Kidnapping Foreign Visitors: An Islamic Perspective

By Sway, Mustafa Abu | The Christian Science Monitor, February 3, 2006 | Go to article overview

Kidnapping Foreign Visitors: An Islamic Perspective


Sway, Mustafa Abu, The Christian Science Monitor


Anyone who is familiar with the Koran and the traditions of the prophet Muhammad knows that kidnapping civilians and harming them is absolutely prohibited. Those who do kidnap civilians defy the Islamic code of ethics. This ethos applies to every kidnapped civilian, including Jill Carroll, the freelance journalist on assignment for The Christian Science Monitor, who worked in Iraq until she was kidnapped early last month. I appeal to her kidnappers to immediately release her and to stop kidnapping civilians altogether.

Every now and then, we hear about the kidnapping of "foreign" nationals in Islamic countries. Recently the family of a former German minister was kidnapped in Yemen. In Gaza, Kate Burton, a British human rights activist, and her parents were kidnapped. By the time I had a chance to write about this topic, the news came that both captured families had been released. This was a happy ending that I had really hoped for.

It is well known that the kidnappers' demands, in cases like these, usually have nothing to do directly with the kidnapped persons or their countries. This does not mean, however, that it is permissible to kidnap innocent civilians should conflicts exist. The two European families were kidnapped because they were easy targets. The same applies to Ms. Carroll.

I could have based the arguments in this article on the laws, treaties, and covenants that prohibit such deeds. I could have also brought up notions of Arab magnanimity, nobility, and honor that require us to be generous and kind to our guests. Many of those captured foreigners carried the burden of working for our causes and, for that, they endured hardships and paid a high price.

I have chosen, because of the cultural background of this nation, to present the Islamic position regarding kidnapping, which opposes it. We must get rid of this negative phenomenon that does not serve us in any way.

From the perspective of the Islamic sharia, the al-Mustamin is "the foreign person whose safety is guaranteed." Such a person is protected, even if his or her native country is in a state of animosity with Muslims. Animosity is a temporary state, and, further, not all Western citizens necessarily support the foreign policies of their governments.

The Muslim must understand that the person who obtains a visitor's visa enters into a contract with the country that grants him the visa. The state, as an institution, does that on behalf of its people. Despite those who look with suspicion at the state, especially if the ruler lacks legitimacy, the visa should be recognized as a legitimate agreement for guests of our countries to move freely about without harm.

We have seen foreign visitors support our political rights and defend Islam. Indeed, despite being non- Muslims themselves, they have come to the defense of Muslims in their own countries when the need arose.

The International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) declared its position on kidnapping and the taking of hostages in their communique which was published in September 2004. In what follows, I paraphrase and summarize their statement, which draws on verses and examples in the Koran prohibiting kidnapping. The full text is available in Arabic on www.Islamonline.net:

1. Kidnapping is an assault on another, whether a Muslim or non- Muslim. It is an unjust act that God forbids and prohibits: "Allah commands justice, the doing of good and giving to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs you, that ye may receive admonition" (Koran, 16:90). …

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