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Jihad and Dhimmitude: Victimless Islamic Institutions? By: Bat Ye’or and Andrew G. Bostom
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, December 03, 2002


For well over a millennium, across three continents - Asia, Africa,and Europe - non-Muslims have experienced jihad war ideology, and its ugly corollary institution, dhimmitude. Today, the debate among Muslim scholars regarding the theological "correctness" of "lesser" versus "greater" jihad are meaningless to the millions of non-Muslim victims- Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists - of countless jihad wars. What is important is that after all this time, Muslims finally acknowledge the suffering of these millions of non-Muslim victims of jihad wars, as well as the oppressive governance imposed on non-Muslims by the laws of dhimmitude.

Thus far this brutal history has been completely denied, and even celebrated as "enlightened" conquest and rule. In this essay we will introduce, briefly, the rationale and historiography of these twin Islamic institutions, and provide evidence of their contemporary revival.

In the History of al-Tabari (Ta’rikh l-rusul wa’l-muluk), the renowned Muslim scholar’s monumental historiography of the Arab-Muslim conquests, we read the recommendation given by Caliph Umar b. al-Khattab to the commander of the troops he sent to al-Basrah, during the conquest of Iraq (636 C.E.)

"Summon the people to God; those who respond to your call, accept it from them, (This is to say, accept their conversion as genuine and refrain from fighting them) but those who refuse must pay the poll tax out of humiliation and lowliness. (Qur’an 9:29) If they refuse this, it is the sword without leniency. Fear God with regard to what you have been entrusted."

Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406), ostensibly the pre-eminent Islamic scholar in history, summarized five centuries of prior Muslim jurisprudence with regard to the uniquely Islamic institution of jihad, as follows:

"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. ..The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense. ..Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations."

By the time al-Tabari died in 923, the Muslim empire had already expanded from Portugal to India. After al-Tabari’s death, the Muslim conquests continued in Asia, as well as on Christian eastern European lands. The Christian kingdoms of Armenia, Byzantium, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Albania and parts of Poland and Hungary were conquered. The Muslim armies were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683 (September 12). The jihad lasted over a millennium. Jihad was pursued century after century, because jihad, which means "to strive in the path of Allah," embodied a sacred ideology linked to a series of detailed regulations. Both were conceived by Muslim jurists from the eighth to ninth centuries onward. Briefly presented, the ideology of jihad separates the world into two irreconcilable entities: dar al-Islam (the land of Islam) and dar al-Harb (the land of war), controlled by the infidels. The duty of the Muslims is to impose the Islamic (shari’a)law on the whole world, either by persuasion or by war, and those efforts which imply sacrifices represent the "fight in the path of Allah."

A triumphalist jihad literature emerged from a millennium of jihad war military successes. Countless descriptions by Muslim historians recorded in detail the number of slain infidels, the enslavement of the populations, the booty in captives, cattle and movable goods, the cities which were destroyed, razed or spared and taken by treaty and the countryside pillaged or set on fire. Battles and victories have been described from Portugal to India, from Budapest to Sudan. This information is not only available in Muslim sources, but also in Christian sources, which complement the Muslim perspective by giving the evidence of the victims of jihad wars. Those Christian sources are Coptic, Armenian, Jacobite, Greek, Slav, Spanish, Italian, etc. The jihad war conquests of infidel territories, which lasted for over a millennium across three continents, are richly documented. Thus, it is astonishing when this well-characterized historiography is largely ignored, or even denied, in scholarly writings.

In "The Laws of Islamic Governance", al- Mawardi (d. 1058), a renowned Baghdadian jurist, examined the regulations pertaining to the lands and infidel (i.e., non-Muslim) populations subjugated by jihad. This is the origin of the system of dhimmitude. The native infidel population had to recognize Islamic ownership on their land, submit to Islamic (i.e., shari’a) law, and accept payment of the poll tax (jizya). In return they were granted the effective protection of Islamic law, which gave them security, limited religious rights, and self-administration in religious and civil law. Some of the more salient features of dhimmitude include: the prohibition of arms for the vanquished non-Muslims (dhimmis), and of church bells; the restrictions concerning the building and restoration of churches and synagogues; the inequality between Muslims and non-Muslims with regard to taxes and penal law; the refusal of dhimmi testimony by Muslim courts; the obligation for Jews and Christians to wear special clothes; and their overall humiliation and abasement. Furthermore, dhimmis, including those living under "enlightened" Turkish domination, suffered, at periods, from slavery (i.e., harem slavery for women, and the devshirme child levy for Balkan Christian males), abductions, and deportations.

Dhimmitude was abolished during the 19th and 20th centuries under European military pressure, or by direct European colonization. However we see now the return of the spirit of jihad, and its corollary institution, dhimmitude, in the wars in Sudan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Algeria, and, Israel and in global terrorism, including the 9/11 attacks directed at the United States. Non-Muslim minorities suffer from grave discrimination in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and in countries, which apply the shari’a law or whose constitutions recognize that the shari’a is the main source of the law. The principles of "protection" and "toleration" integral to the system of dhimmitude are opposed to the values expressed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stress the equality of all human beings and the inalienability of their rights. In stark contrast, the principles of "protection" and "tolerations" embodied in dhimmitude and shari’a law, emerge from a war of conquest. Only conditional, limited rights are conceded to the vanquished, and these rights can be revoked by the dominant group.

At present, unfortunately, the simple reference to the written rules of jihad and dhimmitude- which impose killings, slavery, deportation and "protection"/subjugation -- according to specific contingencies -- can provoke a violent reaction from those in the Muslim intelligentsia. Recently, for example, direct quotations from these Medieval laws -- considered as obligatory for infidels -- from highly respected Muslim writers, such as al-Mawardi, caused an uproar at Georgetown University, as well as slanderous accusations. There is a dire need for some courageous, meaningful movement in Islam to emerge that completely renounces the active Islamic institutions of jihad against the infidels, and dhimmitude, openly acknowledging the horrific devastation they have wrought on non-Muslims for well over a millennium, through the present. Nothing short of an Islamic Reformation and Enlightenment may be required, which completely secularizes Islam, and acknowledges non-Muslims as fully equal human beings, not "infidels", or "dhimmis".

Bat Ye'or, born in Egypt, is a researcher and writer on the condition (dhimmitude) of Jews and Christians in Islamic countries. She has contributed a singificant amount of original scholarship to this field of study. See www.dhimmitude.org.

Andrew G. Bostom, MD, MS, is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University Medical School.




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