In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
The term “land of war” was a legal term derived by jurists to describe a situation in which a country was hostile to Islam and to warn Muslims that they would be oppressed if they traveled there. It is a term based upon contingent factors, namely security to practice Islam, and it is not a theological term expressing an Islamic worldview. For this reason, the term was featured mostly in legal writings and not writings on creed or theology.
The different schools of Islamic law disagree on the definition and details of these terms because they are not found in the scriptural sources of Islam. According to the famous publication by Al-Azhar University:
تقسيم البلاد إلى دار كفر وإسلام أمر اجتهادى من واقع الحال فى زمان الأئمة المجتهدين وليس هناك نص فيه من قرآن أو سنة
The division of countries into the land of unbelief and Islam is a matter for judicial reasoning (ijtihad) based upon the reality of conditions in the time of the distinguished jurists. There are not any texts from the Quran and Sunnah about it.
Source: Bayan lin-Nas 1/248
According to a prominent legal opinion, a land would be classified as “land of war” or “land of unbelief” if Muslims living there were not free to practice their religion and were subjected to persecution. In contrast, a land in which Muslims enjoined security would be classified as “land of peace” (dar as-sulh) or “land of security” (dar al-aman).
Abu Hanifa, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
الْمَقْصُودَ مِنْ إضَافَةِ الدَّارِ إلَى الْإِسْلَامِ وَالْكُفْرِ لَيْسَ هُوَ عَيْنَ الْإِسْلَامِ وَالْكُفْرِ وَإِنَّمَا الْمَقْصُودُ هُوَ الْأَمْنُ وَالْخَوْفُ
The purpose of referring to a place as the land of Islam or the land of unbelief is not specifically due to Islam or unbelief. Rather, the purpose is only due to security or danger.
Source: Bada’ia Sana’ia, Al-Kasani 7/131
Likewise, Al-Bayhaqi from the school of Ash-Shafi’ee said:
لَا هِجْرَةَ وُجُوبًا عَلَى مَنْ أَسْلَمَ مِنْ أَهْلِ مَكَّةَ بَعْدَ فَتْحِهَا فَإِنَّهَا قَدْ صَارَتْ دَارَ إِسْلَامٍ وَأَمْنٍ فَلَا يَخَافُ أَحَدٌ فِيهَا أَنْ يُفْتَنَ عَنْ دِينِهِ وَكَذَلِكَ غَيْرُ مَكَّةَ إِذَا صَارَ فِي مَعْنَاهَا بَعْدَ الْفَتْحِ فِي الْأَمْنِ
Emigration was not an obligation for those who embraced Islam in Mecca after it was liberated. Mecca had become the land of Islam and security, for no one feared he would be persecuted for his religion. Likewise, lands besides Mecca become so if they achieve similar security.
Source: Sunan Al-Kubra 17210
Therefore, the legal classification of “land of war” reflected a very practical concern to protect Muslims from suffering injustice by hostile regimes.
Today, some anti-Muslim writers and even Muslim extremists have misinterpreted these terms as having an unchanging theological meaning, by which they imagine Islam has labeled the entire non-Muslim world as the land of war, implying that Muslims must wage war until all countries are brought under the rule of Islamic law. This is a foolish mistake that interprets these terms outside of their historical and literary context.
Rather, peaceful relations with neighboring countries is the most desirable situation in Islam, as this was commanded by Allah and His Messenger.
وَإِن جَنَحُوا لِلسَّلْمِ فَاجْنَحْ لَهَا وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
If the enemy inclines to peace, then incline to it also and rely upon Allah. Verily, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.
Surat Al-Anfal 8:61
Ali ibn Abu Talib reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
إِنَّهُ سَيَكُونُ بَعْدِي اخْتِلَافٌ أَوْ أَمْرٌ فَإِنْ اسْتَطَعْتَ أَنْ تَكُونَ السِّلْمَ فَافْعَل
Verily, after me there will be conflicts or affairs, so if you are able to end them in peace then do so.
Source: Musnad Ahmad 697, Grade: Sahih
In our time, most Muslims enjoy peaceful diplomatic relations with non-Muslim countries and such lands can be properly classified as “lands of peace” in which Muslims enjoy security and freedom to practice Islam. Conversely, there are some conflict zones in parts of the world in which Muslims are not secure, even if there are a majority of Muslims living there. Such lands can be properly classified as “lands of war” to warn Muslims of the dangers of travelling there. However, it is not necessary to use these terms themselves as they derive from legal opinion only and not from divine revelation.
Furthermore, it must be understood that classification of specific lands should not be made by ordinary Muslims. Such decisions belong to Muslim authorities, academic institutions, and scholars who are qualified to investigate, research, and deliberate these matters before issuing guidance to the general public.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.