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Killing Diplomats, Ambassadors, Emissaries or Foreign Delegations: Permissible?

22 December, 2016
Q As-Salamu alaykum. We read in the news about the killing of the Russian ambassador to Turkey. What does Islam say about those who claim that it is allowed to kill non-Muslim diplomats, ambassadors, emissaries who settle in Muslim lands as well as visitors and delegations?


Wa `alaykum As-Salamu waRahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. 

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Dear questioner, we would like to thank you for the great confidence you place in us, and we implore Allah Almighty to help us serve His cause and render our work for His Sake.

Answering your question, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic Scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:

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Killing diplomats, ambassadors, emissaries or foreign delegations is a clear violation of the explicit teachings of Islam. An ambassador or emissary or envoy is a person who enjoys the protection of Allah and His messenger; it is the duty of every Muslim to honor such guarantee of protection. Therefore, if anyone hurts or kills an envoy or ambassador, he has committed a most grievous offense.

Let me explain this.

Honoring pacts and treaties is a divine imperative mandated by plain texts of the Qur’an and enforced by the clear precedents of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the pious caliphs.

 “And those who keep their trusts and covenants.” (Al-Mu’minun 23:8)

 Allah says, “O you who believe, be true to your covenants.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:1)

The late Muhammad Asad comments on this verse saying:

The term `aqd (“covenant”) denotes a solemn undertaking or engagement involving more than one party. According to Raghib, the covenants referred to in this verse “are of three kinds: the covenants between God and man [i.e., man’s obligations towards God], between man and his own soul, and between the individual and his fellow-men” – thus embracing the entire area of man’s moral and social responsibilities.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever hurts a person who is enjoying immunity under a pact of protection, I will be his adversary on the Day of Resurrection….whoever kills such a person cannot even smell the fragrance of paradise…” (Reported by Ibn Hajar, Al-Sakhawi and others)

The above guarantee of protection and immunity extends to everyone who has been guaranteed protection regardless of whether they are given such assurances by an individual or the community as represented by their rulers. It is the duty of every Muslim to honor such promises and ensure their rights are not violated.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) has left us clear precedents to show the crucial importance of this issue.

There are those who think that the diplomatic immunity enjoyed by foreign nationals and ambassadors is a Western concept. There is nothing farther from truth.

Ambassadors or Envoys sent by foreign nations enjoyed immunity among the Arabs in Jahiliyyah and Islam took it even to a higher level, for Islam came to extend cooperation and peaceful relations between nations, regardless of ideological differences – in times of war as well as in peace.

Therefore, the Prophet not only insisted on treating envoys with utmost respect;  rather he often went out of his way to receive them most honorably. He was in Tabuk when an envoy of Heraclius came to meet him in Tabuk and the Prophet welcomed him most graciously and apologized to him that he could not host him as they were travelers. On hearing this, the eminent companion offered him an expensive robe as a gift!

The immunity extended to envoys extended even to those who were guilty of treason as was the case with the supporters of the false prophet Musaylimah; for even though they were traitors the Prophet told them: I cannot harm you because you are envoys!”

Another glaring example is the story of Abu Rafi.` The Quraish who fought the Prophet for years had sent him as an envoy to Madinah. However, after arriving Madinah, Abu Rafi` had a change of heart as he experienced the beauty of Islam. Therefore, he told the Prophet (peace be upon him) that he would rather stay in Madinah and not return to Makkah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) told him: “We will not break our pact, nor we would hold an envoy. So, you must go back (and fulfill your mission). If after having done so, you still feel attracted to Islam, you could return, and we would welcome you!” (Abu Dawud and others)

In conclusion, if anyone thinks that Islam condones killing of emissaries or ambassadors or minorities living in a Muslim country, he or she is wholly mistaken. Such acts are fundamental violations of the explicit teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophet (peace be upon him).

Let them know that the Prophet (peace be upon him) has warned them that he would be their adversary on the day of resurrection.

Allah Almighty knows best.