On 25 and 26 April 2006, the ICRC and Qarawiyyin University in Fès, Morocco, one of the oldest academic institutions in the Muslim world, held a seminar on the protection of civilians in armed conflict under Islamic law and international humanitarian law. Civilians are the main victims of violence in today’s world.

During the seminar, scholars of Islamic law from Qarawiyyin and other universities presented papers on the general principles underlying this body of law, in particular the abiding concern to preserve human life. Other subjects discussed were the basic sources of Islamic law, the persons and objects it protects and the provisions it contains for the prosecution of violations. Various speakers referred to the siyar treatises – a sophisticated body of rules governing armed conflict that goes back to the earliest days of Islamic civilization.

ICRC experts and teachers from the law faculties of Fès and Meknes universities gave presentations on the history and basic principles of international humanitarian law, its specific clauses protecting women and children, the restrictions it imposes on the means and methods of warfare used and the role of the international criminal justice system in ensuring compliance with humanitarian law.

The discussions, which were marked by their openness and remarkable intellectual rigour, were driven by the shared conviction that human life and dignity must be respected in all circumstances and that Islamic law and humanitarian law are both compatible and complementary. About 150 students from various faculties of Qarawiyyin University and from the law faculty of Fès University attended the seminar and took part in the discussions.

As one of the participants said, “Considering the enormous challenges presented by today’s conflicts, scholars must continue to search for common denominators between Islamic law and international humanitarian law.”

In his opening speech, the president of Qarawiyyin University, Dr Ali Seqelli Al Hussaini, pointed out that the seminar – the first of its kind in Morocco – reflected the university’s new interest in the international sphere, and particularly in the work of humanitarian organizations. Dr Seqelli concluded this speech by saying: “The rules of international humanitarian law protecting civilians, wounded military personnel and sites that are not considered as legitimate military targets have their equivalent in the Holy Koran and the traditions of the Prophet.”