What has always been the nature of the system of governance imposed upon indigenous non-Muslims conquered by jihad?

In his seminal The Laws of Islamic Governance, al-Mawardi (d. 1058) — a renowned jurist of Baghdad — examined the regulations pertaining to the lands and infidel populations subjugated by jihad. This is the origin of the system of dhimmitude.

The native infidel “dhimmi” (which derives from both the word for “pact” and also “guilt” — guilty of religious errors) population had to recognize Islamic ownership of their land, submit to Islamic law, and accept payment of the Koranic poll tax (jizya, the tax paid in lieu of being slain) based on Koran 9:29. Al-Mawardi notes: “The enemy makes a payment in return for peace and reconciliation. … Reconciliation and security last as long as the payment is made. If the payment ceases, then the jihad resumes.” 35 A treaty of reconciliation may be renewable, but must not exceed 10 years. This same basic formulation was reiterated during a January 8, 1998, interview by Yusuf al-Qaradawi confirming how jihad continues to regulate the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims to this day. 36

The “contract of the jizya,” or “dhimma,” encompassed other obligatory and recommended obligations for the conquered non-Muslim “dhimmi” peoples. Collectively, these “obligations” formed the discriminatory system of dhimmitude imposed upon non-Muslims — Jews and Christians, as well as Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists — subjugated by jihad. Some of the more salient features of dhimmitude include:

– The prohibition of arms for the vanquished dhimmis

– The prohibition of church bells

– Restrictions concerning the building and restoration of churches, synagogues, and temples

– Inequality between Muslims and non-Muslims with regard to taxes and penal law

– The refusal of dhimmi testimony by Muslim courts

– A requirement that Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims, including Zoroastrians and Hindus, wear special clothes

– The overall humiliation and abasement of non-Muslims 37

It is important to note that these regulations and attitudes were institutionalized as permanent features of the sacred Islamic law, or Shari’a. The writings of the much lionized Sufi theologian and jurist al-Ghazali (d. 1111) highlight how the institution of dhimmitude was simply a normative and prominent feature of the Shari’a: 38

The dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or His Apostle. … Jews, Christians, and Majians must pay the jizya [poll tax on non-Muslims]. … On offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits [the dhimmi] on the protruberant bone beneath his ear [i.e., the mandible]. … They are not permitted to ostentatiously display their wine or church bells. … Their houses may not be higher than the Muslim’s, no matter how low that is. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddle-work is of wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. They [the dhimmis] have to wear [an identifying] patch [on their clothing], even women, and even in the [public] baths. … [Dhimmis] must hold their tongue.

The practical consequences of such a discriminatory system were summarized by S.D. Goitein in 1970 (emphasis mine): 39

Taxation [by the Muslim government] was merciless, and a very large section of the population must have lived permanently at the starvation level. From many Geniza letters one gets the impression that the poor were concerned more with getting money for the payment of their taxes than for food and clothing, for failure of payment usually induced cruel punishment. … The Muslim state was quite the opposite of the ideals … embedded in the constitution of the United States. An Islamic state was part of or coincided with dar al-Islam, the House of Islam. Its treasury was … the money of the Muslims. Christians and Jews were not citizens of the state, not even second class citizens. They were outsiders under the protection of the Muslim state, a status characterized by the term dhimma … They were also exposed to a great number of discriminatory and humiliating laws. … As it lies in the very nature of such restrictions, soon additional humiliations were added, and before the second century of Islam was out, a complete body of legislation in this matter was in existence. … In times and places in which they became too oppressive they lead to the dwindling or even complete extinction of the minorities.

At the outset of the 16th century, Iran’s Safavid rulers formally established Shi’a Islam as the state religion, while permitting a clerical hierarchy nearly unlimited control and influence over all aspects of public life. 40 The profound influence of the Shi’ite clerical elite continued for almost four centuries (although interrupted between 1722-1795 during a period of Afghan invasion and internecine struggle) through the later Qajar period (1795-1925), as characterized by the Persianophilic scholar E.G. Browne (emphasis mine): 41

The Mujtahids and Mulla are a great force in Persia and concern themselves with every department of human activity from the minutest detail of personal purification to the largest issues of politics.