HISTORY OF THE ALLIANCE OF VIRTUE
The original Alliance of Virtue (hilf al-fudul) was established in early 7th century AD (late 1st century BH) Mecca, in the house of Abdullah ibn Judan, one of the city’s leading men. Its purpose was to defend the weak and the innocent against the rapaciousness of those more powerful. The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (God bless him and grant him peace), and the first of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, Abu Bakr, were both present when the Alliance was formed, though it was before Muhammad’s prophethood. He later praised it, saying: ‘I was witness to an alliance in the house of Abdallah ibn Judan that was more beloved to me than a herd of red camels [an ancient Arabian metaphor for wealth], and were I to be invited to join it now in the time of Islam, I would most certainly join it.’
The reason for the formation of this alliance was that the Quraysh had just ended the Sacrilegious War (Harb al-Fijar), and, as often happens following such wars, gangs of bandits and thieves sprang up to fill the void. One such gang emerged in Makkah, as az-Zubayr ibn Abd al-Muttalib—the uncle of the Prophet (peace be upon him) described in the following verses of poetry:
The hollow of Mecca was ruined after a period of tranquillity;
By a gang of thieves behaving like bandits
The group of bandits referred to here had had started to rob and pillage, but the immediate cause of the formation of the alliance was an incident that took place between a man who had come to Makkah from Zubaydah in Yemen to sell his goods, and the man who bought them from him, al-Asi ibn Wail. The latter, despite being part of the Makkan nobility, was dishonest and unjust. When al-Asi refused to pay the Yemeni the agreed price, and the latter’s efforts to get what was rightfully his failed, he decided to try a different approach. He went to Mount Safa at sunrise and called out to the people, saying:
O People of Fihr, is not a person treated unjustly entitled to his goods?
When, at the center of Makkah, he is left without family or kin?
What about a pilgrim who has not completed his rituals?
What to make of men who are stranded between the holy places?
Inviolability is granted only to the noble ones,
None of it should be awarded to cheats and liars.
As soon as the man finished, az-Zubayr ibn Abd al-Muttalib—the uncle of the Prophet (peace be upon him)—stood up and said, ‘This cannot be allowed to continue.’ So, he summoned the Banu Hashim, Banu Tamim, and Banu Zuhrah, and they formed the hilf al-fudul (Alliance of Virtue), agreeing that ‘not a single aggrieved soul remain in Makkah so long as Mount Thubayr remained standing’.
The crux of this alliance was that no oppressor should be aided in his oppression of others and that people should cooperate and provide each other with assistance. This alliance reflected the values of justice and fairness, and those of mutual assistance and social solidarity. It is corroborated by a hadith narrated by Muslim, in which the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) said, ‘There have been no alliances since the advent of Islam, but any alliance made before Islam has only been strengthened and affirmed by it,’ and God’s words in the Holy Quran, “Do not let your hatred for the people who barred you from the Sacred Mosque induce you to break the law: help one another in what is right and good; do not help one another in sin and hostility” (Quran 5:2). This verse is interpreted as instructing the Prophet (peace be upon him) to observe the values of goodness and piety in all his dealings with the polytheists who debarred him from Makkah and prevented him from performing hajj at the Kaaba, and to avoid spilling blood within the boundaries of the Sacred Mosque.