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Dār al-Ḥarb

By:
Mohammad-Reza Djalili, Elizabeth Keller, Matthew Gray
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Dār al-Ḥarb

The concept of dār al-ḥarb, or the “realm of war,” comes from the dualistic worldview of the classical Islamic legal tradition. It is not a Qurʿānic term, but rather one that emerged from early scholarly debate and jurisprudence. It denotes the territories bordering the dār al-Islām, the leaders of which are called upon, under threat of invasion, to convert to Islam. In interpreting dār al-ḥarb, jurists have traced the concept back to the time of the Prophet, citing messages sent by him to the emperors of Persia, Abyssinia, and Byzantium, and to other leaders, summoning them to choose between conversion and war.

Dār al-ḥarb is thus an enemy territory outside the jurisdiction of Islamic law that must be converted to Islamic territory. By early and traditional interpretation, the inhabitants of dār al-ḥarb (called al-ḥarbī or ahl al-ḥarb) are defined as those who have refused to convert after being enjoined to do so. This conversion can be effected through conquest if the leaders do not submit. From the moment the leaders of dār al-ḥarb accept Islam, this territory is considered an integral part of dār al-Islām. Conversely, an Islamic territory conquered by or submitted to the rule of non-Muslims becomes dār al-ḥarb when non-Muslim law replaces Islamic law.

Two problems have bedeviled the use and applicability of dār al-ḥarb. One is that the utility of the term dār al-ḥarb quickly became questionable as Islamic empires and then states arose; this demolished the argument that Muslims constituted in practice a single ummah (community). In the contemporary world, the concept has lost much of its significance, given the formation of the global state system and the entry of Muslim countries into the modern international juridical order, although some Islamic scholars see it as a concept of divine origin that is therefore timeless and immutable.

The second problem is that of defining territories that do not fall neatly into the categories of dār al-ḥarb or dār al-Islām. Medieval scholars thus developed the concepts of dār al-amān to cover a territory that is non-Muslim but at peace with dār al-Islām; dār al-amān is sometimes used now to denote Muslim communities outside the Muslim world but enjoying freedom of religion. In the Ottoman period, the terms dār al-ʿahd or dār al-ṣulḥ (the realm of truce/treaty) were developed for Christian areas that accepted Ottoman sovereignty and some taxation but also maintained a degree of semi-autonomy.

That the concept of dār al-ḥarb exists does not mean that Islamic international law can be considered fundamentally violent or belligerent. Islamic thought sees war as undesirable, even evil, but also as necessary to repel aggression, avoid a division or weakening of the ummah, and ensure the triumph of divine justice. Thus the concepts of defensive and offensive jihād, as the basis for the idea of dār al-ḥarb, requires adherence to precise norms and rules that must be followed in times of war; examples include a distinction between combatants and noncombatants, the humane treatment of prisoners, rules on supply and blockades, and proportionate use of force.

See also DāR AL-ISLāM; DāR AL-ṢULḥ; and JIHāD.

Bibliography

  • Abel, A.“Dār al-Ḥarb.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2d ed., vol. 2, p. 129. Leiden, 1960–.
  • Bonney, Richard. Jihād: From Qurʿān to Bin Laden. New York, 2004.
  • Khadduri, Majid. “Islam and the Modern Law of Nations.”American Journal of International Law50, no. 2 (1956): 358–372.
  • Lambton, Ann K. S.“A Nineteenth Century View of Jihad.”Studia Islamica32 (1970): 181–192.
  • Māwardī, Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī ibn Muḥammad al-. Les statuts gouvernementaux, ou, Règles de droit public et administratif. Translated by Edmond Fagnan. Beirut, 1982.
  • Parvin, Manoucher, and Maurice Sommer. “Dar al-Islam: The Evolution of Muslim Territoriality and Its Implication for Conflict Resolution in the Middle East.”International Journal of Middle East Studies12 (1980): 1–21.
  • Proctor, J. Harris, ed.Islam and International Relations. London, 1965.
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