Dhimma System and Dhimmis continued

Islam     Session Twenty-one

Item #6, bullet 1.1 of outline:  Dhimma System and Dhimmis continued

Sura 9:29 authorized the dhimma system and Omar (the second of the four “Rightly Guided Caliphs”) published “The Conditions of Omar” which became Sharia law. Now let us look at the precedents set by Muhammad for its implementation; to wit:

Muhammad, in 629, defeated the Jews in the battle of Khaybar (an oasis about 90 miles north of Medina) and the Muslims took ownership of the land.  Rather than killing all the Jewish men (as he had at Medina in 627), Muhammad allowed them to remain in the oasis and pay the Muslims one-half of their crops.  Thus the Jews of Khaybar became the prototype “protected” dhimmis in a dhimma system refined by later caliphs.

Mark Durie comments in his book, “The Third Choice”:

“Based on the precedent of Khaybar, and also on the way Muhammad treated conquered Jewish farmers of Fadak, Tayma and Wadi-L Qura, the institution of the dhimma was developed in Sharia law to provide for those of the conquered ‘People of the Book’ who refused to convert to Islam.  The dhimma pact established the legal status for all communities incorporated into the Dar al-Islam as a result of jihad.”  (#3, P. 123)   

A brutal aspect of life as a dhimmi was/is the imposition of the jizya (to repay or recompense).  “As Surah 9:29 puts it, the jihad (war against the infidels of a conquered area) concludes when the People of the Book ‘pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued’ – that is, when they pay tribute and live under Islamic subjugation.” (#7, P. 21)

Gregory Davis in his book, “Religion of Peace?”, quotes Al-Maghili, a fifteenth century Muslim theologian: 

“On the day of payment (of the jizya) they (the dhimmis) shall be assembled in a public place like the suq (place of commerce).  They should be standing there waiting in the lowest and dirtiest place.  The acting officials representing the Law shall be placed above them and shall adopt a threatening attitude so that it seems to them, as well as to others, that our object is to degrade them by pretending to take their possessions.  They will realize that we are doing them a favor (again) in accepting from them the jizya and letting them (thus) go free.  (#2, P. 81)

Raymond Ibrahim in his book, “Crucified Again”, gives this commentary on the jizya:

“Koran 9:29 does not just specify that the conquered non-Muslim musts pay the jizya but that they pay it ‘with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.’  The Arabic word translated as ‘subdued’ here is ‘saghirun,’ which comes from the root that, according to the Hans Wehr Dictionary, means:  ‘to be lowly, submissive, servile, humble’; ‘contemptible, servile,’ to ‘fawn, cringe, grovel’; submissive, servile, subject.’  Thus to treat people as saghirun is ‘to belittle, deride, ridicule, debase, demean’ them.”  (#7, P. 22)

In his book, “The Third Choice”, Mark Durie explains the symbolic aspect of the payment of the jizya:

“For the dhimmi, the annual jizya payment was a powerful and public symbolic expression of the jihad-dhimmitude nexus, which fixed the horizon of the dhimmi’s world.  Although the ritual varied in its specific features, its essential character was an enactment of a beheading, in which one of the recurrent features was a blow to the neck of the dhimmi, at the very point when he makes payment.”  (#3, P. 131)

The imposition of the jizya on the dhimmis was not just a token levy, but was in many cases a substantial economic hardship with the goal of impoverishment.  For example:

“The Syrian chronicle completed in 774 AD by an author known as Pseudo-Dionysius reported that during the preceding decades the jizya was beyond the capacity of many to pay.  It had to be extracted by beatings, extortion, torture, rape and killings, and this caused multitudes to flee destitute from town to town after they had sold everything they owned to pay it.”  (#3, P. 167)

“A Jewish merchant in Muslim Sicily complained about the unbearable burden of the jizya: ‘They (the Jews) were sorry and preferred death to life.  Most of them are poor and destitute.  For fear of the rulers, many went bankrupt, and unfortunately some fled overseas.’  “  (#3, P. 168)

“. . . Amr bin al-As, the Islamic jihadi who conquered Egypt in the early 640’s, tortured and killed any Christian Copt who tried to conceal his wealth.  When a Copt inquired of him, ‘How much jizya are we to pay?’  the Islamic hero replied, ‘If you give me all that you own – from the ground to the ceiling – I will not tell you how much you owe.  Instead, you (the Christian Copts) are our treasure chest, so that, if we are in need, you will be in need, and if things are easy for us, they will be easy for you.’  “  (#7, P. 200)

Shlomo Dov Goitein (a 20th century historian and Islamist expert) described the lives of Egyptian dhimmis in one of his studies in this manner:  “. . . in the worst cases, Egyptian dhimmis could have to enslave themselves or their family to pay the jizya, or else convert and become a recipient of its benefit.  Many, having sold all they had to pay it, took to wandering as beggars.  In some cases men had to go into hiding because they had no means to pay the tax, and, as they could no longer earn a living, their wives and children starved.”  (#3, P. 168)

When questioned about the jizya; Muslims will describe it as just another tax, or payment for protection from external enemies, or some other innocuous answer.  In fact, it was a malicious, degrading, impoverishing scheme for providing protection from the Muslims who imposed it.

If a dhimmi or dhimmi community were to violate, or were alleged to violate, any condition of their pact they immediately became the object of jihad.  Mark Durie, in his book, “The Third Choice”, quotes a commentary by Taysir al-Tafsir (a 20th century Islamic scholar) on Sura 9:29 as it pertains to this situation:

“Based on the precedent of Muhammad’s Sunna, a return to jihad conditions would result in a massacre of dhimmi men, looting of property, and seizing of wives and children.  Under the circumstances of a dhimma pact violation, these actions would be regarded as legitimate.  Thus the laws of jihad gave permission for Muslims to regard the dhimmis and their property as halal, free to be looted, enslaved, raped and killed.  More than this, such actions were not merely permissible or recommended; they were obligatory, what Muhammad ibn Yusuf at-Fayyish (19th century Algerian Koranic commentator) referred to as the ‘duties (wajib) of killing and slavery.’ “  (#3, P. 156)

Mr. Durie further expounds on the results of jihad inflicted because of dhimma pact violations:

“For dhimmi women, enslavement meant rape and concubinage to their captors, while for children it meant forced conversion to Islam.  Girls would in due course be assigned to Muslim partners, and boys could be used as slave labor. . .  .  The precedents for all these actions can be found in the example of Muhammad in his treatment of the Jews of Medina (see session #7) and Khaybar (see above).”  (#3, P. 156)

Over the centuries, there have been countless examples of murder, looting, rape and pillage because of real or alleged violations of the dhimma pact.  Some examples:

  • Citing the authority of (“violations of”) the dhimma regulations, the Muslims of Granada (Spain) in 1066 massacred around 3,000 Jews. Their elimination was the reward for their becoming too successful.  (#3, P. 17)
  • Mahdi (caliph 775-785) and Harun al-Rashid (caliph 786-809), in strict accordance with Sharia law, ordered the destruction of all churches in the empire that had been built after the Islamic conquest, including the church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem, the church of St. Mark in Egypt, and the church of St. George in Lydda. (#7, P. 37)  (The building of churches in Islamic controlled territory was a violation of the “Conditions of Omar”.)

Many more examples of atrocities committed by jihadists because of real or alleged violations of the dhimma pact could be cited.  However, it is not necessary to do so for our purposes.  Scholars have written many books which accurately expose the slaughter and mayhem committed in the name of Islam and dhimma pact violations.  For readers interested in more on the subject, please consult this presentation’s bibliography of books and articles, and their citations and references.

Next session, we will begin a discussion of “Women in Islam”.