February 1, 2020

Dhimmis in Islam

Nowadays with the rise of islamophobia and the extremist right far, Islam is perceived as an intolerant and violent religion, but the truth is most of non-muslim don’t know about how should minorities be treated according to the Muslim faith and what the scholars have written about it.

It seems somewhat distant, But Europeans are increasingly concerned about the possibility that their Muslim populations - because of their demography, their additional emigration and their dawah activities - may be culturally dominant. This idea is especially threatening to many because it is assumed that Muslims, once in power, will suppress Christians and other minorities.

What is a Dhimmi?

The dhimmis are religious minorities living in an Islamic state, according to the Quran these are the Christians, Jews and Sabians but later it was also applied to other religious minorities like Zoroastrians.

Rights of a Dhimmi

The dimmies have many rights here we will explore some of them.

The right of protection

Firstly, the right of protection, with this the minorities would be protected against any attack or aggression within the state or from abroad.

  • Abroad Aggression: The Muslim governor has an obligation of defending the lives of the Muslims and non-muslims living in the islamic state, in the popular Hanbali fiqh text  Matâlib ûlî n-Nuhà it states:

It is the leader's obligation to protect the people of the Dzimma and stand between them and those who want to attack them, as well as free the prisoners and expel the aggressors. And this protection must be given to both communities and isolated individuals.

Al Qarafi, a Maliki scholar of the 13th century, we can find in one of his popular works Al-Furuq (Differences):

Whoever belongs to the Dzimma, when someone attacks our country with the intention of causing them harm, it is our obligation to go out to meet the enemy with weapons and die for them, keeping those Al-lâh and his Prophet have ordered us to protect forever. To belittle this obligation imposed on us by the Qur'an and Sunna would constitute a serious violation of the Dzimma pact.

And then Al Qarafi says those words of Ibn Hazm express the consent of the Maliki in the Islamic jurisprudence, and concludes that:

A pact that imposes our lives and property on us for others is something serious whose importance cannot be neglected.

There is a good example about the concern and protection of dhimmies when Ibn Taymiyyah who was appointed by the sultan of Damascus as a negotiator with the tartars, they had invaded Damascus and took prisoners from the population, during the negotiations Ibn Taymiyyah refused to give the dhimmis, and finally, the tartars had to concede all the prisoners.

We do not accept but release all prisoners, including Christians and Jews, because they weigh on our conscience according to a contested pact that we have no right to betray

  • Domestic Aggression: The Islamic texts are crystal clear about attacking physically or morally, God says in the Quran: ”Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors”[4], furthermore some hadith support this. The prophet Muhammad said 

He who hurts a dhimmi hurts me, and he who hurts me annoys Allah.

Reported by al-Tabarani in Al-awsat on good authority [3]

Safwan ibn Sulaym reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

Whoever wrongs a person protected by a covenant, violates his rights, burdens him with more work than he is able to do, or takes something from him without his consent, I will be his prosecutor on the Day of Resurrection.[5]

The right of Life

The right to life is something universal, and it belongs to every human being.

The prophet Muhammad(SAW) said:

"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).” [6]

The right of Property/Wealth

Muslims of all schools of thought always have agreed in the on the inviolability of the goods of the dhimmi (see Ghayr al-Muslimîn fi l-Muytama ‘al-Islâmi).

The student of Abu Hanifa, Abu Yûsuf in his book al-Kharaÿ on taxes transmits the following tradition in which the Prophet declared about the Christians of Naÿrân:

Najran and its neighboring area are in the security of Allah, the Almighty, and His Messenger. The property, religions and churches of the inhabitants, as well as properties, whether much or little, are under the protection of the Prophet.

The second Muslim khalifa Umar ibn Al-Khattab, in his letter to Abu `Ubaydah ibn Al-Jarrah (may Allah be pleased with them both), wrote:

Prevent Muslims from wronging or causing harm to them (non-Muslims) or taking their property illegally.

So as we have seen if one steals something from a dhimmi he must be punished.

Furthermore, in terms of their properties, the property is absolute, even when they are not considered as such by Muslims. For example, wine and pigs are not considered by Muslim law as wealth to be respected among Muslims. But if its owner is a dhimmi, it is not allowed to cause them any harm, and the Muslim who does so would be fined, as dictated by the Hanafi manuals.

To sum up

I provided what the Muslims scholars have stated centuries ago, we have to take into account that those jurists lived in a different society with socio-political events happening. For premodern Muslim jurists, the conditions that bounded the claimed space of Sharīʿa may have included competing for epistemic techniques of legal interpretation, theological first principles, or inherited frameworks of governance inherited from the near or distant past. For the modern Muslim jurist, those conditions have changed as political communities have shifted from imperial models to state-based ones, and to complex modes of domestic and international regulation.

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