“Transformation from Conflict to Cooperative Coexistence: The Role of Islamic Perspective on Identity in International Relations”
Yasmine Zein Al-Abedine Ahmed Radwan
PhD Candidate, Faculty of Economics and Political Science
Cairo University
Assistant Lecturer of Political Science
Faculty of Economics and Political Science
Future University in Egypt




Since the 1980s, identity and culture attracted the attention of political scientists for understanding political phenomena and as an approach to analyze conflict resolution (Avruch, 2013) reflecting different points of view, trends and perspectives. Some of them considered cultural diversity as a main reason of conflict (Freilich& Guerette, 2006) while others explored that it could enrich negotiations by representing an alternative to violence (Fry& Björkqvist, 2013). Concerning the second trend, despite of the constructive arguments, creative ideas and profound analysis, it does not offer a clear methodology about resolving conflicts and managing dilemmas of power in politics. Moreover, the literature which tried to present a specific methodology about managing conflicts through strengthening identity, focused on only one dimension of identity without tackling the integration of its different dimensions, forms, kinds or aspects (Mayer, 2009).

Recently, identity in international relations became one of the compulsory courses in undergraduate studies in many universities, such as; the University of London (The School of Oriental and African Studies) basing their syllabus on the most important and famous literature in this field; starting by the article of Richard Lebow entitled “Identity and International Relations”, published in 2008, and extending to a book written by Xavier Guillaume entitled “International Relations and Identity: A Dialogical Approach” published in 2011.

Why Islamic Perspective?

The subject of this paper is the result of three kinds of essays and academic works which recommended and were based on the revision of international relations theories and international politics (Critical International Relations Theory)*, the reactivation of international public law** and finally supporting the necessity of an Islamic contribution to ease the gap between international relations theory and international public law***, in addition of other essays which aimed at clarifying the importance of adding different paradigms and perspectives to understand the political phenomenon with its all facets and dimensions****, and the impact of these essays on vital issues, such as; Muslim minorities and international conflicts in which the identity issue was clearly imposed. Hence, this paper searches for determining the Islamic perspective on the role of identity in conflict management and then in conflict resolution through the attempt to contribute to the project of international relations in Islam published in 1996 (IIIT), to the essays and thesis which conducted on identity in international relations on one hand and on identity in Islamic thought on the other hand, and through comparing the Islamic perspective with the Western perspective. This comparison will not aim at presenting an alternative to the Western perspective but it will aim at integrating all different and, sometimes, contradictory views, paradigms and perspectives, whereas each perspective has its major contribution either on academic or practical levels.

Otherness or the relationship between the self and the other has been treated differently in Quran and Sunna; whereas cultural and national diversity is not only accepted but it is a specific characteristic in humans’ creation which aims, on one hand, at realizing recognition, coalition, and integration between all of them, and needs to be confirmed on the other hand. In Quran, there are many evidences presided by the verse of coalition [Al-Hujurat (The Private Apartments, The Inner Apartments), 13] which is “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted”. In Sunna, the Medina Charter*, 622 C.E., is one of the most important indicators of democracy based on respecting others’ differences, and on confirming self and other identity as appears in the following articles:

“In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful.

(1) This is a document from Muhammad the prophet (governing the relations) between the believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib, and those who followed them and joined them and labored with them.

(2) They are one community (Umma) to the exclusion of all men.

(3) The Quraysh emigrants according to their present custom shall pay the bloodwit within their number and shall redeem their prisoners with the kindness and justice common among believers.

(4-8) The B. ‘Auf according to their present custom shall pay the bloodwit they paid in heatheism; every section shall redeem its prisoners with the kindness and justice common among believers. The B. Sa ida, the B. ‘l-Harith, and the B. Jusham, and the B. al-Najjar likewise.

(9-11) The B. ‘Amr b. ‘Auf, the B. al-Nabit and the B. al-‘Aus likewise.

(12)(a) Believers shall not leave anyone destitute among them by not paying his redemption money or bloodwit in kindness.

(12)(b) A believer shall not take as an ally the freedman of another Muslim against him.

(13) The God-fearing believers shall be against the rebellious or him who seeks to spread injustice, or sin or animosity, or corruption between believers; the hand of every man shall be against him even if he be a son of one of them.

(14) A believer shall not slay a believer for the sake of an unbeliever, nor shall he aid an unbeliever against a believer.

(15) God’s protection is one, the least of them may give protection to a stranger on their behalf. Believers are friends one to the other to the exclusion of outsiders.

(16) To the Jew who follows us belong help and equality. He shall not be wronged nor shall his enemies be aided.

(17) The peace of the believers is indivisible. No separate peace shall be made when believers are fighting in the way of God. Conditions must be fair and equitable to all.

(18) In every foray a rider must take another behind him.

(19) The believers must avenge the blood of one another shed in the way of God.

(20)(a) The God-fearing believers enjoy the best and most upright guidance.

(20)(b) No polytheist shall take the property of person of Quraysh under his protection nor shall he intervene against a believer.

(21) Whoever is convicted of killing a believer without good reason shall be subject to retaliation unless the next of kin is satisfied (with blood-money), and the believers shall be against him as one man, and they are bound to take action against him.

(22) It shall not be lawful to a believer who holds by what is in this document and believes in God and the last day to help an evil-doer or to shelter him. The curse of God and His anger on the day of resurrection will be upon him if he does, and neither repentance nor ransom will be received from him.

(23) Whenever you differ about a matter it must be referred to God and to Muhammad.

(24) The Jews shall contribute to the cost of war so long as they are fighting alongside the believers.

(25) The Jews of the B. ‘Auf are one community with the believers (the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs), their freedmen and their persons except those who behave unjustly and sinfully, for they hurt but themselves and their families.

(26-35) The same applies to the Jews of the B. al-Najjar, B. al-Harith, B. Sai ida, B. Jusham, B. al-Aus, B. Tha’laba, and the Jafna, a clan of the Tha‘laba and the B. al-Shutayba. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. The freedmen of Tha ‘laba are as themselves. The close friends of the Jews are as themselves.

(36) None of them shall go out to war save the permission of Muhammad, but he shall not be prevented from taking revenge for a wound. He who slays a man without warning slays himself and his household, unless it be one who has wronged him, for God will accept that.

(37) The Jews must bear their expenses and the Muslims their expenses. Each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document. They must seek mutual advice and consultation, and loyalty is a protection against treachery. A man is not liable for his ally’s misdeeds. The wronged must be helped.

(38) The Jews must pay with the believers so long as war lasts.

(39) Yathrib shall be a sanctuary for the people of this document.

(40) A stranger under protection shall be as his host doing no harm and committing no crime.

(41) A woman shall only be given protection with the consent of her family.

(42) If any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise it must be referred to God and to Muhammad the apostle of God. God accepts what is nearest to piety and goodness in this document.

(43) Quraysh and their helpers shall not be given protection.

(44) The contracting parties are bound to help one another against any attack on Yathrib.

(45)(a) If they are called to make peace and maintain it they must do so; and if they make a similar demand on the Muslims it must be carried out except in the case of a holy war.

(45)(b) Every one shall have his portion from the side to which he belongs.

(46) The Jews of al-Aus, their freedmen and themselves have the same standing with the people of this document in purely loyalty from the people of this document. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. He who acquires ought acquires it for himself. God approves of this document

(47) This deed will not protect the unjust and the sinner. The man who goes forth to fight and the man who stays at home in the city is safe unless he has been unjust and sinned. God is the protector of the good and God-fearing man and Muhammad is the apostle of God” (Guillaume, 1955, pp. 231- 233).

In fact, Medina Charter was the first written constitution in history (Moore, 2009) which aimed at regulating the coexistence of the early community and could be seen as the preliminary version of an Islamic constitution. It constituted the precedent for coalition between Muslims and non-Muslims to this day (Adamec, 2009) and projected minority rights (Abuza, 2007).

These evidences, in addition to many other ones, emphasize the self’s identity affirmation and others’ identity recognition as a principle of peaceful coexistence and they enlighten cultural diversity for bolstering integration and cooperation that could be reflected through a specific approach of conflict resolution based on different identities which means that the paper does not focus on Islamic identity only, but it conveys every single type and form of identity.

This paper is based on the political discourse analysis as an approach and the content analysis as its tool for analyzing three types of literature; literature which treat Islam and international relations, literature which focus on identity in Islamic thought, and finally literature which tackle identity in conflict resolution in order to achieve three main goals:

  • Contributing to these studies by determining the role of strengthening and recognizing identity (not only Islamic or religious identity) in solving international conflict.
  • Exploring the main issues related to identity and how they could be integrated together.
  • Comparing between the role of identity in international relations in general, and in conflict resolution in particular, from different perspectives; Islamic and Western in order to clarify the points of strengths and weaknesses, and to avoid what could hinder the integration between different types of identity either internally or internationally.

Political discourse analysis is an approach used to deal with many types of discourses. There are three different ways of dealing or understanding discourses; first- the one dimensional, which is limited to understand without interpreting or criticizing (Aboud, 1993), second- interpretation which aims at criticizing and reconstructing the content, and finally- the one which aims at diagnosing the discourse and explore its strengths and weaknesses (Ghanem, 2007).

For applying this approach, the paper focuses on the structural analysis which helps in reading and analyzing discourses and texts within their contexts that produce them, then it exceeded the limits of the context and it started to criticize all dimensions related to this context. In addition, the analyst could use another texts related to the text he analyzes, at this time, the text became very much in information with different civilizational and cultural dimensions, and the discourse analysis will help in understanding, interpreting and analyzing it which could be achieved through the following steps;  description, interpretation and explanation. Text description is an understanding the text by using the linguistic tools and techniques, and methodologies of deconstructing and reconstructing the text, it is a description of how meaning is realized and integrated with the other meanings in the whole text. This lead to text interpretation which focuses on how does what is said relate to how it is said, and what could have been said. Concerning the text explanation, it is the highest goal which could be achieved by the reader or the analyst. In actual analysis, the first two levels related to the situational context will usually coincide. The notion of explanation should be understood rather similar to understanding (Knain, 2015).

When applying this approach on the aforementioned types of literature, the paper is also based on analyzing some important official speeches on identity in order to either criticize or bolster current policies related to the peaceful coexistence and cooperation between different ethnical, religious, national and cultural identities, which is useful for integrating theory with practice, and testing whether the proposed approach to conflict resolution via identity from an Islamic perspective is applicable or not, the paper is interested in exploring and analyzing the aforementioned evidences in Quran and Sunnah on the ability of integrating many different types of identities in the same society, and it tries to clarify the methodology of strengthening identity and achieving peaceful coexistence and cooperation between a variety of nationalities, religions, ethnic groups, cultures and sects when interacting internally and internationally under a specific unified system which represents a clear perspective on life style and is able to assimilate differences.

As a result, the paper differentiates between the conflict management and resolution approaches and tools in the Islamic and Western perspectives. It explores also an Islamic perspective on identity in international relations which is based on confirming self-identity, and accepting and recognizing others identity, by clarifying how all different identities could coexist and be integrated in one society.

* For Example: Rengger, N. J. and Thirkel-White, B. (2007). Critical International Relations Theory after 25 Years. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

– Brincat, S., Lima L. and Nunes, J. (2012). Critical Theory in International Relations and Security Studies: Interviews and Reflections. New York, USA: Routledge.

– Roach, S. C. (2013). Critical Theory of International Politics: Complementarity, Justice, and Governance. New York, USA: Routledge.

** For Example: Dunoff, J. L. and Pollack, M. A. (Eds.) (2013). Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Law and International Relations: The State of the Art. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.

  • Mansell W. and Openshaw K. (2014). International Law: A Critical Introduction. Oxford, UK: Hart Publishing Ltd.

*** For Example: Frick, M. and Müller A. Th. (Eds.) (2013). Islam and International Law: Engaging Self-Centrism from a Plurality of Perspectives. Leiden, the Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV.

**** For Example: Fadl, M. (1989). Paradigms in Political Science Revisited: Critical Options and Muslim Perspectives. The American Journal for Islamic Social Sciences, Vol. 6, No. 9, 119- 124.

* This is a document from Muhammad the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), governing relations between the Believers i.e. Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib and those who followed them and worked hard with them. They form one nation (Ummah). Retrieved from https://www.google.com.eg/?gfe_rd=cr&ei=higqVa-RNbSp8wf78ICYCA&gws_rd=ssl#q=medina+charter+