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Published On: Tue, Oct 21st, 2014

Diplomacy in Islam

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Sultan-of-Sokoto-Alhaji-Muhammad-Saad-Abubakar-IIIBy Mohammad Zafor.

The word ‘diplomacy’ comes from the ancient Greek word ‘Diploma’ denoting a folded document used for identification or conferring a favour. Eventually, the connection with documents disappeared. Edmund Burke of France first used the word in written English in 1796 when he referred to “the double diplomacy of France.”

The word ‘diplomacy’ now has different meanings. In the narrow sense it means the procedures and process of negotiation usually between sovereign states. In a wider sense it includes almost everything connected with maintaining relations with different states and organisations during war and peace times. Besides traditional aspects of diplomacy, modern diplomacy absorbs into its fold economic, social, cultural, scientific, technical, spiritual and intellectual dimensions of relations among various nations. Moreover, there is a separate pattern of diplomacy called “multilateral and international or global diplomacy” that is concerned with issues not connected with a particular nation or country, but with entire human society or international community.

Human beings organised in groups, whether tribes, kingdom, nation or city state, have always had some kind of relationship with others. The ancient kings of Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt sent envoys to negotiate with other rulers as early as 155 BC. The Queen of Sheba visited king and prophet Solaiman (A) in 950 BC what today would be called a diplomatic mission. In 6th century BC the Greek city states often sent representatives, known as heralds to other cities to plead a cause before public body.

In pre Islamic period, diplomacy was confined to a very limited field and considered to be devoid of ethical consideration. Islam’s contribution to diplomacy is to give it a comprehensive shape by widening its scope and blending it with ethical and moral flavour, thereby laying the foundation of modern mode of diplomacy. Besides war, peace, treaties etc, Islam brought into diplomatic fold issues relating to prisoners of war, international cooperation for goodness of mankind, global action against enemies of humanity, expression of positive and active solidarity with people struggling for a legitimate cause, creation of global awareness for beneficial and against harmful action, immunities for diplomats etc.

DIPLOMACY AND ETHICS: The diplomacy and ethics go together in Islam is proved from the verses of the Holy Quran and traditions of the holy prophet and it is substantiated by many events of Islamic history. The verse No 13 of surah “Hujurat” states, “O mankind, we created you from a single (pair) of male and female and made into nations and tribes that you may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you”. This verse clearly indicates that the act of maintaining relations among nations for knowing each other is a desirable thing. It also shows that we must follow the right and honoured way in the sight of God thereby placing ourselves in the honourable place in the comity of nations. Here enters the concept of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in the arena of diplomacy.

Our beloved prophet (peace be upon him) would start all his diplomatic letters with Bismillah and quote verses of the Holy Quran therein, thus giving them a religious touch. He would ask the Muslim soldiers to abide by certain ethical norms even during war. This would speak of his strong attachment to ethical mode of diplomatic activities during peace time.

Of late there emerged a feeling among the world leaders about the importance of ethical aspect of diplomacy. The concern for human rights, elimination of racial discrimination and arms control, the policies of non interference in the internal affairs of other countries, non use of force in the settlement of disputes expression of solidarity with the people struggling for freedom and liberty, conclusion of different arms control treaties emanated from this feeling. In fact, had there not been ethical consideration, there would not have been different humanitarian programmes undertaken by different international organisations. In the absence of this consideration this planet would turn into a place not suitable for human habitation. In that case there would be the reign of brutal forces threatening the very existence of human race.

There is misunderstanding regarding war in Islam. But the fact is that the concepts of war and peace in Islam are consistent with the norms of modern civilisation. Islam does not permit one to use arms unless compelled to do so. Islam is against unnecessary killing of any animal or destruction of property and is against war for grabbing land. Islam follows some basic principles for starting a war and some ethics even during the war. The goal of war in Islam is elimination of injustice and establishing peace and justice. It does not support war unless it is compelled to go for it after exhausting all possible ways to find out a peaceful solution. So, considering this the scope of offensive war becomes very limited. War in Islam is always preceded by last effort of negotiation by sending special envoy with proposals of peace.

War in Islam aims at attaining the following objectives: 1. To prevent the belligerent party from creating disorder, tumult and turmoil. The Holy Quran says, “Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. And fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression and there is justice and faith in God.” 2. To save the oppressed people from the hands of oppressors when requested for. The Holy Quran says, “And why should ye not fight in the cause of God and of those who being weak, ill treated (and oppressed)? men, women and children whose cry is: Our Lord! Rescue us from this land whose people are oppressors: and raise for us from thee one who will protect: and raise for us from thee one who will help.” (Nisa 75)

3. To compel one group of the Muslims to accept the verdict of the ‘Ummah’ (community) to end hostility, when there is a war between two groups of them. The Holy Quran clearly states: “If two parties among the believers fall into a fight, make peace between them: but if one transgresses against the other, then fight ye (all) against the one that transgresses until it complies with the command of God. But if it complies then make peace between them with justice and be fair, for God loves those who are fair.” (Hujurat) This can be extended for all. 4. To free this world from brutal forces by curbing their power whenever they try to raise their ugly heads, for ensuring peace, security and order in the world. This may be derived from the following verses of the Holy Quran, “By God’s will they defeated him: And David slew Goliath: and God gave him power and wisdom, taught him whatever (else) He willed. And did not God check one set of people by means of one another, the world would indeed be full of mischief and disorder. But God is full of bounty to all the worlds.” (Baqarah 251)

The relevant articles of the UN Charter regarding reducing tension, elimination of threat to international peace and security and curbing the tyrant force, echo those principles. Use of force for prevention and removal of threats to the peace has been accepted by all and incorporated in the UN Charter details of which are given in Articles 39, 40, 41, & 42 of the same. There is no single evidence that Prophet (peace be upon him) and his followers fought any war just to widen the frontiers of Islamic states without being compelled to engage into it in the light of above mentioned principles and objectives. The verses of the Holy Quran and traditions of the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) state in unequivocal terms and words that Muslims are not allowed to exceed the limit and continue their fight after the enemies cease the operation.


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