I recently finished a book about the Quran, and it got me wondering about what Islamic Law (or Shari’ah) has to say about asylum.
With the help of the mighty Google, I found an interesting paper on the subject from 2009: The Right to Asylum between Islamic Shari’ah and International Refugee Law: A Comparative Study. The study is by Prof. Ahmed Abou-El-Wafa, chief of the department of public international law at Cairo University, and was written for the United Nations. The study was meant to begin a conversation and get feedback from various experts in preparation for publishing the second edition of the study. This conversation is apparently on-going.
Obviously, I am no expert in Shari’ah law, but I reviewed the initial study and I thought I would mention a few highlights. The document begins with a quote from the Quran:
Those who believed and emigrated, and strove in the cause of God, as well as those who hosted them and gave them refuge, and supported them, these are the true believers. They have deserved forgiveness and a generous recompense. (Quranic Surat al-Anfal, “The Spoils of War” [Chapter 8 verse 74]).
From there, the study sets forth the conditions for granting asylum under Islamic law. For one thing, refugees should be “warmly welcomed… and well treated.” “This is clear from the divine phrase [in the Quran that] those who ‘show their affection to such as came to them for refuge…’ and consequently [they] should not be expelled to the borders (refouled) or denied admission.” Indeed, asylum seekers “should not be rejected , even if the inhabitants of the territory of asylum are in dire poverty… as the [Quran] says, ‘… even though poverty was their (own lot).’” The study further states that “Islam categorically disallows that a refugee be returned to a place where there are fears for his basic freedoms and rights (such as being subjected to persecution, torture, degrading or other treatment).”
Most of the examples in the study involve granting asylum to Muslims, but the law of asylum also extends to non-Muslims who are seeking protection. This is based on a “well-known Islamic principle, i.e. ‘Before the world’s calamities, all sons of Adam (human beings) are equal.’”
The study also discusses the case of a person who enters Muslim territory without permission for the purpose of seeking asylum. While non-Muslims are generally not permitted to enter Muslim lands without permission (and may be severely punished if they do), people who enter for the purpose of seeking asylum are not subject to penalties and should be offered protection.
Interestingly, as in international law, Islamic law lists certain people who are ineligible for asylum. One group that is not eligible are criminals, “particularly those who have committed acts warranting prescribed penalties (hodoud, e.g. willful murder).” Also, people who have committed “grievances” in their home country are ineligible. Here, Islamic law distinguishes between offering asylum and sheltering offenders. The latter is not allowed. Further, a grant of asylum to a specific person “may be coupled with an agreement concluded with him.” Failure to abide by the agreement can have “grave consequences.”
The report concludes that “Observance of this right [to asylum] as enshrined by Islam is a duty for every zealous Muslim.”
While the concept of asylum exists under Shari’ah law, many Islamic countries, including the wealthy Gulf states, have not signed on to international treaties concerning refugees and do not offer asylum to people fleeing persecution. I hope Professor Ahmed’s study reaches those Islamic governments that do not offer protection to refugees. Not only do such governments fail to fulfill the duties incumbent upon all nations; it seems they also fail to fulfill their obligations under Islamic law.
Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Jason Dzubow's practice focuses on immigration law, asylum, and appellate litigation. Mr. Dzubow is admitted to practice law in the federal and state courts of Washington, DC and Maryland, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fourth, Eleventh, and DC Circuits, all Immigration Courts in the United States, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Capital Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition. In June 2009, CAIR Coalition honored Mr. Dzubow for his Outstanding Commitment to Defending the Rights and Dignity of Detained Immigrants.