"Dhimmitude" and "Perpetual Servitude"


In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving

The website, LoonWatch, is a recent addition to my blogroll. It is an excellent website and resource for information and response to the vitriolic anti-Islam hatred of the likes of Robert Spencer, Wafa Sultan, and others. They have a favorite word called “dhimmitude,” which is a play between “Dhimmi” and “servitude” and is meant to convey Islam’s intolerance of non-Muslims. Below is an excellent summary of the very, very long article responding to this mistruth about Islam. The article, although extremely long, is a very worthy read and very informative.

Arab and Muslim apologists have furthered the myth of interfaith utopia as a means to undermine the state of Israel. Meanwhile, anti-Muslim xenophobes have propagated the counter-myth of Islamic persecution of non-Muslims. The latter have made a big hullabaloo about the word “dhimmi” and expanded it as a concept, using the neologism of “dhimmitude.” I have here protested the usage of the word “dhimmitude,” because it is an attempt to convey the (false) idea that dhimmis were reduced to servitude. The similarity of the words “dhimmitude” and “servitude” is no accident. Bat Ye’or, the anti-Islam ideologue who introduced the myth of dhimmitude to the West–and who is the god of “scholarship” for such demagogues as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller–specifically uses the word “servitude” juxtaposed with “dhimmi”:

Dhimmitude,” as Ye’or makes clear, is a status that results in a profound psychosocial adjustment in some ways akin to servitude.

FrontPage Magazine, the xenophobic fear-mongering machine hosted by David Horowitz, says (emphasis is mine):

“A thing without a name escapes understanding,” warns preeminent Islamic scholar Bat Ye’or of jihad and dhimmitude—the Islamic institutions of, respectively, war and perpetual servitude imposed on conquered non-Muslim peoples.

The irony would be comical, if it were not frightening. The amazing thing is that they use the word “perpetual servitude” which is exactly the term used historically by the Christian West to denote the position of infidels, including Jews and Muslims! One recalls the infallible Papal Bull that gave permission to Christians to “invade, conquer, storm, attack, and subjugate” to “reduce into perpetual servitude [perpetuam servitute] the Saracens [Muslims], pagans, and other enemies of Christ.” It is a truism that bigots often–in their haste to hate–end up throwing stones from glass houses. The sheer irony–of the self-proclaimed defenders of the Judeo-Christian tradition using the term “perpetual servitude” to beat the Muslims over the head with–should not be lost on the perceptive reader.

Dhimmis were not reduced to perpetual servitude, and it is thus incorrect to use this neologism of dhimmitude, which is a purposeful amalgamation of the two words. Infidels in Islamic lands were discriminated against yes, but they were free men; in fact, it was considered illegal by law–both secular and religious–to take away their freedom or to enslave them. Neither were they serfs owned by monarchs, barons, and other royals–nor of the the church–as they were in Christendom. Under the iron fist of Christian rule, infidels were traded as chattel by the Church and state, rented out and even mortgaged as if property.

Dhimmis on the other hand were not unfree serfs but free citizens, second class though they were. As discriminatory as it was to be a second class citizen, it was certainly worlds better than being an unfree serf or slave. Bernard Lewis commented on the status of the second-class dhimmi vis-a-vis the perpetual serf:

Second-class citizenship, though second-class, is a kind of citizenship. [140]

Professor Cohen opines:

According to the Islamic “law of the land,” the shari’a [holy law], the dhimmi enjoyed a kind of citizenship, second class and unequal though it was…[in contrast to] Jews living in Latin Christian lands, where competing legal systems complicated their status and where the “law of utility” inexorably led to arbitrariness and eventually to isolation of the Jews into a special category of persons, legally possessed by this or that ruling authority. [141]

As for the Pact of Umar, a few points restrict the effectiveness of it as a beating stick for anti-Islam ideologues: (1) The document itself is apocryphal, forged after the earliest Islamic period and thus unrepresentative of it; (2) The more discriminatory conditions in the Pact of Umar were considered by jurists to be optional and therefore more often than not ignored; (3) Practice differs from theory and–for a variety of reasons–the discriminatory conditions in the Pact of Umar were rarely and only sporadically enforced; (4) The inspiration for the Pact of Umar came from Christian law codes.

Dhimmis were forced to pay the jizya once yearly; the rate was usually (although not always) reasonable. On the other hand, the Christian authorities taxed infidels in their realm multiple times throughout the year, burdening them with hefty tallages beyond their abilities. The jizya guaranteed the state’s protection. On the other hand, Christendom forced the infidels to engage in shohad (bribery) in order to obtain protection, which was much more arbitrary than the jizya, oftentimes not enough to save them from persecution. After their economic capacity had been subsequently diminished, the Jews of Europe were expelled due to their insolvency and lack of utility. Their remaining property was seized by the state.

The concept of Perpetual Servitude established the idea that infidels were the property of the church or state; hence, all what they owned did not belong to them, but to the Christian authorities. Church leaders argued that all Jewish property could be seized except the absolute bare minimum necessary for their survival (as it was argued that they ought not to be allowed to die for fear that they would then not serve as Witness to the triumph of Christianity). Meanwhile, infidels in Islamic lands owned all their wealth and property–with the only requirement being that they pay a tax on it.

The Pact of Umar decreed some discriminatory “Jim Crow” laws, such as the command for dhimmis to stand in the presence of Muslims, the prohibition to build houses a certain height, etc. This fact has been used by anti-Islam ideologues such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, yet they ignore the even more discriminatory “Jim Crow” laws in Christendom, such as the requirement for the Jew to step out of the way of the Christian, to take one’s hat off and then bow to the Christian. Similarly Jews were not permitted to use sidewalks, carry walking sticks, or walk two a breast at a time. They were forced to enter the back doors of town halls, and forbidden to enter public gardens, or enter Christian quarters–a truly apartheid system. As such, the indignation of the anti-Islam ideologues–self-proclaimed guardians of the Judeo-Christian tradition–seems selective and biased. In any case, these regulations fell into disuse in the Islamic world; again, reality differs from theory.

As for the regulations in the Pact of Umar to wear distinctive clothing (ghiyar), this too fell into disuse. Furthermore, the Christian world had similar laws. However, there was a significant difference between the Islamic law of ghiyar and the Christian yellow badge. Professor Mark R. Cohen notes that the Islamic requirement was simply that Jews continue wearing their traditional clothing and not imitate the dress of the Muslims–something which not only were the Jews were content in doing but which was a part of their religion already, i.e. to dress differently than the gentiles. Meanwhile, the Christian laws forced Jews to wear specific clothing that they did not want to wear, and which made them sources of ridicule and persecution, such as yellow badges and pointed dunce-like hats.

The prohibition in the Pact of Umar of Muslim nicknames simply required the dhimmis to retain their traditional names, which they were again happy to do in accordance to their religious beliefs. Meanwhile, Christian law forced Jews to change their names. Names were sold to Jews; those Jews with money could afford nicer names, whereas poor Jews–or those who simply annoyed authorities–were stuck with names like Ass Head, Pickpocket, or Schmuck. In any case, the Geniza gives us proof that the ban on dhimmis taking Muslim nicknames was disregarded; meanwhile, historical records indicate that the Jews of Europe did very much have their names changed.

The Pact of Umar restricted the right of dhimmis to build new houses of worship or to repair existing ones. However, Islamic jurists argued that the restriction only applied to certain areas and not others; whatever the case, historical records prove that the law was routinely ignored, and churches and synagogues continued to be built “without opposition.” Furthermore, Christian Europe also passed laws that forbade Jews from building or repairing synagogues.

Public displays of religion were forbidden in both the Islamic East and the Christian West. However, Islamic authorities at least allowed dhimmis to practice their religion freely in private, without interference. Meanwhile, Christian laws impeded even the personal religious practices of the Jews. The Church attacked the Talmud, censoring it, banning it and even burning tens of thousands of copies. The Jews perceived this as an unprecedented “catastrophe.” Both Islamic and Christian authorities forbade infidels from proselytism, but the Church went even further by forcing infidels to attend compulsory Christian sermons, where intimidating Christian mobs would seek to force Jews to see the light of Christianity.

The Islamic and Christian worlds alike punished those infidels guilty of abusing the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ respectively. Here too, however, major differences existed; the Christians resorted to collective punishment whereas the Muslims generally did not as a matter of law. Also distinctive to the Christian world were the irrational ritual murder libel, Black Death accusation, and the eucharist wafer scare. These witch hunts led to masscres of tens of thousands of Jews, and elimination of entire communities.

The Jews of Europe were barred from most professions, and thereby restricted to the hated and hateful occupation of money-lending–something which only increased their vulnerability to angry Christian mobs. Even this singular means of survival often came under attack by the Church, further reducing the Jews to a state of unemployment and abject poverty. Meanwhile, Jews of the Islamic Orient were permitted to–and did–join virtually any profession. This gave them great occupational diversification which made them much more financially secure than their counterparts in Europe.

Infidels in the Christian West, as perpetual serfs, were forbidden to own land. Dhimmis, on the other hand, were considered free persons and had the right to own property.

The Jews of Europe were forced into ghettos, and as perpetual serfs their freedom of movement was heavily restricted. Meanwhile, dhimmis did not live in such apartheid, and could reside wherever they wished, free to move about as they pleased.

Most importantly, the Jews of Europe were faced with much more persecution than their counterparts in the East. Under Christian rule, the Jews were faced with recurrent expulsions, forced conversions, and massacres.

In order to “prove” their point, anti-Islam ideologues such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller ignore the plight of infidels in Christian Europe:

The Jews were exceedingly oppressed during the middle ages throughout Christendom. In France, a Jew was a serf, and his person and goods belonged to the baron on whose demesnes he lived. He could not change his domicile without permission of the baron, who could pursue him as a fugitive…Like an article of commerce, he might be lent or hired for a time, or mortgaged. If he became a Christian, his conversion was considered a larceny of the lord, and his property and goods were confiscated. They were allowed to utter their prayers only in a low voice and without chanting. They were not allowed to appear in public without some badge or mark of distinction. Christians were forbidden to employ Jews of either sex as domestics, physicians, or surgeons…It was deemed disgraceful to an advocate to undertake the cause of a Jew. If a Jew appeared in court against a Christian, he was obliged to swear by the ten names of God and invoke a thousand imprecations against himself if he spoke not the truth. Sexual intercourse between a Christian man and a Jewess was deemed a crime against nature, and was punishable with death by burning…

Under the Roman law the Jews were the subject of severe restrictive laws and were classed in the enactments of the Christian emperors with apostates, heretics, and and heathens…Marriage with them was forbidden…and a Jew could not be the tutor of a Christian…

In the fifth book of the Decretals it is provided that if a Jew have a servant that desireth to be a Christian, the Jew shall be compelled to sell him to a Christian for twelve-pence; that it shall not be lawful for them to take any Christian to be their servant; that they may repair their old synagogues, but not build new; that it shall not be lawful for them to open their doors or windows on Good Friday; that their wives shall neither have Christian nurses, nor themselves be nurses to Christian women; that they wear different apparel from the Christians, whereby they may be known…

In England, the Jew could have nothing that was his own, for whatever he acquired he acquired not for himself but for the king..They were so heavily taxed by the sovereigns or governments of Christendom, and at the same time debarred from almost every other trade or occupation–partly by special decrees, partly by vulgar prejudice–that they could not afford to prosecute ordinary vocations. In 1253, the Jews–no longer able to withstand the constant hardships to which they were subjected in person and property–begged of their own accord to be allowed to leave the country. Richard of Cornwall, however, persuaded them to stay. Ultimately, in 1290 A.D. they were driven from the shores of England, pursued by the execrations of the infuriated rabble, and leaving in the hands of the kings all their property, debts, obligations, and mortgages. [142]

Update: Here is follow up to this article on LoonWatch.

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One thought on “"Dhimmitude" and "Perpetual Servitude"

  1. Great article. We need more scholarly articles like these. I wish this article were a book to be published right after Bernard Lewis released his book "What Went Wrong." Some people think that everybody forgot about the past, and they can twist things around to their advantage!! I am from a Muslim country that welcomed many Jews after they ran away from Spain. These Jews have lived among Muslims for centuries and enjoyed peace and prosperity up to today. After 1948, things started changing and got worse in 1968 when many of these Jews left the country. Taday, whenever I meet one of these Jews, they show me how much they love this Muslim country and how much they miss everything about it to the point where the Jews who went to live in Israel have named entire streets after names of leaders in this Muslim country. In their homes, they eat food typical to this Muslim country, they dance its dance and sing its music, and wear its clothes. In this Muslim country, Jewish children played with Muslim children, shared food, etc. In fact Muslims could eat Jewish food because it was Halal/kosher. Some of these Jews held prominent positions in the government. So, where is the Dhimmitude here? Do we live in the age of lies? Perhaps.

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