Jews and Christians, called dhimmis

Non-Believers Under Muslim Law

By Kelly O’Connell  Sunday, October 3, 2010

Discussed in this essay are the laws and status of those persons in Islamic lands who are not Muslims. This group is mainly composed of Jews and Christians, called dhimmis. What is important about this topic is it communicates better than any other method the true historic beliefs of Muslims towards Westerners. Therefore, it indicates how a good Muslim should view a non-believer, especially if they ever achieve control of a formerly non-Islamic state, like America.

The problem in Muslim lands for dhimmis (protected non-Muslims) is summed up by Patrick Sookhdeo, in Freedom To Believe, where he explains that most Muslim countries have dual justice systems with Western civil courts, and also Muslim Shari’ah (Islamic Law) courts. Most of these countries have signed various world human rights agreements. So how do these Islamic states get away with categorizing Muslim and non-Muslim with different status in the Muslim courts? By subverting these agreements under the Shari’ah, according to Sookhdeo.

Every Islamic country has different application of Shari’ah law. Further, modernity has made great inroads against regimes attempting to use primitive Muslim law. But enough Shari’ah remains in various countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, to cause concern. Also, bear in mind America’s worst Muslim enemies call for pure Shari’ah. But the main lesson to take from this study is how Muslims see unbelievers and how they choose to treat them when no one is looking. This alone should help us better understand people like the Ground Zero Mosque Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, and his secret aspirations.

I. World View of Islam

Islam is a survivor of the crucible of war. Muhammad’s society was quite warlike, and this ethos is fixed within the Islamic religion and societal norms. Thus we have the doctrine of jihad, which has been historically tied to battling the unbelieving world (jihad is best translated as “battle,” revealing the word can both mean “holy war” and “to struggle against” without any contradiction).

Also, strong is the Bedouin tribal ethos in the Arab mind to this day, according to Raphael Patai, in The Arab Mind. And the Islamic worldview is steeped in religion in a way Westerners cannot fathom, but the religion itself is bent on subjugation of each individual in the society, not mere conversion. This is why the very term Islam means submission.

A. House of War v. House of God

Muslims believe that the world is composed of two entities—Non-believers in the House of War; and Muslims in the House of Allah. One website writes:

Islamic theology divides the world into two spheres locked in perpetual conflict: The House of Islam and the House of War. The House of Islam (dar al-Islam) embraces territory where Islamic law (Sharia) is the law of the land, while the House of War (dar al- Harb) comprises the rest of the world. The House of Islam is enjoined by Allah to make war upon the House of War until the latter is permanently assimilated into the former.

B. Jihad: War as Mission

Jihad means to struggle or battle. While many Muslims and Western liberals insist the term is used primarily in a non-violent sense, this is misleading. The world view of Islam is based upon an us-versus-them model. Islam is doctrinally in a state of perpetual war against non-Muslims, even when a truce has been signed. This constant state of war-readiness of Islam is a key to understand their view of the world. Daniel Pipes explains:

Jihad is “holy war.” Or, more precisely: It means the legal, compulsory, communal effort to expand the territories ruled by Muslims at the expense of territories ruled by non-Muslims.

The purpose of jihad, in other words, is not directly to spread the Islamic faith but to extend sovereign Muslim power (faith, of course, often follows the flag). Jihad is thus unabashedly offensive in nature, with the eventual goal of achieving Muslim dominion over the entire globe.

Jihad in the sense of territorial expansion has always been a central aspect of Muslim life. That’s how Muslims came to rule much of the Arabian Peninsula by the time of the Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632. It’s how, a century later, Muslims had conquered a region from Afghanistan to Spain. Subsequently, jihad spurred and justified Muslim conquests of such territories as India, Sudan, Anatolia, and the Balkans.

C: Muslims in Foreign Climes

One of the great questions in the history of Islam is whether a Muslim living in non-Islamic lands must still follow all the dictates of the Shari’ah. Writes Michael Mumisa, in Islamic Law, Theory & Application,

While a non-Muslim under the protection of an Islamic government [dhimmi] is expected to obey all the laws of the Islamic state, is a Muslim under the protection of a non-Muslim state expected to obey all the laws of the host country most of which conflict with the Shari’ah law? These are questions whose answers are absent from classical or medieval Islamic literature or from a historical critical reading of the Qur’an and Sunnah.

Yet, another eminent Islamic legal scholar, Abdur Rahman I. Doi, says in Non-Muslims under Shariah (Islamic law), that since the Shari’ah is God’s perfect law for mankind representing his infallible will, it is imperative that all believers obey this at all times, regardless where they reside.

This then sums up a conundrum: Whether a Muslim believes he should follow the complete Shari’ah, there exists a problem for conscientious Muslims in foreign lands as to which law is preeminent. This problem was addressed for Christians by Jesus in Luke 20:25 when He taught, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and Render unto God what is God’s.” So, an upstanding Christian can be both a good citizen of an earthly state and also of God’s Kingdom.

D. Muslim States

Muslims have a different idea of what constitutes a “state,” as opposed to Western practice. Samuel Shahid, in The Myth of Islamic Tolerance cites how prominent Pakistani scholar Maududi explains this difference:

  1. An Islamic state is ideological. People who reside in it are divided into Muslims, who believe in its ideology and non-Muslims who do not believe.
  2. Responsibility for policy and administration of such a state “should rest primarily with those who believe in the Islamic ideology.” Non-Muslims, therefore, cannot be asked to undertake or be entrusted with the responsibility of policymaking.
  3. An Islamic state is bound to distinguish (i.e. discriminates) between Muslims and non-Muslims. However the Islamic law “Shari`a” guarantees to non-Muslims “certain specifically stated rights beyond which they are not permitted to meddle in the affairs of the state because they do not subscribe to its ideology.” Once they embrace the Islamic faith, they “become equal participants in all matters concerning the state and the government.”

Categories of Acceptable Unbelievers

A. Dhimmi: Jew & Christian

A dhimmi is a member of the class of persons in an Islamic country not Muslim but who follow the Bible, being Jews and Christians (other can include Sabians and Zoroastrians). Dhimmis are given a kind of protection in an Islamic state which is neither complete in scope, nor equal in application, as the following will show.

Warrant for Dhimmi comes from the chapter the Cow in the Qur’an 2:62:

Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.

In accepting dhimmitude, the non-believers have to enter a pact called the Covenant of Umar, according to Bat Yeor in Dhimmi Peoples, Oppressed Nations. The Covenant dates from the 7th century, not long after Muhammad died, and outlines what dhimmis had to do then to stay in an Islamic state.

Jizyah: To have any status, whatsoever, a non-believer in a Muslim country must immediately enter into a treaty of war. This is essentially an agreement of a truce between the non-believer and the Islamic state. This only makes sense when considering that in Islam, there is a metaphorical House of War in which abide only enemy combatants, where non-Muslims reside. Then there is the House of Peace, or Allah, which is where all Muslims abide. Therefore, if a non-Muslim wants to reside in an Islamic state, he or she must officially renounce war through the Jizyah.

This is according to the Submission chapter in the Qur’an 9:29:

You shall fight back against those who do not believe in GOD, nor in the Last Day, nor do they prohibit what GOD and His messenger have prohibited, nor do they abide by the religion of truth – among those who received the scripture – until they pay the due tax, willingly or unwillingly.

Jizyah literally means “penalty,” according to Shahida. It is described as a “fixed poll tax” by Joseph Schacht in Introduction to Islamic Law. It is described as a 10% tax and meant to cover the costs of defending the dhimmi, etc. Yet the jizyah is also meant to humble the dhimmi. According to Ye’or, the Jizyah “…symbolizes the subjugation and humiliations of the vanquished.” Ye’or details another tax put, being the kharadj, a land tax placed on lands where indigenous dhimmis reside, meaning these are at a decided economic disadvantage to Muslims.

Legal Status: A position of Muslim Shari’ah law is that under it, all are equal. This proposition is highly misleading. Not everyone has access to these rules. For example, a Dhimmi is not the legal equal of a Muslim, but a “second-class citizen,” according to Patai. So a Dhimmi can only give testimony against another Dhimmi, but not against a Muslim. This embargo is much more damaging than it sounds because the only form of acceptable evidence allowed in Shari’ah courts is verbal testimony. It also acts to keep dhimmis from suing or taking Muslims to court.

Further, all laws are said to apply to dhimmis, but if a dhimmi were attacked and killed by a Muslim, the latter cannot be put to death, but only forced to pay a fine based on status, or “blood price.” Since Islamic law generally does not impose imprisonment, this leaves dhimmis in a highly precarious position as regards enemies and safety. Many more examples like this abound.

Religion: According to Islam, both Jews and Christians are characterized by disobedience and by refusing to accept the Last Prophet—Muhammad. This lack of religious integrity is damning and so these dhimmis cannot express their religious beliefs without poisoning the Muslim state.

A realistic view of Islam, in terms of civil and human rights, is within the Muslim state no person has these types of American constitutional rights. They are unimagined in the Qur’an. But if anyone had such rights, it certainly would not be dhimmis. Shahid explains the basic modern restrictions against dhimmis in an Islamic state, which takes much from the Covenant of Umar.

According to Muslim jurists, the following legal ordinances must be enforced on dhimmis (Christians and Jews alike) who reside among Muslims:

  1. Dhimmis are not allowed to build new churches, temples, or synagogues. They are allowed to renovate old churches or houses of worship provided they do not allow to add any new construction. “Old churches” are those which existed prior to Islamic conquests and are included in a peace accord by Muslims. Construction of any church, temple, or synagogue in the Arab Peninsula (Saudi Arabia) is prohibited. It is the land of the Prophet and only Islam should prevail there. Yet, Muslims, if they wish, are permitted to demolish all non-Muslim houses of worship in any land they conquer.
  2. Dhimmis are not allowed to pray or read their sacred books out loud at home or in churches, lest Muslims hear their prayers.
  3. Dhimmis are not allowed to print their religious books or sell them in public places and markets. They are allowed to publish and sell them among their own people, in their churches and temples.
  4. Dhimmis are not allowed to install the cross on their houses or churches since it is a symbol of infidelity.
  5. Dhimmis are not permitted to broadcast or display their ceremonial religious rituals on radio or television or to use the media or to publish any picture of their religious ceremonies in newspaper and magazines.
  6. Dhimmis are not allowed to congregate in the streets during their religious festivals; rather, each must quietly make his way to his church or temple.
  7. Dhimmis are not allowed to join the army unless there is indispensable need for them in which case they are not allowed to assume leadership positions but are considered mercenaries.

Other Dhimmi Restrictions: According to Ye’or, dhimmis were historically forbidden from raising a hand against a Muslim in self-defense, even if the aggressor is trying to kill them; to criticize Islam, the Prophet, or angels; to convert to any religion other than Islam; to marry a Muslim woman or concubine; to hold authority over a Muslim; to enter certain restricted towns; or have articles of clothing that were similar to Muslim styles.

Dhimmis also had to live in a separate part of town where their gates closed in the evening; have shorter houses than Muslims; to practice their religion only in secret; to bury their dead quickly and in silence in a non-Muslim style tomb; to wear special clothes not only indicating their dhimmihood, but also which sub-group they belonged to.

Dhimmis must walk humbly with lowered eyes and accept insults without answering back; to keep a humble and respectful attitude when encountering a Muslim; to leave Muslims the best seats; and to make haste when walking through Muslim town. When encountering a Muslim, these must pass on the (impure) left, while the anointed were encouraged to press them against the wall to rub in their loathsome status.

Dhimmis were not allowed to ride horses or camels, since this would create unjustified social status. Unbelievers could use donkeys, but only outside of town. These were often left the most socially debased professions such as grave-digger or garbage collector. Muslims were encouraged to not have social intercourse with dhimmis, but if this was necessary, to do so with utmost brevity while expressing unbridled contempt in the same breath.

Jews, in particular, are not to raise their voices in front of Muslims, practice the same trade as a Muslim; claim that Shari’ah Muslim law could be defective; rise an animal astraddle; mention religion to Muslims; squint to try and imagine Muslims in the nude; sound their ram-horn bugle the shofar; or lend money with interest—by which, it is warned, they could end up destroying the world, writes Ye’or.


The enormous difference between ideas of equality and fairness that separate the Islamic world and the West are so colossal it defies easy explanation. In fact, we must study Islam in pieces to really understand the whole. This matters, because—before long—each big US city will undoubtedly have Muslims similar to Rauf seeking to influence policies and get involved in political life, and put the imprint of Muhammad upon all they touch.

Unless we understand the grave differences between the two world views, representing not just rules, but also principles and values, we will be at severe disadvantage in defending our ancestral freedoms against incursion of foreign belief. This matters because Islam has always been a missionary religion, propagated by force and invasion. If we don’t understand its virulence and fatalistic determination, and that there is no alternative peaceful view in traditional Islam, great and quick may be our fall.

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