The Status of Non-Muslim Minorities Under Islamic Rule
1. What is a Dhimma?
Muslims have a concept known as dhimma, which originally referred to
the pact of surrender between non-Muslims and their Muslim conquerors.
Today, a dhimmi is a non-Muslim citizen of a country governed in
accordance with sharia, Islamic law; At one time, the status of dhimmi
was available only to people of the book (Jews and Christians), but
later it was extended to include Zoroastrians and certain others,
Muslims characterize dhimma as a contract that protects dhimmis,
allowing them to retain their religion and guaranteeing their personal
safety and the security of their property. In theory, Islam is a
religion of peace and tolerance. In practice, dhimma imposes an extra
tax on the Jew, Christian, or Zoroastrian for the privilege of living in
Islamic territory. Forcing non-Muslims to pay for protection is
Armed with this protection(!), the dhimmi enjoys civic rights that
are almost nonexistent. In a tribal society, where ownership of a horse
makes it possible to exist, to travel, to fight, to display one's social
rank, the non-Muslim owns no such thing. He is permitted to ride an ass
or mule (degrading mounts), but he has to ride sidesaddle, woman-style.
He may walk in the street, but is not allowed to overtake a Muslim.
Bearing arms is of course categorically forbidden - more or less
implying that, being disarmed, the dhimmi is at the mercy of the first
bandit to cross his path. Sometimes, beyond wearing the yellow fabric of
sinister memory, he has a lion tattooed on his forearm, just as a later
generation of Jews sported a tattooed number there.
In theory, the abolition of dhimmitude dates from 1839. In fact it
was not until the end of the First World War that the Ottoman Empire
finally abandoned a practice whose observance it was no longer able to
impose ... Obviously, the famous protection guaranteed on paper was not
invariably granted not by a long shot-to non-Muslim believers, who
nevertheless conscientiously paid the tax and consented to live as
From "In Defense of Atheism" by Michel Onfray
2. Dhimmitude: the Islamic system of governing populations conquered by jihad wars,
encompassing all of the demographic, ethnic, and religious aspects of
the political system. The word "dhimmitude" as a historical concept, was
coined by Bat Ye'or in 1983 to describe the legal and social conditions
of Jews and Christians subjected to Islamic rule. The word "dhimmitude"
comes from dhimmi, an Arabic word meaning "protected". Dhimmi
was the name applied by the Arab-Muslim conquerors to indigenous
non-Muslim populations who surrendered by a treaty (dhimma) to
Muslim domination. Islamic conquests expanded over vast territories in
Africa, Europe and Asia, for over a millennium (638-1683). The Muslim
empire incorporated numerous varied peoples which had their own
religion, culture, language and civilization. For centuries, these
indigenous, pre-Islamic peoples constituted the great majority of the
population of the Islamic lands. Although these populations differed,
they were ruled by the same type of laws, based on the shari'a.
similarity, which includes also regional variations, has created a
uniform civilization developed throughout the centuries by all
non-Muslim indigenous people, who were vanquished by a jihad-war and governed by shari'a law. It is this civilization which is called dhimmitude. It is characterized by the different strategies developed by each dhimmi
group to survive as non-Muslim entity in their Islamized countries.
Dhimmitude is not exclusively concerned with Muslim history and
civilization. Rather it investigates the history of those non-Muslim
peoples conquered and colonized by jihad.
encompasses the relationship of Muslims and non-Muslims at the
theological, social, political and economical levels. It also
incorporates the relationship between the numerous ethno-religious
dhimmi groups and the type of mentality that they have developed out of
their particular historical condition which lasted for centuries, even
in some Muslim countries, till today.
Dhimmitude is an entire
integrated system, based on Islamic theology. It cannot be judged from
the circumstantial position of any one community, at a given time and in
a given place. Dhimmitude must be appraised according to its laws and
customs, irrespectively of circumstances and political contingencies.