This Ramadan I had the opportunity to attend the White House Iftar. And yes, it was an opportunity — one I embraced. Meanwhile, many Muslim leaders nationwide protested the Iftar, openly calling for a boycott. Some actively rejected Iftar invitations, citing the unjust war in Iraq, the unjust detentions of Muslims in Guantanamo Bay, the unjust siege on civilians in Gaza, and the unjust NSA spying on Muslims.
Days before the Iftar I received an email inviting me to join in this boycott. However, like the Honorable Keith Ellison and the Honorable Andre Carson, I dismissed the idea.
My motivation to attend the Iftar was simple — follow Prophet Muhammad’s example and teachings.
I reflected over a day in the Prophet’s life when he did something that left his companions pained, speechless, and beside themselves. This was the day the Prophet agreed to the Treaty of Hudaybiah — a treaty the companions found wholly unjust. The treaty was supposed to guarantee Muslims the right to perform the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. Instead they were headed back to Medina. It was supposed to guarantee freedom for those Muslims living under the tyrannical, oppressive, and violent Meccan regime. Instead their incarceration continued. The treaty was supposed to compensate Muslims for nearly two decades of brutal persecution, ongoing murder, and pillaging at the hands of the Meccans.
But the treaty did none of those.
Instead, even when moments before the Prophet signed the treaty Abu Jandal appeared in shackles and begged the Prophet for his protection from the barbaric Meccans, Prophet Muhammad refused. The Prophet had already verbally committed to the Treaty of Hudaybiah and would not go back on his word. As Abu Jandal was dragged away in chains he again shrieked for help but the Prophet replied, “Be patient Abu Jandal, until a time comes when God creates a way for you.”
And when Abu Jandal escaped Mecca and fled to Medina a short while later, and again begged the Prophet for his protection — Muhammad sent him back. He sent Abu Jandal back per the Treaty’s provision that any Muslim who escapes Mecca would be sent back. Back to Mecca where he would be tortured, back where he would be beaten, and back where he and other Muslims lived imprisoned and without due process, without equality, and without justice — only because they were Muslims.
Does this backwards scene sound familiar?
It is not difficult to draw parallels from the pain the early Muslims felt about Meccan persecution to the pain we Muslims feel today when we reflect on Gaza, Guantanamo, Iraq, or NSA spying.
And Hudaibiyah wasn’t the exception. Indeed, when Muhammad sent a delegation of persecuted Muslims to seek refuge under the Christian King Negus of Abyssinia, the king first rejected their plea for amnesty. Rather than boycott the king, the Muslims maintained dialogue in his royal court and eventually won his heart.
Muhammad forgave the Jewish tribes who committed treason when Medina was attacked. He forgave the Chief of the Hypocrites despite his ongoing unjust treatment of Muslims. And upon the Victory at Mecca, he offered amnesty to the whole of Mecca despite the two decades of horrific persecution through which the Muslims suffered at Meccan hands.
However, the one thing the Prophet did not do and never did in response, was boycott the Meccans. Not when they pelted him with stones, not when they banned him from performing Hajj, and not even when they boycotted him and the Muslims — banishing them to a barren valley for three years during which his honored wife Khadija became ill and died.
No Muslim today can claim that they have suffered more for their faith than the Prophet Muhammad and the early Muslims. Indeed the Prophet himself declared, “No Prophet suffered as much as I did.” But rather than boycott, the Prophet prayed for the Meccans as he prayed for the Muslims. He forbade cutting ties of kinship and openly sent letter after letter to world leaders, kings, and emperors — imploring peace and justice.
He continued the dialogue in even the darkest of times, even when no Muslim could understand why. Muhammad knew that war begins when words end — and he refused to let words end.