Bat Ye’or

A reader unfamiliar with this area of history might consider some aspects of the following chapters as a repetition of my earlier writings. Indeed, the field of study under review is the same, but this time the aim was directed toward a synthesis between the dhimmi status and the concept of dhimmitude. The two fields can merge but they are not identical. The dhimmi’s legal status is conditioned by a legal corpus;  it is circumscribed and prescribed by what Islamic theologians consider to be divine laws;  its compulsory and repressive provisions are applied by government agents charged with supervising their execution. The dhimmi status is thus made up of eminently concrete and visible elements which constitute a field of study, easily  classified because these essentials are integrated into everyday social life.  

Dhimmitude, on the other hand, represents a domain which embraces the social, political, and religious relations of different human groups.  Although these groups evolve in the same specific doctrinal context, they are subject to a variety of external and conflicting pressures. The range and intensity of these pressures are conditioned by durable or circumstantial factors, and it is precisely the identification of these:  their origin, function, evolution, and their correlations, that compose the field of research on dhimmitude. Consequently, the realm of  dhimmitude is lodged in evolutionary historical time – in contingencies and alterations – but within permanent structures fixed by theology. This overlap between diverse factors – which are irreducible, but at the same time fluctuating – prompts the diversity of the manifestations of dhimmitude. Its contradictions, which are not merely superficial, express compromises between the injunctions of dogma, the modalities of  interpretation, and the potential for their realization.
Dhimmitude embraces the condition of the dhimmi, which incorporates one of its stable elements, but any study of this status does not encompass the whole field of dhimmitude which evolves according to various factors.  In fact, the concepts of both dhimmi and dhimmitude are equivalent to the notions of Jew and Judaism, of Christian and Christianity. Although these notions are linked, they still imply significant differences. The concept of dhimmitude restores the dhimmis to the context of relationships between groups and gives them the characteristics of a specific “civilization”. It also grants them the breadth and complexity of history's dynamic. Here the word  “civilization” means a comprehensive system of laws, traditions, and culture, evolving in duration according to specific  and structural parameters, which maintain its homogeneity, its behavioral patterns and their transmission. An Armenian dhimmi – whether in the Balkans, Mesopotamia, or Egypt – belongs to the civilization of dhimmitude, in the same way  as any Jewish or Christian dhimmi: either Serb, Copt, Greek, or other.
As any methodological work requires precise and accurate definitions, the terms "religious minorities" and "Islamic  tolerance" should be completely excluded from any serious research in this field. In effect, after the Arab-Muslim conquest, the Christian dhimmi peoples remained for centuries ethnic majorities and, therefore, to define them as "religious minorities" locks them into demeaning and erroneous concepts which falsify the nature of their historical identity. Likewise, the ambiguity and subjectivity of the word "tolerance" – used to designate all the complexity of dhimmitude – make it inadequate as an area of study which requires precision and objectivity.  This reservation does not contradict the principle of Islamic tolerance in respect of other religions, a tolerance which is actually inscribed in the Koran, although its interpretations by jurists and its application by the Islamic authorities display divergences.  A search for more precise terminology circumscribes the limits of this tolerance and defines its criteria but it does not annul it. The expression "Islamic tolerance" is both too vague and too restricted to express all the contents of a comprehensive domain covering history, theology, and politics that extended over three continents. Furthermore, any objective analytical reasoning becomes specious if the material to be studied is defined at the outset – even before being analyzed – by a subjective notion, such as the term "tolerance". This practice reverses the rational order which involves examining the material before proceeding to a judgement. "Toleration" must be qualified in the context of the Koran, and not in a modern Western generalization, bearing in mind the diversity of its extension into the religious, legal, and historical spheres. 

This study, therefore, attempts to define and examine that field of research which I have called dhimmitude: its various sectors and facets. The sheer extent of this geographical and historical multiformity defies the abstract organization of data which is an indispensable procedure for any methodology. Dhimmitude has two aspects:  one formed by the body of relationships with non-Muslims, contracted  at the historical, social, theological, and juridical levels of the Muslim world;  the other is determined by the varied reactions of the dhimmi peoples. 

As a pioneering work in a vast subject, this preliminary examination only represents a sounding line which will have to be corrected, completed, and amended by other, better-equipped researchers. Perhaps it will then be possible to evaluate the civilization of dhimmitude at a historical and cultural level, despite the dearth of sources in some sectors. This new approach was undertaken in a previous study, (1)  but the present book develops it more fully.

I realize that my study of dhimmitude remains incomplete because it is limited to Jews and Christians. It should be supplemented by the dhimmitude of the Zoroastrians, located in an inferior category, and that of Buddhists and Hindus, considered as idolaters. A few books on this subject have recently been published in India. The picture they paint is similar to that of regions to the west of the Indian subcontinent.  The contemporary historical negationism in India, with the collusion of  Hindu politicians, is discussed in detail by Koenraad Elst in his book on this subject.  (2)

Like a giant jigsaw puzzle scattered over the world, the different elements of the diversified dhimmi civilization should be collected to allow  an evaluation and a comparative analysis of regional particularisms in order to produce a better knowledge of the whole. I have tried to gather  the specific data of dhimmitude in different sectors of life. This analytical inventory throughout time and space may confuse the reader , but it is essential for framing the world of dhimmitude. 

As the  Islamic conquests extended over vast populations from Spain to India, the conquerors pragmatically adapted their rule to local circumstances. Although different aspects appear in the overall picture of dhimmitude, the condition of Jews and Christians was broadly identical, with a few regional differences, for instance, the devshirme practice of enslaving children which was limited to Christians in the European Ottoman provinces. Good relations between the caliphs and the Eastern patriarchs developed in the context of dhimmitude, that is, for as long as these Church leaders served  Islamic interests, either by betrayal of their own peoples during battles, or by compliance and obedience to the caliph’s designs. These good relations barely influenced the oppression of the population, as is still  evident today in the dhimmi communities of Iraq, Syria, and Egypt where, for example, persecution of the Copts coexists with the patriarchate’s alliance with the regime and the silence of notables. 

A few critics have described my books as anti-Muslim. Such judgements of intent avoid discussion of the subject and aim to block all research which is not inscribed in advance within a conventional fictitious definition of "tolerance".  Furthermore, my publications are in no way concerned with either theology or Islamic civilization as a whole. 

They do not center on the founder of Islam's thought and policy in respect of Jews and Christians, but they do explore the different facets of these peoples' history in their Islamized countries.  I have cited the juridical decisions of Muslim jurists and theologians concerning the subjected Christian and Jewish populations, with their koranic justifications, as supplied by these jurists, themselves. This constitutes a specific domain of Muslim history which may seem unimportant today in view of the small size of these minorities;  however a researcher does not measure the interest of a subject by its size. In addition, the populations ruled by Islamic military and administrative authority consisted of Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians in Persia, and Hindus and Buddhists. Governing all these peoples from Spain to India assumed primordial importance for the minority Arab power, whose ethnic center was situated in Arabia.  It was, therefore, amidst the multitude of conquered peoples that the juridical and cultural fundamentals of Islamic civilization were formulated, with its manifold cultural and scientific manifestations.

My research only covers the specific and shared condition of Christians and Jews in Islamic societies. Texts elucidating this domain by the promulgation of laws, their objectives, and their justifications are amply cited. This area forms the historical and cultural heritage of the “People of the Book”, Jews and Christians, since the sources mention them by name, usually together. Hence, dhimmitude concerns a joint Jewish and Christian civilization. It was not the Muslims who were the dhimmis, but Jews and Christians, and therefore they have the right and the duty to know and to study this history which concerns them directly, and which forms a part of their historical and cultural heritage.They must know their own history, examine it, reflect upon it, and form their opinion. These opinions can then be discussed, approved, or dismissed by critics.

They also have the right to criticize the prejudices and laws which, over the centuries, reduced them to a humiliating subhuman condition. The self-appointed apologists for this oppressive system  might themselves be taxed with anti-Jewish and anti-Christian racism, or bias. Their scholarship can also be dubious if it serves to cover up this history. My research is not aimed at proving a theory, but it brings together and examines a considerable number of elements, which are frequently and deliberately ignored.  Hence, it is the amorphous label of  "tolerance" which provides a scholastic thesis and a dogmatic assertiveness.

I have attempted here to distinguish the varied components of a condition defined by legal texts specific to this subject. These regulations constitute a body of explicit laws, recognized by all four schools of Muslim law, clearly enunciating the rights and duties of the dhimmis. They  prescribe the behavioral norms down to the smallest detail, even indicating the type of material allowed for clothing. Historical data complement the picture by exposing the modalities of these rules, their interpretation and application in different places, and the popular reactions and prejudices which they generated.
Another crucial element of this condition lies in the caliph's power to arbitrate and his conviction that, by applying Islamic laws, he is administering divine justice. Indeed, the continued existence of the tolerated religions on his territory depended solely on his protection.  Some historical texts suggest an amicable relationship between dhimmi patriarchs and caliphs. Others report that the same patriarchs were tortured on the orders of the same caliphs on suspicion of concealing treasures. Obviously, to preserve an empire which was always threatened by disruptive forces within and external enemies required considerable, constantly replenished, financial resources, coupled with pitiless harshness. The caliph's – or ruler's – policy, woven into the contingencies of historical events, and into the solution of immediate crucial problems, evolved as a function of these conjunctures. Personal factors, circumstantial developments, violence, fanaticism, and the cruelty of contemporary customs – common to every civilization – influenced the course of history.
Often the situation in the provinces was totally beyond the state's control.  Nevertheless, one element in the attitude of  the supreme Muslim authority remains constant and stands out among the disparate and fortuitous aspects of history:  a conscientious determination to administer justice according to Islamic norms in deciding disputes between communities and to ensure the protection of vulnerable groups. Sometimes the Muslim authority, in order to save itself, had no option but to yield to violence.  However, considering itself to be their guarantor and protector by virtue of the Prophet's law, the army was often sent to protect threatened communities. Clearly, the People of the Book would have totally disappeared were it not for this koranic recognition of the legality of the tolerated religions – a legality upheld by the caliphs, sometimes against extremist ulema – and the effective guarantee of their "protection" (dhimma). Consequently, this protection seems to be the basis of law and order against the forces of anarchy and destruction threatening society as a whole. Despite religious barriers, interaction between communities and personal relationships sometimes wove a network of human solidarity and friendship; evidence of this, emerging from the chronicles, casts a ray of hope on the picture of human baseness.   

The study of dhimmitude involves different levels and the mastery of a large number of disciplines.  Here, a few preliminary points of methodology are indicated.   

The theological level would consist of examining the many references to Jews and Christians in the Koran, in the hadiths which explain it and complement its teaching, and in the biographies of the Prophet – a body of texts which forms the foundations of the normative sacred character of the shari’a. The origin, the foundation, and the justification of dhimmitude are to be found in this theological corpus. Examination of this material by Islamists, Orientalists, and Arabists exists but is dispersed in articles or general works.  A first step would be to collect these various writings. A thorough study of the Jews mentioned in the hadiths exists since 1937.  (3)  A second stage would consist of examining the interpretations of these various texts by earlier Islamic theologians and jurists, and by contemporary scholars. Modern works of this type do exist.   

A major example is the study by a leading European scholar on comparative religions and Middle East studies, Professor Emeritus Heribert Busse of the University of Kiel in Germany, whose book first appeared in German, translated in 1998 for the Princeton Series on the Middle East under the title: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity: Theological and Historical Affiliations. (4) The author examines the suras in the Koran, the hadiths, and the biographies of Muhammad, analyzing the evolution of his attitude regarding Jews and Christians – from early good-will, even admiration, to later hostility and war. Another study:  Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Interactions and Conflicts, by Moshe Sharon – professor of Islamic history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – has a useful analysis of interaction between the three religions. (5) 

These two scholarly works – and other studies – demonstrate the coexistence of numerous suras that extol an open dialogue and the acceptance of religious pluralism, alongside those suras which incite to hostility and war. Both authors provide a critical analysis of later sources (eighth to ninth centuries), that contain the prejudices and anachronistic justifications for earlier events.

Some Muslim theologians and jurists have tried to adapt the koranic message to modern times.This school of thought is exclusively concerned with the political structures of the Muslim states and has not reassessed the fundamental concepts governing the relationship with non-Muslims. In fact this procedure is apparently regarded as pointless because of the pre-existing tolerance. What is more, the concealment of dhimmitude has prevented this tolerance being evaluated in terms of theology, jurisdiction, and history. Consequently, it is imperative that Muslim theologians, armed with modern tools of exegesis, look at their own religious texts for means to render void the concepts of jihad, harbi, and dhimmi which were formulated twelve centuries ago.   

According to Islamic doctrine, the Koran is uncreated. The Prophet's words and deeds related by the hadiths and biographers are believed to express the divine will. That is why the accusation of blasphemy is not limited to the name of Allah and to Muhammad, the messenger of Allah, but extends over all Islam’s sacred writings, including the shari’a.
Sacred texts justifying dhimmitude should be subjected to critical analysis by specialists, according to the deontological principles of historical exegesis as applied in the West, since the West itself is now directly concerned with this concept. In the absence of such a critical procedure, dhimmitude will continue to represent a perfect, well-tried, and unalterable divine schema. All these questions are linked to the nature of the Koran: whether created or uncreated; whether a part of the divine or human interpretation of a Revelation. The fundamental divergences between the two religions of the Bible and that of the Koran concern, inter alia, the mission of the prophets in general, and the interpretation and nature of prophecy. 

On the historical plane different levels of investigation are possible. The first concerns the justification and rules of  jihad, since it is this war which subsequently conditions the dhimmis’  rights, as a function of the tactics leading to victory. 

Within the dhimmi status, the differences between the "People of the Book" and Zoroastrians and Hindus should be noted. Likewise, within the category of People of the Book, the condition of Jews and Christians in Arabia is not identical with that of their coreligionists in all the conquered regions of the dar al-harb. Jews and Christians from Arabia were totally expelled from the Hijaz and their temporary presence there is subject to specific conditions.

The study of the dhimmi status should record the diverse manifestations of this condition in the geographical extension of the dar al-Islam, and their accordance with Islamic laws. This classification of the available data would allow the possibility of assessing their common features or their differences, and their evolution as a function of  circumstantial parameters.

Another section concerns the laws applicable prior to Islam, which were incorporated into Islamic jurisdiction after the conquest. Historians have pointed out the influence of pre-Islamic Arab customs, and the adoption by the Arab conquerors of fiscal methods employed by earlier Byzantine and Persian regimes. But, to my knowledge, no comparative study exists of the regulations decreed by the various Christian councils in respect of the Jews – including those introduced into the codes of Theodosius II and Justinian in the fifth and sixth centuries – and the later Islamic legislation concerning the dhimmi, which borrowed from them. This study would establish similarities, but would also point to the specific features and variations in their development within two different theological systems:  that of the fallen deicide people, and that of the harbi infidels, conquered but equally demonized and excluded. It must be emphasized that the concept of collective downfall is applied to non-Muslims. Barred from divine love they are described as "enemies of Allah" and consequently must be combatted by "the party of Allah" (Hizb Allah). The theological and political contexts coalesce in the doctrine of jihad. 

The area of dhimmitude also concerns intervention by Christian states in the form of political, commercial, and religious protection, and of the missiological movements – with their consequences for the various dhimmi groups. These aspects fall into the category of international policy and provide a rich body of documentation in diplomatic archives.  Specialized monographs have already been published on this subject.  However, the relationships between the various dhimmi groups in their interactions with the umma, the Muslim community, and with the Christian states still remain to be explored more fully. The same is true of the dhimmi peoples' liberation movements and the various possibilities for emancipation from the laws of dhimmitude: integration into a secular state, or territorial independence. An examination of the inter-dhimmi conflicts grafted onto these movements, and intervention by foreign powers, would shed light on wide historical areas which are still plunged in darkness.  Lastly, a comparative study of the mentalities of dhimmitude and its various manifestations in geographical and historical space, constitutes a virgin area of research in the sector of social psychology. 

It should be recalled that dhimmitude does not only cover the relationship between Islam and the People of the Book;  it also includes the relationship between Christians and Jews. Christian dogma and legislation relating to Jews was integrated into dhimmitude. In the following chapters it will be shown that during the entire twentieth century the interactions of the three monotheistic religions developed according to traditional historical schemas, which maintained the same conflictual relationships. Only knowledge of their structures and mechanisms will permit their destructive malevolence to be contained in this new century.
In this study, I have examined Christian anti-Judaism only in the specific context of dhimmitude. Anti-Judaism was innate to the Eastern Churches, as expressed in the patristic literature and in numerous Canon laws – particularly by the persecution and humiliation of Palestinian Jewry from the Byzantine period on. For the contemporary period, I have endeavored to distinguish Christian anti-Jewish currents from the overall Judeo-Christian relationship. I strongly believe that anti-Judaism is not shared uniformly by all strands of Christianity, but derives either from a theological or a state policy, which is deliberately conceived and disseminated for strategic goals. Indeed, countless Christians have opposed anti-Judaism in modern times.

It is within the context of dhimmitude that certain links between the genocide of the Armenians and of European Jewry are revealed, whereby the Muslim world's influence – particularly its Arab component – effectively determined the policies of the Western powers during both World Wars, respectively toward the two groups of victims. 

In pursuance of this research, I have examined the historical terrain common to Christians and Jews, as circumscribed and specified by Muslim jurists. This is the matter – both historical and human – that I have labeled dhimmitude and I have attempted to ascertain its sources, spheres, and development. Understanding of this domain requires an intellectual approach that complements the classification of long-term events.  Shackled by silence and subjection, the dhimmi societies remained static, imprisoned in historical autism, albeit without ceasing to exist as organized human groups. It is this transhistorical human field, both materially and spiritually, that I have attempted to grasp and interpret within its sensibility and its wealth of significance. The linguistic, historical, even psychosocial skills needed to explore such a vast domain would require a comprehensive undertaking by multi-disciplinary teams, hence experts in various fields will certainly find omissions in my pioneering studies. 

The mutual animosity of Jews and Christians – acting as a repulsive magnetic field – has impeded the comprehensive study  of dhimmitude as a historical domain common to the two groups. This is the basis of its negation. Yet, a thoughtful approach to the subject can progressively eliminate prejudices and carefully hidden personal preconceptions, thus clearing the  way for the rediscovery of the human being, within his universal dimension and his nothingness – which are the two areas of reconciliation.

I also believe that by analyzing the hate-filled, new forms of substitution theology – "Palestinianism" replacing "Israel" – this study may assist those Christians opposed to such a theology of replacement, which will inevitably destroy the very essence of Christianity (see chapters 9 and 10 below).  

A comprehensive  study of dhimmitude raises further acute questions fathoming the depths of our identity and the values of Western civilization.  In a review of my previous book, The Decline of Eastern Christianity.  From Jihad to Dhimmitude (6)  Professor Emeritus James E. Biechler of La Salle University (Philadelphia, PA), rightly points out its ecumenical implications for relations with Islam. (7) These implications are even stronger in the case of Judeo-Christian relations, oscillating between destroying or strengthening the bond between Jews and Christians,  which is ontological and primordial since the Church was born of the Synagogue, and the Hebrew Bible is the foundation of Christianity. Consequently, the destruction of the Judaic component within Christianity would destroy Christianity itself. This historical, cultural and theological situation – which does not directly concern Buddhists, Hindus, and others –  is totally rejected by Muslim immigrants in the West. Their opposition obliges us to examine the Judeo-Christian identity in depth, to evaluate it, and to decide whether or not it should be maintained in the twenty-first century. A choice is thus forced upon the fundamental values of Western civilization structured by the Bible. This inter-relationship between Judaism and Christianity is not new. It has developed from the Christian New Testament, and over the centuries has engendered the diverse reformed and evangelical Churches integrated into the political, theological, and philosophical history of the West. It is important to know whether or not Jews and Christians wish to pursue this dialogue  in order to overcome the prejudices which divide them, or if they are going to import into the West the self-destructive relationships of hatred  nurtured by the world of dhimmitude, which are forced upon them by a third, external party. If Jews and Christians do not succeed in resolving together the Judeo-Christian antagonisms, they will also fail in their dialogue of reconciliation with Islam. 

The history of dhimmitude represents a panorama of more than a millennium, spanning three continents. It still continues to appear today in new forms which drive out and renew the traditional ones. This history, so old and yet so modern, which is taking place before our eyes and unfolding  on our television screens, when the media decide to cover it – this ever-camouflaged history, has no name. In this book I have tried to delineate and define it by the term:  "dhimmitude". This is a painful history of hatred, suffering, death, heroism, betrayal and cowardice.  Consequently, it is the history of mankind in all its diversity and all its components.

The approach to the world of dhimmitude first requires that one live among the dhimmis, who experience and actualize it. To gain entry into their closed and silent world necessitates dismantling its artifices, its lies, and its amnesia – antidotes to the violence, terror, and humiliation targeting them. This process, fraught with hazards and uncertainties, will lead the enquirer toward that large sick body, ashamed of its blisters yet moribund, which continues to survive, refusing treatment for fear of dying from it.  Should one lift the veil, auscultate and diagnose the illness? Can one brave the prohibitions and pull down the barriers to let light stream into the cesspools of history? In fact, dhimmitude is the central place where  the three monotheistic religions collide, thus making it the requisite terrain for their reconciliation.

The Judeo-Christian rapprochement that began in the West – although bitterly opposed by the dhimmi Eastern Churches – constitutes a major advance and a model for the rapprochement of the two peoples of the Book with the Muslim world. The reconciliation of the two dhimmi religions – Christianity and Judaism – is an indispensable step toward embarking with Islam along the same path of mutual reflection on the dogmas and history of dhimmitude. In this respect, those individuals and their followers who initiated the Judeo-Christian rapprochement could contribute their experience in a domain which has required much courage, intellectual integrity, and frankness. Thus, this huge task, which has brought forth so many human qualities on both sides is not yet over, since it would be redeployed in evermore enriching and fertile perspectives for humanity's spiritual adventure in its approach toward the sacred. 

Switzerland,  April  2001 


1.   Bat Ye'or, Juifs et Chrétiens sous l'Islam.  Les dhimmis face au défi intégriste (Paris, 1994)
2.   Koenraad Elst,  Negationism in India.  Concealing the Record of Islam, 2nd enlarged ed. (New Delhi, 1993).  For further documentation of the background to dhimmitude in India, see Kishori Saran Lal, Theory and Practice of Muslim State in India (New Delhi, 1999);  Sita Ram Goel, The Story of Islamic Imperialism in India. 2nd revised ed. (New Delhi, 1994); ibid, ed., The Calcutta Quran Petition.  3rd enlarged ed. (New Delhi, 1999).
3.   George Vajda, "Juifs et Musulmans selon le Hadit", JA 210 (Jan.- Mar. 1937):  57-127.
4.    Heribert Busse, Islam, Judaism and Christianity.  Theological and Historical Affiliations, trans. from German by Alison Brown (Princeton, 1998).
5.    Moshe Sharon, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Interaction and Conflict (Johannesburg, 1987).
6.    Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude. Seventh to Twentieth century, trans. from French by Miriam Kochan and David Littman (Madison, NJ, 1996),
7.    James E. Biechler, JES 35 No. 1(Winter, 1998):  127.



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