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Protection of persons with disabilities in armed conflict under international humanitarian law and Islamic law

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 October 2022


Article 11 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires that the rights and protections of the Convention not be derogated or suspended during “situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict”. Even so, persons with disabilities are still often the group most disproportionately impacted by armed conflict. This reality is not due to a failing of international humanitarian law to protect and consider persons with disabilities; rather, it is due to a failure to mainstream disability into the application of and approach to existing protection frameworks. Impactful mainstreaming of disability necessitates the inclusion of all relevant mutually reinforcing legal frameworks and traditions. By examining four main areas – military operations, evacuation, humanitarian assistance, and long-term assistance and services – this paper argues that the protection of persons with disabilities in armed conflict, and specifically within Muslim contexts, will be enhanced through the inclusion and consideration of Islamic law.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the ICRC

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Ahmed Al-Dawoody would like to thank Camilla Gray for her excellent research assistance in the Islamic law part of this paper.

The advice, opinions and statements contained in this article are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ICRC. The ICRC does not necessarily represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other information provided in this article.


1 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UN Doc. A/RES/61/106, 24 January 2007 (entered into force 3 May 2008) (CRPD).

2 Louise Arbour, statement to the UN General Assembly Ad Hoc Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 8th Session, New York, 5 December 2006.

3 William Pons, “The Hidden Harm: Acquired Disability during Conflict”, Center for Civilians in Conflict, 1 August 2017, available at: (all internet references were accessed in September2022).

4 Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc. S/2019/373, 7 May 2019, para. 49.

5 Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “General Comment No. 6 (2018) on Equality and Non-Discrimination”, UN Doc. CRPD/C/GC/6, 26 April 2018, para. 43.

6 UNSC Res. 2475, 20 June 2019.

7 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UN Doc. A/76/146, 19 July 2021, para. 88.

8 ICRC, “How Law Protects Persons with Disabilities in Armed Conflict”, 13 December 2017, available at:

9 See Henckaerts, Jean-Marie and Doswald-Beck, Louise (eds), Customary International Humanitarian Law, Vol. 1: Rules, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005CrossRefGoogle Scholar (ICRC Customary Law Study), Rule 138, available at:

10 See Qur'an 2:286, which states: “Allah does not lay a responsibility on anyone beyond his capacity.” On the rights of persons with mental disabilities, see ‘Abdel-Hay, Muḥammad Fawzy Ḥasan, “Mental Disability in Islamic Jurisprudence from a Moral Perspective”, Journal of Faculty of Languages and Translation, Vol. 15, No. 2, 2018Google Scholar.

11 See Ghaly, Mohammed, “Disability in the Islamic Tradition”, Religion Compass, Vol. 10, No. 6, 2016, p. 153CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 Ibid., pp. 155, 156.

13 Vardit Rispler-Chaim, Disability in Islamic Law, Springer, Dordrecht, 2007, p. 3; M. Ghaly, above note 11, p. 151.

14 M. Ghaly, above note 11, p. 149.

15 See ibid., p. 149. On the physical and spiritual treatment of persons with disabilities in Islam, see Ghaly, Mohammed, “Physical and Spiritual Treatment of Disability in Islam: Perspectives of Early and Modern Jurists”, Journal of Religion, Disability and Health, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2008CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 See V. Rispler-Chaim, above note 13, p. 17; M. Ghaly, above note 15, p. 106.

17 V. Rispler-Chaim, above note 13, p. 94.

18 Skinner, Marcus, “The Impact of Displacement on Disabled, Injured and Older Syrian Refugees”, Forced Migration Review, No. 47, September 2014, p. 39Google Scholar.

19 Human Rights Watch, Disability is not Weakness: Discrimination and Barriers Facing Women and Girls with Disabilities in Afghanistan, 28 April 2020, available at:

20 According data published by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) in December 2019, about 93,000 members (2.1%) of the Palestinian population have a disability, and about one fifth of these are children under the age of 18. However, WHO estimates that 15% of every population comprises persons with disabilities, and in conflict zones this figure rises to 20%. Moreover, according to a report by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), about 25% of the population above the age of 12 in Syria are individuals with disabilities, including Palestinian refugees, and this higher prevalence is connected with the ongoing conflict. See PCBS, untitled data sheet, 3 December 2019, available at:; WHO, World Report on Disability, 2011, available at:; UNRWA, Disability Inclusion Annual Report 2020, 2020, available at:

21 See Statistics and Data Collection under Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Doc. A/HRC/49/60, 28 December 2021, available at:

22 Cassandra Clifford, “The Continued Rise of the Child Suicide Bomber”, 13 February 2008, available at:

23 Human Rights Watch, “Yemen: Houthis Endangered School for Blind”, 13 January 2016, available at:

24 Protocol (I) Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, 75 UNTS 135, 8 June 1977 (entered into force 7 December 1979) (AP I), Arts 48, 51, 52, 57, 58.

25 Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, above note 4, para. 49.

26 CRPD, above note 1, Arts 5, 10, 17.

27 Human Rights Watch, “Persons with Disabilities in the Context of Armed Conflict: Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, 8 June 2021, available at:

28 Qur'an 2:190.

29 On the ultimate objectives of Islamic law, see, for example, Opwis, Felicitas, “Maqāṣid al-Shari‘ah”, in Fadl, Khaled Abou El, Ahmad, Ahmad Atif and Hassan, Said Fares (eds), Routledge Handbook of Islamic Law, Routledge, London and New York, 2019Google Scholar.

30 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, 5 August 1990, available at:

31 See, for example, Al-Dawoody, Ahmed, The Islamic Law of War: Justifications and Regulations, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2011, pp. 116119, 122–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Al-Dawoody, Ahmed, “Islamic Law and International Humanitarian Law: An Introduction to the Main Principles”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 99, No. 3, 2017, pp. 10041007CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sohail Hashmi, “Islamic Ethics and Weapons of Mass Destruction: An Argument for Nonproliferation”, in Sohail H. Hashmi and Steven P. Lee (eds), Ethics and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Religious and Secular Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004, pp. 328–329; Najīb al-Armanāzī, Al-Sharʻ al-Dawlı̄fı̄al-Islām, 2nd ed., Riad El-Rayyes Books, London, 1990 (first published 1930), p. 124; ʻAlı̄ ibn Muḥammad ibn Ḥabīb al-Māwardī, Kitāb al-Aḥkām al-Sultāniyyah wa al-Wilāyāt al-Dīniyyah, ed. Aḥmad Mubārak al-Baghdādī, Maktabah Dār ibn Qutaybah, Kuwait, 1989, p. 57; Ibrāhīm ibn ʻAlı̄ ibn Yūsuf al-Shirāzī, Al-Muhadhdhab: Fı̄ Fiqh al-Imām al-Shāfiʻī, ed. Zakariyyā ʻImīrat, Vol. 3, Dār al-Kutub al-ʻIlmiyyah, Beirut, 1995, p. 278.

32 See, for example, Muḥammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʻī, Al-Umm, 2nd ed., Vol. 4, Dār al-Maʻrifah, Beirut, 1973, p. 240; Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī, Al-Siyar al-Kabīr, ed. Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn al-Munjid, Vol. 4, Maʻhad al-Makhṭūṭāt, Cairo, p. 1415; Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī, Al-Siyar, ed. Majid Khadduri, Al-Dār al-Muttaḥidah, Beirut, 1975, p. 249; Mālik ibn Anas, Al-Mudawwanah al-Kubrā, Vol. 3, Dār Ṣādir, Beirut, pp. 6–7; Aḥmad ibn Idrīs al-Qarāfī, Al-Dhakhīrah, ed. Muḥammad Būkhubzah, Vol. 3, Dār al-Gharb al-Islāmī, Beirut, 1994, pp. 397–401; Muḥammad al-Ghazālī, Al-Waṣīt fī al-Madhhab, Vol. 7, ed. Aḥmad Maḥmūd Ibrāhīm and Muḥammad Muḥammad Tāmir, Dār al-Salām, Cairo, 1997, p. 19; Muwaffaq al-Dīn ʻAbd Allah ibn Aḥmad ibn Qudāmah, Al-Kāfī fī Fiqh al-Imām Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal, ed. Muḥammad Fāris and Musʻad ʻAbd al-Ḥamīd al-Saʻdanī, Dār al-Kutub al-ʻIlmiyyah, Beirut, 2004, Vol. 4, p. 125.

33 V. Rispler-Chaim, above note 13, p. 124. The most commonly used modern Arabic word for a person with disability is mu‘awwaq (plural mu‘awwaqin). For a number of euphemisms used in modern Arabic to refer to persons with disabilities, see M. Ghaly, above note 11, p. 151.

34 A. Al-Dawoody, The Islamic Law of War, above note 31, p. 114.

35 See ibid., p. 114; A. Al-Dawoody, “Islamic Law and International Humanitarian Law”, above note 31, p. 1004; Muḥammad ibn ʻAlī ibn Muḥammad al-Shawkānī, Nayl al-Awṭār: Min Aḥādīth Sayyid al-Khyār Sharḥ Muntaqā al-Akhbār, Vol. 8, Dār al-Jīl, Beirut, 1973, p. 73.

36 V. Rispler-Chaim, above note 31, pp. 41–45.

37 See Muwaffaq al-Dın̄ ʻAbd Allah ibn Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad ibn Qudāmah, Al-Mughnī, ed. ʻAbd Allah ibn ʻAbd al-Muḥsin al-Turkı̄ and ʻAbd al-Fattaḥ Muḥammad al-Ḥilu, 3rd ed., Vol. 13, Dār ʻĀlam al-Kutub, Riyadh, 1997, p. 9.

38 ʻAbd Allah ibn al-Mubārak, Al-Jihād, ed. Nazīh Ḥammād, Al-Dār al-Tūnissiyah, Tunis, 1972, p. 69; Muḥammad ibn ʻUmar al-Wāqidī, Kitāb al-Maghāzī, ed. Marsden Jones, 3rd ed., Vol. 1, Dār al-‘Iamy, Beirut, 1989, pp. 164–165.

39 Geneva Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 287 (entered into force 21 October 1950) (GC IV), Art. 17.

40 Ibid., Art. 16.

41 CRPD, above note 1, Arts 9, 21.

42 Human Rights Watch, “South Sudan: People with Disabilities, Older People Face Danger: UN, Aid Agencies Should Improve Response to These Groups”, 31 May 2017, available at:

43 Ahmed Al-Dawoody, “Management of the Dead from the Islamic Law and International Humanitarian Law Perspectives: Considerations for Humanitarian Forensics”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 99, No. 2, 2017, pp. 672–673.

44 On the Islamic principle of pacta sunt servanda, see, for example, Wehberg, Hans, “Pacta Sunt Servanda”, American Journal of International Law, Vol. 53, No. 4, 1959, p. 775CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, “Islam and International Law”, in Altaf Gauhar (ed.), The Challenge of Islam, Islamic Council of Europe, London, 1978, pp. 210–215; C. G. Weeramantry, Islamic Jurisprudence: An International Perspective, Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1988, pp. 132–133; Farhad Malekian, The Concept of Islamic International Criminal Law: A Comparative Study, Graham & Trotman, London, 1994, pp. 12–13; Javaid Rehman, Islamic State Practices, International Law and the Threat from Terrorism: A Critique of the “Clash of Civilizations” in the New World Order, Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2005, p. 46; Powell, Emilia Justyna and McLaughlin, SaraThe International Court of Justice and the World's Three Legal Systems”, Journal of Politics, Vol. 69, No. 2, 2007, pp. 400401CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

45 Moschtaghi, Ramin, “Relation between International Law, Islamic Law and Constitutional Law of the Islamic Republic of Iran – A Multilayer System of Conflict”, Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2009, p. 420CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

46 Niaz A. Shah, “Foreword”, in Muhammad-Basheer A. Ismail, Islamic Law and Transnational Diplomatic Law: A Quest for Complementarity in Divergent Legal Theories, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2016, p. xi.

47 GC IV, Art. 23.

48 Common Art. 3.

49 AP I, Art. 70.

50 Human Rights Watch, Leave No One Behind: Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Emergencies, 19 May 2016, available at:; Amnesty International, Excluded: Living with Disabilities in Yemen's Armed Conflict, 3 December 2019, available at:

51 Amnesty International, Excluded: Living with Disabilities in Yemen's Armed Conflict, 3 December 2019, available at:

52 CRPD, above note 1, Arts 18, 21, 26.

53 IASC, Guidelines: Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, 19 November 2019, available at:

54 Krafess, Jamal, “The Influence of the Muslim Religion in Humanitarian Aid”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 87, No. 858, 2015, p. 327Google Scholar.

55 Ibid., pp. 327, 335–337.

56 Zakah is levied on specific categories of wealth, and is to be given to specific categories of recipients if the minimum amount of wealth is reached. A minimum of fixed rates that vary depending on the category of wealth must be paid: for example, 2.5% must be paid if the minimum amount of wealth has been in possession of the zakah payee for a lunar year, and 10% must be paid on agricultural income on naturally irrigated areas but 5% on artificially irrigated areas. See, for example, Timur Kuran, “Property”, Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, ed. Richard C. Martin, Macmillan Reference USA, New York, 2004, p. 553; J. Krafess, above note 54, p. 335.

57 Aamir A. Rehman and Francine Pickup, “Zakat for the SDGs”, 7 September 2018, available at:

58 Islamic Relief, “Why Is Zakat Important?”, available at:

59 This category refers to “persons who have recently been brought to Islam, or whose commitment to the faith and community needs to be reinforced, and individuals who can be prevented from harming the community, or who can benefit and defend the community”. There is a disagreement among Islamic jurists as to whether this category is eligible to receive zakah after the death of the Prophet: see Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī, Fiqh Al-Zakāh: A Comprehensive Study of Zakah Regulations and Philosophy in Light of the Qur'an and the Sunnah, trans. Monzer Kahf, Islamic Books Trust, Kuala Lumpur, 2011, pp. 379–408.

60 Qur'an 9:60.

61 Dar al-Ifta al-Missriyyah, “Can I Give Zakah Money to a Hospital Where Patients Are Both Muslims and Non Muslims?”, available at:

62 See the UNHCR Refugee Zakat Fund website, available at:

63 See the UNHCR Refugee Zakat Fund “Fatawa” webpage, available at:

64 Ibid.

65 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UN Doc. A/HRC/49/52, 28 December 2021.

66 GC IV, Art. 49.

67 ICRC Customary Law Study, above note 9, Rule 13.

68 Human Rights Watch, Central African Republic: People with Disabilities Left Behind, 28 April 2015, available at:

69 CRPD, above note 1, Arts 24, 25, 26, 28.

70 Ibid., Art. 32.

71 J. Krafess, above note 54, p. 334.

72 Suleiman, Haitam, “The Islamic Trust Waqf: A Stagnant or Reviving Legal Institution?”, Electronic Journal of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, Vol. 4, 2016, p. 30Google Scholar.

73 Gaudiosi, Monica M., “Influence of the Islamic Law of Waqf on the Development of the Trust in England: The Case of Merton College”, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 136, 1988, p. 1232CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

74 Ibid., p. 1234. See also H. Suleiman, above note 72, p. 32.

75 H. Suleiman, above note 72, p. 32. Other examples of “projects financed by waqf have been very diverse, covering social, humanitarian, cultural and economic domains. They have included the sinking of wells, the construction of water fountains, the construction of homes for the poor unable to pay rent, free hostels and hotels for travellers, the maintenance of bridges and roads, the organization of funerals for the poor, the upkeep of cemeteries, help for the blind, the handicapped and the imprisoned, the financing of weddings for the unmarried poor, the construction and maintenance of orphanages, food centres serving free meals, the construction and maintenance of mosques, and the provision of milk for children. … In the health sector, waqf allowed for huge innovations such as mobile hospitals which moved from village to village, as well as emergency teams in places where large meetings were held. There were fifty hospitals in the Cordoba region of Andalusia alone. The hospitals offered diverse services, for instance surgery, ophthalmology, traumatology and psychiatry.” See J. Krafess, above note 54, p. 338.

76 Andika Primasiwi, “Dompet Dhuafa Berdayakan Kaum Disabilitas Melalui Program Pemberdayaan Ekonomi”, Suara Merdeka, 5 December 2018, available at: The authors thank Muhamad Fikri Pido for the translation from Indonesian.

77 M. F. H. ‘Abdel-Hay, above note 10, p. 388.

78 As noted by Brenton Kinker, ‘Abd Allah ibn Umm Maktum was “a blind man who achieved fame as an avid student, eventual governor of Medina, leader of prayer, and commander of military expeditions – appointed for all these tasks by Muhammad himself.” Kinker, Brenton, “An Evaluation of the Prospects for Successful Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the Islamic World”, Michigan Journal of International Law, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2014, p. 466Google Scholar.

79 ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn Ḥabīb al-Māwardī, Kitāb al-Aḥkām al-Sulṭāniyyah wa al-Wilāyāt al-Dīniyyah, Dār al-Ḥadīth, Cairo, 2010, p. 19.

80 See, for example, F. Opwis, above note 29. For some Islamic scholars, the protection of life comes second after the protection of religion.