Peace and Reconciliation in International and Islamic Law: A Book Talk with Kaleem Hussain

Friday 5 April 2024

This blog post is written in relation to the recent Book Talk hosted by MECACS on Kaleem Hussain’s recently published book ‘Peace and Reconciliation in International and Islamic Law’.  Kaleem Hussain is an Honorary Fellow of the Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Associate Fellow the Royal Historical Society as well as an Alumnus of the Euphrates Institute Peace Practice Alliance Programme. He holds an LLB, LLM and PDLGM from the University of Warwick. Hussain’s primary focus is on the role of religion in public life, politics, law and international relations. This blog post was written by Sarah Edgcumbe – a PhD candidate at the University of St Andrews School of International Relations and a Fellow with the Centre for Minorities Research, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, as well as MECACS. Her current doctoral work explores the marginalisation and resistance of Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities in conflict-affected areas.

On 5th March 2024, MECACS welcomed legal scholar and Honorary Fellow of the University of Birmingham’s Edward Cadbury Centre, Kaleem Hussain, to discuss his new book. ‘Peace and Reconciliation in International and Islamic Law’ employs a case study methodology to exploring one of the most pressing questions in current affairs today: How can we bring an end to the protracted conflicts taking place around the world? Is it even possibleAt the time of the book talk, heads of various United Nations (UN) agencies had raised concerns about the dire situation in Gaza. From the world’s foremost platform for international law, they had called for a ceasefire to no avail. “Something is seriously wrong.”

Pointing to several enduring conflicts around the world including Afghanistan, Kashmir, and the catastrophic violence surrounding Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine (a selection of the case study-based chapters of his book), Kaleem highlighted the fact that international humanitarian law is the governing legal paradigm through which conflict is regulated and resolution sought. This privileging of international humanitarian law within the rules-based international order however, has consistently overlooked the positive role that Islamic humanitarian law could play in securing a pathway towards peace when at least one set of the actors participating in the violence are of a Muslim extraction.

Image source: Easy-Peasy.AI. License: CC BY-ND 4.0 DEED

Kaleem explained that the principles of dispute resolution, peace and (re)conciliation located in international humanitarian law, are also central to Islamic humanitarian law, with the latter having a rich history of jurisprudence. The methodologies that govern Islamic jurisprudence are elucidated from a rich corpus of Hadith narrations which focus on dispute resolution, but also govern warfare, the rules and ethics of war such as those prohibiting the targeting of non-combatants and night raids. A key early example of Islamic legal principles being applied to conflict resolution can be found in the Medina Charter, which resolved the conflict between the warring tribes of Medina, and administered their peaceful, equitable, co-habitation. Crucially, the principle of public good is also a core tenet enshrined in Islamic law where the right to life, property, human dignity, and the right to education are all protected.

Recognising the role that Islamic law could play in the resolution of existing protracted conflicts, Kaleem sought to identify the similarities and differences which exist between international humanitarian and Islamic law. Ultimately, Kaleem found that there are many similarities and synergies – most prominently among them, the principle of justice and the humanitarian paradigm. After all, the Qur’an explicitly states, ‘whoever takes a life… it will be as if they killed all of humanity; and whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity.’[1]

While a nascent body of scholarship focuses on comparative analysis of international and Islamic law in relation to conflict resolution,[2] these works tend to focus entirely on legal texts. Kaleem’s book is the first to apply theory to case studies comprising several protracted conflicts – the chapters cover Kashmir, Palestine-Israel, and Afghanistan with occasional reference to other theatres of conflict intertwined with the real-politick machinations that play a pivotal role in the direction of travel for these conflicts. Each case study provides a theatre of conflict against which Kaleem explores the viability of applying the tenets of both international humanitarian law and Islamic law as a means of resolving those conflicts and charting a pathway towards peace.

In the case of Afghanistan for example, given the Taliban’s religious status, would Islamic law help or hinder pathways to peace? Kaleem argues that because the country’s Constitution contains the Islamic jurisprudential model and the lexicon for the Taliban is based on an Islamic comprehension all be it interspersed with tribal and cultural variations, the Islamic legal framework will be the most successful in securing a pathway to peace when looking to negotiate a pathway towards peace. He emphasises here however, that Islamic humanitarian law should not be seen to replace international law per se; rather it should supplement it, providing an additional peacebuilding tool for diplomats and interlocutors to navigate between the two milieus.

‘Taliban insurgents turn themselves in to Afghan National Security Forces at a forward operating base in Puza-i-Eshan’. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. License: CC BY 2.0 DEED 

Kashmir presents an entirely different set of conflict dynamics, as only one party to the conflict is Muslim. How would Islamic law work to resolve conflict in a context marred in colonialism, and in which Muslims, Hindus, and Christians are all stakeholders in peace? Kaleem recognises that Islamic law exclusively would not present a pathway to peace here due to Hindus not recognising Islamic legal frameworks or scriptures as being binding on them and the parts of Kashmir controlled by India being outside the conventional zimmi (protected minorities) framework where the region is governed exclusively by Muslim rulers. Kashmir therefore forms the foundation from which Kaleem advocates for a “theo-diplomatic” approachKaleem described theo-diplomacy as an approach wherein the interlocutors and advisers of the partiers to a situation of conflict have religious literacy, appreciation and understanding of the contextual sensitivities of the conflict to help facilitate a pathway towards peace and reconciliation. This theo-diplomatic approach would be suited to conflicts such as this, where combatants are from different religious backgrounds. An International or local Peace and Reconciliation Council (IPRC) is required, which is comprised of authoritative faith leaders who can counter bad actors at either the state, non-state level and those using misconstrued religiosity or political ideology to justify their actions to cause pillage and destruction. Such theo-diplomatic responses to conflict should be dynamic, agile and flexible. Importantly such a response should also incorporate diplomats and interlocutors who are well versed in theo-diplomacy and can converse with the most radical elements who are engaged within the conflict – working with their fellow interlocutors to secure a pathway towards a just and lasting peace.

This brings us to perhaps the most globally emotive conflict of the three case studies: the Israeli occupation of Palestine and associated mass violence. Expressing the same disenfranchisement that many currently feel, Kaleem stated that whereas before October 7th 2023, he would have been a strong advocate for the international rule-based order in having a role to play in securing peace, the subsequent war crimes, UN Security Council vetoes, continued indiscriminate attacks and forced displacement of innocent civilians, ongoing attacks against humanitarian personnel and failure to secure a safe humanitarian corridor, where the ICJ provisional judgement on 26 January 2024 raised serious concerns regarding genocidal proclamations by senior cabinet members in the Israeli government, have now made him begin to question the efficacy of the international rules based order in providing a timely response to deescalate the conflict, and lead to a cessation of violence. The situation in Israel and Palestine has been characterised by Israel’s increasing occupation of Palestinian land, despite UN resolutions on the illegality of such acts. The rules-based international order has failed to secure and enforce peace, yet Kaleem’s interviewees cautioned that exclusive use of religious paradigms would not work in a situation such as Israel and Palestine; they have been commandeered and distorted by bad faith actors for too long. Instead, the Theo diplomacy dispute resolution mechanism would work best here, but it should foreground those principles of religious frameworks which are also entrenched in international law by focusing on the high-rise virtues and principles that emanate from these traditions, such as the principles of security, justice, dignity, diversity, freedom of movement, labour, capital and the humanitarian paradigm.

The Security Council. Image Source: Flickr. Image Creator: United Nations Photo. License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

Crucially, for theo-diplomacy to be successful, honest brokers are essential. The “Global South” is dominated by “Western” nations through institutions which are fundamentally power-imbalanced, such as the UN Security Council. This has globally resulted in a situation wherein residents of some countries can access rights and justice, but others, such as the Palestinians, cannot. For theo-diplomats to be perceived as honest brokers, they must represent intervention on behalf of a fundamentally rebalanced system of global cooperation, rather than imbalanced governance. Standardised application of the rule of law, whether international or Islamic, is critical to ensuring that all actors to a conflict respect legal frameworks and conflict resolution interventions. Selective application of the rule of law works only to erode the values invested in, and principles enshrined by, that legal framework. Ramifications for breaches of the rules-based international order, including international humanitarian law should be consistently applied. For trust and appreciation to emerge in the international rules-based order, it is imperative that there is efficacy in the application of international humanitarian law for there to be positive orientations towards peace.

Given the contemporary failure of the international community to uphold and enforce international humanitarian law in a standardised manner, Kaleem stressed that there is a Summit for the Future taking place at the UN this year bringing world leaders and key international agencies together to create a Pact for the Future. This provides an opportune moment to analyse the current idiosyncrasies that exist in the international rules-based order canopy and work towards reimagining peace based on newly formed political horizons. Integral to this summit should be an acknowledgement and recognition of the synergies that exist between international, Islamic humanitarian law and theo-diplomacy, particularly around the principles of justice and humanity and how if used effectively with diplomatic tact and wisdom, they can be used as positive tools for brokering resolutions to conflicts. Such a Pact for the Future should be expected to respond to conflict in a timely and efficient manner regardless of the geolocation or actors involved to avert the frozen wars and protracted conflicts that global polity has become so accustomed to in recent years. In doing so, all stakeholders should be considered, including indigenous peoples and minorities. As Kaleem explains, it is imperative that the root causes of oppression and injustice are addressed, and that an enabling environment is created for communities that are entitled to self-determination as enshrined in international humanitarian law, to uphold those fundamental human rights at the international and regional level so that pathways towards a just and lasting peace can materialise. 

[1] Surah Al-Ma’idah, Al-Qu’ran: 5:32.

[2] For example: Powell E M, ‘Islamic Law and International Law: Peaceful Resolution of Disputes’, Oxford University Press, 2020; and Al-Khalidi F K, ‘International Conflict Resolution Methods Between the Western and Islamic Models: A Comparative Study’, An-Najah University Journal for Research – B (Humanities), 34(6), 2020.