A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.[i]
Now, while we are living in the twenty first century, there are 25.4 million refugees worldwide. Is it acceptable?! About two-thirds of all refugees worldwide come from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. It is with no doubt that these refugees face unknown fate, exploitation and abuse, especially women and children. Therefore, without protection and concerted efforts by the international community, their hard times will last forever.
Religious beliefs play pivotal role in shaping people’s minds and convictions towards different issues. Therefore, this article explores the methodology and measures taken by Islam to address the issue if refugees. More than 1400 years ago, Islamic Sharia has highlighted this issue. The Almighty Allah says,
“And if anyone of polytheists seeks your protection then grant him protection, so that he may hear the Word of Allah, and then escort him to where he can be secure, that is because they are men who know not.” (Qur’an, al-Tawbah: 6)
According to this verse, refugees are guaranteed full protection, care and safety. The Glorious Qur’an lays down certain rules and regulations to the right of asylum. Verse (ayah) no. 9 of the chapter (surah) of al-Hashr lists five rules that regulate the right to asylum and the way of receiving and treating refugees. The said verse reads,
“But those who before them, had homes (in Medina) and had adopted the Faith, - Show their affection to such as came to them for refuge, and entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to the (latter), but give them preference over themselves, even though poverty was their (own lot) and those saved from the covetousness of their own souls, They are the ones that achieve prosperity.” (Qur’an, al-Hashr, 9)
According to Ahmed Abou-El-Wafa, this verse states five rules that govern treatment with refugees and giving asylum as follows:[ii]
First, Refugees (or migrants who move from one territory to another) should be warmly welcomed (received with affection) and well treated. This is clear from the divine phrase those who “show their affection to such as came to them for refuge...” and consequently should not be expelled to the borders (refouled) or denied admission;
Second, Muslims should treat them well and give them preference over themselves. Altruism is to “give others preference over oneself, in terms of one’s share of mundane stuff in anticipation of religious rewards. This emanates from strength of psyche, sure love and patient endurance of hardship.”[iii] Moreover, “it is better to give others preference over oneself than over one’s property, even if this gives returns to one’s self.”[iv]
Third, Refugees should be received, no matter whether they are well-off or poor, as the verse says”… and they entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to the latter (refugees)”. It makes no difference whether a refugee is well-off or poor; what matters is to give him protection, safety, security and stability in the place of asylum.
Fourth, Immigrants should not be rejected, even if the inhabitants of the territory of asylum are in dire poverty, indigence and need and have scarce resources and money, as the holy verse says, “… even though poverty was their (own lot)” .
Fifth, The verse provides also evidence to territorial asylum, which is clear from the reference therein to” … those who, before them, had homes (in Medina) and had adopted the Faith”, i.e. “were empowered in both and well- settled there”.[v] This shows that it is the duty of the inhabitants of the territory to admit all incoming immigrants.
The fact of the matter is that man may be forced at any time to leave one’s own land and country to protect one’s faith, or protect oneself or one’s dependents, especially in the very vulnerable societies. At some cases, Islam makes it mandatory for people to migrate and leave their own land. When people face challenges in fulfilling their religious duties, they are ordered to migrate from the land where they are oppressed to a more safe one, in which they can freely practice their religion. Allah the Almighty says, “When angels take the souls of those who die in sin against their souls, they say: "In what (plight) Were ye?" They reply: "Weak and oppressed Were we in the earth." They say: "Was not the earth of Allah spacious enough for you to move yourselves away (From evil)?" Such men will find their abode in Hell,- What an evil refuge!” (Qur’an 4:97)
On the other hand, Islam severely condemns those who force people in this way or deprive them of their basic right to freedom of faith. Allah says, “And ˹remember˺ when We took your covenant that you would neither shed each other’s blood nor expel each other from their homes, you gave your pledge and bore witness.” (Qur’an 2:85). It also encourage any party or individual who takes part in safeguarding refugees and provides them with shelter, food, care, etc. It, furthermore, becomes incumbent on one to ta care of refugees in case they would perish. Islam pays more attention to the most vulnerable groups such as women and children. Helping and supporting the weak and vulnerable is one of the moral rules strongly promoted by Islam. Allah, the Almighty says, “And what is it with you? You do not fight in the cause of Allah and for oppressed men, women, and children who cry out, “Our Lord! Deliver us from this land of oppressors! Appoint for us a savior; appoint for us a helper—all by Your grace.” (Qur’an, 4:75)
The issue of refugees is one of the most critical, humanitarian issues. One cannot imagine for a while that peace may prevail without eliminating oppression that people face at the hands of people or forces with no moral code or reference, while those vulnerable people have nothing to do to protect themselves. All world countries should search for avenues to alleviate the hardships and challenges refugees go through. More importantly, concerted efforts should be made to end all causes which promote this phenomenon, such as wars, conflicts, etc.
[ii] Ahmed Abou-El-Wafa, The Right to Asylum between Islamic Shari’ah and International Refugee Law: A Comparative Study, Riyadh, Printing Press of Naif Arab University for Security Sciences, 2009, pp. 46-47.
[iii] See: Ibn al-Arabi: Ahkam al-Qur’an, Beirut: al-Jeel House, 1407 AH (1987 AD), p. 1777.
[v] See: Ibn at-Turkomani: Bahjat al-Areeb fi bayan ma fi kitab Illah al-Azeez min Alghareeb, Cairo: Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, 1422 AH(2002 AD), Vol. 2, p. 157.