Hudna: A Long-Range Islamic Strategy for Conflict Resolution

by Dr. Robert D. Crane

[Dr. Crane has since 1994 headed his own research center, the Center for Policy Research. He was a foreign policy adviser to Richard Nixon, 1962-1967. In the early '80s he became a convert to islam and has since written and taught extensively on Muslim theology and its application to world politics. Since the concept of Hudna, usually translated "truce" or "cease-fire," has become important in debates over Israeli-Palestinian relations in Gaza, The Shalom Center is making his theopolitical analysis available. ]

Hudna is a classical Islamic solution for intractable conflicts. In English it is usually translated simply as “truce.” Unfortunately, the word “truce” usually means merely a mutually agreed interlude of a false peace in the course of a protracted conflict. During the Aqsa or Second Intifada, inaugurated by Sharon’s invasion of the Temple Mount in September, 2000, the Islamic liberation movement known as Hamas (Movement of Islamic Resistance, Harakat al Muqawama al Islamiya), has revived the ancient Islamic concept of hudna as a strategy to pursue permanent peace.

According to the most definitive dictionary of classical Arabic, the Lisan al Arab compiled by Ibn al Manzur in the 14th century after Christ, the term hudna comes from the root ha-da-na, meaning “to grow quiet,” the third form of which, haa-da-na, means “to make peace.” The question is whether the first form or the third form is the proper root of the Hamas strategy today.

Unfortunately, hudna, like jihad, has become a victim of deliberate distortion by those who do not want peace through justice.

What are the substantive roots of hudna in the Islamic thought of the classical period (third through sixth Islamic centuries) when the shari’ah was developing into the world’s first system of international law? Scholars debated its meaning, as they did all elements of law during this classical period.

The question debated now by both Muslims and non-Muslims is what is or should be its meaning today? Is hudna or should hudna be a form of jihad. If so, the question remains, what is hudna.

The responsibility to promote and protect human rights for oneself and others, when necessary through the use of force, is known as the jihad al saghrir or lesser jihad. This has meaning as a form of either conflict management or conflict resolution only if it is based on the jihadain, namely, the jihad al akbar or greater jihad to purify oneself from the worship of anything other than Allah, and the jihad al kabir or great jihad, the only one mentioned in the Qur’an, to seek knowledge and thereby provide wisdom for public life. The problem is that many Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, ignore the spiritual and intellectual jihads as the primary means to shape the global future.

The concept of hudna can be understood in the true Islamic sense only if it is part of the triad of the three jihads, whereby the resort to physical force is legitimate only if the first two jihads have been given a reasonable chance to succeed.

Any international agreement on hudna should serve in the context of the peoples in the Holy Land primarily to provide time for mutual commitment and efforts toward reconciliation through the transformation of self-identity so that the Jews and Muslims can recognize themselves as a single spiritual family with equal rights to live in their common ancestral homeland. This would provide the necessary years and even decades to establish a pluralist Abraham Federation by undoing the mistakes of the past century.

The major mistakes, philosophically speaking, have been two. The first was the adoption of the Western concept of the “nation state” as the ultimate source of authority and legitimate coercion, which was first invented less than four hundred years ago as a substitute for God in order to end the centuries of bloody religious wars in Europe. Extremist Jews adopted this concept in the 19th century by advocating the imposition of a religious state, and they were followed a century later by extremist Muslims.

The second mistake was the failure to recognize the need to advance from tolerance, to diversity, to pluralism as governing paradigms of interfaith and international relations. Tolerance means merely, “I won’t kill you yet.” Diversity means, “I accept your existence even permanently, because I can’t do much about it.” Pluralism means, “I welcome you and want to learn from you because we each have so much to offer the other.”

The first of these concepts, which is rejectionist, is illustrated by the concept of a polarized world embodied in the terms, dar al harb, which divides the world into warring parties and places all non-Muslims in an enemy camp, and in the terms dar al kufr or even dar al zulm, which brands the lands of non-Muslims as the land of polytheists and the land of the evil ones.

The second level of human relations, diversity, is reflected in the concept of dar al ‘ahd, or land of treaty partners, i.e. there is no state of war but neither side accepts the other except as a matter of either convenience or necessity.

The third level of relations between or among peoples and nations, the pluralist, is the level to which a hudna in the Holy Land should aim. Until this is recognized by all sides, each side would regard the reliability of a hudna as low. In fact, each side might legitimately conclude that the “truce” would be designed only to prepare for a more favorable opportunity to attack the other.

The problem is somewhat like the chicken and the egg. Must trust precede a truce, or must a truce first produce trust. The answer is that before either the chicken or the egg comes the rooster. In the case of the Holy Land, the rooster must be opinion leaders who are confident enough in the power of justice to risk pursuing it, in the knowledge that for the long-range future the only alternative is mutual annihilation.

The advocates of hudna trace this form of conflict resolution to the Treaty of Hudaybiya, which was a source of disagreement among Muslims at the time and still is. The waters have been muddied further by the prejudice of Orientalists, who have claimed that the Treaty of Hudaybiya was a trick by the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, to build his forces and wait until a minor infringement by the Quraish could be used as a pretext for starting a war.

This treaty is the basis among Muslims for the concept of hudna. They consider that this treaty is the model for letting peaceful relations develop so that peace is possible without being imposed by war, in other words, so that both sides will adopt the pluralist perspective whereby each respects the dignity of the other as an equal. Only then can there ever be peace through justice in the recognition that permanent peace can come only through justice.

Once a pluralist commitment to justice as a paradigm of thought and a framework for policy is accepted, then one can start negotiating the content of what is just.

The final issue concerning the acceptance of hudna as the framework for current policy is whether it should come before or after the legal recognition of Israel as a state. One can argue this issue either way, but ultimately it will come down to its political acceptance by the majority of both Arabs and Jews. Its durability will depend on the extent to which it serves to promote its purpose.

One view of hudna was published on July 5th, 2006, in, as an article entitled “Recognize Israel! Take Down That Wall!” This is based on the standard view taught at all American law schools that recognition of a state does not imply moral approval or even recognition of its moral right to exist. Recognition means merely acceptance of the state as an entity with which one can do business. Hamas already does that. Law and morality in Western law are not synonymous and have never been either in theory or in practice. Muslims have difficulty in accepting this because in Islamic law they can or at least should not be separated.

According to this view, recognition of the state of Israel would be the first step rather than the last one in an Islamic hudna.

The length of the hudna need not have an arbitrary limit of ten years, after which, in the event of only limited success in the pursuit of justice, the only alternative is war. Shortly before the Israelis in March, 2004, assassinated Shaykh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, the Shaykh proposed a one-hundred-year hudna. This was meant to show that the reconciliation of the peoples with equal rights to live in the Holy Land, each following its own covenant with God, may take a generation or more. This is a short time in the perspective of history, especially in light of the fact that the Holy Land is the microcosm of humanity and serves as the bellwether of its survival.

This approach to hudna, supported by some Orthodox Jews, led by Ed Miller, calls for both the Israelis and Palestinian Arabs to start from the ground up by adopting the same texts in Israeli and Palestinian schools on the history of the Muslims and Jews as each other’s most reliable friends. This would be prefaced by the riveting movie for which Ed Miller has prepared a script powerful enough to shock anyone who sees it into the need to sublimate one’s own identity so that we all can become spiritual Zionists in the sense taught by perhaps the greatest spiritual leader of the twentieth century, Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook, who was the Grand Rabbi of Palestine from 1919 to 1935. Rebbe Kook, about whom I have written much over the years, taught that Zionism is not merely the return to a physical land but the return of a lost people to God, so that the Jews, just like the Muslims and Christians, can fulfill their God-given mission to bring out the sparks of holiness in every human being and bring justice to all the world’s peoples.


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