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Muslims refer to Jews and Christians (sometimes Zoroastrians and even Mandeans) as "People of the Book". When these people reside in states that practice Sharia law, they are called dhimmi ("protected person"). As dhimmi, they are subject to various protections and disabilities, which are called dhimma. People of other religions do not have this protected status.

In the handful of Muslim countries which officially practice Sharia, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, Dhimmis are legally exempt from performing otherwise mandatory Islamic duties, but must instead pay a special tax. Most Muslim countries are legally secular and do not practice Sharia (this includes the major Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Egypt and Turkey). However, some of them still discriminate against Jews and Christians in ways related to Sharia.

When the dhimmi concept was introduced in the 8th century it was comparatively tolerant by the standards of the time. Christians and Jews were allowed to live in peace within the Muslim society. An excellent example is the Muslim state of Cordoba in Southern Spain where Christians and Jews prospered. Maimonides, by some considered the greatest Jewish philosopher and Talmudic sage, lived here. As late as the 16th century, religious tolerance in Europe was greatest within the Ottoman Empire.

Table of contents
1 Modern vs. Customary Practice
2 Status of Dhimmis
3 Additional Background Information
4 External Links

Modern vs. Customary Practice

The attitude towards dhimmis varies from Muslim to Muslim. Muslims living in comparatively secular nations typically present the dhimmi as being equal to Muslims. For example, one book published in Pakistan claims:

Islam does not permit discrimination in the treatment of other human beings on the basis of religion or any other criteria... it emphasises neighborliness and respect for the ties of relationship with non-Muslims ...within this human family, Jews and Christians, who share many beliefs and values with Muslims, constitute what Islam terms Ahl al-Kitab, that is, People of the Scripture, and hence Muslim have a special relationship to them as fellow "Scriptuaries". (Suzanne Haneef, What everyone should know about Islam and Muslims, Kazi Publications, Lahore, 1979, p. 173.

In contrast, Muslims living in Islamic nations, particular those that practice Sharia, usually present the dhimmi as being a second to Muslims. For example, one book published in Saudi Arabia argues:

In a country ruled by Muslim authorities, a non-Muslim is guaranteed his freedom of faith.... Muslims are forbidden from obliging a non-Muslim to embrace Islam, but he should pay the tribute to Muslims readily and submissively, surrender to Islamic laws, and should not practice his polytheistic rituals openly. (Abdul Rahman Ben Hammad Al-Omar, The Religion of Truth, Riyadh, General Presidency of Islamic Researches, 1991, p. 86.)

Status of Dhimmis

There is a myth that for several centuries following the codification of the Quran, the religion of Islam spread through warfare. Conquered peoples were generally forced to convert to Islam or be put to death; the only exceptions were Jews and Christians, who were given the choice to become a dhimmi. If a Jew or Christian did so, they became a protected citizen under Islamic law, and they would be allowed not only to live, but also to freely practice their religion.

Dhimmis were legally exempt from performing otherwise mandatory Islamic duties, such as paying the zakah (alms for the poor), but must instead pay a special tax called jizyah ("skull tax"). While Dhimmis were exempt from the military draft, they could not serve in the army even if they wished to.

Later legislation in the Sharia codified the rule that Jews and Christians were forbidden to blaspheme the Quran, the religion of Islam, or their prophet Muhammad. Jews and Christians were also forbidden to ask Muslims to join their faith, but Muslims were allowed to ask Jews and Christians to convert to Islam (see proselytization). Violation of these rules could invoke the death sentence.

Dhimmis were subject to many further restrictions. There were various things forbidden to dhimmis at various times:

Also, dhimmis were sometimes forced to wear distinct clothing, such as forcing all Jews to wear a yellow badge.

Additional Background Information

the neutrality of this section is disputed

Under Sharia, if a Jew or Christian is convicted of killing a Muslim, the sentence is death. If a Muslim is convicted of killing a Jew or Christian, there is no death sentence.

Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith 9.50; Narrated by Abu Juhaifa, states:

I asked 'Ali "Do you have anything Divine literature besides what is in the Qur'an?" Or, as Uyaina once said, "Apart from what the people have?" 'Ali said, "By Him Who made the grain split (germinate) and created the soul, we have nothing except what is in the Qur'an and the ability (gift) of understanding Allah's Book which He may endow a man with, and what is written in this sheet of paper." I asked, "What is on this paper?" He replied, "The legal regulations of Diya (Blood-money) and the (ransom for) releasing of the captives, and the judgment that no Muslim should be killed in Qisas (equality in punishment) for killing a Kafir (disbeliever)."

Sunan of Abu-Dawood Hadith 2745; Narrated by Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-'As, states:
The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) said: ... A believer shall not be killed for an unbeliever, nor a confederate within the term of confederation with him.

Islamic law holds that if a Christian rapes a Muslim, the Christian must immediately be killed by any Muslim. If a Muslim man rapes a dhimmi, there is no death penalty. 7520, AL-RISALA (Maliki Manual); 37.27 A CHRISTIAN RAPIST:
If a Christian rapes a Muslim woman he is to be killed immediately by any Muslim. But a Muslim cannot be executed on account of a non-believer.

Islamic law prohibits Muslims stealing from dhimmis, and dhimmis stealing from Muslims. There is one exception: According to some opinions, Muslims are allowed to steal religious objects from Christian or pagan houses of worship, because such objects considered idolatrous and prohibited. (See iconoclasm.) 3915, AL-HEDAYA Vol. II (Hanafi Manual):
Amputation is not incurred by stealing a crucifix, although is be of gold, - nor by stealing a chess-board or chess pieces of gold, as it is in the thief's power to excuse himself, by saying "I took them with a view to break and destroy them, as things prohibited." It is otherwise with respect to coin bearing the impression of an idol, by the theft of which amputation is incurred; because the money is not the object of worship, so as to allow of it destruction, and thus leave it in the thief's power to excuse himself. It is recorded, as an opinion of Abu Yusuf, that if a crucifix be stolen out of a Christian place of worship, amputation is not incurred; but if it be taken from a house, the hand of the thief is to be struck off, for in such a situation it is lawful property, and the object of custody.

See also Islam and anti-Semitism, Persecution of Christians, Yellow badge

External Links