The following is a short reflection on Professor Mustafa Abu Sway's distinction between tahdi'a and hudna, as it appeared in his article "On the Concept of Hudna" (Palestine-Israel Journal, Vol. 13, No. 3, 2006).*

My analysis and understanding of the history of Islamic ideas is founded on a theory that draws a clear distinction between what I call the two Islams: objective Islam and subjective Islam.1 Objective Islam consists of the official theology, the political ideology and other ideas emanating from both of the two main branches of Islam: the Sunni and the Shi'ia. In modern terms, objective Islam can be referred to as political Islam, which is a dogmatic belief in eternal strife - jihad - for the universal unification of Islam and the state. Subjective Islam is represented by the Sufis and all other Muslims who believe in religion as a personal stance or a set of convictions; it separates faith from the state or officialdom. My concept of hudna and tahdi'a is based on the above distinction and interpretation of the two Islams. The paragraphs below will deal with how these two terms are understood in objective (official) Islam.

Hudna and Tahdi'a in the Qur'an

After reviewing what is currently considered the most widely recognized Arabic dictionary of Qur'anic terms, I found that the terms hudna nor tahdi'a have never appeared in any part of the body of Qur'anic verses.2


Both words are derived from the original verb form hada'a, which means to be quiet, or to become quiet. Tahdi'a, from hada'a (calmness), according to Ibn Manthur's Arabic dictionary, Lissan al-Arab, is the time of calmness, such as at night when people go to sleep and stop moving or engaging in any activity.
Hudna, derived from hadana, is an agreement to stop a fight or a war for a limited period of time.3 Hudna is not permanent and does not imply a potential for stable peace in the far or near future. It is equivalent to the status quo, with no solution to the conflict envisaged. Hence, it is a period for reinforcing the power of each side in a conflict.  

The Political Theology of Islam

Tahdi'a is a temporary period of peace after a period or periods of war. We must always bear in mind that the notion of war in Islam is jihad. Therefore, tahdi'a is not a permanent treaty of peace, and neither is hudna. A clear exposition of this issue, the way Muslims deal with it, and the conditions under which they should accept peace with non-Muslims can be found in Mohammad Izzat Darwazah's book, Jihad for the Sake of Allah in the Qur'an and the Hadith. It is a landmark statement of the theory of non-secular Arabism from a Palestinian-Arab-nationalist viewpoint. Most notable is Darwazah's underscoring of the inconceivability of a permanent peace between Muslims and Jews, dating from the days of Prophet Muhammad and up to the present.4

A Temporary Treaty

The writings of Muslim theologians, ranging from those predating Imam Ibn Taymiyya5 to the most articulate ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 20th century, the late Sayyed Qutb; and from the historical fuqaha' (theological scholars) to the contemporary al-Azhar and Qum scholars; show unanimous agreement that a peace treaty between Muslims and non-Muslims is a temporary period of time between wars. Although some of them have endorsed the peace treaty during the Sadat-Begin era, this endorsement still has not been generally accepted by most Islamic theologians, or, for that matter, by secular nationalistic groups in Egypt and the Arabic-speaking countries.
When the time of calmness (tahdi'a) or the time of hudna ends, war will resume because jihad is a constant process of being at war. The time of peace is for preparation for war, according to Darwazeh and other Arab-Muslim thinkers. The war continues until non-Muslims accept the rule of Islam and pay jizyah (a tribute), or endorse Islam by converting to it.

The Palestinian Context

To put my analysis in its Palestinian context, the secular or semi-secular Palestinians were the first to recognize Israel and to lead the process of peace between the two peoples. These secular Palestinians have been, and still are, considered traitors by the Islamic movements and many Arab nationalists, to the extent that many have been assassinated by fanatical Palestinian nationalists.
This has led me to question Professor Abu Sway's attempt to offer such an erroneous distinction between the two terms tahdi'a and hudna. On what basis does he ascribe to these terms meanings that are not grounded in Islamic theology or in basic texts from the Qur'an or the Hadith? These have represented the principal teachings of the imams of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) throughout history. They are grounded in Islamic tradition, and are clearly at variance with the distinction Professor Abu Sway makes between the two terms and the meanings he extends to realities in Palestine and in Israel. 
I deeply believe that only a secular context, and not the Islamic shari'a's meaning of tahdi'a and hudna, can help create space for coexistence and peace between the two peoples. The Islamic context cannot be relied upon, as it is mired in longstanding hatreds and belligerent stances, in particular against the Jews. It is my fervent wish that Palestinian and Israeli scholars be more conscious of the impact of the language and the terms they use at this tragic moment in the history of the Middle East.

* In the interest of accuracy, the Palestine-Israel Journal wishes to stress that Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway's article, which appeared in Vol. 13, No.3, 2006, focused on the concept of "hudna" exclusively.