The Bible’s Prescriptive, Open-Ended, and Universal Commandments to Wage Holy War and Enslave Infidels (III)

This is page III of IV.  To return to page I, go here.  To return to page II, go here.

No amount of ink has been spared by anti-Muslim ideologues fear-mongering about the traditional Islamic concept (now long abandoned and not implemented in a single Muslim country–not even in the ultraconservative Saudi Arabia or Iran) of jizya and dhimmi–the latter which is pejoratively (and incorrectly) referred to as “dhimmitude”. It is an incorrect usage (and certainly not academically accepted) since “dhimmitude” is an amalgamation of the words “dhimmi” and “servitude”; the dhimmi system was second-class citizenship but not servitude–a significant difference, as noted by Prof. Mark R. Cohen:

The dhimmi enjoyed a kind of citizenship, second class and unequal though it was…[in contrast to] Jews living in Latin Christian lands, where…[they were] legally possessed [as slaves] by this or that ruling authority.

On the other hand, the traditional Christian concept of Perpetual Servitude of heathens was, as the name itself indicates, servitude.  It was a form of slavery that heathens were subjected to (including Jews and Muslims).  The term “dhimmitude” was coined by a loony old lady named Bat Ye’or, a conspiratorial pseudo-scholar and extremist Zionist Jew.  The term was popularized by Catholic apologist Obama-may-be-a-Muslim Robert Spencer.  It is quite ironic that in attempting to coin a demeaning enough term to demonize Islam, the Zionist Jew and Catholic apologist accidentally used a term that is actually found in their own religious tradition!

The historical experiences of dhimma and of Perpetual Servitude have been compared here.

Perpetual Servitude in the Bible

In his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), Robert Spencer cited a passage from Deuteronomy (20:10-17) to prove that the Bible’s commandments to wage holy war apply only to the Seven Nations and not to anyone else.  We have proven this claim to be completely false (see here).  In fact, this Biblical passage advocates genocide for those heathens living inside of Israel, and Perpetual Servitude for those outside of it.  This injunction implies “the nations”, by which is meant the entire world.

On pp.35-36 of his book, Spencer cites a hadith (saying attributed to Muhammad) that urges Muslims to offer their enemies Three Choices: (1) “Invite them to accept Islam”; (2) “If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya”; or (3) “If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them”.  The text itself (and the academically dishonest use of ellipses by Spencer) will be discussed in a future article in the Series.  For now, however, we will–simply for argument’s sake–accept Spencer’s claims that Muhammad offered unbelievers these Three Choices only (conversion, tribute, or death).

Is it not odd that the Catholic apologist Robert Spencer, along with his extremist Jewish Zionist and Christian Crusader-wannabe comrades, are so indignant of Muhammad for offering these Three Choices and yet are completely silent when it comes to Moses who restricted infidels to these choices long before Muhammad ever did?  Moses is alleged to have said (almost two millennia before the idea ever came to a man named Muhammad):

Deuteronomy 20:10 When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace.

20:11 If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you (as tributaries).

20:12 However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it.

20:13 When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword.

20:14 Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you.

Moses and the Bible thus offered infidels only Two Choices: (1) become forced labor (Perpetual Servitude) or (2) war.  Both resulted in slavery.  And in both circumstances, conversion was necessary.  (The Gibeonites, for instance, were forced to give up their native religion and renounce idolatry for the God of Israel.)

Even if we accept Spencer’s argument about the Three Choices (again, simply for argument’s sake), this was still better than the Two Choices of Moses and the Bible.  There are at least a few reasons why:

1) If an unbeliever paid the jizya, he could retain his religious affiliation.  Meanwhile, an unbeliever under the Biblical model was forced to worship the God of Israel.

2) Dhimmis were considered free persons as opposed to slaves, and it was forbidden to enslave them.  On the other hand, perpetual serfs were “owned” by the state.  For example, the Gibeonites became the slaves of Joshua, the leader of Israel.  Similarly, Jews became perpetual serfs of the Church and/or Christian state.

3) Dhimmis were free to choose their form of livelihood, barred only from military and high governmental positions.  For example, Jews in the Islamic world were known to be physicians, lawyers, scientists, merchants, traders, bankers, and agriculturalists.  Under the Biblical model, an unbeliever became “forced labor” and could no longer choose his own profession.  This is the essence of servitude and why it’s so much worse than second-class citizenship.  The Gibeonites, for instance, were forced to become “wood cutters and water carriers for the [Jewish] community” (Joshua 9:27), “which was a very low and mean employment.” Similarly, Jews in Christian Europe were banned from virtually all fields and restricted to the “hated” profession of money-lending, considered at that time to be worse than prostitution.

4) Dhimmis retained the legal right to own property.  This contrasted sharply with the case of perpetual serfs.

5) If an unbeliever opted to convert to Islam, he was to be considered an equal. Meanwhile, perpetual serfs were forced to convert and still considered unequal serfs.

6) If the unbelievers chose to fight off the Muslims and if the Muslims won, the conquered population–including the men–weren’t massacred.  Instead, they still became a dhimmi population–with all the rights associated with that position.  If, on the other hand, the unbelievers didn’t submit to Perpetual Servitude, the Biblical model called for the slaughter of every single man.

To conclude, the concept of dhimmitude Perpetual Servitude is found in the Bible, and originated from Moses.  Most importantly, the Bible contains “prescriptive, open-ended, and universal commandments” to wage holy war against infidels, and to enslave them, to subjugate them to Perpetual Servitude–something far worse than the dhimmi system.

The obsession over the concept of dhimmis and jizya by the self-proclaimed defenders of the Judeo-Christian tradition certainly does seem to be a case of projection or simply of wholesale ignorance.  What the Islamophobes attribute to the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran is still better than what Moses or the Bible advocated.  This fact will of course be ignored, obfuscated, or downplayed by Robert Spencer et al.–which is consistent with the Islamophobic methodology of “whatever violence is found in Islam always ‘counts’ and whatever violence is found in Judaism or Christianity ‘doesn’t count’ and never counts.”

Always remember:  Jewish or Christian Violence Never Counts, and Muslim Violence Always Counts.

Editor’s Note: Due to the length of this article, it will be split into four pages, the next page to be published tomorrow.

Update I: Page 4 is now available here.

More proof that Robert Spencer is an intellectual huckster, part 2; Spencer digs himself into a deeper sh*% hole

In part 1, I refuted Robert Spencer’s outlandish claim that the Arabic word dhimmi means “guilty person.” In specific, I quoted p.49 of his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), in which he says:

The dhimmi

The Qur’an calls Jews and Christians “People of the Book;” Islamic law calls them dhimmis, which means “protected” or “guilty” people–the Arabic word means both…Jews and Christians are “guilty” because they have not only rejected Muhammad as a prophet, but have also distorted the legitimate revelations they have received from Allah.  Because of that guilt, Islamic law dictates that Jews and Christians may live in Islamic states, but not as equals with Muslims.

Robert Spencer has completely fabricated this from his own mind and attributed it to Islam, passing it off as “scholarship.”  In reality, the word dhimmi does not mean “guilty person” and no Arabic dictionary says this.  I reproduced the definition of the word as found in Lisan al-Arab, the most authoritative source used in the classical times of Islamic jurisprudence.  And I challenged Spencer to provide an Arabic dictionary that translates the word to mean “guilty person.”

Of course, Spencer could not meet this challenge, proving that he cannot defend his own writing.  (Spencer’s book is used by the Islamophobic world as an “authoritative” and “scholarly” source for understanding Islam, yet it cannot withstand even cursory critical analysis.)  Of course, most of Spencer’s gullible audience does not speak Arabic and choose to unquestioningly believe him, mostly because they desperately want to believe him.

Robert Spencer was forced to respond to my article, and amusingly he refused to take my name or mention the site I work for.  He has responded to me several times in the past, and I am forever “he whose name shall not be mentioned.”  I’m glad I bother him so much that he can’t even take my name! In any case, it would have been better for Spencer if he had chosen not to reply, because he ended up digging himself deeper into the sh*% hole he created for himself. Spencer’s reply reads as follows:

Christians are also by definition guilty people. As I noted in my book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), “The Qur’an calls Jews and Christians ‘People of the Book;’ Islamic law calls them dhimmis, which means ‘protected’ or ‘guilty’ people-the Arabic word means both.” While the classic Islamic laws regarding dhimmis are not in force in Egypt today, they’re still part of Islamic law, and as such Islamic clerics regard them as the proper status that Christians and other “People of the Book” should assume in the Islamic state. The Arabic word ذمي‎ (dhimmi) is derived from ذمة‎ (dhimma), “‘protection, custody’”), and from ذم‎ (dhamma), which means “to blame.” Thus the dhimmis are the blamed, or guilty ones.

How is it that “protection” and “custody” can be related to “blame” and “guilt”? Dhimmi does indeed mean “protected,” “guaranteed,” and “secured,” but the semantic connotations of the word pertain to “indebtedness” and “liability.” That’s according to the online Sakhr dictionary, which is not by any stretch of the imagination an “Islamophobic” publication — for example, it translates the word “Israel” into “a Jewish country set up on the Palestinian land.” So when it says that dhimmi has to do with guilt, it is not reflecting some anti-Muslim bias!

In any case, the Arabic root-word “Z-M-M” (from which “dhimmi” issues) means “the opposite of praise,” that is, to “censure,” “dispraise too much,” “blame,” “criticize,” “find fault with,” “accuse,” “obligate,” “hold liable,” “hold in bad conscience,” “accuse,” and “hold guilty,” etc. And that’s not a semantic connotation, that is the meaning, according to the Elias Modern Arabic Dictionary.

Notice here that Spencer has moved the goalposts, as he always does.  In his response, Spencer has tried to prove that the two words–”dhimmi” and “guilty”–are related or connected to each other.  But his initial claim (found on p.49 of his book), the one I refuted, was that the word dhimmi means “guilty person.”  It does not.  The authoritative Hans Wehr Arabic dictionary defines the word “dhimmi” as “a free non-Muslim subject living in a Muslim country.”

In fact, the very sources that Spencer has invoked support this.  For example, Spencer cites the online Sakhr dictionary as a proof for his claim; yet, when we look up the word “dhimmi” in this dictionary, we find that it simply says: “a free non-Moslem under Moslem rule, adherent of a revealed religion.”  It does not mean “guilty people” as Spencer explicitly claims on p.49 of his book, nor does it mean “guilty ones” as he implies in his response.  The same is the case if we look up the Elias Modern Arabic Dictionary.  Neither dictionary that Spencer cites says the word dhimmi means “guilty person”.  Nor is “dhimma” defined with the word “guilty.”

If two words are related or connected to each other, they do not mean the same thing.  They are two separate words entirely.  Let’s say that dhimmi is related to the word “guilt”; in that case, why did Spencer claim that the word means “guilty person” or even “guilty”?  Is this the level of Robert Spencer’s academic integrity and scholarship that he would use the word “means” when in fact he should have said “related (or connected) to”?  There is a world of difference between the two.  And this cannot be understood as a mere typo, since Spencer writes (emphasis is mine): “dhimmis, which means ‘protected’ or ‘guilty’ people–the Arabic word means both.”  Whatever he meant by the word “means” is the same for “protected” and “guilty,” as we equates them both.  In other words, the word “dhimmis” translates to “protected people”, and it equally translates to “guilty people.”  He did not say: “dhimmi, which means ‘protected’ people, but is also related to the word ‘guilty.’”

All of this of course begs the question why the Prophet Muhammad didn’t simply refer to these non-Muslims as sha’ab mudhnib (which literally means “guilty people”) as opposed to “dhimmis” (which means “protected people”)?  Does that not seem more straightforward and logical?  Why use the word “protected people” if the intent was to cast them as “guilty people”?

I’ve quite clearly established that Robert Spencer’s claim that the word “dhimmi” means “guilty person” is complete fabrication.  I will not, however, belabor this point and instead choose to move on.  So if the word “dhimmi” does not mean “guilty person”, is it at least related to the word “guilty”?  Yes, it is.  Case closed?  Not so fast.  The two words are connected, but in a way that actually punches Spencer in the mouth and proves that he only dug himself into a deeper sh*% hole.  The root letters dh-m-m do in fact have the meaning of “blame” or “censure”.  But although dhimmi/dhimma is related to this root, the blame or censure in this word is not meant in the sense Spencer is using it.

The authoritative Lane’s Lexicon explains the sense in which “dhimma” (which means “compact, covenant or contract”) is related to dh-m-m: “because the breaking thereof necessitates blame” (Volume 3 p. 976). The larger Arabic dictionaries from which Lane’s is derived–such as Taj al-Arus and al-Muhit–say the same. In other words, the blame (or “guilt”) involved in the term “dhimma” is related to breaking the covenant of security, and the blame/guilt is ascribed to the Islamic statenot the non-Muslim resident.  An Islamic state would be guilty/blameworthy if it did not uphold and protect the “sanctity” of the covenanted non-Muslim’s life and property.

Kinana of Khaybar, a loyal fan of, tries to defend Robert Spencer’s claim that dhimmi means “guilty person” by claiming that the dhimmi (non-Muslim resident) would be “guilty” if he/she broke the covenant.  In other words, Kinana is ascribing the guilt to the dhimmi, not the Islamic state.  Of course, Kinana’s claim is not true at all, but let’s for argument’s sake pretend it is.  Let us suppose then that it is the dhimmi who is “guilty” if he breaks the covenant.  Even if we were to concede this (which we don’t–but let’s just say we do), this still does not disprove that Robert Spencer is guilty of wholesale fabrication.  Spencer did not just claim that the dhimmis are guilty; he told us why they are called “guilty people.”  Here are Spencer’s words from p.49 of his book (emphasis is mine):

The dhimmi

The Qur’an calls Jews and Christians “People of the Book;” Islamic law calls them dhimmis, which means “protected” or “guilty” people–the Arabic word means both…Jews and Christians are “guilty” because they have not only rejected Muhammad as a prophet, but have also distorted the legitimate revelations they have received from Allah.  Because of that guilt, Islamic law dictates that Jews and Christians may live in Islamic states, but not as equals with Muslims.

In other words, Spencer has wholly imagined the claim that the word “dhimmis” means “guilty people” because they are guilty of “reject[ing] Muhammad as a prophet” or because they have “distorted the…revelations.” According to Kinana’s own argument, the word “dhimmi” is related to “guilt” not because of any of this but for breaking the covenant.  Again, even if we were to grant Kinana his fantastic defense, it still wouldn’t answer how it is that Spencer’s shoddy scholarship is such that he doesn’t mind completely fabricating the bolded part above.

Secondly, and more importantly, Kinana is guilty of wholesale fabrication himself (which is why he fits right into the JihadWatch crew).  The word “dhimma” is related to “guilty” not because the dhimmi is a “guilty person” but because the one granting the dhimma (protection) would be guilty if he/she violates it.  Said in a clearer way, it is the Islamic state (not the non-Muslim resident) that would be guilty of violating the sanctity of the dhimmi’s life and property.

Lane’s Lexicon reads:

Dhimma: A compact, a covenant, a contract, a league, a treaty, an engagement, a bond, or an obligation; because the breaking thereof necessesitates blame: and a right, or due, for the neglect of which one is to be blamed: [an inviolable right or due:]… a thing that should be sacred, or inviolable; or which one is under an obligation to reverence, respect, or honour, and defend.

The sacred and inviolable right that must be respected, honored, and defended is the safety (amaan) of the non-Muslim resident.  As Lane’s Lexicon says:

dhimma signifies also amaan [as meaning security, or safety; security of life and property; protection or safeguard; a promise, or an assurance, of security, safety, protection, or safeguard…]

But Kinana knew this quite well, evidenced by his deceitful half-quoting of another source.  Says Kinana:

Thanks for addressing this Robert.

Also from T. P. Hughes’ A Dictionary of Islam,

1) “ZIMMAH. , pl. zinam, from the root zamm, “to blame.” A compact, covenant, or contract, a league or treaty, any engagement or obligation, because the breaking thereof necessitates blame; and a right or due, for the neglect of which one is to be blamed. […]“


2) “ZIMMI. , a member of the Ahlu ‘z-Zimmah, a non Muslim subject of a Muslim government, belonging to the Jewish, Christian, or Sabean creed. who, for the payment of a poll— or capitation-tax, enjoys security of his person and property in a Muhammadan country. […]“

Note: Zimmah = dhimma, zimmi = dhimmi.

The T. P. Hughes dictionary is available free online courtesy of Answering-Islam, see their Index to Islam. The section on the zimmi goes into considerable detail.

Notice how Kinana cites (the horribly outdated) T.P. Hughes’ A Dictionary of Islam, and yet he purposely places ellipses […] in the definition of the word “zimmah” in order to hide the fact that the “blame” (or “guilt”) is attributed to the Islamic state, not the non-Muslim resident.  This cannot be a mere mistake on the part of Kinana; it is academic deceit of the highest order.  T.P. Hughes’ A Dictionary of Islam reads (emphasis is mine):

Zimmah, pl. zinam, from the root zamm, “to blame.” A compact, covenant, or contract, a league or treaty, any engagement or obligation, because the breaking thereof necessitates blame; and a right or due, for the neglect of which one is to be blamed. The word is also synonymous with aman, in the sense of security of life and property, protection or safeguard, and promise of such; hence ahlu ‘z-zimmah [dhimmis], or , with suppression of the noun ahlu, simply az-zimmah, the people with whom a compact or covenant has been made, and particularly the Kitabis, or the people of the book, i.e. Jews and Christians, and the Majusi or Sabeans, who pay the poll-tax called jazyah. [JAZYAH.] An individual of this class–namely, a free non-Muslim subject of a Muslim Government, who pays a poll- or capitation-tax, for which the Muslims are responsible for his security, personal freedom, and religious toleration–is called zimmi (see the following article).

Notice quite clearly that both A Dictionary of Islam as well as Lane’s Lexicon equate the word “dhimma” with the word “amaan”.  Amaan means “safety” and is related to the word amaanat which means “trust, keepsake.”  If, for example, a person gives his property to you to keep it safe until he returns from a business trip, then his wealth is an amaanat (i.e. given in trust) to you.  If you violate the sanctity of that trust by failing to safeguard his wealth, then you would be blameworthy/guilty for doing that.  It would be absolutely absurd to claim that the person who entrusted his wealth to you is blameworthy/guilty.

Likewise, the word “amaan” means “safety” and refers to “safe passage” granted to a person by the state.  The state promises to safeguard the person’s life, and would be blameworthy/guilty for not upholding this.  For example, ambassadors from other empires would visit the Islamic caliph, and be granted amaan (safe passage) to travel in the Islamic lands without fear of being harmed.  This amaan was granted without any payment or other obligation on the ambassador, so it cannot be said that the ambassador is the one blameworthy/guilty of breaching the covenant of security.  Rather, it is the state that would be blameworthy/guilty should it harm the ambassador.

Kinana’s own source, A Dictionary of Islam, says:

The word [zimmah] is also synonymous with aman, in the sense of security of life and property, protection or safeguard, and promise of such…the Muslims are responsible for [the zimmi’s] security, personal freedom, and religious toleration.

There is absolutely no doubt that it is the Islamic state that is blameworthy/guilty if it violates the dhimma.  It therefore cannot at all be said that dhimmi means (or even implies) “guilty people” or “guilty ones.”  Even if Robert Spencer or Kinana of Khaybar were to claim that it could also refer to the dhimmi if he breaks the contract (which does not at all seem to be true, but let’s just say it is for argument’s sake), then this is an incredibly weak polemical point, since the Islamic state is also “guilty” in the same way then!

Furthermore, as I mentioned in my previous reply, the word “dhimma” was used for Muslims as well:

…The exact same word–dhimma–is used for both Jews and Muslims in the Constitution of Medina.  This document declares that all who uphold the pledge–Jew and Muslim alike–are granted dhimma (protection).  If the word meant or implied “guilt”, why did the Prophet Muhammad include the Muslims under this?  As I said before, it is complete fabrication on the part of Robert Spencer to claim that the word means “guilty”.

But to completely shatter Spencer and Kinana’s argument, I will reproduce the words of the Prophet Muhammad himself, who said in a hadith narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari:

Whoever prays our [Islamic] prayer, faces our Qiblah [Mecca], and eats our slaughtered meat [Zabiha] is a Muslim who is under the dhimma [protection] of God and His Messenger.

If we say “dhimma” also means “guilt”, then the saying makes no sense, as it would read “a Muslim…is under the guilt of Allah and His Messenger.”  Complete nonsense.  Rather, the word means “protection,” and in the above quote the meaning is that God and His Messenger promise the believers to uphold the sanctity of the Muslim’s life.  Clearly, the word “dhimma” cannot mean something negative if it is equally applied to the Muslim believers.  As I have said repeatedly, Spencer’s entire claim is complete fabrication.

Spencer and Kinana then try to obfuscate the issue by claiming that non-Muslims in general are “guilty” of sins such as shirk.  This seems like a strong point to the uninitiated, until of course you think about it.  If Muslims believe that non-Muslims are “guilty” of shirk, then what of Hindus who believe that unbelievers are “guilty” of eating beef?  Or what of Christians who believe that unbelievers are “guilty” of not taking Christ as their Lord and Savior?  For that matter, Christians believe that whoever is guilty of this cannot attain salvation and will thus burn in Hell.  Yes, unbelievers would be–by definition–guilty of unbelief!  This is not something unique to Islam.

Furthermore, Muslims are also “guilty” of many sins, and Islamic theology states that no human being–not even the best Muslim–could be completely blameless of sin.  So if non-Muslims are guilty of shirk, Muslims are guilty of other sins.  But none of this has anything to do with the word “dhimmi” or “dhimma.”  Of course, both Spencer and Kinana know this very well and are just desperately trying to obfuscate the issue.

The word “dhimmi” is derived from “dhimma”, a word that was used for Muslims as well!  If the non-Muslims are to be “under dhimma” because of their shirk, then why are Muslims also “under dhimma” (as quoted in the hadith above)? In fact, by definition, a Muslim is automatically under the dhimma (protection) of the Islamic state.  So when Kinana feigns to be perplexed by me, saying:

Interesting that Danios thinks the dhimma is something positive.

I respond by saying: your ignorance is profound.  We know for a fact that “dhimma” is something positive, because it is granted to Muslim believers, as the Prophet Muhammad declared:

Whoever prays our [Islamic] prayer, faces our Qiblah [Mecca], and eats our slaughtered meat [Zabiha] is a Muslim who is under the dhimma [protection] of God and His Messenger.

And this same dhimma–or protection (a good thing!)–was granted to non-Muslim “citizens” in the Constitution of Medina (as I mentioned in part 1) and to non-Muslim “non-citizens” via the jizya.

To conclude, Robert Spencer is an intellectual huckster.  His writings are full of wholesale fabrications, and he has become too accustomed to nobody spending the time to thoroughly debunk his nonsense.  Unfortunately for him, that time has come to an end.

Spencer’s claim that “dhimmi” means “guilty person” is completely false, and no Arabic dictionary supports this.  Blame/guilt is related to “dhimma”, but Spencer is incorrect to claim that the dhimmi (non-Muslim resident) is the “guilty one” for disbelieving in the Prophet Muhammad or distorting the scriptures.  Rather, the blame/guilt is attributed to the Islamic state should it violate the inviolable rights of the non-Muslim residents.  This, according to the most authoritative Arabic dictionaries, including those cited by Spencer and Kinana.  We see that Robert Spencer completely flipped reality on its head.  As for Kinana of Khaybar, he too is an intellectual huckster, evidenced by his deceitful half-quoting of a passage of T.P. Hughes’ A Dictionary of Islam, the entirety of which negates his claim and supports mine.

As I said before, Spencer has, by replying to me, dug himself into a deeper sh*% hole.

Update: If you turn to page 133 in the Hans Wehr Arabic dictionary, you will find that cowardice (jubn) and cheese (jubna) share the same root: j-b-n.  Are these two words related in such a way that a man who is a coward is also a…cheese?  Or does eating cheese make you a coward?  Using Spencer’s logic, probably.  (hat tip to Ibksi for this humorous but effective point)

Do Muslims want to reimpose dhimmitude or live as equals?

Robert Spencer, a Catholic apologist, spouting his vitriolic propaganda on the Christian Broadcasting Network

Robert Spencer, one of the leading anti-Islam ideologues of the Western world, published The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).  This is a rebuttal of chapter four of his book.

Spencer’s claim:

1.  Historically, Jews fared better in Christian Europe than in the lands of Islam.  Says Spencer: “…The Muslim laws [imposing dhimmitude] were much harsher for Jews than those of Christendom…In Christian lands there was the idea, however imperfect, of the equality of dignity and rights for all people…” [1]


Spencer’s claim contradicts the predominant opinion held by Western scholarship.  Prof. Mark R. Cohen, the leading expert in the field, concludes that “the historical evidence indicates that the Jews of Islam, especially during the formative and classical centuries (up to the thirteenth century), experienced much less persecution than did the Jews of Christendom.” [2] Spencer’s book is horribly one-sided: it mentions “dhimmitude” (a spurious term), but makes no mention of the Church’s doctrine of Perpetual Servitude.  Comparing the two, Cohen writes:  “…The dhimmi enjoyed a kind of citizenship, second class and unequal though it was…[in contrast to] Jews living in Latin Christian lands, where…[they were] legally possessed [as slaves] by this or that ruling authority.” [3]

Read my complete rebuttal here.

Spencer replied, and I counter-replied here and here.

Spencer’s claim:

2.  The Pact of Umar, a document that enumerates a number of humiliating conditions to be imposed upon non-Muslims, is “still part of the Sharia today.” [4] As soon as Muslims are able to, they will enforce it.


Numerous Islamic and Western scholars have declared the Pact of Umar to be a forgery.  Muslims do not believe that a forgery can be a “part of the Sharia.”  More importantly, although the document may have had some significance hundreds of years ago, it has now fallen into complete disuse and obscurity in the Islamic world.  It is highly unlikely that contemporary Muslims want to reimpose a document that they themselves have never heard of.  This is very similar to how most Christians today have no familiarity with the Church’s doctrine of Perpetual Servitude.  To argue that either Muslims or Christians in general want to reimpose these respective doctrines–dhimmitude and Perpetual Servitude respectively–is conspiratorial and far-fetched.  Read my complete rebuttal here.

Spencer replied, and I counter-replied here.

Spencer’s claim:

3.  Robert Spencer writes:

*Islamic law mandates second-class status for Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims in Islamic societies.

*These laws have never been abrogated or revised by any authority. [5]

Spencer challenges me, claiming that I will do

virtually anything other than actually prov[e] that there exists a sect or school of Islam that teaches that Muslims must live with non-Muslims as equals on an indefinite basis


I accept his challenge.

Spencer’s claim–that no Islamic “authority” or “sect or school” has ever “abrogated” the laws of “dhimmitude”–is quite simply false.  It is a boldfaced lie or profound ignorance, either of which casts great doubt on Spencer’s “scholarship.” Over 150 years ago, the caliph (supreme leader of the Islamic world) abolished the dhimmi system entirely.  In 1839, a caliphal decree known as the Hatt-i Sharif of Gulhane was issued, implicitly recognizing the equality of all Ottoman subjects, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.  In 1856, “the Hatt-i Humayan [was issued], in which the principles of 1839 were repeated and the guarantees of the equality of all subjects were made more explicit.  Thus, Muslim and non-Muslim were to have equal obligations…and equal opportunities…” [6] The decree abolished the jizya and dhimmi system for all time.  (Read more about these caliphal decrees here.)

In the mid-nineteenth century, a group of Islamic intellectuals emerged, known as the Young Ottomans (not to be confused with the secularized Young Turks). They expounded Ottomanism, a doctrine stating the inherent equality of all peoples in the Empire regardless of religion or ethnicity.  The Young Ottomans believed that Islam advocates constitutionalism and that the government must enter a contractual agreement with those whom they rule over.  In other words, there is to be mutual consent between the rulers and the ruled.  The Young Ottomans opposed the royal autocracy, and demanded democratization of the Empire.  They argued that not only should all religious communities be viewed equally by the state, but there were certain inalienable rights that all citizens possessed, which the government could not infringe upon. The efforts of the Ottoman government on the one hand and the Islamic intellectuals on the other hand culminated in the passage of the Nationality Law of 1869, which “reinforced the principle that all individuals living within Ottoman domains shared a common citizenship regardless of their religion.” [7] (Read more about these Islamic intellectuals here.)

The Young Ottomans had a long-lasting effect on Islamic discourse, and gave birth to the modernist school of thought.  Arguably the key figure of modernist Islam was Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), who served as rector of al-Azhar University (the foremost Sunni institution) and who held the position of Grand Mufti of Egypt (the highest ranking religious position in the country).  Abduh issued a fatwa declaring Muslims and non-Muslims “to be equal under the law, with full citizenship rights.” [8] He further supported parliamentary democracy and constitutionalism as a means to protect these individual rights.  In 1908, Mehmed Emaleddin Efendi (Turkey, 1848-1917)–the chief religious authority of the Ottoman Empire, appointed directly by the caliph–concurred with Abduh.  During this period, numerous Islamic reformers emerged, and reconciled Islam with modernity.  They revised traditional opinions dealing with jihad, women’s rights, human rights, science, and interfaith relationships.  Quite consistently, the modernist trend of Islam has held the opinion, to use Robert Spencer’s own words, that “Muslims must live with non-Muslims as equals on an indefinite basis.” (Read more about modernist Islam here.) Muhammad Abduh’s work “fostered not only a modernist school of thought but also a reformed traditionalist school…spearheaded by [the more conservative] Muhammad Rashid Rida, a disciple of Abduh.” [9] In this manner, reformist ideas seeped into the discourse of the conservative Ulema.  One can say that the fire of reform burned greatest at its modernist core, but its warmth reached even more traditionalist elements, defrosting some of their more [f]rigid opinions.

It should be noted, however, that “few Muslims explicitly self-identify as ‘Muslim modenists,’ [and] instead refer[] to themselves simply as Muslims.” [10] The term “modernist Islam” is instead used most frequently by Western scholars–those outside of the faith–to describe a clearly discernible trend that has had profound influence on contemporary Islamic discourse. Anti-Islam ideologues often dismiss modernist interpretations, choosing instead to “look at the more conservative articulations of Islam (such as some traditional scholars) and even Muslim extremists as somehow representing ‘real’ Islam.” [11] However, modernists should not be disregarded so easily, because although they diverge from classical formulations, they maintain fidelity to the canonical texts.  Muhammad Abduh argued that his was a “properly understood interpretation of Islam”, consistent with the “standards of the Quran [and] the hadith.” [12]

In fact, the modernists argue that in reality it is “the inherited, calcified shari’a tradition” that does “not reflect the true spirit of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunna.”  They disregard the classical formulation as “centuries old legal baggage derived from the [spurious] Pact of ‘Umar.” [13] The modernists look instead to the Constitution of Medina, drafted by the Prophet Muhammad, which granted “equality” to the Jewish residents of the city.  No jizya was taken from them, and they served in the military alongside Muslims. The nineteenth century Islamic reformers “cited the ‘Constitution of Medina’ as a model of good sectarian relations.  If the Prophet could extend political rights to non-Muslims then so too could a modernist Islamic polity, without endangering its Islamic character.” [14]

The Constitution of Medina declared that the “Muslims of Quraish and Yathrib, and those [Jews] who followed them and joined them…are one nation (ummah) to the exclusion of all men.”  Nineteenth century modernists used this powerful sentence to dismiss the medieval division of the world into a Muslim ummah and a non-Muslim polity.  Instead, they argued that there was a religious ummah and a political ummah.  Muslims and non-Muslims living in the same country were then part of the same ummah, and owed their loyalty and allegiance to each other.  Similarly, Muslim Americans today believe that the United States is their ummah (nation) to which they owe their loyalty and allegiance, so when anti-Islam ideologues deride them by saying “the Muslim Americans owe their loyalty and allegiance to the ummah,” the Muslim Americans could not agree more. (Read the relevant parts of the Constitution of Medina here.)

According to the Constitution, the Muslims and Jews were obligated to defend the other in case of attack, a very real fear considering the hostile polytheist tribes surrounding Medina.  Prof. Francis E. Peters writes: “Muhammad’s attitude toward the People of the Book [Jews and Christians], as he called those who shared the same scriptural tradition with Islam, was generally favorable…But as time passed, the Quran came to look on Jews and Christians as adherents of rival rather than collegial faiths.  Some of this change in attitude was dictated by events at Medina itself, where Jewish tribes made up part of the population.  Not only did the Jews reject Muhammad’s prophetic claims; they began secretly to connive with his enemies.” [15] Fear of a fifth column prompted the Prophet Muhammad to banish the Jewish tribes of Banu Nadir and Banu Qinaqa from Medina, a controversial decision receiving its share of criticism by historians and polemicists alike.  Jewish tribes not involved in the treachery were allowed to stay in the city, so long as they honored the terms of the Constitution.

S.A. Rizvi writes: “The banishment of the Jewish tribes of Banu Nadhir and Banu Qinaqa from Medina had accentuated the animosity of the Jews towards the Muslims. These tribes had settled down at Khaibar at a distance of about eighty miles from Medina.” [16] Two years later, the banished Banu Nadir sought to exact revenge, and joined the polytheists in an assault on Medina.  The Banu Nadir bribed various tribes to join in the attack, including the Banu Ghatafan, the Bani Asad, and the Banu Sulaym.  They also convinced a Jewish tribe in Medina to attack the Muslims from the inside.  The combined forces outmatched Muhammad’s army 10,000 to 3,000.  However, the Muslims saved Medina from almost certain doom by building a trench which successfully impeded enemy advance, a tactic hitherto unknown to Arabia.  After several weeks of trying to cross the trench, the besiegers retreated, the Quraish polytheists to Mecca and the Jews of Banu Nadir to Khaibar.

The Muslims launched a counter-attack on Khaibar, and won a decisive victory.  Terms of the surrender included a provision for the defeated Jews to “relinquish any intention of maintaining a military force and to rely on Muslims for their personal security and that of their possessions in exchange for the payment of [jizya].” [17] This was the first time jizya was instituted, and the context in which it was.  In the time of the Prophet Muhammad, no other condition was placed on the dhimmis, except that of jizya and the prohibition from serving in a military capacity.  As such, the conditions placed on them seemed to be about security rather than humiliation.

As the Islamic legal tradition developed, the jizya became accepted as the normative practice towards non-Muslims (along with the trappings of the Pact of Umar), whereas the Constitution of Medina fell to the wayside.  Islamic reformers in the nineteenth century, however, argued that jizya is to be demanded only of those disbelievers who have “violated their pledges (of peace)…and attacked you first” (Quran, 9:13), those whose belligerence must be “subdued” (Quran, 9:29).  The Prophet Muhammad’s decision to demilitarize certain tribes and take jizya to fund their protection was seen more of a military consideration than a theological obligation. The modernists revived the Constitution of Medina, arguing that peaceful and loyal non-Muslims ought to be considered equal citizens alongside Muslims.  There was to be religious equality, with people of all faiths having the same rights and obligations.

These ideals were enshrined in the Objectives Resolution of 1949, a document that represents the culmination of over a century’s worth of modernist reinterpretation of Islamic texts.  This fascinating synthesis of Islam and modernity declared that “the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance, and social justice as enunciated by Islam shall be fully observed…adequate provision shall be made for the [religious] minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures; Wherein shall be guaranteed fundamental rights including equality of status, of opportunity and before law, social, economic and political justice, and freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship and association…adequate provisions shall be made to safeguard the legitimate interests of [religious] minorities…” (Read more about the Objectives Resolution of 1949 here.)

The idea of religious equality may have been considered exclusively modernist a century ago, but now finds resonance in wider Islamic circles as well. As Prof. Cleveland writes: “If, after the passage of nearly a century, Abduh’s proposals seem somewhat…conservative, we must attempt to appreciate how bold they were at the time.” [17] Accordingly, numerous contemporary scholars ranging from modernist to conservative have issued rulings declaring their belief in equal citizenship regardless of religion.  My very cursory research found several such Islamic intellectuals and scholars who have issued rulings saying as much, including:  Jasser Auda, Tariq Ramadan, Yousuf al-Qaradawi, Rashid al-Ganoushi, Muhammad Salim al-Awa, Muqtedar Khan, Mukarram Ahmad, Muhammad Yahya, Abdul Hameed Nomani, Syed Shahabuddin, Tahir Mahmood, Mujtaba Farooq, Ataur Rahman Qasmi, Waris Mazhari, Zafar Mahmood, S.Q.R. Ilyas, Zafarul-Islam Khan,  Mirza Yawar Baig, Shahnawaz Ali Raihan, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Moiz Amjad, Shehzad Saleem, and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi. Representatives from the following Islamic organizations have issued these rulings: UK Board of Muslim Scholars, International Union for Muslim Scholars,  European Muslim Network, Al-Nahdha Islamic Movement, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Circle for Tradition and Progress, European Council for Fatwa and Research, International Association of Muslim Scholars, Egyptian Association for Culture and Dialogue, Association  of Muslim Social Scientists, All India Jamiat Ahl-e Hadees, Jamiat Ulama-e Hind, All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, Jamaat-e Islami Hind, Muslim Personal Law Board, All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, Students Islamic Organisation, All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, and Al-Mawrid Institute. (Read these religious rulings here.)

Spencer would have unearthed this if he had only spent the couple hours I did to find it.  Or had he picked up a real history book, he would have known that over a century ago, these views became the law of the land due to the efforts of the caliph and numerous Islamic intellectuals.  He would have known that such a fatwa was passed by al-Azhar, the same university which he invokes as the absolute most ultimate Islamic authority when ranting about Reliance of the Traveler.  He would have known that the highest religious authority in all of the Ottoman Empire declared the same.  In light of all this, Spencer’s claim that the “laws [of dhimmitude] have never been abrogated or revised by any authority” is truly absurd.  The only question that remains is: is his claim willful prevarication or simply the result of his lack of scholarly training?

Robert Spencer will learn to regret the day Danios spent $5 to add a used copy of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) to his bookshelf.

I have a nagging suspicion that Spencer will now move the goalposts, and argue that there are some ultraconservative Muslims who don’t have such enlightened views about the topic.  But that was not his claim.  His claim was that no Islamic authority has ever “abrogated or revised” the dhimmi laws. (Can Spencer ever defend his actual argument when he debates me!?)  If Spencer limited his criticism to ultraconservative Islam alone, and argued that Islamic puritans who believe in reimposing “dhimmitude” need to be opposed, I would have absolutely no issue with him.  In fact, I would then support his work, and help him in that important task.

Of course, I would also be consistent and criticize extreme right-wing Christians who argue to this day that the Church’s Doctrine of Witness and of Perpetual Servitude should be revived; for example, this website (which boasts an impressive membership of a couple hundred thousand) argues that “the theologically correct, and socially just Catholic social policy is to subjugate [the Jews], regulate them, segregate them and expel them.”  (Here, Spencer would mistakenly invoke the tu quoque defense, not knowing that tu quoque is not always considered a fallacy but in fact has legitimate uses; see hypocrisy, argument for equal treatment, and clean hands doctrine.)

I would also point out to Spencer that the best way to undermine ultraconservative interpretations is to support reformist ones.  But Spencer wants to deny this option to Muslims, because it would mean that the entire faith of Islam could not be vilified.  The only option that should be given to Muslims, according to Spencer’s philosophy, is to leave Islam, and of course it would be ideal to convert to Christianity.  At the end of the day, Spencer is a Catholic polemicist who is waging a crusade against Islam.  The very first words in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) are “Deus Vult!” (God wills it!), which was “the rallying cry of the First Crusade”; and the very last sentence of his book explicitly calls for a crusade against Islam.  His book then is “Deus Vult…Crusade”, and everything in between those two words is just propaganda to justify the Crusade that God willed.


refer back to article 1. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), pp.57-59. ISBN: 0-89526-013-1

refer back to article 2. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages, xix. ISBN 069101082X, 9780691010823, p.xxi-xxiii

refer back to article 3. Ibid., p.195

refer back to article 4. Spencer, p.51

refer back to article 5. Ibid., p.47

refer back to article 6. William L. Cleveland, A History of the Modern Middle East, p.83. ISBN: 0-8133-3489-6

refer back to article 7. Ibid., p. 83

refer back to article 8. William Brown, Ordering the International: History, Change, and Transformation, pp.273-275. ISBN: 0745321372, 9780745321370

refer back to article 9. Caeser E. Farah, Islam: Beliefs and Observances, p.243. ISBN: 0764122266, 9780764122262

refer back to article 10. Vincent J. Cornell, Voices of Islam, p.xvii. ISBN: 027598737X, 9780275987374

refer back to article 11. Ibid., p.xviii

refer back to article 12. Cleveland, p.125

refer back to article 13. Bruce Masters, Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Arab World, pp.175-176, ISBN: 0521005825, 9780521005821

refer back to article 14. Ibid.

refer back to article 15. Francis E. Peters, The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, p.273. ISBN: 069112373X, 9780691123738

refer back to article 16. S.A. Rizvi, The Life of the Prophet Muhammad, Chapter 16.ISBN: 0-9702125-0-X

refer back to article 17. Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine, p.28. ISBN: 0521599849, 9780521599849

refer back to article 18. Cleveland, p.125

The Protocols of the Elders of Mecca; The Final Word on the Pact of Umar

This is the second part of a three part rebuttal of Robert Spencer on the topic of dhimmitude.  Check out part 1 here, here, and here.

The Conspiracy

During the Middle Ages, a forged document–known as the Pact of Umar–came into existence; it stipulated certain very restrictive conditions that governed the lives of non-Muslims living under Islamic rule.  Robert Spencer outlines these humiliating conditions:

This Pact is worth close examination, because it became the foundation for Islamic law regarding the treatment of the dhimmis. With remarkably little variation, throughout Islamic history whenever Islamic law was strictly enforced, this is generally how non-Muslims were treated. Working from the full text as Ibn Kathir has it, these are the conditions the Christians accept in return for “safety for ourselves, children, property and followers of our religion” – conditions that, according to Ibn Kathir, “ensured their continued humiliation, degradation and disgrace.” The Christians will not:

1. Build “a monastery, church, or a sanctuary for a monk”;
2. “Restore any place of worship that needs restoration”;
3. Use such places “for the purpose of enmity against Muslims”;
4. “Allow a spy against Muslims into our churches and homes or hide deceit [or betrayal] against Muslims”;
5. Imitate the Muslims’ “clothing, caps, turbans, sandals, hairstyles, speech, nicknames and title names”;
6. “Ride on saddles, hang swords on the shoulders, collect weapons of any kind or carry these weapons”;
7. “Encrypt our stamps in Arabic”
8. “Sell liquor” – Christians in Iraq in the last few years ran afoul of Muslims reasserting this rule;
9. “Teach our children the Qur’an”;
10. “Publicize practices of Shirk” – that is, associating partners with Allah, such as regarding Jesus as Son of God. In other words, Christian and other non-Muslim religious practice will be private, if not downright furtive;
11. Build “crosses on the outside of our churches and demonstrating them and our books in public in Muslim fairways and markets” – again, Christian worship must not be public, where Muslims can see it and become annoyed;
12. “Sound the bells in our churches, except discreetly, or raise our voices while reciting our holy books inside our churches in the presence of Muslims, nor raise our voices [with prayer] at our funerals, or light torches in funeral processions in the fairways of Muslims, or their markets”;
13. “Bury our dead next to Muslim dead”;
14. “Buy servants who were captured by Muslims”;
15. “Invite anyone to Shirk” – that is, proselytize, although the Christians also agree not to:
16. “Prevent any of our fellows from embracing Islam, if they choose to do so.” Thus the Christians can be the objects of proselytizing, but must not engage in it themselves;
17. “Beat any Muslim.”

Meanwhile, the Christians will:

1. Allow Muslims to rest “in our churches whether they come by day or night”;
2. “Open the doors [of our houses of worship] for the wayfarer and passerby”;
3. Provide board and food for “those Muslims who come as guests” for three days;
4. “Respect Muslims, move from the places we sit in if they choose to sit in them” – shades of Jim Crow;
5. “Have the front of our hair cut, wear our customary clothes wherever we are, wear belts around our waist” – these are so that a Muslim recognizes a non-Muslim as such and doesn’t make the mistake of greeting him with As-salaamu aleikum, “Peace be upon you,” which is the Muslim greeting for a fellow Muslim;
6. “Be guides for Muslims and refrain from breaching their privacy in their homes.”

The Christians swore: “If we break any of these promises that we set for your benefit against ourselves, then our Dhimmah (promise of protection) is broken and you are allowed to do with us what you are allowed of people of defiance and rebellion.”

Today, the Islamophobes believe this document to be of critical importance, and it forms one of the pillars of their anti-Islam ideology.  Notice how Spencer calls the document “the foundation for Islamic law regarding the treatment of the dhimmis.”  Spencer et al. believe–or at least they would like you to believe–that Muslims are on the verge of once again implementing the Pact of Umar upon non-Muslims.  Spencer’s goal, as enunciated by his comrade-in-arms Pamela Geller, is to  “scare the bejeezus outta ya.” It is necessary then, these Islamophobic bigots argue, to get “them” before “they” get you.  (Most forms of hate revolve around instilling senseless fear.)

The Pact of Umar Has Fallen into Disuse and Obscurity

Admittedly, the Pact of Umar did reach some level of significance during the Middle Ages.  It is found in the books of many classical Islamic jurists, and was also implemented (inconsistently) to various degrees. (Please read this here.)  Yet, the reality is that the Pact of Umar has fallen into disuse and obscurity.  Whereas some of the medieval jurists gave importance to the document–such as Ibn Taymiyyah who went so far as to call it the foundation of Muslim-dhimmi relations–it is now virtually non-existent in modern day Islamic texts.  Mention of the document has now been relegated to two basic categories: reprints of medieval texts, and responses to critics of Islam.

I myself contacted several Muslim clerics, asking them about their opinion on the Pact of Umar.  The majority of them responded that they had no knowledge of the document (i.e. “I’d have to look it up”), or had only heard the name in passing.  In fact, the Pact of Umar has in the Islamic world fallen into such disuse and obscurity that the vast majority of Muslims have never heard of it.  Those who do know what it is almost invariably heard of it first from critics of Islam; many of them will then look up the Muslim responses to these anti-Islam attacks.  (How many Christians–including priests–have heard of the Church’s doctrine of Perpetual Servitude?)

The idea, furthered by lunatics like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, that Muslims are secretly instructed in the Pact of Umar (the “stealth Jihad” is coming to get you!) is not only conspiratorial but absurd.  Ninety-nine percent of Muslims have never heard of it–until of course Robert Spencer et al. inform them of it.  Zaid Shakir, an Islamic scholar from the Zaytuna Institute, said:

There is this absurd idea spread by these bigots that Muslims want to implement this pact today.  Most Muslims have never even heard of it! [1]

Robert Spencer et al. knows this very well.  So don’t be fooled by this Islamophobic conspiracy talk.  It is calculated fear-mongering.

But could it be that the Pact of Umar is inherently part of the Islamic religion, even if the vast majority of Muslims are not aware of this?  One only needs to read the Islamic responses to the anti-Islam ideologues to know that this is not the case.

Contemporary Muslims Recognize the Pact of Umar as a Forgery

The document is attributed by medieval jurists to Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second caliph (secular leader) of the early Muslim community.  However, modern day Islamic scholars–such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi [2], Maher Abu-Munshar, and Abdulaziz Sachedina–reject the authenticity of the Pact of Umar.  Abu-Munshar writes:

The humiliating conditions enumerated in the so-called “Pact of Umar” are utterly foreign to the mentality, thoughts and practices of this caliph…The deficiencies [in the textual integrity] support the contention that Umar was not the originator of the document.  In addition to the remarkable care and concern displayed in Umar’s attitute to dhimmis confirms the rejection of the so-called Pact of Umar as attributable to Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab.  The Pact of Umar was not the work of Umar Ibn al-Khattab. [3]

Sachedina writes:

It is a historical fact that the Prophet condemned oppression of the ahl al-dhimma [dhimmis] as a sinful deviation declaring in no uncertain terms, “On the Day of Judgment I myself will act as the accuser of any person who oppresses a person under the protection [dhimmi] of Islam, and lays excessive [financial or other social] burdens on him”. In the most highly rated compilation of Hadith among the Sunni Muslims, the Sahih of al-Bukhari, there is a chapter-heading that reads, “One should fight for the protection of the ahl al-dhimma and they should not be enslaved.” Under this heading Bukhari narrates the following instructions on the authority of Umar b. al-Khattab, when the latter was stabbed anddied of the wound inflicted upon him by a Persian slave: “I strongly recommend him [the next caliph] to take care of those non-Muslims who are under God and His Prophet’s protection [dhimmat allah wa dhimmat rasulih] in that he should remain faithful to them according to the covenant with them, and fight on their behalf and not burden them [by imposing high taxes] beyond their capacity. After reading these instructions, left by the caliph as the head of Muslim state to honor the sacred covenant offered by God and his emissary to the people of the Book, it is hard to believe that the Pact of Umar ascribed to the second caliph could be authentic in its representation of the situation of the non-Muslims in the early days of Islam. [4]

These Muslims argue that as a forgery the document has no religious value at all and ought to be ignored.  They believe that in actuality Umar ibn al-Khattab ratified the tolerant Umari Treaty, and not the restrictive Pact of Umar. The Umari Treaty explicitly prohibits Muslims from degrading or belittling non-Muslims; the text reads (emphasis is mine):

In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Beneficent.

This is what the slave of God, Umar b.Al-Khattab, the Commander of the Faithful, has offered the people of Illyaa’ of security granting them amaan (protection) for their selves, their money, their churches, their children, their lowly and their innocent, and the remainder of their people:

Their churches are not to be taken, nor are they to be destroyed, nor are they to be degraded or belittled, neither are their crosses or their money [to be harmed], and they are not to be forced to change their religion, nor is any one of them to be harmed…

Upon what is in this book is the word of God, the covenant of His Messenger, of the Caliphs and of the believers if they gave what was required of them of the poll tax. [4]

Ibn Kathir, an Islamic exegist of the medieval era, writes that the Pact of Umar stipulated “conditions that ensured [the] continued humiliation, degradation and disgrace” of the People of the Book (see Tafsir Ibn Kathir, 9:29).  Surely then, argue contemporary Muslims, the Pact of Umar–which advocated “humiliation, degradation, and disgrace”–conflicted with the Umari Treaty, which categorically prohibited “degrad[ation] and belittle[ment]” of non-Muslims.

Western scholarship itself considers the Pact of Umar to be a forgery, falsely attributed to Umar ibn al-Khattab.  In fact, Umar was known for his relative mildness towards non-Muslim subjects, and the Umari Treaty is much more in line with his views than the Pact of Umar.  It is known that generally “the [Four] Rightly Guided Caliphs left the people of the protected religions alone.” [5]

Historian Abraham P. Bloch concludes:

Omar ibn al-Khattab (634-644), the second caliph, conquered Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Persia, and Egypt.  Jews and Christians were permitted to continue their communal existence.  Omar was a tolerant ruler, unlikely to impose humiliating conditions upon non-Muslims, or to infringe upon their religious and social freedoms.  His name has been erroneously associated…with the restrictive Covenant of Omar. [6]

Interestingly, not even Robert Spencer contests the doubtful historicity of the document.  Spencer writes:

Now: did I actually say the thing was historical? Nope…I wasn’t actually dealing with the question of whether or not it was a real seventh-century document. I was and am interested in the patent and manifest fact that it became the basis for Islamic law regarding dhimmis. Whether the law came first and then was read into a fictional pact Umar made, or whether there really was a Pact of Umar and the fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) regarding dhimmis was influenced by it, simply doesn’t concern me, except as a matter of historical interest.

If we were debating the historical treatment of dhimmis, then Spencer’s point makes some sense.  I conceded as much in my rebuttal.  But now I will use Spencer’s own logic and conclude as follows: the actual historicity of the document is largely irrelevant so long as contemporary Muslims view it as a forgery.  (But in this case, the matter is even clearer: the document is a forgery and contemporary Muslims agree with that.)

In other words, if you witness a debate between an Islamophobe and a Muslim–with the former claiming that the Pact of Umar is authentic and/or that the classical scholars viewed it that way, and with the latter claiming that it is a forgery and therefore religiously invalid as a source–that in itself invalidates the Islamophobic line of argumentation.  Remember: their end game is to prove that Muslims today want to reimpose the dhimmitude as defined in the Pact of Umar.  But if contemporary Muslims view the document as a forgery–and this much is evidenced by their participation in the debate–then that’s all that matters.  If contemporary Muslims don’t view it as authentic (regardless of what the true historicity of the document is and/or what the classical scholars said), they would have no reason to reimpose it.

In conclusion, contemporary Islamic responses view the Pact of Umar as a forgery, and instead look to the tolerant Umari Treaty as more in line with the Islamic view.

The Pact of Umar is not a Part of Islamic Canon

There are of course some conservative Muslims (a small minority) who have written responses to the Pact of Umar and are unwilling to reject the historicity of the document, due to the fact (as pointed out by Spencer) that many classical scholars viewed it as authentic.  Does this fact prove Spencer’s point?  No.  Just because the document is viewed as authentic does not mean it is binding upon Muslims from a religious perspective.  The Pact of Umar is not contained in the Quran nor in the Sunnah, the twin canonical sources of Islam.  In other words, the document is not a religious document at all, but a secular and temporal agreement made between a secular/temporal authority (the caliph) and his subjects.  (I say “secular/temporal” because there is no pope in Islam; the caliph of the Muslims is their leader in worldly affairs, not religious ones.)

The pact was a political agreement made between two parties, not a divinely revealed religious text from God or His Messenger.  In fact, the document was said to be dictated by the Christians themselves, who supposedly said: “We made a condition on ourselves…”  The conservative Salafi/”Wahhabi” apologist Bassam Zawadi remarked: “How can the Pact of Umar be considered religiously inspired when it was from the mouths of the Christians themselves?” [7] In other words, Muslims believe that their religious doctrines come from God (the Quran) and His Messenger (the Sunnah).  How then can a Muslim take the words of a Christian–who doesn’t even believe in the prophethood of Muhammad–as being authoritative in matters of faith?  The Christians supposedly thought of the conditions themselves and requested them; how then can a Muslim think of these conditions as being from God or His Messenger?  (The idea that the Christians themselves requested such terms is of course absurd, which is why modern day scholarship considers the pact as a forgery;  but the point here is: those conservative Muslims who refuse to reject the authenticity of the document believe that the document was from the words of the Christians and as such they do not view it as being divine, infallible, or religiously binding.)

The classical scholars did debate whether the Pact of Umar ought to be “inherited” by the children of the Christians or be renegotiated each time.  Some of them did say that it does not need to be renegotiated but remained in effect for the children.  But the document was not binding because of the religious nature of the document; as discussed above, the Pact of Umar is not considered canonical.  Rather, the document was binding because of the religious obligation to fulfill covenants.  The Pact of Umar was a (secular and temporal) covenant of security between that particular government and the residents of the area.  It was to be fulfilled, as all covenants of security are binding.  (This is why I argue here that Muslim Americans are obligated to fulfill their covenant of security with the U.S. government.)

The jurisprudential tradition of Islam is known for its (sometimes excessive) reliance on legalism, much like the Jewish rabbinical tradition.  The classical scholars did argue that the mandatory conditions of the Pact of Umar had to be enforced, but at the same time they also forbade any additions to it.  The medieval jurist Imam al-Shawkani, a follower of the heterodox Zaydi Shi’ite sect [8], decreed that dhimmis ought to be forced to clean the latrines of the city.  This came to be known as the Latrines Decree.   Interestingly, the mainstream Muslim jurists of that era refuted Imam al-Shawkani and forbade such an addition, which they considered to be a violation of the Pact of Umar.  (One cannot add conditions to a document after it has been ratified.)  Jan Platvoet writes:

The Latrines Decree became an issue of judicial controversy…It caused confrontation between Muslim scholars (such as al-Shawkani and al-Kawkabani) almost all of whom belonged to the dominant Zaydi Shi’a…Most of them criticized the Decree, arguing that nothing can be added to or modified in the dhimma status…According to this line of argument, non-Muslims should be treated neither more leniently nor more harshly…These scholars felt they could not stand aloof while seeing the ardent wish of al-Shawkani and the authorities to worsen the dhimma stipulations. [9]

The purpose here is not to justify the discriminatory views of the medieval jurists: clearly, the need to protect the rights of minorities is morally more important than blindly enforcing a document.  But the point I am trying to make here is that the Pact of Umar was enforced not because it was viewed as being divine, canonical, or infallible, but because it was a temporal/secular covenant agreed upon by two parties, and thus ought to be honored like all covenants.  This is why modern day Muslims (even conservative ones) have no right to force the Pact of Umar on non-Muslims living in Muslim majority lands, since they [the non-Muslims] did not agree to such stipulations.  Remember: the classical jurists argued that the dhimmis ought to be fulfill the conditions of the Pact of Umar because “they themselves requested these terms!”

The Objectives Resolution (now a part of the Constitution of Pakistan) reads:

Adequate provision shall be made for the minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures…Wherein shall be guaranteed fundamental rights including equality of status, of opportunity and before law, social, economic and political justice, and freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship and association, subject to law and public morality; Wherein adequate provisions shall be made to safeguard the legitimate interests of minorities and backward and depressed classes.

This enlightened piece of legislation is referred to as “The Islamic Provisions of the Constitution.” Clearly, contemporary Muslims believe freedom of religion and protection of minority rights to be inherently part of their religion. The Objectives Resolution is a covenant of security that guarantees protection to non-Muslims.  Enforcing the discriminatory conditions of the Pact of Umar would be impermissible in Islam because it would contradict the rights granted above.  Remember: additions to the covenant are not allowed, which is why the classical scholars forbade the Latrines Decree.  The modern day Pakistani government has a covenant that they must fulfill.

The conservative Salafi/”Wahhabi” instructor Ayman bin Khaled writes:

The Pact [of Umar] itself is just [because both sides agreed to it] and it is a contract like any other contract[;] if both sides agree to it then it is valid. No one was forced to accept such pact esp. knowing it was suggested by people of the book themselves. [10]

In other words, even the conservative Muslims who hold the document to be authentic believe that it cannot be enforced upon peoples against their will.  It was only historically applied, according to these conservative Muslims, because the Christians accepted the terms.  Not only this, but the Christians were the ones who came up with the terms to begin with.  (This, according to the traditional belief in the Islamic jurisprudential tradition.)


Critics may argue that Umar ibn al-Khattab set a precedent, which could be emulated by Muslims today.  After all, Umar was one of the early caliphs of the Muslim community.  Yet, one could similarly argue that the manner in which the papacy treated Jews–the doctrine of Perpetual Servitude–could be considered precedent, which could be emulated by Christians today.  The papacy, unlike the caliphate, exerts far more power from a religious perspective than do caliphs.  Caliphs are not considered infallible, ever.

Furthermore, the Pact of Umar is not the only historical precedent Muslims can turn to.  Historically, there were many other covenants of security which were forged between the Islamic government and non-Muslim populations.  The very first constitution in Muslim history, the Constitution of Medina, is one such example.  In this document, signed by the Prophet Muhammad, the non-Muslims were granted “help and equality”; the document reads (emphasis is ours):

In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful.

This is a document from Muhammad the prophet (governing the relations) between the believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib, and those [non-Muslims] who followed them and joined them and labored with them.

They are one community (umma) to the exclusion of all men…

To the Jew who follows us belong help and equality. He shall not be wronged nor shall his enemies be aided. [11]

There are about forty-seven points enumerated in this document, and not a single one of them places any discriminatory or humiliating restrictions upon the non-Muslims.  They were not forced to wear certain clothing or hair cuts, nor forced to give up their chairs for Muslims, etc.  In all respects, they were treated as “equal[s]” and citizens of the same “nation” (ummah) as the Muslims, with similar rights and obligations as the Muslims.

After the Constitution of Medina, there is the example of the Treaty of Khaybar, signed between the Muslims and Jews of Khaybar.  Had the Prophet Muhammad wanted to “degrade” the non-Muslims with such “humiliating” restrictions as found in the Pact of Umar, then surely this would have been the time to do it, considering that–according to Islamic sources–the Jews of Khaybar had been found guilty of high treason.  Yet, we find in the Treaty of Khaybar none of the discriminatory laws of the Pact of Umar.  Similarly, the Prophet Muhammad signed the Treaty of Tabuk and the Treaty of Najran, two separate documents which afforded protection to non-Muslims without any mention of discriminatory laws, as long as taxes were paid to the government.

The Constitution of Medina promised Jews “equality”; another document attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, known as the Achtiname of Muhammad, afforded inalienable rights to Christians.  A copy of this document, sealed with an imprint representing the Prophet’s hand, is preserved in the library of St Catherine.  The Achtiname of Muhammad reads:

This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far: we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! I hold out against anything that displeases them.

No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.

Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.

No one of the (Islamic) nation is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day. [12]

The tone of voice in this document is 100% contrary to that in the Pact of Umar.  Nowhere does it say for Christians to be humiliated or degraded; in fact, Muslims are instructed to “hold out against anything that displeases” the Christians, and nothing can be done “that they hate.” (Surely, the humiliating conditions in the Pact of Umar would fall under this category, argue contemporary Muslims.)  Even more specifically, the Achtiname of Muhammad forbids preventing Christians from repairing their churches; the Pact of Umar violates this condition explicitly.  For the contemporary Muslim, the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad would trump even those of the Companions such as Umar.  Furthermore, the Achtiname sets out inalienable rights that must not be violated “till the Last Day.” Whereas the Pact of Umar is restricted to a single population of a single time, the Achtiname of Muhammad is for those “near and far” and “till the Last Day.”

Dr. Muqtedar Khan, Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware, writes:

The first and the final sentence of the charter are critical. They make the promise eternal and universal. Muhammed asserts that Muslims are with Christians near and far straight away rejecting any future attempts to limit the promise to St. Catherine alone. By ordering Muslims to obey it until the Day of Judgment the charter again undermines any future attempts to revoke the privileges. These rights are inalienable. Muhammed declared Christians, all of them, as his allies and he equated ill treatment of Christians with violating God’s covenant.

It should be noted that the authenticity of this document is disputed amongst Western scholarship–a fact that Islamophobes like Robert Spencer would be quick to mention.  It is strange, however, that they would so easily dismiss the Achtiname of Muhammad as a forgery, but then at the same time declare the Pact of Umar (which Western scholarship has declared to be a forgery) as the most authoritative Islamic document on the topic.  In other words, we have two documents, both of questionable authenticity, which contradict each other; one promises inalienable rights to a minority and the other invokes discriminatory conditions upon them.  The Islamophobe’s methodology is to highlight all the negative texts and dismiss the positive ones.  One could easily do such a hatchet job on Christianity, selectively quoting texts to paint a horrific picture.

Regardless of the historicity of the Achtiname of Muhammad, the fact is that contemporary Muslims view it as authentic and religiously binding (because it is attributed to the Prophet Muhammad).  In fact, the Muslim World League published the full text of the document in its journal (vol. 31, 2003).  So we can use Robert Spencer’s own logic here: the authenticity of the document is merely of “historical interest;” if contemporary Muslims view it as authentic and binding, then that’s all that matters.

Moving on, we have the example of the first caliph, Abu Bakr, who agreed to the following covenant with the non-Muslim peoples of Najran:

In the Name of God, the Most Beneficent, the Merciful.

This is the written statement of God’s slave Abu Bakr, the successor of Muhammad, the Prophet and Messenger of God.

He affirms your rights of [being] a protected neighbor: yourselves, your lands, your religious community, your wealth, retainers, and servants, those of you who are present or abroad, your bishops and monks, monasteries, and all that you own, be it great or small.  You shall not be deprived of any of it, and shall have full control over it. [13]

There is no mention of any discriminatory laws, such as found in the Pact of Umar.  Abu Bakr was the very first caliph of Islam, and as such, his example would serve as precedent over that of Umar’s.

Another example we have is of the Muslim general Khalid ibn Waleed, a Companion of the Prophet Muhammad, who wrote in his covenant with the people of Anat:

They are allowed to ring their bells at any time of the day or night, except at the Islamic prayer times. They are allowed to bear their crosses in their festivals. [14]

Both of these allowances would contradict the Pact of Umar, which forbade the Christians from loudly ringing their bells or from bearing their crosses publicly or enjoying their festivals outdoors.  Khalid ibn Waleed allowed them to ring their bells at any time day or night, so long as it did not coincide with the Islamic call to prayer (adhan) for the five daily prayers; there is no stipulation that they use clampers, a clause that would make the requirement not to ring the bells during the adhan moot.

In light of this evidence, it would seem inappropriate to focus on the Pact of Umar, and not on the more normative and prophetic Constitution of Medina, which is of undisputed authenticity.  Though the Prophet Muhammad had extensive dealings with non-Muslims, he never once advocated laws of humiliation and degradation on any minority group.  Surely this precedent is more important to contemporary Muslims than that set by the questionable Pact of Umar.  There were several covenants of security that were established in the early days of Islam, and it seems biased to focus exclusively on the most restrictive (and spurious) of them.

Turning the Tables Around

Robert Spencer’s line of argumentation is as follows: the Pact of Umar is inherently part of the Islamic religion; after all, it is attributed to the second caliph of Islam and endorsed by classical jurists.  Any attempts to dismiss the Pact of Umar by contemporary Muslims, Spencer would argue, are not only disingenuous but theologically weak.  I will now turn the tables on Spencer, and see how he likes using this same line of argumentation against his own religion: he is a Catholic and often white-washes the papacy’s legacy.  Criticism of the Catholic popes is simply not tolerated by Spencer.

In order for Spencer to prove his claim, he must establish that the Pact of Umar is inherently part of Islam.  Yet, any of his arguments are going to be weaker than arguments that could be made by critics of Catholicism with regard to the doctrines of Witness and of the Perpetual Servitude of infidels.  (I’ve discussed this Christian doctrine here.)  Pope after pope declared their belief in the doctrines of Witness and of the Perpetual Servitude of infidels, especially Jews.  Critics of Catholicism could argue that these two beliefs are inherently part of the religion, because the papal decrees are considered infallible.  Whereas Umar ibn al-Khattab was simply a temporal/secular/worldly leader without any divine authority (there is no pope in Sunni Islam), the pope was (and is) considered a religious leader with divine authority.  Whereas Muslims believe that Umar was not infallible, Catholics believe that the popes were (and are) infallible.  Furthermore, the Pact of Umar was not really written by Umar ibn al-Khattab at all (but forged by unknown persons who have no position of respect in the Islamic religion), whereas there is no doubt that the papal decrees declaring the doctrines of Witness and of Perpetual Servitude were issued from the popes.  These were official doctrines espoused by the infallible Church.

Spencer would argue back that Catholics don’t think the Church or the papacy are infallible in all aspects, only matters of theology, faith, and morals.  The Catholic Encyclopedia writes that the Church has “immunity from…error or failure; in particular in theological usage, the supernatural prerogative by which the Church of Christ is, by a special Divine assistance, preserved from liability to error in her definitive dogmatic teaching regarding matters of faith and morals.”  The encyclopedia goes on to say that “the infallibility claimed for the pope is the same in its nature, scope, and extent as that which the Church as a whole possesses; his ex cathedra teaching does not have to be ratified by the Church’s in order to be infallible.”

I’m no expert of Catholicism, but just from my outsider perspective, the papal decrees about the Jews (the doctrines of Witness and Perpetual Servitude) fit all the criteria necessary to be considered infallible.  It is, after all, a theological issue, expressed ex cathedra (“from the chair”).  Should I now run around wildly flailing my arms declaring that the doctrines of Witness and Perpetual Servitude are inherently part of the Catholic religion, and that the Catholics are about to enforce this upon us infidels?  Of course I’ve read Catholic responses which explain why these particular papal decrees are not considered infallible; however, as an impartial outsider, the explanations honestly seemed to be unconvincing mumbo-jumbo.  I in fact ask Robert Spencer to explain why these particular decrees are not infallible according to the Catholic doctrine.  I know he will respond with some complex explanation, so I am not saying that there is no explanation for why not.  I am simply saying that the explanation is neither simple, straightforward, nor very convincing to an outsider.  Meanwhile, the Islamic responses to why the Pact of Umar is not infallible are very easy to understand: the document is a forgery, the only infallible documents in the Islamic religion are the Quran and the authentic hadiths (Sunnah), etc. (If the papal decrees supporting the doctrines of Witness and Perpetual Servitude were found to be forged–and not from the papacy at all–it would suddenly become very easy for a Catholic to deny the infallibility/applicability of said doctrines.)

But let me be very clear: I am not trying to argue that the doctrines of Witness and Perpetual Servitude are inherently part of Catholicism.  I leave that decision up to the Catholic believers.  If they say these are not infallible, who am I to insist otherwise?  But I think Muslims should also be taken at their word, especially since their responses on this particular topic seem more straightforward.  If we give the benefit of the doubt to the Catholics, then why not to the Muslims?

Quranic Endorsement of the Pact of Umar?

Robert Spencer attempts to bolster his argument, by arguing that the Quran itself endorses the Pact of Umar. Spencer writes:

Verse 29 of chapter 9 of the Qur’an, as we saw last week, mandates that the Muslims fight against the Jews and Christians “until they pay the jizya [poll tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” …The imperative to subjugate non-Muslims as mandated by Qur’an 9:29 and elaborated by this Pact became and remained part of Islamic law.

We shall discuss this verse (9:29) in greater detail in part 3 of this series (does it really mandate Muslims to fight against the Jews and Christians?), but right now I will focus on the last line; Spencer uses the following translation: “until they pay the jizya [poll tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”  The Arabic word in question is “saghirun”, which some medieval jurists translated as debasement, humiliation, etc.  Robert Spencer loves these quotes, and pretends that they are the only interpretations that exist.  You can find the following quote on JihadWatch:

Dhimmis must be kept in a permanent state of abasement (saghar). This why jizya must be paid in a public ceremony in which the dhimmi at the moment of payment is given a tap on the neck and pushed forward to show him he has thus escaped the sword. This abasement is more important than the sum paid.

Yet, contemporary Muslims do not understand the verse this way.  In fact, there were many medieval Islamic jurists who rejected such discriminatory interpretations.  The classical jurist, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim, rejected the interpretation that “saghar” means debasement:

This is groundless and the verse doesn’t imply that. It is not related that the Prophet or the companions acted like that. The correct opinion regarding this verse is that the word “saghar” means “acceptance” by non-Muslims of the structure of the Muslim right and their payment of the poll tax. [15]

Ibn Qudama, another classical jurist, wrote that the Prophet Muhammad and the four rightly guided caliphs said that the poll tax ought to be taken with gentleness and respect. (see Al-Mughni, Vol. 4, p.250) [16] In fact, the classical jurist Imam al-Nawawi wrote that the majority of scholars rejected such an interpretation:

As for this aforementioned practice [of degrading or humiliating non-Muslims], I know of no sound support for it in this respect, and it is only mentioned by the scholars of Khurasan. The majority (jumhur) of scholars say that the Jizyah is to be taken with gentleness, as one would receive a debt (dayn). The reliably correct opinion is that this practice [of degradation or humiliation] is invalid and those who devised it should be refuted. It is not related that the Prophet or any of the rightly-guided caliphs did any such thing when collecting the Jizyah. [17]

If this was the case with the medieval jurists (who had no incentive to white-wash Islam), then it is no surprise that contemporary Muslims take a similar enlightened view.  They believe that the verse must be contextualized: it was revealed during a time in which the People of the Book–namely the powerful Roman empire–were seeking to snuff out the early Islamic nation-state.  In this context, the early Muslim community was instructed in the rules of war, and it was decreed that the enemy be fought until they laid down their arms and their belligerence was subdued.  But the opponents were to be left alone once they accepted the hegemony of the Islamic nation-state, just like any nation will fight its belligerent enemies until they are subdued.

Once again, when we apply the same line of argumentation to Christianity, Robert Spencer refuses to accept it.  If we point to the numerous verses used historically by the Church to justify the doctrines of Witness and Perpetual Servitude, suddenly Spencer cannot accept this methodology.  Numerous verses in the Bible can be used to justify the subjugation and exile of Jews (i.e. the doctrines of Witness and Perpetual Servitude).  For example, the Bible reads:

The Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men…the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. (I Thessalonians 2:14-16)

And there are many others.  Can these verses be interpreted in more tolerant ways?  Sure.  But so can the Quranic verse in question.  But the Islamophobes want to use one standard for Christianity and a completely different one for Islam.

But What about Extremist Muslims?

Fine, the vast majority of Muslims have never heard of the Pact of Umar, nor do they want to enforce it upon non-Muslims.  But what about the extremist Al-Qaeda types?  Is it not this document that motivates them to fight the West?  I do not think so.  Even most extremist Muslims have never heard of the Pact of Umar.  Again, those that have would most likely have first heard it from anti-Islam ideologues.  Maybe they wouldn’t reject it outright when they hear it from the anti-Islam critics, but the point is that no Muslim–not even the extremist ones–is being raised to follow this document.  It really has fallen into disuse and obscurity.  I am unaware of any Al-Qaeda literature, speeches, or videos making any reference to the Pact of Umar.  It is not the desire to reimpose the Pact of Umar that motivates them to fight; rather, they view their war with the West in terms of defensive Jihad against Western tyranny (this much is evidenced by their view that their holy war is fardh al-ayn and not fardh al-kifaya).

But ok, there are about one billion Muslims in the world…I can’t possibly deny that there may be a handful of Muslims out of the billion that believe in enforcing the Pact of Umar.  But it is really a measly minority, a fraction of even the extremist Muslim subset.  There are indeed many opinions championed by extremist Muslims that are worrisome, but this particular one (i.e. the Pact of Umar and its enforcement) does not find any level of significance in their discourse.  In fact, the paradigm trumpeted by extremists is: the Jewish/Christian West oppresses Muslims in the land, even though Muslims had historically treated them in an ideal way; based on this, they argue, Muslims must overthrow the West in order to reestablish this interfaith utopia.  For example, Hamas writes in its charter (interestingly quoted by none other than Robert Spencer!):

Under the shadow of Islam, it is possible for the members of the three religions: Islam,  Christianity, and Judaism to coexist in safety and security.  Safety and security can only prevail under the shadow of Islam, and recent and ancient history is the best witness to that effect…Islam accords his rights to everyone who has rights and averts aggression against the rights of others. [18]

Most Muslims (extremists included) believe that historically non-Muslims lived under Islamic rule in an interfaith utopia.  (This is of course not true.)  The extremists believe that overthrowing the Western hegemony is the only way to return to this.  Therefore, they believe when they come to power, all will be treated well (unlike the Western rule).  So the idea that Muslims want to reimpose the Pact of Umar on non-Muslims is way off.  Only a handful of Muslims would believe such a thing.  This fact is illustrated by Robert Spencer’s inability to quote Muslim scholars, leaders, intellectuals, etc. who have called for the reimposition of the Pact of Umar and/or its discriminatory provisions.  In his book, Spencer is only able to quote one contemporary Islamic cleric who said such a thing.  One.  (Some guy named Marzouq Salem al-Ghamdi, who said non-Muslims ought to “rise when a Muslim wishes to sit” and that they shouldn’t “ride horses”, etc.)  That’s it.  One single quote.  (I haven’t authenticated the quote, but I’ll just give it to him.)

I think I saw one other similar quote on his site, and that’s it.  That’s all Spencer can provide.  Two or three quotes from out of the billion Muslims.  That’s the best he can do.  That’s all he’s got.  Here, I will issue a direct challenge to Robert Spencer: provide us with a list of contemporary Muslim scholars, leaders, intellectuals, etc. who have called for a reimposition of the Pact of Umar and/or its discriminatory provisions.  List as many as you can.  Every single one.  Let’s see how long your list is. I guarantee you that it will be an incredibly short list.  That is why you will avoid this challenge like the intellectual chicken you are.

The Muslim World League published the full text of the Achtiname of Muhammad in its journal.  Can Spencer provide a similar contemporary reference for the Pact of Umar?  In fact, the only contemporary texts he will find on the Pact of Umar will be responses to anti-Islam ideologues.  I challenge Robert Spencer to provide as many contemporary Islamic texts that endorse the Pact of Umar as he can.  I will then provide a list of scholars/texts that reject the Pact of Umar altogether, and definitely my list will be longer than his.

Spencer’s desperation can be gauged from what he writes in his book (emphasis is mine):

All this is still part of the Sharia today. “The subject peoples,” according to a contemporary manual of Islamic law, must “pay the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya)” and “are distinguished from Muslims in dress, wearing a wide cloth belt (zunnar)…[etc etc]” [19]

I was surprised when I saw the words “contemporary manual.”  So I checked out the footnote, which cited Umdat al-Salik as the reference.  That’s a contemporary manual?  It was written six hundred and fifty years ago.  (Tisk, tisk…How dishonest.)  Like I said earlier, the only references to the Pact of Umar you will find now are (1) reprints of medieval texts, and (2) responses to anti-Islam ideologues.  (This is where the Islamophobes use their typical deceitful argument that such-and-such medieval text is “endorsed” by such and such Islamic authority; an endorsement of a text in the Islamic tradition does not at all mean 100% agreement on every single opinion. If that is the case, then show us that Islamic authority explicitly advocating the reimposition of the Pact of Umar.)

Nowhere in contemporary Islamic texts will you find an endorsement of the reimplementation of the Pact of Umar and its discriminatory conditions; meanwhile, contemporary Muslims widely publicize the Achtiname of Muhammad as a model for the treatment of non-Muslims. If you search Muslim websites, you will find the Achtiname of Muhammad published on them. If you search Islamophobic ones, you will find the Pact of Umar. (“No no, this is what you believe!”)

Christian Extremists Continue to Believe in Perpetual Servitude

Does the fact that there might be a handful of Muslims who believe in the reimposition of the Pact of Umar justify Spencer’s agenda?  Certainly not, especially when we consider the fact that a greater number of Christians still believe in the Perpetual Servitude of Jews.  We know that the extremist Muslims are the Al-Qaeda types.  OK, so who are the extremist Christians?  The white nationalists, a sizable portion of which are extremist Christians.  But those don’t count, argue the Islamophobes.  Why not?  Because they are loonies and racists.  So let me get this straight: the Muslim extremists aren’t also loonies?  How come the Muslim loonies define the Islamic threat, but the Christian loonies don’t define the Christian threat?  As for them being racists, so?  That’s completely in line with historic Christianity.  Unlike Islam, Christianity was wedded with racist thought, with bigoted theological positions revolving around the Mark of Cain.  (But let’s not be loony about what we say: clearly, the vast majority of Christians have jettisoned such beliefs.)  Fundamentalist Muslims rigidly adhere to medieval opinions, and so do the extreme right wing Christians…And nobody can deny that such racist opinions were not alien to historic Christianity.

People always wonder why there are so many extremist Muslims, but where are the extremist Christians?  In fact, it’s quite easy to identify them: they are the white nationalists.  (Not all of them are Christians, but a sizable portion are and they base their racism in Christian belief.)  In fact, white nationalism is becoming a scourge in the world arguably greater than extremist Al-Qaeda types.  There are millions of white nationalists in the world (they are greater in numbers than jihadists), and their movement is on the rise.  But of course, our minds have been infected with “stealth racism” (to borrow a term from Robert Spencer).  So when a Muslim flies a plane into a building, it’s automatically terrorism and we’re on high alert; when someone else does, then that doesn’t count as terrorism and who cares?  Well yeah, if you’re going to always exclude all non-Muslim acts of terrorism, then it’s no surprise you can blithely ask: why are all terrorists Muslim?  Similarly, if all Christian extremists “don’t count”, then of course there will be far more Muslim extremists in your books than Christian ones.

Anyways, the fact is that there exists a rising group of white nationalists who base their racism in historic Christian belief.  And if all of the Islamic community is to be shamed because there may be a handful of Muslims who believe in reimposing the Pact of Umar, then shouldn’t we have a similar reaction to Christianity?  After all, there exist far right wing Christians who believe that the doctrines of Witness and Perpetual Servitude ought to be reinforced.  Don’t believe me?  The white nationalist website, Stormfront (which boasts an impressive membership of a couple hundred thousand), published the following article, which argues that “the theologically correct, and socially just Catholic social policy is to subjugate [the Jews], regulate them, segregate them and expel them.” If you read that article in its entirety, you will come to know that these far right wing Christians base their belief in historic Christian beliefs and the traditional interpretations of the Bible.


The Pact of Umar has become the Islamophobe’s equivalent to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I understand that there are certain shortcomings to this comparison, since the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were never accepted by Jews at all. But it is an apt comparison in so far as the xenophobes spreading a conspiracy that a certain religious group seeks to establish their rule and subjugate the natives. The reality is that this conspiracy is far-fetched and outright loony.  The vast majority of Muslims have never even heard of the document, let alone engage in a “stealth Jihad” to one day implement it.  Even extremist Muslims tend to focus on the utopic image of co-existence that supposedly existed in Islamic history.  The Pact of Umar has become an obscure text, with even Islamic scholars having a hard time recalling what exactly it is.  The only contemporary references to the document are in the form of responses against anti-Islam ideologues, invariably arguing against the Pact of Umar’s authenticity and/or applicability. No country on earth–including the ultraconservative Saudi Arabia and Iran–enforces the Pact of Umar. Yes, it is true that the rights of minorities are not properly protected in many Muslim majority countries, but this has nothing to do with the Pact of Umar.

The document may have reached some level of significance in the Islamic past, but it has now fallen into obscurity.  This is easy to understand when our Christian readers think about the doctrines of Witness and Perpetual Servitude.  I gander that virtually none of the Christians who read my article on that topic had ever even heard of the doctrines of Witness or Perpetual Servitude.  The first time they heard of it was from me.  This, even though these doctrines were of utmost importance at one time in Christian history.  Yet, now even religious Christians have no idea what these doctrines are.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Robert Spencer himself was unfamiliar with them.  When contemporary Christians do hear about these doctrines, they have to look for Christian responses, which explain (in a somewhat convoluted manner) why these doctrines are not infallible.

So why–when modern day Christians have no knowledge of a once popular doctrine in their religious tradition–is it so hard for them to believe that Muslims nowadays have no idea what the Pact of Umar is?  Robert Spencer and the rest of the Islamophobic goof troop trying to prove that Muslims want to reimpose the Pact of Umar is as inane as some Muslim fanatic trying to prove that the United States is attacking Muslim majority countries because they wish to reinforce the doctrine of Perpetual Servitude upon Muslims.  But for some reason, it’s so much easier to understand this about oneself, as opposed to the demonized other. 

You are a certified loon if you go on and on about how Muslims want to reimpose the Pact of Umar, just as a Muslim would be a loon if he were to claim that Christians were seeking to reimpose Perpetual Servitude.  Spencer, you are so proud of yourself that you found one spurious document from a caliph of Islam that became important in medieval Islamic texts; I can point to dozens of 100% authentic (and arguably infallible) papal decrees that became foundational to medieval Christian theology, restricting Jews and Muslims to a status of Perpetual Servitude…And yes, there continue to exist a section of Christians today who believe in reinforcing it.

(Cue Islamophobic whining of “tu quoque, tu quoque,” which translates to “please Danios stop hitting us back so hard, waah waah waah!” I will explain in a future article why this lame tu quoque chant is inappropriate and inapplicable in this context.)

Stay tuned for part 3 of this three part series, entitled “Do Muslims want to reimpose dhimmitude?” Danios has called part 2 his jab and part 3 will be his knockout punch.


refer back to article 1. Personal correspondence with Zaid Shakir; quote may be verified by directly contacting Shakir:

refer back to article 2. Yusuf Qaradawi, Ghayr Al-Muslimeen fil Mujtama` Al-Islami

refer back to article 3. Maher Abu-Munshar, Islamic Jerusalem And Its Christians: A History of Tolerance And Tensions, pp.79-80

refer back to article 4. Tabari, Tarikh At-Tabari, Vol. 3, p.609

refer back to article 5. Mawdudi, The Rights Of The People of Covenant In The Islamic State, p.22

refer back to article 6. Abraham P. Bloch, One a Day: An Anthology of Jewish Historical Anniversaries for Every Day of the Year, p.314. ISBN 0881251089

refer back to article 7. Personal correspondence with Bassam Zawadi; quote may be verified by directly emailing Zawadi:

refer back to article 8. It should be noted that Shawkani later converted to Sunni Islam.

refer back to article 9. Jan Platvoet, Pluralism and Identity: Studies in Ritual Behavior, 178-180. ISBN: 9004103732

refer back to article 10. Ayman bin Khaled, Multaqa Ahl al-Hadeeth

refer back to article 11. Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah

refer back to article 12. Testamentum et pactiones inter Mohammedem et Christianae fidei cultores. Paris, 1630

refer back to article 13. Abu Yusuf, Kitab al-Kharaj, p.79

refer back to article 14. Ibid., p. 146

refer back to article 15. Ahkam Ahlul Dhimma, Vol. 1, pp. 23-24

refer back to article 16. Hat tip: Bassam Zawadi

refer back to article 17. Rawdat al-Talibin, Volume 10, p.315-16

refer back to article 18. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), p.51

refer back to article 19. Ibid.

The Church’s Doctrine of “Perpetual Servitude” was Worse than “Dhimmitude”

In his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades, Robert Spencer entitles chapter four “Islam: Religion of Intolerance.” On p.47 he summarizes the chapter in three points, as follows:

*Islamic law mandates second-class status for Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims in Islamic society.

*These laws have never been abrogated or revised by any authority.

*The idea that Jews fared better in Islamic lands than in Christian Europe is false. [1]

This article will rebut the last point.  (A follow up article will refute the first two.) Before we begin, a clarification of Spencer’s line of argumentation is in order.  He dedicates page after page to describe how oppressive Islamic rule has been towards infidels, in order to bash the Muslims (and Islam) over the head with.  Of course, Spencer’s line of argumentation would be nullified if it were pointed out that Western Christianity–of which he is a self-proclaimed defender of–was even more oppressive towards infidels.  That is why he states his third point above, and argues that “the Muslim laws were much harsher for Jews than those of Christendom” [2] and that “in Christian lands there was the idea, however imperfect, of the equality of dignity and rights for all people.” [3]

This is my rebuttal of his argument.


Table of Contents



The Pact of Umar

An Apocryphal Document

The More Discriminatory Laws Were Optional and Therefore Ignored

Discriminatory Conditions Rarely Enforced

This is a Secular Historical Issue, Not an Ideologically Driven Religious One

Mainstream Muslims Did Not Generally Enforce the Discriminatory Conditions in the Pact of Umar

Inspiration for the Pact of Umar

The Perpetual Servitude of Infidels


Symbolic Acts of Humiliation

Distinctive Clothing (Ghiyar) and the Yellow Badge


Exclusion from Public Office

Houses of Worship

The Freedom to Practice Religion and Public Displays



Occupational Opportunities and Right to Own Land

Forced Ghettoization and Freedom of Movement

Expulsions, Forced Conversions, and Massacres






Ahl al-Dhimma (dhimmi for short) translates to “the protected people” and was the historical word used to refer to non-Muslim peoples (such as Jews and Christians) living under Islamic rule.  Arabist ideologues and Muslim apologists perpetuate the myth that the Islamic world was an idyllic “interfaith utopia” which epitomized religious tolerance; some seem to go as far as to claim that dhimmis “had it better” than Muslims under Islamic rule.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, anti-Islam ideologues argue that not only did Muslims historically persecute dhimmis, but that nonbelievers in the Islamic Orient were treated much worse than their counterparts were in the contemporaneous Christian Europe of the Middle Ages.  To bolster this claim, one anti-Islam “researcher” by the pseudonym of Bat Ye’or coined the concept of “dhimmitude.” A counter-myth is now propagated on various websites, blogs and forums, namely that Islamic rule over non-Muslims had been characterized by an unparalleled brutality and wickedness.  The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies calls out Bat Ye’or by name:

[One must] explain acts of Islamic oppression that did occur, without exaggerating them selectively into a ‘countermyth of Islamic persecution,’ as recent revisionism has done (e.g. Bat Ye’or 1985). [4]

These two sides (proponents of the interfaith utopia theory on the one hand and the Islamic persecution myth on the other hand) peddle their diametrically opposed paradigms, selectively quoting from various sources in order to “prove” their side.  Of course, the truth lies in between this myth and counter-myth: dhimmis did not live under an idyllic interfaith utopia under Islamic rule–far from it: discrimination against nonbelievers was a prevalent phenomenon.  Dhimmis were clearly treated as second-class citizens.

On the other hand, the counter-myth is equally dishonest and fails to contextualize the situation of dhimmis in the Islamic Orient with that of their counterparts in Christian Europe.  We are always reminded by anti-Islam ideologues of the dhimmitude, a catch-all phrase which has caught on very well in recent times; the term is used as a stick to beat Muslims over the head with, as well as one to incite feelings of paranoia and xenophobia. This article will however recount what they–perhaps in their ignorance and zeal–have neglected to mention: there was in fact a direct corollary to the dhimmitude in the Christian West.  It too has a catchy name: the Christian belief in the Perpetual Servitude of infidels, a concept which was in fact much more oppressive than the so-called dhimmitude.

Mark R. Cohen, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, is arguably considered to be the world’s leading scholar of Jews living in the Middle Ages under Islamic rule.  He decided to write a book that contrasted the treatment of Jews living in the Islamic Orient with their counterparts in the Christian West.  This book, Under Crescent and Cross, is the first of its kind, as it analytically compares the treatment of Jewish dhimmis (pejoratively called dhimmitude by ideologues) with that of the Perpetua Servitudo (Perpetual Servitude) of Jewish infidels.  Cohen’s magnum opus is remarkably balanced, neutral, and analytical: it rejects both myth and counter-myth, but concludes that while dhimmis were certainly not living under any sort of interfaith utopia, they did have better living conditions than nonbelievers in the Christian West.  This article will use Professor Cohen’s book as a general template, but will cite other sources as well in order to cater to the online environment, taking into consideration the “internet chatter” and tailoring the arguments accordingly.


In Arab lands, the “minority communities” (so to speak) consisted primarily of Jews and Christians.  In Europe, it was Jews alone.  Hence, the Jewish population is the common denominator and remains the best population to study; how then did their lot differ in the Christian West and the Islamic East?

Professor Cohen opens his book by saying:

When I began studying medieval Jewish history thirty years ago, conventional wisdom held that Jews living “under the crescent” enjoyed substantially greater security and a higher level of political and cultural integration than did Jews living “under the cross.”  This was especially true of the persecuted Ashkenazic Jews of northern Europe.  The fruitful Jewish-Muslim interfaith “symbiosis”…contrasted sharply with the sorrowful record of Jewish-Christian conflict in the Ashkenazic lands…[There was a] lachrymose conception of [European] Jewish history…

Recent decades have witnessed an effort to alter this picture.  Toward the end of the 1960s–or, or more precisely, following the Six-Day War of June 1967–factors stemming from the Arab-Israeli conflict gave birth in some quarters to a radical revision of Jewish-Arab history.  The new notion first appeared mainly in the writings of nonspecialists publishing in popular forums… [5]

I interject just to point out the keywords “nonspecialists” and “forums.”  This drive to radically revise history is clearly an ideologically driven endeavor, devoid of academic integrity.  Going on, Cohen says:

According to this [revised] view, the “Golden Age” was actually an era of hardship and oppression… [characterized by] discrimination and persecution.  Some went so far as to suggest that the fate of Jews of Islam was at times as doleful as the lot of the Jews in Europe.  I have chosen to call this view “the neo-lachrymose conception of Jewish-Arab history.” [6]

Notice that Professor Cohen considers it a stretch to say that the Jews of Islam were treated as poorly as they were in Europe (hence his usage of the phrase “some went so far as to suggest…”).  Imagine his surprise if Cohen were to read the works of populist nonspecialists such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller who go even farther and argue that not only was it equally bad, but far worse.  Such is the profound degree of revisionism inherent in the writings of these two anti-Islam ideologues, and those with similar ideological bents.

Cohen then criticizes Arab apologists:

It is a “countermyth” that emerged in dialectical opposition to the twin challenge of modern Arab propaganda and Arab antisemitism.  In the wake of the defeat in June 1967, Arab apologists…embraced the “myth”…that Muslims and Jews had for centuries enjoyed utopian relations.  This harmony had been shattered by the Zionist movement and, in particular, by the creation of the State of Israel.  Remove the Zionist-Israeli threat, so the argument implied, and the old harmony would be restored, with Jews and Arabs living side by side in an interfaith utopia under Arab-Muslim protection. [7]

Cohen concludes:

The polarization of views that has thus dominated discussion of medieval Islamic-Jewish relations in recent years has made it increasingly difficult to write on the subject without getting involved in apologetics and polemics.  I remain convinced that the “myth of the Islamic-Jewish interfaith utopia” and the “countermyth of Islamic persecution of Jews” equally distort the past.  How might we address the underlying historical question in a way that avoids both extremes and, at the same time, deepens understanding of why, as most reasonable observers will agree, the Islamic-Jewish relationship bred so much less violence and persecution than relations between Christians and Jews [in Europe]?  The comparative approach has seemed the most useful one…

When all is said and done, however, the historical evidence indicates that the Jews of Islam, especially during the formative and classical centuries (up to the thirteenth century), experienced much less persecution than did the Jews of Christendom. [8]

The Pact of Umar

The anti-Islam ideologues tend to focus on a document known as the Pact of Umar, from which the entire theory of dhimmitude is extracted.  For example, Robert Spencer, the admin of the xenophobic website, explains:

The notorious Pact of Umar, an agreement made, according to Islamic tradition, between the caliph Umar, who ruled the Muslims from 634 to 644, and a Christian community.

This Pact is worth close examination, because it became the foundation for Islamic law regarding the treatment of the dhimmis. With remarkably little variation, throughout Islamic history whenever Islamic law was strictly enforced, this is generally how non-Muslims were treated. Working from the full text as Ibn Kathir has it, these are the conditions the Christians accept in return for “safety for ourselves, children, property and followers of our religion” – conditions that, according to Ibn Kathir, “ensured their continued humiliation, degradation and disgrace.” The Christians will not:

1. Build “a monastery, church, or a sanctuary for a monk”;
2. “Restore any place of worship that needs restoration”;
3. Use such places “for the purpose of enmity against Muslims”;
4. “Allow a spy against Muslims into our churches and homes or hide deceit [or betrayal] against Muslims”;
5. Imitate the Muslims’ “clothing, caps, turbans, sandals, hairstyles, speech, nicknames and title names”;
6. “Ride on saddles, hang swords on the shoulders, collect weapons of any kind or carry these weapons”;
7. “Encrypt our stamps in Arabic”
8. “Sell liquor” – Christians in Iraq in the last few years ran afoul of Muslims reasserting this rule;
9. “Teach our children the Qur’an”;
10. “Publicize practices of Shirk” – that is, associating partners with Allah, such as regarding Jesus as Son of God. In other words, Christian and other non-Muslim religious practice will be private, if not downright furtive;
11. Build “crosses on the outside of our churches and demonstrating them and our books in public in Muslim fairways and markets” – again, Christian worship must not be public, where Muslims can see it and become annoyed;
12. “Sound the bells in our churches, except discreetly, or raise our voices while reciting our holy books inside our churches in the presence of Muslims, nor raise our voices [with prayer] at our funerals, or light torches in funeral processions in the fairways of Muslims, or their markets”;
13. “Bury our dead next to Muslim dead”;
14. “Buy servants who were captured by Muslims”;
15. “Invite anyone to Shirk” – that is, proselytize, although the Christians also agree not to:
16. “Prevent any of our fellows from embracing Islam, if they choose to do so.” Thus the Christians can be the objects of proselytizing, but must not engage in it themselves;
17. “Beat any Muslim.”

Meanwhile, the Christians will:

1. Allow Muslims to rest “in our churches whether they come by day or night”;
2. “Open the doors [of our houses of worship] for the wayfarer and passerby”;
3. Provide board and food for “those Muslims who come as guests” for three days;
4. “Respect Muslims, move from the places we sit in if they choose to sit in them” – shades of Jim Crow;
5. “Have the front of our hair cut, wear our customary clothes wherever we are, wear belts around our waist” – these are so that a Muslim recognizes a non-Muslim as such and doesn’t make the mistake of greeting him with As-salaamu aleikum, “Peace be upon you,” which is the Muslim greeting for a fellow Muslim;
6. “Be guides for Muslims and refrain from breaching their privacy in their homes.”

The Christians swore: “If we break any of these promises that we set for your benefit against ourselves, then our Dhimmah (promise of protection) is broken and you are allowed to do with us what you are allowed of people of defiance and rebellion.”

Of course, the Pact of Umar is a seventh-century document. But the imperative to subjugate non-Muslims as mandated by Qur’an 9:29 and elaborated by this Pact became and remained part of Islamic law.

As one can see, Spencer has given a great deal of importance to this document, the Pact of Umar.  It is, in his own words, the “foundation” of his argument against Islamic treatment of non-Muslims.  Supposedly the pact was signed by Umar ibn al-Khattab, a disciple of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.  In it, a series of Jim Crow laws were stipulated, and the Christian community was forced to agree to them.   According to the adherents of the counter-myth, the Pact of Umar typifies the miserable experience of the dhimmis.

However, there are certain important nuances which “mitigate” the Pact of Umar and make it less persuasive of a proof-text for the neo-lachrymose theory of the Jewish-Islamic experience.

An Apocryphal Document

The first point that must be taken into consideration is that most experts agree that the document is itself a forgery:

Umar is attributed with the authorship of the “Covenant of Umar” or the “Pact of Umar”…The first western research done on the “Covenant of Umar” was initiated by T.W. Arnold in The Preaching of Islam, and A.S. Tritton in “Islam and the Protected Religions.”  They both asserted that the “Covenant” was an apocryphal document. [9]

The historicity of this document is called into question by modern scholars, who hold that it is a product of later generations who mistakenly attributed it to Umar:

A later generation attributed to ‘Umar a number of restrictive regulations which hampered the Christians in the free exercise of their religion, but De Goeje and Caetani have proved without a doubt that they are the invention of a later age. [10]

The document appears hundreds of years after Umar’s death:

No text of the document can be dated earlier than the tenth or eleventh century. [11]

Historians refer to it as a “spurious” document:

The so-called Pact or Covenant of ‘Umar, [is] a spurious treaty ascribed to the Caliph ‘Umar I. [12]


…the spurious Covenant of Umar, the terms supposedly granted to the Christians by the second caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab… [13]

Interestingly, Robert Spencer cites A.S. Tritton as a source in his book (chapter four of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades), but fails to mention that Tritton himself viewed the document as an outright forgery:

The covenant is not the work of ‘Umar. [14]

Omer Subhani pointed out the spurious nature of the document to Spencer in an online debate.  The point was uncontested by the latter, but its relevance was downplayed.  Spencer countered the argument by stating that the historicity of the document is of little more than a “matter of historical interest;” in other words, the Muslim jurists of that era viewed it as authentic and subsequently enforced it.  He then quotes from various medieval Islamic texts to prove the latter point.

Both Subhani and Spencer have improperly understood the issue.  Subhani’s approach is flawed because he invests too much of his argument on proving the inauthentic nature of the document; but as Spencer points out, this would not be sufficient to “nullify” the effects of the pact, which could be enforced regardless.  But at the same time, Spencer is hasty in concluding that the spurious nature of the pact has no relevance whatsoever.

As Professor Mark R. Cohen and other historians point out, the document seems to have been forged long after the early classical period of Islam, and certainly only came to prominence much after that;  it was the work of latter day Muslims that found its way into the jurisprudential texts.  This explains why the early classical period of Islam was characterized by a state of relative tolerance towards dhimmis.  Umar ibn al-Khattab himself was known to be considerably mild with unbelievers.  Therefore, Omer Subhani’s point mitigates but does not erase the effects of the Pact of Umar altogether; in other words, the Pact cannot be used to define the entire Islamic experience, especially not the theologically crucial early period (such as the time of the Rashidun).

Furthermore, the spurious nature of the Pact of Umar has theological implications, which I will discuss in a follow up article.

The More Discriminatory Laws Were Optional and Therefore Ignored

The conditions of the Pact of Umar were divided into two: those which were considered mandatory and those which were understood to be optional (and therefore generally ignored).  The Christian scholar and professor Nabeel Jabbour of Columbia International University writes:

[There were] the Required Rules, which were compulsory, including:

1. Not to criticize or slander Islam.
2. Not to criticize or slander the Quran.
3. Not to mention the name of the prophet in contempt or falsification.
4. Not to commit adultery with a Muslim woman.
5. Neither to proselytize a Muslim to another religion, nor entice the Muslim to consider changing his religion.
6. Not to attempt to kill a Muslim or take his money.
7. Not to take the side of the house of war against the house of Islam.

The Favorable or Desired Rules:

1. A specific dress code for Christians to identify them as non-Muslims.
2. Not to beat the bells of churches loudly, nor raise their voices in chanting Christian songs or scriptures.
3. Not to build the houses of Christians higher than those of the Muslims.
4. Not to display idolatry, crosses, nor display freedom in drinking wine or eating pork.
5. Not to display Christian funerals or mourning for the dead.
6. Not to ride horses.

Muslim rulers who were moderate put into practice the required rules and ignored the favorable rules. [15]

One notes that the more discriminatory laws–such as the dress code, the prohibition to build houses higher than those of the Muslims, the prohibition to ride horses, and the like–were amongst the optional (and generally unenforced) laws.  This division between the required and the favorable rules was recognized by the very same conservative clerics which the anti-Islam ideologues use as a proof.  Islamic jurists held that the Pact of Umar was considered valid so long as the required rules were adhered to, in which case the lives, property, and well-being of the dhimmis was considered sacrosanct.

For example, Imam al-Mawardi (died 1058 A.D.) placed only six of the conditions in the obligatory category (wajibat), as follows:

1. Not to abuse the Quran.
2. Not to abuse the Prophet.
3. Not to abuse the religion of Islam.
4. Not to fornicate with (or marry) a Muslim woman.
5. Not to harm a Muslim.
6. Not to help the enemy or spies. [16]

Imam al-Farra (d. 1061 A.D.) had a similar list of obligatory conditions:

1. Not to fight the Muslims.
2. Not to fornicate with a Muslim woman.
3. Not to marry a Muslim woman.
4. Not to undermine a Muslim’s faith in Islam.
5. Not to commit highway robbery.
6. Not to support a spy.
7. Not to write to the enemy about the situation of the Muslims to aid them in battle.
8. Not to kill a Muslim. [17]

Ibn Qudama (d. 1233 A.D.)  had a similar list, including jizya and only one discriminatory condition in his classification scheme. [18]

Interestingly, the book Robert Spencer himself quoted says this:

Before going into details there is one general remark to be made.  In theory the dhimmi had to fulfill all the conditions of the covenant if he would claim protection.  In practice only a few actions put him outside the protection of Muslim law…Malik, Shafe’i, and Ahmad b. Hanbal hold that failure to pay the poll-tax deprives them of protection.  This was not the view of Abu Hanifa.  Ahmad and Malik hold that four things put the dhimmi outside the law–blasphemy of God, of His book, of His religion, and of His Prophet.

Abul Kasim said that eight deeds made a dhimmi an outlaw.  They are [1] an agreement to fight the Muslims, [2] fornication with a Muslim woman, [3] an attempt to marry one, [4] an attempt to pervert a Muslim from his religion, [5] robbery of a Muslim on the highway, [6] acting as a spy for unbelievers or [7] sending them information or acting as a guide to them, [8] and the killing of a Muslim man or woman.

Abu Hanifa taught that they must not be too severe with dhimmis who insulted the Prophet.  Shafe’i said that one who repented of having insulted the Prophet might be pardoned and restored to his privileges.  Ibn Taimiya taught that the death penalty could not be evaded. [19]

As can be seen, the required rules revolved around preventing the non-Muslims from “harming” the Muslims, physically or even verbally.  Naturally, some of these required rules would be objectionable in today’s context, but one must understand that it was the norm back then.  Certainly in medieval Europe it was not permissible to attack Jesus, the Bible, or Christianity.  (More on this point later.)

The division of the conditions into obligations and recommendations “mitigates” the effects of the Pact of Umar quite considerably. The anti-Islam ideologues attempt to characterize the entire Islamic experience by the stipulations in the document which were in fact rarely enforced, as we shall discuss below.

Discriminatory Conditions Rarely Enforced

Robert Spencer claims that the discriminatory Jim Crow laws in the Pact of Umar were generally enforced–at least most or the majority of the time.  Says Spencer:

These laws largely governed the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Islamic states for centuries…[even though] here or there they were relaxed or ignored for various periods. [20]

Spencer explicitly says that conditions in the Pact of Umar were “generally how non-Muslims were treated,” and that these conditions were enforced “with remarkably little variation”:

This Pact is worth close examination, because it became the foundation for Islamic law regarding the treatment of the dhimmis. With remarkably little variation, throughout Islamic history whenever Islamic law was strictly enforced, this is generally how non-Muslims were treated.

This is actually the key to the debate, not the historicity of the document nor the words of medieval Islamic clerics.  The question is: were the “Jim Crow” laws generally enforced or not?  Spencer says: yes “generally” they were, “with remarkably little variation.” It is this manifest lie that buttresses the entire dhimmitude concept.

The truth is that the discriminatory conditions in the Pact of Umar were rarely enforced; they were generally ignored and unenforced:

It is a well known fact that the Muslim authorities generally ignored the provisions of the Pact of ‘Umar. [21]


The so-called ‘Pact of ‘Umar’…[decreed that] Non-Muslims could not erect new houses of worship nor repair old ones; they had to observe their religious rites indoors and quietly, so as not to insult the superiority of Islam; they could not take Arabic honorific names (Abu ‘Imran, for instance); they were required to dress in distinctive garb, notably with a belt called the zunnar; they could not own captive slaves [etc]…

With the exception of the fiscally important poll tax, the sources at our disposal indicate that, especially during the classical centuries (seventh to thirteenth), the restrictive laws of the dhimma, including the ban on office-holding, were enforced irregularly and sporadically.  Moreover, moves to make the laws more severe, or to enforce their provisions when thought to have been violated, generally had to pass juristic reasoning and on-scene investigation of Muslim religious scholars.  Loyal to divinely inspired text, Muslim jurists and judges (like Jewish halachic scholars) were more likely to stick to tradition and to exercise due process of law than to expand, arbitrarily, the humiliating laws of the dhimma.  When the ‘mad’ Egyptian Caliph al-Hakim ran amuck persecuting Christians and Jews in the first two decades of the eleventh century (one of the few serious persecutions affecting Jews), Muslims themselves realized that his excesses outrageously violated the Pact of ‘Umar, ‘the stipulations which al-Hakim “added” to the ‘Umariyyan ones’, in the words of a medieval Arab historian.

…From the earliest period of Islam, Jews and Christians encountered little opposition when constructing new synagogues and churches…They established or enlarged communities and erected new houses of worship without opposition…

Jews assumed Arabic honorific names-Abu ‘Imran is the by-name of Moses Maimonides-and, and as the Genizah shows, and as sources describing repeated renewal of the dress regulations attest, Jews and other dhimmis usually dressed like everybody else.  Jews held slaves, mainly household domestics, but also as financial agents, and both Jews, and, in greater numbers, Christians continued to hold government posts long after Arabs mastered the art of bureaucracy, and even during the late Middle Ages, when anti-dhimmi sentiment increased. [22]


However, it must be said that these restrictive laws were not generally enforced. [23]


By and large the restrictions of the Pact of ‘Umar were very unevenly and sporadically enforced. [24]


Many of the restrictions stipulated by the Pact of Umar, the code of conduct imposed…[on the] Jews, were oftentimes ignored by the rulers. [25]


The discriminatory regulations of the Pact of Umar were often disregarded in the first centuries of Islam or only loosely applied. [26]


In any case, the Pact of Umar’s restrictions were not rigidly enforced. [27]


We know that the restrictions of the “Pact of Umar” (except for the collection of the progressive poll-tax) were only very rarely enforced in early Islam, usually by an especially fanatical ruler such as the [Ismaili Shi’ite] Fatimid Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (d. 1021). [28]


The regulations contained in the Pact of Omar were…not enforced too strictly. [29]


[The] law that dhimmis remain subordinate in partnerships formed with Muslims was often ignored, as proved by the documents of the Cairo Geniza.  Even when observed, the restriction may have represented little more than a minor irritant to the dhimmi partner. [30]


In practice, though, this dhimmi legislation-including the dress code-was not enforced consistently. New churches continued to be built. [31]


[The Jews] were subject to discriminatory laws, although these were seldom enforced. [32]

This is a Secular Historical Issue, Not an Ideologically Driven Religious One

The question of how Muslims should treat non-Muslims is a religious issue, no doubt. Muslim apologists, such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Maher Abu-Munshar will point to various religious texts–verses of the Quran, hadiths, and words of their clerics–in order to prove that Islam enjoins Muslims to treat non-Muslims with respect and kindness.  Anti-Islamic critics such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, on the other hand, will also point to Islamic texts–other verses of the Quran, other hadiths, and other words of Islamic clerics–in order to prove that Islam enjoins Muslims to treat non-Muslims in an oppressive manner.

But the question of how Muslims have treated non-Muslim minorities historically is not a religious issue but a secular historical one.  The flawed logic–of both the Muslim apologists and anti-Islam ideologues alike–is that they will look at the scriptural texts and then argue that because it ought to be this way, then it was.  In other words, a Muslim apologist would argue that because Islam itself commands kindness, then historically Muslims must have acted kindly; consequently, he will cherry pick instances in history in which that was the case.  On the other hand, the anti-Islam ideologues have the idea that because Islam itself advocates intolerance, then historically Muslims must have acted intolerantly; and again, they will cherry pick events in history to “prove” that assumption.

But the reality is that just because the Islamic texts (be it the Quran or Tafsir Ibn Kathir) advocate kindness (or intolerance), it does not mean that Muslims acted that way.  This logic is better understood if one thinks about Christianity; just because a Christian today believes that it is a religion of love, this does not mean that Crusaders acted in a loving manner.  So there is not necessarily a one-to-one relationship between what the religious texts say and what actually happened.  Yes, there is certainly some connection (and maybe even a lot), but it is not simply a matter of showing religious texts and then assuming that everything went exactly according to the religious scripture.

Muslim apologists for example will argue that the Muslims were so tolerant that they created a social welfare program like medicare for elderly non-Muslims.  To back this claim, they will cite religious texts which detail how Umar ibn al-Khattab would give from the state treasury to elderly dhimmis.  But the reality is that there were no large scale programs as such, even if Umar commanded it.  Likewise, just because there is a document that is found in certain religious texts like Tafsir Ibn Kathir which says that dhimmis should wear certain distinctive clothing (or the other discriminatory policies in the Pact of Umar), it doesn’t mean that this was actually the case.  As multiple historians have said about the Pact of Umar:

Practice must have differed widely from theory. [33]

In Robert Spencer’s writings on the topic, he cites various works of medieval Islamic clerics and their works, such as Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveler), Ruhul Ma’ani, and the like.  In his debate with Omer Subhani, he tries to impress the reader with these Arabic sounding names, and how respected these scholars and their works are in traditional Islamic circles.  Yet, this does not satisfy the burden of proof at all.  These books were written by Islamic clerics/jurists (Ulema/Fuqaha), who were independent of the government altogether.  Unlike Christianity, the church (mosque) was separate from the state under Islamic rule; there was no equivalent to the pope.  So these religious texts do not at all prove that this was the way that the Muslim rulers treated dhimmis.

The latter generations of Muslim jurists who alluded to the Pact of Umar cannot be used as a measuring stick for what the reality was on the ground (emphasis is mine):

The so-called Pact or Covenant of ‘Umar, [is] a spurious treaty ascribed to the Caliph ‘Umar (634-644).  Its terms are quite harsh and it contains proscriptions of dress and behaviour, which no doubt reflect the ideals of the jurists who formulated it rather than the actual conditions in which non-Muslims typically lived. [34]

So all this razzle-dazzle that Robert Spencer engaged in–trying to impress his readers by citing religious manuals written by clerics–does not prove his case that non-Muslims were generally treated that way.  At most, it proves that this is how those specific Muslim clerics wanted non-Muslims to be treated.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Interestingly, Spencer’s article itself gives proof for this; there were many conservative Muslim clerics who lamented that the Islamic state did not enforce the Pact of Umar and its conditions; Spencer says:

Indian Mufti Muhammad Aashiq Ilahi Bulandshahri laments that “in today’s times, the system of Atonement (Jizya) is not practised at all by the Muslims. It is indeed unfortunate that not only are the Muslim States afraid to impose Atonement (Jizya) on the disbelievers (kuffar) living in their countries, but they grant them more rights than they grant the Muslims and respect them more. They fail to understand that Allah desires that the Muslims show no respect to any disbeliever (kafir) and that they should not accord any special rights to them.”

In fact, many of the conservative Islamic clerics complained that the dhimmis were being honored too much, rising to high positions in the government and in other fields.  This proves that the reality was different than what these specific clerics wanted.  Professor Mark R. Cohen explains:

Success tempted some Jews (and Christians) to feel so much at home outside the niche assigned them by their lowly religious rank that they frequently ignored the sumptuary restrictions of the dhimma.  Seeming to acquiesce, many a Muslim ruler overlooked these flagrant violations of the stipulations of the Pact of ‘Umar.  This combination of circumstances often created resentment in Muslims, exacerbating latent religious contempt and leading to acts of oppression.

The double-edged sword in Muslim-dhimmi relations is exemplified in the highest-status category in which Jews and Christians had visibility: government service.  In this domain divergence between theory and practice was considerably more pronounced than in commerce.  As katibs (government clerks), not to speak of the higher-status position of chief minister, dhimmis commanded authority over Muslims in a way that grossly flouted the rules of proper subordination.  Many of the most painful episodes of oppression and persecution Jews and Christians experienced were triggered by Muslim exasperation of the prerogatives of their category in a manner totally at variance with the limitations imposed by their religious rank. [35]

So there is some positive here along with the negative.  The downside is of course that there were short periods of oppression and persecution.  The upside though is that there were generally longer periods of laissez faire during which time dhimmis climbed the ladder of success, even rising to positions in the government over the Muslims.  It was this fact that brought out the bigoted response of “them damn immigrants are taking our jobs!”

The Islamic rulers generally were soft on the non-Muslims, which was what prompted populist discontent that then manifested in the clerical establishment responding in a xenophobic fashion. The situation was not helped by the fact that some of these clerics lived in a time when great destruction and devastation was taking place at the hands of the infidel Mongols on the one side and the Christian Crusaders on the other.  This is the case with Ibn Kathir (and his teacher Ibn Taymiyyah), for example, which no doubt influenced his more intolerant views towards non-Muslims.

The bottom line is that the conservative backlash of the clerics cannot be used as a source proof for the general status of the non-Muslim populations, since the Islamic rulers tended to treat them in a different way than those conservative clerics wanted.  Robert Spencer citing Tafsir Ibn Kathir does not prove anything other than the fact that Ibn Kathir was intolerant towards non-Muslims.  Ibn Kathir’s insistence on the subjugation of non-Muslims was no doubt a reflection of his exasperation of the Islamic government’s accommodation of non-Muslims, and cannot therefore be used as a proof of their dire condition.

Throughout Islamic history, the most conservative elements have been found within the clerical class, not unlike Judaism and Christianity.  Therefore, it is of no surprise that their views towards unbelievers may not be representative of the entire community.

Of course, there is a very important caveat here: This does not mean that all clerics were intolerant.  In fact, there were other classical Islamic jurists who opined that non-Muslim dhimmis ought to be treated kindly, with mercy and due respect and consideration, etc.  (I will quote a few of these in a follow up article.)

Professor Cohen concludes:

Inevitably, there is a gap between theory and practice; and this was certainly true for the Jews in the Middle Ages.[36]

Mainstream Muslims Did Not Generally Enforce the Discriminatory Conditions in the Pact of Umar

The discriminatory conditions in the Pact of Umar were generally unenforced throughout Islamic history.  Even those rare instances in which it was put into full practice, this was usually done in periods of extremist (Ghulat) Shi’ite rule, not orthodox (Sunni) Muslim rule; as such, the actions distinctive to one sect can hardly be generalized to another (despite the fact that most anti-Islam bigots think “they’re all brown, wear turbans, and are thus the same!”)  It should be noted that there are several branches of Shi’ism, and the actions of the extremist (Ghulat) Shi’ite sects should not be seen as indicative of Shi’ism as a whole, let alone all of Islam.

We read:

The notorious pact ascribed to ‘Umar specifies the conditions by which non-Muslim minorities living under Muslim rule would be granted protection…

It should be noted, however, that the degree of enforcement of these restrictive regulations in the vast and rapidly growing Muslim empire varies widely with time and region.  Generally speaking, the Sunni countries of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa were tolerant towards non-Muslim minorities…The humiliating measures [of the Pact of Umar]…were generally disregarded, or at least not rigidly enforced…Despite the occasional outbreaks of fanaticism and spasms of intolerance, as in the period of [the Ghulat Shi’ite] al-Hakim in Egypt (996-1021), it can be safely concluded that…dhimmis in Sunni Muslim countries were generally able to enjoy a broad religious and social freedom and lead a relatively secure life…

In contrast to the countries dominated by Sunni Islam, the Jews in Shi’i Muslim countries, Iran and Zaydi Yemen, were subjected to far more severe dhimmi regulations…The religious restrictions which were enacted by [Shi’ite] Islam against non-Muslim minorities were generally rigorously enforced, often given a local twist for the worst. [37]


Sunni Islam…the orthodox and dominant form of the religion, is the source of Islamic “policy” toward the Jews and others considered infidels.  Heterodox Shi’ism was usually harsher in its view of how the infidel should be treated; but, for most of the period considered in this study, Jews did not live under Shiite regimes…Sunni Islam is also the appropriate counterpoint for comparison with the Christian world, where orthodox Christianity held power. [38]


When the Shi’ite Moslem sect [under Shah Ismail I] came into power in Persia during the 16th century, the Pact of Umar was enforced to the extreme. [39]

Both al-Hakim and Shah Ismail I were Ghulat (extremist) Shi’ites who claimed divinity for themselves, and were thus considered non-Muslims by Sunnis and more mainstream Shi’ites.  It is thus not appropriate to take their examples as being representative of Islam itself.  These two tyrants thought they were God (which is anathema to traditional Islamic belief) and they not only persecuted non-Muslims but Muslims as well, especially Sunnis.

In 1005, al-Hakim decreed that the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) must wear distinctive turbans and shoes.  In an even more draconian move, he ordered that Jews must wear wooden calf necklaces (or bells) and Christians iron crosses.  But these regulations only remained in place for some nine years.  It would be as faulty to generalize nine years of al-Hakim’s rule to all of Islamic history as it would be to generalize the twelve year rule of the Nazis to all of Christian history.

Al-Hakim was an extremist (Ghulat) Shi’ite, rejected by mainline Shi’ism (and of course Sunni Islam).  Arab historians and chroniclers consistently referred to al-Hakim as a “madman”:

Al-Hakim ibn Aziz, who became caliph in 996, the same year Otto III became emperor, inherited tremendous wealth and power.  In the end it was, along with other pressures perhaps, more than he could bear.  He went mad, declared himself a god, and died. [40]

Al-Hakim killed many of his own officials, including those of high-ranking stature, such as viziers, judges, intelligence officers, and even cooks and poets.  The people trembled with fear in his presence, and would kiss the ground before him, imploring him for forgiveness and bidding him not to listen to rumors, which he in his paranoid state was very fond of doing.  Descriptions of al-Hakim sound a lot like the self-declared deity Kim Jong-il, the current ruler of North Korea.  Not only did al-Hakim heavily persecute non-Muslims, but he also mercilessly persecuted orthodox (Sunni) Muslims, and paradoxically his own Shi’ite coreligionists.  (Well, maybe not so paradoxical considering he is rejected as heretical by mainline Shi’ites.)  In fact, his last phase of life was characterized by more lenience towards non-Muslims than towards Muslims:

[Al-Hakim] became more tolerant toward the Jews and Christians and hostile toward the Sunnis. Ironically he developed a particularly hostile attitude with regard to the Muslim Shiites. It was during this period, in the year 1017, that the unique religion of the Druze began to develop as an independent religion based on the revelation (Kashf) of al-Hakim as God. [41]

Indeed, it is al-Hakim who is credited for “adding” the more discriminatory conditions into the Pact of Umar:

When the ‘mad’ Egyptian Caliph al-Hakim ran amuck persecuting Christians and Jews in the first two decades of the eleventh century (one of the few serious persecutions affecting Jews), Muslims themselves realized that his excesses outrageously violated the Pact of ‘Umar, ‘the stipulations which al-Hakim “added” to the ‘Umariyyan ones’, in the words of a medieval Arab historian. [42]

In any case, the rule of the madman al-Hakim was an aberration, and not indicative of the Shi’ite Fatimids in general, and certainly not of the orthodox (Sunni) Muslims:

The reign of the Shia Fatimid Caliphs (969-1171) was marked by relative tolerance, except for the rule of the insane caliph al-Hakim (996-1021). [43]

As for Sunni rulers, only a handful of them–such as al-Mutawakkil, al-Muqtadi, and Ismail Abu al-Walid–ever enforced the Pact of Umar in any meaningful way.  Of the numerous Sunni dynasties that emerged, only the Seljuks and Almohads implemented such discriminatory laws.  Interestingly, the persecuted non-Muslims–such as those living in Almohad territory–fled not only to Europe but also to more tolerant Muslim lands in the Middle East, which indicates that it would be unjust to generalize the Almohad persecution to all of Islamic history.  Furthermore, these two empires–the Seljuks and Almohads–were short-lived and overthrown by more tolerant Muslim empires, which subsequently reversed the discriminatory laws against Jews and Christians.

The anti-Islam ideologues use these exceptions to the rule in order to characterize the entire Islamic experience. Robert Spencer, for example, cites the example of al-Hakim in his writing, giving the reader the impression that all of Islamic history was this way, even though his nine year tyrannical rule was considered truly exceptional even by the Muslims of that time period. Spencer also quotes Moses Maimonides (1138-1204), a Jew who lived under the oppressive rule of the Almohads. Professor Mark R. Cohen writes:

The favorite authority of the revisionists was none other than Moses Maimonides (1138-1204), the great Spanish-Jewish philosopher, physician, legal scholar, and communal leader, the acme of the so-called Golden Age. Living in Islamic Egypt, Maimonides wrote, in an epistle of comfort and consolation to the persecuted Jews of Yemen, as follows:

“You know, my brethren, that on account of our sins God has cast us into the midst of the people, the nation of Ishmael [the Arabs], who persecute us severely, and who devise ways to harm us and to debase us…No nation has ever done more harm to Israel. None has matched it in debasing and humiliating us.”

Maimonides, it would see, is rendering a harsh judgment about Muslim-Jewish relations: that Islam has always oppressed the Jews and that Islamic hatred and persecution surpass the enmity of any other people among whom the Jews have lived. Indeed, the young Maimonides had survived the violent and terrifying persecution wrought by the fanatic Muslim Almohads…While these circumstances seem to offer sufficient explanation for Maimonides’ extremely unfavorable generalization about Islamic-Jewish relations, his statement in the “Epistle of Yemen” was taken out of context and hoisted as the banner or “prooftext” of the new train of thinking. [44]

Inspiration for the Pact of Umar

As discussed above, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies cites al-Hakim as being the originator of the more discriminatory conditions in the Pact of Umar.  The inspiration for these conditions can be found in Christian and Zoroastrian sources, including Christian law codes (the Codex Theodosianius and the Code of Justinian) and the Sassanian Zoroastrian laws (emphasis is mine). says:

The Middle Ages, for the Jew at least, begin with the advent to power of Constantine the Great (306-337). He was the first Roman emperor to issue laws which radically limited the rights of Jews as citizens of the Roman Empire…As Christianity grew in power in the Roman Empire it influenced the emperors to limit further the civil and political rights of the Jews. Most of the imperial laws that deal with the Jews since the days of Constantine are found in the Latin Codex Theodosianius (438) and in the Latin and Greek code of Justinian (534). Both of these monumental works are therefore very important, for they enable us to trace the history of the progressive deterioration of Jewish rights.

The real significance of Roman law for the Jew and his history is that it exerted a profound influence on subsequent Christian and even Muslim legislation. The second-class status of citizenship of the Jew, as crystallized in the Justinian code, was thus entrenched in the medieval world, and under the influence of the Church the disabilities imposed upon him received religious sanction and relegated him even to lower levels.


These restrictions are enumerated in many different versions of the so-called “Pact of Umar.”  …Many of these restrictions themselves stemmed from pre-Islamic Byzantine Christian anti-Jewish legislation. [45]

We read further:

It has recently been suggested that many of the detailed regulations concerning what the ahl al-dhimma were and were not permitted to do come from an earlier historical precedent, namely the regulations which existed in the Sassanian Persian Empire with reference to religious minorities in Iraq.  Here there was a highly developed Jewish community, and…Christian communities…So the detail of the agreements between the Muslims and the conquered Christian population was therefore not completely novel and original. [46]

The Code of Justinian, written in a very similar manner to the Pact of Umar, expounds:

The Emperor Justinian to John, Praetorian Prefect, Twice Consul and Patrician…

Jews, Samaritans, Montanists, and other men deserving of contempt…shall enjoy no honors, but must remain in the baseness of their condition to which they are devoted. [47]

Just to give one such example to elucidate the point, a provision in the Justinian Code says: “We forbid that any synagogue shall rise as a new building,” remarkably similar to the Pact of Umar: “We will not erect in our city or the suburbs any new monastery, [or] church.”  The Theodosian Code dedicated the entire Title 9 of Book 16 to the subject: “No Jew Shall Have a Christian Slave,” a violation which was punishable by death; similarly, the Pact of Umar decreed that dhimmis “could not own captive slaves.”

Anti-Islam ideologues–the self-proclaimed defenders of the Western Judeo-Christian tradition–cite the Pact of Umar claiming that it typifies the oppressive nature of Islamic history, yet ironically the document itself was inspired from Christian sources.  Indeed, we will see how the Christian belief of the Perpetual Servitude of infidels not only contained the same discriminatory policies of the Pact of Umar, but in fact went much further.

The Perpetual Servitude of Infidels

Now that the Pact of Umar has been properly contextualized, we can compare the so-called Islamic “dhimmitude” with the Christian belief of the Perpetual Servitude of infidels.  Professor Cohen notes that whereas the Islamic Orient was pluralistic (with many different minority faiths, including a large proportion of Jews and Christians), Christian Europe was more monolithic, with only one significant minority group: the Jews.  (The pagans had largely been converted to Christianity.) The rules that dictated the lives of Jews were then applied to the few remaining pagans (which included Muslims) and heretics; indeed, the Christians considered it to be the Jewish-pagan-heretic axis.  We will thus study how the rules came about for Jews, and then see how they were extended to other groups.

The position of the Jews in Christian society was based on the Doctrine of the Witness.  This belief stipulated that Jews ought not to be killed but allowed to live in a state of “perpetual servitude” to Christians; their continued existence as dejected serfs served as a continual proof of the triumph of Christianity over those who rejected the Messiah:

Augustine and the other Church Fathers wrestled with this question of why Judaism continued if it had apparently lost its purpose?  Augustine’s answer lay in the “Doctrine of the Witness.”  This doctrine suggested that the continuing physical presence of the Jews was desirable because the Jews themselves provided testimony to the truth of Christianity in two ways: First, the Jews possessed Scriptures, thereby proving that Scriptures were no means invented retrospectively by Christians to predict the coming of Jesus…

Secondly, the physical status of the Jews provided testimony to the truth of Christianity.  The Jews existed in a subjugated, second-class status as a defeated people…The perpetual servitude of the Jews reminded the world that the Jews are being punished for their rejection of Jesus.  Therefore it was desirable that the Jew remain in Christian society.  As long as Jews retained their second-class status, they would remind the world of their crime in rejecting Jesus and their validity of Jesus’s teachings…

Although the Jews’ status would always be second-class, the Church Fathers decreed that the Jews must be protected and not eliminated.  In this context medieval Christian anti-Semitism provided a protective mechanism against the elimination of the Jews.  Or, as Duns Scotus, a thirteenth century Christian theologian, put it, the Jews could be persecuted and virtually eliminated, but some of them would have to be kept alive on a deserted island until the Second Coming. [48]

This attitude towards Jews–of not slaying them but subjugating them to Perpetual Servitude–prevailed in Europe from the seventh century up until “the modern period”:

The official church position on the Jews guaranteed their existence, but as a pariah people…The concept of a “witness people” received its clearest and most influential expression in the writings of Augustine, one of Christianity’s foremost theologians.  He wrote that the Jews were dispersed over the world to bear witness through their Scriptures, as proof “that we have not fabricated the prophecies about Christ…the Jews are our attendant slaves, who carry, as it were, our satchels…”  The Augustinian witness-people formula, which prevailed in Christendom up until the modern period, allowed the Jews to survive but never to thrive, since their misery was to serve as proof of the truth of Christianity.  Like Cain, they were to carry a sign signifying their damnation, but they were not to be killed.

Over the centuries, the teaching of contempt of the Jews as a reprobate people knew no pause, and continued to be taught and preached in mainland Christendom, in Catholic as well as Protestant churches.  Leading theologians continued to castigate the Jews…The principal Catholic theologian of the medieval period, Thomas Aquinas, wrote that it was permissible “to hold the Jews in perpetual servitude because of their crime…with the sole proviso that they do not deprive them of all that is necessary to sustain life.” …The French Catholic theologian Jacques Bossuet allowed the Jews to continue to exist, but denounced them as “stamped by their reprobation…slaves everywhere they are, without honor, without freedom…” [49]

The belief of Perpetual Servitude was not limited to the Catholic Church, but was adopted by the Protestant movement from the very beginning of its existence. Martin Luther, whose antisemitic work was touted by the Nazis centuries later, was an ardent believer in this degrading position for Jews; indeed, Lutheran Germany outdid their Catholic brethren in their institutionalized oppression of the Jews.

Jewry laws (discriminatory rules) were applied in such a way as to reduce Jews to a life of Perpetual Servitude in order that they may be a Witness People to the triumph of Christ:

The Jews, said the popes, were to live in a state of Perpetual Servitude (Perpetua servitudo), a term first enunciated in the bull Etsi iudaeos. [50]

The Jews were to be punished with a life of misery in order that they confess Christianity:

St. Jerome warned, “Jews are congenital liars who lure Christians to heresy. They should therefore be punished until they confess.” [51]

The concept of Perpetual Servitude led the state to claim ownership of the Jews, taking away their freedom and declaring them servi camerae nostrae (serfs of our royal chamber):

[The] monarchy took the final–in a sense, regressive–step.  It declared Jews servi camerae nostrae, terminology which was inspired by the recently revived papal doctrine of servitus Judeorum (servitude of the Jews).  Kisch believes that this church-inspired idea marked the beginning of Jewish unfreedom.  From then on, he says, Jews were no longer part of the organic legal structure…Henceforth, the legal status of Jews was governed by special legislation designed specifically for them, a jus singulare…The honor of the Jews fell to a new low…reflected in the large-scale persecution of the Jews…Jewish “serfdom of the chamber” constituted an abasement of the legal status of the Jews. [52]

Jews became the property of the Church and/or the state:

The Siete Partidas offers the best glimpse we have of consolidated Jewry law as it was envisioned by a learned Christian monarch at the height of the Middle Ages…Jews are permitted by church and state to live among Christians, but only “that they might live forever as in captivity and serve as a reminder to mankind that they are descended from those who Crucified Our Lord Jesus Christ.” [53]

In the words of the “influential abbot of the time, [the] Venerable Peter of Cluny,” the Jews should be punished but not killed:

They should not be killed, but “like Cain, the fratricide, they should be made to suffer fearful torments and prepared for greater ignominy, for an existence worse than death.” [54]

The Church and state competed with each other over ownership of the Jews:

This happened, for instance, when the papacy exerted its own “ownership” of the Jews, under the cover of the old church doctrine of the “perpetual servitude of the Jews” and in competition with secular rulers, who asserted that the Jews were “serfs of the royal chamber.” [55]

Jews were traded as chattel:

The crown laid claim to them as serfs of “the imperial chamber,” servi camerae…The attachment to the imperial chamber reduced Jews to the status of pieces of property that could be–and were–bought, loaned, and sold as any other merchandise.  Kings paid off barons and barons paid off creditors with Jews.  Kings would, for a consideration, transfer to nobles or townships the right to possess “his” Jews. [56]

The concept of the Perpetual Servitude of Jews was extended to other religious groups.  Following the Crusades, the number of Muslims (called “Saracens”) under Christian rule increased, thereby prompting jurists to pass legislation specific to them.  Despite being considered “worse than Jews,” the Saracens were placed in the same legal category:

The doctrine, therefore, was one of long standing: if Saracens living among us conform as do the Jews, they are to be treated in the same way…There were large numbers of Muslims in the West–in Sicily, for example, where despite mass emigration and slaughter there were many sunk in a life of servitude…In brief, the Muslim who accepted the position of the Jew, who gave no trouble, caused no scandal, and was “prepared to serve everywhere,” could enjoy the same legal protection. [57]

Muslims, as Jews, were subject to the same discriminatory legislation:

Accompanying the polemical association between Jews and Muslims was an increasing judicial association.  There was indeed, from the thirteenth century onward, a growing volume of law restricting the legal status of Jews and Muslims and limiting the “polluting” contacts between Catholics and infidels.  Over the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Church legislation and legal commentaries tended to confirm this trend: for judicial purposes, Muslims were treated as Jews (rather than as pagans or heretics).  The principle aim of this legislation was to prevent “contamination” of Christendom through contact with the infidel: sexual contact, social ties, religious contamination…and so on.  The Muslim or Jew, like the leper, needed to be marked, isolated, quarantined, in order to protect the Christian. [58]

David Abulafia’s The Servitude of Jews and Muslims in the Medieval Mediterranean: Origins and Diffusion describes how the Muslims, like the Jews, became “serfs of the royal chamber,” owned as chattel by the Christian monarchs.

Muslims, like Jews, were royal property:

The [Muslim] Lucerine colonists, like other Muslims and Jews living in Christendom, had a protected status under canon laws long as they did not pose a threat to Christians, they were to be allowed to live in peace.  Defining them as servi camerae [serfs of the royal chamber], [Christian] rulers considered the Muslims of Lucera to be royal property. [59]


The Muslims were in certain important respects in a similar position [to the Jews].  Their status as royal servi [serfs] was ruthlessly exploited by a government anxious to possess their goods.  Islam was suppressed, in the sense that those who survived in southern Italy were denied the use of mosques; but forcible conversion seems not to have occurred.  The crown sought the conversion of the Muslim leaders, and generally did not release from slavery those who converted after their capture…Enslavement was a punishment for generations of obstinate commitment to Islam, just as expulsion and the threat of massacre was a punishment against Jews who for centuries had supposedly maligned Christ…The royal court harnessed Roman law to argue the state had the power and right to enslave its Muslim subjects.  Indeed, they were already slaves before they were sent into slavery.  The importance of the literal interpretation of the term servus, in servus camere regie, to mean “slave” in the sense understood by Roman law, cannot be underestimated. [60]

Perhaps this is what Robert Spencer meant by: “In Christian lands there was the idea, however imperfect, of the equality of dignity and rights for all people.” One also recalls his claims that Muslims are religiously obligated to conquer non-Muslim lands and subjugate them to dhimmitude; in 1452, the Pope gave a carte blanche to Christians to conquer the infidels of the world and reduce them to Perpetual Servitude:

The papal grants of the fifteenth century…bestow[ed] upon the named Christian monarchs the right to conquer non-Christian lands…[as] is reflected in the language of the Bull of Nicholas V, issued in 1452…which accorded to Alphonse of Portugal the right to ‘invade, conquer, storm, attack and subjugate’ and ‘reduce into perpetual servitude [perpetuam servitute] the Saracens [Muslims], pagans, and other enemies of Christ.’ [61]

This infallible papal bull gave the King

the full and free capacity to invade, conquer, take by storm, defeat, and subjugate any Saracens and other Pagans as well as whatever dominions, possessions, movable and immovable property are detained or possessed by them: and to seize and appropriate for himself and for his successors their own persons in perpetual servitude, as well as their kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and property, and to convert these to his own use and utility and to that of his successors. [62]

In contrast to the unfree Perpetual Servitude operative in the Christian West, the dhimmis were considered free citizens.  According to Islamic law, it was forbidden to enslave them or to reduce them to servitude of any kind.  Professor Cohen cites a hadith from the Prophet Muhammad, who said:

If you take the poll tax from them, you have no claim on them or rights over them…[D]o not enslave them and do not let the Muslims oppress them or harm them or devour their property except as permitted [kharaj, i.e. land tax], but faithfully observe the conditions which you have accorded to them and all that you have allowed to them. [63]


Perhaps the most criticized aspect of “dhimmitude”–a point raised over and over by anti-Islam ideologues–is the payment of the jizya, a tax that infidels were expected to pay.  Islamic apologists respond to this in a variety of ways, often arguing that Muslims were expected to pay the zakat, another tax.  However, it seems clear–at least from my research–that non-Muslims were indeed taxed more than Muslims, often considerably more.

Yet, what anti-Islam ideologues–such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller–fail to mention is that the Christian West taxed infidels in their lands at a much, much higher rate than the Islamic Orient did.  We have the example of the Jews, for instance, who lived in both Europe and the Islamic lands; there is no question that the Jews of Europe paid much heftier tithes than did the Jews of Islam.

According to the philosophy of the Perpetual Servitude of the Jews and their capacity as Serfs of the Royal Chamber, their wealth was considered the property of the church or the state.   Therefore, the church leaders argued that all the possessions of a Jew could be seized, except that which was the bare minimum required for his survival (in order that he may endure as Witness):

In the thirteenth century, [Pope] Innocent III (1198-1216) spoke of the “perpetual servitude” of the Jews, and the Third Lateran Council (1179) of the “subjection” of Jews to Christians.  St. Thomas Aquinas (1125-74), adhering to the feudal conceptions of his time, validated the principle of Jewish “servtitude” to both Church and State, but added certain limitations.  “It would be licit, according to custom,” he wrote, “to hold Jews, because of their crime, in perpetual servitude, and therefore the princes may regard the possessions of Jews as belonging to the State; however, they must use them with a certain moderation and not deprive Jews of things necessary to life.”  A little later this principle was established by law.  The great English jurist Bracton wrote: “The Jew cannot have anything of his own.  Whatever he acquires he acquires not for himself but for the king.” [64]

The dhimmis, on the other hand, were not considered state property; their property was considered protected under law, and could not be seized from them, based on the prophetic command “do not…devour their property,” which was applied quite consistently throughout Islamic history.

According to the Islamic law, the jizya could only be taken from the dhimmis once a year.  On the other hand, Jews (and Muslims) under Christian rule were taxed repeatedly throughout the year.  Although there were certainly exceptions (which the anti-Islam ideologues selectively cite), the general rule was–as Professor Cohen mentions–that the Muslims levied reasonable taxes (a graduated tax based on the capability of the dhimmi), whereas Christians crippled the Jews with unreasonable taxes.  In fact, we have a primary text of a Jew who lived in Europe and then moved to the Muslim world; he compares the taxes between the two places:

In the thirteenth century, Jacob b. Elijah of Venice, a Jew, left his home in France for Venice and later settled in the Muslim East.  Blaming Christians for the concentration of Jews in moneylending, Jacob compared the Jewish plight in Christian lands to their more favorable economic situation in Muslim countries.  In a well-known polemical letter…Jacob wrote:

“Among the Orientals, each [Jewish] person makes his livelihood from whatever is his occupation.  And, while Arab rulers may be wicked and sinful, they do possess reason and understanding.  They take a prescribed tax each year, from the older ones according to his security and from the young according to his youthfulness.  It is not this way in our [European] lands nor is it done in our place that way.  Our kings and princes think only how to assail and fall upon us, in order to take away our gold and silver.”

Jacob thus tells us that Jews living in Muslim lands enjoyed occupational diversification and that the taxes Oriental Jews paid were fair rather than arbitrary and exorbitant.  Though simplistic, his comparison is accurate, and it shows that, even in the Middle Ages, Jews sensed that the contrast between Jewish well-being in East and West had much to do with economics. [65]

Furthermore, unlike in the Christian West, Islamic law exempted women, children, and the infirm from the tax:

According to most jurists, since the poll tax represented a monetary payment in lieu of military service, logically those disqualified for army service did not have to pay.  This category included women, the prepubescent young, slaves, and the infirm. [66]

Another major difference between the taxes levied upon the infidels of the Muslim world and of Christian Europe was the fact that the jizya was in exchange for state protection of life, liberty, and property, whereas the tithes of Europe did not guarantee this.  In other words, at least the jizya bought something crucial to the well-being of the Jews, whereas the Jews of Europe would pay extra taxes but be afforded no protection based upon it.

In the Latin West, the state would not only tithe the Jews throughout the year, but once the Jews were impoverished because of it, their utility was no more, their protection lifted,  and they were then expelled.  In order to prevent such a fate, Jews were forced to pay bribes to obtain protection, with no promise that these would be accepted of them.  The anti-Islam ideologues berate the Muslims for the historical use of the jizya, but neglect to mention the shohad (bribery) prevalent in Christian Europe–which the Jews had to pay for their protection–and unlike the jizya, it was arbitrary and often rejected:

For a greater appreciation of the perception of security that the Jews of Islam associated with payment of the jizya, consider the more unstable situation of the Jews of Europe.  The Jews there paid numerous and often unreasonably high and arbitrary taxes to the ruling authority, but–until 1342 in the Holy Roman Empire–no regular poll tax in return for official protection…

When physically threatened (which happened much more frequently than in the Islamic world) the Jews of Europe routinely resorted to bribery to purchase or restore protection.  This reliance on bribery created uncertainty, instability, and collective anxiety, for one never knew when a payoff might be required or whether the sum afforded would be sufficient.

A sign of the widespread utilization of bribery in Jewish life in Latin Christendom is the regular use of the verb le-shahed (from the biblical noun shohad, “bribery”), rare in mishnaic Hebrew, to express the action.  In Islam, as in Christendom, many a ruler discovered that the threat to enforce the sumptuary laws among the dhimmis was a convenient ploy to raise cash as a substitute.  But by contrast, I know of little evidence from the classical Islamic period that bribing officials to prevent violence against persons became a regular Jewish practice.  Carrying the comparison further, in the Latin West, Jewish residential security was often linked to their economic utility.  Thus, in England in 1290, when tallages had ceased to yield significant sums from the increasingly impoverished Jews, King Edward I canceled their right of residence and expelled them, confiscating what little remained of their property.

Despite the humiliating connotation and the financial burden, the Jews of Islam had in the jizya a surer guarantee of protection from non-Jewish hostility than their distant brethren had in the Latin West.  The “testament” of Caliph ‘Umar, the purported originator of the Pact bearing his name, stipulates regarding the Protected People, that Muslims must “do battle to guard them, and put no burden on them greater than they can bear, provided they pay what is due from them to the Muslims, willing or under subjection, being humbled.”  This principle was not always upheld, but it remained a steadfast cornerstone of Islamic policy toward the non-Muslims even into late medieval and early modern times. [67]

Because Jews were considered the possessions of the state, they were taxed to the limit; arbitrary tallages were levied upon them, and they were eventually expelled anyways:

The very principle of possessory rights…that were exercised by secular authorities over Jews with increasing vigor as the Middle Ages wore on included the right to tax Jews to the limit.  Because of their vulnerability, Jews proved compliant prey for royal and baronial tax collectors.  With variation from place to place, the tax obligations of Jews might include annual levies on households or communities, fees connected with loans, tolls, and most, most vexingly, periodic “unscheduled” arbitrary exactions or confiscations to meet various pressing financial needs of an overlord.  Because they needed protection, Jews had no choice but to pay.

By the thirteenth century, Langmuir says, “as a result of the efforts of ecclesiastics, kings, and barons to exploit Jews, each for their own ends, Jews had been given a degraded legal status that set them apart from all others in European society and denied them even the protection usually accorded serfs…It can be said that Jews came to know what medieval people called “the yoke of servitude,” to experience loss of the “honour of liberty,” and to fear the “arbitrariness” of absolute dependence on the will of their overlords.  The many arbitrary, burdensome tallages levied upon the Jews during the later Middle Ages, and, much more oppressive, their expulsion–from England in 1290; from France in 1306, 1322, and 1394; from Spain in 1492; and from dozens of German principalities and towns during the latter Middle Ages–constituted for the Jews a more severe outcome of “enserfment”…namely, their effective exclusion from lands where they had dwelt for centuries. [68]

Arbitrary taxes were routinely levied upon Jews, such as:

Finally, Jews were to make two annual payments to the Church…as recompense to the Church for the harm done to it by Jews. [69]

The tallages not only impoverished the Jews in Europe, but forced them into debt:

A tallage was an arbitrary tax, by definition, which the Crown declared that it was going to levy, ordered officials to collect, and then simply took from its Jewish subjects and transferred to royal coffers…This particular tallage collection must have had great impact on Jewish wealth…[and] broke the financial backbone of the English Jewish community, and permanently reduced its financial value to the crown…In his study of the York Jewry, Professor Dobson observed: ‘The corrosive effects of excessive tallage on the one side and of increased anti-Jewish propaganda and blood-libel accusations on the other seemt o have made the mid-1250s a real watershed in the history of Anglo-Jewish relations.’  Certainly, the 1250s can be seen as a watershed not only for Gentile-Jewish relations but also for Jewish wealth.  It is the 1250s which probably mark the start of a catastrophic decline in Jewish wealth…

The actual payments show that in 1272 there was considerable financial hardship amongst the Jewish community…[Another] tallage is aptly named ‘the Great Tallage’ not only because it…[seized] a third of all Jewish goods…That many Jews were imprisoned for failure to pay the tallage serve[s] as reminders of the pressure put upon the Jews to fill the royal coffers. [70]

And the book goes on to discuss how the Jews were eventually expelled anyways, due to their dwindling economic utility.

Similarly, Saracens (Muslims) paid extra tithes under Christian rule:

…The Pope…ordere[d] Saracens to pay tithes. [71]


Under the Franks [Crusaders], there was an annual tax on land that was similar to to the Muslim kharaj and was sometimes known in a latinized form as carragium or terraticum.  It took the form of a portion of the harvest of arable lands, olive groves and vineyards, sometimes a quarter or a half but generally one-third (Richard 1985:256).  According to Ibn Jubair, the Muslim peasants surrendered half of their crops to the Franks at harvest time and paid a poll-tax of one dinar and five qirat per person (Ibn Jubair 1951:316).  Taxes were levied not only on arable land but also on bees and honey, on livestock, and on certain trees, most notably the olive (usually one-third of the olive).  Ibn Jubair mentions a small tax on the fruit of trees (Ibn Jubair 1951:316).  The portagium was a tax levied on transporting grain to granaries or on the use of threshing floors (Prawer 1972: 376; Richard 1985: 257).  There were payments for pasture rights.  Muslim villagers were required to pay a tithe or dime to the Church (Runciman 1952(vol.2): 298-9); for example, tithes were paid to the bishop of the fief of Margat from villages, mills and olive presses, gardens and demesne lands (Delaville Le Roulx 1894-1906: no. 941).  The tithe of xenia or exenia (a Greek term meaning gifts) was a payment in produce such as eggs, fowl, cheese or wood that was paid to the clergy at festivals (Tafel and Thomas 1856-57: 371).  The military orders could also receive tithes… [72]

In conclusion, the jizya was considered by dhimmis to be discriminatory, even a source of humiliation.  But the tax itself was taken one time a year and generally (although not always) reasonable, constituting a significant financial burden but not crippling in nature; once paid, the dhimmis were considered a protected population, and the state was duty bound to protect their lives, property, and freedom.  On the other hand, the infidels of Europe suffered from multiple taxes and bribes throughout the year, which were often unreasonable and exorbitant in nature, that decimated the Jewish wealth to such an extent that the Jews were eventually expelled due to their insolvency.

Symbolic Acts of Humiliation

The Pact of Umar decreed that dhimmis must show respect for Muslims, mandating what Robert Spencer calls “shades of Jim Crow.”  For example, dhimmis were required to rise in the presence of Muslims and not to build their houses higher than that of Muslims.  Another onerous regulation forbade them from riding horses, forcing them instead to use donkeys.  However, Professor Mark R. Cohen explains that these rules “fell into disuse.” [73] There was, as we have discussed earlier in this article, a significant difference between theory and practice.

In any case, such laws (”shades of Jim Crow”) were not unique to the world of Islam, as anti-Islam ideologues seem to imply.  In Christian Europe, laws were passed which required Jews to step out of the way of Christians, take off their hats, and even bow to them (Jim Crow?); Jews were not permitted to walk on sidewalks, or carry walking sticks, or to walk two abreast at a time; they were forced to enter the back doors of town halls (Jim Crow?) and forbidden from public gardens (Jim Crow?); they were banned from entering Christian quarters except on business (Jim Crow?); and so on and so forth:

Jews were allowed to enter the Christian quarters only on business, never for leisure.  Inside the Christian quarters, no more than two Jews were allowed to walk abreast, and for some reason they were not entitled to carry walking sticks.  Nor could they use the sidewalk.  At the cry “Jud, mach mores“–roughly, “Jew, pay your dues”–they would have to take off their hats, step aside, and bow.  They were banned at all times from the vicinity of the cathedral and could enter the town hall only through a back entrance.  Not all these restrictions were enforced and some were observed only sporadically.  But until the French Revolution, all public gardens were closed to Jews. [74]


Anti-Jewish laws [were] passed…designed to make them objects of scorn and derision, to deprive them of any symbol of dignity…First, he was given the yellow badge.  Then he was isolated in the ghetto.  He could not own land.  He was forced to wear special clothing.  He had to step aside when a Christian passed.  He could not build synagogues.  He could not strike friendships with Christians.  He could engage only in a restricted number of professions and trades. [75]


Jews had to step aside before Christians who ordered them to “Obey, Jew,” Jewish marriages were limited so that the Jewish population would not increase, Jews were barred from the law and public office, and Jewish passports were stamped with the word Jew.  A public promenade was posted, “No Jews and no pigs,” and the Jews were confined to a ghetto. [76]


Any street urchin could say to a passing Jew, “Jew, do your duty,” and the Jew then had to step aside and take off his hat. [77]

However, it should be noted that such laws were sporadically enforced, as was the case in Islamic lands.  Furthermore, although such laws seem especially distasteful to the postmodern mind, they had less practical effect than other laws which significantly curtailed the safety and economic vitality of the minority groups, as we shall discuss shortly.

Coming back to the issue of the poll tax, there was a difference of opinion amongst Islamic jurists about how the jizya should be taken from dhimmis; some scholars such as Imam al-Nawawi, Imam Ibn Qudama, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim, amongst others, argued that it ought “to be taken with gentleness.”  Other eminent jurists took a stricter view, holding the opinion that the jizya ought to be taken in a harsh manner that would humiliate the dhimmi; one particularly degrading way was to brand the necks of the dhimmi as proof of payment.  Although Professor Mark R. Cohen is skeptical that the jizya was “taken with gentleness” (dismissing it as part of the interfaith utopia myth), he does say that these harsher methodologies such as branding were not generally done; therefore, it seems safe to say that the manner of payment varied from time and place, but was usually between gentleness and degradation, likely harsh but not cruel.  Furthermore, it should be kept in mind that this practice of branding (which was generally not done in the Islamic world) found its inspiration in the Christian world:

The statement made above, that dhimmis had to wear a seal on the neck always, is an exaggeration…This practice was the exception and not the rule…The Arabs do not bear the shame of inventing this custom, for it was known to the Byzantines. [78]

Professor Cohen notes that the normal method of keeping track of jizya payments was through receipts, and not branding:

The dhimmi had to produce proof of payment.  In certain periods, the humiliating seal stamped on the neck served as receipt for payment of the jizya.  The Geniza indicates that the receipt took the form of a piece of paper called the bara’a, “quittance.”  Anyone caught by the revenue authorities without it might have to remit his poll tax a second time that year. [79]

As for the prohibition against weapons (another act of humiliation), it too in the Islamic world was “theoretical” [80]; Jews in Europe were similarly barred from bearing arms:

Spain was probably the last country in Europe to allow Jews to maintain weaponry.  Eventually, in 1412, Jews in Spain were forbidden to bear arms. [81]

Distinctive Clothing (Ghiyar) and the Yellow Badge

The “yellow badge” has become infamous in history due to the Nazis.  Anti-Islam ideologues such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller point out that it was the Muslims who first introduced the obligation to wear distinctive clothing (ghiyar), and that the Nazis took it from them.  Even if this is true (which it is not), it is odd that they do not also mention the innovations of the Church which were adopted by Adolf Hitler:

Throughout the Middle Ages, the church issued official anti-Jewish decrees.  Later, in the twentieth century, the Nazis would follow the example the church had set.

In the year 306, the church forbade Christians from eating with Jews.  On December 30, 1939, Germany passed a law barring Jews from railroad dining cars.

In the year 309, the church forbade marriage between Jews and Christians.  On September 15, 1935, Germany passed the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor, forbidding Jews from marrying non-Jews.

In 681 the church publicly burned the Talmud and other Jewish books.  The Nazis publicly burned Jewish books on May 10, 1933.

The church adopted an idea from the Muslim ruler Caliph Omar II (634-44).  Omar ordered Christians to wear blue belts and Jews to wear yellow belts.  In 1215, the church ordered Jews to wear special badges on their clothing.  On September 1, 1941, Germany ordered that Jews wear yellow stars.

In 1267, the church decreed that Jews must live in special Jewish sections or ghettos (the word “ghetto” was first used in Venice, Italy, around 1516).  On September 21, 1939, the Nazis ordered the building of ghettos to cage the Jews…

After Rome accepted Christianity as a national religion, anti-Jewish practices and beliefs slowly became official state policies.  The Nazis later adopted many of their anti-Jewish laws from these state policies of the Middle Ages.

In fourteenth-century Germany, the state declared that the property of Jews slain in a Gemran city became public property.  On July 1, 1943, the Reich Citizenship Law passed by the German government ordered that the property of a dead Jew became the property of the state.

In Nuremberg, in the fourteenth century, the state declared that if a Christian owed a debt to a Jew, the state could collect and keep it.  The Reich Citizenship Law of 1943 declared the same thing.

In France in the eighteenth century and Germany in the nineteenth century, Jews were forced to carry special documents or passports marking them as Jews.  On October 5, 1938, Germany passed a decree providing for special Jewish identification cards.

In Germany in the seventeenth century, the state declared that Jewish houses had to be marked, Jews could shop only during certain hours, and Jews could visit only certain places.  On September 1, 1941, Germany declared certain places off-limits to Jews.  On April 17, 1942, Germany declared that Jewish apartments had to be marked. [82]

Out of these laws, only one could have originated from the Pact of Umar and the Muslims; the rest were from the Church.  Surely then it is inappropriate to give too much credit to the Muslims for Adolf Hitler’s inspiration.  Additionally, many of the discriminatory conditions found in the Pact of Umar were derived from Christian laws that were in effect in the Eastern Roman Empire (see above). If the self-proclaimed defenders of the Judeo-Christian tradition blame the Muslims for introducing the concept of distinctive clothing to Christendom, then perhaps they ought to accept the blame for introducing the concept of branding the necks of infidels to the Muslims.

In any case, it is incorrect to say that the Nazis took the ghiyar from the Muslims; rather the inspiration for the Nazi yellow badge came from the Church.  Normon Roth, professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin, writes that there is no evidence to support the claim that the Church took the idea from the Muslims:

In the Muslim world some rulers imposed dress restrictions on Christians and Jews (see CLOTHING).  There is, however, no evidence to support the claim made by some that these laws influenced the Church decision (1215) to require distinctive clothing to be worn by Jews, which was interpreted in most [European] countries as a requirement to wear a “badge” on the clothing. [83]

Professor Roth concludes that the inspiration for the Nazi’s yellow badge comes from the European, not Islamic, example:

Certainly the badge, the wearing of which continued in some [European] lands well beyond the medieval period, was the direct inspiration for the Nazi requirement of the yellow star, about which there can be no doubt as to humiliating and degrating intention. [84]

Furthermore, while this law of ghiyar (distinctive clothing) quickly fell into disuse in the Islamic world, it was applied widely throughout the Latin West for many centuries.  Therefore, even if Muslims started it, the Christians perfected it.

Professor Mark R. Cohen mentions another salient point: the Muslim law requiring ghiyar was not promulgated in order to single out dhimmis to deride them.  Rather, Islamic law instructed Muslims themselves to dress distinctively from others and forbade them from dressing in clothing which is distinctive of other religions.  The Islamic law dictates that “Whoever imitates a people is one of them,” a saying which is applied to religious clothing.  Based on this, a Muslim may not, for example, wear the Jewish skullcap or the Christian priest’s white collar tab.  This law is actually considered Abrahamic in nature and derived from the Jewish law; Halacha similarly forbade Jews to dress like Gentiles:

An obvious area of concern for the principle of “do not follow the ways of the Gentile” is the manner in which we dress.  Even as far back as the era of the sojourn in Egypt, Jews were already distinguished from other nations.  The well-known Midrash is often quoted: “In the merit that they did not change their names, clothing and language they were redeemed.”  The Meshech Chochma points out that Jacob foresaw the danger of assimilation during the long exile, and to assure the preservation of Klal Yisroel, devised this plan of being distinct in name, clothing, and language, which was passed down throughout the generations.

The prophet Zephaniah admonishes the Jewish nation: “And it will be on the day that G-d will slaughter, and I will take notice of the officers and the princes, and all those who wear alien dress.” (Zephaniah 1:8) …Similarly, Yirmiyah refers derogatorily to the Jews’ acceptance of the Gentile dress. [85]

There was a fear that the small Jewish population would become assimilated and their identities lost; to prevent this, the Jews were instructed to wear distinctive clothing, so that their religious identities would be preserved.

Similarly, the conditions in the Pact of Umar (distinctive clothing and nicknames) were instituted by Muslims not to make the dhimmis into objects of derision, but to preserve the religious identities of the then fragile Muslim community.  The Muslim conquerors, many of them recent converts, had just come out of the backwater desert.  It was feared that they may become assimilated into the more established dominant religions of the lands they conquered (i.e. Christianity).  As such, it was prohibited for Muslims to dress like non-Muslims, and conversely for non-Muslims to dress as Muslims:

The German scholar Albrecht Noth…contends that the terms [in the Pact of Umar] originally did not have the restrictive, discriminatory purpose so blatant in the text of the Pact as it existed later on.  Rather, many of the stipulations were devised to protect the fragile identity of the Arab conquerors.  Faced with a massive majority of non-Muslims, the conquerors instituted measures designed to distance themselves from their subjects…

Taken together, these and other passages confirm Noth’s speculation that the zunnar [distinctive belt] was not invented by the Arabs to discriminate against non-Muslims but, rather, was intended to perpetuate a distinction in external appearance in place at the time of the conquest…The goal, Noth maintains, was to sharpen the boundaries between the massive indigenous, conquered populace and the insecure Arab ruling minority. [86]

It was only later, secondarily and incidentally, that this distinctive clothing naturally led to discrimination; but it was not generally the intention of the legislation itself, at least not in the beginning.

On this note, we touch upon another major difference between Christian Europe and the Islamic Orient: the conditions in the Pact of Umar only stipulated that the dhimmis dress in the clothes they already dressed in, such as the zunnar (belt).  Notice the language of the Pact of Umar, as quoted by Robert Spencer: “We will…wear our customary clothes wherever we are.”  This contrasts sharply with the general trend in the Latin West, where Jews were forced to wear special clothing which they had not worn before nor wished to (yellow badges, pointed dunce-like hats, etc.):

[The] zunnar (which, he notes, derives from a Greek loanword, zonarion) originally was part of the normal garb of Christians, which the Arabs insisted they retain as a distinctive identifying mark.  The language in the Pact of ‘Umar, he argues, proves this: The zunnar regulation begins with the Christian promise, “We shall always dress in our traditional fashion and we shall bind the zunnars around our waists.”

As Tritton had noted but apparently without seeing the implications, the belt (called a zunara, perhaps pronounced zonnara, in Syriac) was worn by Christians well before the advent of Islam.  It was even employed as a distinguishing mark of clothing.  According to a passage in the Nestorian Chronicle of Seert, Nestorian Catholicos (head of the Church of Iraq and Iran) Mar Emmeh (Maramma)…decreed that schoolboys must wear the zunnar as a kind of uniform to distinguish them from others: “He was the first to order schoolboys to fasten the zunnars around their waists as that they would be distinguished from others.”  The zunnar, therefore, was an article of clothing worn by indigenous Christians in the conquered territories.  Far from being a stigma, however, and continuing a tradition from pre-Islamic times, it was an insignia of high status.  In his Syriac ecclesiastical history, the sixth-century Monophysite churchman, John, bishop of Ephesus (d. ca. 586) recounts an episode during the reign of his contemporary, Byzantine Emperor Tiberius II.  Following a rebellion by some pagans, the emperor summoned officials…”And whosoever was not present [the emperor] gave orders that his girdle (Syriac: zonin) should be cut, and that he should lose his office.”  Thus, in the sixth century, Syriac Christians considered the belt in question to be an item of clothing that signified status, one whose removal was a sign of degradation.

Taken together, these and other passages confirm Noth’s speculation that the zunnar was not invented by the Arabs to discriminate against non-Muslims but, rather, was intended to perpetuate a distinction in external appearance in place at the time of the conquest.  (Jews also, it turns out, sometimes wore the zonara belt in pre-Islamic Palestine.)  The goal, Noth maintains, was to sharpen the boundaries between the massive indigenous, conquered populace and the insecure Arab ruling minority.

The regimen of special clothing for non-Muslims did not arise from discriminatory or stigmatizing motives, let alone those intended to prevent accidental defilement through sexual intercourse, as was the case with the imposition of the “Jewish badge” in the Christian West.  The Arab conquerors insisted that the Christians continue to wear their traditional garb lest the Arabs be unable to distinguish them.  Simultaneously, Muslim tradition implored Arabs not to imitate non-Muslim mores. [87]

All three of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) commanded believers to wear distinctive clothing from infidels.  The zunnar (belt) which Muslims insisted that Christians continue wearing was already being used by Christians themselves as distinguishing clothing long before the Islamic conquests.  Similarly, the command for Christians to “have the front of [their] hair cut” was not designed to humiliate them.  The Christians used to cut their hair in front as a distinctive style before the Islamic conquest, as the Catholic Encyclopedia says:

Byzantine iconography differs little as to head-dress from that of the catacombs. Mosaics and ivories portray emperors, bishops, priests and the faithful wearing the hair of a medium length, cut squarely across the forehead.

Indeed, Muslims were forbidden to style their hair in a way distinctive to another religious group.  The Muslim conquerors feared assimilation and the loss of Islamic identity, and therefore commanded Muslims themselves to wear distinctive clothing and hair styles; the (irrational) fear was that the non-Muslims would seek to dress like Muslims and thereby prevent Muslims from dressing distinctively.  This then, Professor Cohen notes, is a significant difference from the Latin West, where the distinctive clothing mandated upon Jews

served to underline the alien, outsider status of the Jews and render them more vulnerable to violence from the populace. [88]

In other words, the Islamic law requiring each religious group to dress distinctively was designed to allow Muslims themselves to stand out, whereas the Christian law was implemented in order to single out Jews for humiliation.

In any case, the law requiring dhimmis to wear distinctive clothes fell into disuse and was rarely enforced:

The code was enforced unevenly and sporadically…[and] fell into disuse.  There are abundant references in the Geniza to clothing and other passing evidence in the documents, indicating no differences between the attire of Jews and Muslims…To the contrary, it seems that it was often difficult to tell them apart. [89]

There has been a drive by anti-Islam ideologues to characterize the entire Islamic rule as Nazi-like, by exaggerating about the requirement of ghiyar (distinctive clothing) and drawing parallels to the yellow badge.  Yet, this condition in the Pact of Umar was generally not enforced:

There is no evidence that the dress code actually was respected neither by the upper nor by the lower classes. Thus it appears that merely transgressing the ghiyar imperative did not automatically lead to conflict. [90]

In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the wealthy dhimmis dressed elegantly in the clothing of their peers, in contradiction to the Pact of Umar:

In Muslim Spain, however, such restrictions were not generally enforced…These regulations remained theoretical. In fact, people of the upper classes (and this included most Jews) dressed elegantly in fine silk and linen clothes…In fact, Jews, both men and women, continued to dress in lavish apparel. [91]


The most conspicuous discrimination against non-Muslims was the obligation to be distinguished from Muslims by their wearing apparel…[However] practice must have differed widely from theory…Nowhere do we meet in these periods any allusion to a specific Jewish attire. On the contrary, there is much indirect evidence that there was none. [92]

It seems odd that the anti-Islam ideologues such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller should make too much of a commotion about the ghiyar (distinctive clothing) when the yellow badge was much more prevalent in Europe than in Islamic lands.  The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 decreed that Jews and Muslims must wear distinctive clothing:

Canon 68 of the Council promulgated for the first time a prescription that is perhaps the most famous piece of ecclesiastical Jewry law during the Middle Ages.  The law decrees that…Jews and Saracens [Muslims] must henceforth be distinguished from Christians by their dress (no particular form was stipulated).  The Council wished to prevent “accidental” commingling of Christians with members of the two inferior, infidel religions, especially “polluting” sexual contact. [93]

The yellow badge found its way over much of Europe:

In 1200, a local church council (Alais, in France) had imposed the requirement that Jews be distinguished from Christians in their dress.  This was but a minor incident in the long series of hostile decrees against Jews enacted by numerous local church councils prior to the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.  Unlike earlier “ecumenical” councils (representing the clergy and laity of Christian Europe), this council, convened by Innocent III, was the most outspoken against the Jews, enacting several canons against the “Jewish perfidy,” one of which…mandated that [Jews and Saracens] be distinguished by the “quality of their clothes” from Christians…

England apparently was the first country to decree that Jews actually wear a “badge.”  In 1217, Henry III ordered that Jews wear a representation of the tablets of the Ten Commandments, made either of white linen or parchment, on the front of their garments.  As part of a series of general discriminatory regulations, the Council of Oxford (1222)…ordered that Jewish men and women wear a linen patch of a different color than their clothes, two fingers in width and four in length.  This was the first regulation that prescribed a specific size.  It has been noted that, in fact, Jewish women in England were exempted from the badge until the reign of Edward I (1275).  Under that ruler, responsible also for the eventual expulsion of the Jews altogether, the color of the badge was changed to yellow and the size increased.  These laws were reaffirmed in 1279 and 1281.  The age at which Jews were required to start wearing the badge in England was seven years.

In France…the Jews wore “wheels” or circles sewn onto their garments.  The wearing of the badge was not, however, widely established in France until later…Raymond VII, count of Toulouse, ordered the wearing of the badge for Jews in 1232, and various local city and provincial councils elsewhere in France soon followed.  The first official royal enactment for all Jews was by Louis IX, the notoriously anti-Jewish “saint,” in 1269, followed in rapid succession by all the succeeding kings preceding and following the various expulsions and recalls throughout the fourteenth century.  Only Marseille followed England in requiring Jews seven years old and older to wear the badge;  elsewhere the age was thirteen or fourteen.  There appears not to have been any dictate as to the size of the badge in France, other than the provision of the council of Narbonne in 1227 that prescribed an oval badge one finger in width and a palm in height.  Generally the color of the circle that was the badge in France was yellow, but in later years different colors were prescribed, including a combination of red and black, and in the fifteenth century even green.  Fines were imposed for not wearing the badge, and the regulations of Louis IX prescribed that a Jew accused by a Christian of not wearing the badge should forfeit his outer garment to his accuser…

An examination of Jewish illuminated manuscripts reveals that in Germany, too, the badge was worn.  Nevertheless, it appears that it was not until the fifteenth century that it became widely prevalent.  In 1451 the papal legate Nicolas of Cusa, followed by the notoriously anti-Jewish John Capistrano, arrived in Germany to ensure that church decrees about the Jews were being enforced, including the badge…

The badge generally [was not] enforced, curiously enough, in Italy.  Only in Sicily in 1222 did the Hohenstaufen emperor, Frederick II (generally well disposed toward the Jews), insist on enforcing the Lateran Council decree.  This he probably did to avoid further trouble with the Church, as he was constantly under excommunication or the threat thereof.

In Poland apparently the waring of the badge was not enforced, for in 1267 the church synod of Breslau tried to reintroduce the requirement but with little success…

The council of nobles of Enrique IV in 1465 demanded that Jews and Muslims wear special signs; for the Jews there were to consist of colored pieces of cloth, and for the Muslims yellow caps with “blue moons” on them.  There is no evidence that this was enforced, and it is highly unlikely that it was, given that king’s friendliness with Muslims and Jews.  Finally, at the Cortes of Toledo (1480) Fernando and Isabel decreed that all Jews and Muslims must again wear a special sign on their clothing.  As is evident from paintings and manuscript illuminations, this law was enforced.  In neighboring Portugal also, Jews were required to wear the badge. [94]

It seems then that the anti-Islam ideologues such as Spencer and Geller ought not to use this line of argumentation.


As for the prohibition of taking Muslim nicknames (kunyas), this too fell into disuse. The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies reads:

Jews assumed Arabic honorific names–Abu ‘Imran is the by-name of Moses Maimonides–and, and as the Genizah shows, and as sources describing repeated renewal of the dress regulations attest, Jews and other dhimmis usually dressed like everybody else. [95]

Indeed, we have literature from the Jews of the time that indicate that it was routine for them to take Muslim nicknames, with one researcher concluding that only “Muhammad” was not used by the Jews:

A complete list of the Arabic names of the Jews numbers some hundreds..”F. Lebrecht, in his article on the pronunciation fo the name Koreisch, says: “We find with Jews and Christians who delt amongst the Muhammadans, all the names of the Arabs, only the name Muhammad was probably not allowed to them.  A direct prohibition [of the name Muhammad] seems not to exist, probably because it would have been superflous.” [96]

Here too, a striking difference emerges between the Islamic and Christian laws.  The Islamic law gave the Jews the freedom to keep their own names, or to select any other name, with the only exception of Muslim names.  In Christendom, however, laws would emerge from time to time that would force Jews to change their traditional names; considering the fact that Jews believed in keeping distinctly Jewish names, the Christian law hampered them far more than the Islamic one.  Naturally, people preferred to keep their traditional names as opposed to being foisted with alien ones.

Even more insidiously, Jews in Central Europe (and Russia in 1804) were forced to accept odious last names such as Eselkopf (ass head), Taschengregger (pickpocket), or even the vulgar Schmuck; this law was also adopted in Russia in 1804 by Tsar Alexander I:

For instance, an Austrian law of 1787 compelled Jews to adopt German-sounding first and family names…Hebrew-sounding names were now usually forbidden and the bureaucrats produced lists of ‘acceptable’ names [for Jews].  Bribes were necessary to secure ‘nice’ family names, derived from flowers or precious stones: Lilienthal, Edelstein, Diamant, Saphir, Rosenthal.  Two very expensive names were Kluger (wise) and Frohlich (happy).  Most Jews were brutally lumped by bored officials into four categories and named accordingly: Weiss (white), Schwartz (black), Gross (big), and Klein (little).  Many poorer Jews had unpleasant names foisted on them by malignant clerks: Glagenstrick (gallow’s rope), Eselkopf (donkey’s head), Taschengregger (pickpocket), Schmalz (grease), Borgencicht (don’t borrow), for example.  Jews of priestly or levitical descent, who could claim names like Cohen, Kahn, Katz, Levi, were forced to Germanize them: Katzman, Cohnstein, Aronstein, Levinthal, and so on.  A large group were given places of origin [as names]: Brody, Epstein, Ginzberg, Landau, Shapiro (Speyer), Dreyfus (Trier), Horowitz and Posner.  The pain of this humiliating procedure was not lessened by the knowledge that the government’s main object in imposing it was to make Jews easier to tax and conscipt. [97]

The Islamic prohibition of taking Muslim names appears to be much more benign than forcing names onto Jews such as “Ass Head”, “Pickpocket”, or “Schmuck”:

Surnames were codified as a way of knowing and controlling populations as linked to the development of tax, census, and private property procedures. In the late-eighteenth-century Hapsburg Empire, for example, Ashkenazic Jews were forced to either choose or be assigned surnames.  In many cases, local officials arbitrarily assigned derogatory names such as Eselkopf (ass head) or Fischbaum (fish tree) to Jews who did not offer them bribes. [98]

In Russia, Jews were barred from certain areas of the city (Jim Crow?); many of them tried to avoid forced ghettoization by changing their names.  The authorities penalized these Jews with hefty fines:

The Digest of Laws [Svod zakonov], published in 1832…condemned Jews who tried to disguise themselves as non-Jews in order to circumvent residence restrictions.  In a state that made changing one’s name difficult for anyone, a specfic statute insisted that Jews “living under Christian names in territories where they are not allowed to reside” were to be sent back to the pale “immediately.”  …

The imperial legal system…criminalized the efforts of Jews trying to appear to be non-Jews.  It reaffirmed the validity of older laws, including a punishment (a fine of up to three hundred rubles) for any person who gave the authorities a false name, and as a separate point indicated that this applied to a Jew “guilty of without authorization [samovol’no] changing the first or last name according to which he is listed in the record of births.”  …

By defining as illegal not only Jews’ attempts to evade residence restrictions but also their efforts not to stand out, the law betrays the urge to make certain that Jews were identifiable as Jews. [99]

Following the Inquisition in Spain, crypto-Jews (those who practiced Judaism in secret for fear of being killed by the church) were forced to adopt good Christian names:

Those who secretly professed Judaism, outwardly living as good Catholics, were known as crypto-Jews.  These converts also had to adopt good Spanish-Christian names, although some crypto-Jews secretly retained their Hebrew names. [100]

This was also the case in neighboring Portugal:

Abraham ben Usque, as a Portuguese Jew, was forced to change his name to Duarte Pinhel and then flee to Italy. [101]

Exclusion from Public Office

Some Islamic jurists restricted dhimmis from government service; infidels in Christendom were similarly excluded form public office.  Professor Cohen writes:

[Another] legal disabilit[y], which do[es] not figure in the formal texts of the Pact of ‘Umar [itself], had a major impact on non-Muslim communities: exclusion of Jews and Christians from public office…The ban on service in state administration recalls a similar prohibition in Christian legal texts, introduced as early as the fifth century and reiterated by church officials, canonists, and the papacy. [102]

However, much to the chagrin of conservative clerics, this prohibition was regularly flouted by the Islamic authorities who felt that it was inefficient to replace indigenous (non-Muslim) bureaucrats with outsiders:

It was expedient to allow natives to continue to administer the conquered territories rather than replace them with inexperienced Arabs…Eventually this placed power over Muslims in the hands of non-Muslims. [103]

Here, we notice not only proof that there exists a difference between theory and practice, but another significant difference which made life of infidels much more bearable in the Islamic East from the Christian West.  Jews (and Christians) continued to operate in the government to such an extent that government manuals were printed in Hebrew, and it even became a working joke that one should turn Jew to work in the government:

The dhimmis’ ubiquitous presence in Arab ruling circles involved in the business of state in ways unimaginable for Jews in Christian northern Europe.  It gave them influence and honor and imparted to the minority communities to which they belonged a feeling of embeddedness in the larger society.  To some extent, this diminished the marginalization imposed on the non-Muslims by law and religion…

The Fatimid dynasty in Egypt (969-1171) was notorious for condoning dhimmi participation in state service.  Geniza documents provide evidence of the widespread professional involvement of non-Muslims in Fatimid government.  A fragment from an Arabic epistolographic manual for chancery secretaries (katibs), transcribed into Hebrew letters (persumably for easier reading), was certainly meant to be read by Jews destined for the profession.  A famous satirical Arabic poem decrying what the poet viewed as an intolerable abuse refers (though not by name) to a powerful Jew in the Fatimid court in the mid-eleventh century, Abu Sa’d al-Tustari:

“The Jews of this time have attained their uppermost hopes, and have to come to rule.
Glory is upon them, money is with them, and from among them come the counsellor and the ruler.
O People of Egypt, I advise you, turn Jew, for the heavens have turned Jew!”

Throughout the classical period of Islam, non-Muslims partook in government.  They continued to do so afterward, but with much more opposition from the Muslim masses who often pushed clerics to not only issue condemnations but to force secular rulers to abide by them.  There are indeed several instances of this taking place, and it is important not to downplay this occurrence and how it placed “limits to Jewish empowerment.” [105]

Yet, at the same time, one can say that overall infidels played a significant role in public office, much more so than in Christendom, where not only did they not serve in the government but were owned by it, held in a captive state of Perpetual Servitude, or as Serfs of the Royal Chamber.

Houses of Worship

Another requirement in the Pact of Umar dictates, in the words of Robert Spencer:

The Christians will not:

1. Build “a monastery, church, or a sanctuary for a monk”;
2. “Restore any place of worship that needs restoration”;

Yet, what anti-Islam ideologues such as Spencer and Geller fail to mention is that this stipulation was taken from the Christians themselves: the Eastern Roman Empire which ruled Syria before the Islamic conquest forbade the erection of synagogues in the region.  The Justinian Code read: “We forbid that any synagogue shall rise as a new building.” We read further:

Jews were also forbidden to build new synagogues or repair old ones.  Thus, the synagogue must become poor and squalid in comparison to the Christian church buildings. [106]


Other laws sought to insure that social reality corresponded to the Christian view of Judaism as a lifeless relic.  Jews were forbidden to seek converts from paganism as well as among Christians, and building or reparing a synagogue became a crime. [107]

Admittedly–in order to not to become sensationalist like our anti-Islam colleagues–it seems that the Christian ban on synagogues was enforced only sporadically:

Yet there was a gap between issuing an edict and enforcing it.  New synagogues were constructed, no matter what the law stated. [108]

Similarly, in Islamic lands, the ban was enforced only sporadically; new churches and synagogues continued to be constructed.  It seems this could be because of varying interpretations of the law.  Islamic jurists ruled that new houses of worship could be constructed in certain areas of the city so long as a land tax was paid.  The law prohibiting repairs of the church was similarly tempered:

The varying views on the topic were summarized in the eighteenth century by the Egyptian scholars Shaykh Damanhuri, responding to a question about the status of the churches in Cairo.  He explained that the [then prevalent] Hanafi school allowed houses of worship to be erected in towns taken from non-Muslims by peace treaty provided the treaty stipulated that the land belonged to the indigenous inhabitants and they paid kharaj (land tax).  If [however] the terms of the surrender considered the land Muslim…[then] their places of worship were not allowed.  Reconstruction of a permitted building after it had been destroyed or upon its impending collapse was strictly regulated so as not to seem to be “new.”  Its building materials had to be identical to those of the original structure. [109]

These allowances seemed to be shared in the other schools of Islamic jurisprudence.  Imam al-Nawawi, an eminent Shafi’ite jurist of the thirteenth century, declared:

If the capitulation treaty states that the infidels will remain owners of the land, they can not only continue to use their churches or synagogues, but also build new ones. [110]

Similarly, Imam al-Mawardi (d. 1058 A.D.) argued that dhimmis “can restore ancient synagogues and churches that have fallen into ruin.” [111] As such, it seems that the prohibition in the Pact of Umar was not as sweeping as it seems; churches and synagogues could be built in certain areas and repairs made with some significant limitations.

Whatever the case, churches and synagogues continue to be built long after the Pact of Umar:

From the earliest period of Islam, Jews and Christians encountered little opposition when constructing new synagogues and churches…They established or enlarged communities and erected new houses of worship without opposition. [112]

In fact, the Islamic conquest of Syria enabled heterodox Christian sects to establish their churches, which hitherto had been forbidden to them by the orthodox Church:

When we examine the earliest non-Melkite Christian sources, we find a similar enthusiasm [towards Muslims]…Iso’yaw III, Nestorian Catholicos in the 650s, in his fourteenth epistle wrote with respect to the Muslims:

“These Arabs, whom God has now given sovereignty over the world, are disposed towards us as you know. They are not opposed to Christians. Indeed, they respect our religion and honor the priests and the saints of ours Lord and they give aid to the churches and monasteries.”

This is more than rhetoric: As was mentioned above, Nestorian monasteries first began to appear in Palestine only under the Muslims. Clearly, the rule of the Muslims was for the [Christian] Nestorians a better state of affairs than had been the rule of the Byzantines. [113]

The Freedom to Practice Religion and Public Displays

Another condition in the Pact of Umar forbade public displays of religion; in the words of Robert Spencer, the dhimmis agreed not to:

10. “Publicize practices of Shirk” – that is, associating partners with Allah, such as regarding Jesus as Son of God. In other words, Christian and other non-Muslim religious practice will be private, if not downright furtive;
11. Build “crosses on the outside of our churches and demonstrating them and our books in public in Muslim fairways and markets” – again, Christian worship must not be public, where Muslims can see it and become annoyed;
12. “Sound the bells in our churches, except discreetly, or raise our voices while reciting our holy books inside our churches in the presence of Muslims, nor raise our voices [with prayer] at our funerals, or light torches in funeral processions in the fairways of Muslims, or their markets”;

Yet this too has its corollary in Christian legislation:

Early Christian-Roman Jewry law contains a rough parallel to this stipulation in the Pact of Umar, forbidding Jews from hanging Haman in effigy on the festival of Purim.  Similarly, ecclesiastical law from as early as the sixth century imposed on the Jews a curfew during Eastertide, lest, as Pope Innocent III wrote, “the Jews, contrary to ancient custom, publicly run about streets and public places and everywhere deride as they are wont Christians because they adore the crucified on the Cross, and attempt, through their improprieties, to dissuade them from their worship.” [114]

Professor Cohen makes an interesting point here: he argues that the prohibition of public displays of idolatry–as stipulated in the Pact of Umar–hampered the Christian dhimmis more than the Jewish ones.  Why?  The reason, argues Cohen, was that Jews were already accustomed to practicing their religion in a “private, if not downright furtive” way (Spencer’s words) due to living hundreds of years under Christian rule:

Related stipulations in the Pact of ‘Umar have to do with the public display of religion…These limitations seem to have little effect on the Jews…Centuries of care not to offend Christians by praying too loudly within earshot, or by appearing in public at Eastertide, had prepared the Jews to accept the Muslim restriction with equanimity. [115]


Another set of edicts…included the following [provisions]:

2. Jews are forbidden to hold public processions to their synagogues.
3. Jews are forbidden to dress on “Aman” [Purim]…and gunshots are forbidden on this holiday…
6. Corpses may not be carried through the city during the day, only in the evening.  And even then without any illumination, song or voiced cries.
7. No [Jewish] cemetry may be near the road or the city.
8. The beadles may not call out to the people to come to the synagogue or knock loudly for that purpose.  The beadle must go silently to each house to announce the hour of prayer.
9. No more candles may be kindled in the synagogue than are lit in the poor Christian churches.  Jews must give candles to the churches. [116]


The Jews were exceedingly oppressed during the middle ages throughout Christendom…They were allowed to utter their prayers only in a low voice and without chanting…[It was made] lawful for them to open their doors or windows on Good Friday. [117]

One must understand that at that time there was no understanding of the concept of freedom of speech; it was thought–by Muslims, Christians, and even Jews (such as during the Hasmonean dynasty)–that it would be sinful to allow infidels to publicly display their false religions.  Even those predisposed to lenience would simply argue that the infidels should feel satisfied practicing their religions in private; this was the extent of religious tolerance at that time.

Islamic jurists did not however interfere in the personal religious practices of the dhimmis, i.e. those done in their homes and houses of worship.  On the other hand, Christian legislation did not stop at the prohibition of public displays of religion.  Rather, they implemented bans on the Talmud itself, which created significant hardship for the Jews; the Christian authorities even forbade the Jews from taking their religious books with them when they were expelled from Europe and fled to Muslim lands for refuge:

The shortage of copies [of the Talmud]…was exacerbated by persecution.  The Talmud was banned several times during the Middle Ages, a fate it has also suffered on occasion in modern times.  Many volumes were lost or mislaid in the course of the wanderings resulting from frequent decrees of expulsion, and some books were confiscated by order of the authorities.  Particularly destructive in its impact was the interdict against taking books out of the country during the expulsion from Spain, when many volumes were buried. [118]

Unlike the Islamic world where Jews were free to read their books in their original forms, the Jews of Europe were forced to read censored versions of the Talmud and other religious texts; this situation–of religious censorship–was widespread all over Europe, with an even worse twist in some areas where the Talmud itself was banned outright or burned; wherever the Catholic Church had reach, the Talmud was attacked, creating a religious “catastrophe” for the Jewish religion:

At the same time, several European rulers and Church dignitaries were convinced that the Talmud contained anti-Christian material and, on the basis of informers’ chargers, they ordered that all anti-Christian statements and libel against Christ be erased from the books.  This anti-talmudic campaign and the various decrees of the popes reached their height when, as the result of internal disputes in the Jewish community and at the urging of certain converts, Pope Gregory IX ordered the burning of copies of the Talmud in Paris in 1240. Similar decrees were issued several times in the course of the thirteenth century, on one occasion by Pope Clement IV in 1264, and thousands of copies were consigned to the flames.  The Jews regarded the destruction of the Talmud as an almost unparalleled national catastrophe….The decrees did not encompass all of Europe; in the Iberian Peninsula, for example, the Talmud was not burned but merely censored by statements considered derogatory to Christianity being removed.

Church leaders were not unanimous in their views on the subject.  A Church synod in Basel in 1431 reaffirmed the stringent ban on the Talmud, but there were other opinions as well.  In 1509 a convert [to Christianity] named Johannes Pfefferkorn tried to incite church leaders to burn the Talmud in all countries under the rule of Charles V.  A Champion appeared, however, in the form of a Christian, Reuchlin, who pleaded the cause of the Talmud.  Although the controversy was not settled at once, and copies of the Talmud were burned in several towns by the bishops, Reuchlin’s arguments appear to have had some effect.  In 1520 Pope Leo X permitted the printing of the Talmud, and editions appeared in the next few decades.  But this situation did not endure…Due to the efforts of several converts, Pope Julius III ordered the work burned again in 1553.  This decree carried out in the various Italian states, apparently resulted in the destruction of thousands of copies of the Talmud.  The harshness of the decree was alleviated by Pope Pius IV’s announcement at the church synod at Trent in 1564 that the Talmud should be distributed on condition that those sections which affronted the Christian religion were erased.  As the direct result of this decision, an edition was printed in Basel under the supervision and censorship of Catholic monks.  It was cruelly truncated and censored, but still did not satisfy the Church and, in a papal bull issued in 1592, Clement II finally prohibited study of the Talmud in any version or edition.  The ban did not apply to the whole of the Christian world, since large parts of Europe (the Protestant countries and those under Russian and Turkish rule) did not accept the authority of the Catholic Church…A Jewish community which did not study the Talmud was condemned to attrition.

No similar decree was issued in any other European country [i.e. outside the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church], but there was a widespread tendency to censor the Talmud.  In later times printers gradually and clandestinely restored those sections which had been censored, but despite these efforts the best editions of the Talmud are mutilated because of the changes and “corrections” introduced by the censors…

The Talmud was not the sole work affected by the heavy hand of the censor, but because of its scope and range and the thousands of changes introduced over the centuries, it was impossible to correct all the mutilations even in editions published in countries free of censorship.  Offset printing perpetuated many of the mistakes and omissions, and only in the most recent editions have attempts been made to restore the original format of the text. [119]

In comparison, the Islamic world was relatively tolerant, only limiting the public displays of religion; so long as they worshiped in private, the dhimmis were free to do and believe as they pleased.  This was considered a right afforded to them by the dhimma pact.  Islamic jurists permitted the dhimmis to drink alcohol and consume pork, so long as they did so in their own quarters, not publicly in the common square in the view of the Muslims; the prohibition of selling liquor in the Pact of Umar was understood as not selling it to Muslims or in the public square in the view of the Muslims:

Muslim jurists argue that…non-Muslims may consume pork and drink alcohol as long as these items are not forbidden in thier religion.  A large number of jurists argue that, although lawful for non-Muslims, the consumption of such items should not taken place in public. [120]

To conclude, the Muslim world prohibited public displays but granted freedom to practice one’s religion short of that.  On the other hand, Christian Europe at its best prohibited public displays but also would recurrently prohibit a people from reading their religious texts in the confines of their homes.  As such, the situation was decidedly much better in the Islamic world (but of course hardly idyllic).


The Pact of Umar decreed, in the words of Robert Spencer:

The Christians will not:

15. “Invite anyone to Shirk” – that is, proselytize, although the Christians also agree not to:
16. “Prevent any of our fellows from embracing Islam, if they choose to do so.” Thus the Christians can be the objects of proselytizing, but must not engage in it themselves;

The prohibition against Christian proselytizing was one of the conditions which was consistently enforced in the Islamic world.  Yet, it is odd that Spencer mentions this without also mentioning that the prohibition was rigorously implemented throughout the Christian world, where Jews were forbidden to convert anyone to their religion:

Other laws sought to insure that social reality corresponded to the Christian view of Judaism as a lifeless relic.  Jews were forbidden to seek converts from paganism as well as among Christians. [121]

Both Islamic and Christian laws placed certain restrictions upon infidels with regard to holding servants or  slaves.  The fear here was that the servants or slaves would be amenable to conversion to the religion of their infidel masters.

Similar to the injunction in the Pact of Umar that “We will not…prevent any of our fellows from embracing Islam, if they choose to do so,”  the Christian law stipulated that no Jew could even talk with a Jew who converted to Christianity, for fear of “backsliding”:

Jews are forbidden to have contact of any kind with converts [to Christianity from Judaism]. [122]

Here too however there is a significant difference between the situation of the infidels in Europe and the Orient.  The Church mandated that Jews must attend compulsory sermons designed to convert them to Christianity; they were forced to suffer through two hour long sermons persuading them to convert. “Excitators” would awaken them should they doze off:

Compulsory attendance at sermons was not new.  Examples of it may be found as early as the ninth century, but it was not until the thirteenth, with the rise of the preaching orders, principally the Dominicans and Franciscans, that the practice grew.  The famous Spanish convert and Dominican preacher Pablo Christiani strongly advocated it and procured a decree from the king of Aragon that Jews be forced to listen to his sermons.  Sts. Vincent Ferrer and Raymond of Penaforte also adopted the practice.  Support from the Church came in a bull of Nicholas III in 1278, which laid down rules for the delivery of the sermons.  After the Council of Basel, the practice spread, was taken up by the Protestant reformers, and saw service in the Church off and on until abolished in 1848 by Pius IX.  The practice gives eloquent evidence not only of the desperate desire of the Church to convert Jews to Christnaity but also fo the medieval notion that the Faith was perfectly lucid, that mere exposure to it was all that was required for conviction.  One can imagine the few conversions these enforced sermons obtained and the chagrin of the reluctant listeners, who in some places had to have their ears inspected for removal of stuffed cotton placed there for obvious reasons.  Others required an excitator to keep them awake through expositions on the truth of Christianity and the falsity of Judaism that sometimes lasted two hours. [123]

More problematically, the Jews were taken to these compulsory sermons by unruly Christian mobs, which would often use the threat of violence to coerce the Jews into seeing the light of Christianity; admittedly, however, the authorities tried to prevent such a thing (although they still enforced compulsory sermons in general):

Pope Nicholas III issued a bull (1278) ordering that Jews everywhere be forced to attend missionary sermons of Dominican and Franciscan friars.  Jaime II (as king of Valencia) issued a decree the following year to the cities of Valencia and Jativa condemning the actions of mobs who followed the preachers and thus alarmed the Jews…The very next year Pedro III, noting that when Dominancans in Huesca or Zaragoza preached to Jews they were accompanied by large groups of Christians whose presence might cause danger to the Jews, ordered that neither priests nor laymen should allowed at such sermons. The king sent similar letters throughout the realm…The long list of cities to which this order was sent shows the extent of such compulsory sermons…In 1269, Louis IX ordered that Jews be compelled to listen to the sermons. [124]


Amongst the obligatory conditions in the dhimma pact was the requirement not to blasphemy Islam, the Quran, or the Prophet Muhammad.  It was not permitted to verbally abuse or disparage the religion.  However, it should be noted that dhimmis were allowed to engage in heated debates with the Muslims (a topic which Professor Cohen dedicates chapter nine of his book to).  Yet, the limit of tolerance ended at malicious verbal assaults.

Lest Robert Spencer use this as a stick to beat Muslims over the head with, it must be noted that a similar ban was enforced in Christian Europe, where it was forbidden to blasphemy Christianity, the Bible, or Jesus Christ–a law that derived inspiration from the Bible.  Here too, however, an interesting difference exists which illustrates the better position of infidels in Islamdom: in the Islamic Orient, only the perpetrators of blasphemy were punished, whereas the Jews of Europe suffered collective punishment.  Professor Cohen, after recounting an episode of blasphemy being punished by Muslims which occurred in “the later Middle Ages in Egypt” during a more intolerant period of Islamic history, explains the differences between this and what would normally occur in Europe:

A delegation of Muslim religious authorities discovered an almost obliterated Arabic inscription carved on the minbar, or “preacher’s platform” [of a synagogue].  They read the words Ahmad and Muhammad, two names for the Prophet, and concluded that they had come upon a case for the capital crime of blasphemy–Jews treading on the name of the founder of Islam.  Even in this late period of increasing oppression of the non-Muslim population, the judges and the muhtasib (market inspector) pursued their investigation and prosecution of three alleged Jewish perpetrators with relative judicial objectivity.  Eventually, satisfied that the community as a whole had had nothing to do with the alleged misdeed, the judges orderd only that the minbar be destroyed; and no additional harm to the structure ordered.  Nor was the episode accompanied by the kind of collective punishment that likely would have occured in a German town of the period had a real or alleged Jewish anti-Christian act been so “discovered.”  Only the confessed perpetrators [in Islamic lands] were punished and publicly beaten. [125]

This issue–of collective punishment–marks one significant difference between the Islamic East and Christian West.  Another major difference is that Muslims punished “crimes” that dhimmis actually committed, whereas the Christians punished Jews based on purely fictitious charges that were clearly born out of profound paranoia.  A good example we have of this is the nefarious blood libel against Jews; clergy accused the Jews of “ritual murder,” of seeking to shed and drink the blood of Christian children during Jewish worship.  Unexplained deaths of children were pinned on the heads of Jews, and witch hunts then ensued.  Jews were punished for these trumped up charges throughout the Europe of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and well into the contemporary age:

The twelfth century, “as haunted by blood as by gold,” brought forth the charge of ritual murder against Jews that found an echo in every century thereafter and left a stream of blood in its wake…Strictly defined it signifies an official murder of a Christian, preferably a child, in Holy Week for ritual purposes.  A wider definition includes any murder of a Christian for religious or superstitious ends, including drawing blood for healing or magical purposes…A hundred instances of this accusation have been recorded, many of them prelude to massacre.  The accusation gives evidence of the medieval belief that Jews were actually convinced of Christian truth but stubbornly withheld their assent…

From this point, accusations of ritual murder multiplied in England, France, and Germany.  One hundred and fifty recorded cases have been counted….The ritual-murder calumny stands in the judgment of history as the most monstrous instrument of anti-Jewish persecution devised in the Middle Ages.  To its account must be laid many of the tortures, forced baptisms, exiles, and massacres of that and later ages.  Its inception in the twelfth century, moreover, indicates the course the Jewish image was taking.  Unbeliever and usurer; now ritual murderer.  Gradually stripped of his human features, the Jews assumes a satanic guise….

King Philip Augustus (1180-1223), believer in “blood accusation,” resentful of Jewish prosperity, and badly in need of money, saw in the Jew a solution to his difficulties.  On a single day in 1182, he had all Jews arrested, then freed for ransom and expelled from the realm.  Deprived of the advantages they offered, the king recalled “his” Jews sixteen years later and set them up as official moneylenders in the kingdom, taxing them heavily, however, and closely regulating their transactions…He had a hundred Jews in Bray burned. [126]

The Muslims of that time looked down at such superstitious accusations, believing that it was beyond that scope of rational thought for any religious group to conduct ritual murders.  Professor Cohen relates a story told in Jewish circles during the sixteenth century; though fictitious in nature, it does give evidence to the idea that even the Jews of that era understood the difference between Christian and Muslim attitudes:

A fictitious story about a blood libel related in the sixteenth-century chronicle Shevot yehuda, by [the Jewish] Solomon ibn Verga, illustrates a fundamental Jewish perception of the difference between Islamic and Christian attitudes toward the Jews.

The tale (which Ibn Verga says he found in a chronicle from France), concerns two Christians who accused a Jew of killing a Christian “on the eve of their holiday”–Passover (when Jews were believed to reenact the crucifixion)…Two witnesses came forth and reported that they had gone to the house of the Jew, “to borrow from him at interest”; there they found “the Jew coming out of the room with a blood-soaked knife in his hand.”

Brought before the king, the Jew claimed that he had been using the knife to slaughter poultry according to Jewish ritual for the holiday.  Nonetheless, at the king’s command, he was subjected to judicial torture.  Under duress, the Jew confessed to the murder…Present at court was a “Muslim ambassador,” to whom the king posed the question: “Do things like this happen in your kingdom?”  The Muslim ambassador replied:

“We have never heard nor seen this, thanks to our rulers, who will not be degraded by such childish matters that, moreover, have no basis either in rational thinking or in religion…Certainly regarding such an abhorrent deed as performing a sacrifice with the blood of a human, concerning which we have never heard about any people on earth, even though they might be attracted to [other] irrational, abhorrent matters.  This sort of thing would not occur to them, since it is completely foreign to human rationality…”

The king became angry at this and said: “But the perpetrator confessed.  According to the law, what else can I do?  What does it matter if it is irrational, given that he confessed?”

The Muslim replied: “In our realm, a confession extracted by torture…will not do [by itself] for pronouncing judgment.”

One of the Christians present then said to the Muslim: “Honored sir, if this does not exist in your realm, this is because the Jews have no gripe [she’ela o to’ana] against the Muslims.  But they have one against the Christians on account of Jesus.  That is why they take a Christian and give him the name Jesus and eat his blood to take vengeance upon him.”

More deeply convinced of the prevarication, the Muslim [replied]…”Praised be the Creator who separated us from such lies and cast our lot among the believers of truth…At any rate, I have not come to save the Jews, for they are not my coreligionists, nor do they come from my realm [i.e. dhimmis], nor do I love them, for I know what they did to some of the prophets.  I came, however, to say the truth, since the king asked my opinion.” …

The view of Christian-Jewish and Islamic-Jewish relations underlying the fictional episode has deep significance…Ibn Verga is aware of contrasting Christian and Muslim attitudes towards, and treatment of, the Jews.  The Christians, believe, irrationally, that Jews enact ritual murder, extracting the blood of the victim, representing Jesus–all in order to take revenge on him.  Islam is different.  Jews “have no gripe against the Muslims,” as they do against Christians on account of Jesus.  Moreover, Islam, as represented by Ibn Verga’s Muslim visitor to the court of the king of France, eschews irrational thinking about the Jews, whereas Christianity encourages it.  And, while the Muslim insists that he has no love for the Jews, he nonetheless attests that such things as the ritual murder accusation do not exist in the domain of Islam.

This unfavorable comparison between Christian and Islamic treatment of the Jews is not unique…[The] Muslim intellectual’s disapproval of collective mob violence against Jews in Christian lands suggests a distinct preference for a “civilized” approach toward the “other” that, in the present study, we have found present somewhat more in medieval Islam than in medieval Christendom. [127]

Meanwhile, such accusations of ritual murder never emerged in the classical Islamic history; in latter periods there were rare episodes in the realm of Islam.  However, it should be noted that these witch hunts were carried out by Christian dhimmis, not the Muslims; indeed, the Jews would seek refuge in the protection of the Islamic authorities from the persecution of the Christians:

The charge of using human blood for ritual purposes first appears to have been leveled by pagans against the early Christians.  It was then used by the Christians themselves against the Jews, and has been a familiar theme of Christian anti-Semitism from the earliest times to the present day.  In classical Islamic times, this particular form of anti-Jewish calumny would seem to have been unknown.  Its first appearance, under Islamic auspices, was during the reign of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed the Conquerer, and it almost certainly originated among the large Greek-Christian population under Ottoman rule.  Such accusations had been common in the Byzantine Empire.  They occurred at infrequent intervals under the Ottomans, and were usually condemned by the Ottoman authorities…The libel almost invariably originated among the Christian population and was often promoted by the Christian, especially the Greek press; second, these accusations were sometimes supported and occasionally even instigated by foreign diplomatic representatives, especially Greek and French, third, Jews were usually able to count on the goodwill of the Ottoman authorities and on their help, where htey were capable of providing it. [128]

Another manifestation of the irrational and superstitious view of Christians towards Jews can be seen during the Black Plague, where Jews were blamed for manufacturing the disease as a means to destroy Christian society:

Among the circumstances associated with the massive persecutions of Jews were epidemics of plague.  Jews are commonly acknowledged to have been scapegoats of the Black Death which swept Europe from the Mediterranean from about 1347 to 1350 (Trevor-Roper 1967).  They were charged with spreading plague by contaminating wells and corrupting the air (Gottfried 1983).  Jews were either expelled or massacred.  Gottfried (1983) observes, “By 1351, 60 major and 150 smaller Jewish communities had been extirpated, and over 350 separate massacres had taken place.” [129]

Over two hundred Jewish communities were obliterated, with 10,000 casualties in Poland alone.

This irrationality contrasts sharply with the reaction of the Muslims, who did not resort to such irrationality:

Whether their persecution is measured in terms of expulsion, murder, assault on property, or forced conversion, the Jews of Islam did not experience physical violence on a scale remotely approaching Jewish suffering in Western Christendom.  By and large, even when dhimmis as a group experienced growing oppression and persecution in the postclassical period, the grim conditions found in Europe were not matched.  The Black Death, which raged through Europe between 1348 and 1350, witnessed massive pogroms against the Jews, who were believed to have poisoned wells in an attempt to destroy Christian civilization.  The Black Death ravaged in the Islamic world as well, but nowhere did people there blame the Jews, let alone try to eliminate them.  In his study of the Black Death in the Middle East, Michael Dols discusses the contrasting responses of Christian and Muslim societies to their respective infidels during the pandemic.  The Christian concepts of “millennialism, militancy toward alien communities, [and] punishment and guilt” that contributed to persecution of the Jews during the plague were not operative in Muslim society.  “Compared with the contemporary massacres in Christian Europe,” Baron writes of the Mamluk empire in the period 1250-1517, “anti-Jewish riots were both less frequent and less bloody.  As a rule they were limited to certain localities and did not assume the epidemic proportions of the assaults by Crusaders or by the frenzied European mobs of 1348-1349 or 1391.” His pinpointing a distinction that applies even more sharply to earlier centuries, the period that is the focus of my book.

How can one explain this difference?  The historian R. I. Moore has called medieval Christianity, especially as of the twelfth century, a “persecuting society.”  The characteristics and historical circumstances that this scholar evidences in support of his conclusion help explain the relatively better condition of the Jews of Islam.  According to Moore, beginning in the twelfth century, European Christendom showed increasing hostility to three groups–Jews, heretics, and lepers.  The assumed connection between the Devil and both Jews and heretics (linkage between Jews and heretics, of course, went back to early Christian times), and the ascription to Jews and lepers alike of filth, stench, and putrefaction and of menace to Christian wives and children numbered among the factors that led to the deadly interchangeability of the three groups, particularly in popular thinking.  “The assimilation of Jews, heretics and lepers into a single rhetoric … depicted them as a single though many-headed threat to the security of the Christian order.” [130]

To conclude, the Islamic authorities enforced the punishment for blasphemy, but only against the “culprits” and after due judicial procedure, for “crimes” they actually committed; it is not beyond the scope of rational thought to think that there would be some non-Muslims who would verbally abuse the religion of Islam.  Meanwhile, the Christians not only enforced punishment against blasphemers, but also levied charges against innocent infidels based only on suspicion or less than that, including irrational, paranoid, and mythical accusations such as ritual murder, the Black Death, and the desecration of the eucharist wafer libel (the last of which resulted in an estimated 100,000 murdered Jews).

We have already discussed another significant example, which was the censorship, banning, and burning of the Talmud, for fear that it contained abuse levied against Jesus Christ and Christians in general, an almost certainly spurious charge.  The difference then between Islamdom and Christendom was between real and imaginary charges.  Life for infidels in the Islamic realm was bearable though constrained; meanwhile, infidels under Christian rule lived in constant trepidation, worrying that their safety would be compromised based on delusional and baseless fears.

Occupational Opportunities and Right to Own Land

Thus far, we have mostly discussed the differences between the Islamic and Christian restrictions that are somewhat shared, with the only difference being one of degree: for example, Muslims punished infidels guilty of blasphemy but Christians did to a much higher degree.  Yet now we shall move to those issues which are singular to the Christian sphere.  Of particular significance is the severe occupation restriction placed on infidels of Europe.

Jews of Islam (and dhimmis in general) were free to choose any career, aside from the military (and even this prohibition varied from time and place).  Thus, Jews in the Islamic realm functioned as physicians, lawyers, scientists, merchants, traders, bankers, agriculturalists, and in virtually every other field.  This freedom allowed Jews of Islam to prosper and attain their famed Golden Age.  Meanwhile, Jews of Europe were prohibited from virtually all fields–barred from guilds altogether–and forced into one “hated” profession: money-lending.  Money-lenders of that era were arguably considered worse than prostitutes.  And from this emerged the Shylock characterization of Jews, forever scorned (and persecuted) by angry Christian masses.  The Christians forced Jews into one profession, and then condemned them for their “propensity” for this villainous career.  Paroxysms of Christian violence against Jewish money-lenders (and Jews in general) resulted, followed by royal bans on even this profession for Jews (leaving them jobless) and eventual seizure of goods and outright expulsion.

To further diminish the financial position of the Jews, laws were passed in Europe that prohibited Jews from owning real estate.  Such was not the case in the realm of Islam, where dhimmis were permitted to own land so long as they paid the land tax (kharaj). (For the first 87 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslim landowners did not pay the kharaj but the lighter ushr tithe, but in 719 A.D. Umar II passed legislation that forced Muslim landowners to pay the kharaj just like non-Muslims.) The Muslims recognized the right of conquered non-Muslims to own land:

[There was a] recognition by Muslim political authority of the property rights of conquered peoples…Like Muslims, non-Muslims were recognized as proprietors of land (as malik of milk property), although the form of taxations imposed on them differed [initially]. Muslims paid ‘ushr (tithe) on their land, non-Muslims paid kharaj…Thus, while the tithe [ushr] was fixed at one-tenth, kharaj could be anything between one-quarter and one-half of the land’s produce…In later centuries the link established in this account between the personal religious status of the owner (Muslim versus non-Muslim) and the taxation of land was to be abandoned. Given the treasury’s need for tax, kharaj land was to remain kharaj land, even if it was sold to a Muslim or its owners converted to Islam. [131]

It is safe to say that these two restrictions in Christendom–pertaining to occupation and land ownership–affected the Jews far more than the more superficial and symbolic prohibitions that are found in the Pact of Umar:

In 1315 Louis X recalled the Jews [after they had been expelled]…but they returned as aliens and visitors, no longer sons of the soil, no longer Frenchmen living among Frenchmen, owners of pasture and vineyard which should descend to their children after them.  Even had not the recent laws forbidden their acquisition of real property, the Jews had seen too clearly the evil of owning house and land, in order on the day of exile to leave them to the king…Uncertain of the morrow, oppressed by tax and impost, they knew that even their scanty priveleges were not for their own good…All the learned professions–medicine, law, pedagogy–were the property of “clerks,” and a Jew could not be a clerk.  The Jew might not own land.  The Jew might not exercise authority over any Christian.  The only trade left to him was pawnbroking and usury, or such small huckstering as the Christian disdained–the selling of old clothes, the hawking of second-hand goods.  Out of this misery the Jews perfected the marvel, the bank.  And the bank became their curse. [132]

Professor Cohen writes:

In accounting for the fate of the Jews, Jewish historiography has traditionally placed considerable emphasis on their economic role in society…It cannot be denied that economic factors figured prominently in determining the position of the Jews in any given society…

The rabbis of talmudic Babylonia discouraged Jews from taking interest from gentiles…Beginning in the twelfth century, however, rabbis in medieval Europe justified exacting usury from Christians for various local economic and social reasons, such as hard times, the exclusion of Jews from landed occupations, their heavy tax burden, and the need to amass funds to bribe Christians when Jews came under threat of persecution.  In [Peter Abelard’s] Dialogue of a a Philosopher with a Jew and a Christian…[the Jewish character gives the] Jewish rationales for engaging in moneylending:

“Confined and constricted in this way as if the whole world had conspired against us alone, it is a wonder that we are allowed to live.  We are allowed to possess neither fields nor vineyards nor any landed estates because there is no one who can protect them for us from open or occult attack.  Consequently the principal gain that is left for us is that we sustain our miserable lives here by lending money at interest to strangers; but this just makes us most hateful to them who think they are being oppressed by it.”

…The Christian poor usually borrowed in distress by pawning an item from their meager possessions (often an article of clothing), which they forfeited upon failure to repay the loan on time.  Naturally, they, too, had no great affection for the Jewish pawnbroker, upon whom they were so dependent…Christian dependence upon Jewish moneylenders constituted a major irritant in Jewish-Christian relations…

There is other evidence connecting indebtedness to Jews with persecution.  An example are the reports of the massacre of Jews in York, England, in 1190…Scores of Jews died, after which the community temporarily disappeared from historical records.  Accounts of the events in York in 1190 by Christian chroniclers state that a primary motive for the attack was the wish of some baronial families to wipe out their debts to Jewish moneylenders.  They accomplished this by massacring Jews, moneylenders, and others and by destroying the bonds of their indebtedness…

For other reasons, moneylending proved a risky business for Jews.  Beginning in the thirteenth century…Christian moneylenders [entered] the credit business.  These provided stiff competition for Jewish pawnbrokers…They were very active during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; as a source of loans free of the stigma of borrowing from religious inferiors, they eroded Jewish income eked out from the only significant walk of life left open to them in the late Middle Ages.

To make matters worse, the church’s opposition to the open, embarrassing flaunting of usury among Christians spilled over into an ecclesiastical assault on Jewish usury.  Popes beseeched secular rulers to compel Jewish moneylenders to remit usury collected from Christian borrowers.  The famous anti-usury canon promulgated at the Fourth Lateral Council explicitly maligned Jewish moneylenders for “exhaust[ing] the financial strength of Christians” and restricted them to moderate interest rates, a concession to the need for credit in Europe’s ever-expanding economy…

Where the papal call fell on receptive ears, Jewish economic well-being was devastated.  In England in 1275, King Edward I and Parliament put an end to Jewish usury altogether by ruling that Jews henceforth would apply themselves to more productive occupations.  This reform failed, however, because it was not accompanied by a relaxation of discriminatory restrictions, such as the exclusion of Jews from merchant and craft guilds (which made it impossible for Jews to succeed in commerce and artisanry).  Moreover, heavy tallages continued to be imposed on the Jews despite their ever-shrinking income from loans–until, finally, outright confiscation of Jewish property and outstanding debt bonds remained the only method of extracting additional money from the Jews.  This set the stage for the general expulsion and spoliation of the Jews of England in 1290.

Dire, too, were the consequences for French Jewry of the ecclesiastical anti-usury crusade.  King Louis IX (1226-70)…exceeded Rome’s call for the elimination of the “heavy and immoderate usury” charged by Jews.  He zealously pursued an economic policy aimed at undermining the livelihood of Jewish moneylenders in his realm.

The economic crackdown on the Jews in France was part of a general policy of reducing Jewish resistance to conversion to Christianity…Louis’s policy of making life for the Jews intolerable to the point of conversion continued under his son, Philip III (1270-85).  Philip’s son, Philip IV “the Fair” (1285-1314), escalated the Capetian dynasty’s anti-Jewish policy.  Wishing to purify France for Christianity, in need of money, and convinced that Louis IX’s policy of burdening the Jews while tolerating their presence had failed, Philip the Fair resolved to expel them after taking the draconic measure of confiscating their possessions.

Christian debt to Jewish moneylenders was a deleterious factor in Jewish-Christian relationship during the Middle Ages…Moneylending contributed mightily to anti-Jewish feelings and even to violence.  By the end of the twelfth century, the word Jew had come to mean “moneylender.”  A Latin neologism of the early Middle Ages, judaizare…came to mean lending at interest.  Hatred of the Jew intensified as a result of the association of usury in Christian minds with the twin evils of heresy and the Devil…

With the economic rise of Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Jews, displaced by Christian mercantile competitors, were increasingly relegated to the hated profession of moneylending while, at the same time, being squeezed economically by the rogue Christian usurer…The support temporal rulers accorded to Jewish moneylending angered Christian debtors of the Jews, which only increased the hostility of Christians toward the Jews.  As the economy expanded, secular rulers, responding to church objections to Jewish usury, withdrew their support for Jewish credit transactions…

[This] contrasts sharply with Jewish life under Islam…[where] Jews were embedded in the economic and social order of the larger Muslim world in which they lived…Jews living in Muslim lands enjoyed occupational diversification..Jews sensed that the contrast between Jewish well-being in East and West had much to do with economics.

A brighter picture emerges from an examination of the economic factor in Jewish-gentile relations in the Islamic world during the early and High Middle Ages.  In contrast to their coreligionists in Christendom, the Jews of Islam were well integrated into the economic life of the larger society.  Measured against the European standard, the relative absence of economic discrimination against Jews in the Muslim world during the classical centuries makes a vivid impression…

By the beginning of the tenth century, a Jewish consortium in Baghdad had accumulated great wealth..These individuals represented a significant class of Jews from the eastern Islamic lands; along with their Muslim counterparts, they fueled the commercial revolution of the early Islamic centuries…Jewish merchants were not viewed as aliens, as they were in Europe…The relatively relaxed ambience of interfaith relations in the Islamic marketplace created trust, which in turn encouraged partnerships for profit between members of the Jewish minority and their friends among the Muslim majority…

We have devoted most of this discussion of economic activity of the Jews of Islam to trade, paying some attention to its adjunct, moneylending, because of the stark contrast with the Christian West, where Jews found themselves out of conformity with their surroundings.  They played an alien role…as detested moneylenders.  But another major difference between the economic profile of eastern and western Jewry also adds to our understanding of the improved lot of the Jews of Islam.  I refer to their broad economic diversification.  Neither the Islamic economy nor the attitude of Muslims toward Jews restricted the latter to a narrow range of occupations…An appendix to Goitein’s Mediterranean Society shows Jews involved in dyeing, metalworking, weaving, bread-making, wine-making, manufacture of glass vessels, tailoring, tanning, production of cheese, sugar manufacture, and silkwork.  Where financially possible, Jews owned agricultural land, and many raised crops in the arable Egyptian countryside. Jews owned and worked orchards and date groves.  Some assigned gentile sharecroppers to work the fields, vineyards, and orchards.  In short, far form occupying predominantly one economic niche, Jews in the Islamic world during our period were broadly distributed throughout the various sectors of the economy.  The more differentiated they were, the more they appeared like others around them, including the Muslim majority.  This variegated economic profile, much more diverse and much more widespread than…early medieval Jewry in the Latin West, militated against the social abuse that Jews in Christian lands had to endure in part on account of their identification with a limited and problematic set of occupations…”The distribution of Jewish merchants and artisans across the economic class structure was, to the degree one can measure it, very similar to that of the Muslim.” …The Jews did not occupy a set of distinctive trades or crafts…

In the urban markets, ethnic barriers were broken down.  Jewish traders were subject to the same administration as were their Muslim counterparts…Jews were to free to rent shops…The requirements of business overrode religious differences.

The conclusions of Geertz, Rosen, Schroeter, and others resonate with evidence from the medieval Jewish-Arab world.  The embeddedness of Jewish commercial activity in the Islamic lands depicted in the Geniza, the relative absence of boundaries between Jew and Muslim in the marketplace, the considerable occupational diversification of the Jews, and their detachment from the detested role of usurious moneylenders allowed for decent human relations between Jewish and Muslim merchants.  This transcended confessional differences and prevented the emergence of an irrational stereotype of the type that captured the popular imagination in northern Europe, where most Jews occupied an economic niche that put them at odds with the Christian population…

Dhimmis, it is crucial to state, could be found in nearly all categories of Islamic society, working alongside Muslims…as merchants, artisans, agriculturalists, physicians, government clerks (katibs), and in any one of a number of other categories identified by their professions (excluding the army…)

Just as the Islamic marketplace furnished more opportunities than in the Latin West for Jews to meet non-Jews on neutral ground and develop friendly relationships, so did the community of the learned provide a forum for congenial interfaith encounter.  This existed to a much greater extend than in northern Christian Europe…

In the Islamic world, sociability between Jewish and gentile intellectuals was more regular and less fraught with conflict.  Arabic, the language of high culture, was by the tenth century the shared vernacular of Muslims and Jews.  Although Arabic served as the language of the dominant religion, it carried few of the negative associations that Latin, the language of the hostile church, had for Jews in Europe…

Dhimmis enjoyed substantial acceptance when participating in the intellectual circles of the dominant culture…These and other manifestations of Jewish immersion in the cultural world of Arab savants flowed naturally from what Louis Gardet, in his study of the Islamic mentalite, calls the “intellectual tolerance” of medieval Muslim society during its classical period, which showed “no ethnic discrimination.”

Jewish physicians were found in Arab society in numbers disproportionate to the Jewish presence in the population at large; they acquired their medical training as part of the standard Hellenistic-Arabic curriculum, often studying with Muslims and Christians.  They formed part of the interdenominational circle of physicians working in state hospitals and adorning Muslim courts.  Muslim admiration for Jewish men of medicine abounds in Arabic biographical dictionaries…Jewish physicians had private patients who were Muslim, both dignitaries at court and ordinary people.  At least in the classical period, these encounters, which provided considerable opportunity for Jewish-Muslim sociability, seem not have been accompanied by suspicion of the inimical intentions of Jewish doctors that had its roots in late antique Christianity and became so common in medieval Europe…They sampled high status in government service, medicine, and commerce often enough to satisfy the human yearning to shake off the yoke of subordination.  More important, the Jews of Islam enjoyed among themselves a truly aristocratic status and culture: the Judeo-Arabic courtier society of Muslim Spain and other Arab lands, a calque of the Arabic-Islamic high society well known to them from firsthand experience. [133]

Meanwhile, Christian authorities tried to reign in on Jewish erudition, going so far as to ban them from attaining university degrees:

The General Council of Basel revived the traditional restrictions, including the distinctive garb, exclusion from office and forced inhabiting of a separate quarter.  To these were added prohibitions of university degrees and compulsory attendance at Christian sermons.  The ban on university degrees was original with this Council and seems to indicate increased Jewish efforts to enter the common intellectual life. [134]

It is no wonder then that the Jewish Golden Age–the flourishing of Jews in the fields of science, medicine, and the arts–took place in the realm of Islam and not in the intellectually unfriendly European theater.

Forced Ghettoization and Freedom of Movement

Another fundamental difference between Christendom and the Islamic realm was the residential status of the infidels.  In Europe, the Jews of Europe were forced to live in ghettos, with laws emerging that forbade Jews from living in certain towns and cities, or placing quotas on the number of Jews allowed.  (Perhaps Robert Spencer will see the Jim Crow comparison here. Interesting also how Spencer wants quotas placed on the number of Muslims allowed in the country.)

Meanwhile, Jews of Islam (and dhimmis in general) were free to live wherever they wished.  They lived in the same apartment buildings as Muslims and in Muslim dominated areas.  Admittedly, there were distinctly Jewish, Christian, and Muslim dominated neighborhoods (key word here being “dominated” and not “exclusive”), but this were based on the normal tendency for people of similar backgrounds to congregate, not unlike the preponderance of Jews in New York, of Afghans in Fremont (”Little Kabul”), of Arabs in Detroit, etc.  Indeed, this self-segregation in medieval Islamic lands was not only upon religious grounds, but on ethnic and tribal divisions, as well as occupational vocations.

Naturally, the forced ghettoization of the Jews of Europe–and the freedom to live anywhere in the realm of Islam–created a dramatic difference between the two respective sets of infidels:

By and large, Jews in European cities lived separate from Christians, usually in a street or section called a “Jewry,” “Judengasse,” or “rue des Juifs.” …Residential seclusion began to impinge on Christian-Jewish relations, when the church, wishing to prevent contact between Christians and Jews, especially after the thirteenth century, legislated restrictions on where Jews were allowed to live.  Especially during the later Middle Ages, when popular fear and hatred of the Jews grew in intensity and popular antisemitic stereotypes proliferated, the Jewish quarter became a mysterious, frightful place, increasingly the target of terrified, antisemitic Christian mobs.  As a sign of the estrangement of Jews from Christian burghers, some towns in the High and later Middle Ages sought from their overlords–and were granted–the privilege of not tolerating Jews.  In short, Christian townspeople were allowed to exclude or expel Jews…

[In contrast, there was a] relatively more comfortable pattern of Muslim-Jewish relations…Quite the antithesis of the northern European city, the topography of residence in a Muslim town lent the Jew an aura of inclusion, of normalcy.  As a matter of course, residential patterns in a Muslim town set religious and ethnic groups apart.  This had already begun with the garrison towns, in which tribal constituents of the Arab armies lived in separate quarters…

Almost universally, Muslim cities contained socially homogeneous quarters.  Such quarters were  found in cities created by a coalescence of villagers, by the settlement of different tribes, or by the founding of new ethnic or governmental districts.  Quarters based on the clienteles of important political or religious leaders, religious sects, Muslim and non-Muslim ethnic minorities, and specialized crafts, were also found in cities throughout the Muslim world.

It was no aberration then, if a town in the Arab world of the Middle Ages had a separate street or quarter inhabited primarily by Jews.  In that world, residential separation of ethnic and religious groups was normal–voluntary and generalized throughout society.  Thus, no stigma attached to to neighborhoods housing predominantly Jews.  This contrasts with the Christian town of the north.  There, segregation of Jews into separate streets, or “Jewries,” accorded with theological and social concerns expressed with renewed vigor during the thirteenth century by instilling suspicion and dread in the popular imagination.

The Geniza provides an even more impressive indicator of Jewish inclusion in Islamic society.  In most cities of the Islamic Mediterranean represented in the Geniza, Jewish quarters, in the sense of exclusive Jewish districts, hardly existed.  Rather, as Goitein has discovered, most Jews lived in their towns in noncontiguous clusters, such that “there were many neighborhoods predominantly Jewish, but hardly any that were exclusively so.” Christians or Muslims often dwelled in apartments in the same compound as Jews, and Jews, Muslims, and Christians sometimes held properties in partnership.  Islamic law, for its part, permits dhimmis to dwell among Muslims, the rationale being that the latter might thereby reveal the beauties of Islam to their non-Muslim neighbors. [135]

Along with the forced ghettoization, Europeans enacted strict travel restrictions upon Jews, lest the latter try to evade apartheid.  Jews found guilty of “illegal movement” were heavily punished.  It was argued that their status as perpetual serfs made them the property of the royals; hence, they could not simply up and walk away.  This too contrasted with the Islamic world, where Jews were free to travel wherever they wished:

The liberal Jewish privileges of the Carolingian era began to give way in the twelfth century to restriction on movement, to tightening of control over the Jews (the beginnings of “Jewish serfdom”), to unprecedented violence, and to incipient expulsions.  The Christian polemical theme of divine rejection and Jewish inferiority assumed new momentum…[leading to] the deterioration in Jewish status, [and] the restriction on movement…

The Jews of Islam in the classical period seem not to have felt the need to protest oppression in the same way…After all, they mingled more freely than their Ashkenazic brethren with merchants, courtiers, scholars, and physicians from the dominant religious group.  They did not suffer restrictions on their freedom of movement.  And they did not experience a degradation in legal status similar to the Jewish serfdom of Latin Europe. [136]

Although this forced ghettoization took place throughout much of Europe, we see particularly harsh implementations in Central Europe and Russia.  In Russia, for example, Jews were expelled and forced to live in “the Pale”:

The government apparently took steps to maintain Jewish (target) visibility–that is, enabling them to maintain a certain autonomy in practing their religion while systematically pauperizing them by discriminatory laws and severely limiting their freedom fo movement within the country.

This was crystallized in a series of “Jewish statutes” under Tsar Alexander I and the establishment of the Pale of Settlement, a region of 286,000 square miles and twenty-five provinces which encompassed the western flank of European Russia…During th ereigns of subsequent tsars, the Pale became a significant means of dealing with the “Jewish problem,” a term which has reverbated with chilling significance to the present day.  However, it should be noted that tsars, church, and aristocracy attempted to solve this so-called problem by the triune method of progressive assimilation of the Jews into Russian culture, expulsion, and blaming them for almost every conceivable problem…Jewish freedom of movement became even more restricted and was strictly limited to the Pale, although there was a slight relaxation of these laws toward the end fo the nineteenth century under Nicholas II.

The Russian census of 1897…shows that there were almost 5,000,000 Jews living in the Pale, comprising approximately 94 percent of the total Jewish population of the Russian Empire. [137]

Expulsion, Forced Conversions, and Massacres

Professor Cohen makes an important differentiation between discrimination and persecution.  Although it could be argued that discrimination leads to persecution and there is overlap, it suffices for our understanding here.  Using this framework, it can be demonstrated that the Islamic world was infected with discrimination against infidels but there was relatively little persecution, whereas the Christian realm was affected by not only a higher degree of discrimination but outright persecution.

The Pact of Umar certainly had discriminatory measures in it, such as the restriction forbidding dhimmis from building their houses a certain height or of not being able to ride horses–but there was nothing in it that called for the wholesale persecution of infidels.  The persecution of the infidels under Christendom–in terms of expulsions, forced conversions, and massacres–far outsurpassed that of those under the Islamic sphere.

This is not to say that such persecution was alien to the Islamic world; anti-Islam ideologues point to a handful of instances in which this indeed did happen (the favorite being the massacre of 1066), but it must be understood that this was the exception, not the rule–unlike in Christendom where persecution was widespread in scale.  Professor Cohen writes:

Finally, it is important to state what is meant by persecution.  As employed in the following discussion, the word means unwarranted violence against persons or property, including individual and mass murder.  It means unlawful compulsion in matters of religion, such as forced conversion, and it includes physical expulsion.  Other forms of mistreatment–what we would call discrimination, be it bias, sumptuary laws, negative attitudes, or false statements–may and do lead to persecution.  In and of itself, however, such intolerance was considered “normal” by medieval socities in which Jews lived.

Not even Salo Baron’s anti-lachrymose revision of Jewish history in the Middle Ages managed to gloss over the fact that the Jews in Christendom suffered greatly, especially from the twelfth century on.  Well known are instances of large-scale massacre that began during the Cursades.  Jews charged with killing Christian children were tortured and, in many cases, executed.  Others were persecuted for allegedly poisoning wells or stealing and “torturing” the eucharist wafer (the “host desecration libel”).  Jews experienced economic persecution (for instance, through official limitation of occupational opportunities and assaults on their property).  The Talmud was burned, and Jews were forced to attend conversionary sermons–measures intended to weaken the hold of Judaism on its adherents.  And Jews were expelled from towns, counties, and kingdoms…

Whether their persecution is measured in terms of expulsion, murder, assault on property, or forced conversion, the Jews of Islam did not experience physical violence on a scale remotely approaching Jewish suffering in Western Christendom.  By and large, even when dhimmis as a group experienced growing oppression and persecution in the postclassical period, the grim conditions found in Europe were not matched…”Compared with the contemporary massacres in Christian Europe,” Baron writes of the Mamluk empire in the period 1250-1517, “anti-Jewish riots were both less frequent and less bloody.  As a rule they were limited to certain localities and did not assume the epidemic proportions of the assaults by Crusaders or by the frenzied European mobs of 1348-1349 or 1391.” His pinpointing a distinction that applies even more sharply to earlier centuries, the period that is the focus of my book.

How can one explain this difference?  The historian R. I. Moore has called medieval Christianity, especially as of the twelfth century, a “persecuting society.”  The characteristics and historical circumstances that this scholar evidences in support of his conclusion help explain the relatively better condition of the Jews of Islam.  According to Moore, beginning in the twelfth century, European Christendom showed increasing hostility to three groups–Jews, heretics, and lepers.  The assumed connection between the Devil and both Jews and heretics (linkage between Jews and heretics, of course, went back to early Christian times), and the ascription to Jews and lepers alike of filth, stench, and putrefaction and of menace to Christian wives and children numbered among the factors that led to the deadly interchangeability of the three groups, particularly in popular thinking.  “The assimilation of Jews, heretics and lepers into a single rhetoric … depicted them as a single though many-headed threat to the security of the Christian order…”

Nothing comparable to the invective and hatred characteristic of the Ashkenazic literary treatment of Christianity exists in the writings of the Jews of Islam…The dissimilarity between East and West was even greater during the classical period.  Seen from the perspective presented in this book, the embeddedness of the Jews of Islam, the product of intertwining religious, legal, economic, and social factors, constitutes the most important reason for the relative freedom from violent persecution, and hence for a collective historical memory that was fundamentally different from that of the Jews of Christendom. [138]

During the Crusades alone, it is estimated that over a 100,000 European Jews were slaughtered. [139]


Arab and Muslim apologists have furthered the myth of interfaith utopia as a means to undermine the state of Israel.  Meanwhile, anti-Muslim xenophobes have propagated the counter-myth of Islamic persecution of non-Muslims.  The latter have made a big hullabaloo about the word “dhimmi” and expanded it as a concept, using the neologism of “dhimmitude.”  I have here protested the usage of the word “dhimmitude,” because it is an attempt to convey the (false) idea that dhimmis were reduced to servitude.  The similarity of the words “dhimmitude” and “servitude” is no accident.  Bat Ye’or, the anti-Islam ideologue who introduced the myth of dhimmitude to the West–and who is the god of “scholarship” for such demagogues as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller–specifically uses the word “servitude” juxtaposed with “dhimmi”:

Dhimmitude,” as Ye’or makes clear, is a status that results in a profound psychosocial adjustment in some ways akin to servitude.

FrontPage Magazine, the xenophobic fear-mongering machine hosted by David Horowitz, says (emphasis is mine):

“A thing without a name escapes understanding,” warns preeminent Islamic scholar Bat Ye’or of jihad and dhimmitude—the Islamic institutions of, respectively, war and perpetual servitude imposed on conquered non-Muslim peoples.

The irony would be comical, if it were not frightening.  The amazing thing is that they use the word “perpetual servitude” which is exactly the term used historically by the Christian West to denote the position of infidels, including Jews and Muslims!  One recalls the infallible Papal Bull that gave permission to Christians to “invade, conquer, storm, attack, and subjugate” to “reduce into perpetual servitude [perpetuam servitute] the Saracens [Muslims], pagans, and other enemies of Christ.”  It is a truism that bigots often–in their haste to hate–end up throwing stones from glass houses.  The sheer irony–of the self-proclaimed defenders of the Judeo-Christian tradition using the term “perpetual servitude” to beat the Muslims over the head with–should not be lost on the perceptive reader.

Dhimmis were not reduced to perpetual servitude, and it is thus incorrect to use this neologism of dhimmitude, which is a purposeful amalgamation of the two words.  Infidels in Islamic lands were discriminated against yes, but they were free men; in fact, it was considered illegal by law–both secular and religious–to take away their freedom or to enslave them.  Neither were they serfs owned by monarchs, barons, and other royals–nor of the the church–as they were in Christendom.  Under the iron fist of Christian rule, infidels were traded as chattel by the Church and state, rented out and even mortgaged as if property.

Dhimmis on the other hand were not unfree serfs but free citizens, second class though they were.  As discriminatory as it was to be a second class citizen, it was certainly worlds better than being an unfree serf or slave.  Bernard Lewis commented on the status of the second-class dhimmi vis-a-vis the perpetual serf:

Second-class citizenship, though second-class, is a kind of citizenship. [140]

Professor Cohen opines:

According to the Islamic “law of the land,” the shari’a [holy law], the dhimmi enjoyed a kind of citizenship, second class and unequal though it was…[in contrast to] Jews living in Latin Christian lands, where competing legal systems complicated their status and where the “law of utility” inexorably led to arbitrariness and eventually to isolation of the Jews into a special category of persons, legally possessed by this or that ruling authority. [141]

As for the Pact of Umar, a few points restrict the effectiveness of it as a beating stick for anti-Islam ideologues: (1) The document itself is apocryphal, forged after the earliest Islamic period and thus unrepresentative of it; (2) The more discriminatory conditions in the Pact of Umar were considered by jurists to be optional and therefore more often than not ignored;  (3) Practice differs from theory and–for a variety of reasons–the discriminatory conditions in the Pact of Umar were rarely and only sporadically enforced; (4) The inspiration for the Pact of Umar came from Christian law codes.

Dhimmis were forced to pay the jizya once yearly; the rate was usually (although not always) reasonable.  On the other hand, the Christian authorities taxed infidels in their realm multiple times throughout the year, burdening them with hefty tallages beyond their abilities. The jizya guaranteed the state’s protection.  On the other hand, Christendom forced the infidels to engage in shohad (bribery) in order to obtain protection, which was much more arbitrary than the jizya, oftentimes not enough to save them from persecution.  After their economic capacity had been subsequently diminished, the Jews of Europe were expelled due to their insolvency and lack of utility.  Their remaining property was seized by the state.

The concept of Perpetual Servitude established the idea that infidels were the property of the church or state; hence, all what they owned did not belong to them, but to the Christian authorities.  Church leaders argued that all Jewish property could be seized except the absolute bare minimum necessary for their survival (as it was argued that they ought not to be allowed to die for fear that they would then not serve as Witness to the triumph of Christianity).  Meanwhile, infidels in Islamic lands owned all their wealth and property–with the only requirement being that they pay a tax on it.

The Pact of Umar decreed some discriminatory “Jim Crow” laws, such as the command for dhimmis to stand in the presence of Muslims, the prohibition to build houses a certain height, etc.  This fact has been used by anti-Islam ideologues such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, yet they ignore the even more discriminatory “Jim Crow” laws in Christendom, such as the requirement for the Jew to step out of the way of the Christian, to take one’s hat off and then bow to the Christian.  Similarly Jews were not permitted to use sidewalks, carry walking sticks, or walk two a breast at a time.  They were forced to enter the back doors of town halls, and forbidden to enter public gardens, or enter Christian quarters–a truly apartheid system.  As such, the indignation of the anti-Islam ideologues–self-proclaimed guardians of the Judeo-Christian tradition–seems selective and biased.  In any case, these regulations fell into disuse in the Islamic world; again, reality differs from theory.

As for the regulations in the Pact of Umar to wear distinctive clothing (ghiyar), this too fell into disuse.  Furthermore, the Christian world had similar laws.  However, there was a significant difference between the Islamic law of ghiyar and the Christian yellow badge.  Professor Mark R. Cohen notes that the Islamic requirement was simply that Jews continue wearing their traditional clothing and not imitate the dress of the Muslims–something which not only were the Jews were content in doing but which was a part of their religion already, i.e. to dress differently than the gentiles.  Meanwhile, the Christian laws forced Jews to wear specific clothing that they did not want to wear, and which made them sources of ridicule and persecution, such as yellow badges and pointed dunce-like hats.

The prohibition in the Pact of Umar of Muslim nicknames simply required the dhimmis to retain their traditional names, which they were again happy to do in accordance to their religious beliefs.  Meanwhile, Christian law forced Jews to change their names.  Names were sold to Jews; those Jews with money could afford nicer names, whereas poor Jews–or those who simply annoyed authorities–were stuck with names like Ass Head, Pickpocket, or Schmuck.  In any case, the Geniza gives us proof that the ban on dhimmis taking Muslim nicknames was disregarded; meanwhile, historical records indicate that the Jews of Europe did very much have their names changed.

The Pact of Umar restricted the right of dhimmis to build new houses of worship or to repair existing ones.  However, Islamic jurists argued that the restriction only applied to certain areas and not others; whatever the case, historical records prove that the law was routinely ignored, and churches and synagogues continued to be built “without opposition.”  Furthermore, Christian Europe also passed laws that forbade Jews from building or repairing synagogues.

Public displays of religion were forbidden in both the Islamic East and the Christian West.  However, Islamic authorities at least allowed dhimmis to practice their religion freely in private, without interference.  Meanwhile, Christian laws impeded even the personal religious practices of the Jews.  The Church attacked the Talmud, censoring it, banning it and even burning tens of thousands of copies.  The Jews perceived this as an unprecedented “catastrophe.”  Both Islamic and Christian authorities forbade infidels from proselytism, but the Church went even further by forcing infidels to attend compulsory Christian sermons, where intimidating Christian mobs would seek to force Jews to see the light of Christianity.

The Islamic and Christian worlds alike punished those infidels guilty of abusing the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ respectively.  Here too, however, major differences existed; the Christians resorted to collective punishment whereas the Muslims generally did not as a matter of law.  Also distinctive to the Christian world were the irrational ritual murder libel, Black Death accusation, and the eucharist wafer scare.  These witch hunts led to masscres of tens of thousands of Jews, and elimination of entire communities.

The Jews of Europe were barred from most professions, and thereby restricted to the hated and hateful occupation of money-lending–something which only increased their vulnerability to angry Christian mobs.  Even this singular means of survival often came under attack by the Church, further reducing the Jews to a state of unemployment and abject poverty.  Meanwhile, Jews of the Islamic Orient were permitted to–and did–join virtually any profession.  This gave them great occupational diversification which made them much more financially secure than their counterparts in Europe.

Infidels in the Christian West, as perpetual serfs, were forbidden to own land.  Dhimmis, on the other hand, were considered free persons and had the right to own property.

The Jews of Europe were forced into ghettos, and as perpetual serfs their freedom of movement was heavily restricted.  Meanwhile, dhimmis did not live in such apartheid, and could reside wherever they wished, free to move about as they pleased.

Most importantly, the Jews of Europe were faced with much more persecution than their counterparts in the East.  Under Christian rule, the Jews were faced with recurrent expulsions, forced conversions, and massacres.

In order to “prove” their point, anti-Islam ideologues such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller ignore the plight of infidels in Christian Europe:

The Jews were exceedingly oppressed during the middle ages throughout Christendom.  In France, a Jew was a serf, and his person and goods belonged to the baron on whose demesnes he lived.  He could not change his domicile without permission of the baron, who could pursue him as a fugitive…Like an article of commerce, he might be lent or hired for a time, or mortgaged.  If he became a Christian, his conversion was considered a larceny of the lord, and his property and goods were confiscated.  They were allowed to utter their prayers only in a low voice and without chanting.  They were not allowed to appear in public without some badge or mark of distinction.  Christians were forbidden to employ Jews of either sex as domestics, physicians, or surgeons…It was deemed disgraceful to an advocate to undertake the cause of a Jew.  If a Jew appeared in court against a Christian, he was obliged to swear by the ten names of God and invoke a thousand imprecations against himself if he spoke not the truth.  Sexual intercourse between a Christian man and a Jewess was deemed a crime against nature, and was punishable with death by burning…

Under the Roman law the Jews were the subject of severe restrictive laws and were classed in the enactments of the Christian emperors with apostates, heretics, and and heathens…Marriage with them was forbidden…and a Jew could not be the tutor of a Christian…

In the fifth book of the Decretals it is provided that if a Jew have a servant that desireth to be a Christian, the Jew shall be compelled to sell him to a Christian for twelve-pence; that it shall not be lawful for them to take any Christian to be their servant; that they may repair their old synagogues, but not build new; that it shall not be lawful for them to open their doors or windows on Good Friday; that their wives shall neither have Christian nurses, nor themselves be nurses to Christian women; that they wear different apparel from the Christians, whereby they may be known…

In England, the Jew could have nothing that was his own, for whatever he acquired he acquired not for himself but for the king..They were so heavily taxed by the sovereigns or governments of Christendom, and at the same time debarred from almost every other trade or occupation–partly by special decrees, partly by vulgar prejudice–that they could not afford to prosecute ordinary vocations.  In 1253, the Jews–no longer able to withstand the constant hardships to which they were subjected in person and property–begged of their own accord to be allowed to leave the country.  Richard of Cornwall, however, persuaded them to stay.  Ultimately, in 1290 A.D. they were driven from the shores of England, pursued by the execrations of the infuriated rabble, and leaving in the hands of the kings all their property, debts, obligations, and mortgages. [142]


Anti-Islam ideologues such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller exaggerate about the Islamic history; but more importantly, they downplay and even deny the greater oppression rampant in Christendom.  This selective analysis allows them to use (so-called) dhimmitude as a stick to beat the Muslims over the head with.  Muslims ought not to cower to such intimidation, but rather remind the valiant defenders of the Judeo-Christian tradition of the concept of Perpetual Servitude.  It has become the habit of some of the anti-Islam bigots to weaponize the term “dhimmi,” calling anyone who is tolerant of Islam to be one; liberals thus become dhimmis to Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, et al.  Perhaps then the Jewish Geller ought to be called a Witness, Perpetual Serf, or even an Ass Head or Schmuck under the yolk of the Christian Spencer. (After all, Christian Zionists still believe in the Witness doctrine.)

It is likely that Spencer and Geller will reply by arguing that the treatment of infidels during Christian rule was in violation of Christianity, whereas the treatment of dhimmis was based upon the immutable Islamic law (Sharia).  However, it should be remembered that the idea of Perpetual Servitude originated from the Church itself, and in the infallible papal decrees–and later adopted by the founder of the Protestant movement.  As for the claim that the mistreatment of dhimmis is a part of the immutable Sharia–and that no Islamic authority has ever revised these laws–I shall address these two lies in a follow up article.

The Jewish Israeli historian Nissim Rejwan [143] sums it up best:

Under Ottoman Islam, which by the beginning of the sixteenth century dominated Syria [including Palestine] and Eygpt, the conditions under which the Jews were permitted to live contrasted so strikingly with those imposed on their coreligionists in various parts of Christendom that the fifteenth century witnessed a large influx of European Jews into the [Ottoman] Sultan’s dominions. During the first half of that century, persecutions had occurred in Bohemia, Austria, and Poland, and, at about this time, two German rabbis who sought and secured refuge in the Ottoman Empire wrote a letter to their community extolling the beauties and advantages of their new home.

But it was the measures taken against the Jews in Spain, culminating in their expulsion in 1492, that gave the greatest momentum to this migration. The Jews who chose to settle in various parts of the [Ottoman] empire found their surroundings rather congenial, and they, in turn contributed greatly to the flowering of Ottoman civilization…Marranos, who in Christian Spain had embraced Christianity to escape persecution and death, abandoned their disguise and returned to Judaism. Istanbul soon came to harbor the largest Jewish community in the whole of Europe, while Salonika became a predominantly Jewish city. The degree of the Jews’ integration into the life of Ottoman Islam was such, indeed, that two notable non-Jewish students of modern Islam found that there has been, in their words, “something sympathetic to the Jewish nature in the culture of Islam,” since “from the rise of the Caliphate till the abolition of the ghettos in Europe the most flourishing centers of Jewish life were to be found in Muslim countries: in Iraq during the Abbassid period, in Spain throughout the period of Moorish domination, and thereafter in the Ottoman Empire.”

…At the turn of the eighteenth century, the Jewish community in Jerusalem experienced a growth in numbers at an inordinate rate…According to a recent study by Tudor Parfitt, however, the startling increase in Jewish immigration to Jerusalem in the nineteenth century took place “not because the attraction of Jerusalem as the holy city grew, but because political and other factors made such immigration increasingly possible.”

…In nineteenth-century Palestine, he adds, such tolerance was “a consistent part of the relationship between the Ottoman authorities and the Jews.” He quotes European travelers as remarking on “the perfect religious freedom” that prevailed…One of these travelers, J. Wilson, is quoted as saying that “entire freedom of worship…is now accorded to [the Jews] and they are left to manage their own internal affairs without interference from any other quarter.” …

By way of conclusion, a word of caution is in order…It must be pointed out that the picture has not been uniformly so rosy and that instances of religious intolerance toward and discriminatory treatment of Jews under Islam are by no means difficult to find. This point is of special relevance at a time in which, following a reawakening of interest in the history of Arab-Jewish relations among Jewish writers and intellectuals, certain interested circles have been trying to…[question the] Judeo-Arabic tradition or symbiosis by digging up scattered pieces of evidence to show that Islam is essentially intolerant…and that Muslims’ contempt for Jews was even greater and more deep-seated than that manifested by Christians…

Such caricatures of the history of Jews under Islam continue to be disseminated by scholars as well as by interested publicists and ideologues. Indeed, all discussion of relations between Jews and Muslims…is beset by the most burning emotions and by highly charged sensitivities. In their eagerness to repudiate the generally accepted version of these relations (a version which, it is worthwhile pointing out, originates not in Muslim books of history but with Jewish historians and Orientalists in nineteenth-century Europe), certain partisan students of the Middle East conflict today seem to go out of their way to show that, far from being the record of harmonious coexistence it is often claimed to be, the story of Jewish-Muslim relations since the time of Muhammad was “a sorry array of conquest, massacre, subjection, spoilation in goods and women and children, contempt, expulsion–[and] even the yellow badge…”

Informed by a fervor seldom encountered in scholarly discourse, some of these latter-day historians have gone so far as to question even the motives of those European-Jewish scholars of the past century who virtually founded modern Oriental and Arabic studies and managed to unearth the impressive legacy of Judeo-Arabic culture, a culture that was undeniably an outcome of a long and symbiotic encounter between Muslims and Jews.

…[But] by the standards then prevailing–and they are plainly the only ones by which a historian is entitled to pass judgment–Spanish Islamic tolerance was no myth but a reality of which present-day Muslim Arabs are fully justified in reminding their contemporaries…Tolerance, then, is a highly relative concept, and the only sensible way of gauging the extent of tolerance in a given society or culture in a given age is to compare it with that prevailing in other societies and cultures in the same period…

The only plausible conclusion one could draw from the whole debate is that, while Jewish life in Muslim Spain–and under Islam generally–was not exactly the idyllic paradise some would want us to believe, it was far from the veritable hell that was the Jews’ consistent lot under Christendom. [144]

Readers who are interested in ideologically driven and biased research may read Bat Ye’or, Robert Spencer, or Pamela Geller. Those who seek to read the work of unbiased and balanced expert scholars are encouraged to start by reading Professor Mark R. Cohen’s book, available for purchase here.


refer back to article 1. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades, 47. ISBN 0-89526-013-1

refer back to article 2. Ibid., 57

refer back to article 3. Ibid., 59

refer back to article 4. Martin Goodman, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, 198. ISBN 0199280320

refer back to article 5. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages, xix. ISBN 069101082X, 9780691010823

refer back to article 6. Ibid.

refer back to article 7. Ibid., xx

refer back to article 8. Ibid., xxi-xxiii

refer back to article 9. David Grafton, The Christians of Lebanon, 31. ISBN 1860649440, 9781860649448

refer back to article 10. Thomas Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, 57

refer back to article 11. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 55

refer back to article 12. Michael Angold, Eastern Christianity, 489. ISBN 0521811139, 9780521811132

refer back to article 13. Francis E. Peters, The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, 274. ISBN 0691114609, 9780691114606

refer back to article 14. A.S. Tritton, The Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects, 10. ISBN 1443787035, 9781443787031

refer back to article 15. Nabeel Jabbour, The Rumbling Vocano: Islamic Fundamentalism in Egypt, 15-16. ISBN 0878082417, 9780878082414

refer back to article 16. see Maher Abu-Munshar’s Islamic Jerusalem and its Christians

refer back to article 17. Ibid.

refer back to article 18. Ibid.

refer back to article 19. A.S. Tritton, The Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects, 16-17. ISBN 1443787035, 9781443787031

refer back to article 20. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades, 51

refer back to article 21. The Institute for Advanced Study [Princeton, N.J.] and the World Jewish Congress, Proceedings of the Seminar on Muslim-Jewish Relations in North Africa (1975)

refer back to article 22. Martin Goodman, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, 199-200

refer back to article 23. Rabbi David Sherman, Judaism Confronts Modernity, 323. ISBN 0620181958, 9780620181952

refer back to article 24. Spertus College of Judaica, Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies; The Solomon Goldman Lectures, 24. ISBN 0935982620, 9780935982626

refer back to article 25. Ken Blady, Jewish Communities in Exotic Places, 10. ISBN 0765761122, 9780765761125

refer back to article 26. Raymon P. Scheindlin, A Short History of the Jewish People, 74. ISBN 0195139410, 9780195139419

refer back to article 27. Jane Hathaway, The Arab Lands under Ottoman Rule, 190. ISBN 0582418992, 9780582418998

refer back to article 28. Robert S. Wistrich, Demonizing the Other, 109. ISBN 9057024977, 9789057024979

refer back to article 29. Solomon Grayzel, A History of the Jews (Jewish Publication Society of America; 1966), 253

refer back to article 30. Mark Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 195

refer back to article 31. Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity, 109. ISBN 0061472808, 9780061472800

refer back to article 32. National Association of Professors of Hebrew in American Institutions of Higher Learning, Hebrew Studies (1985), Vol. 26, Parts 1-2

refer back to article 33. S.D. Goitein as quoted in Robert S. Wistrich, Demonizing the Other, 109-110

refer back to article 34. Michael Angold, Eastern Christianity, 489. ISBN 0521811139, 9780521811132

refer back to article 35. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 196

refer back to article 36. Ibid., p.30

refer back to article 37. Mark Juergensmeyer, The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions, 204-205. ISBN 0195137981, 9780195137989

refer back to article 38. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, xxv

refer back to article 39. Jeffrey S. Malka, Sephardic Genealogy, 41. ISBN 1886223149, 9781886223141

refer back to article 40. Jay Weidner, The Mysteries of the Great Cross of Hendaye, 128. ISBN 089281084X, 9780892810840

refer back to article 41. Nissim Dana, The Druze in the Middle East: Their Faith, Leadership, Identity and Status. ISBN 978-1-903900-36-9 h/b

refer back to article 42. Martin Goodman, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, 199-200

refer back to article 43. Mario Apostolov; Religious Minorities, Nation States, and Security; 47. ISBN 0754616770, 9780754616771

refer back to article 44. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, xx-xxi

refer back to article 45. Robert S. Wistrich, Demonizing the Other, 109

refer back to article 46. Hugh Goddard, A History of Christian-Muslim Relations, 47. ISBN 074861009X, 9780748610099

refer back to article 47. Samuel Parsons Scott, The Civil Law, 209. ISBN 1584771305, 9781584771302

refer back to article 48. Steven Bayme, Understanding Jewish History: Texts and Commentaries, 120-121. ISBN 0881255548, 9780881255546

refer back to article 49. Mordecai Paldiel, Churches and the Holocaust, 17. ISBN 088125908X, 9780881259087

refer back to article 50. Kenneth R. Stow, Alienated Minority: the Jews of Medieval Latin Europe, 144. ISBN 0674015932, 9780674015937

refer back to article 51. Michael Parenti, History as Mystery, 107. ISBN 0872863573, 9780872863576

refer back to article 52. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 47

refer back to article 53. Ibid, pp.130-131

refer back to article 54. Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews, 94-95. ISBN 0809143240, 9780809143245

refer back to article 55. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 274

refer back to article 56. Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews, 95

refer back to article 57. Norman P. Zacour, Jews and Saracens in the Consilia of Oldradus de Ponte, Volumes 100-102, 24-30. ISBN 0888441002, 9780888441003

refer back to article 58. John Victor Tolan, Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination, 278. ISBN 0231123337, 9780231123334

refer back to article 59. Julie Anne Taylor, Muslims in Medieval Italy: The Colony at Lucera, 206. ISBN 0739114840, 9780739114841

refer back to article 60. Scott L. Waugh, Christendom and Its Discontents, 258. ISBN 0521525098, 9780521525091

refer back to article 61. Sharon Korman, The Right of Conquest, 44. ISBN 0198280076, 9780198280071

refer back to article 62. Gaurav Gajanan Desai, Postcolonialisms: An Anthology of Cultural Theory and Criticism, 54

refer back to article 63. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 70

refer back to article 64. Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews, 96

refer back to article 65. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 88

refer back to article 66. Ibid., p.69

refer back to article 67. Ibid., p.72

refer back to article 68. Ibid., pp.48-49

refer back to article 69. Gershon David Hundert, Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the Eighteenth Century, 69. ISBN 0520249941, 9780520249943

refer back to article 70. Robin R. Mundill, England’s Jewish Solution: Experiment and Expulsion, 75-82. ISBN 0521520266, 9780521520263

refer back to article 71. Sharon Turner, The History of England During the Middle Ages (1830), 119

refer back to article 72. Adrian J. Boas, Crusader Archaeology: The Material Culture of the Latin East, 61. ISBN 0415173612, 9780415173612

refer back to article 73. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 63

refer back to article 74. Amos Elon, The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933, 27. ISBN 0312422814, 9780312422813

refer back to article 75. Max I. Dimont, Jews, God, and History, 237. ISBN 0451529405, 9780451529404

refer back to article 76. Robert Michael, Dictionary of Antisemitism from the Earliest Times to the Present, 301. ISBN 0810858681, 9780810858688

refer back to article 77. Egon Caesar Corti, Rise of the House of Rothschild, 3. ISBN 0766144356, 9780766144354

refer back to article 78. A.S. Tritton, The Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects, 123-124

refer back to article 79. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 70. ISBN 069101082X, 9780691010823

refer back to article 80. Dean Phillip Bell, Jews in the Modern World, 27

refer back to article 81. Alan Edelstein, An Unacknowledged Harmony, 50. ISBN 0313227543, 9780313227547

refer back to article 82. Seymour Rossel, The Holocaust: The World and the Jews, 58-59. ISBN 0874415268, 9780874415261

refer back to article 83. Norman Roth, Medieval Jewish Civilization, 67. ISBN 0415937124, 9780415937122

refer back to article 84. Ibid., p.70

refer back to article 85. Alfred S. Cohen, Halacha and Contemporary Society, 252-253. ISBN 0881250422, 9780881250428

refer back to article 86. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 57-63

refer back to article 87. Ibid., pp.62-63

refer back to article 88. Ibid., p.62

refer back to article 89. Ibid. pp.63-64

refer back to article 90. Judit Targarona Borras, Jewish Studies at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, 443. ISBN 9004115544, 9789004115545

refer back to article 91. Norman Roth, Medieval Jewish Civilization, 173

refer back to article 92. S.D. Goitein as quoted in Robert S. Wistrich, Demonizing the Other, 109-110

refer back to article 93. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 38

refer back to article 94. Norman Roth, Medieval Jewish Civilization, 67-70

refer back to article 95. Martin Goodman, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, 199-200

refer back to article 96. Israel Abrahams, The Jewish Quarterly Review (1897), Vol.9, 604-609

refer back to article 97. Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, 305. ISBN 0060915331, 9780060915339

refer back to article 98. Mary Neuburger, The Orient Within, 144. ISBN 0801441323, 9780801441325

refer back to article 99. Gabriella Safran, Rewriting the Jew: Assimilation Narratives in the Russian Empire, 9-10. ISBN 0804738300, 9780804738309

refer back to article 100. Judith Reesa Baskin, Jewish Women in Historical Perspective, 129. ISBN 0814327133, 9780814327135

refer back to article 101. Mabel Morana, Revisiting the Colonial Question in Latin America, 47. ISBN 8484893235, 9788484893233

refer back to article 102. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 65

refer back to article 103. Ibid., pp.65-66

refer back to article 104. Ibid., pp.66-67

refer back to article 105. Ibid., p.67

refer back to article 106. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Christianity and Social Systems, 63. ISBN 0742546438, 9780742546431

refer back to article 107. John Y.B. Hood, Aquinas and the Jews, 27. ISBN 0812215230, 9780812215236

refer back to article 108. J.A.S. Evans, The Age of Justinian: The Circumstances of Imperial Power, 242. ISBN 0415237262, 9780415237260

refer back to article 109. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 58-59

refer back to article 110. Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude, 84

refer back to article 111. Ibid.

refer back to article 112. Martin Goodman, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, 199-200

refer back to article 113. John Victor Tolan, Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam, 13

refer back to article 114. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 60-61

refer back to article 115. Ibid., p.60

refer back to article 116. Gershon David Hundert, Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the Eighteenth Century, 69

refer back to article 117. Bouvier’s Law Dictionary and Concise Encyclopedia (1914), Vol.2, 1695

refer back to article 118. Adin Steinsaltz, The Essential Talmud, 96. ISBN 0465082734, 9780465082735

refer back to article 119. Ibid., pp.103-106

refer back to article 120. Douglas Johnston, Faith-Based Diplomacy Turning Realpolitik, 189. ISBN 0195367936, 9780195367935

refer back to article 121. John Y.B. Hood, Aquinas and the Jews, 27

refer back to article 122. Gershon David Hundert, Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the Eighteenth Century, 69

refer back to article 123. Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews, 114-115

refer back to article 124. Norman Roth, Medieval Jewish Civilization, 220-221

refer back to article 125. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 59

refer back to article 126. Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews, 99-101

refer back to article 127. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 189-191

refer back to article 128. Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam, 157-159. ISBN 0691008078, 9780691008073

refer back to article 129. Gary F. Jensen, The Path of the Devil: Early Modern Witch Hunts, 153. ISBN 0742546977, 9780742546974

refer back to article 130. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 169-170

refer back to article 131. Alain, Pottage, Law, Anthropology, and the Constitution of the Social, 145, ISBN 0521539455, 9780521539456

refer back to article 132. Eliakim Littel, Living Age (1892), Vol. 193, 217

refer back to article 133. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 77-197

refer back to article 134. Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews, 114

refer back to article 135. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 123-126

refer back to article 136. Ibid., p.197

refer back to article 137. Theodore H. Wohl, He Really Had Something to Say: The Ideas of Rabbi Samuel Wohl, 4, ISBN 0881258776, 9780881258776

refer back to article 138. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 162-194

refer back to article 139. David H. Solomon, A History of My Family, 8

refer back to article 140. as quoted by Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 269

refer back to article 141. Ibid., p.195

refer back to article 142. Bouvier’s Law Dictionary and Concise Encyclopedia, Vol.2, 1695-1696

refer back to article 143. Nissim Rejwan is a Research Fellow at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His book won the 1998 National Jewish Book Award for Israel Studies.

refer back to article 144. Nissim Rejwan, Israel’s Place in the Middle East: A Pluralistic Perspective, 40-47. ISBN 0813016010, 9780813016016