(Continued from last week)
In 1799 William Eton, in a survey of the Ottoman empire, reported that Christians under Ottoman rule, on paying the jizya, were addressed with a standard form of words to the effect that 'the sum of money received is taken as compensation for being permitted to wear their heads that year' (Eton's emphasis).
To be sure, there are other ways to interpret the Qur'an, but the point is that this understanding of jizya has become the operative one in Northern Iraq and Syria. It also has the backing of centuries of Islamic jurisprudence and practice. It was with this understanding of Islam that the Middle East, South Asia and large parts of Eastern Europe were conquered and occupied under Muslim rule until modern times.
This grim fact – that the IS jihadis can ably defend their theology on the basis of Islam's history and religious traditions – means that it will be no easy task to persuade Muslim clerics and intellectuals to 'debunk' them. Such a strategy, which has been proposed by Peter Leahy, former head of the Australian Army, will be fraught with difficulties. Debunking would be a whole lot easier if radical ideologies were in fact bunkum. The problem is, the jihadis hold far too many theological trump cards from the Qur'an and the precedent of Muhammad's example to be so easily routed on the field of ideas. Indeed it is the radicals who have become expert at debunking, as their successful global recruiting drive shows.
Let us consider some of the weight behind the radicals' theology.
According to Islamic law, Christians and other non-Muslims who agree to keep their religion and their lives by paying jizya are subject to a dhimma treaty of surrender.
The word dhimma is derived from an Arabic word meaning 'to blame'. It implies a liability or debt arising from fault or blame. The idea is that the non-Muslims, known as dhimmis, owe a debt to their conquerors for their lives, and non-observance of the treaty of surrender would attract blame and thus incur punishment. The dhimma conditions include payment of jizya by adult men, but also many demeaning legal disabilities which are enforced upon non-Muslims and apply in one form or another across most of the Muslim world right up to the present day: one example is widespread restrictions on building new churches in areas formerly conquered by Islam; another is restrictions on freedom of religious expression.
The imposition of these disabilities upon non-Muslims is in accordance with a command of Muhammad:
'… I have been sent with a sword in my hand to command people to worship Allah and associate no partners with him. I command you to belittle and subjugate those who disobey me, for whoever imitates a people is one of them' (cited from Musnad (chain of) Ahmad Ibn Hanbali, founder of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence).
One of the means of belittling non-Muslims has been to ensure that they would not 'look alike', by requiring that they wear discriminatory clothing, patches or even, in ancient times, seals around their necks.
A modern-day manifestation of the principle of not 'looking alike' is the application of the Arabic letter nun (for Nazrani, the Arabic word for Christians) to the exterior of Christian homes in Mosul. Using similar reasoning, the Taliban required that Afghan Hindus should wear discriminatory patches on their clothing, so their non-Muslim status could be instantly recognizable.
IS is even looking to the model of first century Islam to set the level of the jizya tax. Early Islamic sources state that the jizya was a minimum of one gold dinar, and up to four dinars, depending upon the wealth of the individual dhimmi. Following these provisions to the letter, IS has made the following declaration:
'Christians are obligated to pay Jizya tax on every adult male to the value of four golden dinars for the wealthy, half of that for middle-income citizens and half of that for the poor . . . they must not hide their status, and can pay in two installments per year.'
A gold dinar weighs about 4.5 grams, which at $45 a gram means that a tax regime of one to four dinars equates to $200 to $800 US dollars per non-Muslim adult male. This is a heavy burden for a conquered people in a war zone, and the reality on the ground in both Syria and Iraq has been that the jihadis demand much more, and not once a year as its textbooks state, but again and again.
Convert or die
Reports show that IS has been setting jizya so high in both Syria and northern Iraq, and levying it so often, that it cannot be paid. This gives Christians who wish to stay in their homes but two choices: convert or die. Most have fled, but some, including those who are too frail or disabled to flee, have had to convert to save themselves. The fleeing refugees are in a particularly desperate situation, because they are progressively stripped of their belongings by IS checkpoints as they escape.
There is nothing new here. Throughout history the jizya has been a heavy imposition for non-Muslims. Large numbers of Christians converted to Islam in the early centuries of Islamic rule in order to avoid this tax. Dionysius, a Syrian patriarch writing in the eighth century, reported that the jizya often had to be extracted from Christians by beatings, extortion, torture, rape and killings. Many fled destitute from town to town after they had sold everything they owned to pay the tax.
Arthur Tritton reported in The Caliphs and their Non-Muslim Subjects about eighth-century Egypt that for ordinary day labourers the jizya tax was around a quarter of annual earnings, or ten times the zakat tax paid by Muslims. Shlomo Dov Goitein, writing on the situation of Jews in medieval Egypt, reported that men would enslave themselves or their family to pay the tax. Centuries after Dionysius of Antioch, he also reported that many, having sold all they had to pay it, took to wandering homeless as beggars.
Rules of war
The treatment of captives by IS is also in accordance with orthodox rules of war in Islam, which permit men to be killed, while women and children are enslaved. Sex slavery – concubinage – is permitted by the sharia principles which guide IS. The Reliance of the Traveller – a respected Sunni manual of sharia law – states: 'When a child or a woman is taken captive, they become slaves by the fact of capture, and the woman's previous marriage is immediately annulled' (chapter o9.13). The option of converting to Islam to avoid death or capture – which is being urged upon non-Muslims by IS – is also clearly supported: 'Whoever enters Islam before being captured may not be killed or his property confiscated, or his young children taken captive' (chapter o9.12).
The widespread looting of property is also validated by Islam's rules of war: 'A free male Muslim who has reached puberty and is sane is entitled to the spoils of battle when he has participated in a battle to the end of it' (chapter o10.1). And 'Anyone who … kills one of the enemy or effectively incapacitates him, risking his own life thereby, is entitled to whatever he can take from the enemy, meaning as much as he can take away with him in the battle, such as a mount, clothes, weaponry, money or other' (chapter o10.2).
The grim reality is that the fate of Christians and Yazidis in northern Iraq today all too often matches the stipulations of Islamic textbooks: non-Muslim men are killed, their women and children enslaved, and their property and possessions looted.
It is regrettable that the hard cold reality of Islamic imperialism and the dhimma system have been denied and obscured by scholars. For example Bernard Lewis claimed that 'The dhimma on the whole worked quite well.'
As part of this obscurantist veil, the true meaning of the words jizya and dhimma have been hidden by scholars.
Anglican priest Colin Chapman, who was the then Archbishop of Canterbury's envoy to Al-Azhar University in Cairo, claimed in his widely-ready book Cross and Crescent that Jews and Christians were 'protected' and implied that the jizya was paid in compensation for them not doing military service or paying the Muslims' alms tax (zakat). In reality the main protection afforded to dhimmis is that they can keep their heads away from the sword of jihad, and it was in return for this privilege that the jizya is exacted. John Esposito similarly claimed that jizya is an 'exchange' in return for keeping one's religion, protection from 'outside aggression', and exemption from military service.
Such dissimulations, also advanced by Muslim apologists, have served to prop up the myth of convivencia and a golden age in which Christians and Muslims lived contentedly side-by-side under Islamic rule.
Architects of multiculturalism and advocates of interfaith dialogue have repeatedly promoted this mythical Islamic construct as a model for different religions to flourish side by side in Europe today. This has gone hand in hand with the claims that European culture owes an unacknowledged debt to Islam, and Islam's historical record has been misrepresented by hateful, bigoted people.
In reality Islamic coexistence with conquered Christian populations was always regulated by the conditions of the dhimma, as defined above, under which non-Muslims have no inherent right to life, but had to purchase this right year after year.
(To be continued next week)