views updated May 08 2018


The legal status of monotheistic non-Muslims and Zoroastrians under Islamic rule which they, collectively or individually, expressly accept.

Dhimma is based on verse 9:29 of the Qurʾan and finds precedent in the conquest of Mecca. Caliph Umar's pact with non-Muslims, granting them life and property protection, constitutes the detailed provisions of the institution. Under this status, minorities enjoyed exemption from military service, freedom of religion, freedom to practice their religious duties, and the right to renovate, although not to erect, houses of worship.

In return, a poll tax (jizya) was levied; in addition, dhimmis were prohibited from criticizing the Qurʾan, expressing disrespect to the Prophet or to Islam, conducting missionary activity, or having sexual relations with or marrying Muslim women. They were not allowed to make their crosses, wine, and pork conspicuous, or to conduct their funerals in public. Riding horses was prohibited, as was erecting houses taller than those of the Muslims. Dhimmis were required to wear clothes that made them recognizable and were barred from holding certain public positions.

Modernity has posed for Muslims problems of equality, freedom of religion, and human rights, which seem to originate in an ever-increasing contact with the West, free communication, and multiculturalism. Historically speaking, dhimma was conceived during the Islamic conquest but diminished when foreign powers gained the upper hand, especially during the reign of the later Ottoman period and the rise of nationalism. Since the late second half of the twentieth century, the "clash of civilizations," and the increase of Muslims in foreign countries, it has become a symbol for the relationship between Islam and the rest of the world.

The institution of the dhimma remains controversial, and there is an extensive debate over whether to abolish it altogether, amend it, or maintain it. The more traditional thinkers reject any thought of changing the institution. Their views range from denying the principle of equality to religions other than Islam, through blocking certain positions of influence in the state to non-Muslims, to reiterating their rights and Islam's traditional liberal attitude according to the sunna, especially by comparison to European historical record. Some even go as far as to offer "Islamic citizenship" to non-Muslims. Others claim that the distinction between Muslim and non-Muslim is one of political administration, not of human rights, according dhimma to all religionists. The debate over dhimma includes political issues: Some of the minorities are accused of having abused it internally, and the West has been accused of having created and exacerbated the entire problem of "minorities."


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views updated May 17 2018

Dhimma. Official protected status granted by the Muslim ruling power to the non-Muslims, known as Ahl al-Dhimma, an individual being termed a Dhimmī. These were in origin generally of the Ahl al-Kitāb, People of the Book (scripture), i.e. Jews and Christians, a status extended to Zoroastrians (Majūs) and others as time went on until it has come to refer to non-Muslims living in a Muslim state. Unlike pagans (mushrikūn), Dhimmīs are allowed to retain their religion and generally to practise it unhindered, though subject to certain conditions and to jizya (poll tax).

This practice was continued and elaborated by the Ottoman ‘millet’ system.