Debate on humanitarian law, policy and action: protection of victims of armed conflict under Islamic law and international humanitarian law.

29-06-2006 Feature

In accordance with the mandate conferred on it by the international community, the ICRC strives to protect and assist victims of armed conflict and other forms of violence, regardless of nationality, ethnic origin, religious beliefs or political opinions.


Siyar: Islamic law of war
  Siyar is the plural of sira, which means biography, history or conduct. The scholars of Islamic law (fiqh) introduced siyar as a technical term meaning the set of rules that govern relations between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds (including both States and individuals).
  The Hanafi school (one of the four great rites of Sunni Islam) was the first to codify the rules of war with the work of Mohammad Ibn al-Hassan al-Shaybani (748-804 AD), the author of the treatises al-siyar al-saghir (small siyar) and al-siyar al-kabir   (large siyar).  
  Another famous scholar of Islamic law, Imam al-Awza’i (707-774 AD), who founded a rite on his own, added to the siyar treatises.  
  Despite their divergences, the authors of the siyar developed a complex Islamic law of war that lays down rules governing, for example, the treatment of enemy persons and property. By affirming the principle of humanity in the midst of war, al-Shaybani and al-Awza’I helped pioneer the modern law of armed conflict. 

More than half of the ICRC's current operations are carried out for conflict victims in the Muslim world – be they   prisoners, displaced persons, families of detainees or other persons requiring aid. In the regions concerned certain conflicts have lasted for decades, while others have broken out more recently, in particular " asymmetric " conflicts between armed groups perpetrating indiscriminate attacks on civilians and States waging a " war on terror. "
Conflicts such as these present major challenges for independent and neutral humanitarian organizations. In the case of the ICRC, they have fueled mistrust of its activities and emblem.
At the same time, ongoing discussions on the roots of humanitarian law have highlighted the fact that the law is a universally accepted set of rules reflecting the values of different civilizations, cultures and religious beliefs, in particular those of Islam, both as a religion and as a civilization boasting a complex and wide-reaching legal system.
In order to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, in particular the growing influence of religion on politics, conflicts and everyday life, the ICRC has stepped up its dialogue with intellectuals, academics and scholars in various parts of the Muslim world, the aim being to lay the foundations for greater mutual understanding, dispel existing misconceptions and find common ground for protecting human dignity in armed conflict.

  • From 30 September to 2 October 2004, the ICRC held an international conference in cooperation with the International Islamic University of Islamabad on the relationship between Islamic law and international humanitarian law. The three-day gathering was attended by representatives of all the major madrassat (Islamic schools) in Pakistan and scholars from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria.

  • From 24 to 25 April 2005, in Yemen's southern port city of Aden, the ICRC, the Yemeni Red Crescent and Aden University held a seminar on the protection of war victims under Islamic law and international humanitarian law. Some 40 Yemeni scholars, academics, members of parliament and religious dignitaries took part.