The Issue of refuges is one of the fundamental political cum international humanitarian crisis in the contemporary world. The contemporary crises have been by and large because of political unrest, armed conflicts and violence in the Muslim world.
Since the inception of foreign occupation and subsequent control of Muslim countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, etc.) and subsequent armed rebellions and other terrorist activities, there has been a huge influx of refugees from violence hit countries towards other Muslim and western countries. This influx of refugees was also necessitated by the 9/11 and subsequent US “War on Terror” which displaced millions of people from the worst hit areas like that of Afghanistan and Iraq.
A refugee is considered a vulnerable person. A person may be refugee on an individual basis or in company with his family when he flees from a country where he is subject to persecution to a country of asylum; or as part of mass exodus as a result of political, religious or military conditions, where he may be subject to persecution. A refugee is different from an internally displaced person or an economic migrant, a person who crosses international borders to another country in search of protection, security and asylum.
The etymology of the word “refugee” is from the Latin fugere, which means “to flee.” As for those who flee persecution, whether religious or political, they have another God-given right, “to seek and receive refuge.” Believers are qualified by their service to those in need: “They care for those who have taken refuge with them and have no desire in their hearts for what has been given them, preferring them to themselves, even if it means hardship for them; and those who are preserved from their own avarice are the ones who succeed” (Quran, Al-Tauba: 9)
Mustajir (the protected) and Mujir (the protector), lead to an explanation of Jiwar, which ‘could in essence be defined as a “Contract between two parties where one asks for protection and the other grants it to him or her’’. Pre-Islamic Jiwar was basically an exchange of bounty between the Mustajir and the Mujir, while the Mustajir got the material help and protection needed, the Mujir received praise, fame and high status among the tribes.
Until the oppressed Muslims in Mecca started to migrate and build their state in Medina, they only knew one side of jiwar; that is, to ask for it and be Mustajir rather than Mujir. However, as the first Islamic state in Medina became capable of defending itself, Muslims began to experience the other side of jiwar; that is, to be mujir, the one who gives jiwar.
The right to have asylum and Jiwar are among the virtues of pre-Islamic Arabia and Islam itself. The Migrants of Mecca were given refuge by the Najashi, the king of Abyssinia (old Habsha). Similarly, the Muhajirs of Mecca were given refuge by the Tribes of Aws and Khazraj of Medina. The migration of Muslims to Ethopia (Abyssinia) and the flight of the Prophet Muhammad to Medina, to avoid persecution and oppression by the people of Quraish, were acts of mercy. Yet these set an important precedent for the relationship between the asylum-seeker and the asylum provider, whereby the rights of the former are linked to the duties of the latter.
The custom of “Aman” (safety) implies the protection of asylum-seekers, whether they are believers or non-believers. This is clearly stated in Surat “Al-Tawba” (repentance): “And if anyone of the Mushrikin (Polytheists, idolaters, pagans, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah) seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the Word of Allah (the Qur’an), and then escort him to a place where he can be secure, that is because they are men who know not”.
This is a foundational tradition, and scholars are in agreement that “on those in the earth” covers all peoples regardless of colour, creed, or country. Like its sister religions, Islam has a checkered past but also has many glorious examples of the ideals of the faith that call us to serve the Creator by serving His creation: in 1492, the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II welcomed over 150,000 Jews fleeing Spanish persecution to Turkey, granting them citizenship and then building beautiful synagogues—many stand to this day—for the newly arrived refugees. In the 1840’s, during the Irish potato famine, Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Majid sent not only money but ships with grain to provide relief for the needy. In 1860, when local Druze attacked the Christian quarter in Damascus, Emir Abdelkader of Algeria saved over four thousand Christians, including the French consul and his staff, by giving them refuge in his compound and defending them with his Algerian troops. During the Nazi occupation of France, Si Kaddour Benghabrit, a Moroccan Imam, risked his own life and hid hundreds of Jews at the Paris Mosque and saved many others by issuing certificates that allowed them to hide their Jewish identity and claim they were Algerian Arabs instead.
That said, we need to look at the issue of refugees from the humanitarian perspective while at the same time providing safety and security of the natives.