The concept of inalienable rights is a starting point for understanding one more key difference between Christian and Islamic fundamentalism. Note what John Ashcroft said in his celebrated and maligned speech at Bob Jones University: "We knew that we were endowed not by the king, but by the Creator, with certain inalienable rights. If America is to be great in the future, it will be if we understand that our source is not civic and temporal, but our source is godly and eternal: endowed by the Creator with rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Such talk of "inalienable rights" may sound like boilerplate rhetoric, but it is crucial in differentiating Christian and Islamic "fundamentalism." As the pioneering historian Bat Ye'Or has pointed out in The Dhimmi and her other remarkable books over the past two decades, Islam has no belief in "inalienable rights." Instead, Islam establishes rights for Muslims but gives Jews and Christians living in Muslim-ruled lands a special status as dhimmis (Arabic for "protected people").
The word dhimmi became historically significant in a.d. 628 when Muhammad's forces defeated a Jewish tribe that lived at the oasis of Khaybar and made with them a treaty known as the dhimma. The treaty allowed Jews to continue cultivating their oasis, as long as they gave Muhammad half of their produce. Crucially, Muhammad reserved the right to break the deal and expel the Jews whenever he wished. That agreement has served as a model for Muslims over the centuries.
Dhimmis typically had to pay discriminatory taxes acknowledging publicly their status as second-class citizens. They were on the hook for additional sums payable on Islamic demand. They had to supply forced labor on demand. They were ineligible for any public office and without the right even to testify in legal battles. They were not allowed to construct new places of worship, but sometimes received permission to worship in buildings that predate Muslim conquest. (The buildings had to be dilapidated, with no crosses or bell-ringing allowed, and Muslims able to ransack them at will.)
Dhimmis were not allowed to possess weapons, marry Muslim women, meet with others on the streets, or ride horses or camels (the two "noble animals"). Dhimmis had to wear special clothes, walk with eyes lowered, and accept being pushed aside by Muslims. Dhimmis had to have low doors on their houses; they could have no lights on the doors. Some particular aspects varied from age to age and region to region. In the 9th century, Jews in some Muslim areas had to wear on their shoulders a patch of white cloth that bore the image of an ape; Christians, since they ate pork, wore a pig image. In 11th-century Seville Jews could not be met with the greeting, "Peace be unto you," because they were not supposed to have any peace.
The Muslim goal in collecting taxes from dhimmis was to maximize not only revenue but abuse. North African 19th-century theologian al-Maghali advised that dhimmis be assembled on tax day "in the lowest and dirtiest place," with threatening officials placed above the dhimmis "so that it seems to them, as well as to the others, that our object is to degrade them." With the stage set, al-Maghali advised, officials could play out a little drama of dragging dhimmis "one by one [to the official responsible] for the exacting of payment." They would knock him around, then thrust him aside, and make sure he realized that his position would never improve. As al-Maghali put it, "This is the way that the friends of the Lord, of the first and last generations will act toward their infidel enemies, for might belongs to Allah, to His Prophet, and to the Believers."
Other edicts affected not just finances but self-respect. A Cairo rule in 1761 was that "no Jew or Christian may appear on horseback. They ride only asses, and must alight upon meeting even [a minor Egyptian official].... If the infidel fails to give instant obedience, he is beaten." In Persia in 1890, Jewish women had to "expose their faces in public [like prostitutes].... The men must not wear fine clothes, the only material permitted them being a blue cotton fabric. They are forbidden to wear matching shoes. Every Jew is obliged to wear a piece of red cloth on his chest. A Jew must never overtake a Muslim on a public street.... If a Muslim insults a Jew, the latter must drop his head and remain silent.... The Jew cannot put on his coat; he must be satisfied to carry it rolled under his arm.... It is forbidden for Jews to leave the town or enjoy the fresh air of the countryside.... Jews must not consume good fruit."
Muslims showed great patience in psychologically weakening their opponents. For example, authorities would allow bells inside churches but not outside, anticipating that the bells inside would "eventually fall into disuse. For the bells are normally attached to the church steeple so that when rung they may be heard from afar. If they are obliged to ring them within the church, then no one will hear them or pay heed to them and they will be abolished altogether since they will serve no purpose." The result of beating and belittlement was obvious to observers in Turkey two centuries ago, who noted that dhimmis have "the most submissive cringing tone," and in Morocco during the 1870s, who said Jews had terrorized expressions.
Should that be surprising? Didn't Jews have terrorized expressions in Christian-ruled territories? Bat Ye'or argues that "dhimmitude is in no way comparable with the position of Jews in Christendom." Jews in Europe were an oppressed minority; Christians and Jews in many Muslim countries were oppressed majorities. Persecution of a majority is no different ethically than persecution of a minority, but it requires establishment of a police state rather than just use of the police. "The realm of dhimmitude," Bat Ye'Or writes, "is actually situated in a political ideology of permanent war which ruined entire regions, justified massacres, slavery, usurpation of land, and deportations."
Jacques Ellul, in an introduction to Bat Ye'Or's The Dhimmi, also differentiates the situation of the dhimmi from that of the European serf in the Middle Ages. Serfdom, he notes, "was the result of certain historical changes such as the transformation of slavery ... when these historical conditions altered, the situation of the serf also evolved until his status finally disappeared." Dhimmi status, though, "was not the product of the historical accident but ... the expression of an absolute, unchanging, theologically grounded Muslim conception of the relationship between Islam and non-Islam. It is not a historical accident of retrospective interest, but a necessary condition of existence."
What are the necessary conditions of existence, within an Islamic worldview? Muslims, like Christians, divide people into believers and nonbelievers, but the Islamic conception of future relations between the two is very different. Christians believe that final Christian victory will come not primarily through the efforts of Christians but only when Christ returns. For Muslims, though, the world is divided into the dar al-Harb, land controlled by non-Muslims that forms the "territory of war," and the dar al-Islam, the land where Islamic law prevails. This is a permanent state of war, although there may be truces, because it is man's might that will make Islam supreme throughout the world.
In Islam, therefore, a peace is not a peace, and a truce should not last longer than 10 years. A time of peace longer than a decade is occasion not for relaxation but for feeling inadequate and fidgety. Infidels should never be allowed to rest on their laurels, famed 14th-century Muslim jurist Ibn Taymiyya asserted; any land they possess is held illegitimately. This means that jihad is not aggression but retrieving what is Islam's legitimate possession. The dar al-Harb has no right to exist.
Muslims have long understood the difference between the Islamic and Christian agendas, and the way that Muslim centralism can contribute to a mission of permanent war. Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) wrote, "In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and the obligation to convert everyone to Islam either by persuasion or by force. Therefore, caliphate and royal authority are united [in Islam], so that the person in charge can devote the available strength to both of them [religion and politics] at the same time. The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty to them, save only for purposes of defense."
If Bat Ye'Or and Jacques Ellul are right, we should speak about the Muslim assignment of dhimmi status not in past tense but in present and future tenses as well. As Ellul writes, because of "Islam's fixed ideological mode ... One must know as exactly as possible what the Muslims did with these unconverted conquered peoples, because that is what they will do in the future (and are doing right now)." Based on the experience of Christians in Sudan and Indonesia, Ellul's pessimistic realism is well warranted. Dhimmitude is not merely something to be studied by historians; it still goes on wherever Islam gains an edge.
The Wall Street Journal, for example, reported on April 9 that Saudi Arabia almost never allows deceased non-Muslims even to be buried in that country. The corpses of those who provided goods and services to the Saudi masters-Christians from the Philippines, Hindus from India, Buddhists from Thailand, and so forth-must be shipped back to their home countries at a cost of about $3,000 apiece, which is about the annual wage of many of the workers. When employers balk, corpses may be held in Saudi Arabia for months. A Kanoo Cargo manager said, "Saudi does not have much to send abroad apart from oil ... we do a lot of this human remains business."
When a foreigner or anyone else dies in an accident, a Saudi religious court decides if someone is responsible for the death, and if so exacts "blood money" compensation. Look at the religious and sexual bigotry inherent in these figures: 100,000 Riyals (about $27,000 for a Muslim male), half that for a Christian male, 1/15 of that (about $1,800) for a Hindu or Buddhist male, and 1/30 of that (about $900) for a Hindu or Buddhist woman. American fundamentalists even in the days of slavery found burial places for all, and American courts even during days of religious prejudice did not establish such differentials on the basis of belief.
Are Christian and Islamic fundamentalism the same? It's hard to find a fundamentalist in America who says slavery was righteous because slaves were kept alive. Muslims defend dhimmitude, however, by saying that Muslims could have expelled or killed Christians and Jews, but deserve credit for letting them live. (Of course, genocide against the inhabitants of conquered nations would have left Arabs with depopulated areas and not much likelihood of repopulating them.) Some also have praised Islam for giving opportunities to the children of dhimmis. (Muslims often removed children from their Christian or Jewish parents and brought them up in Islam. That went along with the belief that all children are born Muslims and corrupted by parents.)
Other defenders of Islam have asserted that dhimmi status was better than anything offered Jews under Christianity. That is generally not true: For example, under Byzantine authority Jews could not purchase any property that the church had; under Islam, they could purchase no property, period. Under the Byzantines, Jews could act as witnesses; not so under Islam. But in any event, those who accepted dhimmi status, Bat Ye'Or notes, were left with "no genuine rights," because "the person who concedes the charter can equally well rescind it.... Under dhimmitude, a person has no claim to any rights, just permission that can be rescinded. This is not because of temporary decision but is a rooted concept."
In short, Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism are worlds apart. Christian fundamentalists may be nice people and they can also live at peace with their neighbors, since all people have inalienable rights. Muslim fundamentalists may be nice people, but to remain faithful to Quranic teaching they can only have a temporary cease-fire with dhimmis. This is a huge difference that many journalists have irresponsibly overlooked.