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New book outlines Islam’s influence on refugee law

Three Rohingya boys smile to the camera in southern Bangladesh. Muslim residents from Myanmar's northern Rakhine State, the Rohingya are de jure stateless in accordance to the laws of Myanmar
(David Swanson/IRIN)

Islam’s 1,400-year-old tradition of generosity and hospitality towards refugees has had more influence on modern-day international refugee law than any other historical source, says a new book by Ahmed Abu al-Wafa, a professor of law at Cairo University.

The book entitled The Right to Asylum Between Islamic Shari’ah and International Refugee Law: A Comparative Study was published on 23 June by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in cooperation with Naif Arab University and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

In the book, al-Wafa describes how Sharia (Islamic law) and Islamic tradition respect refugees, including those who are not Muslims. UNHCR said in a press release that Islam also forbids forcing non-Muslim refugees to change their beliefs; avoids compromising their rights; seeks to reunite families; and guarantees the protection of their lives and property.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, who commissioned the study, states in the book’s foreword that the modern-day legal framework upon which the UNHCR bases its worldwide activities in assisting millions of uprooted people is based in part on Islamic law and tradition. “This includes the right of everyone to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution as well as prohibitions against sending those in need of protection back into danger,” Guterres says.

Some Muslim scholars, for example Khadija Elmadmad from Morocco, argue that ‘hijrah’ law, which encompasses Islamic theory and teachings on refugees and forced displacement, gives more protection to asylum-seekers and refugees than international humanitarian law.

They further argue that if `hijrah’ law, which is rarely invoked today, were applied, it could contribute hugely to the protection of refugees and the displaced.

In Islamic history, asylum-seeking and the status of being a refugee are recurring themes - all the more pertinent now in view of the increasing numbers of such people from Muslim countries, say Muslim scholars.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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