Conflict Resolution the Islamic Way: Somalia and Somaliland


The Lessons from the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

By Mohamed A. Suleiman

Somalilandsun- Those who are well versed in the biography (Seerah) of Prophet Muhammad, peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him, would agree that the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah was an important event that occurred at a pivotal time in the history of Islam.

It is reported in both Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his companions marched from Medina towards Mecca to perform Umrah after the Prophet dreamt that he entered Mecca and did tawaf around the Ka’bah. The Prophet and his companions had left Medina in a state of ihram, a premeditated spiritual and physical state which restricted their freedom of action and prohibited fighting.

The Quraish of Mecca was not happy with the Prophet’s advances and decided to prevent him and his companions from performing Umrah. The Prophet (SAW) and his companions camped outside of Mecca where he met with a Meccan emissary. He (SAW) told the emissary that “we have not come to fight anyone, but to perform the Umrah”. The Prophet (SAW) ended up negotiating with Quraish and the two parties decided to resolve the matter through deliberations rather than warfare, and a treaty was drawn up.

The outline of the treaty was reported as follows:

“In the name of almighty Allah. These are the conditions of Peace between Muhammad, son of Abdullah and Suhayl ibn Amr the envoy of Mecca. There will be no fighting for ten years. Anyone who wishes to join Muhammad and to enter into any agreement with him is free to do so. Anyone who wishes to join the Quraish and to enter into any agreement with them is free to do so. A young man, or one whose father is alive, if he goes to Muhammad without permission from his father or guardian, will be returned to his father or guardian. But if anyone goes to the Quraish, he will not be returned. This year the muslims will go back without entering Mecca. But next year Muhammed and his followers can enter Mecca, spend three days, perform the tawaaf. During these three days the Quraish will withdraw to the surrounding hills. When Muhammad and his followers enter into Mecca, they will be unarmed except for sheathed swords”.

The treaty was noted as being quite controversial for several reasons. Originally, the treaty referred to Muhammad as the Messenger of Allah, but this was unacceptable to the Quraish envoy Suhayl ibn Amr. Muhammad (SAW) compromised, and told his cousin Ali to strike out the wording. Citing his firm belief that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, Ali refused, after which Muhammad himself rubbed out the words. (Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:49:62, Sahih Muslim, 19:4404).

Another point of contention, was that the Muslims objected over a clause of the treaty that said that any citizen from Mecca entering Medina was eligible to be returned to Mecca (if they wanted), while the reverse was not true, and any Muslim from Medina entering Mecca was not eligible to be returned to the Muslims, even if Muhammad himself requested. (Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:50:874)

A condition was also placed that the Muslims could not enter for their pilgrimage at that time, but could return the following year. The treaty also assured a 10-year peace.

After the signing of the treaty, there was still great resentment and fury among the Muslims because they did not like its stipulations. Muhammad (SAW), binding onto the Islamic ethic “fulfill every promise” ordered that Muslims do exactly as the treaty says. (source: Sahih al-Bukhari).

Allah (SWT) says in the Qur’an: “Verily in the Messenger of Allah ye have a good example for him who looketh unto Allah and the Last Day, and remembereth Allah much. (33:21)

Without delving deep into the Seerah, I would like to shed light on the lessons that could be learned from the wisdom of the Prophet (SAW) and how such lessons could be applied to the modern day conflicts.

While searching the Internet for conflict resolution literature, I came across the following five basic principles put out by the Conflict Resolution Network (CRN) which are necessary for successful mediation initiatives:

Be hard on the problem and soft on the person

Focus on needs not positions

Emphasize common ground

Be inventive about options

Make clear agreements

If we look at how the Messenger of Allah (SAW) negotiated the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, we could easily see that our Prophet (SAW) so skillfully utilized these principles over fourteen centuries ago. And we of course know that nothing will go wrong if we follow the Sunnah (way) of the Messenger of Allah (SAW). The most striking element of the Treaty remains to be that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) compromised even when his Prophethood was challenged or denied by the emissary of the Quraish of Mecca.

A cursory look at the off again on again negotiations between Somalia and Somaliland would clearly shed light on the core and contentious issues that continue to bog down the negotiations. Some of the key principles of mediation, namely compromising and finding a common ground, are either being ignored or not being followed at all.

Ever since Somaliland declared its statehood in 1991 following the disintegration of what was known as Somalia, the successive attempts by the Somalis themselves and the international community failed to win the hearts of the Somaliland people. Any attempt to bring them back to the fold has proven to be futile. One wonders why this has been the case and why the people of Somaliland turned their back on their Somali brethren. Let us not forget that it was Somaliland that voluntarily entered the union with Somalia in 1960.

The answers to these questions are not so farfetched if we look at the conduct of the successive so called Somali reconciliations processes that took place over the past twenty years or so. From Arta to Mbagathi to Mogadishu, the first term of reference for these initiatives remained to be that the unity of the Somali people is “muqaddas”, in other words “sacred”.

The word muqaddas or sacred has a religious connotation. We can only call something muqaddas or sacred when it has indeed been decreed so by Allah (SWT). We all know that Allah did not decree that the unity of the Somali people is sacred. I would argue therefore that the first fault, when it comes to the Somaliland/Somalia issue, lies within the injudicious use of the term muqaddas or sacred. And I believe that this is the primary stumbling block when it comes to finding a solution for the Somali problem. To fight fire with fire, Somaliland also maintains that its sovereignty is sacred.

If only we could learn a lesson from the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah and how the Messenger of Allah (SAW) conducted himself, we would have been far better off than we are today. If the Messenger of Allah (ASW), in the sprit of compromising, rubbed the expression “Messenger of Allah” with his honorable hands to seal a deal with the Quraish of Mecca, why would the elimination of the word muqaddas or sacred by both parties is so difficult when it comes to the Somalia/Somaliland negotiations? One wonders.

The other bone of contention is the fact that the previous successive Transitional Federal Governments (TFGs) and the current Mogadishu Administration continue to push all the wrong buttons when it comes to their understanding of the Somaliland phenomenon. They seem to be oblivious to the circumstances that precipitated the re-creation of Somaliland as a sovereign state. For some reason they do not seem to get it and here is why:

they willfully underestimate or deny the gravity of the atrocities that were committed in Somaliland;

they vilify the aspirations of the people of Somaliland and treat their indelible right to self-determination with cynicism or sarcasm, thus denigrating the hard thought efforts of the people of Somaliland; and

they routinely bring a few self-styled opportunists from Somaliland to their fold and then claim that the people of Somaliland are represented in the Mogadishu administration.

Aldous Huxley, in one of his famous essays, was quoted as saying, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Unless Mogadishu wakes up and smells the coffee, the current fallacy that they are entertaining will lead to nowhere.

A case in point: When President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud visited Washington, D, C., in January and the United States government formally recognized his administration, the first thing that his Prime Minister did was an act that has further enraged the people of Somaliland. An article that was published by the Associated Press had the following title: “Basking from the glory of having been newly recognized by the US, Somalia seeks immunity for former minister Samantar in civil case.” The callousness and the insensitivity that Mogadishu demonstrated by advocating for the man who is believed to have masterminded the atrocities that caused the annihilation of upwards of 50,000 people is a flagrant disregard for the genuine concerns of the people of Somaliland. It is a clear indication that the current administration is following the same path that was taken by its predecessors. As the old adage goes, “those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.”

The other outrageous thing that highlights the chauvinistic attitude of Mogadishu’s administration towards Somaliland is the inflammatory rhetoric that they continue to spew in the name of Somali unity. They conveniently disregard that the ideals of the so-called Greater Somalia (Soomaaliweyn) that were so prevalent in the 1960s are all but gone and forgotten. A little historic rundown of the demise of Greater Somalia or Soomaaliweyn may be warranted so we can reflect on this issue in an objective manner.

Greater Somalia suffered its first blow in Berlin in 1884 when the Europeans partitioned Africa. A major setback was dealt to it when huge junks of the Somali territories were handed to Ethiopia and Kenya. A glimmer of hope was injected to it when the Somali Republic was born in 1960. A breath of air was infused into it during the 1964 war with Ethiopia. Hopes were dashed when Djibouti decided to remain a French colony in the 1967 referendum. A sense of optimism was felt during the 1977 war with Ethiopia. A vital blow was done to it when Djibouti gained independence and decided to become a sovereign state. The unspeakable horrors that followed the military coup of 1969 polarized the Somali people into tribal and regional camps. The hell that broke loose in 1991 has marked the final nail in the coffin. Clearly, Mogadishu can not single out Somaliland and use the expression “Somali unity is sacred” as a rallying cry. It is plainly hypocritical to do that.

If Mogadishu is serious about negotiating with Somaliland and is not engaged in the process as a distraction from its own failures, they should put a number of initiatives in place if they want to soften the hearts of the people of Somaliland, including:

validate the genuine grievances of the people of Somaliland and recognize unequivocally the atrocities that were committed there in the name of the Somali government;

now that there is an administration that is recognized by the international community, President Hassan should unambiguously accept responsibility and offer an apology to the people of Somaliland;

the Mogadishu administration should refrain from the use of inflammatory rhetoric and the divisive vernacular that they continue to employ;

a trust fund should be established for the victims and a compensation procedure should be put in place;

the selfish and discriminatory 4.5 formula that was designed to marginalize certain segments of the Somali people should be abolished; and

an alternative to the wholesale approach that Somaliland entered into the union with Somalia in 1960 should be initiated by Mogadishu.

In the absence of these basic concessions by the Mogadishu administration, the likelihood of Somaliland forsaking its sovereignty and demonstrating nostalgic tendencies towards Mogadishu is pretty remote. It will take Men of faith, wisdom, principle, conviction, and goodwill to resuscitate the ideals of Greater Somalia (Soomaaliweyn). The armchair politicians and the spin-doctors had run out of steam. Until then and only then, the universal motto of the right to self-determination should take precedent and Somaliland should not be the sacrificial lamp of a long lost Greater Somalia (Soomaaliweyn). Somalia’s attitude towards Somaliland should therefore be that of “live and let live.”

A little food for thought: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

Mohamed A. Suleiman

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