Islam & International Relations

  • Lectures
  • March 6, 2020

* Translated material

The Islamic theory of the international relations follows from Islam’s overall concept of the existence or the world, which is a divine concept based on Tawheed i.e. unity of God or monotheism. According to its Islamic concept, the monotheism requires, as so far the international relations are concerned, that all human beings are of the same origin & face the same destiny. It asserts that while coming from the same origin & facing the same destiny, all human beings share in common the same essence (one soul) & same general function (Khilafa, approximately vicarship, on earth) & are required to undertake the same duty or responsibility which is the worship of same one God or, in other words, discharge of the general function of vicarship in accordance with the vicarship covenant revealed by God. It follows that the human beings are equal &, therefore, should be treated equally & none of them should claim the right to mastery or dominion over the others. This means that naturally the human beings are free vis-à- vis each other. Since the human beings as individuals are equal &free it follows that the human beings as groups &, consequently, their collective entities/institutions such as the States, should enjoy same equality & freedom or independence.

The foregoing outlines of the Islamic concept of Tawheed (monotheism) & the thereof derived main bases of equality & freedom of human beings serve as a source from which originates a body of integral principles & rules meant to guide & govern the international relations. Obviously, this briefing does not allow full elaboration on those principles & rules. However, it may be said concisely that the entire international principles & rules forwarded by Islam may be classified into two orderly levels of which the lower one is of compulsory nature &, therefore, the Islamic State/international actor is bound to remain committed to it without fail, compromise or taking liberties. The higher level is of recommendatory nature i.e. the Islamic State/international actor is strongly advised & urged to follow but not to be culpable or punished for failure to do the same. The said lower level represents itself in the principle of justice while the higher level comprises a number of high moral standards recommended by Islam.


Commitment to Justice in International Relations:

According to the Islamic concept, justice is the commanding value that always overrules & never overruled. It is divinely enjoined as an absolute obligation which accepts no restriction or exception & under no circumstances the commitment to it may drop or abate.

As per Islam, the obligatory commitment to the justice in international arena entails or implies that:

  • The Islamic State must abide by the law in the international affairs same as it must abide by it in its internal affairs.
  • The Islamic State must strictly comply with the provisions of the bilateral/multilateral & international agreements & treaties to which it is signatory.
  • The Islamic State should observe the prevailing internationally acceptable practices & norms save those, if any, are obviously contradictory to the sound reason.

In Islam, the concept of justice in international relation is not confined to only the judicial/legal dimension of justice, but rather expands to cover all other dimensions of justice & all aspects of international relations including:

  • International economic system where the economic justice requires, inter alia, inhibition of exploitation, monopoly &excessive disparity.
  • International political order where the political justice requires preclusion of, inter alia, violation to equality in sovereignty, discrimination among the States in the international interactions, inequity in the status of the States inside the international organizations & double standard policies.
  • International information, culture & science orders where justice is required to, inter alia, tackle the imbalance/ predominance in media sector without prejudice to the free flow of information, prevent cultural alienation or marginalization, ensure the right to cultural diversity& civilization pluralism, guarantee unimpeded transfer of know-how & forbid misuse of science.
  • International environment where justice requires ban of the trends endangering the bio-diversity, disturbing the eco-system harmony & threatening the very existence of the future generations of the mankind.

The commitment to the justice, in its Islamic wide concept, in the international relations requires &

mostly results in achievement of a considerable degree of:

  • Guaranty & protection of equality, freedom & other international conduct relevant sub-values of the Islamic values hierarchy.
  • Ensuring the international legal & moral responsibility in a manner that helps secure punishment of the aggressor, bring justice to the wronged & present the world’s destitute & deprived people with their essential needs.
  • Settlement & strengthening of the global security, stability& peace.
  • Establishment of the foreign policies- of the Islamic State- on the bases of the principles, values, law & pursuit of the national interests within the bounds of those principles & values & without forgoing them only for the sake of seizing a passing or momentary opportunity or achieving a private interest.
  • Enhancement of human rights, securement of the peoples & their states’ rights & support of the just international issues.
  • Encouragement of the international cooperation.


Observance of Optimal Morals in International Conduct:

In its Islamic broad sense, the morality may be classified into two categories which are the obligatory morals    &    the    optional    morals. The obligatory morals comprise the basic morals without which no regularity or orderliness in people’s affairs can be secured whether in the local or international community. Such basic morals include, for instance, saying of truth, keeping honesty & fulfillment of promises.

The obligatory morals are, per se, denotations of the Islamic vast concept of justice. Moreover, they are so essential for administration of justice in general that any failure to observe them is most likely to hamper administration of justice. Therefore, presumably the Islamic State’s commitment to the justice in international relations should automatically secure its adherence to the obligatory basic morals in international relations.

The optional morals comprise the high morals that Islam strongly recommends as advisable morals but does not impose them as obligatory ones. These include, to mention examples, altruism, forgiveness & exchange of gifts.

The commitment to the justice does not entail commitment to or doing of any of the optional morals. Nevertheless, the Islamic State is concerned with observance of the optimal morals & is urged to endeavor, as much as it can, to materialize them in the course of its international conduct.

Evidently, inasmuch as the international actors may succeed to measures up to the level of altruism, forgiveness & other similar moralities in their international conduct, the love, warm affections, self-denial & amiability would become part of the common shaping factors of the international conduct & thereupon it would be much easy to effectively check the international disputes & dub them in the bud, whenever & wherever they may pop up, through cordial or peaceful means.

Thus, it may be concluded that almost the same values, norms & principles enshrined in the existing international charters & covenants are advocated by the Islamic concept of the international relations.

This has made it easier for the contemporary Islamic countries to join the relevant international organizations. Nevertheless, the Islamic concept of the international relations remains unique in several important aspects. It, for instance, maintains a somehow different priority order of even the same values & principles, remains free of any inconsistency/contradiction & emphasizes more strongly on moralization & humanization of the international conduct. Though it, in common with the prevailing concepts of the international relations, advocates respect for the States’ sovereignty & non-intervention in their internal affairs, Islam disallows the apathetic & indifferent attitudes towards the oppressed peoples no matter whether they are oppressed by a foreign/occupying force or by their own country fellows.

Another distinguishing aspect is that in addition to securing the common law enforcement mechanisms & measures, Islam as a religion is potentially able to reinforce the spontaneous commitment not only to the (international) laws but also to the (international) principles, moralities& virtues. It augments the responsiveness & the sense of personal responsibility for the international affairs leading to a stronger popular surveillance & popular activeness in the international matters. The spontaneous & voluntary commitment & activeness of the popular international role are important factors in enhancement of implementation & materialization of the international relations concepts & theories. The standard of materialization of the conceptual theories gains more importance in the present international reality where a wide gap & disparity between the values, principles & rules stated in the international charters & covenants & the actual course of international politics is appallingly evident.


Practical Experience

The first Islamic State emerged in an era where the legitimacy of might (power) was dominating the international arena. The international relations had been characterized then by continued wars, uncommonness of peaceful international traditions & lack of peace among the nations & various human entities except under temporary peace agreements. Nevertheless, the founders & leaders of the first Islamic State made considerable faithful efforts to get the Islamic concept of international relations properly materialized & translated into reality. The first Islamic State which came into being in the 7th century was founded on the basis of – perhaps for the first time in human history- an actual consensual social contract which brought into being possibly the oldest written Constitution prescribing not only the fundamentals of the domestic law of a pluralistic society State but also some legal basics of the international conduct.

In continuation to its legal genesis, the first Islamic State endeavored to employ its external/international conduct so as to replace the then prevailing sovereignty of might & power with sovereignty of law. It had remained keen to encourage & reinforce whatever was then generally acceptable as a good international practice such as the conclusion of & respect for peace treaties & maintaining peace contacts between the various political entities through exchange of correspondence & visits by immunity enjoying envoys. It also endeavored to impose restrictions on legitimacy of war& enacted & complied with rules meant to alleviate the severity& brutality of wars. To quote, but only few, practical examples of how far the first Islamic State could measure up to the international principles & moralities set by Islam we may recall here two historic events. Some references have reported that a ruler* of the first Islamic State refrained voluntarily from launching an offensive which was already prepared & imminent on an adversary of the Islamic State only out of respect to an Islamic provision brought to his attention by an ordinary citizen by way of objection to the legitimacy of the then imminent offensive. No doubt the case reflects how active & efficient was the popular role in the international affairs & how keen were both the people & the rulers of the Islamic State on the strict compliance with the international rules of Islam & on reinforcement of law sovereignty in the international arena.

Another equally striking example recounts that the judicial system of the Islamic State once issued a ruling ordering the Islamic troops to withdraw from the territory of the adversary (Samarkand people) because they had entered it in away contrary to the Islamic international laws. This confirms that the domestic judicial system of the first Islamic State was not only allowing the foreign international adversary to file suits against the Islamic State but was also issuing the requisite rulings in favor of the adversary of the Islamic State whenever the justice required so.

Whatever may be the total balance or final outcome of the successes & failures of the first Islamic State in implementation & actualization of the Islamic concept of international relations considering the circumstances which were prevailing then, it would be a mistake to rule out blindly any potential contribution of a contemporary objective perusal of the Islamic theory of international relations to enriching or further developing of the current theories of international relations. It is believed that the progress achieved in the international relations both theoretically (legislatively) & practically, thanks to the contributions made by other civilizations in particular the Western civilization, has brought the international conduct closer to the growing regenerated understanding of the international rules, principles, moralities & virtues set by Islam in the seventh century.


* Presented at the Seminar of “Dialogue Among Civilizations: Islamic World & Japan” held in Bahrain on March 12-13,2002

 * It is reported that Muawya Bin Abu Sufyan, one of the early rulers of the first Islamic State, once had massed his troops & was about to attack the Romaeans then he refrained when he was reminded of the Prophet’s tradition which states “whoever has concluded a treaty with some other people, should not tighten or loosen any article before expiry of the validity of the treaty or terminating it publicly & properly” – source : Sunan Abu Dawod page 4/63

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