Historical Outline - Chapter 1 - The Dhimmi by Bat Ye'or

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Historical Outline - Chapter 1 - The Dhimmi by Bat Ye'or

ISBN:0838632629 Buy on Amazon

The Law says:
The best and most succinct description of the concept of dhimmitude and the foundation for our song. We’ve added the section headings.

Pages:p43 - p50
Extract:In the year 622, on the invitation of the Ansar—a group of pagans converted to Islam—Muhammad and his small band of followers left Mecca for Yathrib (Medina). The population then consisted of numerous polytheistic clans, of Jewish tribes that had long been established in Arabia, and of Arabs converted to Judaism. The Jews practised agriculture and various specialized handicrafts, while paying dues in money or in kind to pagan Arab tribes allied with them.


The arrival of Muhammad and his followers in Medina provoked no opposition from the Jews. The Prophet organized the Muslim immigrants into a community—the umma. He preached to them an egalitarian moral system founded on the principles of solidarity, charity, and mutual confidence and respect that ought to prevail among Muslims. These principles, revolutionary for a heathen Arab society, were applicable only within the umma [1]. Relations with non-Muslims were elaborated progressively, on the basis of a strategy of hostilities and truces pursued in accordance with the requirements needed to assure the Muslim victory. Razzias in the cause of Allah, during which war and religion were inextricably mingled, inspired many verses of the Koran regarding the jihad (Holy War) and its twofold reward: booty in this life and paradise in the hereafter. [2]

The doctrine preached by Muhammad was a simple one. The Koran is a book of divine origin revealed progressively to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. Islam is the only true and eternal religion (Koran 3:17). The prophets of Israel and Jesus had already preached it and foretold the coming of Muhammad, but the Jews and Christians, jealous of the perfection of the new religion, had rejected him and falsified their own sacred Scriptures. The Muslim faith stresses the divine character of the Koran and of Muhammad's preaching: "Whosoever obeys the Messenger obeys God." [3] Muhammad, being the last of the messengers sent by God to instruct humanity, is the seal of the prophets.

Qaynuqa and Nadir Jewish rejection

In 624 Muhammad, joined by more followers, called upon the Qaynuqa, one of the Jewish tribes of Medina, to recognize his prophetic mission. When they refused, he besieged and overcame them. On the intercession of one of their protectors — a recent convert to Islam — their lives were spared, but they were expelled from the city, their lands and a part of their possessions being confiscated by the Muslims. The following year the Jewish Nadir tribe suffered a similar fate: Muhammad burned down their palm groves and divided all their fields and houses among the community of the Believers. [4]

Siege of Medina and slaughter of Qurayza tribe

In 627 the Meccans sent a united force to lay siege to the Muslims in Medina, but they withdrew suddenly on a stormy night without fighting. However, guided by the angel Gabriel, Muhammad then turned his host against the Jewish tribe of the Qurayza, who had been neutral during the siege. Because the Jews refused conversion, Muhammad attacked and overwhelmed them. Trenches were then dug in the marketplace of Medina, and the Jews—six to nine hundred of them, according to traditional Muslim sources—were led forth in batches and decapitated. All the menfolk perished in this way, with the exception of one convert to Islam. The Prophet then divided the women, children, houses, and chattels among the Muslims. [5]

Treaty of Hudaybiya, Khaybar and Jizya

Shrewd in political matters, Muhammad then endeavored to win over the powerful tribes of Mecca. In 628, taking advantage of a treaty of non-belligerency (Hudaybiya) with the Meccans, [6] he attacked the oasis of Khaybar, one hundred and forty kilometers northwest of Medina, cultivated by another Jewish tribe. The assailants came to the oasis at night and in the morning attacked the peasants as they were coming out to work in the fields, carrying spades and baskets. [7] Their palm groves were burned down. After a siege lasting a month and a half, the inhabitants surrendered under the terms of a treaty known as the dhimma. According to this agreement Muhammad allowed the Jews to continue cultivating their oasis, on condition that they ceded to him half of their produce; he also reserved the right to break the agreement and expel them whenever he wished [8] Subsequently, all the Jewish and Christian communities of Arabia submitted to the Muslims under the terms of a dhimma similar to that granted at Khaybar. The peasantry were expected to provide assistance and provisions to the Muslim forces and pay a tribute in money or kind known as the jizya, to be distributed among the Prophet and his followers according to the circumstances of the conquest. In addition, they were to make available an area within their synagogues and churches, if required by the Muslims. On his side, Muhammad undertook to respect their religious observances and to defend them. Thus, newly converted Bedouin permitted sedentary cultivators to continue tilling their own soil as share-croppers in exchange for a tribute.

The dhimma of Khaybar, which fixed the relationship between the Muslim victors and the vanquished local inhabitants, was thereafter to serve as a model for the treaties granted by the Arab conquerors to the conquered peoples in territories beyond Arabia. Henceforth, the term dhimma will be used in the sense of the unequal agreements that regulated the relationship between the Muslim conquerors and the vanquished populations.

Relationships with non-Muslims

These episodes in the life of Muhammad are recalled since they inspired Koranic revelations and thereby gave a definitive form to the main features of future relationships between Muslims and infidels concerning the strategy of warfare (jihad), Muslim rights of conquest, the laws pertaining to the division of booty, and the fate of the vanquished populations whose lands were taken over by the Islamic community, for according to Muslim tradition Muhammad said at the siege of Khaybar: "The land belongs to Allah and his Messenger." [9]

The fate of the Jews of Arabia has been outlined because it foreshadowed that of all the peoples subsequently conquered by the Arabs. The primary guiding principle of the jihad was to summon the non-Muslims to convert or accept Muslim supremacy, and, if faced with refusal, to attack them until they submitted to Muslim domination.

Spread of Jihad

As the Muslims grew increasingly powerful, the Holy War spread out beyond Arabia. Initially a razzia for spoils, the jihad developed into a war of conquest subject to a code of legislation, the principal aim of which was the conversion of the infidels. Truces were allowed but never a lasting peace.[10] Polytheists generally had to choose between death or conversion; life, freedom of worship, and the inviolability of their belongings was, on certain conditions, conceded to Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, and later, of necessity, to Hindus.

The jihad is a global conception that divides the peoples of the world into two irreconcilable camps: that of the dar al-Harb, the "Territory of War," which covers those regions controlled by the infidels; and the dar al-Islam, the "Territory of Islam," the Muslim homeland where Islamic law reigns. The jihad is the normal and permanent state of war between the Muslims and the dar al-Harb, a war that can only end with the final domination over unbelievers and the absolute supremacy of Islam throughout the world." [11] In the fourteenth century, a jurist, Ibn Taymiyya, justified this permanent state of war by asserting that because the possession of lands by infidels is illegitimate, such lands should revert by Divine Right to the adherents of the true religion. Thus the jihad became the means by which the Muslims received back that which had been usurped on earth by the infidels (see doc. 4). In this sense it is a holy and legitimate war because it restored to the Muslims the lands and possessions that should be a part of the day al-Islam, but which the dar al-Harb retains illegally. For that reason, any warlike act in the dar al-Harb — which has no legal right to exist — may be regarded as just and legitimate and is exempt from any moral disapproval.[12]

Since the jihad is a state of permanent war, it excludes the possibility of true peace, but it does allow for provisional truces in accordance with the requirements of the political situation. These truces, which should not last for more than a maximum of ten years, can be ended unilaterally by the Muslim ruler, but only after he has first warned the enemy. Finally, the jihad lays down the conditions for treaties with the dar al-Harb, always within the framework of this concept of a provisional truce. Regarded by Muslim theologians as one of the fundamental articles of the faith, participation in the jihad is held to be a duty incumbent upon all the Believers, each of whom must contribute to it as best he can, either in person through military service, or by material contributions or through writings and militantism.

The Dhimmi Condition

Muslim jurists fixed the rights of conquest on the basis of Muhammad's treatment o f the Jews of Arabia. This treatment became a model serving as a universal norm to be applied to all Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and others vanquished by jihad. In the same manner as Muhammad had spared the Jews of Khaybar, who had recognized his suzerainty, so the Arab conquerors concluded "toleration" treaties with all the other peoples who, faced with jihad, submitted to their domination. The dhimmi condition, which is a direct consequence of jihad, is connected with this same contract. It suspends the conqueror's initial rights over the adherents of the revealed religions on payment of a tribute such as the Jews had agreed to give the Prophet at Khaybar. Thus the hazards of history, or Providence, chose some obscure Jewish tribes of Arabia to symbolize the fate awaiting the powerful and populous Byzantine and Sassanian empires, and of a multitude of peoples in Africa, Asia, and Europe who, in the course of history, had fallen to the advance of Islam during a millennium of expansion and annexation. The ideological web of the jihad has linked the fate of Israel to the destiny of multitudes. Thus Israel's fate in Arabia became the fate of many tribes, peoples, and nations. Its destiny was in no way exceptional, but rather it became the ominous mirror reflecting the historical subjection of a large section of humanity.

The cities of the Byzantine and Sassanian empires, exhausted by half a century of wars and internal struggles, succumbed to the Arab hosts. The pacts made with the Christian and Zoroastrian populations varied according to whether the victory had been obtained through a capitulation, a war, or by means of a treaty. In the first two cases the harbis who had taken up arms and fought could be put to death or reduced to slavery, redeemed, exchanged, or set at liberty, and their wives and children—according to the precedent of the treatment meted out to the Jews of Arabia—could be taken as slaves. If, however, the harbis, like the Jews of Khaybar, submitted to the rule of Islam, the conquerors agreed to respect their lives, their religion, and their property according to the provisions of the treaty (dhimma), which was binding on the two parties. Meanwhile the Muslim armies continued their march of conquest, securing their hinterland by the establishment in the annexed territories of military garrisons and settlers from Arabia. In the dhimma conceded to Hira (Iraq) in 633, a specific clause was introduced dealing with the principle of a vestmental distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims.

In 640 the caliph Umar b. al-Khattab expelled the Jews and Christians from the Hijaz, basing his action on the dhimma of Khaybar. He quoted the Prophet: "The land belongs to Allah and his Messenger, the Messenger of Allah can annul his pact if he so wishes." He is also said to have cited the Prophet's advice: "Two religions shall not remain together in the peninsula of the Arabs." [13]

The ninth-century Arab historian al-Waqidi recorded a story, pur- ported to have been told by a notable of Medina who visited Khaybar following the hostilities between Muhammad and the Jews:

When we were in Medina and famine would strike us, we would go to Khaybar and stay there a while before returning, or some- times we would go to Fadak or Tayma.[14]" The Jewish inhabitants always possessed fruit and an abundant supply of water. A l l this was before the rise of Islam. When the Prophet came to Medina and conquered Khaybar, I said to my companions, "Shall we go to Khaybar for we are stricken with hunger?", and they replied, "The countryside has changed, for, as Muslims, we now encounter a peo- ple who harbour animosity and malice towards Islam, whereas be- forehand we had no religion". However, as we were tormented by hunger, we made our way to Khaybar where we found that the owners of the land and palm trees had changed, for the Jewish owners and rich proprietors had been killed and those who remained were poor people who lived by the work of their hands. [15]

Origins of the Dhimma

The Koran

For the Muslims the Koran is the word of Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger to mankind:

It is not for any believer, man or woman, when God and His Messenger have decreed a matter, to have the choice in the affair. Whosoever disobeys God and His Messenger has gone astray into manifest error. (Koran 33:36)

The Koran is thus the divine and sacred foundation of Islamic law. The victory that delivered up the most advanced civilizations of the time to the Muslims created complex administrative problems that Muhammad had not anticipated. An Islamic system of legislation was required in order to govern the multitudes of subject peoples. Since Muhammad was now dead, theologians sought to discover the will of Allah in the Prophet's words and deeds (hadith). A sacred record of his doings and sayings, handed down by a chain of transmitters (isnad) was compiled into a corpus o f Traditions (Sunna), which was completed toward the end of the ninth century. The different interpretations of the Sunna were codified by the four principal orthodox Muslim schools of law: the Hanafi, the Maliki, the Shafi'i, and the Hanbali.

Because religion is inseparable from politics in Islam, it was necessary to discover a definition of the Good, as a practical guide no less than a spiritual one. The theologians agreed unanimously that, since Islam was the only true religion, what the Muslim community ( umma) accepts as being true and just, must be so.[16] This is the principle of the ijma, or the consensus of the Islamic community.

Controlling a huge empire, the invading Arab armies were a small minority among the mass of non-Muslims, mainly Christians and Zoroastrians. The Byzantine and Persian systems of administration were retained for practical reasons, but a special legislation regulated the relations between the Arabs and the indigenous peoples, between Muslims and non-Muslims. Basing themselves on the Koran and the Traditions, Muslim theologians elaborated the dhimmi status — that is, that of the non-Muslim indigenous populations now under Islamic rule. This body of rules, also known as the Covenant of Umar, is variably attributed by Arab historians to Umar I (634-644), or to Umar II (717-720).[17] It is generally agreed by Western orientalists, however, that this legislation was inconsistent with the liberal policies of the first four caliphs and the ninety-year dynasty of the Umayyads (661-750). It appears to have evolved under the early Abbasid rule, at the time when the intolerant religious authorities were occupied in suppressing heresies and in brutally crushing local revolts.

Dhimmi Legal Status

The legal status of the dhimmi — defined by the dhimma — was based on the contracts between Muhammad and the Jewish and Christian tribes of Arabia, but it differed from them in its coercive components. It was elaborated long after the conquest, at a time when Arab economic and military colonization was gaining strength. Its humiliating character may be explained in a context of power, which facilitated the institutionalization of oppression by a military organization, in full control of the means of domination. Thus the dhimma, losing its original character of an agreement binding the parties concerned, became the formal expression of a legalized persecution. It was the dhimma that was largely instrumental in the success of the policies of Arabization and Islamization of vast regions outside Arabia and the progres- sive disappearance of indigenous peoples and cultures.

The inferior status of Jews, Samaritans, Christians, Sabaeans, and Zoroastrians passed through various modifications at different times and places. In traditionalist regions the dhimmi status was maintained, as in North Africa up until European colonization, and in Persia and Yemen into the twentieth century. On the other hand, the dhimmi’’ were granted the right of self-administration according to the laws of their religions as well as — subject to certain restrictions — freedom of worship, movement, and residence, which proved precious guarantees except in times of fanaticism and anarchy.

The Islamic power granted the subjected Jewish and Christian peoples the right to collect taxes for their own communal institutions, the right to administer justice in matters of personal law, freedom of religious education and worship, and recognized the official status of the head of each community. Such privileges were not an innovation. In its struggle for survival amidst a heathen multinational empire, the Jewish people, on its land and in the Diaspora, managed to secure similar privileges from the Greek and Roman emperors. But under the Byzantines, the Greek Orthodox clergy endeavored to curtail them. The subsequent Arab rulers restored the traditional Roman administrative regulations applicable to the Jews, and extended them to all the tolerated religions.

In the Ottoman Empire, a clause of the Hatti Humayun edict (1856), inserted on the insistence of the European powers, abolished the discriminatory status of the dhimmi (raya in the Ottoman Empire, a word previously applied to the Muslim peasantry), but effective emancipation was granted them only somewhat later.

Muslim legal writings, Arab and dhimmi chronicles, and the accounts of European consuls and travelers over the centuries provide a valuable documentation on the dhimmi.

  1. The ordinance allegedly granted by Muhammad on his arrival at Medina and known as the Constitution of Medina, included both Jews and pagan Arabs within the Islamic community, but it proved ephemeral. See 1bn Ishaq (d. 767), Sirat Rasul Allah (The Life of Muhammad), trans. A. Guillaume (Oxford, 1955), pp. 231-33; Stillman, pp. 115-18; M. Gil, "The Constitution of Medina: A Reconsideration," in /OS 4 (1974): 44-65.
  2. The perfection of the Koran, the duty of Muslims to engage in jihad, and the inferiority of infidels are recurrent themes in the Koran and the Traditions (Surma). To avoid repetition, no further references to the Koran have been made on these themes. All Koranic quotations are taken from A. J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted (Oxford: World Classics, 1964).
  3. Koran 4:82, 106, 135; 5:22; 6: 114, 126; 11:17, 20; 12:2, 104. See n. 2 above.
  4. al-Bukhari (d. 869), Les Traditions Islamiques (Al-Sahih), trans.-P. -Hondas and W. Marcais (Paris, 1903-1914), vol. 2, title 41, chap. 6; title 56, chapi:80;. 3, chap. 154: 2. This compilation of the acts and sayings attributed to Muhammad, completed in the ninth century, constitutes one of the two pillars of Islamic jurisprudence, the other being the contemporary compilation made by his younger disciple, Muslim (d. 875).
  5. Ibn 'shag, pp. 461-69; M. Gaudefroy-Demombynes, Mahomet (Paris, 1969), pp. 142-46; W. Montgomery Watt, "Muhammad", in the Cambridge History of Islam (Cambridge, 1970), 1; 39-49.
  6. Gaudefroy-Demombynes, p. 154; Bukhari, vol. 2, title 54, chap. 15.
  7. Ibn 'shag, p. 511; Bukhari, vol. 2, title 56, chaps. 102: 5,130.
  8. Ibn Ishaq, pp. 524-25; Bukhari, vol. 2, title 41, chaps. 8,9, 11,17, and tide 57, chap. 19: 10. For an example of the treaties between Muhammad and the Jews living in Makna (near Eilat), see al-Baladhuri (d. 892), vol. 1, The Origins of the Islamic State (Kitab Fun-di al-Buld4n), trans. P. K. Hitti (New York, 1916), pp. 93-94.
  9. Muslim, Traditions (Al-Sahih), trans. A. H. Siddigi (Lahore, 1976), vol. 3, chap. 723 (4363); Bukhari, vol. 2, title 57, chap. 1: 3, and title 58, chap. 6: 1.
  10. Koran 8: 40; 9: 124; 24: 56. See n. 2 above. On the aim and rules of jihad, see below, documents 1,2,3. Also Bukhari, vol. 2, chaps. De la Guerre Sainte (t. 56), De la Prescription du Quint (t. 57), La Capitation (t. 58). Muslim, vol. 3, chaps. 704-53 (The Book of jihad and Expedition); Fattal, pp. 14-18,372-73. The code concerning jihad or Holy War has been studied and described by all Muslim jurisconsults.
  11. See El', "Djihad" (D. B. Mac Donald) 1: 1141-42; EP, "Djihad" (E. Tyan) 2: 538— 40; EP, "Ahl al-Kitab" (G. Vajda) 1: 264-66; EP, "Dhimma" (C. Cahen) 2: 227-31; M. du Caurroy, "Legislation musulmane sunnite, rite Hanefi", in J.A., 4th set-. 17,18 (1851), and 19 (1852); Tabari (d. 923), Kitab al-Jihad (Book of Holy War), ed. Schacht (Leiden, 1933); Shaybani (d. 805), Siyar (The Islamic law of nations), trans. M. Khadduri (Baltimore, Md., 1966); M. Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam (Baltimore, Md., 1955). For the modern period, A l Azhar University, ed., The Fourth Conference of the Academy of Islamic Research (1968) (Cairo: Government Printing Offices, 1970), pp. 23— 250 and D. F. Green, ed., Arab Theologians on Jews and Israel: Extracts from the Proceedings of the Fourth Conference of theAcademy of Islamic Research (1968), 3d ed. (Geneva, 1976), pp. 61-68; Abd al-Qadir, as-Sufi, jihad, a Groundplan (London, 1978); Peters,fifiad...; idem, Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine oflihad in Modern History (The Hague, 1979), contains a comprehensive bibliography (pp. 201-25).
  12. Gaudefroy-Demonbynes, p. 521.
  13. Ibn Ishaq, p. 525; Bukhari, vol. 2, t. 41, chap. 17; t. 54, chap. 14; vol. 4, t. 89, chap. 2; Muslim, vol. 3, chap. 723 (4366); Fattal, p. 85.
  14. Oasis cultivated by Jewish tribes.
  15. al-Wagidi (d. 823), Kitab al-Maghazi, ed. M. Jones (London, 1966), 2:713; see also 1. Ben Zvi, The Exiled and the Redeemed (London. 1958), p. 172.
  16. Koran, 3 :105; 1. Goldziher, Le Dogmeet la loi de l'Islam (Paris, 1973), pp. 44-45.
  17. See Theophanes (758-817), in Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinaea (Bonn, 1892), §334; Ibn Abd ar-Rabbih (864-940), al-lad al Fond (Cairo, 1884), 2:339-40.