Dhimmi

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The question of how tolerant Islam was, and is, towards other religions requires a definition of terms. If a lack of discrimination is the criterion for tolerance, one answer will emerge. If a lack of persecution, defined as active and violent repression, is the criterion, the question gets a different answer.[11] Discrimination against dhimmis was institutionalized in traditional Islamic societies. Persecution, on the other hand, was rare and atypical.[12] The dhimmi communities had their own chiefs and judges, with their own family, personal and religious laws.[13]

Many of the dhimmi restrictions seem to go back to the early days of the Arab conquest, and to have been instituted as security precautions in order to protect occupying military and administrative personnel.[14] Most of the restrictions were social and symbolic in nature.[15] Various restrictions, such as dress codes, building codes, and limits on openness of worship, were enforced unevenly on the dhimmi populations. A pattern of stricter, then more lax, enforcement developed over time. In times of external threat, or under a more pious ruler, the restrictions would be rigorously enforced for a while - then more lax enforcement would again return.[16] The major financial disabilities of the dhimmi were the jizya poll tax and the fact dhimmis could not inherit from Muslims.[15] The jurists and scholars of Islamic sharia law called for humane treatment of the dhimmis, however the commentators were more severe.[17] Unlike the Jews and Muslims of Spain after its reconquest by Catholic Christians, the dhimmis did not have to choose between apostasy, exile and death.[12]

Islam has become the dominant religion in much of the world primarily through three avenues. First, a gradual process of religious conversion for material and spiritual reasons.[18] Second, interfaith marriages, which require the children to be raised as Muslims. Third, and more recently, differing rates of population growth among the religious communities. There were no large scale massacres or expulsions of dhimmi populations until the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and the resulting emergence of modern secular Turkey, in the 20th century.[18]

The dhimma contract in the modern world

The dhimma contract and sharia law

The dhimma contract is an integral part of traditional Islamic sharia law. From the 9th century AD, the power to interpret and refine law in traditional Islamic societies was in the hands of the scholars (ulema). This separation of powers served to limit the range of actions available to the ruler, who could not easily decree or reinterpret law independently and expect the continued support of the community.[19] Through succeeding centuries and empires, the balance between the ulema and the rulers shifted and reformed, but the balance of power was never decisively changed.[20] At the beginning of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution introduced an era of European world hegemony that included the domination of most of the lands of Islam.[21][22] At the end of the Second World War, the European powers found themselves too weakened to maintain their empires.[23] The wide variety of forms of government, systems of law, attitudes toward modernity and interpretations of sharia are a result of the ensuing drives for independence and modernity in the Muslim world.[24][25]

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