Dar al-Islam, the Indian Muslims and the Sense of Belonging

Photo: ummid.com

By Aindrila Chakraborty

Sarah Albrecht in her work, Dar al-Islam revisited: Territoriality in Contemporary Islamic Legal Discourse on Muslims in the West, engages with the complexities of the idea of Dar al-Islam and writes, “Where is dār al-islām? Who defines its boundaries, and based on what criteria? It is not only since a self-declared “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq has claimed to represent the only true “territory of Islam” in the world of the twenty-first century that heated controversies have arisen about what actually renders a territory Islamic.” The concept of Dar al-Islam puts forth the complexities of Islamic religion and the belonging and identity of the Muslim umma spread across the globe. The umma’s quest for Dar al-Islam according to Islamic norms oftentimes gets caught in the questions of their territorial identity and their de-territorial religious identity. This essay aims to engage with the idea of belonging of the Indian Muslims through the concept of Dar al-Islam.

“Etymologically derived from the root dāl–waw–rāʾ and related to the verb dāra (to surround, to circuit), dār (pl. diyār and dūr) literally means a dwelling place surrounded by walls, buildings or nomadic tents,” notes Albrecht. Dar al-Islam popularly denotes a piece of land guided by the norms of Islamic codes, under the aegis of Shariah, rightly embedded in Islamic faith. However, there are evident contestations regarding the genesis of such a concept and how its interpretations, implementations and implications have evolved and continue to do so.

Questioning the territorial connotation of Dar al-Islam, Albrecht notes, “Are Islamic norms, as embodied in the shariʿa, territorially bound, or are they extraterritorial in nature?”[1] The Hanafi school of Islam explains the concept of Dar al- Islam as the abode of Allah. The concept draws its roots from the idea that Muslims across the world must strive towards an abode guided by the norms of Shariah and travel, in search of that abode, fighting the belligerent infidels, without adhering to territorial limits and geographical bounds. It can be observed that the idea of Hijrah is intrinsically associated with the quest for Dar al-Islam, though there is no evident mention of Dar al-Islam in the Quran. Abu-Salieh explains this idea through Quranic references. In this regard, he notes, “the Quran mentions in 27 verses the term hijrah (immigration) and its derivatives in the meaning of “to abandon.”…this term is used very often to designate the fact of fleeing from a country governed by the infidels in order to join the Muslim community.”

This can be attributed to, as the Hanafi school argues, the homogeneous ummah which forms a strong sense of Muslim brethren, spread sporadically across the world, devoid of any feeling of

alienation caused due to territorial or physical borders, and as Albrecht observes, “the term umma in the Qurʾan is to be understood primarily as a religious and not as a politically or territorially defined community.” In this regard, Ahmad writes, “A Muslim is required to follow the precepts of the Shariah wherever he might be. A Muslim forms part of the Muslim ummah across the world and thus the tie of brotherhood binds a Muslim resident of even a non-Muslim state to his Muslim brethren in the Islamic state. So far as the Muslims who live in Dar al- Islam are concerned, they are protected {ma ‘sum} by the law.”

However, what is important to note is the fact that Muslim ummah, in praxis, is not a homogenous cohort. As Islam, in his work, Umma and the Dilemma of Muslim Belonging in Modern South Asia notes, “The empirical reality is that the Muslim umma is fragmented and heterogeneous not only in terms of distinct theological sects like Sunnis and Shias but also along with other variables like class, language, and gender.” Given the heterogeneities in the ummah itself, the subjectivities in the concept of Dar al-Islam cannot be ruled out at once. Rather it is a complex thematic which also brings to the forefront the complexities of the ideas of Dar al-Kufr (land of Disbelief) and Dar al-Iman (Land of Faith). Moreover, as Islam observes, “within the Islamic discourses, there are compelling concepts like Mulk (country) and Watan (home). Such concepts in the Islamic discourses invoke an idea of belonging that ranges from the territorial idea of the nation-state to the transnational and internationalist appeal of the umma.” Hence, along with the constant struggle of belonging of the Muslim communities spread across the globe to make a manifest and an incontrovertible choice between their religiosity and their nationality, their Mulk (country) and their Watan (home).

If the concept of Dar al-Islam and its invocation by the Hanafi school is taken into consideration, a rightful contextualisation of the same can be observed in a remarkable event of modern history: the partition of India and the formation of Pakistan in 1947. In this regard, one may argue that the formation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was a quest for Dar al-Islam in the Indian subcontinent which was marked by the invariable Hijrah performed by the Muslims of undivided India through a mass exodus to the newly formed dominion of Pakistan, as the new state of India could be rendered as Dar al-Kufr. However, here were and still are contestations regarding the promised and the realised national identities of the two nations. With regard to the identity of Pakistan, Ahmed notes that “an ambiguity surrounded the purposes for which Pakistan was created – was it to be simply a national state of Muslims or a theocratic Islamic state based on Shariah?” With regard to Nehruvian India, the promised national identity was that of ‘secular’ nature. The Muslims unable to or chose not to migrate were faced with the dilemma between Mulk and Watan, their Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Kufr. However, could the blueprint of a ‘secular’ India be considered Dar al-Kufr or could it possibly resonate with the idea of Dar al-Iman?

The irony of ‘secular’ India was the massive scale of communal riots which tore the country further apart, even before it could consolidate its national identity. The minority Muslim communities of India were not devoid of threat, yet there was an assurance that their religious affiliation and practices would be protected under the ambit of the ‘secular arrangement’. However, it was not bereft of the inner identification of oneself with either of the two: Mulk or Watan. Despite its innumerable flaws, one may argue that the planning and implementation of a ‘secular’ India during the Nehruvian era, did provide for what can be called Dar al-Iman for the Muslim communities of India, though it is a matter of altercation and debate. The present political situation in India paints a rather grim portrait. Under the regime of the Bharatiya Janata Party, backed by Hindu nationalism, rather atrocious extremism of the Sangh, through the recapitulation of historical events and its asymmetric mythification, the notion of a ‘secular’ India (if at all exists) is being strategically decimated and India as Dar al-Iman is headed for an abhorrent, agonising demise. How does then, the Muslim community of India reshape their location of belonging?

The constant battle regarding self-identification, identification of the other and the idea of belonging is a compounded terrain which is evidently witnessed, especially in the context of Indian Muslims after the partition of India. Though they chose a promised Dar al-Iman over a promised Dar al-Islam, their Mulk over a possibility of being at or at least closer to an idea of their Watan, their identities have nonetheless been questioned, their loyalty ardently scrutinised and continue to be so, more brutally and reprehensibly in India than ever before. In such a situation, how does an Indian Muslim root her belonging? With which marker does she then identify herself? How does she deal with the way she is identified by her non-Muslim countrymen? Does her belonging lay in her quest for Dar al-Islam or in the de-territorial landscape of her Watan? Or does she locate her belonging on the territorial trope of her Mulk? Is her belonging located in this liminality? An Indian Muslim seems to reside in a dilemma regarding one’s own self, one’s fellow countrymen and the ummah residing across the hostile border.

[1] This analysis is primarily based on the exposition of the great Hanafi jurist Abu Bakr Muhammad b. Ahmad ibn Abi Sahl al-Sarakhsi (d. 490/1097) as contained in his commentary on al-Siyar al-Saghlr of Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Shaybani, namely, al-Mabsut. Moreover, in understanding these issues the writer has been influenced by the views expressed by Sayyid Abu 1-A’la Mawdudi (d. 1399/1979), a great Muslim scholar and thinker of the 20th century, in his treatise on interest, namely, Sud (Lahore: Islamic Publications, 2003)


AHMAD, M. (2008). The Notions of Dār al-Ḥarb and Dār al-Islām in Islamic Jurisprudence with Special Reference to the Ḥanafī School. Islamic Studies, 47(1), 5-37.

Ahmed, I. (2008). PAKISTAN’S NATIONAL IDENTITY. International Review of Modern Sociology, 34(1), 47-59.

Albrecht, S. (2018). Dar al-Islam revisited: Territoriality in Contemporary Islamic Legal Discourse on Muslims in the West. Leiden, Boston: Brill.

Islam, M. (2017). Umma and the Dilemma of Muslim Belonging in Modern South Asia. St Antony’s International Review, 12(2), 26-43.

Sami A. Aldeeb Abu-Sahlieh. (1996). The Islamic Conception of Migration. The International Migration Review, 30(1), 37-57.

Aindrila Chakraborty is currently pursuing her Masters in Global Studies from Ambedkar University, Delhi. She is interested in fiction as well as academic writing, with love for visual content analysis and the impact of commercial content on knowledge production and the masses. Her research interests range from critical engagement with history to global Islam to migration, diaspora and gender negotiations. She is currently researching the plight of South Asian women in diaspora.


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