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Dhimmī (Arabic : ذميḏimmī, IPA:  [ˈðɪmmiː] , collectively أهل الذمةahl ul-ḏimmah/dhimmah "the people of the dhimma") is a historical [1] term referring to non-Muslims living in an Islamic state with legal protection. [1] [2] :470 The word literally means "protected person", [3] referring to the state's obligation under sharia to protect the individual's life, property, and freedom of religion, in exchange for loyalty to the state and payment of the jizya tax, which complemented the zakat, or obligatory alms, paid by the Muslim subjects. [4] Dhimmis were exempt from certain duties assigned specifically to Muslims, and did not enjoy certain privileges and freedoms reserved for Muslims, but were otherwise equal under the laws of property, contract, and obligation. [5] [6] [7]

Islamic state type of government in which the primary basis for government is sharia (Islamic law)

The term Islamic state has been used to describe various historical polities and theories of governance in the Islamic world. As translation of the Arabic term dawlah islāmiyyah it refers to a modern notion associated with political Islam (Islamism).

Sharia, Islamic law or sharia law is a religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition. It is derived from the religious precepts of Islam, particularly the Quran and the hadith. In Arabic, the term sharīʿah refers to God's immutable divine law and is contrasted with fiqh, which refers to its human scholarly interpretations. The manner of its application in modern times has been a subject of dispute between Muslim fundamentalists and modernists.

Jizya or Jizyah is a per capita yearly taxation historically levied in the form of financial charge on permanent non-Muslim subjects (dhimmi) of a state governed by Islamic law in order to fund public expenditures of the state, in place of the Zakat and Khums that Muslims are obliged to pay. Muslim jurists required adult, free, sane males among the dhimma community to pay the jizya, while exempting women, children, elders, handicapped, the ill, the insane, monks, hermits, slaves, and musta'mins—non-Muslim foreigners who only temporarily reside in Muslim lands. Dhimmis who chose to join military service were also exempted from payment, as were those who could not afford to pay.


Under sharia, the dhimmi communities were usually governed by their own laws in place of some of the laws applicable to the Muslim community. For example, the Jewish community in Medina was allowed to have its own Halakhic courts, [8] and the Ottoman millet system allowed its various dhimmi communities to rule themselves under separate legal courts. These courts did not cover cases that involved religious groups outside of their own community, or capital offences. Dhimmi communities were also allowed to engage in certain practices that were usually forbidden for the Muslim community, such as the consumption of alcohol and pork. [9] [10] [11]

Jews Ancient nation and ethnoreligious group from the Levant

Jews or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and a nation, originating from the Israelites and Hebrews of historical Israel and Judah. Jewish ethnicity, nationhood, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish people, while its observance varies from strict observance to complete nonobservance.

Ottoman Empire Former empire in Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa

The Ottoman Empire, Devlet-i ʿAlīye-i ʿOsmānīye, literally "The Exalted Ottoman State"; Modern Turkish: Osmanlı İmparatorluğu or Osmanlı Devleti; French: Empire ottoman), known in Western Europe as the Turkish Empire or simply Turkey, was a state and caliphate that controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. It was founded at the end of the 13th century in northwestern Anatolia in the town of Söğüt by the Oghuz Turkish tribal leader Osman I. Although initially the dynasty was of Turkic origin, it was Persianised in terms of language, culture, literature and habits. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe, and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror.

In the Ottoman Empire, a millet was an independent court of law pertaining to "personal law" under which a confessional community was allowed to rule itself under its own laws.

Historically, dhimmi status was originally applied to Jews, Christians, and Sabians. This status later also came to be applied to Zoroastrians, Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. [12] [13] [14]

Christians people who adhere to Christianity

Christians are people who follow or adhere to Christianity, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The words Christ and Christian derive from the Koine Greek title Christós (Χριστός), a translation of the Biblical Hebrew term mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ).

The Sabians of Middle Eastern tradition were a religious group mentioned three times in the Quran as a People of the Book, along with the Jews and the Christians. In the hadith, they were described simply as converts to Islam. Their identity has been called an "unsolved Quranic problem". Interest in the identity and history of the group increased over time. Discussions and investigations of the Sabians began to appear in later Islamic literature. The Sabians were identified by early writers with the ancient Jewish Christian group the Elcesaites, and with gnostic groups such as the Hermeticists and the Mandaeans. Today, the Mandaeans are still widely identified as Sabians.

Zoroastrianism Iranian religion founded by Zoroaster

Zoroastrianism or Mazdayasna is one of the world's oldest continuously practiced religions. It is centered in a dualistic cosmology of good and evil and an eschatology predicting the ultimate conquest of evil with theological elements of henotheism, monotheism/monism, and polytheism. Ascribed to the teachings of the Iranian-speaking spiritual leader Zoroaster, it exalts an uncreated and benevolent deity of wisdom, Ahura Mazda, as its supreme being. Major features of Zoroastrianism, such as messianism, judgment after death, heaven and hell, and free will may have influenced other religious and philosophical systems, including Second Temple Judaism, Gnosticism, Greek philosophy, Christianity, Islam, the Bahá'í Faith, and Buddhism.

Moderate Muslims generally reject the dhimma system as inappropriate for the age of nation-states and democracies. [15] There is a range of opinions among 20th century and contemporary theologians about whether the notion of dhimma is appropriate for modern times, and, if so, what form it should take in an Islamic state.

The "dhimma contract"

Based on Quranic verses and Islamic traditions, classical sharia distinguishes between Muslims, followers of other Abrahamic religions, and pagans or people belonging to other polytheistic religions. As monotheists, Jews and Christians have traditionally been considered "People of the Book," and afforded a special status known as dhimmi derived from a theoretical contract—"dhimma" or "residence in return for taxes". In Yemenite Jewish sources, a treaty was drafted between Muhammad and his Jewish subjects, known as kitāb ḏimmat al-nabi, written in the 17th year of the Hijra (638 CE), which gave express liberty to Jews living in Arabia to observe the Sabbath and to grow-out their side-locks, but required them to pay the jizya (poll-tax) annually for their protection. [16] There are parallels for this in Roman and Jewish law. [17] Muslim governments in the Indus basin readily extended the dhimmi status to the Hindus and Buddhists of India. [18] Eventually, the largest school of Islamic scholarship applied this term to all non-Muslims living in Islamic lands outside the sacred area surrounding Mecca, Arabia. [19]

Quran The central religious text of Islam

The Quran, also romanized Qur'an or Koran, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God (Allah). It is widely regarded as the finest work in classical Arabic literature. Slightly shorter than the New Testament, it is organized in 114 chapters — not according to when they were revealed, but according to length of surahs under the guidance of divine revelation. Surah are subdivided into verses.

The Abrahamic religions, also referred to collectively as Abrahamism, are a group of Semitic-originated religious communities of faith that claim descent from the Judaism of the ancient Israelites and the worship of the God of Abraham. The Abrahamic religions are monotheistic, with the term deriving from the patriarch Abraham.

Paganism non-Abrahamic religion, or modern religious movement such as nature worship

Paganism is a term first used in the fourth century by early Christians for people in the Roman Empire who practiced polytheism. This was either because they were increasingly rural and provincial relative to the Christian population, or because they were not milites Christi. Alternate terms in Christian texts for the same group were hellene, gentile, and heathen. Ritual sacrifice was an integral part of ancient Graeco-Roman religion and was regarded as an indication of whether a person was pagan or Christian.

Classical sharia incorporated the religious laws and courts of Christians, Jews and Hindus, as seen in the early caliphate, Al-Andalus, Indian subcontinent, and the Ottoman Millet system. [20] [21] [ page needed ] Quoting the Qur'anic statement, "Let Christians judge according to what We have revealed in the Gospel", [22] Muhammad Hamidullah writes that Islam has decentralized and "communalized" law and justice. [23] In medieval Islamic societies, the qadi (Islamic judge) usually could not interfere in the matters of non-Muslims unless the parties voluntarily chose to be judged according to Islamic law, thus the dhimmi communities living in Islamic states usually had their own laws independent from the sharia law, as with the Jews who would have their own rabbinical courts. [8] These courts did not cover cases that involved other religious groups, or capital offences or threats to public order. By the 18th century, however, dhimmis frequently attended the Ottoman Muslim courts, where cases were taken against them by Muslims, or they took cases against Muslims or other dhimmis. Oaths sworn by dhimmis in these courts were tailored to their beliefs. [24]

Religious law includes ethical and moral codes taught by religious traditions. Examples include Christian canon law, Islamic sharia, Jewish halakha, and Hindu law.

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the Christ, whose coming as the messiah was prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, called the Old Testament in Christianity, and chronicled in the New Testament. It is the world's largest religion with about 2.4 billion followers.

Judaism The ethnic religion of the Jewish people

Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish people, comprising the collective religious, cultural and legal tradition and civilization of the Jewish people. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel. It encompasses a wide body of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible, and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. With between 14.5 and 17.4 million adherents worldwide, Judaism is the tenth largest religion in the world.

Non-Muslims were allowed to engage in certain practices (such as the consumption of alcohol and pork) that were usually forbidden by Islamic law, [25] in point of fact, any Muslim who pours away their wine or forcibly appropriates it is liable to pay compensation. [26] Zoroastrian "self-marriages", that were considered incestuous under sharia, were also tolerated. Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (1292–1350) opined that non-Muslims were entitled to such practices since they could not be presented to sharia courts and the religious minorities in question held it permissible. This ruling was based on the precedent that the Islamic prophet Muhammad did not forbid such self-marriages among Zoroastrians despite coming into contact with Zoroastrians and knowing about this practice. [27] Religious minorities were also free to do as they wished in their own homes, provided they did not publicly engage in illicit sexual activity in ways that could threaten public morals. [28]

However, the classical dhimma contract is no longer enforced. Western influence has been instrumental in eliminating the restrictions and protections of the dhimma contract. [29]

According to law professor H. Patrick Glenn of McGill University, "[t]oday it is said that the dhimmi are 'excluded from the specifically Muslim privileges, but on the other hand they are excluded from the specifically Muslim duties' while (and here there are clear parallels with western public and private law treatment of aliens—Fremdenrecht, la condition de estrangers), '[f]or the rest, the Muslim and the dhimmi are equal in practically the whole of the law of property and of contracts and obligations'." [30]

The dhimma contract and sharia law

The dhimma contract is an integral part of traditional Islamic sharia. From the 9th century AD, the power to interpret and refine law in traditional Islamic societies was in the hands of the scholars ( ulama ). This separation of powers served to limit the range of actions available to the ruler, who could not easily decree or reinterpret law independently and expect the continued support of the community. [31] Through succeeding centuries and empires, the balance between the ulema and the rulers shifted and reformed, but the balance of power was never decisively changed. [32] At the beginning of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution introduced an era of European world hegemony that included the domination of most of the lands of Islam. [33] [34] At the end of the Second World War, the European powers found themselves too weakened to maintain their empires. [35] The wide variety in forms of government, systems of law, attitudes toward modernity and interpretations of sharia are a result of the ensuing drives for independence and modernity in the Muslim world. [36] [37]

Muslim states, sects, schools of thought and individuals differ as to exactly what sharia law entails. [38] In addition, Muslim states today utilize a spectrum of legal systems. Most states have a mixed system that implements certain aspects of sharia while acknowledging the supremacy of a constitution. A few, such as Turkey, have declared themselves secular. [39] Local and customary laws may take precedence in certain matters, as well. [40] Islamic law is therefore polynormative, [41] and despite several cases of regression in recent years, the trend is towards modernization and liberalization. [42] Questions of human rights and the status of minorities cannot be generalized with regards to the Muslim world. They must instead be examined on a case-by-case basis, within specific political and cultural contexts, using perspectives drawn from the historical framework. [43]

The end of the dhimma contract

The status of the dhimmi "was for long accepted with resignation by the Christians and with gratitude by the Jews" but the rising power of Christendom and the radical ideas of the French Revolution caused a wave of discontent among Christian dhimmis. [44] The continuing and growing pressure from the European powers combined with pressure from Muslim reformers gradually relaxed the inequalities between Muslims and non-Muslims. [45]

On 18 February 1856, the Ottoman Reform Edict of 1856 (Hatt-i Humayan) was issued, building upon the 1839 edict. It came about partly as a result of pressure from and the efforts of the ambassadors of Great Britain, France, and Austria, whose respective countries were needed as allies in the Crimean War. It again proclaimed the principle of equality between Muslims and non-Muslims, and produced many specific reforms to this end. For example, the jizya tax was abolished and non-Muslims were allowed to join the army. [46] [47]

Views of modern Islamic scholars on the status of non-Muslims in an Islamic society

Dhimmi communities

Jews and Christians living under early Muslim rule were considered dhimmis, a status that was later also extended to other non-Muslims like Hindus and Buddhists. They were allowed to "practise their religion, subject to certain conditions, and to enjoy a measure of communal autonomy" and guaranteed their personal safety and security of property, in return for paying tribute and acknowledging Muslim rule. [62] Islamic law and custom prohibited the enslavement of free dhimmis within lands under Islamic rule. [63] Taxation from the perspective of dhimmis who came under the Muslim rule, was "a concrete continuation of the taxes paid to earlier regimes" [64] (but lower under the Muslim rule [65] [66] ). They were also exempted from the zakat tax paid by Muslims. The dhimmi communities living in Islamic states had their own laws independent from the Sharia law, such as the Jews who had their own Halakhic courts. [67] The dhimmi communities had their own leaders, courts, personal and religious laws, [68] [69] and "generally speaking, Muslim tolerance of unbelievers was far better than anything available in Christendom, until the rise of secularism in the 17th century". [70] "Muslims guaranteed freedom of worship and livelihood, provided that they remained loyal to the Muslim state and paid a poll tax". [71] "Muslim governments appointed Christian and Jewish professionals to their bureaucracies", [71] and thus, Christians and Jews "contributed to the making of the Islamic civilization". [71]

However, dhimmis faced social and symbolic restrictions, [72] and a pattern of stricter, then more lax, enforcement developed over time. [73] Marshall Hodgson, a historian of Islam, writes that during the era of the High Caliphate (7th–13th Centuries), zealous Shariah-minded Muslims gladly elaborated their code of symbolic restrictions on the dhimmis. [74]

From an Islamic legal perspective, the pledge of protection granted dhimmis the freedom to practice their religion and spared them forced conversions. The dhimmis also served a variety of useful purposes, mostly economic, which was another point of concern to jurists. [75] [ page needed ] Religious minorities were free to do whatever they wished in their own homes, but could not "publicly engage in illicit sex in ways that threaten public morals". [76] In some cases, religious practices that Muslims found repugnant were allowed. One example was the Zoroastrian practice of incestuous "self-marriage" where a man could marry his mother, sister or daughter. According to the famous Islamic legal scholar Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya (1292–1350), non-Muslims had the right to engage in such religious practices even if it offended Muslims, under the conditions that such cases not be presented to Islamic Sharia courts and that these religious minorities believed that the practice in question is permissible according to their religion. This ruling was based on the precedent that Muhammad did not forbid such self-marriages among Zoroastrians despite coming in contact with them and having knowledge of their practices. [77]

The Arabs generally established garrisons outside towns in the conquered territories, and had little interaction with the local dhimmi populations for purposes other than the collection of taxes. The conquered Christian, Jewish, Mazdean and Buddhist communities were otherwise left to lead their lives as before. [78]


According to historians Lewis and Stillman, local Christians in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were non-Chalcedonians and many may have felt better off under early Muslim rule than under that of the Byzantine Orthodox of Constantinople. [79] In 1095, Pope Urban II urged western European Christians to come to the aid of the Christians of Palestine. The subsequent Crusades brought Roman Catholic Christians into contact with Orthodox Christians whose beliefs they discovered to differ from their own perhaps more than they had realized, and whose position under the rule of the Muslim Fatimid Caliphate was less uncomfortable than had been supposed. Consequently, the Eastern Christians provided perhaps less support to the Crusaders than had been expected. [80] When the Arab East came under Ottoman rule in the 16th century, Christian populations and fortunes rebounded significantly. The Ottomans had long experience dealing with Christian and Jewish minorities, and were more tolerant towards religious minorities than the former Muslim rulers, the Mamluks of Egypt. [81]

However, Christians living under Islamic rule have suffered certain legal disadvantages and at times persecution. In the Ottoman Empire, in accordance with the dhimmi system implemented in Muslim countries, they, like all other Christians and also Jews, were accorded certain freedoms. The dhimmi system in the Ottoman Empire was largely based upon the Pact of Umar. The client status established the rights of the non-Muslims to property, livelihood and freedom of worship but they were in essence treated as second-class citizens in the empire and referred to in Turkish as gavours , a pejorative word meaning "infidel" or "unbeliever". The clause of the Pact of Umar which prohibited non-Muslims from building new places of worship was historically imposed on some communities of the Ottoman Empire and ignored in other cases, at discretion of the local authorities. Although there were no laws mandating religious ghettos, this led to non-Muslim communities being clustered around existing houses of worship. [82] [83]

In addition to other legal limitations, Christians were not considered equals to Muslims and several prohibitions were placed on them. Their testimony against Muslims by Christians and Jews was inadmissible in courts of law wherein a Muslim could be punished; this meant that their testimony could only be considered in commercial cases. They were forbidden to carry weapons or ride atop horses and camels. Their houses could not overlook those of Muslims; and their religious practices were severely circumscribed (e.g., the ringing of church bells was strictly forbidden). [82] [84]


Because the early Islamic conquests initially preserved much of the existing administrative machinery and culture, in many territories they amounted to little more than a change of rulers for the subject populations, which "brought peace to peoples demoralized and disaffected by the casualties and heavy taxation that resulted from the years of Byzantine-Persian warfare". [69]

María Rosa Menocal, argues that the Jewish dhimmis living under the caliphate, while allowed fewer rights than Muslims, were still better off than in the Christian parts of Europe. Jews from other parts of Europe made their way to al-Andalus, where in parallel to Christian sects regarded as heretical by Catholic Europe, they were not just tolerated, but where opportunities to practice faith and trade were open without restriction save for the prohibitions on proselytization. [85]

Bernard Lewis states:

Generally, the Jewish people were allowed to practice their religion and live according to the laws and scriptures of their community. Furthermore, the restrictions to which they were subject were social and symbolic rather than tangible and practical in character. That is to say, these regulations served to define the relationship between the two communities, and not to oppress the Jewish population. [86]

Professor of Jewish medieval history at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Hayim Hillel Ben-Sasson, notes:

The legal and security situation of the Jews in the Muslim world was generally better than in Christendom, because in the former, Jews were not the sole "infidels", because in comparison to the Christians, Jews were less dangerous and more loyal to the Muslim regime, and because the rapidity and the territorial scope of the Muslim conquests imposed upon them a reduction in persecution and a granting of better possibility for the survival of members of other faiths in their lands. [87]

According to the French historian Claude Cahen, Islam has "shown more toleration than Europe towards the Jews who remained in Muslim lands." [88]

Comparing the treatment of Jews in the medieval Islamic world and medieval Christian Europe, Mark R. Cohen notes that, in contrast to Jews in Christian Europe, the "Jews in Islam were well integrated into the economic life of the larger society", [89] and that they were allowed to practice their religion more freely than they could do in Christian Europe. [89]

According to the scholar Mordechai Zaken, tribal chieftains (also known as aghas) in tribal Muslim societies such as the Kurdish society in Kurdistan would tax their Jewish subjects. The Jews were in fact civilians protected by their chieftains in and around their communities; in return they paid part of their harvest as dues, and contributed their skills and services to their patron chieftain. [90]

Hindus and Buddhists

By the 10th century, the Turks of Central Asia had invaded the Indic plains, and brought Islam to Northwestern parts of India. [91] At the end of the 12th century, the Muslims advanced quickly into the Ganges Plain. [92] In one decade, a Muslim army led by Turkic slaves consolidated resistance around Lahore and brought northern India, as far as Bengal, under Muslim rule. [93] From these Turkic slaves would come sultans, including the founder of the sultanate of Delhi. By the 15th century, major parts of Northern India was ruled by Muslim rulers, mostly descended from invaders. In the 16th century, India came under the influence of the Mughals (Mongols). Babur, a ruler of the Mongol Timuri empire, established a foothold in the north which paved the way for further expansion by his successors. [94] Although the Mughal emperor Akbar has been described as a universalist, most Mughal emperors were oppressive of native Hindu, Buddhist and later Sikh populations.. [95] Aurangzeb specifically was inclined towards a highly fundamentalist approach. [96]

The Muslim rulers from Turks to Mughals retained their Islamic identities, and made various attempts at conversion and subjugation of native Hindu populations. Under Muslim rule, vandalism, and outright destruction of temples became a widespread phenomenon. In fact, such was the extent of persecution and genocide that there was a decline in population of India during the years of Muslim conquest. Historian K. S. Lal in his book Theory and Practice of Muslim State in India claims that between the years 1000 AD and 1500 AD, the population of the Indian subcontinent decreased from 200 to 170 million. [97] In Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India meanwhile he claimed that it fell from 200 million to 120 million by establishment of the Mughal empire because of killings, deportations, dissemination, wars, and famines. He stated that his estimates were tentative and did not claim any finality. [98] [99] Will Durant called the Muslim conquest of India "probably the bloodiest story in history".


There were a number of restrictions on dhimmis. In a modern sense the dhimmis would be described as second-class citizens. [100]

Although dhimmis were allowed to perform their religious rituals, they were obliged to do so in a manner not conspicuous to Muslims. Display of non-Muslim religious symbols, such as crosses or icons, was prohibited on buildings and on clothing (unless mandated as part of distinctive clothing). Loud prayers were forbidden, as were the ringing of church bells and the blowing of the shofar. [101] They were also not allowed to build or repair churches without Muslim consent. [71] Moreover, dhimmis were not allowed to seek converts among Muslims. [102] [ page needed ] In the Mamluk Egypt, where non-Mamluk Muslims were not allowed to ride horses and camels, dhimmis were prohibited even from riding donkeys inside cities. [103] Sometimes, Muslim rulers issued regulations requiring dhimmis to attach distinctive signs to their houses. [104]

Most of the restrictions were social and symbolic in nature, [72] and a pattern of stricter, then more lax, enforcement developed over time. [73] The major financial disabilities of the dhimmi were the jizya poll tax and the fact dhimmis and Muslims could not inherit from each other. [72] That would create an incentive to convert if someone from the family had already converted. [71] Ira M. Lapidus states that the "payment of the poll tax seems to have been regular, but other obligations were inconsistently enforced and did not prevent many non-Muslims from being important political, business, and scholarly figures. In the late ninth and early tenth centuries, Jewish bankers and financiers were important at the 'Abbasid court." [105] The jurists and scholars of Islamic sharia law called for humane treatment of the dhimmis. [106]

Jizya tax

Payment of the jizya obligated Muslim authorities to protect dhimmis in civil and military matters. Sura 9 (At-Tawba), verse 29 stipulates that jizya be exacted from non-Muslims as a condition required for jihad to cease. Failure to pay the jizya could result in the pledge of protection of a dhimmi's life and property becoming void, with the dhimmi facing the alternatives of conversion, enslavement, death or imprisonment, as advocated by Abu Yusuf, the chief qadi (Islamic judge) of Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid who ruled over much of modern-day Iraq. [107]

Lewis states there are varying opinions among scholars as to how much of a burden jizya was. [107] According to Norman Stillman: "jizya and kharaj were a "crushing burden for the non-Muslim peasantry who eked out a bare living in a subsistence economy." [108] Both agree that ultimately, the additional taxation on non-Muslims was a critical factor that drove many dhimmis to leave their religion and accept Islam. [109] However, in some regions the jizya on populations was significantly lower than the zakat, meaning dhimmi populations maintained an economic advantage. [110] According to Cohen, taxation, from the perspective of dhimmis who came under Muslim rule, was "a concrete continuation of the taxes paid to earlier regimes". [64] [ page needed ] Lewis observes that the change from Byzantine to Arab rule was welcomed by many among the dhimmis who found the new yoke far lighter than the old, both in taxation and in other matters, and that some, even among the Christians of Syria and Egypt, preferred the rule of Islam to that of Byzantines. [66] Montgomery Watt states, "the Christians were probably better off as dhimmis under Muslim-Arab rulers than they had been under the Byzantine Greeks." [111] In some places, for example Egypt, the jizya was a tax incentive for Christians to convert to Islam. [71]

The importance of dhimmis as a source of revenue for the Rashidun Caliphate is illustrated in a letter ascribed to Umar I and cited by Abu Yusuf: "if we take dhimmis and share them out, what will be left for the Muslims who come after us? By God, Muslims would not find a man to talk to and profit from his labors." [112]

Islamic jurists required adult, free, healthy males among the dhimma community to pay the jizya, while exempting women, children, the elderly, slaves, those affected by mental or physical handicaps, and travelers who did not settle in Muslim lands. [113] [114]

The early Islamic scholars took a relatively humane and practical attitude towards the collection of jizya, compared to the 11th century commentators writing when Islam was under threat both at home and abroad. [115]

The jurist Abu Yusuf, the chief judge of the caliph Harun al-Rashid, rules as follows regarding the manner of collecting the jizya [115]

No one of the people of the dhimma should be beaten in order to exact payment of the jizya, nor made to stand in the hot sun, nor should hateful things be inflicted upon their bodies, or anything of that sort. Rather they should be treated with leniency.

In the border provinces, dhimmis were sometimes recruited for military operations. In such cases, they were exempted from jizya for the year of service. [116]

Administration of law

Religious pluralism existed in medieval Islamic law and ethics. The religious laws and courts of other religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism, were usually accommodated within the Islamic legal framework, as exemplified in the Caliphate, Al-Andalus, Ottoman Empire and Indian subcontinent. [117] [118] In medieval Islamic societies, the qadi (Islamic judge) usually could not interfere in the matters of non-Muslims unless the parties voluntarily chose to be judged according to Islamic law. The dhimmi communities living in Islamic states usually had their own laws independent from the Sharia law, such as the Jews who had their own Halakha courts. [119]

Dhimmis were allowed to operate their own courts following their own legal systems. However, dhimmis frequently attended the Muslim courts in order to record property and business transactions within their own communities. Cases were taken out against Muslims, against other dhimmis and even against members of the dhimmi's own family. Dhimmis often took cases relating to marriage, divorce or inheritance to the Muslim courts so these cases would be decided under sharia law. Oaths sworn by dhimmis in the Muslim courts were sometimes the same as the oaths taken by Muslims, sometimes tailored to the dhimmis' beliefs. [120]

Muslim men could generally marry dhimmi women who are considered People of the Book, however Islamic jurists rejected the possibility any non-Muslim man might marry a Muslim woman. [121] Bernard Lewis notes that "similar position existed under the laws of Byzantine Empire, according to which a Christian could marry a Jewish woman, but a Jew could not marry a Christian woman under pain of death". [68]

Relevant texts

Quranic verses as a basis for Islamic policies toward dhimmis

Lewis states


A hadith by Muhammad, "Whoever killed a Mu'ahid (a person who is granted the pledge of protection by the Muslims) shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise though its fragrance can be smelt at a distance of forty years (of traveling).", [126] [127] [128] is considered to be a foundation for the protection of the People of the Book in Muslim ruled countries.[ citation needed ] Anwar Shah Kashmiri writes in his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari Fayd al-Bari on this hadith: "You know the gravity of sin for killing a Muslim, for its odiousness has reached the point of disbelief, and it necessitates that [the killer abides in Hell] forever. As for killing a non-Muslim citizen [mu'ahid], it is similarly no small matter, for the one who does it will not smell the fragrance of Paradise." [127]

A similar hadith in regard to the status of the dhimmis: "Whoever wrongs one with whom a compact (treaty) has been made [i.e., a dhimmi] and lays on him a burden beyond his strength, I will be his accuser." [129] [130]

Constitution of Medina

The Constitution of Medina, a formal agreement between Muhammad and all the significant tribes and families of Medina (including Muslims, Jews and pagans), declared that non-Muslims in the Ummah had the following rights: [131]

  1. The security (dhimma) of God is equal for all groups, [132]
  2. Non-Muslim members have equal political and cultural rights as Muslims. They will have autonomy and freedom of religion. [133]
  3. Non-Muslims will take up arms against the enemy of the Ummah and share the cost of war. There is to be no treachery between the two. [134]
  4. Non-Muslims will not be obliged to take part in religious wars of the Muslims. [135]

Khaybar agreement

A precedent for the dhimma contract was established with the agreement between Muhammad and the Jews after the Battle of Khaybar, an oasis near Medina. Khaybar was the first territory attacked and conquered by Muslims. When the Jews of Khaybar surrendered to Muhammad after a siege, Muhammad allowed them to remain in Khaybar in return for handing over to the Muslims one half their annual produce. [136]

Pact of Umar

The Pact of Umar, traditionally believed to be between caliph Umar and the conquered Jerusalem Christians in the seventh century, was another source of regulations pertaining to dhimmis. However, Western orientalists doubt the authenticity of the pact, arguing it is usually the victors and not the vanquished who impose rather than propose, the terms of peace, and that it is highly unlikely that the people who spoke no Arabic and knew nothing of Islam could draft such a document. Academic historians believe the Pact of Umar in the form it is known today was a product of later jurists who attributed it to Umar in order to lend greater authority to their own opinions. The similarities between the Pact of Umar and the Theodosian and Justinian Codes of the Eastern Roman Empire suggest that perhaps much of the Pact of Umar was borrowed from these earlier codes by later Islamic jurists. At least some of the clauses of the pact mirror the measures first introduced by the Umayyad caliph Umar II or by the early Abbasid caliphs. [137]

Cultural interactions and cultural differences

During the Middle Ages, local associations known as futuwwa clubs developed across the Islamic lands. There were usually several futuwwah in each town. These clubs catered to varying interests, primarily sports, and might involve distinctive manners of dress and custom. They were known for their hospitality, idealism and loyalty to the group. They often had a militaristic aspect, purportedly for the mutual protection of the membership. These clubs commonly crossed social strata, including among their membership local notables, dhimmi and slaves – to the exclusion of those associated with the local ruler, or amir. [138]

Muslims and Jews were sometimes partners in trade, with the Muslim taking days off on Fridays and Jews taking off on Saturdays. [139]

Andrew Wheatcroft describes how some social customs such as different conceptions of dirt and cleanliness made it difficult for the religious communities to live close to each other, either under Muslim or under Christian rule. [140]

In modern times

The dhimma and the jizya poll tax are no longer imposed in Muslim majority countries. [15] [141] In the 21st century, jizya is widely regarded as being at odds with contemporary secular conceptions of citizen's civil rights and equality before the law, although there have been occasional reports of religious minorities in conflict zones and areas subject to political instability being forced to pay jizya. [142]

In 2009 it was claimed that a group of militants that referred to themselves as the Taliban imposed the jizya on Pakistan's minority Sikh community after occupying some of their homes and kidnapping a Sikh leader. [143]

As late as 2013, in Egypt jizya was reportedly being imposed by the Muslim Brotherhood on 15,000 Christian Copts of Dalga village. [144] [145]

In February 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) announced that it intended to extract jizya from Christians in the city of Raqqa, Syria, which it controlled at the time. Christians who refused to accept the dhimma contract and pay the tax were to have to either convert to Islam, leave or be executed. Wealthy Christians would have to pay half an ounce of gold, the equivalent of $664 twice a year; middle-class Christians were to have to pay half that amount and poorer ones were to be charged one-fourth that amount. [146] In June, 2014 the Institute for the Study of War reported that ISIL claims to have collected jizya and fay. [147] On 18 July 2014 the ISIL ordered the Christians in Mosul to accept the dhimma contract and pay the Jizya or convert to Islam. If they refused to accept either of the options they would be killed. [148]

See also


  1. 1 2 Juan Eduardo Campo, ed. (12 May 2010). "dhimmi". Encyclopedia of Islam . Infobase Publishing. pp. 194–195. Dhimmis are non-Muslims who live within Islamdom and have a regulated and protected status. ... In the modern period, this term has generally has occasionally been resuscitated, but it is generally obsolete.
  2. Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi (26 March 2016). The Laws of Islam (PDF). Enlight Press. ISBN   978-0994240989 . Retrieved 22 December 2017.
  3. "Definition of DHIMMI". www.merriam-webster.com.
  4. Glenn, H. Patrick (2007). Legal Traditions of the World. Oxford University Press. pp. 218–219. A Dhimmi is a non-Muslim subject of a state governed in accordance to sharia law. The term connotes an obligation of the state to protect the individual, including the individual's life, property, and freedom of religion and worship, and required loyalty to the empire, and a poll tax known as the jizya, which complemented the Islamic tax paid by the Muslim subjects, called Zakat.
  5. H. Patrick Glenn, Legal Traditions of the World. Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 219.
  6. The French scholar Gustave Le Bon (the author of La civilisation des Arabes) writes "that despite the fact that the incidence of taxation fell more heavily on a Muslim than a non-Muslim, the non-Muslim was free to enjoy equally well with every Muslim all the privileges afforded to the citizens of the state. The only privilege that was reserved for the Muslims was the seat of the caliphate, and this, because of certain religious functions attached to it, which could not naturally be discharged by a non-Muslim." Mun'im Sirry (2014), Scriptural Polemics: The Qur'an and Other Religions, p.179. Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0199359363.
  7. Abou El Fadl, Khaled (2007). The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. HarperOne. p. 204. ISBN   978-0061189036. According to the dhimma status system, non-Muslims must pay a poll tax in return for Muslim protection and the privilege of living in Muslim territory. Per this system, non-Muslims are exempt from military service, but they are excluded from occupying high positions that involve dealing with high state interests, like being the president or prime minister of the country. In Islamic history, non-Muslims did occupy high positions, especially in matters that related to fiscal policies or tax collection.
  8. 1 2 Cohen, Mark R. (1995). Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages. Princeton University Press. p. 74. ISBN   978-0-691-01082-3 . Retrieved 10 April 2010.
  9. Al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveler (edited and translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller), p. 608. Amana Publications, 1994.
  10. Al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveler (ed. and trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller), pp. 977, 986. Amana Publications, 1994.
  11. Ghazi, Kalin & Kamali 2013, pp. 240–1.
  12. Wael B. Hallaq (2009). Sharī'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations. Cambridge University Press (Kindle edition). p. 327.
  13. Annemarie Schimmel (2004). The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture. p.  107. ISBN   978-1861891853. The conqueror Muhammad Ibn Al Qasem gave both Hindus and Buddhists the same status as the Christians, Jews and Sabaeans the Middle East. They were all "dhimmi" ('protected people')
  14. Michael Bonner (2008). Jihad in Islamic History. Princeton University Press (Kindle edition). p. 89.
  15. 1 2 "[…] the overwhelming majority of moderate Muslims reject the dhimma system as ahistorical, in the sense that it is inappropriate for the age of nation-states and democracies." Abou El Fadl, Khaled (23 January 2007). The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. HarperOne. p. 214. ISBN   978-0061189036.
  16. Shelomo Dov Goitein, The Yemenites – History, Communal Organization, Spiritual Life (Selected Studies), editor: Menahem Ben-Sasson, Jerusalem 1983, pp. 288–299. ISBN   965-235-011-7
  17. Glenn, H. Patrick (2007). Legal Traditions of the World: Sustainable Diversity in Law (3rd edition). New York City; Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-920541-7. pp. 217–219.
  18. Marshall Hodgson, The Venture of Islam Conscience and History in a World Civilization Vol 2. University of Chicago, 1958, p. 278.
  19. al-Misri, Ahmad ibn Naqib (edited and translated from Arabic (with commentary) by Nuh Ha Mim Keller) (1994 revised edition), p. 603.
  20. Weeramantry 1997 , p. 138
  21. Sachedina, Abdulaziz Abdulhussein (2001). The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism. Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-513991-4.
  22. [Quran   5:47]
  23. Hamidullah, Muhammad (1986). "Relations of Muslims with non‐Muslims". Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. 7 (1): 9. doi:10.1080/13602008608715960. ISSN   0266-6952.
  24. al-Qattan, Najwa (1999). "Dhimmis in the Muslim Court: Legal Autonomy and Religious Discrimination". International Journal of Middle East Studies . 31 (3): 429–444. doi:10.1017/S0020743800055501. ISSN   0020-7438.
  25. Hamidullah, Muhammad (1970). Introduction to Islam. International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations. p. 180.
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  31. Basim Musallam, The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Islamic World, edited by Francis Robinson. Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 176.
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  52. لما نقول أهل الذمة يعني أهل ذمة الله يعني هم في عهد الله وعهد رسوله وعهد جماعة المسلمين وضمانهم، الجميع عليه أن يحميهم، فهذا هو المقصود من الكلمة. الآن يتأذى منها الكثير من أخواننا كلمة أهل الذمة، وأنا ذكرت فيما كتبت في كتبي أنني أنا لا أرى أي مانع أمام الاجتهاد الإسلامي المعاصر أن يحذف كلمة أهل الذمة هذه ونسميهم المواطنون من غير المسلمين Transcript of the 5-6-2008 "Sharia and Life" episode on Al Jazeera's website
  53. Quran 9:29—"Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture—fight until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled."
  54. Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i. "Surah Al-Baqarah, verses 83-88". almizan.org (in Arabic and English). Retrieved 1 January 2016. as-Sadiq (a.s) said: "Verily Allah sent Muhammad (s.a.w.) with five swords: So (there is) a sword against a dhimmi (free non-Muslim subject of an Islamic country). Allah said: and speak to men good (words); it was revealed about the dhimmis, then it was abrogated by another verse, Fight those who do not believe in Allah... (9:29) (al-'Ayyashi) The author says: In this tradition the Imam has taken the "speech" to mean behavior. We say: Do not speak to him but good; what we mean is: Do not deal with him but in a good and decent manner. This meaning will apply only if we take the word, "abrogated" in its terminological sense. But it may also be taken in its literal sense (as we shall explain under the verse: Whatever signs We abrogate or cause to be forgotten ...2:106); and in that case this verse will not be in conflict with that of the fighting. It should be pointed out that such uses of words in their literal meanings (as against their terminological ones) are not infrequent in the traditions of the Imams.
  55. Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, Mizan , Chapter: The Islamic Law of Jihad, Dar ul-Ishraq, 2001. OCLC: 52901690
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  113. Mirza, editor, Gerhard Bowering ; associate editors, Patricia Crone ... [et al.] ; assistant editor, Mahan (2013). The Princeton encyclopedia of Islamic political thought. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. p. 283. ISBN   978-0691134840. Free adult males who were not afflicted by any physical or mental illness were required to pay the jizya. Women, children, handicapped, the mentally ill, the elderly, and slaves were exempt, as were all travelers and foreigners who did not settle in Muslim lands.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  114. Alshech, Eli (2003). "Islamic Law, Practice, and Legal Doctrine: Exempting the Poor from the Jizya under the Ayyubids (1171-1250)". Islamic Law and Society. 10 (3). ...jurists divided the dhimma community into two major groups. The first group consists of all adult, free, sane males among the dhimma community, while the second includes all other dhimmas (i.e., women, slaves, minors, and the insane). Jurists generally agree that members of the second group are to be granted a "blanket" exemption from jizya payment.
  115. 1 2 Lewis (1984), p. 15.
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  124. Quran   109:6
  125. Quran   2:62
  126. Sahih al-Bukhari , 9:83:49
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  131. Ahmed (1979), pp. 46–7.
  132. Article 15, as quoted in Ahmed (1979), pp. 46–47.
  133. Article 25, as quoted in Ahmed (1979), pp. 46–47.
  134. Article 37, as quoted in Ahmed (1979), pp. 46–47.
  135. Article 45, as quoted in Ahmed (1979), pp. 46–47.
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  137. Lewis (1984), pp. 24–25.
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  139. Marshall Hodgson, The Venture of Islam Conscience and History in a World Civilization Vol. 1. The University of Chicago, 1961, p. 302.
  140. Wheatcroft (2003) p. 73.
  141. Werner Ende; Udo Steinbach (2010). Islam in the World Today. Cornell University Press. p. 738. ISBN   978-0801445712.
  142. Matthew Long (jizya entry author) (2012). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought. Princeton University Press. pp. 283–284. ISBN   978-0691134840.
  143. "The Tribune, Chandigarh, India - World". www.tribuneindia.com.
  144. http://www.washingtontimes.com, The Washington Times. "Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to Coptic Christians: Convert to Islam, or pay 'jizya' tax".
  145. "Two Christians Murdered in Egypt for Refusing to Pay Jizya to Muslims". www.aina.org.
  146. "Al-Qaeda Rebels in Syria Tell Christians to Pay Up or Die". Time.
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The Damascus affair of 1840 refers to the arrest of thirteen notable members of the Jewish community of Damascus who were accused of murdering a Christian monk for ritual purposes. The anti-semitic blood libel resulted in the accused being imprisoned and tortured by the Ottoman authorities and the populace attacking and pillaging a local synagogue. The affair drew widespread international attention which resulted in negotiations conducted in Alexandria from August 4 till August 28. The aftermath secured the unconditional release and recognition of innocence for the nine prisoners remaining alive and the issuing of a firman (edict) intended to halt the spread of blood libel accusations in the Ottoman Empire.

Religious antisemitism is aversion to or discrimination against Jews as a whole based on religious beliefs, false claims against Judaism and religious antisemitic canards. It is sometimes called theological antisemitism.

Bat Ye'or is the pen name of Gisèle Littman, an Egyptian-born British author, focusing on the history of religious minorities in the Muslim world and modern European politics. Ye'or has popularized the term dhimmitude in her books about the history of Middle Eastern Christians and Jews living under Islamic governments. Ye'or describes dhimmitude as the "specific social condition that resulted from jihad," and as the "state of fear and insecurity" of "infidels" who are required to "accept a condition of humiliation." She has also popularized the term Eurabia in her writings about modern Europe, in which she argues that Islam, anti-Americanism and antisemitism hold sway over European culture and politics as a result of collaboration between radical Arabs and Muslims on one hand, and fascists, socialists, Nazis, and antisemitic rulers of Europe on the other.

Dhimmitude is a neologism combining both Arabic language and French language words and popularized as a polemical term by the Egyptian-born British writer Bat Ye'or in the 1980s and 1990s. It was formed from dhimmi by analogy with servitude in order to draw an implicit comparison.

Islam and other religions

Over the centuries of Islamic history, Muslim rulers, Islamic scholars, and ordinary Muslims have held many different attitudes towards other religions. Attitudes have varied according to time, place and circumstance.


In Islam, khums refers to the required religious obligation of any Muslims to pay one-fifth of their acquired wealth from certain sources toward specified causes. It is treated differently in Shia and Sunni Islam. This tax is paid to the imam, caliph or sultan, representing the state of Islam, for distribution between the orphans, the needy, and the [stranded] traveler.

Jewish communities have existed across the Middle East and North Africa since Antiquity. By the time of the Muslim conquests of the 7th century, these ancient communities had been ruled by various empires and included the Babylonian, Persian, Carthaginian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Yemenite Jews.

Under the Ottoman Empire's millet system, Christians and Jews were considered dhimmi under Ottoman law.

<i>Qisas</i> A punishable sentence in Islam requires the punishment of the offender as he did

Qiṣāṣ is an Islamic term meaning "retaliation in kind", "eye for an eye", or retributive justice. In traditional Islamic law (sharia), the doctrine of qisas provides for a punishment analogous to the crime. Qisas is available to the victim or victim's heirs against a convicted perpetrator of murder or intentional bodily injury. In the case of murder, qisas gives the right to take the life of the killer, if the latter is convicted and the court approves. Those who are entitled to qisas have the option of receiving monetary compensation (diyya) or granting pardon to the perpetrator instead.

Diya (Islam) Retaliatory compensation in Islamic law

Diya in Islamic law, is the financial compensation paid to the victim or heirs of a victim in the cases of murder, bodily harm or property damage. It is an alternative punishment to qisas. In Arabic, the word means both blood money and ransom, and it is spelled sometimes as diyah or diyeh.

The Pact of Umar, is an apocryphal treaty between the Muslims and the Christians of either Syria, Mesopotamia, or Jerusalem that later gained a canonical status in Islamic jurisprudence. It specifies rights and restrictions for non-Muslims (dhimmis) living under Islamic rule.

Islamic taxes are taxes sanctioned by Islamic law. They are based on both "the legal status of taxable land" and on "the communal or religious status of the taxpayer".

The production and consumption of wine has been widespread in the Middle East and has been tolerated to varying extents by different religious groups. Prophet Muhammad forbade all intoxicants (khamr) and even pressed grape juice for Muslims. Wine was traded and used among the Jews, at least in Egypt, including for sacramental purposes, and had to be prepared by Jews according to stated practices. Many Christian monasteries in the region made and sold wine to raise revenue. Finally, the Zoroastrian communities of Persia continued to make and drink wine after the Islamic conquest.

<i>The Third Choice</i> book by Mark Durie

The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom is written by Mark Durie, with a Foreword by Bat Ye'or. It deals with the status of non-Muslim populations after the conquest of their lands by Muslims.

This page lists the rulings and applications of the various topics in sharia law.


Further reading