Dhimmitude Past and Present: An Invented or Real History?
by BAT YE'OR
I call dhimmitude the comprehensive legal system established by the Muslim conquerors to rule the native non-Muslim populations subdued by Jihad wars. It is my opinion that this system has not been fully investigated. However, one can rightly ask:
The dhimmi condition can only be understood in the context of Jihad because it
originates from this ideology. Muslim, as well as non-Muslim scholars, from the
7th century through the present, have acknowledged that all the lands from
Portugal to Central Asia that constituted the Muslim Empires were conquered by
Beginning in the eighth and ninth centuries, Muslim theologians and jurists
endeavored to give to the Jihad - a war of conquest - a religious and legal
structure. Living during and after the great wave of Arab-Muslim expansion on
mainly Christian lands, they built their theory of Jihad on their
interpretations of the Koran and the hadiths (the sayings and acts attributed to
the prophet Muhammad).
The ideology, strategy and tactics of Jihad constitute a most important part of Islamic jurisprudence and literature. Muslim theologians expounded that Jihad is a collective, religious obligation (fard 'ala al‑kifaya) binding the community and each individual (fard 'ala al‑ayn) in different ways according to situations and circumstances.
Here are two definitions of Jihad by recognized authorities: Abu Muhammad Abdallah Ibn Abi Zayd al‑Qayrawani in the 10thc. (d. 966); and Ibn Khaldun in the 14th c.(d. 1406).
Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani wrote:
"Jihad is a precept of Divine institution. Its performance by certain individuals may dispense others from it. We Malikis [one of the four schools of Muslim jurisprudence] maintain that it is preferable not to begin hostilities with the enemy before having invited the latter to embrace the religion of Allah except where the enemy attacks first. They have the alternative of either converting to Islam or paying the poll tax ( jizya), short of which war will be declared against them.1
And Ibn Khaldun:
"In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the (Muslim) mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force." 2
One may ask: Who are the enemies? Here is a definition from al-Mawardi, the great jurist in Baghdad in the 11thc.(d. 1058).
"The mushrikun (infidels) of Dar al-Harb (region of war) are of two types: First, those whom the call of Islam has reached, but they have refused it and have taken up arms.
Jihad may be exercised by pen, speech or money. The 'enemies' are those who
oppose the establishment of Islamic law and its sovereignty over their lands.
The world of infidels is considered as one entity. It is called the dar al‑harb
(region of war) until, through Jihad, it will come under Islamic rule.
Islamic law forbids the killing of women, children, the elderly, the sick and the priests, unless they have helped the enemies. It also forbids the mutilation of corpses.
In this same chapter al-Mawardi examines the opinion of different jurists on the booty and on prisoners of war taken by the jihad. "Prisoners of war refers to the fighting men from the unbelievers taken alive by the Muslims." 5
He distinguish three cases:
The payment is of two sorts:
According to Abu Yusuf, an important jurist of the 8th c., peace treaties can be signed for four months, and they can be renewed but should not extend for more than ten years.
In another chapter, devoted to the division of the booty, Mawardi states:
"As for land seized by the Muslims, it is of three types:
Among the infidel peoples there are differences. Those who do not possess Revealed Scriptures - and all Arabs - have, in theory, the choice between Islam or death. The others, principally the Jews and Christians, are granted protection status, according to the modalities of the conquest. They become dhimmis ‑ people protected by the law of Islam, by a dhimma.
From Islam's beginning the universality of Jihad was proclaimed. Jihad has not been ordered only against specific groups or for specific times, but - like Muhammad's mission - it is a universal injunction till the only remaining religion is that of Allah (Koran 2:189). Today many Muslims reject such theories, but there are others who reaffirm the same standardized interpretation and conceptualization of international relations.
For example the late Prof. Ismail al-Faruqi, a Palestinian, who was Professor of Islamic Studies and the History of Religion at Temple University (1968-86), and who also taught at the University of Chicago and Syracuse University. In a forward to Islam and Other Faiths (1998 - a collection of Faruqi's articles), his former student John Esposito referred to him as "a Muslim trailblazer of the twentieth century" Here is Prof. Faruqi's position:
"The Islamic state is hoped by all Muslims some day to include the whole world. The Pax Islamica which the Islamic state offers is more viable than the United Nations... Per contra, the Pax Islamica is dominated by law, born out of nature and necessity, has law courts open to all plaintiffs, and is backed by the power of a standing, universal army.
The doctrine of Jihad or Holy War is valid in Islam. A Holy War could be entered into only for two reasons. The first reason is defence .... The second is the undoing of injustice wherever it takes place. Like the Muslim individual within Dar al-Islam, the Islamic state regards itself, and does so rightly, as vicegerent of God in space and time, a vocation which lays a great responsibility upon the Islamic state...to redress injustice wherever men have caused it - even if that has been the other side of the moon. The Muslim regards it as his religious duty to rise up and put an end to injustice. 8
Today many Muslims reject such theories. As for states, only Turkey has officially rejected them. We can therefore affirm that the universality of Jihad had implied also the universality of the rules pertaining in the past to the whole territory conquered by Jihad.
Like the rules of Jihad, the rules of dhimmitude were elaborated from the Koran,
the hadiths and the biographies on the Prophet. Those laws and their religious
justification were taught throughout the Islamic Empires. Despite some
differences in the four schools of Islamic Sunni jurisprudence, there is a
quasi unanimity in matters concerning the dhimmis. The fundamental rulings
relevant to them were established quite early.
Now we must remember also that for centuries the vanquished populations, mainly
the Christians, formed the majorities in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern
Muslim Empires. Being the targets, along with the Jews, of dhimmitude
regulations, Christian chroniclers have left many testimonies of their
implementation from the earliest time and in different regions.
The sources on dhimmitude
The literature on Jihad by Muslim historians is quite extensive. It describes the conquest and the process of Islamization of Christian lands which integrate the rules of dhimmitude. Hence, the many sources on dhimmitude over the centuries comprise the Muslim legal and historic texts. Jurists from the later Middle Ages and after, usually list the successive ordinances of caliphs, which are usually referred to by Muslim historians and dhimmis sources.
Then there are the dhimmi sources, as I have mentioned, which are not uniform. Some are very meagre because of the disappearance of whole communities in some regions or at some periods, while some are more abundant.
And then there are the numerous testimonies, including diplomatic records, left by Europeans Christian and Jewish pilgrims, as well as travelers, merchants, consuls and other diplomats. These foreigners observed and described the discriminatory rules imposed on the dhimmis, and in general against infidels because they themselves had to conform to these rules. Not being aware of Islamic legislation, their testimonies are thus a valuable confirmation that the rules were enforced.
The characteristics of dhimmitude are manifold. They embrace the whole expression of life and rather than analyse each of them, which is impossible to do in a lecture, I shall instead examine if they belong to a permanent and homogeneous pattern in the dar al-Islam.
Characteristics of dhimmitude
The basic element of dhimmitude is a land expropriation through a pact: 'land for peace'. The vanquished populations of territories taken during a millennium of Jihad were "protected", providing they recognized the Islamic ownership of their lands, which had now become dar al-Islam, and that they submitted to Islamic authority.
The vanquished peoples are granted security for their life and possessions by
the Muslim authority, as well as a relative self‑autonomous administration under
their religious leaders, and permission to worship according to the modalities
of the treaties.
The first 'right' is the right to life, which was conceded on payment of the jizya (Koran 9:29), a poll-tax paid with humiliation by the dhimmi.. The refusal to pay the jizya is considered by all jurists as a rupture of the dhimma, which automatically restores to the umma its initial rights of war ‑ to kill and to dispossess the dhimmi, or to expel him, because he has therefore returned to his former status of being an unsubjected infidel.
Hence Abu Yusuf wrote in his book on the kharaj (land tax) that it was not allowed for the governor to exempt any Jew, Christian, or other dhimmis from the jizya: "and no one can obtain a partial reduction. It is illegal for one to be exempted and another not, for their lives and belongings are spared only because of payment of the poll tax." 9
Protection is abolished if the dhimmis rebel against Islamic law, give
allegiance to a non‑Muslim power, refuse to pay the jizya, entice a Muslim from
his faith, harm a Muslim or his property, or commit blasphemy.
The Baha'i religion is not protected even today in Iran. In 1994 two Muslims kidnapped and killed a Baha'i. The Islamic court held that as the Baha'is were "unprotected infidels... the issue of retribution is null and void". 10 This means that an infidel has no human rights, unless he is protected by Islamic law.
In the context of its time, the protection system presented both positive and negative aspects. It provided security and a measure of religious autonomy, but in a legal context of discrimination. These rules, mostly established from the eighth to ninth centuries by the founders of the four schools of Islamic law, set the pattern of the Muslim community's social behavior toward dhimmis.
Because protection was set in a context of war, some rules pertaining to the dhimmis have a military character. Among the military elements of the dhimmi condition is the prohibition for dhimmis to carry or possess weapons. It is mentioned in the earliest legal texts, from the beginning of the Islamic conquest and is attributed to the second caliph Umar b. al-Khattab (634-44). It was confirmed throughout the centuries and in different regions by many witnesses until the 19thc. and, in regions applying the shari'a until the 20thc.
Many sources mention the prohibition on carrying arms for Jews and Christians in Palestine 11, Syria, Egypt, Armenia, the Maghreb, and Persia. Its debilitating and tragic consequences were analyzed by foreign consuls. Dhimmis became prey to marauding, pillage, and massacre especially during periods of insecurity, such as rebellions and invasions. With the spread of the Islamic conquest, this prohibition was applied also in Anatolia and in the European Islamized provinces.
British Consul Blunt noticed in his report to the Foreign Office in 1860 that Christians in the Ottoman province of Macedonia were not allowed to carry arms. British Consul in Jerusalem, James Finn, attributed to this interdiction, the cowardice of dhimmis. William Shaler, the American consul in Algiers (1816-26) mentions the prohibition for Jews and Christians to bear arms. In Yemen, Jews were forbidden to carry arms until their departure to Israel in 1949-50 12.
The deportations of dhimmi populations for slavery or for strategic reasons are mentioned in time of war, and in time of peace. During the Arab conquests many populations were deported as booty, from Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Armenia and other regions. Muslim as well as Armenian and Coptic sources mention deportations in the 8 and 9th c. during rebellions.
Muslim chronicles refer to the deportation of dhimmi population from towns and villages during warfare. Seljuk Turk rulers imposed deportations during the 11th c. from Armenia and Anatolia. Prof. Speros Vryonis 13 has extensively documented this phenomenon for Anatolia, using contemporary Greek and Muslim sources, as did Greek, Serb and Bulgarian historians for the Ottoman period. Deportations from the Holy Land were carried out by Arab tribes in middle of the 10th c., and in Anatolia under the Ottomans during the 15th - 17th centuries 14.
Population transfers motivated by economic causes affected dhimmi populations and were not restricted to newly subjugated or enslaved populations. Some chronicles provide information on these transfers. Departure had to take place on the same day or at very short notice - two or three days - making it impossible for the deportees to sell their possessions. In order to discourage flight, they were counted, closely supervised, and forbidden to move from their new place of residence, generally very far from their places of origin. After all had been deported, their houses were burnt down and the entire village destroyed.
Arakel of Tabriz has recorded the deportation of Armenians by Shah Abbas in 1604
from Julfa, with its terrible hardships, and the killing and abductions of girls
and boys. He also describes the expulsion of the Armenians from Isfahan by Shah
Abbas II, and the expulsion and forced conversions of the Jews in several
cities of Persia at the same time (1657-61).
Billeting and provisioning soldiers and horses were imposed by laws on dhimmis - another obligation which is stressed in every legal treatise on dhimmis. Abu Yusuf attributed it to the second caliph, Umar b. al-Khattab. Soldiers and beasts had to be lodged in the best houses, or in churches or synagogues, which were then abandoned because they became refuse dumps or stables. In the 19th c. British and French consuls and travelers mentioned this obligation in Bulgaria, Bosnia, Greece, Armenia, Syria and the Holy Land.16
In the Maghreb during periods of instability and a change in monarch, Jewish quarters were plundered, men slaughtered or ransomed, and women and children abducted by tribes massed around the towns. This was witnessed by among others, the American consul Shaler in Algiers in the 1820s, and is described in local Jewish and diplomatic reports in the early 20thc. in Morocco. 17
Abduction of women and children for slavery or ransom in times of war and rebellion, or during peace time raids (i.e., razzias), was recurrent. Documentation is provided in Jewish dhimmi sources, but mainly in Christian chronicles: Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Greek, Bulgarian, and Muslim. Coptic chronicles of the Middle Ages mention the abduction of Christian children as slaves or as a deduction of unpaid taxes.
In Yemen, Jewish children under the
age of 12, upon the death of their father, were removed from their families and
converted to Islam. The law was retroactive, and was applied until the departure
of the Jews to Israel in 1950.
The revolt of dhimmis restored the rule of Jihad, resulting in slaughter of the rebels, and slavery for their women and children. After the Greek and Serb revolts in the 19th c., thousands of women and children were enslaved. At the fall of Missolonghi (22 Apr. 1825) 3.000 to 4.000 Greek women were sold in slavery. Countless Armenians were enslaved during the massacres at the end of the 19th c. and during the genocide of 1915-17.
Religious slavery was widespread throughout the Islamic lands. Christian Nubia
was obliged to deliver contingents of slaves from the beginning of the Arab
conquest. The Mamluks who ruled Egypt and Syria for centuries, were all
non-Muslim slaves, bought or captured.
Concerning the dhimmi peasantry 19, we see that chronicles from Egypt, Armenia,
and Palestine in the 8th and 9th centuries onward describe a similar pattern
concerning the taxes and the ransoms levied on the dhimmis, the general
insecurity, the usurpation of lands by Arab immigrant tribes, the continuous
extortion of the population, and its flight.
The same fiscal oppression and the ransoming for security, was observed in the
19th c. for Christians and Jews in Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon 20, as well as
Mesopotamia, Armenia and Kurdistan, and some European provinces of the Ottoman
The general pattern for the dhimmi peasantry, most frequently discussed in texts
related to the beginning of the conquest, concern the conditions of the
conquest, the character of the Islamized lands, the fiscal regime, the sporadic
deportations, the overall insecurity, and the destruction of churches and
Since dhimmitude is the result of a war of conquest, it comprises the study of the Jihad rules and of the modalities of the battles and the treatises with conquered peoples. For traditional Muslim jurists the modalities of conquest of each land or city was to determine for all time the jurisdiction to be applied there. Those points are constantly stressed by jurists. Here are some examples:
In the early fourteenth century, churches and synagogues were closed in Cairo and a legal opinion on this matter was requested from Ibn Taymiya, a renowned Hanbali jurist. He confirmed the legality of the closure by referring to the conditions of Egypt's conquest in the seventh century by the Muslims, that is, eight centuries earlier.
In the treatise (1739) of Shaykh al-Damanhuri, an Egyptian scholar from al-Azhar, we read an interesting examination of the opinions of the most prominent Islamic scholars on the building and restoration of churches and synagogues in Islamic lands. All opinions are based on the conditions of the conquest: if the land was taken by violence, by treaty or was occupied by Muslim colonists.
Another example comes from Morocco a century later. From 1836 to 1837 the Jews
of Fez had asked the Sultan Abd ar‑Rahman for permission to build a hammam
(public bath) in their quarter. The most learned qadis (judges) were consulted.
The economic and social domain projects a much wider and deeper pattern of
dhimmitude, because one can say that the Muslim peasantry was also - though in a
much less severe way - victim of the periods vicissitudes. In wars, invasions
and rebellions, there is a degree of uncertainty.
As we have seen, the jizya was mandatory under threat of jail, conversion,
slavery, the abduction of dhimmi children, or death. Dhimmis paid double the
taxes of the Muslims and were subjected to the most degrading corvées. In North
Africa and Yemen, repugnant obligations, such as executioner, gravedigger,
cleaner of public latrines and the like, were forced on Jews, even on Saturdays
and holy days.
In the legal domain, specific laws ordained permanent inferiority and
humiliation for the dhimmis. Their lives were valued at considerably less than
that of a Muslim. The penalty for murder was much lighter if the dhimmi was the
victim. Likewise, penalties for offenses were unequal between Muslims and
Dhimmis were forbidden to have authority over Muslims, to possess or buy land, to marry Muslim women, to have Muslim slaves or servants, or to use the Arabic alphabet (confirmed by Colonel Charles Churchill in Syria and Lebanon during 1840-60).
In the social domain dhimmis had to be recognized by their discriminatory
clothes whose shape, color and texture were prescribed from head to foot,
likewise, their houses (color and size) and their separate living quarters.
Dhimmis were forbidden to ride a horse or a camel, since these animals were
considered too noble.
He had to walk humbly with lowered eyes, to accept
insults without replying, to remain standing in a meek and respectful attitude
in the presence of a Muslim and to leave him the best place. If he was admitted
to a public bath, he had to wear bells to signal his presence.
These laws are the basic regulations set down in the classical texts on dhimmis
and they had to be enforced throughout the lands of dhimmitude. Muslim jurists
strongly condemned the alleviation of these measures when it temporarily
Thus we can answer the questions posed at the beginning of this lecture as follows: yes, indeed, dhimmitude represents a comprehensive legal system; it was introduced throughout the lands conquered and Islamized by Jihad; and it was implemented as recorded in numerous texts, and viewed or experienced by countless witnesses for thirteen centuries.
This comprehensive system has permeated Islamic civilization and culture from its inception, and is being revived today through the Islamist resurgence and the return of the shari'a in some countries. Hence this pattern is not transient but permanent.
Jihad-dhimmitude: a stable and enduring pattern
The considerable number of chronicles written by Muslims and non-Muslims provide copious information on the methods and implementation of Jihad over the centuries. These texts make it possible to establish the close correspondence between actual Islamic military practices and the legal and theological prescriptions of Jihad.
The wars currently waged by Muslim states or through
their proxies, in Israel, the Sudan, Nigeria, Kashmir, the Philippines,
Indonesia, and other parts of the world, reproduce the classic strategy of
Jihad. For instance Abu Yusuf mentions the military conscription of pubescent
and pre-pubescent children in Jihad campaigns. Contemporary examples include:
the Iraq-Iran war, the Jihad against Israel (intifada), and the Islamist
militias in the Sudan.
Today, many aspects of dhimmitude remain active or potential political forces. Hence we see a return to the same situation in modern states where the shari'a is applied or constitutes the source of the laws, as in Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and until recently in Afghanistan.
The condition of Christians in some modern Muslim states is inspired by the traditional rules of dhimmitude relating to the laws of blasphemy, mixed marriage and apostasy, or those concerning the building and repairing of churches, and of religious processions. Discrimination in employment and in education occurs, as well in equality between Muslims and non-Muslims in penal law.
A recently published book by Canon Patrick Sookhdeo22 examined the condition
known in Pakistan as "bonded labor". This is of particular interest to the
historian of dhimmitude because it was the condition of the Jewish and Christian
peasantries, so often referred to in their chronicles from the eighth to the
As a brief conclusion, I would say that there is no public debate yet on the
ideology of Jihad against the infidels, nor about dhimmitude, because these
subjects are simply obfuscated or denied outright.
Since the end of the 1960s some professors in Europe and North America teach
that Jihad wars produced no civilian victims, and that the Muslim armies of
conquest were welcomed by their future dhimmis with open arms.
Bat Ye'or is the author of three books on Jihad and dhimmitude (www.dhimmitude.org and www.dhimmi.org). Her latest study is Islam and Dhimmitude. Where Civilizations Collide (2002); see her Eurabia: The Road to Munich.
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy. Thomas Paine
Excerpts from Will Durant's The Age of Faith Pages 162-186 Pub. 1950
Religion and History
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