Friday, 3 April 2009

Jihad and Dhimmitude (Part 2)


Dhimmitude is the name coined for the system enforced upon the non-Muslim peoples conquered by Islamic jihad wars. Non-Muslims under this system have to submit to Islamic law and pay the poll tax, the jizya, to the Muslim authorities. These non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic state are known as dhimmis.

The consensus view of the jizya in classical Islamic jurisprudence is that it is a tax paid in lieu of being slain – that is, payment of the jizya is the only way to safeguard the dhimmis' lives and property from the invading Muslims. The jurist al-Mawardi explained that “the enemy makes a payment in return for peace and reconciliation.” Payment is made annually and will “constitute an ongoing tribute by which their security is established.” If the dhimmi refuses to pay the tax, “the reconciliation ceases, their security is no longer guaranteed and war must be waged on them”. Collection of the jizya is, in short, a form of blackmail.

The law stating that dhimmis can be killed if they violate their pact of agreement with the Muslims has played out tragically in history. It was because dhimmis were seen to be violating their agreements of “protection” that the Ottoman Empire waged the Armenian genocide in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Another important aspect of the jizya is the widely held view among Muslim scholars and jurists that it must be deliberately collected in the most humiliating way possible. For example, here is an explanation of the jizya collection ceremony by the Shafi'i jurist an-Nawawi (d.1278): “The infidel who wishes to pay his poll tax must be treated with disdain by the collector; the collector remains seated and the infidel remains standing in front of him, his head bowed and his back bent. The infidel personally must place the money on the scales, while the collector holds him by the beard, and strikes him on both cheeks.”

The revered Muslim scholar al-Suyuti (d.1505) made these recommendations regarding jizya collection: “[T]he taker sits and the dhimmi stands with his head bowed and his back bent. The jizya is placed in the balance and the taker seizes his beard and hits his chin.”

Jewish, Coptic, Syriac, Armenian and Serbian sources provide evidence that the jizya and the kharaj (a land tax often synonymous with jizya) were collected from children, widows, orphans, and even the dead. Indeed, this is what was prescribed by the Shafi'i jurists, as an-Nawawi testifies: “Our religion compels the poll tax to be paid by dying people, the old, even in a state of incapacity, the blind, monks, workers, and the poor, incapable of practising a trade. As for people who seem to be insolvent at the end of the year, the sum of the poll tax remains a debt to their account until they should become solvent.”

Tax collectors were accompanied by soldiers and inspectors, who all had to be lodged and fed for several days at the taxpayers' expense. Sometimes punishment and torture were used, although this was technically prohibited. All over the Muslim world, such brutal persecution forced many dhimmis to abandon their homes and become either exiles or slaves. Many also converted to Islam to spare themselves from the burden of the jizya.

Although the system of the dhimma is not implemented in full anywhere today, it is not entirely an ancient phenomenon, either, as the following two examples demonstrate. It was still practised at the end of the nineteenth century and into the second decade of the twentieth, and maybe even beyond that, until Western pressure and the fall of the Ottoman empire led to the emancipation of the dhimmis. An Italian Jew travelling in Morocco in 1894 recorded this harrowing experience:

“The kaid Uwida and the kadi Mawlay Mustafa had mounted their tent today near the Mellah [Jewish ghetto] gate and had summoned the Jews in order to collect from them the poll tax which they are obliged to pay the sultan. They had me summoned also. I first inquired whether those who were European-protected subjects had to pay this tax. Having learned that a great many of them had already paid it, I wished to do likewise. After having remitted the amount of the tax to the two officials, I received from the kadi's guard two blows in the back of the neck. Addressing the kadi and the kaid, I said, 'Know that I am an Italian protected subject.' Whereupon the kadi said to his guard: 'Remove the kerchief covering his head and strike him strongly; he can then go and complain wherever he wants.' The guards hastily obeyed and struck me once again more violently. This public mistreatment of a European-protected subject demonstrates to all the Arabs that they can, with impunity, mistreat the Jews.”

A 1950 report stated:

“The Jews in Afghanistan are still subject to all the forms of discrimination which rigorous adherence to the Qur'an requires. They have to pay the jizya poll tax imposed on infidels, and the payment is accompanied by humiliating ceremonies.”

The system of the dhimma encompasses other rules and regulations as well as payment of the jizya. Some of these regulations include: the prohibition of arms for the vanquished dhimmis, and of church bells; restrictions concerning the building and restoration of churches, synagogues, and temples; inequality between Muslims and non-Muslims with regard to taxes and penal law; a requirement that non-Muslims wear special clothes; and the overall humiliation and abasement of non-Muslims.

These oppressive conditions were institutionalised as part of the permanent Islamic law. The writings of al-Ghazali demonstrate how dhimmitude is simply a normative and accepted part of the sharia:

“The dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or his Apostle...Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians must pay the poll tax...on offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his head and hits the dhimmi on the protuberant bone beneath his ear...They are not permitted to ostentatiously exhibit their wine or church bells...their houses may not be higher than the Muslim's, no matter how low that is. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddle is of wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. The dhimmis have to wear an identifying patch on their clothing, even women, and even in the public baths...dhimmis must hold their tongue.”

The dhimma also includes restrictions on the dhimmis' ability to testify in courts of law, with most jurists agreeing that dhimmi testimony is completely inadmissible, as demonstrated in the Hedaya of the Hanafi school:

“Malik and Shafi [the founders of the Maliki and Shafi'i schools of jurisprudence, respectively] have said that [dhimmi testimony] is absolutely inadmissible, because as infidels are unjust, it is requisite to be slow in believing anything they may advance...the evidence of an infidel is not admitted concerning a Muslim...Besides, a dhimmi may be suspected of having invented falsehoods against a Muslim from the hatred he bears to him on the account of the superiority of the Muslims over him.”

Shi'a Islam's attitude to the dhimma may display an even greater level of fanatical intolerance towards non-Muslims than the Sunnis. The Qur'an's severe admonition that unbelievers are “unclean” (9:28) led to the prohibitions called najis.

An example of the impact of these regulations is seen in the writings of Muhammad al-Majlisi (d.1699), who was one of the most influential clerics under the Safavid theocracy of Persia. In his writings, Majlisi disseminated rulings on the appropriate treatment of dhimmis, that were then implemented in practice by the Safavid rulers. These included all the usual regulations about the jizya, restrictions on worship, clothing, etc. But they also contained regulations concerned with the “dirtiness” of the dhimmis in comparison to the Muslims. For example, Majlisi ruled:

“[Dhimmis] should not enter the public pools while a Muslim is bathing...It would also be better if the ruler of the Muslims would establish that all infidels could not move out of their homes on days when it rains or snows because they would make Muslims impure.”

The ruling prohibiting dhimmis from being outdoors during rain or snow was in place in Iran as late as 1923.

It should be clear that such a religious caste system is totally at variance with modern notions of human rights. The dhimmi is allowed to practise his religion, but only under a series of restrictions which are designed to ensure that he never forgets his inferior status. In no way are dhimmis considered equal with Muslims under Islamic law.

The long-term consequences of being made to live this way over a long period of time are in numbers. Dhimmis, overwhelmed by the oppressive conditions they were forced to live under, converted to Islam in droves. In this way, several religious populations which thrived in the Middle Ages have gone through dramatic declines. The Assyrian Christians, who were once all over Central Asia and the Middle East, are now largely confined to Iraq, where they face continuous persecution from Muslim radicals, who are still trying to collect the jizya from them even today. Similarly Zoroastrianism, once the dominant religion in Persia, is now virtually non-existent except as a tiny minority in Iran. As late as 1895, Zoroastrians were persecuted in Persia, and were even denied such mundane privileges as wearing glasses.

It is the same for every civilisation that has been subjected to the dhimmi system. Apart from the Christians of Europe and the Hindus of India, every demographic that Islam has ever come into contact with has ultimately become extinct or dramatically reduced. Living as a dhimmi was so unpleasant that converting to Islam became the only way to live a relatively comfortable life.

The reason for analysing this theology and history in such great depth is because it is the only way to understand the present. The historical condition of Jews and Christians under Muslim rule would be merely of historical interest were it not for the fact some Muslims want to reinstate the dhimma today. For example, in 2002 the Saudi Sheik Marzouq Salem al-Ghamdi asserted: “If the infidels live among the Muslims, in accordance with the conditions set out by the Prophet – there is nothing wrong with it provided they pay the jizya to the Islamic treasury.” He then outlined numerous other rules and restrictions which were completely in line with the classical jurisprudence regarding dhimmis outlined above.

The same year, British jihadist Omar Bakri Muhammad affirmed that unbelievers should be subjugated under Islamic rule: “We cannot simply say that because we have no caliphate we can just go ahead and kill any non-Muslim; rather, we must still fulfil their dhimma.”

If such policies were to be implemented in the Islamic world once more, this would surely hasten the mass emigration of Jews and Christians from Arab countries, which is already under way. Christian populations in the Middle East today are dwindling rapidly as they seek to flee persecution at the hands of Muslim radicals. Half the Christian population of Iraq has fled since the US invasion of the country in 2003. Overall, the Christian population of the Middle East has dropped from about 20% in 1900 to less than 2% today.

Jewish communities have fared no better. Before 1945, there were around one million Jews living in Muslim countries. Today, there are only about 50,000 – and only 5000 in the Arab countries, which is 0.5% of the total living there after the Second World War.

Stay tuned for the third and final part, coming soon...

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