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The dhimmis in medieval Islam (1/2)

The dhimmis in medieval Islam (1/2)


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The status of dhimmi carries with it a number of opposing fantasies: some see it as proof of the great tolerance of Muslims towards non-Muslims, going as far as an idealization transposed to the equally fantasized period of Al Andalus; others see it as proof of a willingness of Muslims to gradually assimilate non-Muslims, pushing them to convert and out of this minority status. Obviously, it is much more complex.

The origins, from the Koran to Sunna

The dhimma is "an indefinitely renewed contract by which the Muslim community grants hospitality and protection to members of other revealed religions, if they respect the rule of Islam" (cf. Encyclopedia of Islam).

The Quran is the basis (with the Sunna) legal provisions that will lead to the Sharia (Islamic law) and therefore among others to the status of dhimmi. In the Koran, to define Christians and Jews, we must not lose sight of the fact that the opinion depends and varies according to the circumstances and the events experienced by the Prophet, that is to say his relations with some and the others over the revelation. The Qur'an is relatively tolerant (or according to interpretations "resigned" to what has preceded it) towards religious pluralism, as sura II, 256 attests: "No compulsion in religion! "Or sura CIX, 6:" Your religion is yours; my religion is mine ”. But this attitude only applies to the People of the Book, the ahl al-Kitab, meaning Christians, Jews and the mysterious Sabeans. We see it in sura II, 62: "Those who believe, those who practice Judaism, those who are Christians or Sabeans, those who believe in God and in the last day, those who do good: these are those who will find their reward. with their Lord. Then they will no longer have any fear, they will not be distressed. " Of course, this point of view evolves with the meetings of Mahomet and his contacts more and more frequent and conflicting with the Christians and especially the Jews; thus, among other hostile suras, the V, 51: “O you who believe! Do not take Jews and Christians for friends; they are friends of each other. The one among you who takes them as friends is one of them. –God does not lead the unjust people- ”and especially sura IX, 29:“ Fight […] those who, among the People of the Book, do not practice the true Religion. Fight them until they pay the direct price (djizya) after humiliating themselves ". Indeed, it is this last sura which will be directly at the origin of the dhimma and its basis, the payment of the poll tax, the djizya, to which we will come back.

The actions of the prophet are also decisive. After the Hegira, Muhammad tried to convert the Jews in Medina; the three tribes are defeated, two have the choice between conversion and exile, a third (the Banu Quraysa) between conversion and death. Then there is, and above all, the conquest in the year 7 of the Hegira (629) of the oasis of Khaybar, with the first case of submission of a Jewish tribe to Islam: the Jews will be "protected. "(dhimmis) by Muslims, but must pay them half of their harvest. This is undoubtedly the first case of "tribute" (reference to IX, 29) and therefore also one of the sources of dhimma. For Christians, relations are fewer and less conflictual, they are thus seen better than the Jews, as shown in Sura V, 82: “You will find that the men most hostile to believers are the Jews and the polytheists. You will find that the men closest to believers by friendship are those who say: "Yes, we are Christians" [...] ". Mahomet, for example, made agreements with the Christians of Nadjran. However, it should be noted that subsequently, the distinction between the two will no longer apply with regard to the dhimma, and that even the view that Muslims will have of Jews and Christians will tend to be reversed, because of the clashes between Islam and the Christian West.

As we can see, the point of view of the Koran and the Sunnah on Christians and Jews is contrasted: they are more respected than polytheists, pagans or atheists, because they are considered "People of the Book", but they are also so as heretics, untrustworthy and in error, than it is absolutely necessary to submit.

The legal development of dhimma

There are other sources that have helped shape the status of dhimmi ; we must cite the "Umar Pact" to begin with. Tradition makes it the origin of the dhimma, based on an event that allegedly affected the second caliph, Umar (634-644), and Christians in Syria. They would have sent him a letter in which they gave the conditions of their submission! This document is undoubtedly apocryphal, because it is difficult to see the vanquished imposing their conditions ... Moreover, the trace of this pact did not appear until the 11th century. No doubt more truthful are the provisions with regard to dhimmis taken by the Umayyad Umar II (717-720): this one would have introduced the differences at the level of dress, or the prohibition to mount a horse, to carry weapons,… Measures which subsequently took on the value of law. We can also cite the mysterious Edit of the Prophet to Christians, which undoubtedly refers to the agreements with the Christians of Nadjran.

However, the different versions and applications allow us to define the terms of the dhimma. We must first insist on the symbolism: as we have seen above, one of the suras that inspired the contract (IX, 29) insists on the humiliating character of the dhimma and the payment of tribute. According to the exegete Mahmud ibn ‘Umar al-Zamakhshari (1075-1144)," the recovery of djizya must be accompanied by contempt and humiliation. [The dhimmi] will come in person, on foot and not on horseback. To pay, he will stand, while the collector will remain seated. The tax collector will grab him by the collar and shake him, saying: " djizya ! "; and when he pays, he'll pat him on the back of the neck. "Other sources demand that the dhimmi presents himself with his back bent, whether the collector treats him with disdain and contempt, or whether the dhimmi is below that of the collector at the time of the exchange.

However, this interpretation is not unanimous, especially among legal scholars. They are above all interested in the payment of the djizya ; thus, Abu ‘Ubayd (770-838) in his Treatise on Taxes (Kitab al-Amwal) states that we should "not impose dhimmis beyond their capabilities, nor inflict suffering on them. Likewise Abu Yusuf (731-808), qadi of Harûn al-Rashîd (786-809) in his Kitab al-Kharaj : "No national of dhimma will not be beaten in order to demand payment of the djizya ; he will not be made to wait in the hot sun, he will not be inflicted with heinous corporal punishment or other similar abuse. On the contrary, it should be treated with leniency. "On the other hand, a dhimmi who will not have paid the djizya will of course be severely punished, and will have to pay it. This same Abu Yusuf insists on the prohibition of treating dhimmi like booty, but for more pragmatic than humanistic reasons: “From then on [when they paid the tribute], you no longer have any title or rights over them. Think about it! If we take them and distribute them, what will be left of the Muslims who come after us? "The head tax is, as we can see, essential. Of Koranic origin (IX, 29), the djizya is a poll tax that is added to kharadj (property tax).

According to the Jewish source of the Geniza Cairo (XIth), it is a tax that can be heavy, especially for the poorest classes. It is deleted in the event of conversion. It has been seen regularly since the Abbasids and applies to able-bodied, free, capable males and therefore not to women (except widows who were owners under the Ottomans) or to the elderly. Monks are exempt for a long time. It must be paid in money, hand to hand, every lunar year.

What are the other main legal provisions? A Muslim can marry a dhimmie, but one dhimmi cannot marry a Muslim; a dhimmi cannot own a Muslim slave, but a Muslim can own a slave dhimmi. Regarding justice, the dhimmi can be judged by his own (internal law) unless a Muslim is concerned; he can also request arbitration from a Muslim judge, but that will of course be the law Islamic law that will be applied. In this case, the testimony of a dhimmi was not admissible and the blood price (diya) of a dhimmi was lower than that of Muslims (except for the Hanafi school). For inheritance tax: a Muslim cannot inherit a dhimmi, nor the other way around (even if on the first point, the sources diverge); a provision criticized by some ulemas and especially by the Shiites, who want to insist on the inequality between Muslims and dhimmi. The dhimmi must also respect Islam, not proselytize, not be ostentatious in the practice of one's worship (bells, processions, etc.).

Finally, as we have already mentioned, certain differences in dress and behavior were imposed. Being more related to the context than to a legal basis, we will see this in the next section.

The dhimma, which therefore takes its origin in the Koran, the Sunnah and the interpretations of exegetes and jurists, is to summarize a contract based on an inequality in the face of taxes and rights, something that we find throughout history, unlike what we will see thereafter.

Read more: The Dhimmis in medieval Islam


Video: The Medieval Islamicate World: Crash Course History of Science #7 (July 2022).


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