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Published On: Mon, Oct 20th, 2014

Diplomacy in Islam

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Long before the adoption of Geneva Convention in 1950 on the protection of civilian population and guaranteeing the rights of prisoners of war, Islam started practicing ethics in this regard. The Holy Quran asks its believers not to exceed the limit in war. “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you but do not transgress limits: For God loveth not transgressors.” (Baqara 190)

It is forbidden in the Islamic code of war to do anything for taking revenge and creating terror. Prophet (peace be upon him) used to give instructions to his solders not to kill civilians who are not directly engaged in war, old men, women, children and not to destroy property like trees, crops as he prohibited killing of priests and destroying places of worship.

Regarding prisoners of war and wounded persons in war, he used to treat them as he did with his own men. He distributed prisoners of Badr among his fellow companions and asked them to consider those persons as their guests. Some of them embraced Islam moved by this friendly gesture. His decision in releasing the prisoners was more unique. He fixed an amount for this according to their financial position and freed many of them just on the basis of teaching ten children by each prisoner.

PEACE: War is conditional in Islam. If there is a breach of contract and beginning of hostility from the enemy side, then only the Muslims are allowed to engage themselves in war. So, whenever there is a cessation of hostile activities there must be the end of war. In such a situation Muslims are asked to cease fire and negotiate peace treaty. There are many verses of the Holy Quran in this regard, such as; “If they fight you then you also fight them. But if they cease, then let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.” (Baqarah 19).”If they withdraw from you and not fight you and send you peace, then God hath opened no way for you (to fight against them).”

“And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression and there prevail justice and faith in God altogether and anywhere: but if they cease verily God doth see all that they do.” (Anfal 39) “But if the enemy inclines towards peace, so thou incline (also) to peace and have trust in God…” (Anfal 61)The relevant portion of UN charter regarding ceasefire and maintaining international peace and security comes closer to these ideals.

TREATY: Conclusion of treaty and honouring the same is one of the basic pillars of Islamic diplomacy. The Holy Quran asks the Muslims to negotiate peace treaty for ending war and establishing friendship with other nations as it asked them to adhere very strictly to it. Breach of treaties and agreements has been described as condemnable act.

“And take no friends or helpers from their end (non believers): except those who join a group between whom and you there is a treaty (of peace) or those who approach you with hearts restraining them from fighting you as well as fighting their own people.” (Nisa 90) “Will ye not fight people who violated their oaths (treaties) plotted to expel the apostle and took the aggressive path by being the first to assault you?” (Taubah 3).”…and fulfil every commitment, for (every) commitment will be enquired into.” (Bani Israel 34).”How can there be a league, before God and His apostle with the (fighting) pagans, except those with whom ye made a treaty near the sacred Mosque. As long as they stand true to you, stand ye true to them. For God doth love the righteous.” (Taubah 7) “O ye who believe!Fulfil all obligations.” (Mayedah-1)

Prophet (peace be upon him) made many treaties with different groups of people during his life and honoured them even when some clauses of certain treaties turned to be unfavourable to him. The famous treaty of Hodaibia contained some clauses which apparently were not favourable and opposed by majority of his followers. But he signed it in the greater interest of peace and upheld it till it was revoked by other party. There are examples that he was engaged in war for honouring his treaty and agreement with different tribes.

GLOBAL DIPLOMACY: During the 19th century there developed what is known as “international diplomacy”, conference diplomacy, “multinational diplomacy” or “global diplomacy” meaning that negotiations are conducted simultaneously with a group rather than with one state. It has as its emphasis the finding of the common interests of many states rather than those of only two states.

There is no doubt that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the first man in human history to initiate the process of global and international diplomacy in the truest sense of the term. He established contact in different ways specially sending envoys to the emperors and rulers of the world inviting them to embrace Islam and establishing justice in the world as well as for cooperating with him in various fields. This process continued in a wider scale during the later period of Islamic Khalifat. In this way he laid the foundation of global contact. Development of UN system in modern time may be described as culmination of this process.

Prophet (peace be upon him) made a breakthrough in diplomatic history by sending special envoys with his letters to Emperor Heracleus of Roman Empire, Emperor Khasru of Persian Empire, Egyptian ruler MukauKeus, Ethiopian Emperor Najjashi and others inviting them to embrace Islam and rule their respective countries with justice.


Islam strongly favours the idea of granting special immunity to the envoys and diplomats. Prophet (peace be upon him) and great Khalifas used to receive foreign envoys with great honour and treat them as respected persons. As a mark of respect he allowed a Christian delegation to offer their worship inside his mosque. Killing of a special envoy Haris by Shorahbi, Ruler of Muta, was one of the reasons for which he sent a force to punish the killer. This was the background of famous Muta operation. In this process the way to the conclusion of “Vienna Convention” adopted in 1961, was paved.

One of the basic beauties of Islam is that it upholds justice and fairness at all levels and in all circumstances. The Holy Quran clearly asked the Muslims to uphold the principle of justice even in their dealing with their enemy. The Holy Quran states: “Stand out firmly for God as witnesses to fair dealing and let not hatred of any nation to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety.” (Mayedah 9)

Muslims have also been warned not to be swayed away from fairness due to self interest, nepotism, favour for the rich and disfavour for the poor. The Holy Quran states: “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents or your kids and whether it be (against) rich or poor.” (Nisa 135) These principles are applicable to both national and international affairs, thus serving to be the basis of international law and justice.

Islam always encourages greater cooperation among different groups of people for achieving noble objectives and opposing evil forces. The Holy Quran states: “Help ye one in righteousness and piety but help ye not one in sin and rancour.” (Mayedah 3).Prophet (peace be upon him) sought cooperation of Madina people when he was in Makkah and conducted the “Memorandum of allegiance” in Aqaba twice having met secretly the pilgrims of Madina in the early period of his mission. This was the nature of the regional cooperation. He then sought cooperation of Emperor Nazzashi of Ethopia by sending some Muslims over to his country requesting him to grant refuge to them. From this the principles of international cooperation can very easily be derived.

In fine, it can be stated very clearly that as a comprehensive code and system of life, Islam did not leave the diplomatic arena of life unattended. Rather it gave diplomacy a respectable place by elevating it to the honourable place of being a means to achieve noble goals of human society.

Mohammad Zafor via


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