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DIPLOMATIC MISSIONS. An official delegation from one country to another, a diplomatic mission cal. be either temporary or permanent. The members of a diplomatic mission have diplomatic status, the most important element of which is diplomatic immunity. Although Muslim and non-Muslim diplomatic missions are virtually identical, they evolved quite separately.

The concept of a diplomatic mission representing one independent ruler to another independent ruler is not entirely compatible with Islamic political theory. The universalist nature of Islam assumes a single ummah (community of the faithful) under one law and administered by one government. Theoretically, therefore, no diplomatic missions were needed within the Islamic world, for all were presumably under a single ruler. As for non-Muslim states, the necessity of diplomatic missions was considered to be only temporary, until the whole world came under the dominion of Islam; non-Muslim states were not considered to be moral or political equals of the Islamic state.

In practice, Islamic diplomatic missions, both to other Muslim states and to non-Muslim states, have existed since the time of the Prophet. Muhammad himself used them to propagate the faith. As the Arab-Islamic empire grew in size and power, the necessity for diplomatic missions grew apace. The caliphs in Damascus and later in Baghdad were in virtually continuous diplomatic communication with neighboring states, particularly with their enemies, the Byzantines and the Franks. The `Abbasid caliph Harm al-Rashid developed extraordinary diplomatic ties with the Holy Roman emperor, Charlemagne, and the two regularly exchanged gifts and dispatched diplomatic missions. In periods of Islamic political decline, diplomatic missions between Muslim rulers also increased.

The basic functions of Islamic diplomatic missions have changed very little over the centuries: negotiating treaties, arbitrating disputes, attending state ceremonies, and also collecting intelligence. Mufawwadah means “negotiation” in Arabic, and a mufawwadiyah is a legation, an old form of diplomatic mission. The chief of mission was a mufawwad (minister). Another term used for a chief of a diplomatic mission was rasul (messenger).

Historically, the most important role of an Islamic diplomatic mission was probably arbitration. The Arabic for the more contemporary term, “embassy,” is sifarah, and the chief of mission is a safer (ambassador). Both terms have the connotation of “mediation” or “arbitration,” reflecting the greater emphasis in Islamic law on arbitration rather than establishing guilt.

Arbitration was practiced in the Middle East long before the advent of Islam and was simply absorbed into the new religion. The prophet Muhammad saw himself (and by extension, his successors) as an arbitrator, and the Qur’an admonishes the faithful, “If you differ, bring it before Allah and the apostle.” (surah 4.59). The same principle was applied to arbitrating between nations.

In the early days of Islam, diplomatic missions were exchanged for the purpose of negotiating or arbitrating a particular issue. Although some missions stayed months or even years in a foreign capital, few were permanent in the contemporary sense. Maintaining permanent diplomatic missions was basically a European practice that developed around the sixteenth century. By the end of the sixteenth century, resident European envoys were accredited to the Ottoman sultan in Constantinople, and by the eighteenth century, Ottoman envoys were resident in Europe.

With increasing European commercial and political penetration in the Muslim world, starting in the eighteenth century, diplomatic relations increased, but not necessarily through the medium of diplomatic missions. With the political decline of the Ottoman Empire, European states established independent ties to the emerging, although not yet technically independent Arab states. Farther east, commercial firms played the role of diplomatic missions. British diplomatic relations with the Safavid Empire in Persia and the Mughals in India, for example, were initially carried out through the British East India Company rather than the Foreign Office. Even after the British Government established more extensive government-to-government relations in the nineteenth century, they were mainly handled by the Colonial Office rather than the Foreign Office.

By the nineteenth century, European colonialism had so permeated the Muslim world that the utility of diplomatic missions had declined measurably. Of particular importance was the capitulations. These were agreements granting special judicial privileges to resident Western nationals engaged in commerce in Muslim countries nominally under the Ottoman Empire. These rights, however, were administered by Western consuls, not through diplomatic missions.

Following World War I, when most Muslim countries had regained at least token independence, resident diplomatic missions again spread throughout the Muslim world. But the war also ended the Ottoman caliphate, and the universalist nature of Islamic political theory no longer represented political reality. Western rules of diplomacy, based on sovereign nation-states, became universally accepted throughout the Muslim world.

Even these practices have not been static, however. After World War II, the previously sharp distinction between diplomatic functions and consular functions virtually disappeared. Today, consular functions, which include granting visas to foreigners wishing to visit one’s country, seeking the welfare and protection of one’s citizens abroad, and promoting commercial relations, are performed in diplomatic missions, just as traditional diplomatic functions, such as political and economic reporting, are performed in consulates. Depending on the country, consular officials are now regularly granted diplomatic immunity, which was not a traditional practice in the West.

The raising of diplomatic missions to the status of embassies is also virtually universal. Traditionally, missions to less important countries were legations, and the chiefs of mission held the title of minister, whereas the major missions were embassies and the chiefs of mission held the title of ambassador. After World War II, however, because of the sensitivities of the smaller,Third Worldcountries, virtually all countries are now represented by ambassadors, and their missions are designated as embassies.

[See also Capitulations; Diplomatic Immunity; International Law; International Relations and Diplomacy.]


Hitti, Philip K. History of the Arabs: From the Earliest Times to the Present. 9th ed.London, 1967. Classic account of Arab history, with many references to diplomatic relations with the West. Khadduri, Majid, and Herbert J. Liebesny, eds. Law in the Middle East.Washington,D.C., 1955. See, in particular, Khadduri’s chapter on international law.

Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of ModernTurkey.New York, 1961. Another classic, which includes discussions of Ottoman diplomatic relations.

Shaybani, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan. The Islamic Law of Nations: Shaybani’s Siyar. Translated by Majid Khadduri.Baltimore, 1966.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/diplomatic-missions/

  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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