excesses are committed. Every effort must be made to keep the treaties intact till they reach their maturity or timed restrictions.

However, if Muslims feel that they are being wronged and undue advantage is being taken under the garb of a treaty, then they are allowed to inform the opposite site of the breech of the terms and conditions of the treaty and if despite this the opposing side shows belligerency and continues to hurt the very essence of the treaty, they should cast back the treaty at he opposing side in an equitable manner and be ready to counter their treachery for Allah does not like the treacherous. 

The 58th verse of Surah 8. Al Anfal (The Spoils of War) lays down the rule for keeping covenants or otherwise with their opponents. In fact this verse lays down the basis of a very strong and just foreign policy for Muslims:

وَاِمَّا تَخَافَنَّ مِنۡ قَوۡمٍ خِيَانَةً فَانْۢبِذۡ اِلَيۡهِمۡ عَلٰى سَوَآءٍ​ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الۡخَآئِنِيۡنَ‏ 
(8:58) If thou hast reason to fear treachery from people [with whom thou hast made a covenant], cast it back at them in an equitable manner: for, verily, God does not love the treacherous!.
This verse lays down a very clear and strict rule for the breaking of a treaty when necessary, and enjoins the Muslims to "throw their treaty openly before them" . According to this verse, it is unlawful to make a unilateral decision of its termination, even if the Muslims felt that the other party with whom they had entered into an alliance, was not observing the treaty strictly and properly, or if they were afraid that the other party would turn treacherous on the first opportunity. Therefore it forbids them to treat the other party in a way as if there had been no treaty with it at all. On the other hand, this verse binds the Muslims to inform the other party in clear words, before taking any step against it, that the treaty with it had been terminated. This is essential so that the other party should have no misunderstanding whatsoever that the treaty was still in force. The Holy Prophet based the international policy of Islam on this verse. He decreed, "The one that has made a treaty with another party is bound by it until the expiry of its teen. Or if obliged, then one should throw it before the other party so that both may be set on equal footing" . Then he extended the same principle to all other affairs, saying, "Behave not treacherously even towards those who are treacherous to you" . And he had impressed the same so deeply on the minds that this principle was observed most strictly both in letter and in spirit. That is why when Amir Mu'aviyah assembled his army near the frontiers of the Roman Empire with the intention that he would invade their territory immediately after the expiry of the term of the treaty, Hadrat Amar bin `Anbasah, a Companion of the Holy Prophet, strongly protested against this and recited the same Tradition before him according to which even concentration of army was a piece of treachery. The Amir had to submit to this, and he gave up the concentration of army.

It may also be noted that the practice of unilateral abrogation of treaties `and invading the enemy without any declaration of war was common during the time of `ignorance' in the ancient times and is also in vogue in the civilized ignorance: of today. For example, during World War' II, Germany invaded Russia, and Britain and Russia took military action against Iran without any formal declaration of war. It may be noted that the pleas put forward for such breaches and violations are very flimsy: it is argued that if a declaration of war had been made beforehand, the other party would have taken precautionary measures and given a tough fight; or that if they had not taken action, their enemy would have forestalled them. But they seem to forget that if moral responsibilities were to be set aside on such lame excuses, then there remains no crime and no sin that cannot be justified on one plea or the other, and every thief, every robber; every adulterer, every murderer and every forgerer can put forward a justification for his crime or sin. But it is strange that the modem leaders have two standards of judgment. While they justify the acts of treachery in the international sphere, they condemn the same when these are committed in their own national sphere.

There is, however, an exception to the above principle. The Islamic Law allows the Muslims to attack the other party, if it violates the treaty openly and takes some specific inimical action against them. In such a clear case, this verse does not bind them to give a due notice of the termination of the treaty, but grants them the right to take military action against such a treacherous party without giving any ultimatum. The Muslim jurists have deduced this exception from a precedent set by the Holy Prophet. When the Quraish openly broke the treaty of Hudaibiyah, in regard to Bani Khuza`ah, he did not consider it obligatory to give them a notice that he, too, had terminated the same. He, therefore, invaded Makkah without giving them any notice. But here we must strike a note of warning. In order to take advantage of this exception, we must consider all the circumstances under which the Holy Prophet thought it right to invade Makkah. In that case, and in that alone, it is lawful for us to follow the precedent set by him; otherwise we are liable to take undue advantage of it. We learn from the books of Hadith and Sirat that the following circumstances led him to take this step:
  • (1) The violation of the treaty by the Quraish was so glaring that there was absolutely no doubt that there had been a breach and they themselves confessed that the treaty had come to an end. That is why they sent Abu Sufyan to AI-Madinah for its renewal. Though that was a proof that they also knew that the treaty had come to an end, it does not mean that this exception will be justifiable only if those who violate the treaty also know it and confess it. The exception will be only justifiable if the violation would be quite clear and beyond any doubt.
  • (2) After the violation of the treaty, the Holy Prophet did not indicate in any way whatever by word or by deed or by implication- that in spite of the violation of the treaty by them he regarded the treaty to be still in force; nor did he continue such relations with them as might indicate the same. All the traditions show that he rejected the offer of the renewal of the treaty made by Abu Sufyan.
  • (3) He openly took the military action against the Quraish and did nothing at all to show an outward display of peace while harboring secret intentions of war.
This is the excellent precedent set by the Holy Prophet in this matter. An exception to the injunction contained in this verse can, therefore, be made under such specific circumstances that existed on the occasion, and that, too, in the same straightforward noble way.

Besides, it is lawful for the Muslims to use force for the settlement of an issue if and when they find that the other party is neither willing to solve it by mutual talk nor by international arbitration, but is bent upon using force. In such a case, this verse makes it incumbent on the Muslims to make a clear and open declaration to this effect before taking any action. Islam considers a secret military action as immoral and does not allow it, if the Muslims are not prepared to make an open declaration of war.

Tafsir Ibn-Kathir
(If you fear from any people), with whom you have a treaty of peace, (treachery), and betrayal of peace treaties and agreements that you have conducted with them, (then throw back (their covenant) to them), meaning their treaty of peace.

(on equal terms), informing them that you are severing the treaty. This way, you will be on equal terms, in that, you and they will be aware that a state of war exists between you and that the bilateral peace treaty is null and void,

(Certainly Allah likes not the treacherous. ) This even includes treachery against the disbelievers. Imam Ahmad recorded that Salim bin `Amir said, "Mu`awiyah was leading an army in Roman lands, at a time the bilateral peace treaty was valid. He wanted to go closer to their forces so that when the treaty of peace ended, he could invade them. An old man riding on his animal said, `Allahu Akbar (Allah is the Great), Allahu Akbar! Be honest and stay away from betrayal.' The Messenger of Allah said,
(Whoever has a treaty of peace with a people, then he should not untie any part of it or tie it harder until the treaty reaches its appointed term. Or, he should declare the treaty null and void so that they are both on equal terms.) When Mu`awiyah was informed of the Prophet's statement, he retreated. They found that man to be `Amr bin `Anbasah, may Allah be pleased with him.'' This Hadith was also collected by Abu Dawud At-Tayalisi, Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasa'i and Ibn Hibban in his Sahih. At-Tirmidhi said, "Hasan Sahih.''
Muhammad Asad Explanation:
The "reason to fear treachery" must not, of course, be based on mere surmise but on clear, objective evidence (Tabari, Baghawi, Razi; also Manar X, 58).

I.e., "renounce the covenant in an equitable manner ('ala sawa')". Tabari explains this sentence thus: "Before making war on them, inform them that because of the clear evidence of their treachery thou hast renounced the treaty which existed between thee and them, so that both thou and they should know that thou art at war with them." Baghawi, in his commentary on this verse, gives an almost identical interpretation and adds, "so that they should not be under the false impression that thou hast renounced the treaty after having started the war." Thus, the concluding sentence of this verse - "God does not love the treacherous" - is a warning to the believers as well as to their enemies (Manar X, 58 f.).

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
The actual words are: عَلٰي سَوَآءٍ. What do they mean? Imām Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī writes:
... The expression عَلٰي سَوَآءٍ means that Muslims also have the right to retaliate on equal footing. It is evident from it that the revenge should never exceed the harm inflicted: it should be commensurate with it. Some people have derived from this expression that it is essential to inform the opposite party about the termination of a treaty. I could find no argument for this deduction in it. However, what is evident is that a mere hypothetical fear is not enough to end a treaty. The other party must have practically breached it. In the first place the verb تَخَافَنَّ has emphasis in it. Secondly, the condition عَلٰي سَوَآءٍ also points to this. (Amīn Aḥsan Iṣlāḥī,
Explanation Qur'an Wiki:
The ruling deals with fearing and expecting treachery. There should be clear signs that a particular group or community are actually contemplating such violation of a treaty. In this case the Prophet is directed to take the following approach: “And if you fear treachery from any folk, cast [your treaty with them] back to them in a fair manner. God does not love the treacherous.” (Verse 58)

Islam here sets out a code of practice. When a treaty is concluded, the Muslim community will undoubtedly honour it. If they fear that the other party is about to violate it, then the Muslims declare the termination of the treaty, without any attempt to cheat or deceive the other party. What is meant here is an open and clear termination of a treaty so that each party realizes that peaceful relations are over. Islam attaches a very high value to honesty and integrity in order to ensure peace and security. Launching a treacherous attack on people who rely on covenants that remain in force is alien to the nature of Islam.

Islam wants humanity to rise above worldly temptations and to be sublime. Hence, it does not allow treachery for the sake of achieving a cheap victory at a time when it strives for the noblest of causes and aims. People who have honourable aims cannot utilize dishonourable means. Islam finds treachery repugnant and looks at traitors who violate their treaties with contempt. Therefore, it does not accept that Muslims violate their covenants for the achievement of any objective, noble as it may be. The human soul is a complete whole. When it allows itself to resort to disgraceful means it cannot maintain its noble aims. He is not a Muslim who claims that the ends justify the means. Such a principle is alien to Islamic thinking and cannot fit with Islamic sensitivities. Within the human self there can be no gulf to separate the ends from the means. Reaching a clean shore does not tempt a Muslim to walk through a muddy pool, because the shore will not remain clean after dirty feet have walked there. Hence, “God does not love the treacherous.” 

You may like to listen to prominent Muslim scholar Nouman Ali Khan explaining the above said ayah:

May Allāh (سبحانه و تعالى‎) help us understand Qur'ān and follow the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, which is embodiment of commandments of Allah contained in the Qur'ān. May Allah help us to be like the ones He loves and let our lives be lived helping others and not making others life miserable or unlivable. May all our wrong doings, whether intentional or unintentional, be forgiven before the angel of death knocks on our door. 

Note: When we mention God in our posts, we mean One True God, we call Allah in Islam, with no associates. Allah is the Sole Creator of all things, and that Allah is all-powerful and all-knowing. Allah has no offspring, no race, no gender, no body, and is unaffected by the characteristics of human life.

Reading the Qur'ān should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully. It will also help the Muslims to have grasp over social issues and their answers discussed in the Qur'an and other matter related to inter faith so  that they are able to discuss issues with Non Muslims with authority based on refences from Qur'an.

May Allah forgive me if my posts ever imply a piety far greater than I possess. I am most in need of guidance.

For more Selected Verses, please refer to our reference page: Selected Verses from the Qur'anYou may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Qur'ān.
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Reading the Qur'ān should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Qur'ān from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that:
  • The plain translation has been taken from the Qur'ān officially published by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. [1]
  • The exegesis of the chapters of the Quran is mainly based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi. [2]  
In order to augment and add more explanation as already provided by [2], additional input has been interjected from following sources: 
  • Towards Understanding the Quran
  • Tafsir Ibn Khatir
  • Muhammad Asad Translation
  • Al-Quran, Yusuf Ali Translation
  • Javed Ahmad Ghamidi / Al Mawrid
  • Verse by Verse Qur'an Study Circle
In addition the references of  other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites.

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