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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND DIPLOMACY. Muslim writers argue that the international and diplomatic realms are incorporated in the very comprehensiveness of Islam, and analogues to the concepts of international relations exist in Islamic history. The Prophet’s compacts with the Medinans (623624) as well as with the Jews and Christians of the Arabian Peninsula (e.g., in Najran and `Aqabah) are presented as examples of treaties, and the despatch of envoys to the rulers of Abyssinia, Byzantium, Egypt, and Persia are regarded as evidence of early Islamic diplomatic practice. Despite the assumption that jihad against infidels or the unfaithful is an unremitting obligation, the Prophet’s agreement with the Meccans in 628, the Hudaybiyah treaty, has become the prototype of a truce (though not lasting peace) between combatants. Following this precedent, the fifth Umayyad caliph, `Abd al-Malik (r. 685-705) concluded a truce with the Byzantine ruler and even paid tribute to him in the interest of securing one flank in order to turn against Muslim rebels on the other flank.

Since the time of Caliph Harm al-Rashid (r. 7868o9), the `Abbasids routinely concluded treaties with foreigners for a number of reasons-in particular, in order to ransom their prisoners of war. They also regularly and lavishly received foreign envoys in Baghdad as representatives of fellow sovereigns. Around the year Boo, for example, Caliph Harm received an ambassador from Charlemagne and sent one in return to Aix-laChapelle. Even during the Crusades, there were several formal treaties with Christian princes, such as the agreement in 1192 between Saladin (Salah al-Din, r. 1186-1193) and the English king Richard I, which facilitated Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The Politics of Conflict and Competition. Polemicists often disregard this early history and later events and conclude that Islam is preeminently concerned with the creation of a universal Muslim community and is intolerant of those who are not Muslims. The Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet (hadiths) have many references to the need and desirability of fighting the unbelievers, often to the bitter end. This is one dimension of the jihad which is especially emphasized in the case of polytheists: the Qur’an urges the believers to fight them “wherever you find them” until they repent or are defeated (surah 9-5), and a h adith records the Prophet as saying, “I am ordered to fight until they [the polytheists] say `there is no God but Allah.’ ” Ahl alkitdb (“People of the Book”), other monotheists such as Jews or Christians, are also to be fought until they pay a special tax and are “subdued” or “humbled” (9.29). Generally, the hadiths tell us that “whoever fights to make Allah’s Word superior fights in God’s cause,” and that even a single journey for this purpose is “better than the world and all that is in it.”

This expansionist zeal accounts for the `Abbasid elaboration of a bifurcated and conflict-ridden world-dar al-Islam (the Islamic realm of peace) and dar al-barb (the non-Islamic realm bf war). Moreover, within the realm of Islam, non-Muslims who pay jizyah (tax) in exchange for protection are to suffer certain disadvantages and are not to be treated equally with Muslim citizens. For example, they are not allowed to display their religious symbols openly or to carry arms-the former condition applied to non-Muslim Western military forces stationed in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf crisis of 199o-1991. [See Dar al-Islam; Dar al-Harb; Jizyah.]

Yet it would be facile to conclude that a built-in antipathy exists between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. One reason why such a conclusion is doubtful is that Islamic political theory is more complex than that outlined above. Rather, the scriptural sources also articulate a view that is at odds with the image of jihad as an instrument of Islamic militancy and expansionism. This alternative view is of a tolerant, nonviolent Islam that accommodates itself to the reality of political pluralism and non-Muslim centers of power. Indeed, there is to be no compulsion in religion (Qur’an 2.256). It is important for Muslims to commit their wealth and very lives (61.11) to “strive” ceaselessly against falsehood, but combat constitutes the lesser form of “striving” (ji-had, literally) and should be avoided if at all possible. Rather than relying on the sword, Muslims are to use their hearts, tongues, and hands for the good of their own souls (29.6) and to build the just society. Fighting is enjoined primarily for self-defense: “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not be aggressive, for God does not love aggressors” (2.190). Muslims may even, in certain circumstances, conclude a treaty with the enemy, which would take precedence over any obligations to fellow Muslims: “If they [Muslims] ask for help in the matter of religion, it is your duty to help them, except against a people with whom you have a treaty” (8.72).

The assumption of inherent conflict between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds also ignores a variegated pattern of war and alliance, competition and cooperation, across the Islamic centuries. Although they may not have conceded that Western states were equal to them, Muslim states regularly entered into territorial agreements and concluded peace, as in an Ottoman treaty with Russia in 1739. In the sixteenth century, Muslim practice closed the earlier debates among Muslim jurists as to the length of a truce between Muslims and non-Muslims. Invoking the Hudaybiyah treaty, jurists of at least two legal schools argued that such agreements could last no more than ten years. But the treaty of 1535 between the Ottoman ruler Suleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566) and Francis I of France endorsed the idea of “valid and sure peace” between them for their lifetimes, and from this point historical experience redefined the theoretical approach.

Compatibility of Islam and Nationalism. It is undeniably true that Islamic political theory places substantial emphasis on the idea of worldwide community. There is no distinction among the believers except in piety (Qur’an 49.13), and the fraternity of the faith will inevitably extend to incorporate all peoples. Other bonds of loyalty, such as to tribe or race, must be replaced by common submission to the one God, and as the influential Indian/Pakistani writer Abu al-A’la Mawdudi (1903-1979) maintained, the Islamic community (ummah) can only be “universal and all-embracing, its sphere of activity . . . coextensive with the whole of human life” (Political Theory of Islam, Lahore, 1960, p. 26). Yet one can also point to indicators of an Islam that recognizes; implicitly and explicitly, ideological, political, and territorial divisions. One reading of the Qur’an, for instance, seems to sanction such divisions. It says that God divided men into nations and tribes for a purpose-to come to “know each other” (49.13}-and the divisions of language and color “are signs for those who know” (30.22). At another point, the Qur’an says, “If God had so willed, He would have made them one community” (42.8).

The texts of the various schools of law also accept territorial divisions to which the law must bend (such as when dividing the spoils of war), and medieval thinkers came to accept that there was pluralism within the Islamic realm as well as between it and the non-Islamic realm. Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), for example, raised the possibility that caliphs owed their position to decisive, noncaliphal centers of power. Ibn Taymiyah (12631328) went further in stressing that because of Islam’s essential religious unity, it need not have only one political regime, and Ibn Khaldun (1333-1406) endorsed the idea of pluralism by arguing that the rise and decline of political units is natural and in accord with the divine plan.

Parallel to this intellectual adaptation is the flexibility that Muslim statesmen have displayed over the centuries. In addition to maintaining regular diplomatic relations with non-Muslims, Muslims have come to accept the reality of separate sources of power within the Islamic ummah itself. An early example is the dispute between `All (c.600-661), the Prophet’s son-in-law and the fourth caliph, and Mu’awiyah (c.602-680), the governor of Syria and later the first Umayyad caliph, over legitimate succession to the caliphate. The text of the arbitration between them is remarkable for the way it rendered the two equal, and territorially based, sovereigns.

Subsequent Islamic history confirms this tendency of the Muslim sovereign to concede that other, nominally subject, rulers possessed commensurate or superior power. The Sunni Ottomans were unable to force the submission of the Persian Shi’ah, but in 1590, the two concluded a treaty whereby the Persians agreed to stop cursing the first three caliphs and to cede large amounts of territory to the Ottomans. It was a religious and territorial compromise that Shah ‘Abbas (r. 1588-1629) felt that he had to make if he was to prevent the Uzbeks from moving into his empire from the east.

In the twentieth century, Muslim-Western relations and inter-Muslim relations came indisputably to be measured by the yardstick of territorial and national sovereignty. From the end of the eighteenth century onward, European colonialism had implanted itself, in turn fostering the growth of indigenous nationalisms. Local elites realized that they needed to rid themselves of imperial control, while simultaneously protecting their own prestige and power against rival claimants to postcolonial leadership. They recognized that, to achieve both goals, they had to play by the rules of the international game. Playing this game first involved securing recognition from the great powers, then enhancing the sense of national uniqueness in the greater society of nation-states.

In inter-Muslim relations, the norm roughly from the 1930s to today has been to acknowledge the spiritual and cultural unity of the faith while insisting on preserving the reality of territorial divisions. Most bilateral agreements and every multilateral one make clear that the form of association contracted must not be seen as a derogation or qualification of the individual sovereignties of the contracting parties. The Arab League Pact (1945), although “desirous of strengthening the close relations and numerous ties which link the Arab states” (Preamble), is committed to preserving the independence and sovereignty of its members (Article 2) and requires that “each member state shall respect the systems of government established in the other member states and regard them as the exclusive concerns of those states” (Article 8). The Charter of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC, 1972) unambiguously affirms that the organization is based on the principles of “respect of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of each member State” (Article 2b) and of “abstention from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity, national unity or political independence of any member State” (Preamble).

Many Muslims, such as Mawdudi, however, have rejected the institution of the nation-state as alien and destructive of pan-Islamic union. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-1989) was the most notable recent exponent of this view, and Principle 11 of revolutionary Iran’s constitution commits the government to promoting Islamic unity. Yet for all his wider aspirations, Khomeini implicitly accepted the legitimacy of the territorial state of Iran when it was under attack by the Iraqis during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). In effect, Iran was validated as the vanguard of the Islamic Revolution. The demands of political and economic intercourse, the development of an intellectual and pragmatic consensus, even if unenthusiastically so, and the pervasive influence of modern, nationalized educational systems have combined to make nationalism and the nation-state a powerful presence on the modern Muslim landscape.

Transnationalism of Islam. Political Islam is clearly an international phenomenon, but as international politics has become more complex and is now more accurately described by the concept of world politics, so too Islam is more than simply international. This is demonstrated by the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood (alIkhwan al-Muslimun), which, although rooted in individual countries, operates simultaneously in Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, even South Asia, among other countries-and exhibits some degree of linkage among them. The Muslim Brotherhood is a nonstate actor, operating in the state environment and exercising an impact on the state system. [See Muslim Brotherhood.]

Nonstate actors are an increasingly prominent aspect of modern Islamic life, particularly in the field of da’wah (the “call” to Islam). Such organizations as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, but also the Palestinian Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyah, the Islamic Resistance Movement), are involved in providing a range of social welfare activities through such institutions as health clinics, schools, and housing cooperatives, which by their very efficiency and popularity provide a powerful challenge to the legitimacy of state institutions. Although their bases are securely located in their own national territories, there is no doubt that assistance in the training of activists, significant funding, and intellectual stimulation are derived from external sources.

Governments often seek to channel popular Muslim sentiments by sponsoring their own da’wah organizations. The Islamic Propagation Office in Iran is concerned with various dimensions of the export of the Iranian revolutionary message, but like its counterpart in Libya, the Islamic Call Society (Jam’iyat al-Da’wah alIslamiyah), the degree of success can be overstated. The Saudi government, with its sponsorship of the Muslim World League (Rabitat al-`Alam al-Islami), has been more successful in facilitating the spread of a nonrevolutionary but nonetheless assertive strain of Islamic activism. Through such journals as Al-rabitah (The League; English edition: journal of the Muslim World League) and Al-nahdah (The Renaissance, the journal of the allied Regional Islamic Da’wah Council of Southeast Asia and the Pacific), transnational da’wah groups provide a potent communications and information network. Such a network encourages the mobilization of Muslim opinion on broader, Pan-Islamic issues, such as the jihad against the Soviet authorities in Afghanistan, the plight of Muslim minorities in places such as the Philippines and Bulgaria, and the future of Muslim Bosnia in the former Yugoslavian federation. [See Islamic Call Society; Muslim World League; Regional Islamic Da’wah Council of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.]

The Islamic transnational network was also instrumental in generating and sustaining the negative reaction to the publication in 1988 of Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, which was widely regarded as blasphemous of the prophet Muhammad. Britain and Iran broke off diplomatic relations over the affair and the European Community and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) put it near the top of their agendas. But in addition to these foreign policy results, the Rushdie affair generated more complicated politics.

One of the distinctive features of the Rushdie affair was the replication of Saudi-Iranian rivalry on British soil. The Union of Muslim Organizations and the Islamic Cultural Centre in London were instrumental in the early stages in bringing Muslim objections to the book to the attention of the government and public. Although these groups fall under Saudi patronage, the South Asian Jama’at-i Islam! was also important in mobilizing the Islamic Foundation in Leicester to the cause. However, with the Ayatollah’s fatwd (edict) against Rushdie in February 1989 amounting to a death sentence, the situation changed rapidly. The Saudis and their supporters in Britain appeared to become defensive, and Iranian-inspired groups, such as the Muslim Institute, grew vociferous in their attacks on Rushdie, the British government, and Saudi Arabia.

The vast majority of British Muslims were not as directly concerned with the Saudi-Iranian competition. But other rivalries were of consequence, mainly those between Barelwis, who follow holy men (pirs) and are mystical in orientation but not entirely adverse to political activity, and Deobandis, who tend toward scripturalism in spiritual matters and apoliticism in worldly matters. Deobandis have been especially adept at disseminating their message of inner reform, owing largely to the Jama’at Tabligh, a singularly devoted missionary movement with branches in many countries.

Partly because of the lack of full assimilation into British economic, social, and political life, and linguistic pluralism and ethnic rivalries (for example, among Mirpuris, Pathans, Bangladeshis, and Gujaratis), there is both a built-in competitiveness in British Muslim communities, reflected in identifiably sectarian mosques and schools, and a susceptibility to outside influences. These latter include pirs, Barelwi or Deobandi `ulama’, the Jama`at Tabligh, and Jama’at-i Islami from the Indian subcontinent. To a considerable extent, therefore, the politics of British Muslims, particularly during the Rushdie affair, has reflected the Pakistani or Indian politics of Islam. Correspondingly, the reactions of Muslim groups in Britain and their support for the fatwa had an impact on the factionalized politics of Iran. [See Barelwis; Deobandis; Tablighi Jama’at; Jama’at-i Islami; Rushdie Affair.]

The ability of Muslims to live within national frontiers in the modern world and, at the same time, the presence of Islamic concerns in both domestic and foreign policy suggest that the vast majority of Muslims are seeking-for the foreseeable future-to create Muslim states, not to supplant the nation-state system itself. Pan-Islamic aspirations have not disappeared, certainly, and the ability of Muslim transnational organizations, ideologies, and communications to permeate national borders testifies that a greater degree of Muslim community is now apparent. One London-based Islamist has spoken of the need of British Muslims to “plug into the global grid of the power of Islam” (Kalim Siddiqui, speech on “Generating Power without Politics,” 14 July 1990), and concretization of the ummah is indeed emerging in various ways. But as the simultaneous acceptance of territorial and political pluralism and the manifold differences of policy and conviction among Muslim states, nonstate actors, and movements indicated, Pan-Islamic political integration remains limited. International and transnational relations are thus likely to continue to evolve not only between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds, but within the Islamic realm itself.

[See also Da`wah, article on Institutionalization; Diplomatic Immunity; Diplomatic Missions; Human Rights; International Law; Nation; Organization of the Islamic Conference; Pan-Islam; Ummah.]


AbuSulayman, `AbdulHamid A. The Islamic Theory of International Relations: New Directions for Islamic Methodology and Thought.

Herndon, Va., 1987. Lucid analysis by modernist Muslim writer on the Islamic framework of diplomacy and interstate relations. Abu Zahrah, Muhammad. Al-`alaqat al-duwaliyah ft al-Islam (International Relations in Islam). Cairo, 1964. Study of how Islamic norms have allowed Muslim states to engage in a fully functioning international practice.

al-Ahsan, Abdullah. Ummah or Nation? Identity Crisis in Contemporary Muslim Society. Leicester, 1992. Expert on the Organization of the Islamic Conference calls for the strengthening of Muslim identification with the ummah and the consequent enhancement of the OIC.

Dawisha, Adeed, ed. Islam in Foreign Policy. Cambridge, 1983. Valuable as a unique study of the roles that Islam plays in the foreign policy of several Muslim countries.

Djalili, Muhammad-Reza. Diplomatie islamique: Strattgie internationale du khomeynisme. Paris, 1989. Informed analysis of the international ideas and practice of the revolutionary regime in Iran.

Hamidullah, Muhammad. Muslim Conduct of State. 4th rev. ed. Lahore, 1961. One of the standard expositions on Islam’s compatibility with the norms of the international system.

Hurewitz, J. C., ed. The Middle East and North Africa in World Politics: A Documentary Record. 2 vols. 2d ed. New Haven and London, 1975. Indispensable collection of treaties and other documents that present the record of Muslims’ adaptation to prevailing international practice in their relations with both non-Muslims and fellow Muslims.

Iqbal, Afzal. Diplomacy in Islam. Lahore, 1977. Study of the Prophet’s diplomatic practice.

Khadduri, Majid. War and Peace in the Law of Islam. Baltimore and London, 1955. Classic work on the theory of Islamic international law and international relations.

Landau, Jacob. The Politics of Pan-Islam: Ideology and Organization. Oxford and New York, 1990), The best study of how Pan-Islam emerged in the context of the transition from the imperial to the national age in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Moinuddin, Hasan. The Charter of the Islamic Conference: The Legal and Economic Framework. Oxford, 1987. Detailed study of the structure of the OIC, placed in a larger discussion of Islamic ideas on international law and cooperation.

Proctor, J. Harris, ed. Islam and International Relations. London, 1965. An early examination of many of the enduring issues, such as nationalism and Pan-Islam, by eminent scholars.

Rajaee, Farhang. Islamic Values and World View: Khomeyni on Man, the State and International Politics. Lanham, Md., and London, 1983. Particularly insightful study of Khomeinist international thought written by a student of both Islamic political thought and international relations theory.

Saleem, Musa. The Muslims and the New World Order. London, 1993 Deals with a broad range of subjects, but last quarter of book directly deals with such matters as relations between rich and poor countries (including within the Islamic world) and such contemporary problems as Bosnia and Kashmir.

Schulze, Reinhard. Islamischer Internationalismus im 2o. Jahrundert: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Islamischen Weltliga. Leiden, 1990), Excellent study of “international” Islam, particularly the activities of the Saudi-backed Muslim World League.

Siddiqui, Kalim. Beyond the Muslim Nation-State. London, 1980. Vigorous attack on the idea of Muslim national pluralism by a leading

British Muslim who, more recently, has become the leading figure in “the Muslim Parliament” in Britain.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/international-relations-and-diplomacy/

  • writerPosted On: May 25, 2014
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