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The Church’s Doctrine of “Perpetual Servitude” was Worse than “Dhimmitude”

In his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades, Robert Spencer entitles chapter four “Islam: Religion of Intolerance.” On p.47 he summarizes the chapter in three points, as follows:

*Islamic law mandates second-class status for Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims in Islamic society.

*These laws have never been abrogated or revised by any authority.

*The idea that Jews fared better in Islamic lands than in Christian Europe is false. [1]

This article will rebut the last point.  (A follow up article will refute the first two.) Before we begin, a clarification of Spencer’s line of argumentation is in order.  He dedicates page after page to describe how oppressive Islamic rule has been towards infidels, in order to bash the Muslims (and Islam) over the head with.  Of course, Spencer’s line of argumentation would be nullified if it were pointed out that Western Christianity–of which he is a self-proclaimed defender of–was even more oppressive towards infidels.  That is why he states his third point above, and argues that “the Muslim laws were much harsher for Jews than those of Christendom” [2] and that “in Christian lands there was the idea, however imperfect, of the equality of dignity and rights for all people.” [3]

This is my rebuttal of his argument.


Table of Contents



The Pact of Umar

An Apocryphal Document

The More Discriminatory Laws Were Optional and Therefore Ignored

Discriminatory Conditions Rarely Enforced

This is a Secular Historical Issue, Not an Ideologically Driven Religious One

Mainstream Muslims Did Not Generally Enforce the Discriminatory Conditions in the Pact of Umar

Inspiration for the Pact of Umar

The Perpetual Servitude of Infidels


Symbolic Acts of Humiliation

Distinctive Clothing (Ghiyar) and the Yellow Badge


Exclusion from Public Office

Houses of Worship

The Freedom to Practice Religion and Public Displays



Occupational Opportunities and Right to Own Land

Forced Ghettoization and Freedom of Movement

Expulsions, Forced Conversions, and Massacres






Ahl al-Dhimma (dhimmi for short) translates to “the protected people” and was the historical word used to refer to non-Muslim peoples (such as Jews and Christians) living under Islamic rule.  Arabist ideologues and Muslim apologists perpetuate the myth that the Islamic world was an idyllic “interfaith utopia” which epitomized religious tolerance; some seem to go as far as to claim that dhimmis “had it better” than Muslims under Islamic rule.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, anti-Islam ideologues argue that not only did Muslims historically persecute dhimmis, but that nonbelievers in the Islamic Orient were treated much worse than their counterparts were in the contemporaneous Christian Europe of the Middle Ages.  To bolster this claim, one anti-Islam “researcher” by the pseudonym of Bat Ye’or coined the concept of “dhimmitude.” A counter-myth is now propagated on various websites, blogs and forums, namely that Islamic rule over non-Muslims had been characterized by an unparalleled brutality and wickedness.  The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies calls out Bat Ye’or by name:

[One must] explain acts of Islamic oppression that did occur, without exaggerating them selectively into a ‘countermyth of Islamic persecution,’ as recent revisionism has done (e.g. Bat Ye’or 1985). [4]

These two sides (proponents of the interfaith utopia theory on the one hand and the Islamic persecution myth on the other hand) peddle their diametrically opposed paradigms, selectively quoting from various sources in order to “prove” their side.  Of course, the truth lies in between this myth and counter-myth: dhimmis did not live under an idyllic interfaith utopia under Islamic rule–far from it: discrimination against nonbelievers was a prevalent phenomenon.  Dhimmis were clearly treated as second-class citizens.

On the other hand, the counter-myth is equally dishonest and fails to contextualize the situation of dhimmis in the Islamic Orient with that of their counterparts in Christian Europe.  We are always reminded by anti-Islam ideologues of the dhimmitude, a catch-all phrase which has caught on very well in recent times; the term is used as a stick to beat Muslims over the head with, as well as one to incite feelings of paranoia and xenophobia. This article will however recount what they–perhaps in their ignorance and zeal–have neglected to mention: there was in fact a direct corollary to the dhimmitude in the Christian West.  It too has a catchy name: the Christian belief in the Perpetual Servitude of infidels, a concept which was in fact much more oppressive than the so-called dhimmitude.

Mark R. Cohen, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, is arguably considered to be the world’s leading scholar of Jews living in the Middle Ages under Islamic rule.  He decided to write a book that contrasted the treatment of Jews living in the Islamic Orient with their counterparts in the Christian West.  This book, Under Crescent and Cross, is the first of its kind, as it analytically compares the treatment of Jewish dhimmis (pejoratively called dhimmitude by ideologues) with that of the Perpetua Servitudo (Perpetual Servitude) of Jewish infidels.  Cohen’s magnum opus is remarkably balanced, neutral, and analytical: it rejects both myth and counter-myth, but concludes that while dhimmis were certainly not living under any sort of interfaith utopia, they did have better living conditions than nonbelievers in the Christian West.  This article will use Professor Cohen’s book as a general template, but will cite other sources as well in order to cater to the online environment, taking into consideration the “internet chatter” and tailoring the arguments accordingly.


In Arab lands, the “minority communities” (so to speak) consisted primarily of Jews and Christians.  In Europe, it was Jews alone.  Hence, the Jewish population is the common denominator and remains the best population to study; how then did their lot differ in the Christian West and the Islamic East?

Professor Cohen opens his book by saying:

When I began studying medieval Jewish history thirty years ago, conventional wisdom held that Jews living “under the crescent” enjoyed substantially greater security and a higher level of political and cultural integration than did Jews living “under the cross.”  This was especially true of the persecuted Ashkenazic Jews of northern Europe.  The fruitful Jewish-Muslim interfaith “symbiosis”…contrasted sharply with the sorrowful record of Jewish-Christian conflict in the Ashkenazic lands…[There was a] lachrymose conception of [European] Jewish history…

Recent decades have witnessed an effort to alter this picture.  Toward the end of the 1960s–or, or more precisely, following the Six-Day War of June 1967–factors stemming from the Arab-Israeli conflict gave birth in some quarters to a radical revision of Jewish-Arab history.  The new notion first appeared mainly in the writings of nonspecialists publishing in popular forums… [5]

I interject just to point out the keywords “nonspecialists” and “forums.”  This drive to radically revise history is clearly an ideologically driven endeavor, devoid of academic integrity.  Going on, Cohen says:

According to this [revised] view, the “Golden Age” was actually an era of hardship and oppression… [characterized by] discrimination and persecution.  Some went so far as to suggest that the fate of Jews of Islam was at times as doleful as the lot of the Jews in Europe.  I have chosen to call this view “the neo-lachrymose conception of Jewish-Arab history.” [6]

Notice that Professor Cohen considers it a stretch to say that the Jews of Islam were treated as poorly as they were in Europe (hence his usage of the phrase “some went so far as to suggest…”).  Imagine his surprise if Cohen were to read the works of populist nonspecialists such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller who go even farther and argue that not only was it equally bad, but far worse.  Such is the profound degree of revisionism inherent in the writings of these two anti-Islam ideologues, and those with similar ideological bents.

Cohen then criticizes Arab apologists:

It is a “countermyth” that emerged in dialectical opposition to the twin challenge of modern Arab propaganda and Arab antisemitism.  In the wake of the defeat in June 1967, Arab apologists…embraced the “myth”…that Muslims and Jews had for centuries enjoyed utopian relations.  This harmony had been shattered by the Zionist movement and, in particular, by the creation of the State of Israel.  Remove the Zionist-Israeli threat, so the argument implied, and the old harmony would be restored, with Jews and Arabs living side by side in an interfaith utopia under Arab-Muslim protection. [7]

Cohen concludes:

The polarization of views that has thus dominated discussion of medieval Islamic-Jewish relations in recent years has made it increasingly difficult to write on the subject without getting involved in apologetics and polemics.  I remain convinced that the “myth of the Islamic-Jewish interfaith utopia” and the “countermyth of Islamic persecution of Jews” equally distort the past.  How might we address the underlying historical question in a way that avoids both extremes and, at the same time, deepens understanding of why, as most reasonable observers will agree, the Islamic-Jewish relationship bred so much less violence and persecution than relations between Christians and Jews [in Europe]?  The comparative approach has seemed the most useful one…

When all is said and done, however, the historical evidence indicates that the Jews of Islam, especially during the formative and classical centuries (up to the thirteenth century), experienced much less persecution than did the Jews of Christendom. [8]

The Pact of Umar

The anti-Islam ideologues tend to focus on a document known as the Pact of Umar, from which the entire theory of dhimmitude is extracted.  For example, Robert Spencer, the admin of the xenophobic website, explains:

The notorious Pact of Umar, an agreement made, according to Islamic tradition, between the caliph Umar, who ruled the Muslims from 634 to 644, and a Christian community.

This Pact is worth close examination, because it became the foundation for Islamic law regarding the treatment of the dhimmis. With remarkably little variation, throughout Islamic history whenever Islamic law was strictly enforced, this is generally how non-Muslims were treated. Working from the full text as Ibn Kathir has it, these are the conditions the Christians accept in return for “safety for ourselves, children, property and followers of our religion” – conditions that, according to Ibn Kathir, “ensured their continued humiliation, degradation and disgrace.” The Christians will not:

1. Build “a monastery, church, or a sanctuary for a monk”;
2. “Restore any place of worship that needs restoration”;
3. Use such places “for the purpose of enmity against Muslims”;
4. “Allow a spy against Muslims into our churches and homes or hide deceit [or betrayal] against Muslims”;
5. Imitate the Muslims’ “clothing, caps, turbans, sandals, hairstyles, speech, nicknames and title names”;
6. “Ride on saddles, hang swords on the shoulders, collect weapons of any kind or carry these weapons”;
7. “Encrypt our stamps in Arabic”
8. “Sell liquor” – Christians in Iraq in the last few years ran afoul of Muslims reasserting this rule;
9. “Teach our children the Qur’an”;
10. “Publicize practices of Shirk” – that is, associating partners with Allah, such as regarding Jesus as Son of God. In other words, Christian and other non-Muslim religious practice will be private, if not downright furtive;
11. Build “crosses on the outside of our churches and demonstrating them and our books in public in Muslim fairways and markets” – again, Christian worship must not be public, where Muslims can see it and become annoyed;
12. “Sound the bells in our churches, except discreetly, or raise our voices while reciting our holy books inside our churches in the presence of Muslims, nor raise our voices [with prayer] at our funerals, or light torches in funeral processions in the fairways of Muslims, or their markets”;
13. “Bury our dead next to Muslim dead”;
14. “Buy servants who were captured by Muslims”;
15. “Invite anyone to Shirk” – that is, proselytize, although the Christians also agree not to:
16. “Prevent any of our fellows from embracing Islam, if they choose to do so.” Thus the Christians can be the objects of proselytizing, but must not engage in it themselves;
17. “Beat any Muslim.”

Meanwhile, the Christians will:

1. Allow Muslims to rest “in our churches whether they come by day or night”;
2. “Open the doors [of our houses of worship] for the wayfarer and passerby”;
3. Provide board and food for “those Muslims who come as guests” for three days;
4. “Respect Muslims, move from the places we sit in if they choose to sit in them” – shades of Jim Crow;
5. “Have the front of our hair cut, wear our customary clothes wherever we are, wear belts around our waist” – these are so that a Muslim recognizes a non-Muslim as such and doesn’t make the mistake of greeting him with As-salaamu aleikum, “Peace be upon you,” which is the Muslim greeting for a fellow Muslim;
6. “Be guides for Muslims and refrain from breaching their privacy in their homes.”

The Christians swore: “If we break any of these promises that we set for your benefit against ourselves, then our Dhimmah (promise of protection) is broken and you are allowed to do with us what you are allowed of people of defiance and rebellion.”

Of course, the Pact of Umar is a seventh-century document. But the imperative to subjugate non-Muslims as mandated by Qur’an 9:29 and elaborated by this Pact became and remained part of Islamic law.

As one can see, Spencer has given a great deal of importance to this document, the Pact of Umar.  It is, in his own words, the “foundation” of his argument against Islamic treatment of non-Muslims.  Supposedly the pact was signed by Umar ibn al-Khattab, a disciple of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.  In it, a series of Jim Crow laws were stipulated, and the Christian community was forced to agree to them.   According to the adherents of the counter-myth, the Pact of Umar typifies the miserable experience of the dhimmis.

However, there are certain important nuances which “mitigate” the Pact of Umar and make it less persuasive of a proof-text for the neo-lachrymose theory of the Jewish-Islamic experience.

An Apocryphal Document

The first point that must be taken into consideration is that most experts agree that the document is itself a forgery:

Umar is attributed with the authorship of the “Covenant of Umar” or the “Pact of Umar”…The first western research done on the “Covenant of Umar” was initiated by T.W. Arnold in The Preaching of Islam, and A.S. Tritton in “Islam and the Protected Religions.”  They both asserted that the “Covenant” was an apocryphal document. [9]

The historicity of this document is called into question by modern scholars, who hold that it is a product of later generations who mistakenly attributed it to Umar:

A later generation attributed to ‘Umar a number of restrictive regulations which hampered the Christians in the free exercise of their religion, but De Goeje and Caetani have proved without a doubt that they are the invention of a later age. [10]

The document appears hundreds of years after Umar’s death:

No text of the document can be dated earlier than the tenth or eleventh century. [11]

Historians refer to it as a “spurious” document:

The so-called Pact or Covenant of ‘Umar, [is] a spurious treaty ascribed to the Caliph ‘Umar I. [12]


…the spurious Covenant of Umar, the terms supposedly granted to the Christians by the second caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab… [13]

Interestingly, Robert Spencer cites A.S. Tritton as a source in his book (chapter four of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades), but fails to mention that Tritton himself viewed the document as an outright forgery:

The covenant is not the work of ‘Umar. [14]

Omer Subhani pointed out the spurious nature of the document to Spencer in an online debate.  The point was uncontested by the latter, but its relevance was downplayed.  Spencer countered the argument by stating that the historicity of the document is of little more than a “matter of historical interest;” in other words, the Muslim jurists of that era viewed it as authentic and subsequently enforced it.  He then quotes from various medieval Islamic texts to prove the latter point.

Both Subhani and Spencer have improperly understood the issue.  Subhani’s approach is flawed because he invests too much of his argument on proving the inauthentic nature of the document; but as Spencer points out, this would not be sufficient to “nullify” the effects of the pact, which could be enforced regardless.  But at the same time, Spencer is hasty in concluding that the spurious nature of the pact has no relevance whatsoever.

As Professor Mark R. Cohen and other historians point out, the document seems to have been forged long after the early classical period of Islam, and certainly only came to prominence much after that;  it was the work of latter day Muslims that found its way into the jurisprudential texts.  This explains why the early classical period of Islam was characterized by a state of relative tolerance towards dhimmis.  Umar ibn al-Khattab himself was known to be considerably mild with unbelievers.  Therefore, Omer Subhani’s point mitigates but does not erase the effects of the Pact of Umar altogether; in other words, the Pact cannot be used to define the entire Islamic experience, especially not the theologically crucial early period (such as the time of the Rashidun).

Furthermore, the spurious nature of the Pact of Umar has theological implications, which I will discuss in a follow up article.

The More Discriminatory Laws Were Optional and Therefore Ignored

The conditions of the Pact of Umar were divided into two: those which were considered mandatory and those which were understood to be optional (and therefore generally ignored).  The Christian scholar and professor Nabeel Jabbour of Columbia International University writes:

[There were] the Required Rules, which were compulsory, including:

1. Not to criticize or slander Islam.
2. Not to criticize or slander the Quran.
3. Not to mention the name of the prophet in contempt or falsification.
4. Not to commit adultery with a Muslim woman.
5. Neither to proselytize a Muslim to another religion, nor entice the Muslim to consider changing his religion.
6. Not to attempt to kill a Muslim or take his money.
7. Not to take the side of the house of war against the house of Islam.

The Favorable or Desired Rules:

1. A specific dress code for Christians to identify them as non-Muslims.
2. Not to beat the bells of churches loudly, nor raise their voices in chanting Christian songs or scriptures.
3. Not to build the houses of Christians higher than those of the Muslims.
4. Not to display idolatry, crosses, nor display freedom in drinking wine or eating pork.
5. Not to display Christian funerals or mourning for the dead.
6. Not to ride horses.

Muslim rulers who were moderate put into practice the required rules and ignored the favorable rules. [15]

One notes that the more discriminatory laws–such as the dress code, the prohibition to build houses higher than those of the Muslims, the prohibition to ride horses, and the like–were amongst the optional (and generally unenforced) laws.  This division between the required and the favorable rules was recognized by the very same conservative clerics which the anti-Islam ideologues use as a proof.  Islamic jurists held that the Pact of Umar was considered valid so long as the required rules were adhered to, in which case the lives, property, and well-being of the dhimmis was considered sacrosanct.

For example, Imam al-Mawardi (died 1058 A.D.) placed only six of the conditions in the obligatory category (wajibat), as follows:

1. Not to abuse the Quran.
2. Not to abuse the Prophet.
3. Not to abuse the religion of Islam.
4. Not to fornicate with (or marry) a Muslim woman.
5. Not to harm a Muslim.
6. Not to help the enemy or spies. [16]

Imam al-Farra (d. 1061 A.D.) had a similar list of obligatory conditions:

1. Not to fight the Muslims.
2. Not to fornicate with a Muslim woman.
3. Not to marry a Muslim woman.
4. Not to undermine a Muslim’s faith in Islam.
5. Not to commit highway robbery.
6. Not to support a spy.
7. Not to write to the enemy about the situation of the Muslims to aid them in battle.
8. Not to kill a Muslim. [17]

Ibn Qudama (d. 1233 A.D.)  had a similar list, including jizya and only one discriminatory condition in his classification scheme. [18]

Interestingly, the book Robert Spencer himself quoted says this:

Before going into details there is one general remark to be made.  In theory the dhimmi had to fulfill all the conditions of the covenant if he would claim protection.  In practice only a few actions put him outside the protection of Muslim law…Malik, Shafe’i, and Ahmad b. Hanbal hold that failure to pay the poll-tax deprives them of protection.  This was not the view of Abu Hanifa.  Ahmad and Malik hold that four things put the dhimmi outside the law–blasphemy of God, of His book, of His religion, and of His Prophet.

Abul Kasim said that eight deeds made a dhimmi an outlaw.  They are [1] an agreement to fight the Muslims, [2] fornication with a Muslim woman, [3] an attempt to marry one, [4] an attempt to pervert a Muslim from his religion, [5] robbery of a Muslim on the highway, [6] acting as a spy for unbelievers or [7] sending them information or acting as a guide to them, [8] and the killing of a Muslim man or woman.

Abu Hanifa taught that they must not be too severe with dhimmis who insulted the Prophet.  Shafe’i said that one who repented of having insulted the Prophet might be pardoned and restored to his privileges.  Ibn Taimiya taught that the death penalty could not be evaded. [19]

As can be seen, the required rules revolved around preventing the non-Muslims from “harming” the Muslims, physically or even verbally.  Naturally, some of these required rules would be objectionable in today’s context, but one must understand that it was the norm back then.  Certainly in medieval Europe it was not permissible to attack Jesus, the Bible, or Christianity.  (More on this point later.)

The division of the conditions into obligations and recommendations “mitigates” the effects of the Pact of Umar quite considerably. The anti-Islam ideologues attempt to characterize the entire Islamic experience by the stipulations in the document which were in fact rarely enforced, as we shall discuss below.

Discriminatory Conditions Rarely Enforced

Robert Spencer claims that the discriminatory Jim Crow laws in the Pact of Umar were generally enforced–at least most or the majority of the time.  Says Spencer:

These laws largely governed the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Islamic states for centuries…[even though] here or there they were relaxed or ignored for various periods. [20]

Spencer explicitly says that conditions in the Pact of Umar were “generally how non-Muslims were treated,” and that these conditions were enforced “with remarkably little variation”:

This Pact is worth close examination, because it became the foundation for Islamic law regarding the treatment of the dhimmis. With remarkably little variation, throughout Islamic history whenever Islamic law was strictly enforced, this is generally how non-Muslims were treated.

This is actually the key to the debate, not the historicity of the document nor the words of medieval Islamic clerics.  The question is: were the “Jim Crow” laws generally enforced or not?  Spencer says: yes “generally” they were, “with remarkably little variation.” It is this manifest lie that buttresses the entire dhimmitude concept.

The truth is that the discriminatory conditions in the Pact of Umar were rarely enforced; they were generally ignored and unenforced:

It is a well known fact that the Muslim authorities generally ignored the provisions of the Pact of ‘Umar. [21]


The so-called ‘Pact of ‘Umar’…[decreed that] Non-Muslims could not erect new houses of worship nor repair old ones; they had to observe their religious rites indoors and quietly, so as not to insult the superiority of Islam; they could not take Arabic honorific names (Abu ‘Imran, for instance); they were required to dress in distinctive garb, notably with a belt called the zunnar; they could not own captive slaves [etc]…

With the exception of the fiscally important poll tax, the sources at our disposal indicate that, especially during the classical centuries (seventh to thirteenth), the restrictive laws of the dhimma, including the ban on office-holding, were enforced irregularly and sporadically.  Moreover, moves to make the laws more severe, or to enforce their provisions when thought to have been violated, generally had to pass juristic reasoning and on-scene investigation of Muslim religious scholars.  Loyal to divinely inspired text, Muslim jurists and judges (like Jewish halachic scholars) were more likely to stick to tradition and to exercise due process of law than to expand, arbitrarily, the humiliating laws of the dhimma.  When the ‘mad’ Egyptian Caliph al-Hakim ran amuck persecuting Christians and Jews in the first two decades of the eleventh century (one of the few serious persecutions affecting Jews), Muslims themselves realized that his excesses outrageously violated the Pact of ‘Umar, ‘the stipulations which al-Hakim “added” to the ‘Umariyyan ones’, in the words of a medieval Arab historian.

…From the earliest period of Islam, Jews and Christians encountered little opposition when constructing new synagogues and churches…They established or enlarged communities and erected new houses of worship without opposition…

Jews assumed Arabic honorific names-Abu ‘Imran is the by-name of Moses Maimonides-and, and as the Genizah shows, and as sources describing repeated renewal of the dress regulations attest, Jews and other dhimmis usually dressed like everybody else.  Jews held slaves, mainly household domestics, but also as financial agents, and both Jews, and, in greater numbers, Christians continued to hold government posts long after Arabs mastered the art of bureaucracy, and even during the late Middle Ages, when anti-dhimmi sentiment increased. [22]


However, it must be said that these restrictive laws were not generally enforced. [23]


By and large the restrictions of the Pact of ‘Umar were very unevenly and sporadically enforced. [24]


Many of the restrictions stipulated by the Pact of Umar, the code of conduct imposed…[on the] Jews, were oftentimes ignored by the rulers. [25]


The discriminatory regulations of the Pact of Umar were often disregarded in the first centuries of Islam or only loosely applied. [26]


In any case, the Pact of Umar’s restrictions were not rigidly enforced. [27]


We know that the restrictions of the “Pact of Umar” (except for the collection of the progressive poll-tax) were only very rarely enforced in early Islam, usually by an especially fanatical ruler such as the [Ismaili Shi’ite] Fatimid Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (d. 1021). [28]


The regulations contained in the Pact of Omar were…not enforced too strictly. [29]


[The] law that dhimmis remain subordinate in partnerships formed with Muslims was often ignored, as proved by the documents of the Cairo Geniza.  Even when observed, the restriction may have represented little more than a minor irritant to the dhimmi partner. [30]


In practice, though, this dhimmi legislation-including the dress code-was not enforced consistently. New churches continued to be built. [31]


[The Jews] were subject to discriminatory laws, although these were seldom enforced. [32]

This is a Secular Historical Issue, Not an Ideologically Driven Religious One

The question of how Muslims should treat non-Muslims is a religious issue, no doubt. Muslim apologists, such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Maher Abu-Munshar will point to various religious texts–verses of the Quran, hadiths, and words of their clerics–in order to prove that Islam enjoins Muslims to treat non-Muslims with respect and kindness.  Anti-Islamic critics such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, on the other hand, will also point to Islamic texts–other verses of the Quran, other hadiths, and other words of Islamic clerics–in order to prove that Islam enjoins Muslims to treat non-Muslims in an oppressive manner.

But the question of how Muslims have treated non-Muslim minorities historically is not a religious issue but a secular historical one.  The flawed logic–of both the Muslim apologists and anti-Islam ideologues alike–is that they will look at the scriptural texts and then argue that because it ought to be this way, then it was.  In other words, a Muslim apologist would argue that because Islam itself commands kindness, then historically Muslims must have acted kindly; consequently, he will cherry pick instances in history in which that was the case.  On the other hand, the anti-Islam ideologues have the idea that because Islam itself advocates intolerance, then historically Muslims must have acted intolerantly; and again, they will cherry pick events in history to “prove” that assumption.

But the reality is that just because the Islamic texts (be it the Quran or Tafsir Ibn Kathir) advocate kindness (or intolerance), it does not mean that Muslims acted that way.  This logic is better understood if one thinks about Christianity; just because a Christian today believes that it is a religion of love, this does not mean that Crusaders acted in a loving manner.  So there is not necessarily a one-to-one relationship between what the religious texts say and what actually happened.  Yes, there is certainly some connection (and maybe even a lot), but it is not simply a matter of showing religious texts and then assuming that everything went exactly according to the religious scripture.

Muslim apologists for example will argue that the Muslims were so tolerant that they created a social welfare program like medicare for elderly non-Muslims.  To back this claim, they will cite religious texts which detail how Umar ibn al-Khattab would give from the state treasury to elderly dhimmis.  But the reality is that there were no large scale programs as such, even if Umar commanded it.  Likewise, just because there is a document that is found in certain religious texts like Tafsir Ibn Kathir which says that dhimmis should wear certain distinctive clothing (or the other discriminatory policies in the Pact of Umar), it doesn’t mean that this was actually the case.  As multiple historians have said about the Pact of Umar:

Practice must have differed widely from theory. [33]

In Robert Spencer’s writings on the topic, he cites various works of medieval Islamic clerics and their works, such as Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveler), Ruhul Ma’ani, and the like.  In his debate with Omer Subhani, he tries to impress the reader with these Arabic sounding names, and how respected these scholars and their works are in traditional Islamic circles.  Yet, this does not satisfy the burden of proof at all.  These books were written by Islamic clerics/jurists (Ulema/Fuqaha), who were independent of the government altogether.  Unlike Christianity, the church (mosque) was separate from the state under Islamic rule; there was no equivalent to the pope.  So these religious texts do not at all prove that this was the way that the Muslim rulers treated dhimmis.

The latter generations of Muslim jurists who alluded to the Pact of Umar cannot be used as a measuring stick for what the reality was on the ground (emphasis is mine):

The so-called Pact or Covenant of ‘Umar, [is] a spurious treaty ascribed to the Caliph ‘Umar (634-644).  Its terms are quite harsh and it contains proscriptions of dress and behaviour, which no doubt reflect the ideals of the jurists who formulated it rather than the actual conditions in which non-Muslims typically lived. [34]

So all this razzle-dazzle that Robert Spencer engaged in–trying to impress his readers by citing religious manuals written by clerics–does not prove his case that non-Muslims were generally treated that way.  At most, it proves that this is how those specific Muslim clerics wanted non-Muslims to be treated.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Interestingly, Spencer’s article itself gives proof for this; there were many conservative Muslim clerics who lamented that the Islamic state did not enforce the Pact of Umar and its conditions; Spencer says:

Indian Mufti Muhammad Aashiq Ilahi Bulandshahri laments that “in today’s times, the system of Atonement (Jizya) is not practised at all by the Muslims. It is indeed unfortunate that not only are the Muslim States afraid to impose Atonement (Jizya) on the disbelievers (kuffar) living in their countries, but they grant them more rights than they grant the Muslims and respect them more. They fail to understand that Allah desires that the Muslims show no respect to any disbeliever (kafir) and that they should not accord any special rights to them.”

In fact, many of the conservative Islamic clerics complained that the dhimmis were being honored too much, rising to high positions in the government and in other fields.  This proves that the reality was different than what these specific clerics wanted.  Professor Mark R. Cohen explains:

Success tempted some Jews (and Christians) to feel so much at home outside the niche assigned them by their lowly religious rank that they frequently ignored the sumptuary restrictions of the dhimma.  Seeming to acquiesce, many a Muslim ruler overlooked these flagrant violations of the stipulations of the Pact of ‘Umar.  This combination of circumstances often created resentment in Muslims, exacerbating latent religious contempt and leading to acts of oppression.

The double-edged sword in Muslim-dhimmi relations is exemplified in the highest-status category in which Jews and Christians had visibility: government service.  In this domain divergence between theory and practice was considerably more pronounced than in commerce.  As katibs (government clerks), not to speak of the higher-status position of chief minister, dhimmis commanded authority over Muslims in a way that grossly flouted the rules of proper subordination.  Many of the most painful episodes of oppression and persecution Jews and Christians experienced were triggered by Muslim exasperation of the prerogatives of their category in a manner totally at variance with the limitations imposed by their religious rank. [35]

So there is some positive here along with the negative.  The downside is of course that there were short periods of oppression and persecution.  The upside though is that there were generally longer periods of laissez faire during which time dhimmis climbed the ladder of success, even rising to positions in the government over the Muslims.  It was this fact that brought out the bigoted response of “them damn immigrants are taking our jobs!”

The Islamic rulers generally were soft on the non-Muslims, which was what prompted populist discontent that then manifested in the clerical establishment responding in a xenophobic fashion. The situation was not helped by the fact that some of these clerics lived in a time when great destruction and devastation was taking place at the hands of the infidel Mongols on the one side and the Christian Crusaders on the other.  This is the case with Ibn Kathir (and his teacher Ibn Taymiyyah), for example, which no doubt influenced his more intolerant views towards non-Muslims.

The bottom line is that the conservative backlash of the clerics cannot be used as a source proof for the general status of the non-Muslim populations, since the Islamic rulers tended to treat them in a different way than those conservative clerics wanted.  Robert Spencer citing Tafsir Ibn Kathir does not prove anything other than the fact that Ibn Kathir was intolerant towards non-Muslims.  Ibn Kathir’s insistence on the subjugation of non-Muslims was no doubt a reflection of his exasperation of the Islamic government’s accommodation of non-Muslims, and cannot therefore be used as a proof of their dire condition.

Throughout Islamic history, the most conservative elements have been found within the clerical class, not unlike Judaism and Christianity.  Therefore, it is of no surprise that their views towards unbelievers may not be representative of the entire community.

Of course, there is a very important caveat here: This does not mean that all clerics were intolerant.  In fact, there were other classical Islamic jurists who opined that non-Muslim dhimmis ought to be treated kindly, with mercy and due respect and consideration, etc.  (I will quote a few of these in a follow up article.)

Professor Cohen concludes:

Inevitably, there is a gap between theory and practice; and this was certainly true for the Jews in the Middle Ages.[36]

Mainstream Muslims Did Not Generally Enforce the Discriminatory Conditions in the Pact of Umar

The discriminatory conditions in the Pact of Umar were generally unenforced throughout Islamic history.  Even those rare instances in which it was put into full practice, this was usually done in periods of extremist (Ghulat) Shi’ite rule, not orthodox (Sunni) Muslim rule; as such, the actions distinctive to one sect can hardly be generalized to another (despite the fact that most anti-Islam bigots think “they’re all brown, wear turbans, and are thus the same!”)  It should be noted that there are several branches of Shi’ism, and the actions of the extremist (Ghulat) Shi’ite sects should not be seen as indicative of Shi’ism as a whole, let alone all of Islam.

We read:

The notorious pact ascribed to ‘Umar specifies the conditions by which non-Muslim minorities living under Muslim rule would be granted protection…

It should be noted, however, that the degree of enforcement of these restrictive regulations in the vast and rapidly growing Muslim empire varies widely with time and region.  Generally speaking, the Sunni countries of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa were tolerant towards non-Muslim minorities…The humiliating measures [of the Pact of Umar]…were generally disregarded, or at least not rigidly enforced…Despite the occasional outbreaks of fanaticism and spasms of intolerance, as in the period of [the Ghulat Shi’ite] al-Hakim in Egypt (996-1021), it can be safely concluded that…dhimmis in Sunni Muslim countries were generally able to enjoy a broad religious and social freedom and lead a relatively secure life…

In contrast to the countries dominated by Sunni Islam, the Jews in Shi’i Muslim countries, Iran and Zaydi Yemen, were subjected to far more severe dhimmi regulations…The religious restrictions which were enacted by [Shi’ite] Islam against non-Muslim minorities were generally rigorously enforced, often given a local twist for the worst. [37]


Sunni Islam…the orthodox and dominant form of the religion, is the source of Islamic “policy” toward the Jews and others considered infidels.  Heterodox Shi’ism was usually harsher in its view of how the infidel should be treated; but, for most of the period considered in this study, Jews did not live under Shiite regimes…Sunni Islam is also the appropriate counterpoint for comparison with the Christian world, where orthodox Christianity held power. [38]


When the Shi’ite Moslem sect [under Shah Ismail I] came into power in Persia during the 16th century, the Pact of Umar was enforced to the extreme. [39]

Both al-Hakim and Shah Ismail I were Ghulat (extremist) Shi’ites who claimed divinity for themselves, and were thus considered non-Muslims by Sunnis and more mainstream Shi’ites.  It is thus not appropriate to take their examples as being representative of Islam itself.  These two tyrants thought they were God (which is anathema to traditional Islamic belief) and they not only persecuted non-Muslims but Muslims as well, especially Sunnis.

In 1005, al-Hakim decreed that the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) must wear distinctive turbans and shoes.  In an even more draconian move, he ordered that Jews must wear wooden calf necklaces (or bells) and Christians iron crosses.  But these regulations only remained in place for some nine years.  It would be as faulty to generalize nine years of al-Hakim’s rule to all of Islamic history as it would be to generalize the twelve year rule of the Nazis to all of Christian history.

Al-Hakim was an extremist (Ghulat) Shi’ite, rejected by mainline Shi’ism (and of course Sunni Islam).  Arab historians and chroniclers consistently referred to al-Hakim as a “madman”:

Al-Hakim ibn Aziz, who became caliph in 996, the same year Otto III became emperor, inherited tremendous wealth and power.  In the end it was, along with other pressures perhaps, more than he could bear.  He went mad, declared himself a god, and died. [40]

Al-Hakim killed many of his own officials, including those of high-ranking stature, such as viziers, judges, intelligence officers, and even cooks and poets.  The people trembled with fear in his presence, and would kiss the ground before him, imploring him for forgiveness and bidding him not to listen to rumors, which he in his paranoid state was very fond of doing.  Descriptions of al-Hakim sound a lot like the self-declared deity Kim Jong-il, the current ruler of North Korea.  Not only did al-Hakim heavily persecute non-Muslims, but he also mercilessly persecuted orthodox (Sunni) Muslims, and paradoxically his own Shi’ite coreligionists.  (Well, maybe not so paradoxical considering he is rejected as heretical by mainline Shi’ites.)  In fact, his last phase of life was characterized by more lenience towards non-Muslims than towards Muslims:

[Al-Hakim] became more tolerant toward the Jews and Christians and hostile toward the Sunnis. Ironically he developed a particularly hostile attitude with regard to the Muslim Shiites. It was during this period, in the year 1017, that the unique religion of the Druze began to develop as an independent religion based on the revelation (Kashf) of al-Hakim as God. [41]

Indeed, it is al-Hakim who is credited for “adding” the more discriminatory conditions into the Pact of Umar:

When the ‘mad’ Egyptian Caliph al-Hakim ran amuck persecuting Christians and Jews in the first two decades of the eleventh century (one of the few serious persecutions affecting Jews), Muslims themselves realized that his excesses outrageously violated the Pact of ‘Umar, ‘the stipulations which al-Hakim “added” to the ‘Umariyyan ones’, in the words of a medieval Arab historian. [42]

In any case, the rule of the madman al-Hakim was an aberration, and not indicative of the Shi’ite Fatimids in general, and certainly not of the orthodox (Sunni) Muslims:

The reign of the Shia Fatimid Caliphs (969-1171) was marked by relative tolerance, except for the rule of the insane caliph al-Hakim (996-1021). [43]

As for Sunni rulers, only a handful of them–such as al-Mutawakkil, al-Muqtadi, and Ismail Abu al-Walid–ever enforced the Pact of Umar in any meaningful way.  Of the numerous Sunni dynasties that emerged, only the Seljuks and Almohads implemented such discriminatory laws.  Interestingly, the persecuted non-Muslims–such as those living in Almohad territory–fled not only to Europe but also to more tolerant Muslim lands in the Middle East, which indicates that it would be unjust to generalize the Almohad persecution to all of Islamic history.  Furthermore, these two empires–the Seljuks and Almohads–were short-lived and overthrown by more tolerant Muslim empires, which subsequently reversed the discriminatory laws against Jews and Christians.

The anti-Islam ideologues use these exceptions to the rule in order to characterize the entire Islamic experience. Robert Spencer, for example, cites the example of al-Hakim in his writing, giving the reader the impression that all of Islamic history was this way, even though his nine year tyrannical rule was considered truly exceptional even by the Muslims of that time period. Spencer also quotes Moses Maimonides (1138-1204), a Jew who lived under the oppressive rule of the Almohads. Professor Mark R. Cohen writes:

The favorite authority of the revisionists was none other than Moses Maimonides (1138-1204), the great Spanish-Jewish philosopher, physician, legal scholar, and communal leader, the acme of the so-called Golden Age. Living in Islamic Egypt, Maimonides wrote, in an epistle of comfort and consolation to the persecuted Jews of Yemen, as follows:

“You know, my brethren, that on account of our sins God has cast us into the midst of the people, the nation of Ishmael [the Arabs], who persecute us severely, and who devise ways to harm us and to debase us…No nation has ever done more harm to Israel. None has matched it in debasing and humiliating us.”

Maimonides, it would see, is rendering a harsh judgment about Muslim-Jewish relations: that Islam has always oppressed the Jews and that Islamic hatred and persecution surpass the enmity of any other people among whom the Jews have lived. Indeed, the young Maimonides had survived the violent and terrifying persecution wrought by the fanatic Muslim Almohads…While these circumstances seem to offer sufficient explanation for Maimonides’ extremely unfavorable generalization about Islamic-Jewish relations, his statement in the “Epistle of Yemen” was taken out of context and hoisted as the banner or “prooftext” of the new train of thinking. [44]

Inspiration for the Pact of Umar

As discussed above, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies cites al-Hakim as being the originator of the more discriminatory conditions in the Pact of Umar.  The inspiration for these conditions can be found in Christian and Zoroastrian sources, including Christian law codes (the Codex Theodosianius and the Code of Justinian) and the Sassanian Zoroastrian laws (emphasis is mine). says:

The Middle Ages, for the Jew at least, begin with the advent to power of Constantine the Great (306-337). He was the first Roman emperor to issue laws which radically limited the rights of Jews as citizens of the Roman Empire…As Christianity grew in power in the Roman Empire it influenced the emperors to limit further the civil and political rights of the Jews. Most of the imperial laws that deal with the Jews since the days of Constantine are found in the Latin Codex Theodosianius (438) and in the Latin and Greek code of Justinian (534). Both of these monumental works are therefore very important, for they enable us to trace the history of the progressive deterioration of Jewish rights.

The real significance of Roman law for the Jew and his history is that it exerted a profound influence on subsequent Christian and even Muslim legislation. The second-class status of citizenship of the Jew, as crystallized in the Justinian code, was thus entrenched in the medieval world, and under the influence of the Church the disabilities imposed upon him received religious sanction and relegated him even to lower levels.


These restrictions are enumerated in many different versions of the so-called “Pact of Umar.”  …Many of these restrictions themselves stemmed from pre-Islamic Byzantine Christian anti-Jewish legislation. [45]

We read further:

It has recently been suggested that many of the detailed regulations concerning what the ahl al-dhimma were and were not permitted to do come from an earlier historical precedent, namely the regulations which existed in the Sassanian Persian Empire with reference to religious minorities in Iraq.  Here there was a highly developed Jewish community, and…Christian communities…So the detail of the agreements between the Muslims and the conquered Christian population was therefore not completely novel and original. [46]

The Code of Justinian, written in a very similar manner to the Pact of Umar, expounds:

The Emperor Justinian to John, Praetorian Prefect, Twice Consul and Patrician…

Jews, Samaritans, Montanists, and other men deserving of contempt…shall enjoy no honors, but must remain in the baseness of their condition to which they are devoted. [47]

Just to give one such example to elucidate the point, a provision in the Justinian Code says: “We forbid that any synagogue shall rise as a new building,” remarkably similar to the Pact of Umar: “We will not erect in our city or the suburbs any new monastery, [or] church.”  The Theodosian Code dedicated the entire Title 9 of Book 16 to the subject: “No Jew Shall Have a Christian Slave,” a violation which was punishable by death; similarly, the Pact of Umar decreed that dhimmis “could not own captive slaves.”

Anti-Islam ideologues–the self-proclaimed defenders of the Western Judeo-Christian tradition–cite the Pact of Umar claiming that it typifies the oppressive nature of Islamic history, yet ironically the document itself was inspired from Christian sources.  Indeed, we will see how the Christian belief of the Perpetual Servitude of infidels not only contained the same discriminatory policies of the Pact of Umar, but in fact went much further.

The Perpetual Servitude of Infidels

Now that the Pact of Umar has been properly contextualized, we can compare the so-called Islamic “dhimmitude” with the Christian belief of the Perpetual Servitude of infidels.  Professor Cohen notes that whereas the Islamic Orient was pluralistic (with many different minority faiths, including a large proportion of Jews and Christians), Christian Europe was more monolithic, with only one significant minority group: the Jews.  (The pagans had largely been converted to Christianity.) The rules that dictated the lives of Jews were then applied to the few remaining pagans (which included Muslims) and heretics; indeed, the Christians considered it to be the Jewish-pagan-heretic axis.  We will thus study how the rules came about for Jews, and then see how they were extended to other groups.

The position of the Jews in Christian society was based on the Doctrine of the Witness.  This belief stipulated that Jews ought not to be killed but allowed to live in a state of “perpetual servitude” to Christians; their continued existence as dejected serfs served as a continual proof of the triumph of Christianity over those who rejected the Messiah:

Augustine and the other Church Fathers wrestled with this question of why Judaism continued if it had apparently lost its purpose?  Augustine’s answer lay in the “Doctrine of the Witness.”  This doctrine suggested that the continuing physical presence of the Jews was desirable because the Jews themselves provided testimony to the truth of Christianity in two ways: First, the Jews possessed Scriptures, thereby proving that Scriptures were no means invented retrospectively by Christians to predict the coming of Jesus…

Secondly, the physical status of the Jews provided testimony to the truth of Christianity.  The Jews existed in a subjugated, second-class status as a defeated people…The perpetual servitude of the Jews reminded the world that the Jews are being punished for their rejection of Jesus.  Therefore it was desirable that the Jew remain in Christian society.  As long as Jews retained their second-class status, they would remind the world of their crime in rejecting Jesus and their validity of Jesus’s teachings…

Although the Jews’ status would always be second-class, the Church Fathers decreed that the Jews must be protected and not eliminated.  In this context medieval Christian anti-Semitism provided a protective mechanism against the elimination of the Jews.  Or, as Duns Scotus, a thirteenth century Christian theologian, put it, the Jews could be persecuted and virtually eliminated, but some of them would have to be kept alive on a deserted island until the Second Coming. [48]

This attitude towards Jews–of not slaying them but subjugating them to Perpetual Servitude–prevailed in Europe from the seventh century up until “the modern period”:

The official church position on the Jews guaranteed their existence, but as a pariah people…The concept of a “witness people” received its clearest and most influential expression in the writings of Augustine, one of Christianity’s foremost theologians.  He wrote that the Jews were dispersed over the world to bear witness through their Scriptures, as proof “that we have not fabricated the prophecies about Christ…the Jews are our attendant slaves, who carry, as it were, our satchels…”  The Augustinian witness-people formula, which prevailed in Christendom up until the modern period, allowed the Jews to survive but never to thrive, since their misery was to serve as proof of the truth of Christianity.  Like Cain, they were to carry a sign signifying their damnation, but they were not to be killed.

Over the centuries, the teaching of contempt of the Jews as a reprobate people knew no pause, and continued to be taught and preached in mainland Christendom, in Catholic as well as Protestant churches.  Leading theologians continued to castigate the Jews…The principal Catholic theologian of the medieval period, Thomas Aquinas, wrote that it was permissible “to hold the Jews in perpetual servitude because of their crime…with the sole proviso that they do not deprive them of all that is necessary to sustain life.” …The French Catholic theologian Jacques Bossuet allowed the Jews to continue to exist, but denounced them as “stamped by their reprobation…slaves everywhere they are, without honor, without freedom…” [49]

The belief of Perpetual Servitude was not limited to the Catholic Church, but was adopted by the Protestant movement from the very beginning of its existence. Martin Luther, whose antisemitic work was touted by the Nazis centuries later, was an ardent believer in this degrading position for Jews; indeed, Lutheran Germany outdid their Catholic brethren in their institutionalized oppression of the Jews.

Jewry laws (discriminatory rules) were applied in such a way as to reduce Jews to a life of Perpetual Servitude in order that they may be a Witness People to the triumph of Christ:

The Jews, said the popes, were to live in a state of Perpetual Servitude (Perpetua servitudo), a term first enunciated in the bull Etsi iudaeos. [50]

The Jews were to be punished with a life of misery in order that they confess Christianity:

St. Jerome warned, “Jews are congenital liars who lure Christians to heresy. They should therefore be punished until they confess.” [51]

The concept of Perpetual Servitude led the state to claim ownership of the Jews, taking away their freedom and declaring them servi camerae nostrae (serfs of our royal chamber):

[The] monarchy took the final–in a sense, regressive–step.  It declared Jews servi camerae nostrae, terminology which was inspired by the recently revived papal doctrine of servitus Judeorum (servitude of the Jews).  Kisch believes that this church-inspired idea marked the beginning of Jewish unfreedom.  From then on, he says, Jews were no longer part of the organic legal structure…Henceforth, the legal status of Jews was governed by special legislation designed specifically for them, a jus singulare…The honor of the Jews fell to a new low…reflected in the large-scale persecution of the Jews…Jewish “serfdom of the chamber” constituted an abasement of the legal status of the Jews. [52]

Jews became the property of the Church and/or the state:

The Siete Partidas offers the best glimpse we have of consolidated Jewry law as it was envisioned by a learned Christian monarch at the height of the Middle Ages…Jews are permitted by church and state to live among Christians, but only “that they might live forever as in captivity and serve as a reminder to mankind that they are descended from those who Crucified Our Lord Jesus Christ.” [53]

In the words of the “influential abbot of the time, [the] Venerable Peter of Cluny,” the Jews should be punished but not killed:

They should not be killed, but “like Cain, the fratricide, they should be made to suffer fearful torments and prepared for greater ignominy, for an existence worse than death.” [54]

The Church and state competed with each other over ownership of the Jews:

This happened, for instance, when the papacy exerted its own “ownership” of the Jews, under the cover of the old church doctrine of the “perpetual servitude of the Jews” and in competition with secular rulers, who asserted that the Jews were “serfs of the royal chamber.” [55]

Jews were traded as chattel:

The crown laid claim to them as serfs of “the imperial chamber,” servi camerae…The attachment to the imperial chamber reduced Jews to the status of pieces of property that could be–and were–bought, loaned, and sold as any other merchandise.  Kings paid off barons and barons paid off creditors with Jews.  Kings would, for a consideration, transfer to nobles or townships the right to possess “his” Jews. [56]

The concept of the Perpetual Servitude of Jews was extended to other religious groups.  Following the Crusades, the number of Muslims (called “Saracens”) under Christian rule increased, thereby prompting jurists to pass legislation specific to them.  Despite being considered “worse than Jews,” the Saracens were placed in the same legal category:

The doctrine, therefore, was one of long standing: if Saracens living among us conform as do the Jews, they are to be treated in the same way…There were large numbers of Muslims in the West–in Sicily, for example, where despite mass emigration and slaughter there were many sunk in a life of servitude…In brief, the Muslim who accepted the position of the Jew, who gave no trouble, caused no scandal, and was “prepared to serve everywhere,” could enjoy the same legal protection. [57]

Muslims, as Jews, were subject to the same discriminatory legislation:

Accompanying the polemical association between Jews and Muslims was an increasing judicial association.  There was indeed, from the thirteenth century onward, a growing volume of law restricting the legal status of Jews and Muslims and limiting the “polluting” contacts between Catholics and infidels.  Over the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Church legislation and legal commentaries tended to confirm this trend: for judicial purposes, Muslims were treated as Jews (rather than as pagans or heretics).  The principle aim of this legislation was to prevent “contamination” of Christendom through contact with the infidel: sexual contact, social ties, religious contamination…and so on.  The Muslim or Jew, like the leper, needed to be marked, isolated, quarantined, in order to protect the Christian. [58]

David Abulafia’s The Servitude of Jews and Muslims in the Medieval Mediterranean: Origins and Diffusion describes how the Muslims, like the Jews, became “serfs of the royal chamber,” owned as chattel by the Christian monarchs.

Muslims, like Jews, were royal property:

The [Muslim] Lucerine colonists, like other Muslims and Jews living in Christendom, had a protected status under canon laws long as they did not pose a threat to Christians, they were to be allowed to live in peace.  Defining them as servi camerae [serfs of the royal chamber], [Christian] rulers considered the Muslims of Lucera to be royal property. [59]


The Muslims were in certain important respects in a similar position [to the Jews].  Their status as royal servi [serfs] was ruthlessly exploited by a government anxious to possess their goods.  Islam was suppressed, in the sense that those who survived in southern Italy were denied the use of mosques; but forcible conversion seems not to have occurred.  The crown sought the conversion of the Muslim leaders, and generally did not release from slavery those who converted after their capture…Enslavement was a punishment for generations of obstinate commitment to Islam, just as expulsion and the threat of massacre was a punishment against Jews who for centuries had supposedly maligned Christ…The royal court harnessed Roman law to argue the state had the power and right to enslave its Muslim subjects.  Indeed, they were already slaves before they were sent into slavery.  The importance of the literal interpretation of the term servus, in servus camere regie, to mean “slave” in the sense understood by Roman law, cannot be underestimated. [60]

Perhaps this is what Robert Spencer meant by: “In Christian lands there was the idea, however imperfect, of the equality of dignity and rights for all people.” One also recalls his claims that Muslims are religiously obligated to conquer non-Muslim lands and subjugate them to dhimmitude; in 1452, the Pope gave a carte blanche to Christians to conquer the infidels of the world and reduce them to Perpetual Servitude:

The papal grants of the fifteenth century…bestow[ed] upon the named Christian monarchs the right to conquer non-Christian lands…[as] is reflected in the language of the Bull of Nicholas V, issued in 1452…which accorded to Alphonse of Portugal the right to ‘invade, conquer, storm, attack and subjugate’ and ‘reduce into perpetual servitude [perpetuam servitute] the Saracens [Muslims], pagans, and other enemies of Christ.’ [61]

This infallible papal bull gave the King

the full and free capacity to invade, conquer, take by storm, defeat, and subjugate any Saracens and other Pagans as well as whatever dominions, possessions, movable and immovable property are detained or possessed by them: and to seize and appropriate for himself and for his successors their own persons in perpetual servitude, as well as their kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and property, and to convert these to his own use and utility and to that of his successors. [62]

In contrast to the unfree Perpetual Servitude operative in the Christian West, the dhimmis were considered free citizens.  According to Islamic law, it was forbidden to enslave them or to reduce them to servitude of any kind.  Professor Cohen cites a hadith from the Prophet Muhammad, who said:

If you take the poll tax from them, you have no claim on them or rights over them…[D]o not enslave them and do not let the Muslims oppress them or harm them or devour their property except as permitted [kharaj, i.e. land tax], but faithfully observe the conditions which you have accorded to them and all that you have allowed to them. [63]


Perhaps the most criticized aspect of “dhimmitude”–a point raised over and over by anti-Islam ideologues–is the payment of the jizya, a tax that infidels were expected to pay.  Islamic apologists respond to this in a variety of ways, often arguing that Muslims were expected to pay the zakat, another tax.  However, it seems clear–at least from my research–that non-Muslims were indeed taxed more than Muslims, often considerably more.

Yet, what anti-Islam ideologues–such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller–fail to mention is that the Christian West taxed infidels in their lands at a much, much higher rate than the Islamic Orient did.  We have the example of the Jews, for instance, who lived in both Europe and the Islamic lands; there is no question that the Jews of Europe paid much heftier tithes than did the Jews of Islam.

According to the philosophy of the Perpetual Servitude of the Jews and their capacity as Serfs of the Royal Chamber, their wealth was considered the property of the church or the state.   Therefore, the church leaders argued that all the possessions of a Jew could be seized, except that which was the bare minimum required for his survival (in order that he may endure as Witness):

In the thirteenth century, [Pope] Innocent III (1198-1216) spoke of the “perpetual servitude” of the Jews, and the Third Lateran Council (1179) of the “subjection” of Jews to Christians.  St. Thomas Aquinas (1125-74), adhering to the feudal conceptions of his time, validated the principle of Jewish “servtitude” to both Church and State, but added certain limitations.  “It would be licit, according to custom,” he wrote, “to hold Jews, because of their crime, in perpetual servitude, and therefore the princes may regard the possessions of Jews as belonging to the State; however, they must use them with a certain moderation and not deprive Jews of things necessary to life.”  A little later this principle was established by law.  The great English jurist Bracton wrote: “The Jew cannot have anything of his own.  Whatever he acquires he acquires not for himself but for the king.” [64]

The dhimmis, on the other hand, were not considered state property; their property was considered protected under law, and could not be seized from them, based on the prophetic command “do not…devour their property,” which was applied quite consistently throughout Islamic history.

According to the Islamic law, the jizya could only be taken from the dhimmis once a year.  On the other hand, Jews (and Muslims) under Christian rule were taxed repeatedly throughout the year.  Although there were certainly exceptions (which the anti-Islam ideologues selectively cite), the general rule was–as Professor Cohen mentions–that the Muslims levied reasonable taxes (a graduated tax based on the capability of the dhimmi), whereas Christians crippled the Jews with unreasonable taxes.  In fact, we have a primary text of a Jew who lived in Europe and then moved to the Muslim world; he compares the taxes between the two places:

In the thirteenth century, Jacob b. Elijah of Venice, a Jew, left his home in France for Venice and later settled in the Muslim East.  Blaming Christians for the concentration of Jews in moneylending, Jacob compared the Jewish plight in Christian lands to their more favorable economic situation in Muslim countries.  In a well-known polemical letter…Jacob wrote:

“Among the Orientals, each [Jewish] person makes his livelihood from whatever is his occupation.  And, while Arab rulers may be wicked and sinful, they do possess reason and understanding.  They take a prescribed tax each year, from the older ones according to his security and from the young according to his youthfulness.  It is not this way in our [European] lands nor is it done in our place that way.  Our kings and princes think only how to assail and fall upon us, in order to take away our gold and silver.”

Jacob thus tells us that Jews living in Muslim lands enjoyed occupational diversification and that the taxes Oriental Jews paid were fair rather than arbitrary and exorbitant.  Though simplistic, his comparison is accurate, and it shows that, even in the Middle Ages, Jews sensed that the contrast between Jewish well-being in East and West had much to do with economics. [65]

Furthermore, unlike in the Christian West, Islamic law exempted women, children, and the infirm from the tax:

According to most jurists, since the poll tax represented a monetary payment in lieu of military service, logically those disqualified for army service did not have to pay.  This category included women, the prepubescent young, slaves, and the infirm. [66]

Another major difference between the taxes levied upon the infidels of the Muslim world and of Christian Europe was the fact that the jizya was in exchange for state protection of life, liberty, and property, whereas the tithes of Europe did not guarantee this.  In other words, at least the jizya bought something crucial to the well-being of the Jews, whereas the Jews of Europe would pay extra taxes but be afforded no protection based upon it.

In the Latin West, the state would not only tithe the Jews throughout the year, but once the Jews were impoverished because of it, their utility was no more, their protection lifted,  and they were then expelled.  In order to prevent such a fate, Jews were forced to pay bribes to obtain protection, with no promise that these would be accepted of them.  The anti-Islam ideologues berate the Muslims for the historical use of the jizya, but neglect to mention the shohad (bribery) prevalent in Christian Europe–which the Jews had to pay for their protection–and unlike the jizya, it was arbitrary and often rejected:

For a greater appreciation of the perception of security that the Jews of Islam associated with payment of the jizya, consider the more unstable situation of the Jews of Europe.  The Jews there paid numerous and often unreasonably high and arbitrary taxes to the ruling authority, but–until 1342 in the Holy Roman Empire–no regular poll tax in return for official protection…

When physically threatened (which happened much more frequently than in the Islamic world) the Jews of Europe routinely resorted to bribery to purchase or restore protection.  This reliance on bribery created uncertainty, instability, and collective anxiety, for one never knew when a payoff might be required or whether the sum afforded would be sufficient.

A sign of the widespread utilization of bribery in Jewish life in Latin Christendom is the regular use of the verb le-shahed (from the biblical noun shohad, “bribery”), rare in mishnaic Hebrew, to express the action.  In Islam, as in Christendom, many a ruler discovered that the threat to enforce the sumptuary laws among the dhimmis was a convenient ploy to raise cash as a substitute.  But by contrast, I know of little evidence from the classical Islamic period that bribing officials to prevent violence against persons became a regular Jewish practice.  Carrying the comparison further, in the Latin West, Jewish residential security was often linked to their economic utility.  Thus, in England in 1290, when tallages had ceased to yield significant sums from the increasingly impoverished Jews, King Edward I canceled their right of residence and expelled them, confiscating what little remained of their property.

Despite the humiliating connotation and the financial burden, the Jews of Islam had in the jizya a surer guarantee of protection from non-Jewish hostility than their distant brethren had in the Latin West.  The “testament” of Caliph ‘Umar, the purported originator of the Pact bearing his name, stipulates regarding the Protected People, that Muslims must “do battle to guard them, and put no burden on them greater than they can bear, provided they pay what is due from them to the Muslims, willing or under subjection, being humbled.”  This principle was not always upheld, but it remained a steadfast cornerstone of Islamic policy toward the non-Muslims even into late medieval and early modern times. [67]

Because Jews were considered the possessions of the state, they were taxed to the limit; arbitrary tallages were levied upon them, and they were eventually expelled anyways:

The very principle of possessory rights…that were exercised by secular authorities over Jews with increasing vigor as the Middle Ages wore on included the right to tax Jews to the limit.  Because of their vulnerability, Jews proved compliant prey for royal and baronial tax collectors.  With variation from place to place, the tax obligations of Jews might include annual levies on households or communities, fees connected with loans, tolls, and most, most vexingly, periodic “unscheduled” arbitrary exactions or confiscations to meet various pressing financial needs of an overlord.  Because they needed protection, Jews had no choice but to pay.

By the thirteenth century, Langmuir says, “as a result of the efforts of ecclesiastics, kings, and barons to exploit Jews, each for their own ends, Jews had been given a degraded legal status that set them apart from all others in European society and denied them even the protection usually accorded serfs…It can be said that Jews came to know what medieval people called “the yoke of servitude,” to experience loss of the “honour of liberty,” and to fear the “arbitrariness” of absolute dependence on the will of their overlords.  The many arbitrary, burdensome tallages levied upon the Jews during the later Middle Ages, and, much more oppressive, their expulsion–from England in 1290; from France in 1306, 1322, and 1394; from Spain in 1492; and from dozens of German principalities and towns during the latter Middle Ages–constituted for the Jews a more severe outcome of “enserfment”…namely, their effective exclusion from lands where they had dwelt for centuries. [68]

Arbitrary taxes were routinely levied upon Jews, such as:

Finally, Jews were to make two annual payments to the Church…as recompense to the Church for the harm done to it by Jews. [69]

The tallages not only impoverished the Jews in Europe, but forced them into debt:

A tallage was an arbitrary tax, by definition, which the Crown declared that it was going to levy, ordered officials to collect, and then simply took from its Jewish subjects and transferred to royal coffers…This particular tallage collection must have had great impact on Jewish wealth…[and] broke the financial backbone of the English Jewish community, and permanently reduced its financial value to the crown…In his study of the York Jewry, Professor Dobson observed: ‘The corrosive effects of excessive tallage on the one side and of increased anti-Jewish propaganda and blood-libel accusations on the other seemt o have made the mid-1250s a real watershed in the history of Anglo-Jewish relations.’  Certainly, the 1250s can be seen as a watershed not only for Gentile-Jewish relations but also for Jewish wealth.  It is the 1250s which probably mark the start of a catastrophic decline in Jewish wealth…

The actual payments show that in 1272 there was considerable financial hardship amongst the Jewish community…[Another] tallage is aptly named ‘the Great Tallage’ not only because it…[seized] a third of all Jewish goods…That many Jews were imprisoned for failure to pay the tallage serve[s] as reminders of the pressure put upon the Jews to fill the royal coffers. [70]

And the book goes on to discuss how the Jews were eventually expelled anyways, due to their dwindling economic utility.

Similarly, Saracens (Muslims) paid extra tithes under Christian rule:

…The Pope…ordere[d] Saracens to pay tithes. [71]


Under the Franks [Crusaders], there was an annual tax on land that was similar to to the Muslim kharaj and was sometimes known in a latinized form as carragium or terraticum.  It took the form of a portion of the harvest of arable lands, olive groves and vineyards, sometimes a quarter or a half but generally one-third (Richard 1985:256).  According to Ibn Jubair, the Muslim peasants surrendered half of their crops to the Franks at harvest time and paid a poll-tax of one dinar and five qirat per person (Ibn Jubair 1951:316).  Taxes were levied not only on arable land but also on bees and honey, on livestock, and on certain trees, most notably the olive (usually one-third of the olive).  Ibn Jubair mentions a small tax on the fruit of trees (Ibn Jubair 1951:316).  The portagium was a tax levied on transporting grain to granaries or on the use of threshing floors (Prawer 1972: 376; Richard 1985: 257).  There were payments for pasture rights.  Muslim villagers were required to pay a tithe or dime to the Church (Runciman 1952(vol.2): 298-9); for example, tithes were paid to the bishop of the fief of Margat from villages, mills and olive presses, gardens and demesne lands (Delaville Le Roulx 1894-1906: no. 941).  The tithe of xenia or exenia (a Greek term meaning gifts) was a payment in produce such as eggs, fowl, cheese or wood that was paid to the clergy at festivals (Tafel and Thomas 1856-57: 371).  The military orders could also receive tithes… [72]

In conclusion, the jizya was considered by dhimmis to be discriminatory, even a source of humiliation.  But the tax itself was taken one time a year and generally (although not always) reasonable, constituting a significant financial burden but not crippling in nature; once paid, the dhimmis were considered a protected population, and the state was duty bound to protect their lives, property, and freedom.  On the other hand, the infidels of Europe suffered from multiple taxes and bribes throughout the year, which were often unreasonable and exorbitant in nature, that decimated the Jewish wealth to such an extent that the Jews were eventually expelled due to their insolvency.

Symbolic Acts of Humiliation

The Pact of Umar decreed that dhimmis must show respect for Muslims, mandating what Robert Spencer calls “shades of Jim Crow.”  For example, dhimmis were required to rise in the presence of Muslims and not to build their houses higher than that of Muslims.  Another onerous regulation forbade them from riding horses, forcing them instead to use donkeys.  However, Professor Mark R. Cohen explains that these rules “fell into disuse.” [73] There was, as we have discussed earlier in this article, a significant difference between theory and practice.

In any case, such laws (”shades of Jim Crow”) were not unique to the world of Islam, as anti-Islam ideologues seem to imply.  In Christian Europe, laws were passed which required Jews to step out of the way of Christians, take off their hats, and even bow to them (Jim Crow?); Jews were not permitted to walk on sidewalks, or carry walking sticks, or to walk two abreast at a time; they were forced to enter the back doors of town halls (Jim Crow?) and forbidden from public gardens (Jim Crow?); they were banned from entering Christian quarters except on business (Jim Crow?); and so on and so forth:

Jews were allowed to enter the Christian quarters only on business, never for leisure.  Inside the Christian quarters, no more than two Jews were allowed to walk abreast, and for some reason they were not entitled to carry walking sticks.  Nor could they use the sidewalk.  At the cry “Jud, mach mores“–roughly, “Jew, pay your dues”–they would have to take off their hats, step aside, and bow.  They were banned at all times from the vicinity of the cathedral and could enter the town hall only through a back entrance.  Not all these restrictions were enforced and some were observed only sporadically.  But until the French Revolution, all public gardens were closed to Jews. [74]


Anti-Jewish laws [were] passed…designed to make them objects of scorn and derision, to deprive them of any symbol of dignity…First, he was given the yellow badge.  Then he was isolated in the ghetto.  He could not own land.  He was forced to wear special clothing.  He had to step aside when a Christian passed.  He could not build synagogues.  He could not strike friendships with Christians.  He could engage only in a restricted number of professions and trades. [75]


Jews had to step aside before Christians who ordered them to “Obey, Jew,” Jewish marriages were limited so that the Jewish population would not increase, Jews were barred from the law and public office, and Jewish passports were stamped with the word Jew.  A public promenade was posted, “No Jews and no pigs,” and the Jews were confined to a ghetto. [76]


Any street urchin could say to a passing Jew, “Jew, do your duty,” and the Jew then had to step aside and take off his hat. [77]

However, it should be noted that such laws were sporadically enforced, as was the case in Islamic lands.  Furthermore, although such laws seem especially distasteful to the postmodern mind, they had less practical effect than other laws which significantly curtailed the safety and economic vitality of the minority groups, as we shall discuss shortly.

Coming back to the issue of the poll tax, there was a difference of opinion amongst Islamic jurists about how the jizya should be taken from dhimmis; some scholars such as Imam al-Nawawi, Imam Ibn Qudama, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim, amongst others, argued that it ought “to be taken with gentleness.”  Other eminent jurists took a stricter view, holding the opinion that the jizya ought to be taken in a harsh manner that would humiliate the dhimmi; one particularly degrading way was to brand the necks of the dhimmi as proof of payment.  Although Professor Mark R. Cohen is skeptical that the jizya was “taken with gentleness” (dismissing it as part of the interfaith utopia myth), he does say that these harsher methodologies such as branding were not generally done; therefore, it seems safe to say that the manner of payment varied from time and place, but was usually between gentleness and degradation, likely harsh but not cruel.  Furthermore, it should be kept in mind that this practice of branding (which was generally not done in the Islamic world) found its inspiration in the Christian world:

The statement made above, that dhimmis had to wear a seal on the neck always, is an exaggeration…This practice was the exception and not the rule…The Arabs do not bear the shame of inventing this custom, for it was known to the Byzantines. [78]

Professor Cohen notes that the normal method of keeping track of jizya payments was through receipts, and not branding:

The dhimmi had to produce proof of payment.  In certain periods, the humiliating seal stamped on the neck served as receipt for payment of the jizya.  The Geniza indicates that the receipt took the form of a piece of paper called the bara’a, “quittance.”  Anyone caught by the revenue authorities without it might have to remit his poll tax a second time that year. [79]

As for the prohibition against weapons (another act of humiliation), it too in the Islamic world was “theoretical” [80]; Jews in Europe were similarly barred from bearing arms:

Spain was probably the last country in Europe to allow Jews to maintain weaponry.  Eventually, in 1412, Jews in Spain were forbidden to bear arms. [81]

Distinctive Clothing (Ghiyar) and the Yellow Badge

The “yellow badge” has become infamous in history due to the Nazis.  Anti-Islam ideologues such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller point out that it was the Muslims who first introduced the obligation to wear distinctive clothing (ghiyar), and that the Nazis took it from them.  Even if this is true (which it is not), it is odd that they do not also mention the innovations of the Church which were adopted by Adolf Hitler:

Throughout the Middle Ages, the church issued official anti-Jewish decrees.  Later, in the twentieth century, the Nazis would follow the example the church had set.

In the year 306, the church forbade Christians from eating with Jews.  On December 30, 1939, Germany passed a law barring Jews from railroad dining cars.

In the year 309, the church forbade marriage between Jews and Christians.  On September 15, 1935, Germany passed the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor, forbidding Jews from marrying non-Jews.

In 681 the church publicly burned the Talmud and other Jewish books.  The Nazis publicly burned Jewish books on May 10, 1933.

The church adopted an idea from the Muslim ruler Caliph Omar II (634-44).  Omar ordered Christians to wear blue belts and Jews to wear yellow belts.  In 1215, the church ordered Jews to wear special badges on their clothing.  On September 1, 1941, Germany ordered that Jews wear yellow stars.

In 1267, the church decreed that Jews must live in special Jewish sections or ghettos (the word “ghetto” was first used in Venice, Italy, around 1516).  On September 21, 1939, the Nazis ordered the building of ghettos to cage the Jews…

After Rome accepted Christianity as a national religion, anti-Jewish practices and beliefs slowly became official state policies.  The Nazis later adopted many of their anti-Jewish laws from these state policies of the Middle Ages.

In fourteenth-century Germany, the state declared that the property of Jews slain in a Gemran city became public property.  On July 1, 1943, the Reich Citizenship Law passed by the German government ordered that the property of a dead Jew became the property of the state.

In Nuremberg, in the fourteenth century, the state declared that if a Christian owed a debt to a Jew, the state could collect and keep it.  The Reich Citizenship Law of 1943 declared the same thing.

In France in the eighteenth century and Germany in the nineteenth century, Jews were forced to carry special documents or passports marking them as Jews.  On October 5, 1938, Germany passed a decree providing for special Jewish identification cards.

In Germany in the seventeenth century, the state declared that Jewish houses had to be marked, Jews could shop only during certain hours, and Jews could visit only certain places.  On September 1, 1941, Germany declared certain places off-limits to Jews.  On April 17, 1942, Germany declared that Jewish apartments had to be marked. [82]

Out of these laws, only one could have originated from the Pact of Umar and the Muslims; the rest were from the Church.  Surely then it is inappropriate to give too much credit to the Muslims for Adolf Hitler’s inspiration.  Additionally, many of the discriminatory conditions found in the Pact of Umar were derived from Christian laws that were in effect in the Eastern Roman Empire (see above). If the self-proclaimed defenders of the Judeo-Christian tradition blame the Muslims for introducing the concept of distinctive clothing to Christendom, then perhaps they ought to accept the blame for introducing the concept of branding the necks of infidels to the Muslims.

In any case, it is incorrect to say that the Nazis took the ghiyar from the Muslims; rather the inspiration for the Nazi yellow badge came from the Church.  Normon Roth, professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin, writes that there is no evidence to support the claim that the Church took the idea from the Muslims:

In the Muslim world some rulers imposed dress restrictions on Christians and Jews (see CLOTHING).  There is, however, no evidence to support the claim made by some that these laws influenced the Church decision (1215) to require distinctive clothing to be worn by Jews, which was interpreted in most [European] countries as a requirement to wear a “badge” on the clothing. [83]

Professor Roth concludes that the inspiration for the Nazi’s yellow badge comes from the European, not Islamic, example:

Certainly the badge, the wearing of which continued in some [European] lands well beyond the medieval period, was the direct inspiration for the Nazi requirement of the yellow star, about which there can be no doubt as to humiliating and degrating intention. [84]

Furthermore, while this law of ghiyar (distinctive clothing) quickly fell into disuse in the Islamic world, it was applied widely throughout the Latin West for many centuries.  Therefore, even if Muslims started it, the Christians perfected it.

Professor Mark R. Cohen mentions another salient point: the Muslim law requiring ghiyar was not promulgated in order to single out dhimmis to deride them.  Rather, Islamic law instructed Muslims themselves to dress distinctively from others and forbade them from dressing in clothing which is distinctive of other religions.  The Islamic law dictates that “Whoever imitates a people is one of them,” a saying which is applied to religious clothing.  Based on this, a Muslim may not, for example, wear the Jewish skullcap or the Christian priest’s white collar tab.  This law is actually considered Abrahamic in nature and derived from the Jewish law; Halacha similarly forbade Jews to dress like Gentiles:

An obvious area of concern for the principle of “do not follow the ways of the Gentile” is the manner in which we dress.  Even as far back as the era of the sojourn in Egypt, Jews were already distinguished from other nations.  The well-known Midrash is often quoted: “In the merit that they did not change their names, clothing and language they were redeemed.”  The Meshech Chochma points out that Jacob foresaw the danger of assimilation during the long exile, and to assure the preservation of Klal Yisroel, devised this plan of being distinct in name, clothing, and language, which was passed down throughout the generations.

The prophet Zephaniah admonishes the Jewish nation: “And it will be on the day that G-d will slaughter, and I will take notice of the officers and the princes, and all those who wear alien dress.” (Zephaniah 1:8) …Similarly, Yirmiyah refers derogatorily to the Jews’ acceptance of the Gentile dress. [85]

There was a fear that the small Jewish population would become assimilated and their identities lost; to prevent this, the Jews were instructed to wear distinctive clothing, so that their religious identities would be preserved.

Similarly, the conditions in the Pact of Umar (distinctive clothing and nicknames) were instituted by Muslims not to make the dhimmis into objects of derision, but to preserve the religious identities of the then fragile Muslim community.  The Muslim conquerors, many of them recent converts, had just come out of the backwater desert.  It was feared that they may become assimilated into the more established dominant religions of the lands they conquered (i.e. Christianity).  As such, it was prohibited for Muslims to dress like non-Muslims, and conversely for non-Muslims to dress as Muslims:

The German scholar Albrecht Noth…contends that the terms [in the Pact of Umar] originally did not have the restrictive, discriminatory purpose so blatant in the text of the Pact as it existed later on.  Rather, many of the stipulations were devised to protect the fragile identity of the Arab conquerors.  Faced with a massive majority of non-Muslims, the conquerors instituted measures designed to distance themselves from their subjects…

Taken together, these and other passages confirm Noth’s speculation that the zunnar [distinctive belt] was not invented by the Arabs to discriminate against non-Muslims but, rather, was intended to perpetuate a distinction in external appearance in place at the time of the conquest…The goal, Noth maintains, was to sharpen the boundaries between the massive indigenous, conquered populace and the insecure Arab ruling minority. [86]

It was only later, secondarily and incidentally, that this distinctive clothing naturally led to discrimination; but it was not generally the intention of the legislation itself, at least not in the beginning.

On this note, we touch upon another major difference between Christian Europe and the Islamic Orient: the conditions in the Pact of Umar only stipulated that the dhimmis dress in the clothes they already dressed in, such as the zunnar (belt).  Notice the language of the Pact of Umar, as quoted by Robert Spencer: “We will…wear our customary clothes wherever we are.”  This contrasts sharply with the general trend in the Latin West, where Jews were forced to wear special clothing which they had not worn before nor wished to (yellow badges, pointed dunce-like hats, etc.):

[The] zunnar (which, he notes, derives from a Greek loanword, zonarion) originally was part of the normal garb of Christians, which the Arabs insisted they retain as a distinctive identifying mark.  The language in the Pact of ‘Umar, he argues, proves this: The zunnar regulation begins with the Christian promise, “We shall always dress in our traditional fashion and we shall bind the zunnars around our waists.”

As Tritton had noted but apparently without seeing the implications, the belt (called a zunara, perhaps pronounced zonnara, in Syriac) was worn by Christians well before the advent of Islam.  It was even employed as a distinguishing mark of clothing.  According to a passage in the Nestorian Chronicle of Seert, Nestorian Catholicos (head of the Church of Iraq and Iran) Mar Emmeh (Maramma)…decreed that schoolboys must wear the zunnar as a kind of uniform to distinguish them from others: “He was the first to order schoolboys to fasten the zunnars around their waists as that they would be distinguished from others.”  The zunnar, therefore, was an article of clothing worn by indigenous Christians in the conquered territories.  Far from being a stigma, however, and continuing a tradition from pre-Islamic times, it was an insignia of high status.  In his Syriac ecclesiastical history, the sixth-century Monophysite churchman, John, bishop of Ephesus (d. ca. 586) recounts an episode during the reign of his contemporary, Byzantine Emperor Tiberius II.  Following a rebellion by some pagans, the emperor summoned officials…”And whosoever was not present [the emperor] gave orders that his girdle (Syriac: zonin) should be cut, and that he should lose his office.”  Thus, in the sixth century, Syriac Christians considered the belt in question to be an item of clothing that signified status, one whose removal was a sign of degradation.

Taken together, these and other passages confirm Noth’s speculation that the zunnar was not invented by the Arabs to discriminate against non-Muslims but, rather, was intended to perpetuate a distinction in external appearance in place at the time of the conquest.  (Jews also, it turns out, sometimes wore the zonara belt in pre-Islamic Palestine.)  The goal, Noth maintains, was to sharpen the boundaries between the massive indigenous, conquered populace and the insecure Arab ruling minority.

The regimen of special clothing for non-Muslims did not arise from discriminatory or stigmatizing motives, let alone those intended to prevent accidental defilement through sexual intercourse, as was the case with the imposition of the “Jewish badge” in the Christian West.  The Arab conquerors insisted that the Christians continue to wear their traditional garb lest the Arabs be unable to distinguish them.  Simultaneously, Muslim tradition implored Arabs not to imitate non-Muslim mores. [87]

All three of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) commanded believers to wear distinctive clothing from infidels.  The zunnar (belt) which Muslims insisted that Christians continue wearing was already being used by Christians themselves as distinguishing clothing long before the Islamic conquests.  Similarly, the command for Christians to “have the front of [their] hair cut” was not designed to humiliate them.  The Christians used to cut their hair in front as a distinctive style before the Islamic conquest, as the Catholic Encyclopedia says:

Byzantine iconography differs little as to head-dress from that of the catacombs. Mosaics and ivories portray emperors, bishops, priests and the faithful wearing the hair of a medium length, cut squarely across the forehead.

Indeed, Muslims were forbidden to style their hair in a way distinctive to another religious group.  The Muslim conquerors feared assimilation and the loss of Islamic identity, and therefore commanded Muslims themselves to wear distinctive clothing and hair styles; the (irrational) fear was that the non-Muslims would seek to dress like Muslims and thereby prevent Muslims from dressing distinctively.  This then, Professor Cohen notes, is a significant difference from the Latin West, where the distinctive clothing mandated upon Jews

served to underline the alien, outsider status of the Jews and render them more vulnerable to violence from the populace. [88]

In other words, the Islamic law requiring each religious group to dress distinctively was designed to allow Muslims themselves to stand out, whereas the Christian law was implemented in order to single out Jews for humiliation.

In any case, the law requiring dhimmis to wear distinctive clothes fell into disuse and was rarely enforced:

The code was enforced unevenly and sporadically…[and] fell into disuse.  There are abundant references in the Geniza to clothing and other passing evidence in the documents, indicating no differences between the attire of Jews and Muslims…To the contrary, it seems that it was often difficult to tell them apart. [89]

There has been a drive by anti-Islam ideologues to characterize the entire Islamic rule as Nazi-like, by exaggerating about the requirement of ghiyar (distinctive clothing) and drawing parallels to the yellow badge.  Yet, this condition in the Pact of Umar was generally not enforced:

There is no evidence that the dress code actually was respected neither by the upper nor by the lower classes. Thus it appears that merely transgressing the ghiyar imperative did not automatically lead to conflict. [90]

In fact, there is evidence to suggest that the wealthy dhimmis dressed elegantly in the clothing of their peers, in contradiction to the Pact of Umar:

In Muslim Spain, however, such restrictions were not generally enforced…These regulations remained theoretical. In fact, people of the upper classes (and this included most Jews) dressed elegantly in fine silk and linen clothes…In fact, Jews, both men and women, continued to dress in lavish apparel. [91]


The most conspicuous discrimination against non-Muslims was the obligation to be distinguished from Muslims by their wearing apparel…[However] practice must have differed widely from theory…Nowhere do we meet in these periods any allusion to a specific Jewish attire. On the contrary, there is much indirect evidence that there was none. [92]

It seems odd that the anti-Islam ideologues such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller should make too much of a commotion about the ghiyar (distinctive clothing) when the yellow badge was much more prevalent in Europe than in Islamic lands.  The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 decreed that Jews and Muslims must wear distinctive clothing:

Canon 68 of the Council promulgated for the first time a prescription that is perhaps the most famous piece of ecclesiastical Jewry law during the Middle Ages.  The law decrees that…Jews and Saracens [Muslims] must henceforth be distinguished from Christians by their dress (no particular form was stipulated).  The Council wished to prevent “accidental” commingling of Christians with members of the two inferior, infidel religions, especially “polluting” sexual contact. [93]

The yellow badge found its way over much of Europe:

In 1200, a local church council (Alais, in France) had imposed the requirement that Jews be distinguished from Christians in their dress.  This was but a minor incident in the long series of hostile decrees against Jews enacted by numerous local church councils prior to the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.  Unlike earlier “ecumenical” councils (representing the clergy and laity of Christian Europe), this council, convened by Innocent III, was the most outspoken against the Jews, enacting several canons against the “Jewish perfidy,” one of which…mandated that [Jews and Saracens] be distinguished by the “quality of their clothes” from Christians…

England apparently was the first country to decree that Jews actually wear a “badge.”  In 1217, Henry III ordered that Jews wear a representation of the tablets of the Ten Commandments, made either of white linen or parchment, on the front of their garments.  As part of a series of general discriminatory regulations, the Council of Oxford (1222)…ordered that Jewish men and women wear a linen patch of a different color than their clothes, two fingers in width and four in length.  This was the first regulation that prescribed a specific size.  It has been noted that, in fact, Jewish women in England were exempted from the badge until the reign of Edward I (1275).  Under that ruler, responsible also for the eventual expulsion of the Jews altogether, the color of the badge was changed to yellow and the size increased.  These laws were reaffirmed in 1279 and 1281.  The age at which Jews were required to start wearing the badge in England was seven years.

In France…the Jews wore “wheels” or circles sewn onto their garments.  The wearing of the badge was not, however, widely established in France until later…Raymond VII, count of Toulouse, ordered the wearing of the badge for Jews in 1232, and various local city and provincial councils elsewhere in France soon followed.  The first official royal enactment for all Jews was by Louis IX, the notoriously anti-Jewish “saint,” in 1269, followed in rapid succession by all the succeeding kings preceding and following the various expulsions and recalls throughout the fourteenth century.  Only Marseille followed England in requiring Jews seven years old and older to wear the badge;  elsewhere the age was thirteen or fourteen.  There appears not to have been any dictate as to the size of the badge in France, other than the provision of the council of Narbonne in 1227 that prescribed an oval badge one finger in width and a palm in height.  Generally the color of the circle that was the badge in France was yellow, but in later years different colors were prescribed, including a combination of red and black, and in the fifteenth century even green.  Fines were imposed for not wearing the badge, and the regulations of Louis IX prescribed that a Jew accused by a Christian of not wearing the badge should forfeit his outer garment to his accuser…

An examination of Jewish illuminated manuscripts reveals that in Germany, too, the badge was worn.  Nevertheless, it appears that it was not until the fifteenth century that it became widely prevalent.  In 1451 the papal legate Nicolas of Cusa, followed by the notoriously anti-Jewish John Capistrano, arrived in Germany to ensure that church decrees about the Jews were being enforced, including the badge…

The badge generally [was not] enforced, curiously enough, in Italy.  Only in Sicily in 1222 did the Hohenstaufen emperor, Frederick II (generally well disposed toward the Jews), insist on enforcing the Lateran Council decree.  This he probably did to avoid further trouble with the Church, as he was constantly under excommunication or the threat thereof.

In Poland apparently the waring of the badge was not enforced, for in 1267 the church synod of Breslau tried to reintroduce the requirement but with little success…

The council of nobles of Enrique IV in 1465 demanded that Jews and Muslims wear special signs; for the Jews there were to consist of colored pieces of cloth, and for the Muslims yellow caps with “blue moons” on them.  There is no evidence that this was enforced, and it is highly unlikely that it was, given that king’s friendliness with Muslims and Jews.  Finally, at the Cortes of Toledo (1480) Fernando and Isabel decreed that all Jews and Muslims must again wear a special sign on their clothing.  As is evident from paintings and manuscript illuminations, this law was enforced.  In neighboring Portugal also, Jews were required to wear the badge. [94]

It seems then that the anti-Islam ideologues such as Spencer and Geller ought not to use this line of argumentation.


As for the prohibition of taking Muslim nicknames (kunyas), this too fell into disuse. The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies reads:

Jews assumed Arabic honorific names–Abu ‘Imran is the by-name of Moses Maimonides–and, and as the Genizah shows, and as sources describing repeated renewal of the dress regulations attest, Jews and other dhimmis usually dressed like everybody else. [95]

Indeed, we have literature from the Jews of the time that indicate that it was routine for them to take Muslim nicknames, with one researcher concluding that only “Muhammad” was not used by the Jews:

A complete list of the Arabic names of the Jews numbers some hundreds..”F. Lebrecht, in his article on the pronunciation fo the name Koreisch, says: “We find with Jews and Christians who delt amongst the Muhammadans, all the names of the Arabs, only the name Muhammad was probably not allowed to them.  A direct prohibition [of the name Muhammad] seems not to exist, probably because it would have been superflous.” [96]

Here too, a striking difference emerges between the Islamic and Christian laws.  The Islamic law gave the Jews the freedom to keep their own names, or to select any other name, with the only exception of Muslim names.  In Christendom, however, laws would emerge from time to time that would force Jews to change their traditional names; considering the fact that Jews believed in keeping distinctly Jewish names, the Christian law hampered them far more than the Islamic one.  Naturally, people preferred to keep their traditional names as opposed to being foisted with alien ones.

Even more insidiously, Jews in Central Europe (and Russia in 1804) were forced to accept odious last names such as Eselkopf (ass head), Taschengregger (pickpocket), or even the vulgar Schmuck; this law was also adopted in Russia in 1804 by Tsar Alexander I:

For instance, an Austrian law of 1787 compelled Jews to adopt German-sounding first and family names…Hebrew-sounding names were now usually forbidden and the bureaucrats produced lists of ‘acceptable’ names [for Jews].  Bribes were necessary to secure ‘nice’ family names, derived from flowers or precious stones: Lilienthal, Edelstein, Diamant, Saphir, Rosenthal.  Two very expensive names were Kluger (wise) and Frohlich (happy).  Most Jews were brutally lumped by bored officials into four categories and named accordingly: Weiss (white), Schwartz (black), Gross (big), and Klein (little).  Many poorer Jews had unpleasant names foisted on them by malignant clerks: Glagenstrick (gallow’s rope), Eselkopf (donkey’s head), Taschengregger (pickpocket), Schmalz (grease), Borgencicht (don’t borrow), for example.  Jews of priestly or levitical descent, who could claim names like Cohen, Kahn, Katz, Levi, were forced to Germanize them: Katzman, Cohnstein, Aronstein, Levinthal, and so on.  A large group were given places of origin [as names]: Brody, Epstein, Ginzberg, Landau, Shapiro (Speyer), Dreyfus (Trier), Horowitz and Posner.  The pain of this humiliating procedure was not lessened by the knowledge that the government’s main object in imposing it was to make Jews easier to tax and conscipt. [97]

The Islamic prohibition of taking Muslim names appears to be much more benign than forcing names onto Jews such as “Ass Head”, “Pickpocket”, or “Schmuck”:

Surnames were codified as a way of knowing and controlling populations as linked to the development of tax, census, and private property procedures. In the late-eighteenth-century Hapsburg Empire, for example, Ashkenazic Jews were forced to either choose or be assigned surnames.  In many cases, local officials arbitrarily assigned derogatory names such as Eselkopf (ass head) or Fischbaum (fish tree) to Jews who did not offer them bribes. [98]

In Russia, Jews were barred from certain areas of the city (Jim Crow?); many of them tried to avoid forced ghettoization by changing their names.  The authorities penalized these Jews with hefty fines:

The Digest of Laws [Svod zakonov], published in 1832…condemned Jews who tried to disguise themselves as non-Jews in order to circumvent residence restrictions.  In a state that made changing one’s name difficult for anyone, a specfic statute insisted that Jews “living under Christian names in territories where they are not allowed to reside” were to be sent back to the pale “immediately.”  …

The imperial legal system…criminalized the efforts of Jews trying to appear to be non-Jews.  It reaffirmed the validity of older laws, including a punishment (a fine of up to three hundred rubles) for any person who gave the authorities a false name, and as a separate point indicated that this applied to a Jew “guilty of without authorization [samovol’no] changing the first or last name according to which he is listed in the record of births.”  …

By defining as illegal not only Jews’ attempts to evade residence restrictions but also their efforts not to stand out, the law betrays the urge to make certain that Jews were identifiable as Jews. [99]

Following the Inquisition in Spain, crypto-Jews (those who practiced Judaism in secret for fear of being killed by the church) were forced to adopt good Christian names:

Those who secretly professed Judaism, outwardly living as good Catholics, were known as crypto-Jews.  These converts also had to adopt good Spanish-Christian names, although some crypto-Jews secretly retained their Hebrew names. [100]

This was also the case in neighboring Portugal:

Abraham ben Usque, as a Portuguese Jew, was forced to change his name to Duarte Pinhel and then flee to Italy. [101]

Exclusion from Public Office

Some Islamic jurists restricted dhimmis from government service; infidels in Christendom were similarly excluded form public office.  Professor Cohen writes:

[Another] legal disabilit[y], which do[es] not figure in the formal texts of the Pact of ‘Umar [itself], had a major impact on non-Muslim communities: exclusion of Jews and Christians from public office…The ban on service in state administration recalls a similar prohibition in Christian legal texts, introduced as early as the fifth century and reiterated by church officials, canonists, and the papacy. [102]

However, much to the chagrin of conservative clerics, this prohibition was regularly flouted by the Islamic authorities who felt that it was inefficient to replace indigenous (non-Muslim) bureaucrats with outsiders:

It was expedient to allow natives to continue to administer the conquered territories rather than replace them with inexperienced Arabs…Eventually this placed power over Muslims in the hands of non-Muslims. [103]

Here, we notice not only proof that there exists a difference between theory and practice, but another significant difference which made life of infidels much more bearable in the Islamic East from the Christian West.  Jews (and Christians) continued to operate in the government to such an extent that government manuals were printed in Hebrew, and it even became a working joke that one should turn Jew to work in the government:

The dhimmis’ ubiquitous presence in Arab ruling circles involved in the business of state in ways unimaginable for Jews in Christian northern Europe.  It gave them influence and honor and imparted to the minority communities to which they belonged a feeling of embeddedness in the larger society.  To some extent, this diminished the marginalization imposed on the non-Muslims by law and religion…

The Fatimid dynasty in Egypt (969-1171) was notorious for condoning dhimmi participation in state service.  Geniza documents provide evidence of the widespread professional involvement of non-Muslims in Fatimid government.  A fragment from an Arabic epistolographic manual for chancery secretaries (katibs), transcribed into Hebrew letters (persumably for easier reading), was certainly meant to be read by Jews destined for the profession.  A famous satirical Arabic poem decrying what the poet viewed as an intolerable abuse refers (though not by name) to a powerful Jew in the Fatimid court in the mid-eleventh century, Abu Sa’d al-Tustari:

“The Jews of this time have attained their uppermost hopes, and have to come to rule.
Glory is upon them, money is with them, and from among them come the counsellor and the ruler.
O People of Egypt, I advise you, turn Jew, for the heavens have turned Jew!”

Throughout the classical period of Islam, non-Muslims partook in government.  They continued to do so afterward, but with much more opposition from the Muslim masses who often pushed clerics to not only issue condemnations but to force secular rulers to abide by them.  There are indeed several instances of this taking place, and it is important not to downplay this occurrence and how it placed “limits to Jewish empowerment.” [105]

Yet, at the same time, one can say that overall infidels played a significant role in public office, much more so than in Christendom, where not only did they not serve in the government but were owned by it, held in a captive state of Perpetual Servitude, or as Serfs of the Royal Chamber.

Houses of Worship

Another requirement in the Pact of Umar dictates, in the words of Robert Spencer:

The Christians will not:

1. Build “a monastery, church, or a sanctuary for a monk”;
2. “Restore any place of worship that needs restoration”;

Yet, what anti-Islam ideologues such as Spencer and Geller fail to mention is that this stipulation was taken from the Christians themselves: the Eastern Roman Empire which ruled Syria before the Islamic conquest forbade the erection of synagogues in the region.  The Justinian Code read: “We forbid that any synagogue shall rise as a new building.” We read further:

Jews were also forbidden to build new synagogues or repair old ones.  Thus, the synagogue must become poor and squalid in comparison to the Christian church buildings. [106]


Other laws sought to insure that social reality corresponded to the Christian view of Judaism as a lifeless relic.  Jews were forbidden to seek converts from paganism as well as among Christians, and building or reparing a synagogue became a crime. [107]

Admittedly–in order to not to become sensationalist like our anti-Islam colleagues–it seems that the Christian ban on synagogues was enforced only sporadically:

Yet there was a gap between issuing an edict and enforcing it.  New synagogues were constructed, no matter what the law stated. [108]

Similarly, in Islamic lands, the ban was enforced only sporadically; new churches and synagogues continued to be constructed.  It seems this could be because of varying interpretations of the law.  Islamic jurists ruled that new houses of worship could be constructed in certain areas of the city so long as a land tax was paid.  The law prohibiting repairs of the church was similarly tempered:

The varying views on the topic were summarized in the eighteenth century by the Egyptian scholars Shaykh Damanhuri, responding to a question about the status of the churches in Cairo.  He explained that the [then prevalent] Hanafi school allowed houses of worship to be erected in towns taken from non-Muslims by peace treaty provided the treaty stipulated that the land belonged to the indigenous inhabitants and they paid kharaj (land tax).  If [however] the terms of the surrender considered the land Muslim…[then] their places of worship were not allowed.  Reconstruction of a permitted building after it had been destroyed or upon its impending collapse was strictly regulated so as not to seem to be “new.”  Its building materials had to be identical to those of the original structure. [109]

These allowances seemed to be shared in the other schools of Islamic jurisprudence.  Imam al-Nawawi, an eminent Shafi’ite jurist of the thirteenth century, declared:

If the capitulation treaty states that the infidels will remain owners of the land, they can not only continue to use their churches or synagogues, but also build new ones. [110]

Similarly, Imam al-Mawardi (d. 1058 A.D.) argued that dhimmis “can restore ancient synagogues and churches that have fallen into ruin.” [111] As such, it seems that the prohibition in the Pact of Umar was not as sweeping as it seems; churches and synagogues could be built in certain areas and repairs made with some significant limitations.

Whatever the case, churches and synagogues continue to be built long after the Pact of Umar:

From the earliest period of Islam, Jews and Christians encountered little opposition when constructing new synagogues and churches…They established or enlarged communities and erected new houses of worship without opposition. [112]

In fact, the Islamic conquest of Syria enabled heterodox Christian sects to establish their churches, which hitherto had been forbidden to them by the orthodox Church:

When we examine the earliest non-Melkite Christian sources, we find a similar enthusiasm [towards Muslims]…Iso’yaw III, Nestorian Catholicos in the 650s, in his fourteenth epistle wrote with respect to the Muslims:

“These Arabs, whom God has now given sovereignty over the world, are disposed towards us as you know. They are not opposed to Christians. Indeed, they respect our religion and honor the priests and the saints of ours Lord and they give aid to the churches and monasteries.”

This is more than rhetoric: As was mentioned above, Nestorian monasteries first began to appear in Palestine only under the Muslims. Clearly, the rule of the Muslims was for the [Christian] Nestorians a better state of affairs than had been the rule of the Byzantines. [113]

The Freedom to Practice Religion and Public Displays

Another condition in the Pact of Umar forbade public displays of religion; in the words of Robert Spencer, the dhimmis agreed not to:

10. “Publicize practices of Shirk” – that is, associating partners with Allah, such as regarding Jesus as Son of God. In other words, Christian and other non-Muslim religious practice will be private, if not downright furtive;
11. Build “crosses on the outside of our churches and demonstrating them and our books in public in Muslim fairways and markets” – again, Christian worship must not be public, where Muslims can see it and become annoyed;
12. “Sound the bells in our churches, except discreetly, or raise our voices while reciting our holy books inside our churches in the presence of Muslims, nor raise our voices [with prayer] at our funerals, or light torches in funeral processions in the fairways of Muslims, or their markets”;

Yet this too has its corollary in Christian legislation:

Early Christian-Roman Jewry law contains a rough parallel to this stipulation in the Pact of Umar, forbidding Jews from hanging Haman in effigy on the festival of Purim.  Similarly, ecclesiastical law from as early as the sixth century imposed on the Jews a curfew during Eastertide, lest, as Pope Innocent III wrote, “the Jews, contrary to ancient custom, publicly run about streets and public places and everywhere deride as they are wont Christians because they adore the crucified on the Cross, and attempt, through their improprieties, to dissuade them from their worship.” [114]

Professor Cohen makes an interesting point here: he argues that the prohibition of public displays of idolatry–as stipulated in the Pact of Umar–hampered the Christian dhimmis more than the Jewish ones.  Why?  The reason, argues Cohen, was that Jews were already accustomed to practicing their religion in a “private, if not downright furtive” way (Spencer’s words) due to living hundreds of years under Christian rule:

Related stipulations in the Pact of ‘Umar have to do with the public display of religion…These limitations seem to have little effect on the Jews…Centuries of care not to offend Christians by praying too loudly within earshot, or by appearing in public at Eastertide, had prepared the Jews to accept the Muslim restriction with equanimity. [115]


Another set of edicts…included the following [provisions]:

2. Jews are forbidden to hold public processions to their synagogues.
3. Jews are forbidden to dress on “Aman” [Purim]…and gunshots are forbidden on this holiday…
6. Corpses may not be carried through the city during the day, only in the evening.  And even then without any illumination, song or voiced cries.
7. No [Jewish] cemetry may be near the road or the city.
8. The beadles may not call out to the people to come to the synagogue or knock loudly for that purpose.  The beadle must go silently to each house to announce the hour of prayer.
9. No more candles may be kindled in the synagogue than are lit in the poor Christian churches.  Jews must give candles to the churches. [116]


The Jews were exceedingly oppressed during the middle ages throughout Christendom…They were allowed to utter their prayers only in a low voice and without chanting…[It was made] lawful for them to open their doors or windows on Good Friday. [117]

One must understand that at that time there was no understanding of the concept of freedom of speech; it was thought–by Muslims, Christians, and even Jews (such as during the Hasmonean dynasty)–that it would be sinful to allow infidels to publicly display their false religions.  Even those predisposed to lenience would simply argue that the infidels should feel satisfied practicing their religions in private; this was the extent of religious tolerance at that time.

Islamic jurists did not however interfere in the personal religious practices of the dhimmis, i.e. those done in their homes and houses of worship.  On the other hand, Christian legislation did not stop at the prohibition of public displays of religion.  Rather, they implemented bans on the Talmud itself, which created significant hardship for the Jews; the Christian authorities even forbade the Jews from taking their religious books with them when they were expelled from Europe and fled to Muslim lands for refuge:

The shortage of copies [of the Talmud]…was exacerbated by persecution.  The Talmud was banned several times during the Middle Ages, a fate it has also suffered on occasion in modern times.  Many volumes were lost or mislaid in the course of the wanderings resulting from frequent decrees of expulsion, and some books were confiscated by order of the authorities.  Particularly destructive in its impact was the interdict against taking books out of the country during the expulsion from Spain, when many volumes were buried. [118]

Unlike the Islamic world where Jews were free to read their books in their original forms, the Jews of Europe were forced to read censored versions of the Talmud and other religious texts; this situation–of religious censorship–was widespread all over Europe, with an even worse twist in some areas where the Talmud itself was banned outright or burned; wherever the Catholic Church had reach, the Talmud was attacked, creating a religious “catastrophe” for the Jewish religion:

At the same time, several European rulers and Church dignitaries were convinced that the Talmud contained anti-Christian material and, on the basis of informers’ chargers, they ordered that all anti-Christian statements and libel against Christ be erased from the books.  This anti-talmudic campaign and the various decrees of the popes reached their height when, as the result of internal disputes in the Jewish community and at the urging of certain converts, Pope Gregory IX ordered the burning of copies of the Talmud in Paris in 1240. Similar decrees were issued several times in the course of the thirteenth century, on one occasion by Pope Clement IV in 1264, and thousands of copies were consigned to the flames.  The Jews regarded the destruction of the Talmud as an almost unparalleled national catastrophe….The decrees did not encompass all of Europe; in the Iberian Peninsula, for example, the Talmud was not burned but merely censored by statements considered derogatory to Christianity being removed.

Church leaders were not unanimous in their views on the subject.  A Church synod in Basel in 1431 reaffirmed the stringent ban on the Talmud, but there were other opinions as well.  In 1509 a convert [to Christianity] named Johannes Pfefferkorn tried to incite church leaders to burn the Talmud in all countries under the rule of Charles V.  A Champion appeared, however, in the form of a Christian, Reuchlin, who pleaded the cause of the Talmud.  Although the controversy was not settled at once, and copies of the Talmud were burned in several towns by the bishops, Reuchlin’s arguments appear to have had some effect.  In 1520 Pope Leo X permitted the printing of the Talmud, and editions appeared in the next few decades.  But this situation did not endure…Due to the efforts of several converts, Pope Julius III ordered the work burned again in 1553.  This decree carried out in the various Italian states, apparently resulted in the destruction of thousands of copies of the Talmud.  The harshness of the decree was alleviated by Pope Pius IV’s announcement at the church synod at Trent in 1564 that the Talmud should be distributed on condition that those sections which affronted the Christian religion were erased.  As the direct result of this decision, an edition was printed in Basel under the supervision and censorship of Catholic monks.  It was cruelly truncated and censored, but still did not satisfy the Church and, in a papal bull issued in 1592, Clement II finally prohibited study of the Talmud in any version or edition.  The ban did not apply to the whole of the Christian world, since large parts of Europe (the Protestant countries and those under Russian and Turkish rule) did not accept the authority of the Catholic Church…A Jewish community which did not study the Talmud was condemned to attrition.

No similar decree was issued in any other European country [i.e. outside the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church], but there was a widespread tendency to censor the Talmud.  In later times printers gradually and clandestinely restored those sections which had been censored, but despite these efforts the best editions of the Talmud are mutilated because of the changes and “corrections” introduced by the censors…

The Talmud was not the sole work affected by the heavy hand of the censor, but because of its scope and range and the thousands of changes introduced over the centuries, it was impossible to correct all the mutilations even in editions published in countries free of censorship.  Offset printing perpetuated many of the mistakes and omissions, and only in the most recent editions have attempts been made to restore the original format of the text. [119]

In comparison, the Islamic world was relatively tolerant, only limiting the public displays of religion; so long as they worshiped in private, the dhimmis were free to do and believe as they pleased.  This was considered a right afforded to them by the dhimma pact.  Islamic jurists permitted the dhimmis to drink alcohol and consume pork, so long as they did so in their own quarters, not publicly in the common square in the view of the Muslims; the prohibition of selling liquor in the Pact of Umar was understood as not selling it to Muslims or in the public square in the view of the Muslims:

Muslim jurists argue that…non-Muslims may consume pork and drink alcohol as long as these items are not forbidden in thier religion.  A large number of jurists argue that, although lawful for non-Muslims, the consumption of such items should not taken place in public. [120]

To conclude, the Muslim world prohibited public displays but granted freedom to practice one’s religion short of that.  On the other hand, Christian Europe at its best prohibited public displays but also would recurrently prohibit a people from reading their religious texts in the confines of their homes.  As such, the situation was decidedly much better in the Islamic world (but of course hardly idyllic).


The Pact of Umar decreed, in the words of Robert Spencer:

The Christians will not:

15. “Invite anyone to Shirk” – that is, proselytize, although the Christians also agree not to:
16. “Prevent any of our fellows from embracing Islam, if they choose to do so.” Thus the Christians can be the objects of proselytizing, but must not engage in it themselves;

The prohibition against Christian proselytizing was one of the conditions which was consistently enforced in the Islamic world.  Yet, it is odd that Spencer mentions this without also mentioning that the prohibition was rigorously implemented throughout the Christian world, where Jews were forbidden to convert anyone to their religion:

Other laws sought to insure that social reality corresponded to the Christian view of Judaism as a lifeless relic.  Jews were forbidden to seek converts from paganism as well as among Christians. [121]

Both Islamic and Christian laws placed certain restrictions upon infidels with regard to holding servants or  slaves.  The fear here was that the servants or slaves would be amenable to conversion to the religion of their infidel masters.

Similar to the injunction in the Pact of Umar that “We will not…prevent any of our fellows from embracing Islam, if they choose to do so,”  the Christian law stipulated that no Jew could even talk with a Jew who converted to Christianity, for fear of “backsliding”:

Jews are forbidden to have contact of any kind with converts [to Christianity from Judaism]. [122]

Here too however there is a significant difference between the situation of the infidels in Europe and the Orient.  The Church mandated that Jews must attend compulsory sermons designed to convert them to Christianity; they were forced to suffer through two hour long sermons persuading them to convert. “Excitators” would awaken them should they doze off:

Compulsory attendance at sermons was not new.  Examples of it may be found as early as the ninth century, but it was not until the thirteenth, with the rise of the preaching orders, principally the Dominicans and Franciscans, that the practice grew.  The famous Spanish convert and Dominican preacher Pablo Christiani strongly advocated it and procured a decree from the king of Aragon that Jews be forced to listen to his sermons.  Sts. Vincent Ferrer and Raymond of Penaforte also adopted the practice.  Support from the Church came in a bull of Nicholas III in 1278, which laid down rules for the delivery of the sermons.  After the Council of Basel, the practice spread, was taken up by the Protestant reformers, and saw service in the Church off and on until abolished in 1848 by Pius IX.  The practice gives eloquent evidence not only of the desperate desire of the Church to convert Jews to Christnaity but also fo the medieval notion that the Faith was perfectly lucid, that mere exposure to it was all that was required for conviction.  One can imagine the few conversions these enforced sermons obtained and the chagrin of the reluctant listeners, who in some places had to have their ears inspected for removal of stuffed cotton placed there for obvious reasons.  Others required an excitator to keep them awake through expositions on the truth of Christianity and the falsity of Judaism that sometimes lasted two hours. [123]

More problematically, the Jews were taken to these compulsory sermons by unruly Christian mobs, which would often use the threat of violence to coerce the Jews into seeing the light of Christianity; admittedly, however, the authorities tried to prevent such a thing (although they still enforced compulsory sermons in general):

Pope Nicholas III issued a bull (1278) ordering that Jews everywhere be forced to attend missionary sermons of Dominican and Franciscan friars.  Jaime II (as king of Valencia) issued a decree the following year to the cities of Valencia and Jativa condemning the actions of mobs who followed the preachers and thus alarmed the Jews…The very next year Pedro III, noting that when Dominancans in Huesca or Zaragoza preached to Jews they were accompanied by large groups of Christians whose presence might cause danger to the Jews, ordered that neither priests nor laymen should allowed at such sermons. The king sent similar letters throughout the realm…The long list of cities to which this order was sent shows the extent of such compulsory sermons…In 1269, Louis IX ordered that Jews be compelled to listen to the sermons. [124]


Amongst the obligatory conditions in the dhimma pact was the requirement not to blasphemy Islam, the Quran, or the Prophet Muhammad.  It was not permitted to verbally abuse or disparage the religion.  However, it should be noted that dhimmis were allowed to engage in heated debates with the Muslims (a topic which Professor Cohen dedicates chapter nine of his book to).  Yet, the limit of tolerance ended at malicious verbal assaults.

Lest Robert Spencer use this as a stick to beat Muslims over the head with, it must be noted that a similar ban was enforced in Christian Europe, where it was forbidden to blasphemy Christianity, the Bible, or Jesus Christ–a law that derived inspiration from the Bible.  Here too, however, an interesting difference exists which illustrates the better position of infidels in Islamdom: in the Islamic Orient, only the perpetrators of blasphemy were punished, whereas the Jews of Europe suffered collective punishment.  Professor Cohen, after recounting an episode of blasphemy being punished by Muslims which occurred in “the later Middle Ages in Egypt” during a more intolerant period of Islamic history, explains the differences between this and what would normally occur in Europe:

A delegation of Muslim religious authorities discovered an almost obliterated Arabic inscription carved on the minbar, or “preacher’s platform” [of a synagogue].  They read the words Ahmad and Muhammad, two names for the Prophet, and concluded that they had come upon a case for the capital crime of blasphemy–Jews treading on the name of the founder of Islam.  Even in this late period of increasing oppression of the non-Muslim population, the judges and the muhtasib (market inspector) pursued their investigation and prosecution of three alleged Jewish perpetrators with relative judicial objectivity.  Eventually, satisfied that the community as a whole had had nothing to do with the alleged misdeed, the judges orderd only that the minbar be destroyed; and no additional harm to the structure ordered.  Nor was the episode accompanied by the kind of collective punishment that likely would have occured in a German town of the period had a real or alleged Jewish anti-Christian act been so “discovered.”  Only the confessed perpetrators [in Islamic lands] were punished and publicly beaten. [125]

This issue–of collective punishment–marks one significant difference between the Islamic East and Christian West.  Another major difference is that Muslims punished “crimes” that dhimmis actually committed, whereas the Christians punished Jews based on purely fictitious charges that were clearly born out of profound paranoia.  A good example we have of this is the nefarious blood libel against Jews; clergy accused the Jews of “ritual murder,” of seeking to shed and drink the blood of Christian children during Jewish worship.  Unexplained deaths of children were pinned on the heads of Jews, and witch hunts then ensued.  Jews were punished for these trumped up charges throughout the Europe of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and well into the contemporary age:

The twelfth century, “as haunted by blood as by gold,” brought forth the charge of ritual murder against Jews that found an echo in every century thereafter and left a stream of blood in its wake…Strictly defined it signifies an official murder of a Christian, preferably a child, in Holy Week for ritual purposes.  A wider definition includes any murder of a Christian for religious or superstitious ends, including drawing blood for healing or magical purposes…A hundred instances of this accusation have been recorded, many of them prelude to massacre.  The accusation gives evidence of the medieval belief that Jews were actually convinced of Christian truth but stubbornly withheld their assent…

From this point, accusations of ritual murder multiplied in England, France, and Germany.  One hundred and fifty recorded cases have been counted….The ritual-murder calumny stands in the judgment of history as the most monstrous instrument of anti-Jewish persecution devised in the Middle Ages.  To its account must be laid many of the tortures, forced baptisms, exiles, and massacres of that and later ages.  Its inception in the twelfth century, moreover, indicates the course the Jewish image was taking.  Unbeliever and usurer; now ritual murderer.  Gradually stripped of his human features, the Jews assumes a satanic guise….

King Philip Augustus (1180-1223), believer in “blood accusation,” resentful of Jewish prosperity, and badly in need of money, saw in the Jew a solution to his difficulties.  On a single day in 1182, he had all Jews arrested, then freed for ransom and expelled from the realm.  Deprived of the advantages they offered, the king recalled “his” Jews sixteen years later and set them up as official moneylenders in the kingdom, taxing them heavily, however, and closely regulating their transactions…He had a hundred Jews in Bray burned. [126]

The Muslims of that time looked down at such superstitious accusations, believing that it was beyond that scope of rational thought for any religious group to conduct ritual murders.  Professor Cohen relates a story told in Jewish circles during the sixteenth century; though fictitious in nature, it does give evidence to the idea that even the Jews of that era understood the difference between Christian and Muslim attitudes:

A fictitious story about a blood libel related in the sixteenth-century chronicle Shevot yehuda, by [the Jewish] Solomon ibn Verga, illustrates a fundamental Jewish perception of the difference between Islamic and Christian attitudes toward the Jews.

The tale (which Ibn Verga says he found in a chronicle from France), concerns two Christians who accused a Jew of killing a Christian “on the eve of their holiday”–Passover (when Jews were believed to reenact the crucifixion)…Two witnesses came forth and reported that they had gone to the house of the Jew, “to borrow from him at interest”; there they found “the Jew coming out of the room with a blood-soaked knife in his hand.”

Brought before the king, the Jew claimed that he had been using the knife to slaughter poultry according to Jewish ritual for the holiday.  Nonetheless, at the king’s command, he was subjected to judicial torture.  Under duress, the Jew confessed to the murder…Present at court was a “Muslim ambassador,” to whom the king posed the question: “Do things like this happen in your kingdom?”  The Muslim ambassador replied:

“We have never heard nor seen this, thanks to our rulers, who will not be degraded by such childish matters that, moreover, have no basis either in rational thinking or in religion…Certainly regarding such an abhorrent deed as performing a sacrifice with the blood of a human, concerning which we have never heard about any people on earth, even though they might be attracted to [other] irrational, abhorrent matters.  This sort of thing would not occur to them, since it is completely foreign to human rationality…”

The king became angry at this and said: “But the perpetrator confessed.  According to the law, what else can I do?  What does it matter if it is irrational, given that he confessed?”

The Muslim replied: “In our realm, a confession extracted by torture…will not do [by itself] for pronouncing judgment.”

One of the Christians present then said to the Muslim: “Honored sir, if this does not exist in your realm, this is because the Jews have no gripe [she’ela o to’ana] against the Muslims.  But they have one against the Christians on account of Jesus.  That is why they take a Christian and give him the name Jesus and eat his blood to take vengeance upon him.”

More deeply convinced of the prevarication, the Muslim [replied]…”Praised be the Creator who separated us from such lies and cast our lot among the believers of truth…At any rate, I have not come to save the Jews, for they are not my coreligionists, nor do they come from my realm [i.e. dhimmis], nor do I love them, for I know what they did to some of the prophets.  I came, however, to say the truth, since the king asked my opinion.” …

The view of Christian-Jewish and Islamic-Jewish relations underlying the fictional episode has deep significance…Ibn Verga is aware of contrasting Christian and Muslim attitudes towards, and treatment of, the Jews.  The Christians, believe, irrationally, that Jews enact ritual murder, extracting the blood of the victim, representing Jesus–all in order to take revenge on him.  Islam is different.  Jews “have no gripe against the Muslims,” as they do against Christians on account of Jesus.  Moreover, Islam, as represented by Ibn Verga’s Muslim visitor to the court of the king of France, eschews irrational thinking about the Jews, whereas Christianity encourages it.  And, while the Muslim insists that he has no love for the Jews, he nonetheless attests that such things as the ritual murder accusation do not exist in the domain of Islam.

This unfavorable comparison between Christian and Islamic treatment of the Jews is not unique…[The] Muslim intellectual’s disapproval of collective mob violence against Jews in Christian lands suggests a distinct preference for a “civilized” approach toward the “other” that, in the present study, we have found present somewhat more in medieval Islam than in medieval Christendom. [127]

Meanwhile, such accusations of ritual murder never emerged in the classical Islamic history; in latter periods there were rare episodes in the realm of Islam.  However, it should be noted that these witch hunts were carried out by Christian dhimmis, not the Muslims; indeed, the Jews would seek refuge in the protection of the Islamic authorities from the persecution of the Christians:

The charge of using human blood for ritual purposes first appears to have been leveled by pagans against the early Christians.  It was then used by the Christians themselves against the Jews, and has been a familiar theme of Christian anti-Semitism from the earliest times to the present day.  In classical Islamic times, this particular form of anti-Jewish calumny would seem to have been unknown.  Its first appearance, under Islamic auspices, was during the reign of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed the Conquerer, and it almost certainly originated among the large Greek-Christian population under Ottoman rule.  Such accusations had been common in the Byzantine Empire.  They occurred at infrequent intervals under the Ottomans, and were usually condemned by the Ottoman authorities…The libel almost invariably originated among the Christian population and was often promoted by the Christian, especially the Greek press; second, these accusations were sometimes supported and occasionally even instigated by foreign diplomatic representatives, especially Greek and French, third, Jews were usually able to count on the goodwill of the Ottoman authorities and on their help, where htey were capable of providing it. [128]

Another manifestation of the irrational and superstitious view of Christians towards Jews can be seen during the Black Plague, where Jews were blamed for manufacturing the disease as a means to destroy Christian society:

Among the circumstances associated with the massive persecutions of Jews were epidemics of plague.  Jews are commonly acknowledged to have been scapegoats of the Black Death which swept Europe from the Mediterranean from about 1347 to 1350 (Trevor-Roper 1967).  They were charged with spreading plague by contaminating wells and corrupting the air (Gottfried 1983).  Jews were either expelled or massacred.  Gottfried (1983) observes, “By 1351, 60 major and 150 smaller Jewish communities had been extirpated, and over 350 separate massacres had taken place.” [129]

Over two hundred Jewish communities were obliterated, with 10,000 casualties in Poland alone.

This irrationality contrasts sharply with the reaction of the Muslims, who did not resort to such irrationality:

Whether their persecution is measured in terms of expulsion, murder, assault on property, or forced conversion, the Jews of Islam did not experience physical violence on a scale remotely approaching Jewish suffering in Western Christendom.  By and large, even when dhimmis as a group experienced growing oppression and persecution in the postclassical period, the grim conditions found in Europe were not matched.  The Black Death, which raged through Europe between 1348 and 1350, witnessed massive pogroms against the Jews, who were believed to have poisoned wells in an attempt to destroy Christian civilization.  The Black Death ravaged in the Islamic world as well, but nowhere did people there blame the Jews, let alone try to eliminate them.  In his study of the Black Death in the Middle East, Michael Dols discusses the contrasting responses of Christian and Muslim societies to their respective infidels during the pandemic.  The Christian concepts of “millennialism, militancy toward alien communities, [and] punishment and guilt” that contributed to persecution of the Jews during the plague were not operative in Muslim society.  “Compared with the contemporary massacres in Christian Europe,” Baron writes of the Mamluk empire in the period 1250-1517, “anti-Jewish riots were both less frequent and less bloody.  As a rule they were limited to certain localities and did not assume the epidemic proportions of the assaults by Crusaders or by the frenzied European mobs of 1348-1349 or 1391.” His pinpointing a distinction that applies even more sharply to earlier centuries, the period that is the focus of my book.

How can one explain this difference?  The historian R. I. Moore has called medieval Christianity, especially as of the twelfth century, a “persecuting society.”  The characteristics and historical circumstances that this scholar evidences in support of his conclusion help explain the relatively better condition of the Jews of Islam.  According to Moore, beginning in the twelfth century, European Christendom showed increasing hostility to three groups–Jews, heretics, and lepers.  The assumed connection between the Devil and both Jews and heretics (linkage between Jews and heretics, of course, went back to early Christian times), and the ascription to Jews and lepers alike of filth, stench, and putrefaction and of menace to Christian wives and children numbered among the factors that led to the deadly interchangeability of the three groups, particularly in popular thinking.  “The assimilation of Jews, heretics and lepers into a single rhetoric … depicted them as a single though many-headed threat to the security of the Christian order.” [130]

To conclude, the Islamic authorities enforced the punishment for blasphemy, but only against the “culprits” and after due judicial procedure, for “crimes” they actually committed; it is not beyond the scope of rational thought to think that there would be some non-Muslims who would verbally abuse the religion of Islam.  Meanwhile, the Christians not only enforced punishment against blasphemers, but also levied charges against innocent infidels based only on suspicion or less than that, including irrational, paranoid, and mythical accusations such as ritual murder, the Black Death, and the desecration of the eucharist wafer libel (the last of which resulted in an estimated 100,000 murdered Jews).

We have already discussed another significant example, which was the censorship, banning, and burning of the Talmud, for fear that it contained abuse levied against Jesus Christ and Christians in general, an almost certainly spurious charge.  The difference then between Islamdom and Christendom was between real and imaginary charges.  Life for infidels in the Islamic realm was bearable though constrained; meanwhile, infidels under Christian rule lived in constant trepidation, worrying that their safety would be compromised based on delusional and baseless fears.

Occupational Opportunities and Right to Own Land

Thus far, we have mostly discussed the differences between the Islamic and Christian restrictions that are somewhat shared, with the only difference being one of degree: for example, Muslims punished infidels guilty of blasphemy but Christians did to a much higher degree.  Yet now we shall move to those issues which are singular to the Christian sphere.  Of particular significance is the severe occupation restriction placed on infidels of Europe.

Jews of Islam (and dhimmis in general) were free to choose any career, aside from the military (and even this prohibition varied from time and place).  Thus, Jews in the Islamic realm functioned as physicians, lawyers, scientists, merchants, traders, bankers, agriculturalists, and in virtually every other field.  This freedom allowed Jews of Islam to prosper and attain their famed Golden Age.  Meanwhile, Jews of Europe were prohibited from virtually all fields–barred from guilds altogether–and forced into one “hated” profession: money-lending.  Money-lenders of that era were arguably considered worse than prostitutes.  And from this emerged the Shylock characterization of Jews, forever scorned (and persecuted) by angry Christian masses.  The Christians forced Jews into one profession, and then condemned them for their “propensity” for this villainous career.  Paroxysms of Christian violence against Jewish money-lenders (and Jews in general) resulted, followed by royal bans on even this profession for Jews (leaving them jobless) and eventual seizure of goods and outright expulsion.

To further diminish the financial position of the Jews, laws were passed in Europe that prohibited Jews from owning real estate.  Such was not the case in the realm of Islam, where dhimmis were permitted to own land so long as they paid the land tax (kharaj). (For the first 87 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslim landowners did not pay the kharaj but the lighter ushr tithe, but in 719 A.D. Umar II passed legislation that forced Muslim landowners to pay the kharaj just like non-Muslims.) The Muslims recognized the right of conquered non-Muslims to own land:

[There was a] recognition by Muslim political authority of the property rights of conquered peoples…Like Muslims, non-Muslims were recognized as proprietors of land (as malik of milk property), although the form of taxations imposed on them differed [initially]. Muslims paid ‘ushr (tithe) on their land, non-Muslims paid kharaj…Thus, while the tithe [ushr] was fixed at one-tenth, kharaj could be anything between one-quarter and one-half of the land’s produce…In later centuries the link established in this account between the personal religious status of the owner (Muslim versus non-Muslim) and the taxation of land was to be abandoned. Given the treasury’s need for tax, kharaj land was to remain kharaj land, even if it was sold to a Muslim or its owners converted to Islam. [131]

It is safe to say that these two restrictions in Christendom–pertaining to occupation and land ownership–affected the Jews far more than the more superficial and symbolic prohibitions that are found in the Pact of Umar:

In 1315 Louis X recalled the Jews [after they had been expelled]…but they returned as aliens and visitors, no longer sons of the soil, no longer Frenchmen living among Frenchmen, owners of pasture and vineyard which should descend to their children after them.  Even had not the recent laws forbidden their acquisition of real property, the Jews had seen too clearly the evil of owning house and land, in order on the day of exile to leave them to the king…Uncertain of the morrow, oppressed by tax and impost, they knew that even their scanty priveleges were not for their own good…All the learned professions–medicine, law, pedagogy–were the property of “clerks,” and a Jew could not be a clerk.  The Jew might not own land.  The Jew might not exercise authority over any Christian.  The only trade left to him was pawnbroking and usury, or such small huckstering as the Christian disdained–the selling of old clothes, the hawking of second-hand goods.  Out of this misery the Jews perfected the marvel, the bank.  And the bank became their curse. [132]

Professor Cohen writes:

In accounting for the fate of the Jews, Jewish historiography has traditionally placed considerable emphasis on their economic role in society…It cannot be denied that economic factors figured prominently in determining the position of the Jews in any given society…

The rabbis of talmudic Babylonia discouraged Jews from taking interest from gentiles…Beginning in the twelfth century, however, rabbis in medieval Europe justified exacting usury from Christians for various local economic and social reasons, such as hard times, the exclusion of Jews from landed occupations, their heavy tax burden, and the need to amass funds to bribe Christians when Jews came under threat of persecution.  In [Peter Abelard’s] Dialogue of a a Philosopher with a Jew and a Christian…[the Jewish character gives the] Jewish rationales for engaging in moneylending:

“Confined and constricted in this way as if the whole world had conspired against us alone, it is a wonder that we are allowed to live.  We are allowed to possess neither fields nor vineyards nor any landed estates because there is no one who can protect them for us from open or occult attack.  Consequently the principal gain that is left for us is that we sustain our miserable lives here by lending money at interest to strangers; but this just makes us most hateful to them who think they are being oppressed by it.”

…The Christian poor usually borrowed in distress by pawning an item from their meager possessions (often an article of clothing), which they forfeited upon failure to repay the loan on time.  Naturally, they, too, had no great affection for the Jewish pawnbroker, upon whom they were so dependent…Christian dependence upon Jewish moneylenders constituted a major irritant in Jewish-Christian relations…

There is other evidence connecting indebtedness to Jews with persecution.  An example are the reports of the massacre of Jews in York, England, in 1190…Scores of Jews died, after which the community temporarily disappeared from historical records.  Accounts of the events in York in 1190 by Christian chroniclers state that a primary motive for the attack was the wish of some baronial families to wipe out their debts to Jewish moneylenders.  They accomplished this by massacring Jews, moneylenders, and others and by destroying the bonds of their indebtedness…

For other reasons, moneylending proved a risky business for Jews.  Beginning in the thirteenth century…Christian moneylenders [entered] the credit business.  These provided stiff competition for Jewish pawnbrokers…They were very active during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; as a source of loans free of the stigma of borrowing from religious inferiors, they eroded Jewish income eked out from the only significant walk of life left open to them in the late Middle Ages.

To make matters worse, the church’s opposition to the open, embarrassing flaunting of usury among Christians spilled over into an ecclesiastical assault on Jewish usury.  Popes beseeched secular rulers to compel Jewish moneylenders to remit usury collected from Christian borrowers.  The famous anti-usury canon promulgated at the Fourth Lateral Council explicitly maligned Jewish moneylenders for “exhaust[ing] the financial strength of Christians” and restricted them to moderate interest rates, a concession to the need for credit in Europe’s ever-expanding economy…

Where the papal call fell on receptive ears, Jewish economic well-being was devastated.  In England in 1275, King Edward I and Parliament put an end to Jewish usury altogether by ruling that Jews henceforth would apply themselves to more productive occupations.  This reform failed, however, because it was not accompanied by a relaxation of discriminatory restrictions, such as the exclusion of Jews from merchant and craft guilds (which made it impossible for Jews to succeed in commerce and artisanry).  Moreover, heavy tallages continued to be imposed on the Jews despite their ever-shrinking income from loans–until, finally, outright confiscation of Jewish property and outstanding debt bonds remained the only method of extracting additional money from the Jews.  This set the stage for the general expulsion and spoliation of the Jews of England in 1290.

Dire, too, were the consequences for French Jewry of the ecclesiastical anti-usury crusade.  King Louis IX (1226-70)…exceeded Rome’s call for the elimination of the “heavy and immoderate usury” charged by Jews.  He zealously pursued an economic policy aimed at undermining the livelihood of Jewish moneylenders in his realm.

The economic crackdown on the Jews in France was part of a general policy of reducing Jewish resistance to conversion to Christianity…Louis’s policy of making life for the Jews intolerable to the point of conversion continued under his son, Philip III (1270-85).  Philip’s son, Philip IV “the Fair” (1285-1314), escalated the Capetian dynasty’s anti-Jewish policy.  Wishing to purify France for Christianity, in need of money, and convinced that Louis IX’s policy of burdening the Jews while tolerating their presence had failed, Philip the Fair resolved to expel them after taking the draconic measure of confiscating their possessions.

Christian debt to Jewish moneylenders was a deleterious factor in Jewish-Christian relationship during the Middle Ages…Moneylending contributed mightily to anti-Jewish feelings and even to violence.  By the end of the twelfth century, the word Jew had come to mean “moneylender.”  A Latin neologism of the early Middle Ages, judaizare…came to mean lending at interest.  Hatred of the Jew intensified as a result of the association of usury in Christian minds with the twin evils of heresy and the Devil…

With the economic rise of Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Jews, displaced by Christian mercantile competitors, were increasingly relegated to the hated profession of moneylending while, at the same time, being squeezed economically by the rogue Christian usurer…The support temporal rulers accorded to Jewish moneylending angered Christian debtors of the Jews, which only increased the hostility of Christians toward the Jews.  As the economy expanded, secular rulers, responding to church objections to Jewish usury, withdrew their support for Jewish credit transactions…

[This] contrasts sharply with Jewish life under Islam…[where] Jews were embedded in the economic and social order of the larger Muslim world in which they lived…Jews living in Muslim lands enjoyed occupational diversification..Jews sensed that the contrast between Jewish well-being in East and West had much to do with economics.

A brighter picture emerges from an examination of the economic factor in Jewish-gentile relations in the Islamic world during the early and High Middle Ages.  In contrast to their coreligionists in Christendom, the Jews of Islam were well integrated into the economic life of the larger society.  Measured against the European standard, the relative absence of economic discrimination against Jews in the Muslim world during the classical centuries makes a vivid impression…

By the beginning of the tenth century, a Jewish consortium in Baghdad had accumulated great wealth..These individuals represented a significant class of Jews from the eastern Islamic lands; along with their Muslim counterparts, they fueled the commercial revolution of the early Islamic centuries…Jewish merchants were not viewed as aliens, as they were in Europe…The relatively relaxed ambience of interfaith relations in the Islamic marketplace created trust, which in turn encouraged partnerships for profit between members of the Jewish minority and their friends among the Muslim majority…

We have devoted most of this discussion of economic activity of the Jews of Islam to trade, paying some attention to its adjunct, moneylending, because of the stark contrast with the Christian West, where Jews found themselves out of conformity with their surroundings.  They played an alien role…as detested moneylenders.  But another major difference between the economic profile of eastern and western Jewry also adds to our understanding of the improved lot of the Jews of Islam.  I refer to their broad economic diversification.  Neither the Islamic economy nor the attitude of Muslims toward Jews restricted the latter to a narrow range of occupations…An appendix to Goitein’s Mediterranean Society shows Jews involved in dyeing, metalworking, weaving, bread-making, wine-making, manufacture of glass vessels, tailoring, tanning, production of cheese, sugar manufacture, and silkwork.  Where financially possible, Jews owned agricultural land, and many raised crops in the arable Egyptian countryside. Jews owned and worked orchards and date groves.  Some assigned gentile sharecroppers to work the fields, vineyards, and orchards.  In short, far form occupying predominantly one economic niche, Jews in the Islamic world during our period were broadly distributed throughout the various sectors of the economy.  The more differentiated they were, the more they appeared like others around them, including the Muslim majority.  This variegated economic profile, much more diverse and much more widespread than…early medieval Jewry in the Latin West, militated against the social abuse that Jews in Christian lands had to endure in part on account of their identification with a limited and problematic set of occupations…”The distribution of Jewish merchants and artisans across the economic class structure was, to the degree one can measure it, very similar to that of the Muslim.” …The Jews did not occupy a set of distinctive trades or crafts…

In the urban markets, ethnic barriers were broken down.  Jewish traders were subject to the same administration as were their Muslim counterparts…Jews were to free to rent shops…The requirements of business overrode religious differences.

The conclusions of Geertz, Rosen, Schroeter, and others resonate with evidence from the medieval Jewish-Arab world.  The embeddedness of Jewish commercial activity in the Islamic lands depicted in the Geniza, the relative absence of boundaries between Jew and Muslim in the marketplace, the considerable occupational diversification of the Jews, and their detachment from the detested role of usurious moneylenders allowed for decent human relations between Jewish and Muslim merchants.  This transcended confessional differences and prevented the emergence of an irrational stereotype of the type that captured the popular imagination in northern Europe, where most Jews occupied an economic niche that put them at odds with the Christian population…

Dhimmis, it is crucial to state, could be found in nearly all categories of Islamic society, working alongside Muslims…as merchants, artisans, agriculturalists, physicians, government clerks (katibs), and in any one of a number of other categories identified by their professions (excluding the army…)

Just as the Islamic marketplace furnished more opportunities than in the Latin West for Jews to meet non-Jews on neutral ground and develop friendly relationships, so did the community of the learned provide a forum for congenial interfaith encounter.  This existed to a much greater extend than in northern Christian Europe…

In the Islamic world, sociability between Jewish and gentile intellectuals was more regular and less fraught with conflict.  Arabic, the language of high culture, was by the tenth century the shared vernacular of Muslims and Jews.  Although Arabic served as the language of the dominant religion, it carried few of the negative associations that Latin, the language of the hostile church, had for Jews in Europe…

Dhimmis enjoyed substantial acceptance when participating in the intellectual circles of the dominant culture…These and other manifestations of Jewish immersion in the cultural world of Arab savants flowed naturally from what Louis Gardet, in his study of the Islamic mentalite, calls the “intellectual tolerance” of medieval Muslim society during its classical period, which showed “no ethnic discrimination.”

Jewish physicians were found in Arab society in numbers disproportionate to the Jewish presence in the population at large; they acquired their medical training as part of the standard Hellenistic-Arabic curriculum, often studying with Muslims and Christians.  They formed part of the interdenominational circle of physicians working in state hospitals and adorning Muslim courts.  Muslim admiration for Jewish men of medicine abounds in Arabic biographical dictionaries…Jewish physicians had private patients who were Muslim, both dignitaries at court and ordinary people.  At least in the classical period, these encounters, which provided considerable opportunity for Jewish-Muslim sociability, seem not have been accompanied by suspicion of the inimical intentions of Jewish doctors that had its roots in late antique Christianity and became so common in medieval Europe…They sampled high status in government service, medicine, and commerce often enough to satisfy the human yearning to shake off the yoke of subordination.  More important, the Jews of Islam enjoyed among themselves a truly aristocratic status and culture: the Judeo-Arabic courtier society of Muslim Spain and other Arab lands, a calque of the Arabic-Islamic high society well known to them from firsthand experience. [133]

Meanwhile, Christian authorities tried to reign in on Jewish erudition, going so far as to ban them from attaining university degrees:

The General Council of Basel revived the traditional restrictions, including the distinctive garb, exclusion from office and forced inhabiting of a separate quarter.  To these were added prohibitions of university degrees and compulsory attendance at Christian sermons.  The ban on university degrees was original with this Council and seems to indicate increased Jewish efforts to enter the common intellectual life. [134]

It is no wonder then that the Jewish Golden Age–the flourishing of Jews in the fields of science, medicine, and the arts–took place in the realm of Islam and not in the intellectually unfriendly European theater.

Forced Ghettoization and Freedom of Movement

Another fundamental difference between Christendom and the Islamic realm was the residential status of the infidels.  In Europe, the Jews of Europe were forced to live in ghettos, with laws emerging that forbade Jews from living in certain towns and cities, or placing quotas on the number of Jews allowed.  (Perhaps Robert Spencer will see the Jim Crow comparison here. Interesting also how Spencer wants quotas placed on the number of Muslims allowed in the country.)

Meanwhile, Jews of Islam (and dhimmis in general) were free to live wherever they wished.  They lived in the same apartment buildings as Muslims and in Muslim dominated areas.  Admittedly, there were distinctly Jewish, Christian, and Muslim dominated neighborhoods (key word here being “dominated” and not “exclusive”), but this were based on the normal tendency for people of similar backgrounds to congregate, not unlike the preponderance of Jews in New York, of Afghans in Fremont (”Little Kabul”), of Arabs in Detroit, etc.  Indeed, this self-segregation in medieval Islamic lands was not only upon religious grounds, but on ethnic and tribal divisions, as well as occupational vocations.

Naturally, the forced ghettoization of the Jews of Europe–and the freedom to live anywhere in the realm of Islam–created a dramatic difference between the two respective sets of infidels:

By and large, Jews in European cities lived separate from Christians, usually in a street or section called a “Jewry,” “Judengasse,” or “rue des Juifs.” …Residential seclusion began to impinge on Christian-Jewish relations, when the church, wishing to prevent contact between Christians and Jews, especially after the thirteenth century, legislated restrictions on where Jews were allowed to live.  Especially during the later Middle Ages, when popular fear and hatred of the Jews grew in intensity and popular antisemitic stereotypes proliferated, the Jewish quarter became a mysterious, frightful place, increasingly the target of terrified, antisemitic Christian mobs.  As a sign of the estrangement of Jews from Christian burghers, some towns in the High and later Middle Ages sought from their overlords–and were granted–the privilege of not tolerating Jews.  In short, Christian townspeople were allowed to exclude or expel Jews…

[In contrast, there was a] relatively more comfortable pattern of Muslim-Jewish relations…Quite the antithesis of the northern European city, the topography of residence in a Muslim town lent the Jew an aura of inclusion, of normalcy.  As a matter of course, residential patterns in a Muslim town set religious and ethnic groups apart.  This had already begun with the garrison towns, in which tribal constituents of the Arab armies lived in separate quarters…

Almost universally, Muslim cities contained socially homogeneous quarters.  Such quarters were  found in cities created by a coalescence of villagers, by the settlement of different tribes, or by the founding of new ethnic or governmental districts.  Quarters based on the clienteles of important political or religious leaders, religious sects, Muslim and non-Muslim ethnic minorities, and specialized crafts, were also found in cities throughout the Muslim world.

It was no aberration then, if a town in the Arab world of the Middle Ages had a separate street or quarter inhabited primarily by Jews.  In that world, residential separation of ethnic and religious groups was normal–voluntary and generalized throughout society.  Thus, no stigma attached to to neighborhoods housing predominantly Jews.  This contrasts with the Christian town of the north.  There, segregation of Jews into separate streets, or “Jewries,” accorded with theological and social concerns expressed with renewed vigor during the thirteenth century by instilling suspicion and dread in the popular imagination.

The Geniza provides an even more impressive indicator of Jewish inclusion in Islamic society.  In most cities of the Islamic Mediterranean represented in the Geniza, Jewish quarters, in the sense of exclusive Jewish districts, hardly existed.  Rather, as Goitein has discovered, most Jews lived in their towns in noncontiguous clusters, such that “there were many neighborhoods predominantly Jewish, but hardly any that were exclusively so.” Christians or Muslims often dwelled in apartments in the same compound as Jews, and Jews, Muslims, and Christians sometimes held properties in partnership.  Islamic law, for its part, permits dhimmis to dwell among Muslims, the rationale being that the latter might thereby reveal the beauties of Islam to their non-Muslim neighbors. [135]

Along with the forced ghettoization, Europeans enacted strict travel restrictions upon Jews, lest the latter try to evade apartheid.  Jews found guilty of “illegal movement” were heavily punished.  It was argued that their status as perpetual serfs made them the property of the royals; hence, they could not simply up and walk away.  This too contrasted with the Islamic world, where Jews were free to travel wherever they wished:

The liberal Jewish privileges of the Carolingian era began to give way in the twelfth century to restriction on movement, to tightening of control over the Jews (the beginnings of “Jewish serfdom”), to unprecedented violence, and to incipient expulsions.  The Christian polemical theme of divine rejection and Jewish inferiority assumed new momentum…[leading to] the deterioration in Jewish status, [and] the restriction on movement…

The Jews of Islam in the classical period seem not to have felt the need to protest oppression in the same way…After all, they mingled more freely than their Ashkenazic brethren with merchants, courtiers, scholars, and physicians from the dominant religious group.  They did not suffer restrictions on their freedom of movement.  And they did not experience a degradation in legal status similar to the Jewish serfdom of Latin Europe. [136]

Although this forced ghettoization took place throughout much of Europe, we see particularly harsh implementations in Central Europe and Russia.  In Russia, for example, Jews were expelled and forced to live in “the Pale”:

The government apparently took steps to maintain Jewish (target) visibility–that is, enabling them to maintain a certain autonomy in practing their religion while systematically pauperizing them by discriminatory laws and severely limiting their freedom fo movement within the country.

This was crystallized in a series of “Jewish statutes” under Tsar Alexander I and the establishment of the Pale of Settlement, a region of 286,000 square miles and twenty-five provinces which encompassed the western flank of European Russia…During th ereigns of subsequent tsars, the Pale became a significant means of dealing with the “Jewish problem,” a term which has reverbated with chilling significance to the present day.  However, it should be noted that tsars, church, and aristocracy attempted to solve this so-called problem by the triune method of progressive assimilation of the Jews into Russian culture, expulsion, and blaming them for almost every conceivable problem…Jewish freedom of movement became even more restricted and was strictly limited to the Pale, although there was a slight relaxation of these laws toward the end fo the nineteenth century under Nicholas II.

The Russian census of 1897…shows that there were almost 5,000,000 Jews living in the Pale, comprising approximately 94 percent of the total Jewish population of the Russian Empire. [137]

Expulsion, Forced Conversions, and Massacres

Professor Cohen makes an important differentiation between discrimination and persecution.  Although it could be argued that discrimination leads to persecution and there is overlap, it suffices for our understanding here.  Using this framework, it can be demonstrated that the Islamic world was infected with discrimination against infidels but there was relatively little persecution, whereas the Christian realm was affected by not only a higher degree of discrimination but outright persecution.

The Pact of Umar certainly had discriminatory measures in it, such as the restriction forbidding dhimmis from building their houses a certain height or of not being able to ride horses–but there was nothing in it that called for the wholesale persecution of infidels.  The persecution of the infidels under Christendom–in terms of expulsions, forced conversions, and massacres–far outsurpassed that of those under the Islamic sphere.

This is not to say that such persecution was alien to the Islamic world; anti-Islam ideologues point to a handful of instances in which this indeed did happen (the favorite being the massacre of 1066), but it must be understood that this was the exception, not the rule–unlike in Christendom where persecution was widespread in scale.  Professor Cohen writes:

Finally, it is important to state what is meant by persecution.  As employed in the following discussion, the word means unwarranted violence against persons or property, including individual and mass murder.  It means unlawful compulsion in matters of religion, such as forced conversion, and it includes physical expulsion.  Other forms of mistreatment–what we would call discrimination, be it bias, sumptuary laws, negative attitudes, or false statements–may and do lead to persecution.  In and of itself, however, such intolerance was considered “normal” by medieval socities in which Jews lived.

Not even Salo Baron’s anti-lachrymose revision of Jewish history in the Middle Ages managed to gloss over the fact that the Jews in Christendom suffered greatly, especially from the twelfth century on.  Well known are instances of large-scale massacre that began during the Cursades.  Jews charged with killing Christian children were tortured and, in many cases, executed.  Others were persecuted for allegedly poisoning wells or stealing and “torturing” the eucharist wafer (the “host desecration libel”).  Jews experienced economic persecution (for instance, through official limitation of occupational opportunities and assaults on their property).  The Talmud was burned, and Jews were forced to attend conversionary sermons–measures intended to weaken the hold of Judaism on its adherents.  And Jews were expelled from towns, counties, and kingdoms…

Whether their persecution is measured in terms of expulsion, murder, assault on property, or forced conversion, the Jews of Islam did not experience physical violence on a scale remotely approaching Jewish suffering in Western Christendom.  By and large, even when dhimmis as a group experienced growing oppression and persecution in the postclassical period, the grim conditions found in Europe were not matched…”Compared with the contemporary massacres in Christian Europe,” Baron writes of the Mamluk empire in the period 1250-1517, “anti-Jewish riots were both less frequent and less bloody.  As a rule they were limited to certain localities and did not assume the epidemic proportions of the assaults by Crusaders or by the frenzied European mobs of 1348-1349 or 1391.” His pinpointing a distinction that applies even more sharply to earlier centuries, the period that is the focus of my book.

How can one explain this difference?  The historian R. I. Moore has called medieval Christianity, especially as of the twelfth century, a “persecuting society.”  The characteristics and historical circumstances that this scholar evidences in support of his conclusion help explain the relatively better condition of the Jews of Islam.  According to Moore, beginning in the twelfth century, European Christendom showed increasing hostility to three groups–Jews, heretics, and lepers.  The assumed connection between the Devil and both Jews and heretics (linkage between Jews and heretics, of course, went back to early Christian times), and the ascription to Jews and lepers alike of filth, stench, and putrefaction and of menace to Christian wives and children numbered among the factors that led to the deadly interchangeability of the three groups, particularly in popular thinking.  “The assimilation of Jews, heretics and lepers into a single rhetoric … depicted them as a single though many-headed threat to the security of the Christian order…”

Nothing comparable to the invective and hatred characteristic of the Ashkenazic literary treatment of Christianity exists in the writings of the Jews of Islam…The dissimilarity between East and West was even greater during the classical period.  Seen from the perspective presented in this book, the embeddedness of the Jews of Islam, the product of intertwining religious, legal, economic, and social factors, constitutes the most important reason for the relative freedom from violent persecution, and hence for a collective historical memory that was fundamentally different from that of the Jews of Christendom. [138]

During the Crusades alone, it is estimated that over a 100,000 European Jews were slaughtered. [139]


Arab and Muslim apologists have furthered the myth of interfaith utopia as a means to undermine the state of Israel.  Meanwhile, anti-Muslim xenophobes have propagated the counter-myth of Islamic persecution of non-Muslims.  The latter have made a big hullabaloo about the word “dhimmi” and expanded it as a concept, using the neologism of “dhimmitude.”  I have here protested the usage of the word “dhimmitude,” because it is an attempt to convey the (false) idea that dhimmis were reduced to servitude.  The similarity of the words “dhimmitude” and “servitude” is no accident.  Bat Ye’or, the anti-Islam ideologue who introduced the myth of dhimmitude to the West–and who is the god of “scholarship” for such demagogues as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller–specifically uses the word “servitude” juxtaposed with “dhimmi”:

Dhimmitude,” as Ye’or makes clear, is a status that results in a profound psychosocial adjustment in some ways akin to servitude.

FrontPage Magazine, the xenophobic fear-mongering machine hosted by David Horowitz, says (emphasis is mine):

“A thing without a name escapes understanding,” warns preeminent Islamic scholar Bat Ye’or of jihad and dhimmitude—the Islamic institutions of, respectively, war and perpetual servitude imposed on conquered non-Muslim peoples.

The irony would be comical, if it were not frightening.  The amazing thing is that they use the word “perpetual servitude” which is exactly the term used historically by the Christian West to denote the position of infidels, including Jews and Muslims!  One recalls the infallible Papal Bull that gave permission to Christians to “invade, conquer, storm, attack, and subjugate” to “reduce into perpetual servitude [perpetuam servitute] the Saracens [Muslims], pagans, and other enemies of Christ.”  It is a truism that bigots often–in their haste to hate–end up throwing stones from glass houses.  The sheer irony–of the self-proclaimed defenders of the Judeo-Christian tradition using the term “perpetual servitude” to beat the Muslims over the head with–should not be lost on the perceptive reader.

Dhimmis were not reduced to perpetual servitude, and it is thus incorrect to use this neologism of dhimmitude, which is a purposeful amalgamation of the two words.  Infidels in Islamic lands were discriminated against yes, but they were free men; in fact, it was considered illegal by law–both secular and religious–to take away their freedom or to enslave them.  Neither were they serfs owned by monarchs, barons, and other royals–nor of the the church–as they were in Christendom.  Under the iron fist of Christian rule, infidels were traded as chattel by the Church and state, rented out and even mortgaged as if property.

Dhimmis on the other hand were not unfree serfs but free citizens, second class though they were.  As discriminatory as it was to be a second class citizen, it was certainly worlds better than being an unfree serf or slave.  Bernard Lewis commented on the status of the second-class dhimmi vis-a-vis the perpetual serf:

Second-class citizenship, though second-class, is a kind of citizenship. [140]

Professor Cohen opines:

According to the Islamic “law of the land,” the shari’a [holy law], the dhimmi enjoyed a kind of citizenship, second class and unequal though it was…[in contrast to] Jews living in Latin Christian lands, where competing legal systems complicated their status and where the “law of utility” inexorably led to arbitrariness and eventually to isolation of the Jews into a special category of persons, legally possessed by this or that ruling authority. [141]

As for the Pact of Umar, a few points restrict the effectiveness of it as a beating stick for anti-Islam ideologues: (1) The document itself is apocryphal, forged after the earliest Islamic period and thus unrepresentative of it; (2) The more discriminatory conditions in the Pact of Umar were considered by jurists to be optional and therefore more often than not ignored;  (3) Practice differs from theory and–for a variety of reasons–the discriminatory conditions in the Pact of Umar were rarely and only sporadically enforced; (4) The inspiration for the Pact of Umar came from Christian law codes.

Dhimmis were forced to pay the jizya once yearly; the rate was usually (although not always) reasonable.  On the other hand, the Christian authorities taxed infidels in their realm multiple times throughout the year, burdening them with hefty tallages beyond their abilities. The jizya guaranteed the state’s protection.  On the other hand, Christendom forced the infidels to engage in shohad (bribery) in order to obtain protection, which was much more arbitrary than the jizya, oftentimes not enough to save them from persecution.  After their economic capacity had been subsequently diminished, the Jews of Europe were expelled due to their insolvency and lack of utility.  Their remaining property was seized by the state.

The concept of Perpetual Servitude established the idea that infidels were the property of the church or state; hence, all what they owned did not belong to them, but to the Christian authorities.  Church leaders argued that all Jewish property could be seized except the absolute bare minimum necessary for their survival (as it was argued that they ought not to be allowed to die for fear that they would then not serve as Witness to the triumph of Christianity).  Meanwhile, infidels in Islamic lands owned all their wealth and property–with the only requirement being that they pay a tax on it.

The Pact of Umar decreed some discriminatory “Jim Crow” laws, such as the command for dhimmis to stand in the presence of Muslims, the prohibition to build houses a certain height, etc.  This fact has been used by anti-Islam ideologues such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, yet they ignore the even more discriminatory “Jim Crow” laws in Christendom, such as the requirement for the Jew to step out of the way of the Christian, to take one’s hat off and then bow to the Christian.  Similarly Jews were not permitted to use sidewalks, carry walking sticks, or walk two a breast at a time.  They were forced to enter the back doors of town halls, and forbidden to enter public gardens, or enter Christian quarters–a truly apartheid system.  As such, the indignation of the anti-Islam ideologues–self-proclaimed guardians of the Judeo-Christian tradition–seems selective and biased.  In any case, these regulations fell into disuse in the Islamic world; again, reality differs from theory.

As for the regulations in the Pact of Umar to wear distinctive clothing (ghiyar), this too fell into disuse.  Furthermore, the Christian world had similar laws.  However, there was a significant difference between the Islamic law of ghiyar and the Christian yellow badge.  Professor Mark R. Cohen notes that the Islamic requirement was simply that Jews continue wearing their traditional clothing and not imitate the dress of the Muslims–something which not only were the Jews were content in doing but which was a part of their religion already, i.e. to dress differently than the gentiles.  Meanwhile, the Christian laws forced Jews to wear specific clothing that they did not want to wear, and which made them sources of ridicule and persecution, such as yellow badges and pointed dunce-like hats.

The prohibition in the Pact of Umar of Muslim nicknames simply required the dhimmis to retain their traditional names, which they were again happy to do in accordance to their religious beliefs.  Meanwhile, Christian law forced Jews to change their names.  Names were sold to Jews; those Jews with money could afford nicer names, whereas poor Jews–or those who simply annoyed authorities–were stuck with names like Ass Head, Pickpocket, or Schmuck.  In any case, the Geniza gives us proof that the ban on dhimmis taking Muslim nicknames was disregarded; meanwhile, historical records indicate that the Jews of Europe did very much have their names changed.

The Pact of Umar restricted the right of dhimmis to build new houses of worship or to repair existing ones.  However, Islamic jurists argued that the restriction only applied to certain areas and not others; whatever the case, historical records prove that the law was routinely ignored, and churches and synagogues continued to be built “without opposition.”  Furthermore, Christian Europe also passed laws that forbade Jews from building or repairing synagogues.

Public displays of religion were forbidden in both the Islamic East and the Christian West.  However, Islamic authorities at least allowed dhimmis to practice their religion freely in private, without interference.  Meanwhile, Christian laws impeded even the personal religious practices of the Jews.  The Church attacked the Talmud, censoring it, banning it and even burning tens of thousands of copies.  The Jews perceived this as an unprecedented “catastrophe.”  Both Islamic and Christian authorities forbade infidels from proselytism, but the Church went even further by forcing infidels to attend compulsory Christian sermons, where intimidating Christian mobs would seek to force Jews to see the light of Christianity.

The Islamic and Christian worlds alike punished those infidels guilty of abusing the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ respectively.  Here too, however, major differences existed; the Christians resorted to collective punishment whereas the Muslims generally did not as a matter of law.  Also distinctive to the Christian world were the irrational ritual murder libel, Black Death accusation, and the eucharist wafer scare.  These witch hunts led to masscres of tens of thousands of Jews, and elimination of entire communities.

The Jews of Europe were barred from most professions, and thereby restricted to the hated and hateful occupation of money-lending–something which only increased their vulnerability to angry Christian mobs.  Even this singular means of survival often came under attack by the Church, further reducing the Jews to a state of unemployment and abject poverty.  Meanwhile, Jews of the Islamic Orient were permitted to–and did–join virtually any profession.  This gave them great occupational diversification which made them much more financially secure than their counterparts in Europe.

Infidels in the Christian West, as perpetual serfs, were forbidden to own land.  Dhimmis, on the other hand, were considered free persons and had the right to own property.

The Jews of Europe were forced into ghettos, and as perpetual serfs their freedom of movement was heavily restricted.  Meanwhile, dhimmis did not live in such apartheid, and could reside wherever they wished, free to move about as they pleased.

Most importantly, the Jews of Europe were faced with much more persecution than their counterparts in the East.  Under Christian rule, the Jews were faced with recurrent expulsions, forced conversions, and massacres.

In order to “prove” their point, anti-Islam ideologues such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller ignore the plight of infidels in Christian Europe:

The Jews were exceedingly oppressed during the middle ages throughout Christendom.  In France, a Jew was a serf, and his person and goods belonged to the baron on whose demesnes he lived.  He could not change his domicile without permission of the baron, who could pursue him as a fugitive…Like an article of commerce, he might be lent or hired for a time, or mortgaged.  If he became a Christian, his conversion was considered a larceny of the lord, and his property and goods were confiscated.  They were allowed to utter their prayers only in a low voice and without chanting.  They were not allowed to appear in public without some badge or mark of distinction.  Christians were forbidden to employ Jews of either sex as domestics, physicians, or surgeons…It was deemed disgraceful to an advocate to undertake the cause of a Jew.  If a Jew appeared in court against a Christian, he was obliged to swear by the ten names of God and invoke a thousand imprecations against himself if he spoke not the truth.  Sexual intercourse between a Christian man and a Jewess was deemed a crime against nature, and was punishable with death by burning…

Under the Roman law the Jews were the subject of severe restrictive laws and were classed in the enactments of the Christian emperors with apostates, heretics, and and heathens…Marriage with them was forbidden…and a Jew could not be the tutor of a Christian…

In the fifth book of the Decretals it is provided that if a Jew have a servant that desireth to be a Christian, the Jew shall be compelled to sell him to a Christian for twelve-pence; that it shall not be lawful for them to take any Christian to be their servant; that they may repair their old synagogues, but not build new; that it shall not be lawful for them to open their doors or windows on Good Friday; that their wives shall neither have Christian nurses, nor themselves be nurses to Christian women; that they wear different apparel from the Christians, whereby they may be known…

In England, the Jew could have nothing that was his own, for whatever he acquired he acquired not for himself but for the king..They were so heavily taxed by the sovereigns or governments of Christendom, and at the same time debarred from almost every other trade or occupation–partly by special decrees, partly by vulgar prejudice–that they could not afford to prosecute ordinary vocations.  In 1253, the Jews–no longer able to withstand the constant hardships to which they were subjected in person and property–begged of their own accord to be allowed to leave the country.  Richard of Cornwall, however, persuaded them to stay.  Ultimately, in 1290 A.D. they were driven from the shores of England, pursued by the execrations of the infuriated rabble, and leaving in the hands of the kings all their property, debts, obligations, and mortgages. [142]


Anti-Islam ideologues such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller exaggerate about the Islamic history; but more importantly, they downplay and even deny the greater oppression rampant in Christendom.  This selective analysis allows them to use (so-called) dhimmitude as a stick to beat the Muslims over the head with.  Muslims ought not to cower to such intimidation, but rather remind the valiant defenders of the Judeo-Christian tradition of the concept of Perpetual Servitude.  It has become the habit of some of the anti-Islam bigots to weaponize the term “dhimmi,” calling anyone who is tolerant of Islam to be one; liberals thus become dhimmis to Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, et al.  Perhaps then the Jewish Geller ought to be called a Witness, Perpetual Serf, or even an Ass Head or Schmuck under the yolk of the Christian Spencer. (After all, Christian Zionists still believe in the Witness doctrine.)

It is likely that Spencer and Geller will reply by arguing that the treatment of infidels during Christian rule was in violation of Christianity, whereas the treatment of dhimmis was based upon the immutable Islamic law (Sharia).  However, it should be remembered that the idea of Perpetual Servitude originated from the Church itself, and in the infallible papal decrees–and later adopted by the founder of the Protestant movement.  As for the claim that the mistreatment of dhimmis is a part of the immutable Sharia–and that no Islamic authority has ever revised these laws–I shall address these two lies in a follow up article.

The Jewish Israeli historian Nissim Rejwan [143] sums it up best:

Under Ottoman Islam, which by the beginning of the sixteenth century dominated Syria [including Palestine] and Eygpt, the conditions under which the Jews were permitted to live contrasted so strikingly with those imposed on their coreligionists in various parts of Christendom that the fifteenth century witnessed a large influx of European Jews into the [Ottoman] Sultan’s dominions. During the first half of that century, persecutions had occurred in Bohemia, Austria, and Poland, and, at about this time, two German rabbis who sought and secured refuge in the Ottoman Empire wrote a letter to their community extolling the beauties and advantages of their new home.

But it was the measures taken against the Jews in Spain, culminating in their expulsion in 1492, that gave the greatest momentum to this migration. The Jews who chose to settle in various parts of the [Ottoman] empire found their surroundings rather congenial, and they, in turn contributed greatly to the flowering of Ottoman civilization…Marranos, who in Christian Spain had embraced Christianity to escape persecution and death, abandoned their disguise and returned to Judaism. Istanbul soon came to harbor the largest Jewish community in the whole of Europe, while Salonika became a predominantly Jewish city. The degree of the Jews’ integration into the life of Ottoman Islam was such, indeed, that two notable non-Jewish students of modern Islam found that there has been, in their words, “something sympathetic to the Jewish nature in the culture of Islam,” since “from the rise of the Caliphate till the abolition of the ghettos in Europe the most flourishing centers of Jewish life were to be found in Muslim countries: in Iraq during the Abbassid period, in Spain throughout the period of Moorish domination, and thereafter in the Ottoman Empire.”

…At the turn of the eighteenth century, the Jewish community in Jerusalem experienced a growth in numbers at an inordinate rate…According to a recent study by Tudor Parfitt, however, the startling increase in Jewish immigration to Jerusalem in the nineteenth century took place “not because the attraction of Jerusalem as the holy city grew, but because political and other factors made such immigration increasingly possible.”

…In nineteenth-century Palestine, he adds, such tolerance was “a consistent part of the relationship between the Ottoman authorities and the Jews.” He quotes European travelers as remarking on “the perfect religious freedom” that prevailed…One of these travelers, J. Wilson, is quoted as saying that “entire freedom of worship…is now accorded to [the Jews] and they are left to manage their own internal affairs without interference from any other quarter.” …

By way of conclusion, a word of caution is in order…It must be pointed out that the picture has not been uniformly so rosy and that instances of religious intolerance toward and discriminatory treatment of Jews under Islam are by no means difficult to find. This point is of special relevance at a time in which, following a reawakening of interest in the history of Arab-Jewish relations among Jewish writers and intellectuals, certain interested circles have been trying to… Judeo-Arabic tradition or symbiosis by digging up scattered pieces of evidence to show that Islam is essentially intolerant…and that Muslims’ contempt for Jews was even greater and more deep-seated than that manifested by Christians…

Such caricatures of the history of Jews under Islam continue to be disseminated by scholars as well as by interested publicists and ideologues. Indeed, all discussion of relations between Jews and Muslims…is beset by the most burning emotions and by highly charged sensitivities. In their eagerness to repudiate the generally accepted version of these relations (a version which, it is worthwhile pointing out, originates not in Muslim books of history but with Jewish historians and Orientalists in nineteenth-century Europe), certain partisan students of the Middle East conflict today seem to go out of their way to show that, far from being the record of harmonious coexistence it is often claimed to be, the story of Jewish-Muslim relations since the time of Muhammad was “a sorry array of conquest, massacre, subjection, spoilation in goods and women and children, contempt, expulsion–[and] even the yellow badge…”

Informed by a fervor seldom encountered in scholarly discourse, some of these latter-day historians have gone so far as to question even the motives of those European-Jewish scholars of the past century who virtually founded modern Oriental and Arabic studies and managed to unearth the impressive legacy of Judeo-Arabic culture, a culture that was undeniably an outcome of a long and symbiotic encounter between Muslims and Jews.

…[But] by the standards then prevailing–and they are plainly the only ones by which a historian is entitled to pass judgment–Spanish Islamic tolerance was no myth but a reality of which present-day Muslim Arabs are fully justified in reminding their contemporaries…Tolerance, then, is a highly relative concept, and the only sensible way of gauging the extent of tolerance in a given society or culture in a given age is to compare it with that prevailing in other societies and cultures in the same period…

The only plausible conclusion one could draw from the whole debate is that, while Jewish life in Muslim Spain–and under Islam generally–was not exactly the idyllic paradise some would want us to believe, it was far from the veritable hell that was the Jews’ consistent lot under Christendom. [144]

Readers who are interested in ideologically driven and biased research may read Bat Ye’or, Robert Spencer, or Pamela Geller. Those who seek to read the work of unbiased and balanced expert scholars are encouraged to start by reading Professor Mark R. Cohen’s book, available for purchase here.


refer back to article 1. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades, 47. ISBN 0-89526-013-1

refer back to article 2. Ibid., 57

refer back to article 3. Ibid., 59

refer back to article 4. Martin Goodman, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, 198. ISBN 0199280320

refer back to article 5. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages, xix. ISBN 069101082X, 9780691010823

refer back to article 6. Ibid.

refer back to article 7. Ibid., xx

refer back to article 8. Ibid., xxi-xxiii

refer back to article 9. David Grafton, The Christians of Lebanon, 31. ISBN 1860649440, 9781860649448

refer back to article 10. Thomas Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, 57

refer back to article 11. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 55

refer back to article 12. Michael Angold, Eastern Christianity, 489. ISBN 0521811139, 9780521811132

refer back to article 13. Francis E. Peters, The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, 274. ISBN 0691114609, 9780691114606

refer back to article 14. A.S. Tritton, The Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects, 10. ISBN 1443787035, 9781443787031

refer back to article 15. Nabeel Jabbour, The Rumbling Vocano: Islamic Fundamentalism in Egypt, 15-16. ISBN 0878082417, 9780878082414

refer back to article 16. see Maher Abu-Munshar’s Islamic Jerusalem and its Christians

refer back to article 17. Ibid.

refer back to article 18. Ibid.

refer back to article 19. A.S. Tritton, The Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects, 16-17. ISBN 1443787035, 9781443787031

refer back to article 20. Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades, 51

refer back to article 21. The Institute for Advanced Study [Princeton, N.J.] and the World Jewish Congress, Proceedings of the Seminar on Muslim-Jewish Relations in North Africa (1975)

refer back to article 22. Martin Goodman, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, 199-200

refer back to article 23. Rabbi David Sherman, Judaism Confronts Modernity, 323. ISBN 0620181958, 9780620181952

refer back to article 24. Spertus College of Judaica, Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies; The Solomon Goldman Lectures, 24. ISBN 0935982620, 9780935982626

refer back to article 25. Ken Blady, Jewish Communities in Exotic Places, 10. ISBN 0765761122, 9780765761125

refer back to article 26. Raymon P. Scheindlin, A Short History of the Jewish People, 74. ISBN 0195139410, 9780195139419

refer back to article 27. Jane Hathaway, The Arab Lands under Ottoman Rule, 190. ISBN 0582418992, 9780582418998

refer back to article 28. Robert S. Wistrich, Demonizing the Other, 109. ISBN 9057024977, 9789057024979

refer back to article 29. Solomon Grayzel, A History of the Jews (Jewish Publication Society of America; 1966), 253

refer back to article 30. Mark Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 195

refer back to article 31. Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity, 109. ISBN 0061472808, 9780061472800

refer back to article 32. National Association of Professors of Hebrew in American Institutions of Higher Learning, Hebrew Studies (1985), Vol. 26, Parts 1-2

refer back to article 33. S.D. Goitein as quoted in Robert S. Wistrich, Demonizing the Other, 109-110

refer back to article 34. Michael Angold, Eastern Christianity, 489. ISBN 0521811139, 9780521811132

refer back to article 35. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 196

refer back to article 36. Ibid., p.30

refer back to article 37. Mark Juergensmeyer, The Oxford Handbook of Global Religions, 204-205. ISBN 0195137981, 9780195137989

refer back to article 38. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, xxv

refer back to article 39. Jeffrey S. Malka, Sephardic Genealogy, 41. ISBN 1886223149, 9781886223141

refer back to article 40. Jay Weidner, The Mysteries of the Great Cross of Hendaye, 128. ISBN 089281084X, 9780892810840

refer back to article 41. Nissim Dana, The Druze in the Middle East: Their Faith, Leadership, Identity and Status. ISBN 978-1-903900-36-9 h/b

refer back to article 42. Martin Goodman, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, 199-200

refer back to article 43. Mario Apostolov; Religious Minorities, Nation States, and Security; 47. ISBN 0754616770, 9780754616771

refer back to article 44. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, xx-xxi

refer back to article 45. Robert S. Wistrich, Demonizing the Other, 109

refer back to article 46. Hugh Goddard, A History of Christian-Muslim Relations, 47. ISBN 074861009X, 9780748610099

refer back to article 47. Samuel Parsons Scott, The Civil Law, 209. ISBN 1584771305, 9781584771302

refer back to article 48. Steven Bayme, Understanding Jewish History: Texts and Commentaries, 120-121. ISBN 0881255548, 9780881255546

refer back to article 49. Mordecai Paldiel, Churches and the Holocaust, 17. ISBN 088125908X, 9780881259087

refer back to article 50. Kenneth R. Stow, Alienated Minority: the Jews of Medieval Latin Europe, 144. ISBN 0674015932, 9780674015937

refer back to article 51. Michael Parenti, History as Mystery, 107. ISBN 0872863573, 9780872863576

refer back to article 52. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 47

refer back to article 53. Ibid, pp.130-131

refer back to article 54. Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews, 94-95. ISBN 0809143240, 9780809143245

refer back to article 55. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 274

refer back to article 56. Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews, 95

refer back to article 57. Norman P. Zacour, Jews and Saracens in the Consilia of Oldradus de Ponte, Volumes 100-102, 24-30. ISBN 0888441002, 9780888441003

refer back to article 58. John Victor Tolan, Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination, 278. ISBN 0231123337, 9780231123334

refer back to article 59. Julie Anne Taylor, Muslims in Medieval Italy: The Colony at Lucera, 206. ISBN 0739114840, 9780739114841

refer back to article 60. Scott L. Waugh, Christendom and Its Discontents, 258. ISBN 0521525098, 9780521525091

refer back to article 61. Sharon Korman, The Right of Conquest, 44. ISBN 0198280076, 9780198280071

refer back to article 62. Gaurav Gajanan Desai, Postcolonialisms: An Anthology of Cultural Theory and Criticism, 54

refer back to article 63. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 70

refer back to article 64. Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews, 96

refer back to article 65. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 88

refer back to article 66. Ibid., p.69

refer back to article 67. Ibid., p.72

refer back to article 68. Ibid., pp.48-49

refer back to article 69. Gershon David Hundert, Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the Eighteenth Century, 69. ISBN 0520249941, 9780520249943

refer back to article 70. Robin R. Mundill, England’s Jewish Solution: Experiment and Expulsion, 75-82. ISBN 0521520266, 9780521520263

refer back to article 71. Sharon Turner, The History of England During the Middle Ages (1830), 119

refer back to article 72. Adrian J. Boas, Crusader Archaeology: The Material Culture of the Latin East, 61. ISBN 0415173612, 9780415173612

refer back to article 73. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 63

refer back to article 74. Amos Elon, The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, 1743-1933, 27. ISBN 0312422814, 9780312422813

refer back to article 75. Max I. Dimont, Jews, God, and History, 237. ISBN 0451529405, 9780451529404

refer back to article 76. Robert Michael, Dictionary of Antisemitism from the Earliest Times to the Present, 301. ISBN 0810858681, 9780810858688

refer back to article 77. Egon Caesar Corti, Rise of the House of Rothschild, 3. ISBN 0766144356, 9780766144354

refer back to article 78. A.S. Tritton, The Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects, 123-124

refer back to article 79. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 70. ISBN 069101082X, 9780691010823

refer back to article 80. Dean Phillip Bell, Jews in the Modern World, 27

refer back to article 81. Alan Edelstein, An Unacknowledged Harmony, 50. ISBN 0313227543, 9780313227547

refer back to article 82. Seymour Rossel, The Holocaust: The World and the Jews, 58-59. ISBN 0874415268, 9780874415261

refer back to article 83. Norman Roth, Medieval Jewish Civilization, 67. ISBN 0415937124, 9780415937122

refer back to article 84. Ibid., p.70

refer back to article 85. Alfred S. Cohen, Halacha and Contemporary Society, 252-253. ISBN 0881250422, 9780881250428

refer back to article 86. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 57-63

refer back to article 87. Ibid., pp.62-63

refer back to article 88. Ibid., p.62

refer back to article 89. Ibid. pp.63-64

refer back to article 90. Judit Targarona Borras, Jewish Studies at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, 443. ISBN 9004115544, 9789004115545

refer back to article 91. Norman Roth, Medieval Jewish Civilization, 173

refer back to article 92. S.D. Goitein as quoted in Robert S. Wistrich, Demonizing the Other, 109-110

refer back to article 93. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 38

refer back to article 94. Norman Roth, Medieval Jewish Civilization, 67-70

refer back to article 95. Martin Goodman, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, 199-200

refer back to article 96. Israel Abrahams, The Jewish Quarterly Review (1897), Vol.9, 604-609

refer back to article 97. Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, 305. ISBN 0060915331, 9780060915339

refer back to article 98. Mary Neuburger, The Orient Within, 144. ISBN 0801441323, 9780801441325

refer back to article 99. Gabriella Safran, Rewriting the Jew: Assimilation Narratives in the Russian Empire, 9-10. ISBN 0804738300, 9780804738309

refer back to article 100. Judith Reesa Baskin, Jewish Women in Historical Perspective, 129. ISBN 0814327133, 9780814327135

refer back to article 101. Mabel Morana, Revisiting the Colonial Question in Latin America, 47. ISBN 8484893235, 9788484893233

refer back to article 102. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 65

refer back to article 103. Ibid., pp.65-66

refer back to article 104. Ibid., pp.66-67

refer back to article 105. Ibid., p.67

refer back to article 106. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Christianity and Social Systems, 63. ISBN 0742546438, 9780742546431

refer back to article 107. John Y.B. Hood, Aquinas and the Jews, 27. ISBN 0812215230, 9780812215236

refer back to article 108. J.A.S. Evans, The Age of Justinian: The Circumstances of Imperial Power, 242. ISBN 0415237262, 9780415237260

refer back to article 109. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 58-59

refer back to article 110. Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude, 84

refer back to article 111. Ibid.

refer back to article 112. Martin Goodman, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies, 199-200

refer back to article 113. John Victor Tolan, Medieval Christian Perceptions of Islam, 13

refer back to article 114. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 60-61

refer back to article 115. Ibid., p.60

refer back to article 116. Gershon David Hundert, Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the Eighteenth Century, 69

refer back to article 117. Bouvier’s Law Dictionary and Concise Encyclopedia (1914), Vol.2, 1695

refer back to article 118. Adin Steinsaltz, The Essential Talmud, 96. ISBN 0465082734, 9780465082735

refer back to article 119. Ibid., pp.103-106

refer back to article 120. Douglas Johnston, Faith-Based Diplomacy Turning Realpolitik, 189. ISBN 0195367936, 9780195367935

refer back to article 121. John Y.B. Hood, Aquinas and the Jews, 27

refer back to article 122. Gershon David Hundert, Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the Eighteenth Century, 69

refer back to article 123. Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews, 114-115

refer back to article 124. Norman Roth, Medieval Jewish Civilization, 220-221

refer back to article 125. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 59

refer back to article 126. Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews, 99-101

refer back to article 127. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 189-191

refer back to article 128. Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam, 157-159. ISBN 0691008078, 9780691008073

refer back to article 129. Gary F. Jensen, The Path of the Devil: Early Modern Witch Hunts, 153. ISBN 0742546977, 9780742546974

refer back to article 130. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 169-170

refer back to article 131. Alain, Pottage, Law, Anthropology, and the Constitution of the Social, 145, ISBN 0521539455, 9780521539456

refer back to article 132. Eliakim Littel, Living Age (1892), Vol. 193, 217

refer back to article 133. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 77-197

refer back to article 134. Edward H. Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews, 114

refer back to article 135. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 123-126

refer back to article 136. Ibid., p.197

refer back to article 137. Theodore H. Wohl, He Really Had Something to Say: The Ideas of Rabbi Samuel Wohl, 4, ISBN 0881258776, 9780881258776

refer back to article 138. Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 162-194

refer back to article 139. David H. Solomon, A History of My Family, 8

refer back to article 140. as quoted by Mark R. Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross: Jews in the Middle Ages, 269

refer back to article 141. Ibid., p.195

refer back to article 142. Bouvier’s Law Dictionary and Concise Encyclopedia, Vol.2, 1695-1696

refer back to article 143. Nissim Rejwan is a Research Fellow at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His book won the 1998 National Jewish Book Award for Israel Studies.

refer back to article 144. Nissim Rejwan, Israel’s Place in the Middle East: A Pluralistic Perspective, 40-47. ISBN 0813016010, 9780813016016

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  • @ Michael Elwood

  • Michael Elwood

    @Tanveer Khan

    “Sorry i should have mad eit clearer about who was being ‘protected’. As i understood it ‘protection’ was when an enemy such as i dunno Empire X decided to invade The state and started plundering non muslim lands \then the muslims were obligated to protect them. And also i guess it could be protection from muslims.”

    Ah, I see what you’re saying. But I still think the traditional interpretation is problematic because only non-Muslims have to pay for this type of protection.

  • @ Michael Elwood
    Sorry i should have mad eit clearer about who was being ‘protected’. As i understood it ‘protection’ was when an enemy such as i dunno Empire X decided to invade The state and started plundering non muslim lands \then the muslims were obligated to protect them. And also i guess it could be protection from muslims. You know…Bin Laden like people. Also i never knew that the jizya was for damage done during Hunayn. Thanks for pointing that out :)Yeah i knew the Umayyad and Abassid dynasties were corrupt but not THAT corrupt. Its amazing what power does to people.
    Thanks for clearing that up 🙂

  • Michael Elwood


    “Jizya i took as a contribution towards the state for the non muslims protection.”

    The jizya mentioned 9:29 was a reparation paid for the damage inflicted in the Battle of Hunayn mentioned in 9:25. According to the traditional understanding of jizya, who are non-Muslims being “protected” from? Muslims? This doesn’t make any sense because there is no compulsion in religion (2:256).

    There was no taxation during Muhammad’s time, only charity. The Quran says:

    9:60 Charities shall go to the poor, the needy, the workers who collect them, the new converts, to free the slaves, to those burdened by sudden expenses, in the cause of GOD, and to the traveling alien. Such is GOD’s commandment. GOD is Omniscient, Most Wise.

    During the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, various un-Islamic taxes were taken from non-Arab Muslims (“mawali”) and non-Muslims (“dhimmi”) and projected back to the time of Muhammad in order to give them legitimacy. Instead of going to the people, they went into the pockets of the corrupt Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs. Non-Arabs began to outnumber Arabs early in the history of Islam and refused to pay the un-Islamic taxes. However, Jews and Christians remained a minority and continued to pay the un-Islamic taxes until they were discontinued during the late Ottoman period.

    “So the Sultan wasnt islamically doing anything haram/forbidden when he abolished jizya?”

    I would argue that the Sultans who collected a special tax from non-Muslims were the ones doing something haram, not the one who discontinued it. 🙂

  • @ Michael Elwood
    Thanks for the response 🙂 Well personally i follow Islam by following the hadith and quran. Jizya i took as a contribution towards the state for the non muslims protection. So the Sultan wasnt islamically doing anything haram/forbidden when he abolished jizya?

  • Michael Elwood


    “PS. Is abolishing the jizya allowed in Islam because the Quran talks about jizya?

    It depends on how you define “jizya” and “Islam”. These words mean something different in the Quran and Quranic Arabic than they do in hadiths and Classical and Modern Arabic. Prof. Aisha Musa talks about this in an article titled “Jizya: Towards a more Qur’anically-based Understanding of a Historically Problematic Term” (scroll down towards the end):

    Because Sunni and Shia clerics falsely attribute the practice of extracting taxes from Jews and Christians to Muhammad, it’s difficult for them to abolish the practice. They may have a moratorium on it, but they can’t abolish it. For example, the article above says:

    “Professor Cohen cites a hadith from the Prophet Muhammad, who said:

    “If you take the poll tax from them, you have no claim on them or rights over them…[D]o not enslave them and do not let the Muslims oppress them or harm them or devour their property except as permitted [kharaj, i.e. land tax], but faithfully observe the conditions which you have accorded to them and all that you have allowed to them.”

    Notice that the word used in the hadith is kharaj. A form of that word, kharjan, occurs in the Quran:

    18:94 (Through interpreters) they presented a grievance, “O Zul-Qarnain! Gog and Magog are spoiling this land. They keep attacking and commit bloody crimes. May we, then, pay you a regular tribute that you will erect a barrier between us and them?”

    18:95 He responded, “The power in which My Lord has established me is better than tribute. Help me then with manpower and I will erect a strong barrier between you and them.”

    23:72 (O Messenger!) Do you ask them for any tribute? (They must know that) your Sustainer’s tribute is best, for, He is the Best of providers.

    Notice that the Quranic Arabic word for tribute is kharjan, not jiziya (note that Sunni clerics and Islamophobes call 9:29 the “tribute verse”). And notice that Quran 23:72 portrays Muhammad as rejecting tribute, but the hadith portray him as accepting it. Traditional translators of the Quran like Yusuf Ali, Shakir, and Muhsin Khan were aware of this contradiction between the Quran and their hadiths. This is why they correctly translated the word kharjan in 18:94-95 as tribute, but not in 23:72 (since there’s no reason to believe the hadith over the Quran).

  • Hi
    I read in your article (which was amazing BTW :P) that if you pay the Jizya you are barred from the military. Could you if you dont mind tell me where you read this? I alwayys thought that if they paid jizya then they were not obligated to fight if the state was under attack that was only the muslims’ obligation but if the dhimmis are willing to fight with the muslims they are exempt from the jizya. Am i wrong or something?
    PS. Is abolishing the jizya allowed in Islam because the Quran talks about jizya?

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  • Correctthehistory5152


    I am not a historian as you probably are but what I can tell you is the Shia’s doctrine is very different from the Sunnis and since Al-Hakim was a Shia, it is not only improbable but impossible that he must have used Pact Of Umar. The doctrine of Umar, Abu Bakar and Usman is extremely different than Ali ibn Abi Talib and his lineage. Moreover, the idea that Al-Hakim was mad is refuted in Shia kitaabs. I would say not refuted but rather they have the correct accounts as they follow the strong lineage from The Prophet himself. Their Imam are decendants from father to son with no deviations. And actually, this is to your advantage as it proves that Al-Hakim was not the one to denigrate the non-Muslims, but the contrary.
    Even to this day most Shias never ever, never use Sahih Bukhari and other Sunni scholars as well. So there goes Spencer’s theory of painting Muslims in one category.

  • IsmailNotIshmael

    Al-Maqrizi was a chronicler under the Mamluk rulers, who were not only very zealous Sunnis,but also anti-Fatimid.

    al-Maqrizi lived hundreds of years after Al-Hakim Bi amrAllah(SWS).

    Scholars fro Dollarsd are not authoritative for balanced researchers.

    Also he did order the Jews and Christians to wear these things because they were causing economic hardship and after these regulations the economy went up again and he withdrew these Rules.

    The Church of the Sepulcher was a spy base for the Byzantines so he ordered it to be destroyed. The prophet Muhammad also ordered the Masjid al-Daraar to be Destroyed.

    Al-Hakim Bi AmrAllah faced a lot of Abbassid propaganda,and he gave the women the right to choose hijab or not, and he was maligned by Sunni scholars later on.

    It is to be noted al-Hakim was very pious.

    He only gave women this freedom as the Prophet Muhammad did not force anyone.

  • Helen

    excellent stuff. may Allah reward you.

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  • BetEl

    As a matter of fact, contemporary Jewish leaders wrote positively about the Muslim-Judeo relations. Bahya Ibn Paqooda (collectively the leader of the judaic sphere), Nitanyal ibn al Fayumi (the Yemeni Jewish community leader) and, as you mentioned, Avrah ben Maimoni (Egypts assembly leader) had a lot of very good things to say about Islam. Some of them even incorporated Soofism into their Judaism: creating the school of thought of Judeo-Sufism.

    In itself, that serves as a reminder that Judeo-Islamic relations were not as bad as some have insinuated. On the contrary: if the Jews would have had any crucial objections with Muhammad (whom a lot of Jewish messiah-like figures regard as being a Prophet) then obviosly none of them would have showed any signs of acceptans toward Islam and the early Muslim movement and in extension the Muslim contemporaries they had dialouges with.


  • Danios

    @ BetEl

    A very thoughtful analysis. Thank you.

  • BetEl


    Thank you for an highly informative analysis. What I think you should have mentioned are the jewish second- and third party sources dealing with the formative or early post-formative islamic era: with Umar particularly.

    In contrast to the point of view of Spencer and his likes, the Jews of the Levant held Umar and the proto-muslim movement in high regard.

    A contemporary Jew during the muslim conquest described Umar as a, “lover of Israel who repaired their breaches” and that “…the Holy One (Umar) is only bringing the Kingdom of Ishmael in order to help you from the wicked one (Christians).”

    This is noted in Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, on page 93 and partly cited in the Jewish Virtual Library:

    Keeping in mind the opinion that the muslims had a general negative approach to the jewish communitites, sometimes verging on claims to mass-murder on the Bani Quraydha: such statements of prominent jews as that of Rabbi Shimeon bar Yoḥai (quoted above) would not seem conjectural. Had the attitudes really been anti-semitic in nature, the muslim forces would not have been embraced by the jewish community in those days. Let alone if a rumour of massmurder on jews were circulating…

    This was further corraborated by the historian Baladhari who states that:

    “Indeed,many Jewish communities were initially seized with fear, for they had heard of Muḥammad’s expulsion of Jews from Medīnah and the surrounding oases some years before. The course of events, however, very quickly demonstrated this initial apprehension to be without ground. And with their fears allayed, Jews in one region after the other began throwing their support behind the advancing Arab armies. The sources are replete with moving accounts of the assistance rendered by these Jewish communities” -Futuh al-Buldan pp 167-169

    Swartz additionally promotes this by saying:

    “Contrary to what is popularly believed in the West, the indigenous Jewish communities in the conquered areas were not coerced into accepting Islām. The old image of Muslim armies forcing conversion at the point of the sword is a blatant distortion that has its roots in Crusader propaganda.”
    – The Position of Jews In Arab Lands Following the Rise of Islam, pp 9.

    With that said, I just wanted to add that this is not an attempt to glorify the early muslim movement. The islamic litterature and historical writings do have both positive and negative facets to them. But in all fairness, that is immediatly connected to the human factor. The early oral transmitting and overly-relianced approach to them has rendered quite a few, to say the least, noteworthy traditions. Some even pertaining to mass-murder and such.

    Even so, Schacht explains this thoroughly in his Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, when he describes the framing trend of the isnad: they tend to “grow backwards”, meaning that the isnad get stronger, little by little. A clear indicator that something isn’t right.

    Once again, thank you very much for the work you put in to dealing with these hate-mongers…


  • Abul Hasad

    Alright – done (i.e. spreading this link EVERYWHERE, and I mean literally EVERYWHERE).

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