Published: 00:00 GMT Standard Time - Friday 04 December 2009
Non-Muslims under Islam - Jihad and non-Muslims
Jihad and non-Muslims
Jihad and non-Muslims
According to classical Islamic doctrine, jihad is the Godgiven method for dealing with non-Muslims and for the expansion of Islam’s political dominion into non-Muslim territory. Pagans who did not convert to Islam were killed. Jews and Christians, on the other hand, were allowed to keep their faith and live, but only if they submitted to Islamic domination. After a Muslim conquest, any sign of discontent amongst the subjugated Jews and Christians was considered to revoke the pact of submission/protection and require further jihad against them.4
It is clear from documents of the time that early jihad campaigns brought misery to the conquered non-Muslims. Muslim writers often claim that the Islamic conquests brought liberation to oppressed people and tolerance to all religious communities. But the accounts of Christians, Jews and others who were on the receiving end are very different, and even Muslim historians recorded large-scale brutality. Jihad was all too frequently accompanied by destruction of cities, the killing of captured soldiers, the massacre of civilians, looting, widespread slavery, forced conversions to Islam, the seizing of non-Muslim lands and heavy taxation.5
Status of pagans
Relations between Muhammad and his pagan relatives and neighbours were tense from the beginning. Shari‘a forbade any social interaction such as sharing of food or intermarriage between Muslims and pagans. Pagans were to be fought by jihad until they submitted and converted to Islam, or were killed or enslaved. In historical reality, all the Arabian tribes were forced to become Muslims by the first caliphs. In later conquered areas such as India, where polytheists were very numerous, many were initially slaughtered, but the sheer number of polytheists in the conquered territories made the command to kill them impractical in reality, Later some Muslim scholars gave Hinduism the same status as Judaism and Christianity, but other scholars disputed this.
Status of Jews and Christians
Jews and Christians were defined in shari‘a as dhimmis, that is, subjugated second-class people given protection by the Muslim state. Protection meant that they were allowed to keep their non-Muslim faith yet not be killed (unlike pagans). However, this arrangement - protection in return for submission - held only as long the dhimmis did not carry weapons, knew their lowly place in society, treated Muslims with respect, and paid a demeaning poll tax called jiyza. Numerous petty laws restricted and humiliated Jews and Christians in their daily lives. They were only allowed to worship within their synagogues and churches, not in public space. Church bells were not allowed to be rung. New church buildings were not allowed, nor could existing churches be repaired. Dhimmis could not testify in a shari‘a court against a Muslim. Finally, dhimmis were not to be given any public office that placed them in a position of authority over Muslims. At best, they could serve their Muslim rulers in administrative capacities, and any signs of “arrogance” were harshly punished. It is narrated that the Caliph Umar refused to employ Christians in positions of power, saying:
I will not honour them when God has degraded them; I will not glorify them when God has humiliated them; I will not bring them near when God has set them far.6
The ancient Christian communities that have survived under Muslim rule, such as the Copts in Egypt or the Assyrians in Iraq, see their history as a long series of persecutions, massacres, forced conversions, and destroyed churches. They feel themselves to be a subjugated people precariously surviving among a dominant and hostile Muslim majority. Martyrdom and suffering have a high symbolic meaning as they perceive themselves facing a constant threat to their very existence.
During the colonial period, the practice of shari‘a was partly dismantled in several Muslim states, being replaced to some extent by Western codes of law. The rise of secular and socialist forms of nationalism at the end of the colonial period brought a temporary reprieve from traditional Muslim hostility to non-Muslims. There were great hopes of creating new national identities across religious and ethnic divides.
However, since independence in the mid-twentieth century, many Muslim states have reintroduced shari‘a as a main source of their legal systems, and many modern Islamist movements are demanding a greater use of shari‘a.
Furthermore, whether or not shari‘a is officially implemented, the long history of its application still influences attitudes of Muslim communities around the globe. The result is that Christians (and Jews when they were present) in Muslim countries are commonly despised and discriminated against by officialdom and by society at large. They find it hard to get jobs, are not treated as equals in the law-courts, and are often harassed by the security services.
The current growth of Islamism is fuelling an increasing hostility to non-Muslims. Indigenous Christians are often assumed to be Western collaborators and spies in the heart of Islam. These attitudes are eroding the hard-won freedoms inherited from the colonial and independence era. Discrimination, persecution and attacks against Christians are on the increase in many Muslim states.
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