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.
These Shi’ite clerics emphasized the notion of the ritual uncleanliness (najis) of Jews in particular (but also Christians, Zoroastrians, and others), as the cornerstone of inter-confessional relationships toward non-Muslims. 42 The impact of this najis conception was already apparent to European visitors to Persia during the reign of the first Safavid Shah, Ismail I (1502-1524). The Portuguese traveler Tome Pires observed (between 1512-1515), “Sheikh Ismail … never spares the life of any Jew,” while another European travelogue notes, “The great hatred (Ismail I) bears against the Jews.” 43
The writings and career of Mohammad Baqer Majlisi elucidate the imposition of dhimmitude in Shi’ite Iran. Majlisi (d. 1699), the highest institutionalized clerical officer under both Shah Sulayman (1666-1694) and Shah Husayn (1694-1722), was perhaps the most influential cleric of the Safavid Shi’ite theocracy in Persia. Indeed, for a decade at the end of the 17th century al-Majlisi functioned as the de facto ruler of Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini of his era. 44 By design, he wrote many works in Persian to disseminate key aspects of the Shi’a ethos among ordinary persons. His Persian treatise, Lightning Bolts Against the Jews, 45 despite its title, was actually an overall guideline to anti-dhimmi regulations for all non-Muslims within the Shi’ite theocracy. Al-Majlisi, in this treatise, describes the standard humiliating requisites for non-Muslims living under the Shari’a, first and foremost the blood ransom jizya, or poll-tax, based on Koran 9:29. He then enumerates six other restrictions relating to worship, housing, dress, transportation, and weapons (specifically, i.e., to render the dhimmis defenseless), before outlining the unique Shi’ite impurity or “najis” regulations. It is these latter najis prohibitions which lead Anthropology Professor Laurence Loeb — who studied and lived within the Jewish community of Southern Iran in the early 1970 — to observe, “Fear of pollution by Jews led to great excesses and peculiar behavior by Muslims.” 46 According to Al-Majlisi (emphasis mine): 47
And, that they should not enter the pool while a Muslim is bathing at the public baths … It is also incumbent upon Muslims that they should not accept from them victuals with which they had come into contact, such as distillates, which cannot be purified. If something can be purified, such as clothes, if they are dry, they can be accepted, they are clean. But if they [the dhimmis] had come into contact with those cloths in moisture they should be rinsed with water after being obtained. As for hide, or that which has been made of hide such as shoes and boots, and meat, whose religious cleanliness and lawfulness are conditional on the animal’s being slaughtered [according to the Shari’a], these may not be taken from them. Similarly, liquids that have been preserved in skins, such as oils, grape syrup, [fruit] juices … and the like, if they have been put in skin containers or water skins, these should [also] not be accepted from them. … It would also be better if the ruler of the Muslims would establish that all infidels could not move out of their homes on days when it rains or snows because they would make Muslims impure.
Far worse, the dehumanizing character of these popularized “impurity” regulations fomented recurring Muslim anti-Jewish violence — including pogroms and forced conversions throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, which rendered areas of Iran Judenrein — as opposed to merely unpleasant, “odd behaviors” by individual Muslims towards Jews. 48 For example, the pre-eminent modern historian of Iranian Jewry, Walter Fischel, provides these observations based on the 19th century narrative of Rabbi David d’Beth Hillel and additional eyewitness accounts, which describe the rendering of Tabriz, Judenrein, and the forced conversion of the Jews of Meshed to Islam: 49
Due to the persecution of their Moslem neighbors, many once flourishing communities entirely disappeared. Maragha, for example, ceased to be the seat of a Jewish community around 1800, when the Jews were driven out. … Similarly, Tabriz, where over 50 Jewish families are supposed to have lived, became Judenrein towards the end of the 18th century through similar circumstances.
The peak of the forced elimination of Jewish communities occurred under Shah Mahmud (1834-48), during whose rule the Jewish population in Meshed, in eastern Persia, was forcibly converted, an event which not only remained unchallenged by Persian authorities, but also remained unknown and unnoticed by European Jews.
The Khomeini “Revival” — Back to the Future
The so-called “Khomeini revolution,” which deposed Mohammad Reza Shah, was in reality a mere return to oppressive Shi’ite theocratic rule, the predominant form of Persian/Iranian governance since 1502. Conditions for all non-Muslim religious minorities, particularly Bahais and Jews, rapidly deteriorated. Historian David Littman recounts the Jews immediate plight: 50
In the months preceding the Shah’s departure on 16 January 1979, the religious minorities … were already beginning to feel insecure … Twenty thousand Jews left the country before the triumphant return of the Ayatollah Khomeini on 1 February … On 16 March, the honorary president of the Iranian Jewish community, Habib Elghanian, a wealthy businessman, was arrested and charged by an Islamic revolutionary tribunal with “corruption” and “contacts with Israel and Zionism”; he was shot on 8 May.
And Littman concluded this 1979 essay with the following appeal: 51
It is to be hoped that the new regime will not revert to the pre-Pahlavi attitudes of the Shī‘a clergy, but will prefer a path of equality for all of its citizens, thus demonstrating in practice the “tolerant” attitude of Islam so frequently proclaimed.
Littman’s essay also alludes to the emigration of 20,000 Iranian Jews just prior to Khomeini’s assumption of power. The demographic decline of Iranian Jewry since the creation of Israel has been rather dramatic even including the relatively “halcyon days” before 1978/1979 — from nearly 120,000 in 1948 to roughly 70,000 in 1978, and at present barely 20,000 (and perhaps considerably less). 52
The writings and speeches of the most influential religious ideologues of this restored Shi’ite theocracy — including Khomeini himself — make apparent their seamless connection to the oppressive doctrines of their forbears in the Safavid and Qajar dynasties. 53 For example, Sultanhussein Tabandeh, the Iranian Shi’ite leader of a prominent Sufi order, wrote an “Islamic perspective” on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to Professor Eliz Sanasarian’s important study of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic, Tabandeh’s tract became “the core ideological work upon which the Iranian government … based its non-Muslim policy.” 54 Tabandeh begins his discussion by lauding as a champion “ … of the oppressed” Shah Ismail I (1502-1524), the repressive and bigoted founder of the Safavid dynasty, who, as per contemporary accounts “ … bore hatred against the Jews and ordered their eyes to be gouged out if they happened to be found in his vicinity.” 55 It is critical to understand that Tabandeh’s key views on non-Muslims, were implemented “ … almost verbatim in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” 56 In essence, Tabandeh simply reaffirms the sacralized inequality of non-Muslims relative to Muslims, under Shari’a: 57
Since Islam regards non-Muslims as on a lower level of belief and conviction, if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim … then his punishment must not be the retaliatory death, since the faith and conviction he possesses is loftier than that of the man slain … Again, the penalties of a non-Muslim guilty of fornication with a Muslim woman are augmented because, in addition to the crime against morality, social duty and religion, he has committed sacrilege, in that he has disgraced a Muslim and thereby cast scorn upon the Muslims in general, and so must be executed.
Islam and its peoples must be above the infidels, and never permit non-Muslims to acquire lordship over them. Since the marriage of a Muslim woman to an infidel husband (in accordance with the verse quoted: “Men are guardians form women”) means her subordination to an infidel, that fact makes the marriage void.
The conception of najis or ritual uncleanliness of the non-Muslim has also been reaffirmed. Ayatollah Khomeini stated explicitly: “Non-Muslims of any religion or creed are najis.” Khomeini elaborated his views on najis and non-Muslims, with a specific reference to Jews: 58
Eleven things are unclean: urine, excrement, sperm, blood, a dog, a pig, bones, a non-Muslim man and woman, wine, beer, perspiration of a camel that eats filth. … The whole body of a non-Muslim is unclean, even his hair, his nails, and all the secretions of his body. … A child below the age of puberty is unclean if his parents and grandparents are not Muslims; but if he has a Muslim for a forebear, then he is clean. … The body, saliva, nasal secretions, and perspiration of a non-Muslim man or woman who converts to Islam automatically become pure. As for the garments, if they were in contact with the sweat of the body before conversion, they will remain unclean. … It is not strictly prohibited for a Muslim to work in an establishment run by a Muslim who employs Jews, if the products do not aid Israel in one way or another. However it is shameful [for a Muslim] to be under the orders of a Jewish departmental head.
The late Iranian Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri 59 further indicated that a non-Muslim’s (kafir’s) impurity was, “a political order from Islam and must be adhered to by the followers of Islam, and the goal [was] to promote general hatred toward those who are outside Muslim circles.” 60 This “hatred” was to assure that Muslims would not succumb to corrupt, i.e., non-Islamic, thoughts. 61
35. Legacy of Jihad, pp. 192-195
36. Ibid, p. iv
37. Ibid, pp. 29-37
38. Ibid, p. 199
39. Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, pp. 170-171
40. Ibid, pp. 130-140
41. Ibid, p. 140
42. Ibid, p. 130
43. Ibid, p. 130
44. Legacy of Jihad, pp. 216-220,687
45. Ibid, pp. 216ff.
46. Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, p. 134
47. Legacy of Jihad, pp. 219-220
48. Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, pp. 130-140
49. Ibid, p. 137
50. Ibid, p. 141
51. Ibid, p. 141
52. Ibid, pp. 141-142
53. Ibid, p. 142
54. Ibid, p. 142
55. Ibid, p. 142
56. Ibid, p. 142
57. Ibid, p. 142
58. Ibid, p. 142
59. Andrew G. Bostom. “Is Shi’ism the Iranian Regime’s ‘Achilles’ Heel’”? The American Thinker, December 26, 2009 http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/12/is_shiism_the_iranian_regimes.html
60. Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, p. 142
61. Ibid, p. 142