– Understanding Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb.

(© Zubair Qamar 2013)

The Islamophobe, Patrick Sookhdeo, says,

“A basic precept of classical Islamic teaching divides the world into two kinds of territory, Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb. Dar al-Islam or “the house of Islam” consists of those areas under Muslim control. The rest of the world, which is under infidel (non-Muslim) control, is significantly known as Dar al-Harb, “the house of war.” This name is given to infidel-controlled areas because Muslims are obliged to subdue Dar al-Harb and turn it into Dar al-Islam.”[[i]]

Did classical Sunni Muslims understand the division of the world in this simplistic manner? The matter is more complex. It is therefore important to steer away from a bipolar, Muslim-versus-non-Muslim understanding of Islam.

Contemporary Sunni scholar, Zaid Shakir, explains this simplistic understanding.

“[T]he often-cited division of the world into Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb fits well with attempts to explain the inevitability of a clash between Islam and the West.”

“However,” he says,

“it does not really give us an idea of the nuances and complexities of those terms, nor the diverse ways in which Muslim thinkers, over an extended period of time, defined and actually applied them.”

Shakir then provides examples of the various views of classical Sunni scholars. For example, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad b. al-Hasan ash-Shaybani, the two companions of Imam Abu Hanifah,

“viewed a land governed by the laws of the nonbelievers as constituting a land of disbelief, even if populated by Muslims.”

However,

“Imam ash-Shafi’i viewed a land populated by nonbelievers who are not at war with the Muslims as not constituting Dar al-Harb.”

Shakir then says,

“Therefore, according to these definitions, most of today’s Muslim countries, which are governed by secular law codes, are not Dar al-Islam.”

Regarding most non-Muslim countries today that have peaceful relations with the Muslim world, they are not considered Dar al-Harb. Sookhdeo omits this from his understanding. Shakir says,

“To reinforce this point, let us ask…‘[w]ould Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, two conservative nations that waged war against the Muslim nation of Iraq be considered Dar al-Islam or Dar al-Harb?’ Such questions reveal nuances that clearly weigh against the simplistic arguments being advanced by a growing wave of anti-Islamic polemicists and pundits and their Muslim ideological equivalents.”[[ii]]

Moreover, Imam Shawkani believed that land not ruled by Muslims can still be called Dar al-Islam provided that Muslims can practice their faith safely.[[iii]] Author Al-Dawoody also says,

“Present-day non-Muslim countries would…be classified as dar al-Islam according to Abu Hanifah’s definition […].”[[iv]]

Abu Hanifah’s ijtihad, or understanding of the Islamic sources, is followed by most Muslims today.

There are also many other divisions that the authors neglect to mention. For example, Dar al-Sulh, Dar al-`Ahd, Dar al-Muwada’ah (house of peace, house of covenant, house of reconciliation)[[v]] Of `Abd al-Rahman al-Haj, Al-Dawoody explains his view that

“classical jurists coined thirty-four conceptual divisions related the word dar, including dar al-muhajirin, dar al-hijrah, dar al-baghy, dar al-da’wah, dar al-dhimmah, dar al-riddah, dar al-shirk, and dar al-`Arab.”[[vi]]

He then concludes,

“It is…unfortunate that all these juridical political concepts are ignored, so that the Islamic worldview is oversimplified as one of perpetual war between Muslims and so-called infidels.”[[vii]]

Sookhdeo and others who hold this simplistic understanding are guilty of omitting the details of Sunni jurisprudence and misleading readers.

In addition, most Muslims today do not divide the world into two polar opposites. Scholar and author, Khaled Abou El Fadl, says,

“Many…books written by non-Muslim scholars in the West perpetuate the myth that Islamic law invariably dictates that the world should be divided into two abodes forever locked into conflict. Often the same books falsely assume that most Muslims today adhere to the same bipolar view of the world. This, of course, is not an accurate description of Islamic legal doctrine; moreover, it does not accurately describe the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of Muslims today.”[[viii]]

Islamophobes and “Islamic” militants would like to simplify a more complex matter.  Sunni Islam, however, has already discussed the complexities in its 1,000+ years long tradition.


[[i]] “Islam and Christianity: Why Muslims Dominate and Christians Suffer,” Patrick Sookhdeo, October 3, 2012, accessed June 2, 2013,
http://patricksookhdeo.com/2012/10/islam-and-christianity-why-muslims-dominate-and-christians-suffer/

[[ii]] Zaid Shakir, “Jihad is not Perpetual Warfare,” New Islamic Directions, 2008, accessed May 27, 2013, http://www.newislamicdirections.com/nid/notes/jihad_is_not_perpetual_warfare.

The original article can be read in  Shakir, Zaid. Scattered Pictures: Reflections of an American Muslim: An Anthology of Essays. Hayward, Calif.: Zaytuna Institute, 2005. pp.121-141.

[[iii]]Ahmed Al-Dawoody. The Islamic Law of War: Justifications and Regulations. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. p.93.

[[iv]] Ibid., p.95.

[[v]] Ibid., p.93.

[[vi]] Ibid., p.96.

[[vii]] Ibid., p.96.

[[viii]] Khaled Abou El Fadl. The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005. pp. 230-231.