Dar Al-Islam And Dar Al-Harb: Its Definition and Significance


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by :Ahmed Khalil


In his book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel Huntington says:

People are always tempted to divide people into us and them, the in-group and the other, our civilization and those barbarians. Scholars have analyzed the world in terms of the Orient and the Occident, North and South, center and periphery. Muslims have traditionally divided the world into Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, the abode of peace and the abode of war. [1]

Huntington identified this concept as Muslim tradition. Others, particularly Christian missionaries and polemics, however, have identified this concept as theological. An uninformed Westerner views this classification as a form of discrimination against those that have different beliefs. Even among common Muslims, several controversial opinions arise due to different understandings of what the terms Dar Al-Islam and Dar Al-Harb mean.

Surprisingly, Islamic terminology is full of many other classifications: Dar Al-'Ahd (Abode of Covenant), Dar Al-Sulh (Abode of Truce), Dar Al-Maslubah (Abode of Pillaged Land), Dar Al-Bid'ah (Abode of Heresy), Dar Al-Baghy (Abode of Usurpation), Dar Al-'Adl (Abode of Justice), Dar al-Kufr (Abode of Unbelief), et. al. Yet, Western attention prefer to rather focus on the term Dar Al-Harb (Abode of War).


According to Prof. Muhammad Ishaq Zahid, founder of the Sabr Foundation, and the creator of Islam101.Com, in The Glossary of Islamic Terms, we have:

Dar al-Harb

Dar al-Harb (Domain of War) refers to the territory under the hegemony of unbelievers, which is on terms of active or potential belligerency with the Domain of Islam, and presumably hostile to the Muslims living in its domain. [2]

To understand the classification, it is necessary to understand the sources of the concept. To do this, we need to touch upon the sources of Islam.

Understanding The Sources 

In his book, Fundamentals of Islam, Sayyid Abul A'la Al-Mawdudi classifies Islam as Din (faith) and Shari'ah (Islamic law). The sources of Shari'ah are: the Holy Quran and the Hadith.[3] Al-Mawdudi then describes these sources, saying:

The Qur'an is a divine revelation - each and every word of it is from Allah. The Hadith is a collection of the instructions issued or the memoirs of the last Prophet's conduct and behaviour, as preserved by those who were present in his company or those to whom these were handed down by the first witnesses. These were later sifted and collected by divines and compiled in the form of books among which the collections made by Malik, Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Nasa'i and Ibn Majah are considered to be the most authentic.[3]

Derived from the Shari'ah is Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), defined by Al-Mawdudi as

Detailed law derived from the Qur'an and the Hadith covering the myriad of problems that arise in the course of man's life...[3]

Throughout time, several religious scholars and legislators have devoted their lives to the science of Fiqh, but four Madhaheb (schools of thought) persist till today:

  1. "Fiqh Hanafi: This is the Fiqh compiled by Abu Hanifa Nu'man bin Thabit with the assistance and cooperation of Abu Yusuf Mahammad, Zufar and others, all of whom had high religious attainments to their credit. This is known as the Hanafi School of Fiqh.
  2. Fiqh Maliki: This Fiqh was derived by Malik bin Anas Asbahi.
  3. Fiqh Shafi'i: Founded by Muhammad bin Idris al-Shafi'i.
  4. Fiqh Hanbali: Founded by Ahmad bin Hanbal."[3]

According to Shaikh (scholar) Abdul-Aziz Bin Baz, former Grand Mufti and Chief Cleric of Saudi Arabia, the Maliki and Hanafi Madhaheb were introduced and widely spread in the 2nd Century Hijri (Islamic lunar calendar, started 622 AD). The Shafi'i and Hanbali Madhaheb were introduced and spread in the 3rd Century Hijri.[4]

In a program on Al-Jazeera Channel, Al-Shari'ah Wal-Hayah (Islamic Law and Life), dated Sunday May 9th 1999, Shaikh (scholar) Yusuf Al-Qaradawi noted that the concept of Dar Al-Harb (Abode of War) was introduced in the Fiqh Hanafi. Al-Imam (the legislator and scholar) Abu Hanifa divided the Muslim role into two categories: Dar Al-Islam (Abode of Islam) and Dar Al-Harb (Abode of War). He would refer to any non-Muslim domain as Dar Al-Kufr (Abode of Unbelief) or Dar Al-Harb even if there is no current war between them and the Muslims.[5] According to him a country or a territory becomes a Dar Al-Islam if:

(a)    The Muslims must be able to enjoy peace and security; and

(b)   It has common frontiers with some Muslim countries (other Dar Al-Islam) [6]

However, the concept of Dar Al-Harb and Dar Al-Islam are not explained in the Qur'an or Sunnah (tradition of the Holy Prophet (P)), says the majority of scholars. It is, in fact, a result of Ijtihad (religious endeavour), which is a terminology used to describe religious endeavour to exercise personal judgement based on the Qur'an and the Sunnah.[2]

Historical Conditions

It is indispensable to view the historical environment of the time, and of the centuries that followed the spread of this classification concept. In an article, titled, "Muslims as Co-Citizens of the West. Rights, Duties & Prospects", Murad Wildfried Hofmann says:

Due to its structural tolerance vis-à-vis 'peoples of the book', the Muslim world has always been multireligious. Islam expanded into formerly Christian territories-the Near East, North Africa, Spain, Byzantium, the Balkans-without eliminating the Christian communities. Nowhere is this more evident than in Cairo, Damascus, and Istanbul, and in countries like Greece and Serbia. This situation was facilitated by the fact that the Qur'an contains what may be called an 'Islamic Christology'. Coexistence with the large Jewish populations within the Muslim empire-aside from the Near East in Muslim Spain, and subsequently in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire-was facilitated, in turn, by the extraordinary focus of the Qur'an on Jewish prophets in general and Moses in particular. On this basis, Islamic jurisprudence developed the world's first liberal law called al-siyar for the status of religious minorities (al-dhimmi). In the Western world, developments were entirely different. Here, religious intolerance became endemic, even between Christian churches; many sects were outlawed (as during the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea, in 325), massacred (e.g., the Donatists in North Africa in the 5th century and the Albigenses and Cathari in the thirteenth century), subdued as victims of a 'crusade' (Constantinople in 1205), or deserted (like Orthodox East Rome during the siege by Sultan Fatih in 1453). In Germany, a war lasting thirty years between Protestant and Catholic princes decimated the population (1618-1648).

Under these circumstances and fuelled by the Church dictum extra ecclesia nullum salus (no salvation outside the church), even minimal tolerance of Muslims could not be expected. The expulsion of both Muslims and Jews from Spain in the sixteenth century-the first case of 'ethnic cleansing' in modern history-made Europe virtually 'Muslim-free.' There was interaction between the two camps-trade, scientific penetration, diplomatic missions-but no living Muslim presence in the Occident until the twentieth century. [6]

With this historical perspective in light, it was deemed vital that concepts of distinction between safe and unsafe, Islamic and non-Islamic be pertained. Based on the universality of the Islamic belief, that Muhammad(P)was sent to the whole World:

"We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures."

-- 21. Al-Anbiya': 107 (Abdullah Yusuf Ali).

Based on the firm belief of enjoying the right to exercise one's own religion anywhere, without compulsion:

"Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things."

-- 2. Al-Baqarah: 256 (Abdullah Yusuf Ali).

Hence, the vitality and necessity of having clearly defined labels that would ensure the protection and uplifting of the Muslim Ummah (nation). However, pertaining to Ijtihad (religious endeavour), there is no holiness or Divinity to the classification. The social, economic, and environmental circumstances of the time and location create certain needs that arise and need be fulfilled. That is why the door to Ijtihad (religious endeavour) is always open in Islam. Speaking of the four Madhaheb, Al-Mawdudi says:

All of these were given their final form within two hundred years of the time of the Prophet. The differences that appear in the four schools are but the natural outcome of the fact that truth is many-sided. When different persons employ themselves in interpreting a given event, they come out with different explanations according to their own lights. What gives these various schools of thought the authenticity that is associated with them is the unimpeachable integrity of their respective founders and the authenticity of the method they adopted.[3]

Times Have Changed 

As a result of elapsed time, social, economic and environmental circumstances have changed, especially in the last century. With that in mind, Murad Wildfried Hofmann says:

Under these conditions, contemporary Muslims may well pose themselves the question already posed in Spain 500 years ago, i.e., Is it permissible for a Muslim to take up residence in what has been labelled Dar al-Harb or Dar al-Kufr? This question was discussed in considerable depth when Spanish Muslims, overrun by the Reconquista, chose to stay, and even before this event, because the Prophet sent a group of Makkan Muslims to Christian Ethiopia (615-622). Some of the 'ulama [scholars], including Imam Abu Hanifa, disapproved of permanent Muslim residence in non-Muslim territory. Imam Shafi'i, on the other hand, believed that Muslims could stay behind in former Muslim lands, provided that they could practice Islam and were not subject to Christian missionary efforts. In contrast to that, already in the eighth century, Imam Jafar al-Sadiq underlined that Muslims might serve Islam better when living among non-Muslims than when living only with Muslims. Al-Mawardi concurred with this opinion in the eleventh century. Later on the Hanifa madhhab became even more liberal. It accepted the idea that there might be pockets of dar al-Islam inside non-Muslim territories; in addition, they were ready to exempt emigrant Muslims from observing certain parts of the shari'ah if this seemed necessary because of ikrah (compulsion), durura (hardship), or maslaha (benefit).[6]

Today's Classification

Today, majority of Islamic scholars agree upon a classification into three. Shaikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi says, on Al-Shari'ah Wal-Hayah (Islamic Law and Life), Al-Jazeera Channel, dated Tuesday February 6th 2001, these three categories are:

  • Dar Al-Islam: The abode of Islam, the Muslim nation.
  • Dar Al-Harb: The abode of war, those that have declared war against the Muslim nation.
  • Dar Al-'Ahd: The abode of covenant, the countries that have diplomatic agreements and covenants with the Muslim nation.[5]  

The concept of Dar Al-'Ahd (Abode of Covenant) is obtained from the judicial rulings of manslaughter, as outlined in the Quran:

"Never should a believer kill a believer; but (If it so happens) by mistake, (Compensation is due): If one (so) kills a believer, it is ordained that he should free a believing slave, and pay compensation to the deceased's family, unless they remit it freely. If the deceased belonged to a people at war with you, and he was a believer, the freeing of a believing slave (Is enough). If he belonged to a people with whom ye have treaty of Mutual alliance, compensation should be paid to his family, and a believing slave be freed. For those who find this beyond their means, (is prescribed) a fast for two months running: by way of repentance to God: for God hath all knowledge and all wisdom."

-- 3. Al-Nisa': 92 (Abdullah Yusuf Ali).

The indication is in the words ".a people with whom ye have treaty of Mutual alliance." In fact, Allah commands us to ordain to the covenant that was agreed upon with the disbelievers:

"(But the treaties are) not dissolved with those Pagans with whom ye have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor aided any one against you. So fulfil your engagements with them to the end of their term: for God loveth the righteous."

-- 9. Al-Tawba: 4 (Abdullah Yusuf Ali).

". As long as these stand true to you, stand ye true to them: for God doth love the righteous."

-- 9. Al-Tawba: 7 (Abdullah Yusuf Ali).

The concept of the Dar Al-Harb (Abode of War) gets its indications from the clear line that was drawn for just and kind treatment:

"[60:1]O ye who believe! Take not my enemies and yours as friends (or protectors),- offering them (your) love, even though they have rejected the Truth that has come to you, and have (on the contrary) driven out the Prophet and yourselves (from your homes), (simply) because ye believe in God your Lord! ."

"[60:8] God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God loveth those who are just.

[60:9]God only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong."

-- 60. Al-Mumtahina: 8, 9 (Abdullah Yusuf Ali).


In conclusion, it is fair to say that the door of Ijtihad (religious endeavour) is always open. The Islamic decrees that are introduced through Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) into the Shari'ah (Islamic law) are reflective of the social, economic, and environmental circumstances of the time. These circumstances change as time continuously elapses. Corresponding to the change, the Shari'ah (Islamic law) is updated as new decrees are introduced with the appearance of newer issues. The key condition is compliance with the Qur'an and Sunnah (tradition of the Holy Prophet(P)). In this light, the former concept of classification is updated to include Dar Al-'Ahd (Abode of covenant) to include the other nations that hold covenants and diplomatic agreements with Dar Al-Islam (Abode of Islam).

And God knows best.


[1] Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

[2] Muhammad Ishaq Zahid, "Glossary of Islamic Terms", [Online Document], 1998, [cited 2002, Apr 27]

[3] Sayyid Abul A'la Al-Mawdudi, "Fundamentals of Islam", [Online Document], [cited 2002, Apr 27]

[4] (Arabic Source) 

[5]  (Arabic Source) 

[6] Murad Wilfried Hofmann, "Muslims As Co-Citizens of the West . . . Rights, Duties, & Prospects" [Online Document], [cited 2002, Apr 27]

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