The Muslim Conception of International Law and the Western Approach

From Wikivahdat

The title is a book from a thesis, by Mohammad Talaat Ghunaimi, in which the unity of the Islamic world is negatively viewd. The following is a review of the book.[1]

Review of the book

The traditional doctrine of Islamic law in regard to international re¬lations is well known. The Shari'a includes many excellent provisions about declarations of war, treaties of peace, armistices, diplomatic envoys, negotiations and guarantees of safe conduct. But the fact remains that it divides the world, broadly speaking, into the "Abode of Islam" and the "Abode of 'War," and that it envisages the continuance of intermittent war between them until the latter is absorbed in the former. In the course of such fighting, and in the intervals in be¬tween, many civilities were to be meticulously observed; .... The "Abode of Islam" did not, indeed, consist ex¬clusively of Muslims, for those whose religion was based on a book accepted by Islam as originally inspired and in practice, indeed, those other religions too - were not forced to embrace Islam but only to accept Muslim rule. They were granted the status of dhimmis, were protected in their persons and property, were allowed to follow their own religion in an unobtrusive fashion, and were accorded the position of essentially second-class citizens. They were also of course, perfectly free to embrace Islam; but for a Muslim to be converted to another faith involved the death penalty.

Abstract of the thesis

This thesis deals with the general outlook of Islam on international law compared with the Western approach, as formerly represented in Christian doctrines and then in modern international law. The study falls into three parts. Part I tackles a historical background in which we outline the international status of Arabia on the advent of Islam, as a groundwork for a better understanding of the Islamic theory. Then we briefly trace the expansion of Islam to elucidate the fact that, historically, the intellectual conquest of Islam was not inseparably the offshoot of its military conquest. In a third chapter, we try to review the development of the Islamic theory, both in practice and in dogmas, a review which points out the dynamic character of Islamic conceptions to answer the needs of the time. Part I, in fact, clarifies that Islamic theory is rather tolerant and comprehensive as compared with corresponding Christian doctrines. Part II analyses the basis of obligation in Muslim international law, which to us, is a sui generis idea of natural law. It also treats the sources and methods of interpretation, in which respect the differences between Islam and extern theory are due to the religious background which colours the Islamic theory. Part III reviews, in the first chapter, the Muslim classical doctrine. In the second chapter, we consider the said doctrine with a view to explaining that it was the product of particular circumstances which are no more valid. The third chapter presents our view about a new interpretation in which we repudiate the classical division of the world into dar al-Islam and dar al-harb together with its main consequences. In fact, our view does not differ basically from the modern standards except in some respects that could contribute to the furtherance of the law of peace in particular and to international law in general.

“Unity of the Islamic world” as apparently rejected in the book

The unity of the imamate is presumably a corollary to the unity of the Islamic world. We have seen that there is no obligatory injunction in the Shari'ah as regards this unity. On the contrary, the Qur’an envisages the possibility of the partition of the Islamic world into politically independent entities. This trend could be inferred from the verso that reads: "And if two parties of believers fall to fighting, then make peace between them, and if one party of them doeth wrong to the other, fight ye that which does wrong till it returns unto the ordinance of Allah, then, if it returns, make peace between them justly, and act equitably."[2]


As seen in the review, the writer tries to draw a negative picture of Islam in some related aspects and introduces “the unity of the Islamic world” as unnecessary teaching of Islam.