by Dan Wolf
This third article on the Abbasids covers the relationship between jihad and dhimmitude, and the development of Islamic law as related to this topic. This article will examine the following: (1) defining some relevant terms, (2) the relationship between dhimmitude and jihad, (3) governance under dhimmitude, (4) taxation, (5) church complicity, and (6) outcomes.
I am going to assume that the terms in this article are unfamiliar to you. So we are going to start with defining a few of them.
Ata – A gift, in this case of land given to someone who participated in jihad.
The previous articles have discussed the rapid expansion of Islam after Muhammad’s death. ‘After the Abbasid revolt, the caliphs … contented themselves with sending their troops to pillage, sack, and carry off booty from across their frontiers with Anatolia and Armenia. But in the West, Islamic expansion continued by maritime warfare. In the ninth and tenth centuries, Berbers and Arabs from Spain and the Maghreb raided the coasts of France, Italy, Sicily, and the Greek Islands.’ These attacks reached up the Italian peninsula as far as Rome in 846 and Naples just ten years later. Bat Ye’or has written extensively about this period of Islamic history and dhimmitude specifically. Her book The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam provides a good historical overview of this period and aspect of Islam’s history. Her work contains many references to direct source material for those who want to learn more, and is used extensively for this article.
The Islamization of this conquered area took place in two phases. ‘The first phase consists of a military conflict defined by specific rules, the jihad. The second phase represents dhimma, or the government of the conquered peoples. While the jihad stipulated the modalities of dividing the booty (land, property, conquered peoples) between the belligerents, the dhimma assigns a long-term economy function to the dhimmis, which consists of supplying the needs of the Muslim community.’ While the events in this article occurred across all the conquered areas, they unfolded differently across the towns and the rural areas. We will also include some information about the Ottomans who replaced the Abbasid in 1258. As mentioned last time, the Turks in large part were the caliphate’s ruling power by the middle of the tenth century. The biggest difference between dhimmitude within the two empires was that Islamic law was still being developed during the Abbasid dynasty, while it was mostly formed by the time the Ottoman’s ruled.
The three drivers of jihad included Muslim adventurers, ‘avid for booty, they, too, became soldiers of holy war (ghazi, from the work ghazwa: razzia). [Second] Arab judges (qadis), who knew the regulations of jihad, flocked toward the frontiers to instruct and lead them. Thus fanaticized by cohorts of theologians, these bands of ghazis, accompanied by regular armies composed of slaves, raided Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia, where gradually some Turkish emirates emerged.’ This jihad lasted until the seventeenth century, with Islamic forces reaching as far as Vienna in 1683. The wars waged by these ghazis reconciled Islamic faith (as instructed by the Qur’an) with the lust for booty, that was often satisfied by the capture of non-Muslims destined for either slavery or ransom.
Before we close this section, we should note that the taking of the spoils of war, captives as slaves, etc. was not an uncommon practice during this period. You will find many European nations, including the Byzantines, practicing the same things. What is unusual is the degree to which they were carried out and the period of time over which they extended, along with their link to a religious ideology stemming from Islam itself. To say that what is occurring in the Middle East today is a new form of extremism is simply wrong, and ignoring historical facts – and while one is free to choose their own opinions, the facts speak for themselves. This period has been documented by both Muslim and non-Muslim sources. The information is there for those who wish to know the truth. I’ll close this section with the following from Ye’or’s book:
‘The general picture of destruction, ruin, massacre, and deportation of urban and rural populations was common to all the conquered territories in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Well documented by contemporary Syriac, Greek, and Arabic chronicles, the few examples provided illustrate a general situation as it recurred regularly during the seasonal razzias, over the years, and for centuries. The chronicles, in great part translated and published, are well known to specialized historians and indicate clearly, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the rules of jihad concerning booty, the fifth part, the fay, levies on harvests, and the fate of populations (conversion, massacre, slavery, or tribute) were not just vague principles laid down by a theoretical treatise on warfare, construed by some obscure theologian. The Arabs, stirred by their profound belief and the conviction of belonging to an elite nation, superior to all others (Koran 3:106), put them into practice, feeling that they were thereby fulfilling a religious duty and executing the will of Allah.
‘It must be stressed, however, that massacre or slavery of the vanquished peoples, burning, pillage, destruction, and the claiming of tribute were the common practices during the period under consideration of every army whether Greek, Latin, or Slav. Only the excess, the regular repetition and the systemization of the destruction, codified by theology, distinguishes the jihad from other wars of conquest or depredation.’
Razzias were conducted on a seasonal basis. In rural areas these often eliminated the forthcoming harvest, the food supply of the local population, but the raiders also took livestock, people as slaves, and whatever other property was of value. All territory and slaves taken from non-Muslims became either fay (property belonging to the umma and administered by the state), or booty given to individuals who participated in the raid. This division of property between the state and the raiders was performed by the qadi, an Islamic judge. These judges normally accompanied the jihadi soldiers into new territory as it was conquered. ‘The nomadic tribes demanded that it [booty] be shared out immediately and the conquered peoples enslaved, as at the time of the Prophet. However, the redistribution of power within the Qurayshite clan where the caravan merchant bourgeoisie of Mecca was prominent replaced these practices by the concept of an Islamic state monopoly on the bulk of the war booty, which was then conceded in the form of domains (iqta) or allowances (ata) to the Arab tribes.’ These lands could be granted for either a specific period of time or in perpetuity. One condition of receiving such a grant required the receiver to both equip an army and for it to participate in the fighting.
The basis for fay and dhimmis are both derived from Islam’s sources. The basis for fay came from Muhammad’s decision to keep the Banu Nadir’s property in Medina when they were exiled, with the intent it be administered for the benefit of the umma. Dhimmi status came from the treatment of the Jews at Khaybar after they were defeated and their lands taken. They were made slaves and allowed to stay and farm the land, but had to give half of their crop to Muhammad. This dhimmi status was to be retained only so long as the Muslims allowed – it could be revoked at any time for any reason.
Some have compared this form of servitude to the feudal system in Europe that had already developed by this time, but these are not the same. The power of the European princes was normally limited, and usually extended only over rural areas. To retain power these local rulers needed some degree of cooperation from those they ruled. Normally a social contract outlining the responsibilities of the ruler and the subjects was created. Subjects typically provided labor for the ruler for a specific period of time over the year, and in return a ruler provided protection to their subjects. A violation by either party would nullify the agreement, and if a ruler became too oppressive some subjects would leave that kingdom. They could also move into cities or towns as feudalism did not normally extend over those areas – no one typically owned the buildings and the land upon which they set at times was owned by a religious organization (church, abbey, convent, etc.). Often people who left feudal lands and remained within a town for a year and a day came to be recognized as free. This is not the case with dhimmitude where people were tied to a specific location, they were not free to leave, nor did they have the latitude to produce goods for themselves.
The effect of the razzias was to depopulate the rural areas as people either died, were enslaved, or fled into the towns, or left the area altogether. The struggles between the state and the tribes over the distribution of booty set up continued conflict and destruction across the land where war was being waged. This left much of the land uncultivated as the remaining native people again attempted to leave, and the invaders, being primarily soldiers, merchants and shepherds, would let the land lie fallow. As agriculture was the caliphate’s primary income source, these events disrupted its revenue stream. In response, the caliphate used censuses to forcibly repopulate the land with inhabitants who had previously cultivated it. This was complimented by the wholesale transfer and deportation of dhimmi populations from one area to another. These transfers fragmented the dhimmi populations further into groups that were often hostile toward each other, and contributed to yet further disintegration. However, the cycle of raids continued, each cycle resulting in more death and enslavement of smaller populations. Each time people once again tried to flee to non-Muslim countries, into the relatively remote mountainous regions, or to hide within the slave populations within the towns.
Several actions were undertaken by the caliphate in response. One was to create passports containing the individual’s name, their parents’ names, and their location. Individuals were not allowed to leave the area unless they had paid both their own taxes and their parents – even if the parents were deceased. Second, obligations were created requiring the wearing of distinctive clothing and markings to identify non-Muslims. Any violations were treated harshly.
Towns and Cities
The experiences of the towns was in some ways quite different. These normally had walls that served to protect the residents. Some, deprived of food were conquered and the entire population was put to the sword and/or enslaved. Others were able to negotiate a treaty with the invaders. At times the towns would put up little to no resistance. Towns at this time were normally required to pay tribute to far off rulers. From the town’s perspective, it did not matter whether they paid tribute to a far-off ruler in Constantinople or one in Baghdad or Damascus. The local populations did not understand that the purpose driving the Arab razzias had changed. Islam at this time was just thought to be another religious heresy. The inhabitants did not understand the change that had taken place through the Arab conversion from paganism to Islam. There were few written copies of the Qur’an, and few who could read Arabic. The native populations did not understand Islam’s tenets, so they did not understand how those differed from their Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian religions – instead they assumed Islam’s beliefs were a variation of to their own.
The agreements reached by the towns with the invaders largely left their civic and religious structures in place. This was important as initially the invaders were in the minority in the lands they had conquered. It is doubtful the jihad could have conquered such a large area so rapidly if the native populations had rose up in rebellion against the new rule. ‘All territory taken from infidels became the property (fay) of the state. It formed dar al-Islam, lands administered by Islamic law for the benefit of Muslims and their descendants. This principle, established by the Arab conquest, instituted a political and legal dogma rooted in theology.’ Typically one-half of all churches and houses in a conquered area would become the property of Muslims, and the acquired churches would be converted into mosques.
The two pillars of early Islamic society were the army – formed of both Arab tribes and slaves taken in war – and the conquered peoples; tributaries, slaves, free men, and converts, a workforce used to feed the caliphate’s economic engine. A third pillar, judicial power, was being developed, and it is to the governance formed under that power that we turn to next. It should be noted that before this last pillar’s development, force alone was used to resolve disputes and retain order.
As mentioned above, the conquerors were initially the minority population within lands they had acquired. When the Abbasids came to power, Muslims were still ‘the minority among the Monophysite Christian population (Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia), or Nestorians (Iraq). Zoroastrians populated the towns and villages of Iran and a numerous Jewish population still survived, principally in Palestine, Syria and Iraq, but also in Persia, Egypt, North Africa and Spain.’ Therefore, they typically left the existing civil and religious structures in place and installed a military governor who ruled on the caliph’s behalf. The national languages were left intact, as the Muslims had to rely on the native population for a society’s day to day functioning. As mentioned above, most of the Arabic population were either merchants or shepherds, what governance experience they had was based upon the tribes and clans. The societies they had conquered were both more complex and sophisticated.
The caliphs reasoned that this situation could not last. They needed to consolidate power in order to retain the lands they had conquered. They undertook a two-pronged approach to achieve that end. One was to increase the Muslim population within the newly acquired lands. ‘Caliphs, sultans, emirs, or provincial governors—whether Arab or Turkish—encouraged the emigration and settlement of their tribes on the conquered lands in order to consolidate their power against their rivals. The nomads, whose numbers increased incessantly, could only maintain their essential needs by pillaging villages and towns, confiscating goods, extorting money under torture, and ransoming and abducting the youth who were a marketable commodity and a source of wealth as slaves.’
The second has already been discussed, that the native people taken as slaves within a conquered area were normally sent to other locations. The focuses here were to: (1) develop rules for the division and administration of the conquered areas, and (2) to both keep the dhimmis on the land and protect them – in order to protect the revenue stream the caliph needed to maintain the army. In short, the population left to work the land simply became economic producers.
The rights of non-Muslims were extremely limited. ‘Islamic law forbade non-Muslims the ownership of landed property and transferred it to the Muslim public treasury administered by the caliph. Military districts were given as fiefs by the caliph to members of his family and to tribes or military chiefs for a limited period of time or in perpetuity-in exchange for the equipping of a military unit and its participation in expeditions. This military administrative hierarchy survived in the Ottoman Empire till the nineteenth century.’ In addition, other legal restrictions developed and included:
Houses had to be inferior and smaller than those of Muslims.
Arab honorific titles were forbidden to non-Muslims.
Marriage and sexual relationships between dhimmis and Muslim women were punishable by death.
Dhimmis could not ride upon a noble animal, such as a horse or camel.
Dhimmis were normally struck by the tax collector as they paid their taxes as a sign of the dhimmis inferior position.
Many more examples could be cited, but the above suffice to demonstrate the second class status of the dhimmi under Islamic rule. Many of these provisions remained in effect until the eighteenth century, and in some areas they were retained until the middle of the twentieth century.
Just as with other aspects of society, Islam absorbed what was around it and made the foreign structure, concept, or idea its own. This is also true of taxation. ‘The components of Byzantine and Persian taxation absorbed into Islamic institutions were specified by the concepts of jizya (poll tax on non-Muslims), kharaj (tax in kind or in money on their land), fay (state property), which were integrated into a theological conception of a war of conquest: jihad.’
Under the Umayyad, five types of taxes were levied. These included a land tax (kharaj), provisions in kind (related to harvests), a poll tax (jizya), a tax covering the expenses and maintenance of the tax collectors, and a general tax levied to provide for the upkeep and clothing of Muslims. As noted earlier, the treatment of dhimmis through continued razzias and the devastation that resulted, even after the initial conquest, forced many to flee to comparative safety elsewhere. The administration resorted to brutal measures to prevent dhimmis from leaving, and taxes were often extorted using torture and death – particularly crucifixion. When taxes could not be paid, children were often taken as payment. While Islamic works justifying fair treatment of dhimmis in the collection of taxes exist, such as those of Abu Yusuf Ya’qub (731-798), chronicles written by witnesses to the tax collection processes in place indicate that these practices were seldom, if ever, carried out.
Land was divided into two types. The first were Arab lands. These were tithe lands where tribute was paid by the Muslim tribes to the caliph. The second were the lands taken from non-Muslims. These were referred to as the kharaj lands. These were owned by the state to be administered for the benefit of Muslims. The conversion of conquered peoples to Islam and the resettlement of these areas by Arab emigrants resulted in the gradual transfer of these lands from those subject to the kharaj to those paying tithes.
Conflict arose between the caliph and those who participated in jihad as their interests were contradictory. The jihadi participants demanded payment in terms of land, slaves, and possessions as had occurred under Muhammad. This wealth was largely necessary as the Arab people had been principally merchants and shepherds, they generally did not know how to farm and were unable to create incomes sufficient to meet their own needs in the new lands. On the other hand, the caliph’s taking of fay increased his wealth and power, and provided the resources that were needed to support the Muslims who had been relocated to the conquered lands. It is a classic example of the struggle between individuals trying to find a way to meet their own needs and an elite group claiming to have a higher authority who should be the one that provides those needs – although the means used in this case are in no way comparable to those that unfolded in Europe or North America. More information on the struggle between individuals and elitists, or individualism and collectivism, can be found in Do You Want to be Free?.
The jizya was a wealth tax that initially had three rates, depending on the assessed wealth of the tax payer. The rates and number of tiers increased after their initial imposition. While dhimmis were subject to the jizya, Muslims were subject only to paying the zakat – the alms required by Islam. Extortion was used to collect the jizya, and tax collectors demanded gifts in addition to the taxes. In theory those who could not pay – such as women, paupers, the sick and feeble – were exempt from this tax. However, chronicles from this period indicate that the jizya was extracted from widows, orphans, and even the dead. When traveling, it was typical for a dhimmi to display a proof that they had paid the jizya, either around the neck, wrist, or chest. To travel without this proof was to risk death.
The caliphate’s need for funding increased as the size of the empire increased and war continued. ‘Economic problems, fragmentation of the empire, and the wars against Byzantium caused a tougher systemization of religious persecution which was integrated into Muslim government institutions.’ The oppression was so great that rebellions sometimes resulted. Of special note were the rebellions by the Copts in Egypt in 725, 739, and again in 832. Ninth century writers indicate that the situation was similar in Islamic Spain.
In addition to taxes, ransoms were also often extracted from either wealthy non-Muslims (notables) or communities as a whole. This taking of ransom was a part of Arab culture that predated Muhammad, and was extracted not only by the state but by the tribes and clans within an area as well. Its existence was the product of life in a difficult environment where there were often not enough resources to meet a tribe’s needs, so in order to survive they took what they needed. This relates to the concept called muruwa that was described in an earlier article. We are shaped by our culture and often changes to such basic beliefs require a very long time to establish themselves. If the ransoms (avanias or awarid) were not paid, an entire community could be subject to the sword, torture, or the women and children could be taken as slaves in payment. Again, these events occurred over an extremely long period of time. The Abbasid began their rule in the mid-eighth century, but these practices were still written about in areas such as Morocco until the eighteenth century, and in parts of Syria, Palestine, and Iraq until the nineteenth century. That is a period of over a thousand years. But as stated earlier in this article, all of this was unlikely to happen without the complicity of the church, and it is to that topic that we turn next.
The initial approach of leaving the civic and religious powers in place ensured their complicity in the subjection of the dhimmi peoples they led. The civic and religious leaders retained local power over the people and wealth the city or town possessed, and their continued leadership being subject to the will of the caliph ensured their allegiance in ways that could not be obtained by using Arab tribal leaders. ‘In the first centuries of the Arab conquest, mainly Christian and Zoroastrian notables, but also Jewish—as well as innumerable mawalis and Christian and Jewish slaves originating from the spoils of war—held important positions, not only close to the caliphs but also in the administration and the army. …
‘Scribes, secretaries, treasurers, accountants, architects, craftsmen, peasants, doctors, scholars, diplomats, translators, and politicians, the Christians formed the base, the texture, the elite, and the sinews of the Muslim empire. It is probable that without their collaboration the creation and expansion of this empire would not have been possible. The conquered Christian masses placed all the resources—all the proficiency, the accumulation of technical skills, and sciences built up by earlier civilizations—at the service of nomad chiefs or semi nomad Arabs and, later, of Turks.’ There arose a powerful class of dhimmi merchants, bankers, and traders, and their presence in the caliph’s courts belied the destruction that was occurring in the rural areas where jihad continued to be waged at the same time. Although the composition of this group changed over time, the group itself lasted for centuries – until well into the nineteenth century under the Ottomans. Resistance in the form of peasant revolts were generally local in nature, and lacking leadership, they were usually doomed to failure before they began.
So why did this collaboration happen? There are at least four reasons. First, in the short-term it allowed the church to retain its rights, and exercise the fiscal, legal, and spiritual control of its communities – while at the same time providing great wealth for a privileged minority of its members. The church became the arm of the caliph and was initially often responsible for collecting the tribute. Second, there were many small kingdoms, particularly in Eastern Europe, where powers often went from being antagonists of Islam to collaborators in order to put to rest old scores with surrounding kingdoms – to exact revenge for previous perceived wrongs. The disaffected also migrated toward Islam to settle old scores. ‘One may discern a self-perpetuating Christian Islamophile current running consistently through history, even swelling the ranks of the Islamic armies, which strengthened and guided them toward the conquest of their former homelands. Princes, adventurers, and frustrated ambitious men flowed in a continuous wave toward the sultans, whom they advised and to whom they gave precise information on the state of the Christian provinces.’ Third, the Byzantine Church was often very repressive itself with those who varied from its religious doctrines. These disaffected groups welcomed Islam as liberators. In the words of pseudo Dionysius, a Syriac cleric who chronicled events in the ninth century, ‘The God of vengeance … seeing the evilness of the Romans [Byzantines] who, wherever they ruled, cruelly pillaged our churches and monasteries and mercilessly condemned us, led the sons of Ishmael from the region of the south in order to deliver us from Roman hands.’ Fourth, the Eastern Orthodox hierarchy found collaborating with Islam useful in deterring the advance of Catholic proselytizing within the areas of its influence.
What is interesting here is that the above all represent a form of corruption between the church and state within many of the local kingdoms where Christianity was present. This corruption was also present in kingdoms in various parts of Europe at this time as well, and would be one of the conditions that Pope Gregory VII would work to reform beginning in the eleventh century. It was also during this same time that freedom, the way we understand it today, began to develop within the Northern Italian states of Venice, Milan, Genoa, and Florence. While the events in Europe ended with the signing of the Magna Charta by King John early in the thirteenth century, the events within the area controlled by the caliphate ended with the rise of the Ottomans in the middle of the same century. The merging of the spheres of the state and church throughout history has always led to the corruption of both.
Make no mistake, there was a definite division of power that accompanied the Islamic conquest. While economic and administrative power initially remained with the local civic and religious structures, all executive, political, and military power became exclusively Islamic. Again, this probably did not seem to be that great of a change for kingdoms that had been under Roman/Byzantine rule for centuries, but it also shows that these groups did not understand the nature of the change that occurred with the rise of Islam among the Arabic people. ‘The collection of different forms of tribute was delegated to the religious leaders of the vanquished peoples. They divided the total amount due among their communities and paid the Islamic treasury the fixed sum, having deducted their part. The disappearance of the Byzantine state thus transferred to the patriarchates the temporal, judicial, and fiscal duties which the Christian state no longer assumed.’ This corruption not only led to greater tribute being extracted from the dhimmi population by their own leaders, but also gave rise to a number of converts to Islam as well.
To summarize, a wave of Christian defectors from both the church and civic leaders, attracted by power and wealth, ‘set in motion the decline and destruction of that Christendom which they deserted.’ The caliphs were able to win the hearts ‘at Serbian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, and Greek courts from among the Slav and Greek clergy by financing a Turcophile party which nourished pessimism, preached the inevitability of the triumph of Islam, and spoke highly of the economic advantages that Muslim markets offered.’ Finally, they used the element of fear in furthering Islam within the conquered lands. In looking at current events, one should ask, how different is the situation today?
The number of dhimmis, and their place in Islamic society, deteriorated during the Abbasid and Ottoman Empires. This population’s decline was due to a number of factors:
A final observation, ‘Over the centuries, paying for their security and survival became the characteristic of the dhimmi communities and the prime condition of their tolerated existence in their own countries.’ The dhimmi were valued only for what they could produce to support the Islamic community. Once they no longer had anything left to contribute, they no longer held any value. As recently as ten or twenty years ago, some middle eastern and North African countries had non-Muslim populations that approached ten percent. In general, that is no longer the case. Some have fled, some have converted, and others have died.
We will finish out this series by looking at the Ottoman Empire.
 Pickthall, M. M., The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an, p. 166, Amana Publications, 1999. One commonly cited verse is S9.29 which states, ‘Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah has forbidden by His Messenger, and follow not the religion of truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.’ This verse is also cited as authority for the jizya – the poll tax.
 Ye’or, Bat, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, p.43, Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002.
 See the reference above for the book noted. Additional relevant works by this author include:
− The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam, Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1985.
− Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002.
 Ibid, p.100.
 Ibid, p.53.
 Ibid, pp. 51-52.
 Ibid, p. 61.
 Ibid, p.70.
 Ibid, p. 63.
 Ibid, p. 119.
 Ibid, p. 70.
 Ibid, p. 80.
 Ibid, p. 81.
 Ibid, p. 83.
 Ibid, p. 88.
 Ibid, p. 89.
 Ibid, p. 91.
 Ibid, pp. 92-93.
 Ibid, p. 61.
 Ibid, p. 72.
 Ibid, p.74.
 Wolf, Dan, Do You Want to be Free?, Telemachus Press, 2013.
 Ye’or, Bat, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, p.78, Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002.
 Ibid, p. 79.
 Ibid, p. 64.
 Ibid, p. 130.
 Chronique de Denys de Tell-Mahre [pseudo-Dionysius], translated from Syriac by Jean-Baptiste Chabot (Paris, 1895), pt. 4, 104-5, as cited in Bat, Ye’or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: from Jihad to Dhimmitude, p. 57, Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002.
 Wolf, Dan, Charity and Society, forthcoming, 2016.
 Ye’or, Bat, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, p.123, Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002.
 Ibid, p. 66.
 Ibid, p. 67.
 Ibid, pp. 79-80.