Tolerance,reverence and dhimmitude

During his trip to Europe,President Obama stated on several occasions [1]that his policy towards the Muslim world was going to be based on « mutual respect » going so far as to state in his speech to the European Parliament that he was going to show respect by « changing our language and our tone  » in our relations to the Muslim world.

At the G-20 meeting in London,Mr Obama put his money where his mouth is:he bowed deeply the  King of Saudi Arabia (see video )  while he only slightly inclined his head towards the Queen of England ( see video ) whom he met on the same occasion.

Is the Muslim world capable of treating with « mutual respect  » the non-Muslim world?

Daniel Henninger,the Wall Street Journal Assistant Editor-in-chief of the Editorial page raises the question underscoring the persecutions suffered by the Christian populations living in the Muslim world,arguing in conclusion that Mr. Obama should make tolerance vis-à-vis religious minorities the basis for « mutual respect ».

However laudable that goal may be,is it attainable from the Muslim side? An examination of Koranic doctrine and jurisprudence impels one to doubt it.

For Muslims,the world is traditionally divided in two: the dar al-Islam[2],the land where the Shari’a is the governing law and the dar al-harb,the land of the infidels ( mushrikun) [3] against whom the Muslims have a duty to wage war ( jihad) [4].As the great Muslim scholar and theologian ,Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) wrote : »For Muslims,the Holy War ( jihad) is a religious duty because of the universality of the mission of the Muslims and of [the obligation ] to convert all non-Muslims to Islam either by persuasion or by force. »[5].The inhabitants of the dar al harb ,the harbis, have neither  legal existence nor  legal rights to anything: they and their possessions may be taken by any Muslim without compensation as the harbis are not « persons » entitled to any legal protections.This doctrine explains why the two Washington Post journalists ,Valerie Strauss and Emily Wax,investigating the teachings in Islamic schools in the greater Washington ,D.C. area,found that in some schools, 7-year olds were taught that stealing from a non-Muslim was not a theft.[6]

Within Muslim lands,the people of the Book -Christians and Jews-have a special status: they are dhimmis.Since they are people of the Book,they are not to be exterminated on sight but may be allowed to live provided ,as dhimmis,they pay an annual poll tax ( jizyia) [7] and ,as stated the the standard commentary on the Koran, the Tafsir Ibn Kathir  ( 701-744) accept to be  inferiors to the Muslims and treated by the Muslims as inferiors and humiliated as such[8].The historian Bat Ye’or has written the authoritative books on the history of the dhimmis from the Muslim conquests of the VIIth century to the XXth century[9].From her research,it is established that dhimmis were barred from building houses that were higher than those of Muslims[10],from wearing green clothing,green being the color of Islam[11],from riding horses or camels with a saddle[12],from bearing arms[13],from ringing church bells[14],from building new churches[15].If the church was located in lands that had capitulated  then it was permitted to repair and maintain the interior of the church but not the exterior.If,however,the church was located in lands that had been subjugated then even the church’s interior could not be maintained.[16]

To live as a dhimmi has given rise to a neologism attibutted to Bat Ye’or, dhimmitude that was used by the then President of Lebanon Bashir Gemayel in a speech on 14 September 1982 at Dayr al Salib.In that speech,President Gemayel refused all attempts by the Muslim majority to subjugate the maronite Christians stating : »We reject any dhimmitude« [17]

Some will argue that the great Muslim theologians who articulated the rules of behavior of the dhimmis towards the Muslims and of the Muslims towards the dhimmis ,such as the Tafsir Ibn Kathir [18] Abu’l Hasan al-Mawardi[19] ou Abu Yusuf[20] are no longer representative of Muslim thinking and that in all event the dhimmi status was abrogated in Muslim lands.

On the first point suffice it to observe that the Tafsir Ibn Kathir is still taught today and that the great Islamic theologians ,Mawardi,Abu Yusuf or Ibn Khaldun are still authoritative today[21] as can be seen from the writings of Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi [22]or of Ayatollah Khomeini[23].

On the second point,suffice it to observe ,as Mr Henninger and Professor Bat Ye’or have,the disappearance of the Copts in Egypt,of the Christians in Sudan whose children are forcibly converted[24],of the Syriac-Orthodox church in Turkey,the great peril now facing the Christians in the Swat Valley of Pakistan after the government ceded control of the valley to the Talibans,the prohibition for Christian foreign workers in Saudi Arabia to practice their religion.Those example from among far too many others prove that the traditional teachings of Islam[25] are still followed today.After all,the prohibition against practicing any religion other than Islam in Saudi Arabia or in other countries ruled by the Shari’a is found in the Tafsir Ibn Kathir,in the writings of Ibn Khaldun and of Abd El Wahhab.The fate of the Christians  in Muslim lands is preoccupying in the extreme: even if governments pay lip service to the idea of religious tolerance,the exactions perpetrated by private Muslims against Christians are continuing in the avowed goal of either converting the « infidels  » or driving them away.

Numerous modern day Islamic thinkers  cite the early Muslim thinkers as authorities[26].The 1200-year old Islamic doctrine is clear on the rule governing the behavior of Muslims towards non-Muslims.Accordingly,is it realistic to think that traditional Muslims can truly treat non-Muslims with « mutual respect »?

Considering the age old Islamic doctrine,when the West parades its tolerance,doesn’t the West ignore a fundamental question,i.e.,how should a society espousing tolerance as a cardinal virtue deal with another society whose raison d’ être is to destroy it or to subjugate it[27] because that society- ours- is a society of « infidels »?

That tolerance should be a cardinal virtue cannot be debated by any person of good will but ,then, how can one reconcile the ideal of tolerance with the realization that many, following the teachings of the early Islamic thinkers and theologians discussed above[28],think that « infidels » must be converted by persuasion or by force and that all lands of the dar al-harb must either accept Shari’a or be subjugated?This is the yardstick derived from Islamic jurisprudence that must used to measure tolerance.

Dear readers: do you not think that the first duty of any society founded on principles of tolerance is  to take such steps as may be required -even if those might be viewed as contravening the principles of tolerance- to insure its survival as a tolerant society?If you accept those premises then a tolerant society is justified in adopting measures otherwise viewed as intolerant  because the obligation to insure survival as a tolerant society has a higher priority than the obligation to be tolerant.

Even though the road to hell may be paved with good intentions,let us give Mr Obama the benefit of the doubt in the relations he is trying to forge with the Muslim world and let us hope that he will have the will and desire to encourage it to evolve and be brought into the XXIst century.Let us further hope that Mr Obama,despite the protocol gaffe will not in so doing emulate the far too many Europeans,who ,because of a perceived need to be politically correct,have become dhimmis and refuse to criticize others,especially when the others are Muslims[29].

[1] Speech before the European Parliament in Strasburg on April 3,2009,Speech before the Turkish Parliament April 6,2009.

[2] For the distinctions between Ummah and dar al-Islam cf. Leon Brown Religion and State :the Muslim approach to Politics ( 2000) p.85

[3] For the  nuances between mushrikun ,who committed the sin of shirk and the kuffar(kufr=to conceal) he who denies God is a kafir ( a concealer) for he hides his disbelief  cf.,inter alia, Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude,p.197 and Jacques Waardenberg Muslims and Others (2003) p.192

[4] Peter Mandeville, Transnational Muslim Politics p.13

[5] [5] Ibn Khaldun The Muqudimmah,An introduction to history,transl.F.Rosenthal ( 1958) I,473

[6] Where Two Worlds Collide: Muslim Schools Face Tensions of Islamic, U.S. Views, Washington Post 25 February 2002 p.A01

[7] The source is Sura 9 verse 29 of the Koran which lays out that obligation in return for the permission,not the right,to live.


Paying Jizyah is a Sign of Kufr and Disgrace

Allah said,[حَتَّى يُعْطُواْ الْجِزْيَةَ]

(until they pay the Jizyah), if they do not choose to embrace Islam,[عَن يَدٍ]

(with willing submission), in defeat and subservience,[وَهُمْ صَـغِرُونَ] (and feel themselves subdued.), disgraced, humiliated and belittled. Therefore, Muslims are not allowed to honor the people of Dhimmah or elevate them above Muslims, for they are miserable, disgraced and humiliated. Muslim recorded from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet said,«لَا تَبْدَءُوا الْيَهُودَ وَالنَّصَارَى بِالسَّلَامِ، وَإِذَا لَقِيتُمْ أَحَدَهُمْ فِي طَرِيقٍ فَاضْطَرُّوهُ إِلَى أَضْيَقِه»(Do not initiate the Salam to the Jews and Christians, and if you meet any of them in a road, force them to its narrowest alley.) This is why the Leader of the faithful ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, demanded his well-known conditions be met by the Christians, these conditions that ensured their continued humiliation, degradation and disgrace.Commentary on Sura 9:29 in the Tafsir Ibn Kathir:

[9] The Dhimmi:Jews and Christians Under Islam (2003) Islam and Dhimmitude:Where Civilizations Collide (2001),;Le Dhimmi:profil de l’opprimé en Orient et en Afrique du Nord depuis la conquête arabe ( 1980),Les chrétientés d’Orient entre jihad et dhimmitude,VII-XX siècle(1991) , »Dhimmitude past and present:an invented or real history »Starr Foundation Lecture,Brown University 10 October 2002

[10] The Dhimmi p.62

[11] Id.203,215

[12] Pact of Umar citd by Norman Stillman ,The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book ( 1979) p.157-158

[13] [13] David B.Kopel Dhimmitude and Disarmement 18 George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal 2008.This prohibition explains why the Christian and Jewish populations living in Muslim lands were so easily the subject of vexations and worse throughout history,as they were not allowed to defend themselves under pain of being declared blasphemers,an accusation carrying a penalty of death:cf.Majid Khadduri War and Peace in the Law of Islam (2006) p.193-195

[14] Id.59-60,196,341

[15] Id.57-58

[16] Pact of Umar ,Stillman ibd.p.99

[17] Lebanon News 8 No 18 14 Sept 1985 p.1-2

[18] Supra n.8

[19] Al-Ahkam as -Sultaniyyah.The Laws of Islamic Governance trad.Dr.Asadullah Yate (1996)

[20] Livre de l’impôt foncier Kitab el-Kharadj tranl. Fagnan Paris 1921 p.189

[21] Sherko Kirmanj The Relationship Between Traditional and Contemporary Islamist Political Thought ,Middle East Review of International Affairs,vol.12No 1 ( March 2008),p.69 et seq.

[22] A Short History of the Revivalist Movement in Islam (2002); »Political Theory of Islam »in Mansoor et al. Contemporary Debates in Islam:An Anthology of Modernist and Fundamentalist Thought(2000);

[23] Pour un gouvernement islamique (Paris, 1979), pp. 31ff.

[24] One cannot help but be reminded of the devshirme ,the enslavement practice of Christian children in the Ottoman Empire: Ye’or Islam and Dhimmitude,23,48,204-207

[25] Cf the teachings of the Tasfir Ibn Kathir or the writings of Ibn Khaldun

[26] Cf.inter alia,the reactions of Sheik Yousef Al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on the meeting betweenthe  Grand Rabi of Israel I.Lau and Sheikh Tantawi d’ Al Hazar: et  Sherko Kirmanj The Relationship Between Traditional and Contemporary Islamist Political Thought ,Middle East Review of International Affairs,vol.12No 1 ( March 2008),p.69 et seq.

[27] Cf.Ibn Khuldun supra n.4

[28] Ibn Khaldun ,Tafsir Ibn Kathir  or Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab for par example

[29] Cf.the criticism levelled at Wim Wenders the Dutch parliamentarian for his documentary or at the Danish cartoonist.


Une Réponse

  1. As a Melkite Christian,I applaud your perceptive and ,regrettably accurate,analysis.We in Lebanon have experienced throughout the course of history what you have so well described.
    The fate of the Christian communities in Muslim lands hangs by a thread.Thanks for alerting your readers to this crusade against Christians.

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