Land of Islam or Land of War?

Question and answer details
Yasin Kaan Karakan
As-Salamu Alaykum, Who was the founder of the concept of Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb and how did he categorize a country as Dar al-Islam or Dar al-Harb?
Jasser Auda
Salam, Yasin.

Thank you for your important question which deals with a topic that has serious implications on Muslim-non-Muslim relations and the status of Muslim minorities everywhere.

First of all, the terms 'dar al-harb' (the land of war) and 'dar al-Islam' (the land of Islam) appear nowhere in the Quran or what we know about the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

They were suggested afterwards towards the end of the first Islamic century to roughly define the 'political borders' of the time, between a youthful Islamic state and all surrounding 'enemies'. They were then included in the various traditional schools of Islamic law that were formed in the first half of the second Islamic century.

At that time, everything about 'international politics', to use a modern term, was about war. And thus, related interpretations and opinions that the Muslim jurists introduced were all subject to these political boarders and their religious, security, social, and economical implications. This was totally justified.

What is not justified is the insistence of some of today's jurists to use the same terms and build fiqh (rulings and fatwas) on them. They deal with these terms as if they were 'nusus' (religious scripts) and they copy what the jurists had judged based on them a thousand years ago and apply these judgments to today's world and politics.

The reality is that the world is no longer divided into this simplistic binary division of friends and foes. Even today's jurists who copy from the old fatwas a third intermediate category (dar al-ahd), or the land of the covenant, which was introduced a few centuries later still do not do justice to the reality of today's international relations and its complications.

In order to clearly show the 'outdateness' of these concepts, let us revise some basic definitions that they had in traditional schools of Islamic law. The following are some definitions of 'dar al-harb' and 'dar al-Islam'.

  1. Ibn al-Qayyim (1292-1349) defines dar al-Islam as 'the land where the Islamic rulings are clearly applied' (Ibn al-Qayyim, Ahkam Ahl al-Dhimmah, Ramadi Publishers, Dammam, 1418 A.H., vol., 2, p. 728). Thus, dar al-harb would be the land where the Islamic rulings are not clearly applied.

A quick look at this definition shows us that it is problematic, at least today, because almost every Muslim agrees that the 'full set of Islamic rulings', whatever that is, is not applied in full anywhere.

And if we look at the application of the Islamic rulings on the individual level, which is basically individual freedoms to practice Islam, we will realize that some European, Asian, and American countries, for example, are closer to 'dar al-Islam' than some Arab countries.

  1. Al-Dusouki (1230-1815), interestingly, defines dar al-Islam as 'the land where most of the Islamic acts of worship are freely practiced, even if the rulers are not Muslim' (Al-Dusouki, Hashiyat al-Dusouki ala al-Sharh al-Kabir, Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, no date, vol., 2, p. 188).

Thus, dar al-harb would be the land where the Islamic acts of worship cannot be practiced. A quick look at this definition also shows us that this will include in the definition some European, Asian, and American countries, for example, and exclude some 'Islamic' countries, for example.

  1. Ibn Abidin (1784-1836) looked at the issue of 'security' and thus defined dar al-Islam as 'the land where Muslims feel secure' (Ibn Abidin, Hashiyat Ibn Abidin, Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, 1421 A. H., vol., 3, p. 353)

A quick look at this definition also shows us that it will include in the definition some European and Asian countries along with the United States of America for example, while excluding some 'Islamic' countries for example.

In my opinion, today's jurists should simply discard these two concepts as history. They ought to issue related fatwas and edicts today with the help of specialists in international relations, who would be best equipped to explain the position of each state/government with respect to Islam and Muslims.

Fatwas should also take into consideration the changeable nature of international politics and the role that elections everywhere play in changing the policies of governments.

Finally, it is very wrong, from an Islamic law point of view, to label any of today's countries 'dar al-harb', except in areas where there is a clear war that is fought against Muslim populations.

Labeling some European and Asian countries or the USA, for example, 'dar al-harb' defeats the purpose and is seriously destructive, because it implies a set of exceptional and aggressive rules that would only practically go against the Islamic values and morals, in addition to tarnishing the image of Islam everywhere.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.


Useful Links:

Are We in Dar Al-Kufr?

Muslims in the West: Take It or Leave It?

Ethics Between Islam and the West

The Future of Islam in America

Searching for a Land of Justice

Moving to the Muslim Lands