Dr. Susmit Kumar

On the eve of the Arab-Muslim conquest, the clash of two great empires—Sassanian Persia and Byzantium—had spread war throughout Asia Minor, where Christianity was emerging from paganism by fire and sword. Under ecclesiastical pressure, a considerable amount of discrimination affecting Jews was introduced into Byzantine law.  Jews were killed periodically, and synagogues expropriated or burned down.[1]

In Visigoth Spain, after King Reccared converted from Arianism to Catholicism in 587, the state gave force of law to the anti-Jewish canons of the Councils of Toledo from 613 to 694.  In 613 and again in 633 and 638, Jews were subject to expulsion or baptism.  The 12th Council of Toledo (680) adopted King Erwige’s edicts that Jews renounce Judaism within a year, that forced baptism be administered on pain of confiscation of property, and that those resisting be punished by head-shaving, accompanied by 100 strokes of the rod and exile.[2] This anti-Jewish policy, which was opposed by some members of the clergy and the nobility, pushed King Egica (687-702) to impose his authority by hardening his stance. The 16th Council of Toledo (693) ordered that the property of Jews be confiscated and their taxes increased.  A proclamation by the 17th Council (694) ordered all Jews to be made slaves and dispersed over the kingdom; their families were to be broken up, and their children from the age of seven taken from them and brought up in the Christian faith.[3]

Pope Gregory IX added the following decrees in 1227: Muslims and Jews must wear distinctive clothing; they must not appear on the streets during Christian festivals or hold public office in Christian countries; and the muezzin was forbidden to offend Christian ears by summoning the Muslims to prayer in the traditional way.[4]

Muhammad thus lived in an era of violent inter-religious clashes and forcible conversions. We therefore see similar provisions in the Quran for how Muslims should treat non-Muslims, and many of these are in effect today. The 12 terms of treaty (described previously in this chapter) between Muhammad and the governor of Tabuk are still considered by Muslims to be the basis of dealing with non-Muslims, for example. Until early last century, Jews in Yemen were forced to wear clothes and shoes of a particular color. In Afghanistan, fundamentalist Talibans forced Hindus to put a 2-meter yellow cloth on their houses. In the Ottoman Empire, Christians and Jews paid personal taxes (jizya) while Muslims did not on a regular basis.[5] In the Mughal Empire, fundamentalist Muslim rulers like Aurangzeb forced only Hindus to pay personal taxes.

The Quran discusses rules and laws in the House of Islam (Dar al-Islam), but is silent on how Muslims should live where non-Muslim infidels rule or how they should live in the House of War (Dar al-Harb). The presumption is that it is the duty of Muslims to continue fighting infidels in the House of War, interrupted only by truces, until all the world either adopts the Muslim faith or submits to Muslim rule.

In Islamic law, conversion from Islam is apostasy—a capital offense for both the one who is misled and the one who misleads him. On this question, the law is clear and unequivocal.  If a Muslim renounces Islam, even if a new convert reverts to his previous faith, the penalty is death.  In modern times, the concept and practice of takfir, recognizing and denouncing apostasy, has been greatly widened.  It is not unusual in extremist and fundamentalist circles to decree that some policy, action, or even utterance by a professing Muslim is tantamount to apostasy, and to pronounce a death sentence on the offender.  This was the principle invoked in the fatwas (religious decrees) against Salman Rushdie, in the murder of President Sadat, and against many others.[6]

1 Marcel Simon, Versus Israel: A Study of the Relations between Christians and Jews in the Roman Empire (AD 135-425), trans. From French by H. McKeating (Oxford, 1986), p. 226; referenced in Ye’or, Bat, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, translated from French by Miriam Kochan and David Littman, Associated University Press, 2002, p. 34.

2 Juster, Jean, “La Condition Legale des Juifs sous les sous Rois Visigoths,” in Etudes d’Histoire Juridique Offertes by Paul F. Girarad, Paris, 1912-1913, pp. 289-295, referenced in Ye’or, Bat, op. cit., p. 34.

3 Ye’or, Bat, op. cit., p. 34.

4 Armstrong, Karen, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, Harper San Francisco, New York, 1992, p. 28.

5 Hourani, Albert, A History of the Arab Peoples, MJF Books, New York, 1991, p. 217.

6 Lewis Lewis, Bernard, The Crisis of Islam, The Modern Library, New York, 2003, pp. 55-56.

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