“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” ― Sun Tzu
Diplomacy is the established method of influencing the decisions and behaviours of foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiation and other measures; short of war or violence. In international relations, the word ‘diplomacy’ is used in different ways. In the narrow sense, it’s the procedures and process of negotiation usually between sovereign states while in a wider sense, it includes almost everything connected with maintaining relations with different states and organisations during war and peace times. Besides traditional aspects of diplomacy, modern diplomacy absorbs into its fold economic, social, cultural, scientific, technical, spiritual and intellectual dimensions of relations among various nations. Besides, another pattern of diplomacy called “multilateral and international or global diplomacy” is concerned with issues not connected with a particular nation or country, but with entire international community.
Human beings inhabit this earth organizing themselves into groups, tribes, nations etc., and they have always maintained some kind of relationship with other groups or tribes. These relations were established after some sort of negotiations and talks with other groups or tribes. In the annals of history, we find examples of ancient kings of Babylonia, Assyria and Egypt who, as early as 155 BC, sent envoys to negotiate with rulers of other states or kingdoms. The Queen of Sheba visited king and prophet Solaiman (AS) in 950 BC; in what we would call a diplomatic mission. In the 6th century BC, the Greek city states often sent representatives, known as heralds to other cities to plead a cause before a public body. Referring to the need for diplomacy, verse 13 of Surah Al-Hujurat (The Rooms) states:
“O mankind, indeed We have … 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 …”
This verse very clearly indicates that the act of maintaining relations between and among nations is highly desirable. It also shows that we must follow the way that is right and honoured in the sight of Allah Almighty, thereby placing ourselves in the honourable place in the comity of nations. Here enters the concept of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in the arena of diplomacy.
In pre-Islam world, diplomacy was a very limited field and was devoid of any ethical considerations. Islam, however, gave it a comprehensive meaning and shape by widening its scope and adding ethical and moral flavour to it, thereby laying the foundations for modern-day diplomacy. Besides war, peace, treaties, etc., Islam brought into diplomatic fold issues relating to prisoners of war, international cooperation for the goodness of the mankind, global action against enemies of humanity, expression of positive and active solidarity with people struggling for a legitimate cause, creation of global awareness for beneficial and against harmful action, immunities for diplomats, etc.
In Islamic model, diplomacy and ethics go hand in hand. We get its proof from the very verses of the Holy Quran and ahadith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Many events in the Islamic history further substantiate these. For instance, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would ask Muslims to abide by ethical norms not only during war but in the peacetime as well. He would not kill diplomats, ambassadors, emissaries or foreign delegations even if they were sent even by the worst of his enemies. Islam utterly forbids targeting, harming or killing diplomats, ambassadors, emissaries and the foreign delegations and even the foreigner individuals who enter the Muslim lands.
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) recognized the importance of diplomacy to such an extent that whenever a belligerent force tried to invade the city of Madina, and the Islamic state, he always tried to engage them in talks in order to avoid any bloodshed. He resorted to war only when all the peaceful options were exhausted and the other party was hell bent on eliminating the Muslims. Since Islam professes peace and harmony, it does not permit its followers to take up arms unless they have no other option left; war is allowed only as a last resort.
Muslims can wage a war only when it is to prevent a belligerent party from creating disorder, tumult and turmoil; to save the oppressed people from the hands of oppressors when requested for; to compel one group of the Muslims to accept the verdict of the ‘Ummah’ (community), and to free this world from brutal forces whenever they try to raise their ugly heads. These are exactly the principles enunciated in Articles 39, 40, 41 & 42 of the UN Charter which empower the UNSC.
The objective of war in Islam is only to establish peace and justice. And, whenever there is a cessation of hostile activities, Islam ordains its followers to end war without any delay and negotiate a peace treaty. There are many verses of the Holy Quran in this regard, such as:
“Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah … but if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors.” (Al-Baqarah: 193).
“And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah. …” (Al-Anfal: 61)
The relevant portion of UN charter regarding ceasefire and maintaining international peace and security comes closer to these ideals.
When peace is created after conclusion of a treaty, then honouring the same is one of the basic pillars of Islamic diplomacy. The Holy Quran asks the Muslims to negotiate peace treaty for ending war and establishing friendship with other nations as it asked them to adhere very strictly to it. Breach of treaties and agreements has been described as a condemnable act.
“Except for those who take refuge with a people between yourselves and whom is a treaty or those who come to you, their hearts strained at [the prospect of] fighting you or fighting their own people. And if Allah had willed, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you. So if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause [for fighting] against them.” (An-Nisa 90)
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) made many treaties with different groups of people during his life and honoured them even when some clauses of certain treaties turned to be unfavourable to him. The famous Treaty of Hudaibiyyah is, perhaps, the best example in this regard. It contained some clauses which apparently were not favourable and opposed by majority of his followers. But he signed it in the greater interest of peace and upheld it till it was revoked by other party. There are examples that he was engaged in war for honouring his treaty and agreement with different tribes. The conclusion of such treaties only to establish peace was unprecedented in human history. As regards the modern-day concept of “international diplomacy”, conference diplomacy, “multinational diplomacy” or “global diplomacy”, it is beyond any shadow of doubt that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was the first man in human history to initiate the process of global and international diplomacy in the truest sense of the term. He established contacts in different ways sending special envoys to the emperors and rulers of the world inviting them to embrace Islam and establishing justice in the world, as well as for cooperating with him in various fields. He (PBUH) made a breakthrough in diplomatic history by sending special envoys carting his letters to Emperor Hercules of Roman Empire, Emperor Khosrow of Persian Empire, Egyptian ruler Muqawqis, Ethiopian Emperor Najashi and others, inviting them to embrace Islam and rule their respective countries with justice.
In fine, it can be stated very clearly that as a comprehensive code and system of life, Islam did not leave the diplomatic arena of life unattended. Rather it gave diplomacy a respectable place by elevating it to the honourable place of being a means to achieve noble goals of human society.