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Hostages

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Hostages

    Hostages are people who are captured and held by a group in an effort to force a third party to comply with the group's demands. Hostage taking usually involves serious threats to the safety of the captives.

    The Arabic term for hostages, raha'in, means persons held as security. Classical Islamic law, which developed from the 700s to the 1100s, permitted a Muslim country to exchange hostages with a non-Muslim state to ensure that the terms of a treaty were being upheld. Muslims were prohibited from killing the captives for any reason, even if the other party violated the agreement. If war broke out, Muslim forces were commanded to safely return the hostages to their country of origin. Furthermore, Islamic law prohibited the use of civilians as human shields to prevent attack in an armed conflict.

    Islamic scholars also developed criteria for the treatment of non-Muslim civilians whose governments had no peace treaty with a Muslim country. During a war, these individuals could be detained, but they could not be used in negotiations with the enemy power. In other words, no captive could be considered a hostage.

    After Islamic nations gained their independence from colonial rule in the mid-1900s, most of them formally approved the Geneva Conventions, a series of international treaties governing the treatment of soldiers and civilians during wartime. These agreements prohibit the taking of hostages.

    Despite the requirements of Islamic and international law, hostage taking remains an issue in the Middle East. One of the most notorious cases occurred in Iran in 1979 . After the American-supported regime of Reza Shah Pahlavi collapsed, Islamic revolutionaries seized control of the government. The Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran's political and religious leader, was bitterly opposed to the West and encouraged Iranians to engage in anti-American activities. In November 1979 , Iranian students attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 70 American hostages. Iran kept the captives for more than 400 days.

    Members of guerrilla groups or national liberation movements have justified the taking of hostages as a means of fulfilling their political goals. On June 14, 1985, Lebanese Shi'i Muslims hijacked a TWA jet on its way from Athens to Rome. The terrorists, who were members of the Hizbullah organization, held 39 passengers captive in Lebanon and demanded the release of Lebanese prisoners being held in Kuwait, Israel, and Spain. In January 2002 , Islamic terrorists in Pakistan kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. They killed Pearl when the United States did not respond to their demands for the release of Pakistanis held at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in connection with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Although some Muslims have claimed that hostage taking is a practical necessity, most view it as un-Islamic and illegal. See also Khomeini, Ruhollah al-Musavi; September 11, 2001; Terrorism.

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