Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Alexander Orakhelashvili
Chapter 13: Acculturation through the Middle Ages: The Islamic Law of Nations and its Place in the History of International Law
Jean Allain Lassa Oppenheim was quoted with authority as late as 1948 stating that ‘international law as a law between sovereign and equal states based on the common consent of those states is a product of modern Christian civilization, and may be said to be about four hundred years old’.1 Such a statement might have held up to scrutiny in the early years of the United Nations organisation, which consisted of only 58 Member States and had yet to go through the decolonisation process. The last sixty years, by contrast, have seen membership of the United Nations grow more than threefold to 192; and has taken the State system, which was comprised in the main of European States and outposts of its progeny, to one which is truly worldwide. As a result might one not say that international law is a law between sovereign and equal states, which has only become fully functional with the end of the decolonisation process? Can one declare that international law, rightly understood as a State system including all peoples of the world, is barely twenty years old? International law, as ‘a product of modern Christian civilization’, only gains traction with the age of discovery and the European colonial venture which lasted until European States looked to accommodate non-Christian States from the Treaty of Peace of 1856 (settling the Crimean War) onwards, via the medium of the construct of ‘civilisation’. The year after the publication of the seventh edition of Oppenheim’s International Law, the United...