A Critique of the Terms Dar ul-Islam, Dar ul-Kufr and Dar ul-Harb
By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)
Fiqh is considered to be a major source of the shariah after the Quran and Hadith. Fiqh is a product of the exercise of human reflection, deduction and ijtihad, and is not itself a form of divine knowledge. The development and compilation of the corpus of fiqh began after the period of the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions, particularly at the time of the Abbasids. The ulema of that period reflected on the Quran and Hadith and developed certain terms on their own. Three key terms in this regard are dar ul-islam (‘abode of Islam’), dar ul-kufr (‘abode of infidelity’) and dar ul-harb (‘abode of war’). The fuqaha, scholars of fiqh, made further finer distinctions within each of these dars or ‘abodes’, but in this article I will consider only these three main terms.
The fuqaha who developed these terms in the Abbasid period were regarded by later ulema as ‘full-fledged mujtahids’ (mujtahid-e mutlaq), and that is why for many centuries no scholar raised any question as to the veracity of these terms. However, if approached with an open mind, one realizes that these terms are undoubtedly not in accordance with the spirit of Islam.
These terms that the fuqaha devised are, it is crucial to note, not present in the Quran and in the Hadith. The fuqaha invented these terms using their prerogative of ijtihad. Now, there are certain strict rules for proper ijtihad, and if these rules are not followed the ijtihad is wrong. That is why the ulema agree that the ijtihad of a mujtahid can be both right as well as wrong.
Ijtihad is a principle of the shariah. The ulema generally agree that this principle is rooted in a Hadith report attributed to Maaz bin Jabal, a Companion of the Prophet, who, when he was sent to Yemen by the Prophet, was asked how he would solve any problem that he faced. He replied that he would do so in accordance with the Quran. The Prophet asked him if the matter was not mentioned in the Quran what he would do, to which he answered that he would abide in that regard with the Prophet’s practice (sunnat). The Prophet asked him that if the matter was not dealt with in his sunnat what he would do, and Maaz bin Jabal replied that he would exercise his judgment through ijtihad. The Prophet appreciated this reply.
The ulema regard this Hadith report as the basic source and foundation of the principle of ijtihad. This Hadith report indicates very clearly that ijtihad is legitimate only when no explicit guidance is available on a particular matter in the Quran and in the sunnat of the Prophet. If such guidance is available in either or both of these sources, then ijtihad is not permissible. For instance, from the Quran it is evident that the month of fasting is Ramadan, and so there is no possibility of ijtihad in deciding the month of fasting. Likewise, the Hadith indicates that the number of compulsory daily prayers is five, and so no one can seek to engage in ijtihad in this matter in order to reduce or increase this figure.
Based on this principle, it is apparent that there is clear guidance in the Quran and Prophetic sunnat about the conditions that the terms dar ul-islam, dar ul-kufr and dar-ul harb denote, although they do not use these terms. Because of this, it is not proper for any scholar or faqih to engage in ijtihad to develop new terms to denote these concepts or conditions. Now, the conditions that these three terms devised by the later fuqaha describe were present at the time of the Prophet himself, but, despite this, the Prophet did not use these terms to denote these conditions. Hence, these terms cannot be regarded as a result of proper and acceptable ijtihad.
The first thirteen years of the Prophet’s life in Mecca after he received his Prophethood till his migration to Medina were characterized by conditions which the later fuqaha invented the term dar ul-kufr to describe. Yet, neither the Quran nor the Hadith reports described the Mecca of this period as dar ul-kufr.
Following the Prophet’s migration to Medina, the Meccans launched an open war against him. In other words, the Mecca of this period was characterized by conditions for which the later fuqaha invented the term dar ul-harb. Yet, neither the Quran nor the Hadith reports refer to the Mecca of this period as dar ul-harb.
Following his migration to Medina, the Prophet established a polity of which he was the head. In other words, the conditions in Medina at this time were those that the later fuqaha developed the term dar ul-islam to denote. Yet, the Quran did not describe the Medina of that period as dar ul-islam and neither did the Prophet.
The Quran refers to heaven as dar us-salam or the ‘abode of peace’ (Surah Yunus: 25) but it does not refer to any place on earth as dar ul-islam or dar ul-iman (‘abode of faith’). Likewise, the Quran refers to the place of punishment after death for deniers of the truth as dar ul-bavar or the ‘abode of loss’ (Surah Ibrahim: 28), but it does not term any piece of land on earth as dar ul-kufr or dar ul-kuffar (‘abode of infidels’). In other words, the use of the terms dar ul-islam, dar ul-harb and dar ul-kufr is not permissible. These terms represent a wrong innovation (biddat), rather than being a Prophetic practice (sunnat).
It is clear from what I have written that the conditions for which the later fuqaha invented the terms dar ul-islam, dar ul-kufr and dar ul-harb to describe were present at the time of the Prophet himself at different stages of his life and in different places. Yet, these were not referred to at the time of the Prophet by these terms. Under these circumstances, one can rightly argue that in coining these terms the fuqaha of the Abbasid period exceeded the bounds of legitimate ijtihad. In other words, they sought to do something for which they did not have the right.
It can, therefore, be clearly stated that these terms as coined by the fuqaha are an instance of wrong or erroneous ijtihad. Hence, a scholar of Islam is within his rights to reject this ijtihad. Since they represent a biddat, they must be rejected, for in a Hadith report the Prophet is said to have exhorted Muslims to reject anything new that might be sought to be added to his faith.
The debate about these three terms is no mere academic or peripheral one. Rather, it is an exceedingly serious issue, for it is inextricably linked to the way in which many Muslims view the world. These terms, needless to say, help create an unwarranted sense among Muslims of being God’s ‘chosen people’. This sort of mentality is, in actual fact, a sign of a community’s downfall, rather than its eminence, as is clear from the example of the Jews.
From the Quran it is evident that God does not view the world on the basis of, or in terms of, divisions between dar ul-islam, dar ul-kufr and dar ul-harb. God regards all human beings through one and only one perspective. He will deal with human beings after their death based on a single common criterion. In this regard, it is pertinent to note that the Quran sternly forbids people from imagining that they are loved more by God than other peoples just because they belong to a certain community (Surah Al-Maida: 18). The Quran clearly states that in God’s eyes a person’s value is determined not on the basis of his communitarian association or race, but, rather, on the basis of her or his own actions (Surah An-Najm: 39). The Quran brackets Muslims with Jews and Christians and says, ‘It will not be in accordance with your desires, nor the desires of the people of the Scriptures. He who doeth wrong will have the recompense thereof, and will not find against Allah any protecting friend or helper’ (Surah An-Nisa: 123).
In other words, the concept of the superiority of a certain community based on birth is totally alien to the Quran. This is clearly indicated, for instance, in the Quranic verse which says: ’ ‘Lo! Those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabaeans—whoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day and doeth right—surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve’ (Surah Al-Baqarah:62). This means that the Muslim community, the Jewish community and the Christian community are, from the communitarian point of view, the same in God’s eyes. Success in the court of God will depend not on one’s communitarian affiliation, but, rather, on one’s actions.
This statement of the Quran indicates, therefore, that the true Islamic perspective is to see the cosmos in terms of God versus humanity, rather than in terms of Muslims versus non-Muslims. The latter way of thinking is a narrow communal one, and has no relationship with the Quran or with Islam. It is against God’s creation plan, for God has made this world for all creatures, and not just for Muslims alone. This is why, in the light of the Quran, if the concept of dar or abode is to be used it can be said that the entire world is a dar ul-insan or ‘abode of humanity’.
Because of the way of imagining the world on the basis of the three dars that the fuqaha had devised, Muslims began to see things in a narrow, sectarian way, in terms of Muslims versus others. As a result, Muslims began relating to human history simply from their own reference point. They started classifying people from their own narrow point of view, considering themselves as one and all others as belonging to the community of ‘kafirs’. They considered all fellow Muslims as their own, and the rest as ‘others’, as ‘kafirs’ and as potential enemies. They wrongly thought that all the good news that the Quran talks of referred to them alone, and that the punishments that it speaks of applies to the rest of humanity.
This way of imagining and dividing humankind that Muslims have devised is totally against the Quran. The Quran clearly indicates that it classifies and categories humankind with reference to God. In contrast, the concept of the dars as developed by the fuqaha divided humankind with reference to Muslims, into two conflicting categories, Muslims and non-Muslims. This way of looking at humankind is now deeply-rooted among Muslims. This is why almost all the books penned by Muslim scholars that describe Muslim history after the period of the Prophet reflect what can be called a Muslim-centric approach. The only exception to this rule that I can think of is the well-known Muqadimma or ‘Introduction’ to world history by Abdur Rahman Ibn Khaldun, which is the only work of a Muslim historian that I know of which reflects a Humanity-oriented approach. Likewise, and because of this adversarial mentality, in which the concept of the dars as developed by the later fuqaha has played a major role in promoting, almost all books written by Muslim scholars seeking to address non-Muslims have taken the form of heated polemics, giving the impression that the generality of humankind is not a matter of particular concern for Muslims. This is indeed very unfortunate.
The commentaries that were written by later Islamic scholars on the Quran and Hadith also could not escape the influence of the notion of the dars that the Abbasid fuqaha had developed. Thus, for instance, the Quran uses the term khair ummat (Surah Al-Imran: 110). Later Quranic commentators took this to be synonymous with the Muslim community as a whole, as indicating that the Muslim community in its entirety was the best among all communities. However, it is clear that this is not the intention of the Quran, which refers in this verse not to a group based on birth, but, rather, to a collectivity based on their personal virtues, good attributes and actions.
The same communitarian prejudices which the concept of the dars had given such a boost to are evident in the works of numerous later Hadith commentators as well. For instance, it is reported in the Sahih of Al-Bukhari, a renowned collection of Hadith, that once, in Medina, a funeral procession carrying a corpse passed by the Prophet, who was at that moment sitting down. On seeing this he got up. When he was told that it was the funeral ceremony of a Jew, he replied, ‘Was he not a human being?’.
This action of the Prophet clearly tells us that every human being is worthy of respect and regard, irrespective of her or his religion. Seeing another person, no matter what his or her religion, should make one remember that just as God has created oneself He has created others as well, and one should then marvel at the miracle of God’s creation. Thinking in this way on seeing another human being is thus a means for seeking to understand God.
So, this incident undoubtedly exemplifies the Prophet’s practice of respect for all humankind. Yet, it is really very strange that no Hadith commentators understood this incident to mean this. In contrast, they cooked up strange explanations for this event. Thus, some claimed that the Prophet’s standing up was not compulsory or necessary (wajib). Others argued that he stood up in fear of death, or that this action of his was just an impulsive reaction. Yet others say that he stood up out of respect for the angel that was walking along with the corpse or for the angel of death (malak ul-maut). Some claim that he stood up out of irritation with the incense [that accompanied the corpse], or that he did so in order that the corpse would not pass higher than his head. Some say that although he stood up, this commandment or practice was later abrogated and does not any longer apply to Muslims. And so on. (Ibn Hajar Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, vol.3, p.214-16).
I believe that all these explanations are incorrect. But because of their peculiar mental make-up, these Hadith commentators did not even realize that the interpretations that they were giving were, God forbid, belittling of the Prophet’s sunnat. And this tradition of negative sentiments about non-Muslims continues even today, through the Muslim media and through the vast number of books that Muslim scholars are producing, which have sought to fortify this communal mind-set of Muslims but which have no positive attraction for or appeal to non-Muslims.
Let me cite a recent instance in this regard. Some time back, a ‘Quran Television’ channel, known as QTV, was launched in a certain Muslim country, and it has proven to be immensely popular with Muslims. Although this channel was launched in the name of the Quran, in actual fact it only serves to provide fodder to the particular psyche of Muslim communitarianism. It does not address non-Muslim minds. In reality, it is a television channel of or for the Muslim community, and not really ‘Quran TV’, unlike what it claims to be.
Not long ago, the noted Indian writer Khushwant Singh penned an article titled ‘Spreading Islamophobia’, wherein he argued:
‘About the most disturbing phenomenon of the past decade is the widening divide between the Islamic and non-Islamic world […] I looked forward to the Pakistani channel QTV to take the lead in this direction. I made it a point to tune in every afternoon to see and hear how it was going about its mission. I was sorely disappointed. I expected it would address itself to non-Muslim audiences among which wrong notions about Islam persist. I found it focused entirely on Muslims to assure them that their faith was better than any other and anyone who disagreed is an ignoramus’.
What Khushwant Singh has written actually applies to almost every Muslim writer and orator. This Muslim-centric mentality, which came into being after the Prophet, is the sole reason why the Muslims completely forgot their mission of dawah or inviting others to the faith. This Muslim-oriented or Muslim-centric thinking makes Muslims ‘Muslim-friendly’, while Humanity-oriented thinking, which the Quran prescribes, should have made Muslims ‘humanity-friendly’. But because Muslims adopted this narrow communitarian mind-set vis-à-vis others, in contrast to what the Quran expects from them, they began to focus simply on their own communitarian concerns, rather than on their actual mission of dawah.
This approach and way of thinking has been continuing for a very long time, and is, as I mentioned earlier, deeply rooted in the work of classical fiqh that developed in the Abbasid period. Literally thousands of books have so far been penned on the subject of fiqh, but these are completely bereft of any chapters to do with dawah and tabligh, or communicating the faith to others. Unfortunately, and reflecting the notion of the dars as devised by the later fuqaha, non-Muslims were treated simply as objects or targets of armed jihad by Muslims in the later fiqh literature, and not as people who should be invited with kindness to the religion of God.
A result of this wholly erroneous way of thinking was that Muslims fell victim to a deadening intellectual stagnation and, at the same time, emerged as enemies for other communities. The relationship between Muslims and others should have been that between missionaries of the faith (da’i) and addressees (mad’u), but this was completely overturned and they both began to see each other as inveterate foes.
The later fuqaha who devised the notions of the dars believed that any land could either be dar ul-islam or dar ul-harb. Some of them even went to the extent of claiming that if in a country ruled by a non-Muslim government Muslims were allowed to follow the prescriptions of Islam it would still be considered as dar ul-harb. If these fuqaha had any consciousness of the need for and duty of dawah and tabligh they would have realized that such a country could have been categorized instead as dar ul-dawah or ‘abode of dawah’.
The term dar ul-harb is seen as hurtful by non-Muslims. Especially in today’s age, Muslims cannot live in a balanced and harmonious way if they carry in their heads this mental baggage represented by the term dar ul-harb. The classical fuqaha could only think of dar ul-islam and dar ul-harb, but, as I said, if they truly understood the imperative of Islamic dawah they could have easily realized that other lands should be considered as places where dawah work needs to be done by Muslims, and hence could have categorized them as dar ud-dawah. Spaces and opportunities for dawah always exist in every country, and even if a country becomes as fiercely opposed to Islam as was Mecca in the first years of the Prophet’s mission it will still remain as dar ud-dawah. No country, no matter what its conditions, can cease being dar ud-dawah, as is evident from the history of the prophets as mentioned in the Quran.
Hence, the fact of the matter is that the entire world, in the sense of being home to all human beings, can be considered as dar ul-insan or ‘abode of humanity’, and, from the point of view of Islamic mission, as dar ud-dawah. Those countries that are commonly thought of as dar ul-islam can, in actual fact, be considered as dar ul-muslimeen or ‘abode of Muslims’ but not truly as dar ul-islam.
The Quran refers to the Prophet as a ‘sincere and trustworthy adviser’ (nasih) (Surah Al-Araf: 68). That is to say that while the Prophet is an adviser or nasih, the people he addresses are mansuh or those whose real welfare should be promoted. In other words, the relation between them is that of a da’i and mad’u, addresser or inviter to the faith and addressee. Because the Prophet Muhammad was the seal of the prophets, after him his followers are required to shoulder this responsibility of dawah. That is to say, the relationship between Muslims and others should be that of nasih and mansuh, or da’i and mad’u. This relationship points to the need for Muslims to have a certain moral character and values. To be effective dais of the faith demands that Muslims must relate with positive virtues to others, irrespective of how the latter might behave with them. Even if they have to suffer torments at the hands of the latter they must never give up patience and determination so that the climate needed for dawah is preserved.
This characteristic of dawah must be maintained at all costs, by ‘ordinary’ Muslims, Muslim governments and their officials, Muslim political parties and their leaders, the Muslim media and Muslims in all other spheres of society. It must be realized that the tradition of fiqh that has devised the concepts of the three dars has done great damage in this regard and has fanned hatred and complaint in the hearts of Muslims against other peoples. It must also be understood that since Islam requires its followers to address others with its message, they cannot have any hatred or complaint against the latter in their capacity of being potential addressees of the Divine message. This is a very serious issue, and demands that the entire question be critically re-examined. Nothing less than this will do.
This task is, undoubtedly, a very difficult one. Muslims today number over a billion, and there are many commercial or vested interests involved that seek to maintain the status quo and that seek to exploit religion for worldly ends. They seek to stoke the emotions of Muslim communalism to promote these nefarious purposes. This makes the task of re-examining our ways of looking at the world and at relating to other communities immensely difficult.
We urgently need a true revival in our way of understanding the world, ourselves and others. According to a Hadith report, the Prophet Muhammad said that after him if anyone revived a practice of his that had gone into neglect, he would receive the reward of a hundred martyrs. This means that reviving a lost Prophetic practice is as major and daunting a task as the sacrifice of a hundred martyrs. This task, therefore, requires in-depth study and knowledge, far-sightedness, wisdom, planning, patience and determination. Without all these, this task cannot succeed.
This is the task of what is termed tajdid-e din or ‘revival of the faith’. This project of revival requires that certain deeply-rooted notions in people’s minds be extirpated. It is a form of de-conditioning of conditioned mindsets or a re-processing of history. It requires the overcoming of a thousand years of history to go back and return to the first period of Islam, the time of the Prophet, and to fashion the framework of Islamic knowledge on the pattern of that period. This is undoubtedly an immensely crucial task before the Muslim ummah. Those who have taken up this task will have to make huge sacrifices.
This is a translation of a chapter titled Dar ul-Islam, Dar ul-Kufr, Dar ul-Harb, in Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s Urdu book Hikmat-e Islam (Goodword Books, New Delhi, 2008) [pp.22-34].