UNHCR chief launches book on Islam's contributions to refugee law

News Stories, 24 June 2009

© Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah
Muslim Pilgrims circle the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. A new book shows the links between Islam and modern international refugee law.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, June 24 (UNHCR) A UNHCR-sponsored book on the influence of Islam and Arab tradition on modern-day international refugee law was released this week in Saudi Arabia, at a ceremony addressed by High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

The comparative study, commissioned by Guterres and contained in a new book by Cairo University law professor and dean of the law faculty, Ahmed Abu Al-Wafa, was launched at Naif Arab University in Riyadh. Presiding over the ceremony were Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz, Second Deputy Premier, Minister of Interior and head of Naif Arab University's Supreme Council and the university's president , Professor Abdul-Aziz bin Saqr al-Ghamedi.

The book says Islam's 1,400-year-old tradition of generosity toward people fleeing persecution has had more influence on modern-day international refugee law than any other historical source.

In remarks as part of Naif Arab University's commencement exercise, the High Commissioner said "all the principles embodied in modern international refugee law are to be found in the Shari'ah. Protection of refugees, their property and families, non-refoulement [forced return], the civilian character of asylum, voluntary repatriation all are referred to in the Holy Koran."

In his foreword to "The Right to Asylum between Islamic Shari'ah and International Refugee Law: A Comparative Study," Guterres says the new book shows that more than any other historical source, Islamic law and tradition underpin the modern legal framework upon which UNHCR bases its global activities on behalf of tens of millions of uprooted people. This includes the right of everyone to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution as well as prohibitions against sending those in need of protection back into danger.

"Even though many of those values were a part of Arab tradition and culture even before Islam, this fact is not always acknowledged today, even in the Arab world," Guterres writes. "The international community should value this 14-century-old tradition of generosity and hospitality and recognize its contributions to modern law."

In his study, Professor Abu Al-Wafa describes how Islam and Arab tradition respect refugees, including non-Muslims; forbids forcing them to change their beliefs; avoids compromising their rights; seeks to reunite families; and guarantees the protection of their lives and property.

"Today, the majority of refugees worldwide are Muslims," Guterres writes. "This fact occurs at a time when the level of extremism ethnic and religious is on the rise around the globe, even in the world's most developed societies. Racism, xenophobia and populist fear-mongering manipulate public opinion and confuse refugees with illegal migrants and even terrorists.

We believe this book can make an important contribution in fighting prejudice and distortions about
Islam.

High Commissioner António Gutteres

"These attitudes have also contributed to misperceptions about Islam, and Muslim refugees have paid a heavy price. Let us be clear: refugees are not terrorists. They are first and foremost the victims of terrorism. This book reminds us of our duty to counter such attitudes."

The book also reflects UNHCR's close association with the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which itself adopted in 1990 a Declaration on Human Rights in Islam stipulating that every human being fleeing persecution has the right to seek asylum and receive protection in another country.

In his foreword to the book, OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu notes that the book "demonstrates the equitable and tolerant rules Islamic Shari'ah applies to refugees and how it is keenly concerned with their welfare and interests, while confirming human integrity and man's right to a free, decent life."

Naif Arab University's Prof. al-Ghamedi, said the theme of the study "gains importance in the light of the increase in recent years in the numbers of refugees in Arab and Islamic countries."

Professor Ahmad At-Tayyib, rector of al-Azhar University in Cairo, noted that the Arab concept of asylum, or "ijarah," pre-dated Islam and was endorsed by Islamic Shari'ah "because it was one of the established good practices in their traditions and customs, involving noble manners and ethical values such as rescue of people in distress and protection of the oppressed."

Guterres also presented the book to Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah, president of the Saudi Red Crescent Authority.

"We believe this book can make an important contribution in fighting prejudice and distortions about Islam," the High Commissioner told the prince. "It can help to show the true face of Islam."

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Advocacy

Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

Promoting Refugee Protection

UNHCR is engaged in a range of activities to promote the international refugee protection system, including refugee law.

Capacity Building

Helping national authorities meet their obligations to the uprooted.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Provision of clean water and sanitation services to refugees is of special importance.

Livelihoods and Self-Reliance

We help refugees, refugee returnees and internally displaced people tap their potential and build a platform for a better future.

Refugee Protection in International Law

Edited by Erika Feller, Volker Türk and Frances Nicholson, published 2003 by Cambridge University Press

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award at a gala ceremony in Geneva on Monday night.

Sister Angélique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who had been forced from their homes and abused by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups. Many of those she helps suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses.

The Roman Catholic nun helps survivors to heal by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother."

The Award ceremony featured a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

On 1 August, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travelled to northern Burkina Faso with the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM), Anne Richard. In Damba camp, they met with Malian refugees who had fled northern Mali in the past six months to escape the ongoing conflict and political instability. To date, more than 250,000 Malian refugees have fled their homes and found refuge in neighbouring countries, including 107,000 in Burkina Faso alone. The UN refugee agency has only received one-third of the US$153 million it needs to provide life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, health services, nutrition and protection to the refugees. UNHCR fears that the volatile political and humanitarian situation in Mali could lead to further outflows to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat campPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat camp

Concluding a visit to Iraq, UNHCR chief António Guterres met with Syrian refugees in Arbat camp in the Kurdistan region. Guterres noted the recent proliferation of humanitarian crises, but urged the international community not to forget about Syria, "the mega protracted crisis of our times."
Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced IraqisPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced Iraqis

This week UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is visiting Iraq to meet with families displaced by conflict in recent weeks. After listening to accounts of their difficult journeys to safety, Guterres called for more support to help deal with the crisis. He will also visit some of the 300,000 Syrian refugees currently living in camps in northern Iraq.
Jordan: UNHCR and Host Countries Discuss SyriaPlay video

Jordan: UNHCR and Host Countries Discuss Syria

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres meets in Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp with leaders of countries hosting Syrian refugees in the region. He again urged the international community to do more to help these countries shoulder the burden.