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Valar Qringaomis

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Islam and Religious Tolerance (2/3)

(Continued from Part 1)

"The political classification was between those who had been conquered or who had submitted themselves to the power of Islam and those who had not. In Muslim law and practice, the relationship between the Muslim state and the subject non- Muslim communities to which it extended its tolerance and protection was regulated by a pact called dhimma, and those benefiting from this pact were known as ahl al-dhimma (people of the pact) or more briefly, dhimmis. By the terms of the dhimma, these communities were accorded a certain status, provided that they unequivocally recognized the primacy of Islam and the supremacy of the Muslims. This recognition was expressed in the payment of the poll tax and obedience to a series of restrictions defined in detail by the holy law...

Lands where Muslims rule and the Islamic law prevails are known collectively as the Dar al-Islam, the House of Islam; the outside world, inhabited and also governed by infidels, constitutes the Dar al-Harb, the House of War. It has this name because between the realm of Islam and the realms of unbelief there is a canonically obligatory perpetual state of war, which will continue until the whole world either accepts the message of Islam or submits to the rule of those who bring it. The name of this war is jihad, usually translated as "holy war," though the primary meaning of the word is striving or struggle, hence struggle in the cause of God. There are some parallels between the Muslim doctrine of jihad and the rabbinical Jewish doctrine of milhemet mitsva or milhemet hova, with the important difference that the Jewish notion is limited to one country whereas the Islamic jihad is worldwide...

Muslim territories were conquered by Christian armies and Muslim populations fell subject to Christian sovereigns. The resulting problem was much discussed by Muslim jurists, particularly of the Maliki school, predominant in North Africa and among the Muslims of Sicily and the Iberian peninsula. There were different opinions on the obligations of Muslims who found themselves under non-Muslim rule. Some authorities took a lenient view. If a non-Muslim government was tolerant, that is, if it allowed Muslims to practice their religion and obey their laws and thus live a good Muslim life, then they might stay where they were and be law-abiding subjects of such a ruler. Some opinions go further and permit Muslims to remain even under an intolerant ruler, if necessary pretending to adopt Christianity but preserving their Islam in secrecy.

The opposing, more severe, view is formulated in a classical text, a fatwa or responsum written by a Moroccan jurist named Ahmad al-Wansharisi and issued shortly after the final conquest of Spain by the Christians. The fatwa addresses the question: May Muslims remain under Christian rule or must they leave? His answer is unequivocally that they must leave— men, women, and children alike. If the Christian government from which they are departing is tolerant, that makes it all the more urgent that they should leave, since under a tolerant Christian government the danger of apostasy is greater. Al- Wansharisi dramatizes his ruling in the phrase: "Rather Muslim tyranny than Christian justice"...

Inevitably, the great struggles between Christendom and Islam in the Reconquista and the Crusades brought a sharpening of religious loyalties and antagonisms, and a worsening of the position of minorities—Jewish as well as Christian— under Muslim rule. Even so, in this as in many other things, Islamic practice on the whole turned out to be gentler than Islamic precept—the reverse of the situation in Christendom...

When the Muslims first conquered immense territories and were a tiny minority of conquerors amid a vast majority of the conquered, they needed security precautions for the protection of the occupying and governing elements... Christians and Jews were to wear special emblems on their clothes. This, incidentally, is the origin of the yellow badge, which was first introduced by a caliph in Baghdad in the ninth century and spread into Western lands in later medieval times. Even when attending the public baths, non-Muslims were supposed to wear distinguishing signs suspended from cords around their necks, so that they might not be mistaken for Muslims when disrobed in the bathhouse. (Under Shi'a rules, they were not allowed to use the same bathhouses.) The need to distinguish arose especially in the case of Jews, who shared with Muslims the rite of circumcision. The non-Muslims were required to avoid noise and display in their ceremonies, and at all times to show respect for Islam and deference to Muslims.

Most of these disabilities had a social and symbolic rather than a tangible and practical character. The only real economic penalty imposed on the dhimmis was fiscal. They had to pay higher taxes, a system of discrimination inherited from the previous empires of Iran and Byzantium...

In relations between dhimmis and Muslims, they were treated unequally. A Muslim could marry a free dhimmi woman, but a dhimmi man could not marry a Muslim woman. A Muslim could own a dhimmi slave, but a dhimmi could not own a Muslim slave. While the second of these limitations was often disregarded, the first, touching a far more sensitive point, was enforced with the utmost rigor, and any violation of it was severely punished and by some authorities treated as a capital offense. A similar position existed under the laws of the Byzantine Empire, according to which a Christian could marry a Jewish woman, but a Jew could not marry a Christian woman under pain of death. Likewise, Jews in Byzantium were forbidden to own Christian slaves on whatever grounds. The laws of the Muslim state assimilated the position of its Christian and Jewish subjects to that previously held by the Jewish subjects of Byzantium, but with some alleviation for both...

The fiscal penalization of the unbeliever is basic to the perceived relationship between the two sides, and is central to the dhimma as a whole. Unlike most of the other restrictions of the dhimma, it rests on a clear text in the Qur'an, and is well authenticated and established in the oldest traditions and historical narratives. In the earliest period, when, in accordance with the usage of the time, the Muslims would have been entitled to treat the conquered people as booty and sell them into slavery, the procedure adopted, of imposing a poll tax, was an action at once of prudence and of clemency...

The extent to which these restrictions were relaxed or enforced was determined by many factors, one of the most important being the strength or weakness of the Muslim state. It is easier to be tolerant when one feels strong than when one feels weak and endangered. The relationship between Muslims and dhimmis was affected by the state of relations between Islam and the outside world. We shall hardly be surprised to find that from the time of the Crusades onward, as the Muslim world, compared with the Christian world, became weaker and poorer, the position of the non-Muslim subjects of the Muslim states deteriorated. They suffered from a more rigorous enforcement of the restrictions and even from a degree of social segregation—something that had not often happened previously...

There is little sign of any deep-rooted emotional hostility directed against Jews—or for that matter any other group—such as the anti- Semitism of the Christian world. There were, however, unambiguously negative attitudes. These were in part the "normal" feelings of a dominant group toward subject groups, with parallels in virtually any society one cares to examine; in part, more specifically, the contempt of the Muslim for those who had been given the opportunity to accept the truth and who willfully chose to persist in their disbelief; in part, certain specific prejudices directed against one or other group and not against the rest.

On the whole, in contrast to Christian anti-Semitism, the Muslim attitude toward non-Muslims is one not of hate or fear or envy but simply of contempt. This is expressed in various ways. There is no lack of polemic literature attacking the Christians and occasionally also the Jews. The negative attributes ascribed to the subject religions and their followers are usually expressed in religious and social terms, very rarely in ethnic or racial terms, though this does sometimes occur. The language of abuse is often quite strong. The conventional epithets are apes for Jews and pigs for Christians. Different formulae of greeting are used when addressing Jews and Christians than when addressing Muslims, whether in conversation or in correspondence. Christians and Jews were forbidden to give their children distinctively Muslim names and, by Ottoman times, even those names that were shared by the three religions, such as Joseph or David, were differently spelled for the three. Non-Muslims learned to live with a number of differences of this sort; like the sartorial laws, they were part of the symbolism of inferiority...

Some authorities in Iran were even stricter on the question of ritual purity. Thus the first of a set of rules dating from late nineteenth-century Iran forbids Jews to go out of doors when it rains or snows, presumably for fear lest the rain or snow carry the impurity of the Jews to the Muslims...

The Ayatollah Khomeini, in a widely circulated book written for the guidance of Muslims in ritual and related matters, observes: "There are eleven things which make unclean: 1. urine; 2. faeces; 3. sperm; 4. carrion; 5. blood; 6. dog; 7. pig; 8. unbeliever; 9. wine; 10. beer; 11. the sweat of a camel which eats unclean things." In a gloss on number 8 he adds: "The entire body of the unbeliever is unclean; even his hair and nails and body moistures are unclean." There is, however, some relief: "When a non-Muslim man or woman is converted to Islam, their body, saliva, nasal secretions, and sweat are ritually clean. If, however, their clothes were in contact with their sweaty bodies before their conversion, these remain unclean""

--- The Jews of Islam / Bernard Lewis

Continued:
Islam and Religious Tolerance (3/3)
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