Diplomacy in Islam

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.

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 Mukau Keus, Ethiopian Emperor Najjashi and others inviting them to embrace Islam and rule their respective countries with justice.

DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY: 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.

The writer is a former diplomat and Pro VC of a private university.

E-mail : nafaznoor@hotmail.com

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