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A review on the Book “Refugee Status in Islam”

The book “Refugee Status in Islam: Concepts of Protection in Islamic Tradition and International Law is based on Arafat Madi Shoukri’s PhD thesis.

The book Refugee Status in Islam is based on Shoukri’s PhD thesis (completed in 2007), and addresses a highly significant and generally under-researched area of study pertaining to the development of concepts of protection in Islam. Drawing on a variety of sources, ranging from classical Muslim scholars to the Prophet’s traditions (sı-ra)and hadith, to Arabic literature and poetry, Shoukri traces the history and meaning of key terms relevant to the field of refugee studies, ultimately comparing the Islamic interpretation and practice regarding protection, with the contemporary internationall egal regime.

Following a two page introduction, the book is structured along broadly chronological lines, and consists of chapters of dramatically different lengths (ranging from a 13-page first chapter, to Chapter Four, which is 96 pages long). In the first chapter, Shoukri briefly proposes that during the pre-Islamic period (an era known in Arabicas the jahiliyya),the concept and mechanisms of granting jiwar(protection) had already been institutionalized through a range of tribal and moral codes prevalent across the Arabian Peninsula. He notes the existence of a variety of spaces considered to have ‘a certain sanctity and inviolability’, including ‘even the normal tents in which the Bedouin lived’ (p. 7), whilst also providing a brief definition of three terms whichare pivotal to the subsequent chapters: the first two are mustajı-r(the protected) andmujı-r(the protector), which in turn lead to an explanation of jiwa-r, which ‘could in essence be defined as a contract between two parties where one asks for protection and the other grants it to him or her’ (p. 4). Overall, Shoukri suggests that pre-Islamicjiwa-r‘was basically an exchange of bounty between the mustajı-rand the mujı-r. While the mustajı-rgot the material help and protection needed, the mujı-rreceived praise,fame and high status among the tribes’ (p. 10).

In contrast, the second chapter describes the development both of mechanisms to grant protection during the Meccan period, and of faith-based motivations to do so.Outlining the Prophet Mohammad’s experiences of forced migration to Mecca, Shoukri considers that the genealogical system which was central to Mecca’s hierarchical sociopolitical structures in turn provided protection to ‘the Prophet from the polytheists of Mecca on many occasions’ (p. 18). The advent of Islam subsequently led to changes in the concept of jiwa-r, developing to not only carry a pragmatic understanding of granting protection (i.e. how the mustajı-ris to seek and be granted protection by the mujı-r), but also to represent a divine path: granting protection became a means for Muslim protectors to attempt to bring the protected to Islam,promising Paradise to the protector and (potentially) the protected alike. The remainder of the chapter describes subsequent processes of forced migration experienced by the Prophet and other Muslims, outlining the ways in which Muslim men and women granted protection to both Muslims and non-Muslims in need. In this sense, Shoukri proposes that the principle of jiwar‘became a Heavenly obligation on Muslims through the Prophetic practice and verses of the Qur’an’ (p. 43).

Chapter Three explores the concept of ‘Aman(safe conduct) in the Islamic tradition,’ outlining the different forms of protection which were offered to different populations according to their religious identities, their points of origin, and their particular needs when seeking sanctuary in Islamic states (p. 84). Indeed, while theterm mustajı-r(the protected, sing.) could refer both to Muslims and non-Muslims seeking protection, the muha-jı-ru-n(pl. masc.) were exclusively Muslim emigrants inneed of sanctuary, while the musta’minun(pl. masc.) included Muslims and non-Muslims who originated from outside of the Islamic states and required protection, or safe conduct, whilst living in an Islamic state. With reference to the latter, the term ahl al-dhimmah broadly refers to those non-Muslim individuals and communities who originated from outside of the Islamic states, and yet belonged to one of the covenant faiths (primarily Judaism and Christianity). By entering into a covenant (or agreement) with the Islamic state, agreeing to pay a tax and follow‘the general rulings of Muslims,’ the ahl al-dhimmah were able to continue practis-ing their faith and ‘enjoying the protection of the Muslims’ (p. 59). While non-Muslim mustajı-ru-nand musta’minu-nwere solely eligible to be granted temporary protection, muha-jı-ru-nand ahl al-dhimmah alike were granted permanent protection. In addition to providing an outline of the history and mechanisms of granting protection, the materials addressed in this chapter therefore also outline the modes of cohabitation between different religious groups throughout diverse periods of Islamic history.

The second half of the book (corresponding to Chapter Four, pp. 87–183) presents an overview of 24 articles from the 1951 Geneva Convention ‘in the light of the Islamic tradition’ (p. 87). Shoukri outlines the content of each article, before comparing each one in turn with his earlier discussions apropos Islamic concepts of protection, aiming, in the process, to identify similarities and differences between international law and Islamic tradition. He then concludes the 94-page chapter with one page of recommendations, summarizing that ‘I believe the Geneva Convention is fully in tune with the Islamic tradition and the Arab and Islamic states should sign it’(p. 183).

While Chapter Four addresses each article in great detail, this final chapter is mechanical in nature, and is excessively long. The chapter could helpfully have been divided into more manageable and comprehensive sections, including a theoretical reflection on the relationship between both historical and modern Islamic conceptualizations of protection, and contemporary international legal frameworks (for instance,see Elmadmad 2008). A related issue which should have been addressed in this concluding chapter (especially in light of the extensive definitions provided in the preceding pages) entails the evolution of Arabic terminology pertaining to protection.Indeed, while Shoukri argues that ‘in the Islamic tradition there are three terms [i.e.mustajı-r,muha-jı-rand musta’min] that come close to the meaning of the modern term‘‘refugee’’’ (p. 93, emphasis added), he fails to explore or analyse the modern termsused in Arabic which directly equate to contemporary conceptualizations of ‘seeking refuge’ (luju’), ‘refugee’ (laji’), ‘seeking asylum’ (Talab luju’), and ‘asylum-seeker’(Ta-lib luju’).

In addition to the striking absence of an analysis of these contemporary terms, arrange of pertinent academic articles apropos Islam and asylum are excluded from Shoukri’s overview. While recognizing the relevance of the Cairo Declaration ofHuman Rights in Islam and the Arab Charter on Human Rights, Shoukri asserts that ‘[r]egrettably, Muslim scholars in modern times have paid little attention to theissue of refuge, as far as their studies and debates are concerned’ (p. 92). Unfortunately, such an assertion (and the related bibliography) fails to recognize orengage with an ever-expanding body of literature pertaining to this topic (e.g.Elmadmad 1999, 2008; ‘Abd al-Rahim 2008; Agha 2008; Manuty 2008). While some of these articles and entire Special Issues dedicated to this area may havebeen published after Shoukri submitted his doctoral thesis (including the abovemen-tioned contributions to Tu¨rk’s 2008 Special Issue of Refugee Survey Quarterly), an effort should have been made to include these more recent contributions to academic debates in this 2011 publication; the exclusion of a range of pertinent references from the early 2000s (including Muzaffar’s 2001 article published in this journal) is even more prominent.

The book reviewed by Yousif M. Qasmiyeh and published in Journal of Refugee Studies 24(3):629-632 · September 2011.

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