Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Jihad, the Arab Conquests and the Position of Non-Muslim Subjects

Apologists of Islam still insist on perpetuating the myth of an Islam which accorded equality to her non-Muslim subjects, they talk of a time when all the various religious communities lived in perfect harmony in the Islamic lands. The same apologists minimize, or even excuse, the persecution, the discrimination, the forced conversions, the massacres, the destruction of the churches, synagogues, fire temples and other places of worship. This rosy but totally false picture of Islam is also built up by

(1) ignoring the destruction and the massacres during the actual process of the Arab conquests;

(2) by concentrating almost exclusively on the fate of Jews and Christians, and consequently dismissing the fate of idolaters (are they not human?), Zoroastrians, Hindus and Buddhists

(3) by relying on Muslim sources, as though they are bound to be less biased!

(4) by ignoring, or excusing the appalling behaviour of the Prophet towards the Jews;

(5) by ignoring the intolerant, hostile, anti- Jewish, anti-Christian, and above all, anti-pagan sentiments expressed in the Koran which were the source of much intolerant, fanatical and violent behaviour throughout the history of Islam against all non-Muslims.

EARLY ATTITUDES: Muhammad and the Koran

The Koran has been divided into early and late Suras, the Meccan and Medinan Suras respectively. Most of the tolerant sentiments of Muhammad are to be found in the early, Meccan Suras:

cix "Recite: O Unbelievers, I worship not what you worship, and you do not worship what I worship. I shall never worship what you worship. Neither will you worship what I worship. To you your religion, to me my religion l.45 "We well know what the infidels say: but you are not to compel them."

xliii. 88,89 "And [Muhammad] says, "O Lord, these are people who do not believe." Bear with them and wish them 'Peace '. In the end they shall know their folly."

The exceptions are to be found in Sura ii, which is usually considered Medinan i.e. late:

ii.256 "There is no compulsion in religion";

ii.62 "Those who believe [i.e.Muslims] and those who follow the Jewish scriptures, and the Christians and the Sabians, and who believe in God and the Last Day and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve."

Unfortunately, as he gained in confidence and increased his political and military power, Muhammad turned from being a "persuader to being a legislator and warrior, dictating obedience." The Medinan chapters such as Suras ix, v, iv, xxii, xlvii, viii, and ii reveal Muhammad at his most belligerent, dogmatic and intolerant.

Muslim theologians are unanimous in declaring that no religious toleration was extended to the idolaters of Arabia at the time of Muhammad. The only choice given them was death or the acceptance of Islam. This total intolerance never seems to be taken into consideration by the apologists of Islam when they lay claims to Islamic tolerance. Unbelievers in general are shown no mercy in the Koran which is full of lurid descriptions of the punishments awaiting them. xxii.9:"As for the unbelievers for them garments of fire shall be cut and there shall be poured over their heads boiling water whereby whatever is in their bowels and skins shall be dissolved and they will be punished with hooked iron- rods. The Koran also enjoins all Muslims to fight and kill non-believers: xlvii.4: "When you meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads; then when you have made wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives."


Christians are marginally better regarded than the Jews, but the Koran still accuses them of falsifying the scriptures.

v.75:" They surely are infidels who say, "God is the third of three"; for there is but one God; and if they do not refrain from what they say, a severe punishment shall light on those who are unbelievers."

They are also accused of worshipping Jesus as the son of God, and like the Jews, they have been led astray and must be brought back to the true religion, that is, Islam.

According to the Koran, Jews have intense hatred of all true Muslims, and as a punishments for their sins, some of them had, in the past, been changed into apes and swine (Sura v.63), and others will have their hands tied to their necks and be cast into the Fire on Judgment day. The attitude enjoined upon the Muslims towards the Jews can only be described as anti-Semitic, and certainly was not conducive to a better understanding, tolerance or co- existence.

v.51: Believers, do not take Jews or Christians as friends They are but one another's friends. If anyone of you takes them for his friends, then he is surely one of them. God will not guide evil-doers."

v.56_64: O Believers, do not take as your friends the infidels or those who received the Scriptures before you [Jews and Christians] and who scoff and jest at your religion, but fear God if you are believers. Nor those who when you call them to prayer, make it an object of mirth and derision This is only because they are a people who do not understand. Say: "People of the Book: isn't it true that you hate us simply because we believe in God, and in what He has sent down to us, and in what He has revealed to others before; and because most of you are evil doers?" "Why don't their rabbis and doctors of lax forbid them from uttering sinful words and eating unlawful food? Evil indeed are their works. "The hand of God is chained up", claim the Jews. Their own hands shall be chained up -- and they shall be cursed for saying such a thing."

Jews are often accused, in the Koran, of perverting the scriptures, and holding doctrines they never held:

ix.29,30:"Declare war upon those to whom the Scriptures were revealed but believe neither in God nor the Last Day, and who do not forbid that which God and His Apostle have forbidden, and who refuse to acknowledge the true religion [Islam] until they pay the poll-tax without reservation and are totally subjugated. "The Jews claim that Ezra is a son of God, and the Christians say, "the Messiah is a son of God. "Those are their claims which do indeed resemble the sayings of the Infidels of Old. May God do battle with them! How they are deluded!"

And they deserve fully any punishment they get:

ii.61:"Wretchedness and baseness were stamped upon them [That is the Jews] and they drew on themselves the wrath of God. This was because they [the Jews] disbelieved the signs of God and slew the Prophets unjustly, and because they rebelled and transgressed."

iv.160,161: Because of the wickedness of certain Jews, and because they turn many from the way of God, We have forbidden them good and wholesome foods which were formerly allowed them; and because they have taken to usury, though they were forbidden it; and have cheated others of their possessions, We have prepared a grievous punishment for the Infidels amongst them."

Such are some of the sentiments expressed in the Koran, which remains for all Muslims, and not just" fundamentalists", the uncreated word of God Himself. It is valid for all times and places, its ideas are, according to all Muslims, absolutely true and beyond any criticism. I have already described the treatment of the Jews by Muhammad, whose behaviour is certainly not above reproach. The cold-blooded extermination of the Banu Qurayza (between 600 and 900 men), the expulsion of the Nadir and their later massacre (something often overlooked in the history books) are not signs of magnanimity or compassion. His treatment of the Jews of the oasis of Khaybar served "as a model for the treaties granted by the Arab conquerors to the conquered peoples in territories beyond Arabia. "Muhammad attacked the oasis in 628, had one of the leaders tortured to find the hidden treasures of the tribe, and then when the Jews surrendered, agreed to let them continue cultivating their oasis only if they gave him half their produce. Muhammad also reserved the right to cancel the treaty and expel the Jews whenever he liked. This treaty or agreement was called a DHIMMA, and those who accepted it were known as DHIMMIS. All non-Muslims who accepted Muslim supremacy and agreed to pay a tribute, in return for "Muslim protection", will be referred to as dhimmis henceforth. The second caliph Umar later expelled the Jews and the Christians from the Hijaz (containing the holy cities of Mecca and Medina) in 640, referring to the dhimma of Khaybar. He is said to have quoted the Prophet on the right to cancel any pact he wished, and the Prophet's famous saying: "Two religions shall not remain together in the peninsula of the Arabs. "To this day, the establishment of any other religion in Saudi Arabia is forbidden.


The word Jihad comes from the Arabic word jahada, which as Lane in his celebrated Arabic ???English Lexicon points out, means "He strove, laboured, or toiled; exerted himself or his power or efforts or endeavours or ability" Jihad, continues Lane, "properly signifies using or exerting, one's utmost power, efforts, endeavours, or ability, in contending with an object of disapprobation, and this of three kinds, namely, a visible enemy, the devil, and one???s self; all of which are included in the Koran sura xxii.78. ???Jihad came to be used by the Muslims to signify generally he fought, warred, or waged war, against unbelievers and the like ."[1] [Emphasis added]

As Tyan in his article in the EI??? (Djihad, I.538 ff.) makes clear, "in law, according to general doctrine and in historical tradition, the jihad consists of military action with the object of the expansion of Islam and, if need be, of its defence" [emphasis added]. Tyan expressly rules out the thesis of a wholly apologetic character, according to which Islam relies on peaceful expansion, and that jihad is only authorized in cases of self-defence. This thesis ignores entirely the doctrines developed by Muslim theologians, the historical tradition, as well as texts of the Koran and sunna. Another scholar, Rudolph Peters [2], also emphasizes that Classical Muslim Koran interpretation regarded the Sword Verses of the Koran (see below), with uncoditional command to fight the unbelievers, as having abrogated all previous verses concerning relations with non-Muslims.

Koran VIII.60

Here are some hadith from Bukhari, Muslim and other traditionists:

Bukhari [3] LI.1: "Verily Allah has purchased of the believers their lives and their properties; for theirs (in return) is Paradise.They fight in His cause, so they kill (others) and are killed???"[using forms of the verb " qatala" = to kill]

Bukhari:[4] LI.2 "Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah???s Messenger saying, "The example of a Mujahid in Allah???s cause ??? and Allah knows better who really strives in His cause ??? is like a person who fasts and prays continuously. Allah guarantees that He will admit the Mujahid in His Cause into Paradise if he is killed, otherwise He will return him to his home safely with rewards and war booty."

Bukhari: [5] LI. 6 Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Prophet said, ???Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah ???would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the martyr who, on seeing the superiority of martyrdom,would like to come back to the world and get killed again."

Bukhari: [6] LI.22.Narrated Al-Mughira bin Shu???ba:: Our Prophet told us about the message of our Lord that "??? whoever amongst us is killed will go to Paradise"

???Umar asked the Prophet, ???Is it not true that our men who are killed will go to Paradise and theirs will go to the fire???? The Prophet said ???Yes ???.

Narrated ???Abdullah bin Abi Aufa, Allah???s Messenger said, "Know that Paradise is under the shades of swords." [meaning ??? under the protection of swords."]

Bukhari: [7] Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah???s Messenger said, "Allah welcomes two men with a smile; one whom kills the other and both of them enter Paradise. One fights in Allah???s cause and gets killed. Later on Allah forgives the killer who also gets martyred (in Allah???s cause)."

Bukhari [8]: Narrated as-Sa???b bin Jaththama: The Prophet passed by me at a place called al-Abwa or Waddan, and was asked whether it was permissible to attack the pagan warriors at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, "They are from them." [i.e. the women and children are also pagans, hence it is permissible to kill them. However there are other hadith which do forbid the killing of women and children.]

Even a cursory glance at the chapter on Jihad (Vol.IV, pp. 34-199) in Bukhari is enough to show that real battles, deaths, wounds, horses, swords, arrows, prisoners of war, looting, booty, burning and destruction are being referred to. Hadith after hadith recount in horrible details as to how the Jihad against infidels was to be carried out; no they do not talk of metaphorical battles, or allegorical, spiritual struggles, but bloody war.

Sunan Abu Dawud,[9] Kitab al ???Jihad:

(2632) Ayas b.Salamah reported on the authority of his father: The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) appointed Abu Bakr our commander and we fought with some people who were polytheists, and we attacked them at night, killing them. Our war-cry that night was ??? put to death; put to death???. Salamah said: "I killed that night with my hand polytheists belonging to seven houses."

(2664) Samurah b. Jundub reported the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) as saying: ??? Kill the old men who are polytheists, but spare their children."[10]

Sahih Muslim [11] (4292); The Messenger of Allah made a raid upon Banu Mustaliq while they were unaware and their cattle were having a drink at the water.He killed those who fought and imprisoned the others.

Sahih Muslim: (4294) If they (the enemy) refuse to accept Islam, demand from the Jizya; If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah???s help and fight them.

Averroes [12]: "Scholars agree that jihad is collective not a personal obligation.... According to the majority of scholars, the compulsory nature of the jihad is founded on sura 2:216 ???Prescribed for you is fighting, though it be hateful to you.??? ??? Scholars agree that al polytheists should be fought. This is founded on sura 8:39 ???Fight them until there is no persecution and the religion is God???s entirely."

Averroes: Par. 3. The Damage Allowed to be inflicted Upon the Different Categories of Enemies.

Damage inflicted upon the enemy may consist in damage to his property, injury to his person or violation of his personal liberty, i.e. that he is made a slave and is appropriated. This may be done, according to the Consensus (ijma') to all polytheists: men, women, young and old, important and unimportant. Only with regard to monks do opinions vary; for some take it that they must be left in peace and that they must not be captured, but allowed to go unscathed and that they may not be enslaved. In support of their opinion they bring forward the words of the Prophet: 'Leave them in peace and also that to which they have dedicated them-selves, as well as the practice of Abu Bakr.

Most scholars are agreed that, in his dealings with captives, various policies are open to the Imam [head of the Islamic state, caliph]. He may pardon them, enslave them, kill them, or release them either on ransom or as dhimmi [non-Moslem subject of the Islamic state], in which latter case the released captive is obliged to pay poll-tax (jizya). Some scholars, however, have taught that captives may never be slain. According to al-Hasan Ibn Muhammad al-Tarri-1m71,11 this was even the Consensus ijma???of the Sahaba [contemporaries of Mohammed that have known him]. This controversy has arisen because, firstly, the Koran-verses contradict each other in this respect; secondly, practice [of the Prophet and the first caliphs] was inconsistent; and lastly, the obvious interpretation of the Koran is at variance with the Prophet's deeds. The obvious interpretation of [47:41: 'When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then, when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds" is that the Imam is only entitled to pardon captives or to release them on ransom. On the other hand, 18:671: 'It is not for any Prophet to have prisoners until he make wide slaughter in the land, as well as the occasion when this verse was revealed [viz. the captives of Badr] would go to prove that it is better to slay captives than to enslave them. The Prophet himself would in some cases slay captives outside the field of battle, while he would pardon them in others. Women he used to enslave. Abu Ubayd has related that the Prophet never enslaved male Arabs.

Ibn Khaldun [13]: In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody either by persuasion or by force.

The totalitarian nature of Islam is no where more apparent than in the concept of Jihad, the Holy War, whose ultimate aim is to conquer the entire world and submit it to the one true faith, to the law of Allah. To Islam alone has been granted the truth - there is no possibility of salvation outside it. It is the sacred duty - an incumbent religious duty established in the Koran and the Traditions - of all Muslims to bring it to all humanity. Jihad is a divine institution, enjoined specially for the purpose of advancing Islam. Muslims must strive, fight and kill in the name of God:

ix.5-6:"Kill those who join other gods with God wherever you may find them"

iv.76:"Those who believe fight in the cause of God..."

viii.12:"I will instill terror into the hearts of the Infidels, strike off their heads then, and strike off from them every fingertip."

viii.39-42:"Say to the Infidels: If they desist from their unbelief, what is now past shall be forgiven them ; but if they return to it, they have already before them the doom of the ancients ! Fight then against them till strife be at an end, and the religion be all of it God's.

ii.256:"But they who believe, and who fly their country, and fight in the cause of God may hope for God's mercy: and God is Gracious, Merciful"

It is a grave sin for a Muslim to shirk the battle against the unbelievers, those who do will roast in hell:

viii. 15, 16:"Believers, when you meet the unbelievers preparing for battle do not turn your backs to them. [Anyone who does] shall incur the wrath of God and hell shall be his home: an evil dwelling indeed."

ix.39:"If you do not fight, He will punish you severely, and put others in your place."

Those who die fighting for the only true religion, Islam, will be amply rewarded in the life to come:

iv.74:"Let those fight in the cause of God who barter the life of this world for that which is to come; for whoever fights on God's path, whether he is killed or triumphs, We will give him a handsome reward"

It is abundantly clear from many of the above verses that the Koran is not talking of metaphorical battles or of moral crusades; it is talking of the battle field. To read such blood thirsty injunctions in a Holy Book is shocking.

Mankind is divided into two groups - Muslims and non-Muslims. The Muslims are members of the Islamic community, the umma, who possess territories in the Dar ul Islam, the Land of Islam, where the edicts of Islam are fully promulgated. The non-Muslims are the Harbi, people of the Dar ul Harb, the Land of Warfare, any country belonging to the infidels which has not been subdued by Islam but which, nonetheless, is destined to pass into Islamic jurisdiction either by conversion or by war (Harb). All acts of war are permitted in the Dar ul Harb. Once the Dar ul Harb has been subjugated, the Harbi become prisoners of war. The imam can do what he likes to them according to the circumstances. Woe betide the city that resists and is then taken by the Islamic army by storm.In this case, the inhabitants have no rights whatsoever, and as Sir Steven Runciman says in his "The Fall of Constantinople, 1453": "The conquering army is allowed three days of unrestricted pillage; and the former places of worship, with every other building, become the property of the conquering leader; he may dispose of them as he pleases. Sultan Mehmet [after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 allowed] his soldiers the three days of pillage to which they were entitled. They poured into the city...They slew everyone that they met in the streets, men, women and children without discrimination . The blood ran in rivers down the steep streets...But soon the lust for slaughter was assuaged. The soldiers realized that captives and precious objects would bring them greater profits."

In other cases, they are sold into slavery, exiled or treated as dhimmis, who are tolerated as second class subjects, as long as they pay a regular tribute.


We have already alluded to Patricia Crone's analysis of the causes of the Arab Conquests. Here, I shall refer to the thesis put forward by the Economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950), a thesis which Bousquet found convincing and important enough to translate into French. My summary is based on Bousquet's French version. According to Schumpeter, the Arabs had always been a race of warriors who lived by pillage and the exploitation of a settled population. Islam was a war-machine which once it had been set going did not stop at anything. War is a normal activity in such a military theocracy. The Arabs did not even search for a motive to conduct their wars; their social organisation needed war, and without victories it would have collapsed. Here we have expansionism denuded of any concrete objective, brutal and born of a necessity in its past. The Arab Conquests would have existed without Islam. Certain particular details of Arab imperialism can be explained by the words of the Prophet but its force lay elsewhere. Muhammad would not have succeeded had he preached humility and submission. For the Arab warriors, "true"meant successful, and"false" meant unsuccessful. Thus religion was not the prime cause for the conquests; rather an ancient warrior instinct. It is ironic that the early heroes of Islam were, in fact, not at all interested in religion: Khalid, the successful general against the Byzantines has been described as someone who "cared for nothing but war and did not want to learn anything else." The same goes for Amr b. Al-As, the conqueror of Egypt, and Othman b. Talha, who amassed a fortune from the conquests. As Wensinck realistically put it ,"The more clear - sighted inhabitants of Mekka already foresaw shortly after the unsuccessful siege of Medina that this fact was the turning point in [the Prophet] Muhammed's career. It is not strange therefore that men like Khalid, Othman b. Talha and Amr went over to Islam even before the capture of Mekka. Not much importance is to be attached to the story of their conversion."


The Patriarch Sophronius of Jerusalem (634_8) saw the invaders as "godless barbarians"who burnt churches, destroyed monasteries, profaned crosses, and horribly blasphemed against Christ and the church. In 639, thousands died as a result of the famine and the plague consequent to the destruction and pillage.

After the death of the Prophet, the caliph Abu Bakr organised the invasion of Syria. During the campaign of 634, the entire region between Gaza and Caesarea was devastated; four thousand peasants, Christians, Jews, and Samaritans who were simply defending their land, were massacred. During the campaigns in Mesopotamia, between 635 and 642, monasteries were sacked, the monks were killed, Monophysite Arabs executed or forced to convert; in Elam the population was put to the sword, at Susa all the dignitaries suffered the same fate. We are better informed of the conquest of Egypt by Amr b. al-As thanks to the Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu, written between 693 and 700. For John, the Muslim yoke was "heavier than the yoke which had been laid on Israel by Pharaoh." As Amr advanced into Egypt, he captured the town of Behnesa, near the Fayum, and exterminated the inhabitants: "whoever gave himself up to them [the Muslims] was massacred, they spared neither the old, nor the women or children." Fayum and Aboit suffered the same fate .At Nikiu, the entire population was put to the sword. The Arabs took the inhabitants of Cilicia into captivity. In Armenia, the entire population of Euchaita was wiped out Seventh century Armenian chronicles recount how the Arabs decimated the populations of Assyria and forced a number of inhabitants to accept Islam, and then wrought havoc in the district of Daron, S.W.of Lake Van. In 642, it was the turn of the town of Dvin to suffer. In 643, the Arabs came back, bringing "extermination, ruin, and slavery." Michael the Syrian tells us how Mu'awiya sacked and pillaged Cyprus, and then established his domination by a "great massacre." It was the same ghastly spectacle in North Africa: Tripoli was pillaged in 643; Carthage was razed to the ground and most of its inhabitants killed. Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Iraq and Iran presented a similar spectacle.


"On the evidence of Baladhuri's account of the conquest of Sind, there were certainly massacres in the towns of Sind when the Arabs first arrived..."C.E. Bosworth

The Muslim conquest of Sind was masterminded by Hajjaj, the Governor of Iraq, and effected by his commander Muhammad b. Qasim in 712 A.D. Qasim's instructions were to "bring destruction on the unbelievers...[and] to invite and induce the infidels to accept the true creed, and belief in the unity of God... and whoever does not submit to Islam, treat him harshly and cause injury to him till he submits."

After the capture of the port of Debal, the Muslim army took three days to slaughter the inhabitants, but thereafter Qasim is more tolerant allowing many to continue their professions and practise their religion. This is not acceptable to Hajjaj, who, on receiving Qsaim's report of his victory, wrote back :"My dear cousin, I have received your life -augmenting letter. On its receipt my gladness and joy knew no bounds. It increased my pride and glory to the highest degree. It appears from your letter that all the rules made by you for the comfort and convenience of your men are strictly in accordance with religious law. But the way of granting pardon prescribed by the law is different from the one adopted by you, for you go on giving pardon to everybody, high or low, without any discretion between a friend and a foe. The great God says in the Koran [xlvii.4]: O True believers, when you encounter the unbelievers, strike off their heads. "The above command of the Great God is a great command and must be respected and followed. You should not be so fond of showing mercy, as to nullify the virtue of the act. Henceforth grant pardon to no one of the enemy and spare none of them, or else all will consider you a weak-minded man. Concluded with compliments. Written by Nafia in the year ninety three." Later, Hajjaj returns to the same theme: "My distinct orders are that all those who are fighting men should be assassinated, and their sons and daughters imprisoned and retained as hostages." Obedient to a fault, Qasim, on his arrival at the town of Brahminabad, "ordered all the men belonging to the military classes to be beheaded with swords. It is said that about 6000 fighting men were massacred on this occasion, some say 16000. The rest were pardoned."

MAHMUD OF GHAZNI (969 -The real conquest of India by the Muslims dates from the beginning of the 11th century. In 1000 A.D., the head of a Turco- Afghan dynasty, Mahmud of Ghazni first passed through India like a whirlwind, destroying, pillaging and massacring, all of which he justified by constant references to the Koranic injunctions to kill idolaters, whom he had vowed to chastise every year of his life. As Vincent Smith put it, "Mahmud was a zealous Muslim of the ferocious type then prevalent, who felt it to be a duty as well as pleasure to slay idolaters. He was also greedy of treasure and took good care to derive a handsome profit from his holy wars." In the course of seventeen invasions, in the words of Alberuni the scholar brought by Mahmud to India,: "Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country, and performed there wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions, and like a tale of old in the mouth of the people. Their scattered remains cherish, of course, the most inveterate aversion towards all Muslims." Mahmud began by capturing King Jaipal in the Punjab, then invaded Multan in 1004. On conquering the district of Ghur, he forcibly converted the inhabitants to Islam. Mahmud accumulated vast amounts of plunder from the Hindu temples he desecrated, such as that of Kangra. "Mathura, the holy city of Krishna, was the next victim. 'In the middle of the city there was a temple larger and finer than the rest, which can neither be described nor painted'. The Sultan [Mahmud] was of the opinion that 200 years would have been required to build it. The idols included 'five of red gold, each five yards high', with eyes formed of priceless jewels. 'The Sultan gave orders that all the temples should be burnt with naphtha and fire, and leveled with the ground. 'Thus perished works of art which must have been among the noblest monuments of ancient India." [VA Smith 207] At the battle of Somnath, the site of another celebrated Hindu temple, 50000 were killed as Mahmud assuaged his lust for booty.

Mahmud was equally ferocious with those whom he considered heretics such as Dawud of Multan. In 1010, Mahmud invaded Dawud 's kingdom and slaughtered a great number of his heretical subjects. While Muslim historians see him as one of the glories of Islam, in reality, Mahmud was little more than an avaricious bandit undeserving of admiration.


In 1351, Firuz Shah ascended the throne and became ruler of the North of India. Though in many ways an enlightened man, when it came to religion was a bigot of the first order. He is said to have made "the laws of the Prophet his guide." He indulged in wholesale slave -raiding, and is said to have had 180000 slaves in his city, all of whom "became Muslims." But, as Vincent Smith says, he could be most savage when his religious zeal was roused. He seized a number of Shias, some he executed, others he lectured, and their books he burnt. He caused the ulama to kill a man who claimed to be the Mahdi, "and for this good action", he wrote, "I hope to receive future reward." He went to visit a village where a Hindu religious fair was being held, which was even attended by some "graceless Musalmans." He wrote: "I ordered that the leaders of these people and the promoters of this abomination should be put to death. I forbade the infliction of any severe punishment on the Hindus in general, but I destroyed their idol temples and instead thereof raised mosques." Later a Brahman who had practised his rites in public was burnt alive. Firuz Shah was simply carrying on the tradition of the early Muslim invaders, and he sincerely believed "that he served God by treating as a capital crime the public practice of their religion by the vast majority of his subjects [i.e.Hindus]." Firuz Shah also bribed a vast number of Hindus into embracing Islam, by exempting those who converted from the jizya or poll-tax, which was otherwise rigorously enforced, even on Firuz Shah, when due allowance is made for his surroundings and education, could not have escaped from the theory and practice of religious intolerance. It was not possible for him to rise, as Akbar did, to the conception that the ruler of Hindustan should cherish all his subjects alike, whether Muslim or Hindu, and allow every man absolute freedom, not only of conscience but of public worship. The Muslims of the fourteenth century were still dominated by the ideas current in the early days of Islam, and were convinced that the tolerance of idolatry was a sin."

AKBAR THE GREAT (1542-1605)

It is significant and ironical that the most tolerant of all the Muslim rulers in the history of India was also the one who moved farthest away from orthodox Islam, and in the end rejected it for an eclectic religion of his own devising. Akbar abolished the taxes on Hindu pilgrims at Muttra, and remitted the jizya or poll tax on non-Muslims. Akbar had early shown an interest in religions other than the rigid Islam he had grown up in. Under the influence of freethinkers at his court like Abul Fazl, and Muslim and Hindu mysticism, Akbar developed his interest in comparative religion to the extent of building a special "house of worship "in which to hold religious discussions. At first, the discussions were restricted to Muslim divines, who thoroughly disgraced themselves in their childish behaviour. Akbar was profoundly disgusted, for their comportment seemed to cast doubt on Islam itself. Now Akbar decided to include Hindus, Jains, Zoroastrians, Jews, and eventually three Jesuit fathers from the Portuguese colony of Goa. The Jesuit fathers were treated with the utmost respect; Akbar even kissed the Bible and other Christian holy images -- something totally revolting to an orthodox Muslim. One of the Jesuits became a tutor to Akbar's son. There were further acts that alarmed and angered the Muslims. First, Akbar proclaimed the Infallibility decree, which authorized the emperor to decide with binding authority any question concerning the Muslim religion, provided the ruling should be in accordance with some verse of the Koran. Second, Akbar again scandalised the Muslims by displacing the regular preacher at the mosque, and himself mounting the pulpit, reciting verses composed by Faizi,the brother of the freethinking Abul Fazl. The Muslim chiefs in the Bengal now considered Akbar an apostate, and rose up in revolt against him. When the rebellion was crushed, Akbar felt totally free to do what he wanted. And, in the words of V. Smith, "He promptly took advantage of his freedom by publicly showing his contempt and dislike for the Muslim religion, and by formally promulgating a new political creed of his own, adherence to which involved the solemn renunciation of Islam." Akbar rejected the Muslim chronology, establishing a new one starting from his accession. He further outraged the Muslims by issuing coins with the ambiguous phrase "Allahu Akbar", a frequent religious invocation known as the Takbir, which normally means "God is Great" (akbar = great), but since Akbar is also the emperor's name, "Allahu Akbar" could also mean "Akbar is God." Akbar 's aim throughout his reign was to abate hostility towards Hindus, and his own vague religion was "a conscious effort to seem to represent all his people." He adopted Hindu and Parsee (Zoroastrian) festivals and practices. Thus it is not surprising that"his conduct at different times justified Christians, Hindus, Jains, and Parsis [Parsees] in severally claiming him as one of themselves." Akbar's driving principle was universal toleration, and all the Hindus, Christians, Jains and Parsees enjoyed full liberty of conscience and of public worship. He married Hindu princesses, abolished pilgrim dues, and employed Hindus in high office. The Hindu princesses were even allowed to practise their own religious rites inside the palace. "No pressure was put on the princes of Amber, Marwar, or Bikaner to adopt Islam, and they were freely entrusted with the highest military commands and the most responsible administrative offices. That was an entirely new departure, due to Akbar himself..."

AURANGZEB (1618-1707)

Akbar's great grandson, Aurangzeb, was, in total contrast, a Muslim puritan, who wished to turn his empire into a land of orthodox Sunni Islam, ruled in accordance with the principles laid down by the early Caliphs. Once again, we enter the world of Islamic intolerance -- temples are destroyed (during the campaigns of 1679_80, at Udaipur 123 were destroyed, at Chitor sixty-three; at Jaipur sixty-six); and non -Muslims become second class citizens in their own country. The imperial bigot, to use Smith's phrase, reimposed the "hated jizya, or polltax on non-Muslims, which Akbar had wisely abolished early in his reign." Aurangzeb's aim was to curb the infidels and demonstrate the "distinction between a land of Islam and a land of unbelievers." "To most Hindus Akbar is one of the greatest of the Muslim emperors of India and Aurangzeb one of the worst; to many Muslims the opposite is the case. To an outsider there can be little doubt that Akbar's way was the right one.... Akbar disrupted the Muslim community by recognising that India is not an Islamic country: Aurangzeb disrupted India by behaving as though it were." [Gascoigne 227]


"Between 1000 and 1200 Buddhism disappeared from India, through the combined effects of its own weaknesses, a revived Hinduism and Mohammedan persecution" Edward Conze [117] "[Buddhism in India] declined after Moslem conquest of Sindh, A.D. 712, and finally suppressed by Moslem persecution A.D.1200 " Christmas Humphreys

"It is partly, no doubt, because of the furor islamicus that post-Gupta remains are surprisingly few in Bihar..." J.C.Harle [199]

Qutb ud din Aibak, described as "merciless and fanatical", sent his general, Muhammad Khilji, to the northern state of Bihar to continue the Muslim conquests that began in late 12th century. Buddhism was the main religion of Bihar. In 1193,the Muslim general, considering them all idolaters, put most of the Buddhist monks to the sword, and a great library was destroyed. "The ashes of the Buddhist sanctuaries at Sarnath near Benares still bear witness to the rage of the image-breakers. Many noble monuments of the ancient civilisation of India were irretrievably wrecked in the course of the early Muslim invasions. Those invasions were fatal to the existence of Buddhism as an organized religion in northern India, where its strength resided chiefly in Bihar and certain adjoining territories. The monks who escaped massacre fled, and were scattered over Nepal, Tibet, and the south.."

The Muslim conquests of Central Asia also put an end to its Buddhist art. As early as the 8th century, the monasteries of Kizil were destroyed by the Muslim ruler of Kashgar, and as Benjamin Rowland says, "by the tenth century only the easternmost reaches of Turkestan had escaped the rising tide of Mohammedan conquest. "The full tragedy of these devastations is brought out by the words of Rowland: "The ravages of the Mongols, and the mortifying hand of Islam that has caused so many cultures to wither for ever, aided by the process of nature, completely stopped the life of what must for a period of centuries have been one of the regions of the earth most gifted in art and religion."



Disagreement between scholars tends to focus on the amount and intensity of persecution, the frequency of forced conversions, and the prevalence of violence against the dhimmi. On this subject, Jacques Ellul, in his preface to Bat Ye'or 's" The Dhimmi, Jews and Christians under Islam ", tells an interesting story. Ellul reviewed the book when it first came out, in the famous French newspaper Le Monde. "In response to that review I received a very strong letter from a colleague, a well-known orientalist, informing me that the book was purely polemical and could not be regarded seriously. His criticisms, however, betrayed the fact that he had not read the book, and the interesting thing about his arguments (based on what I had written) was that they demonstrated, on the contrary, the serious nature of this work. First of all, he began with an appeal to authority, referring me to certain works whose scholarship he regarded as unquestionable (those of Professors S.D. Goitein, B. Lewis and N. Stillman), that in his opinion adopt a positive attitude toward Islam and its tolerance toward non_ Muslims. "However, apologists of Islam will be disappointed if they consult the works of the abovementioned scholars, hoping to find some sort of exoneration of Islam. Norman Stillman's book, "The Jews of Arab Lands, A History and Source Book" is a general historical survey from the 7th century to the 19th century, and a source book of translations of the relevant documents. Reviewing Stillman, C.E. Bosworth said: "This is a splendid book, even though the subject is in many ways a MONUMENT TO HUMAN INTOLERANCE AND FANATICISM"[Myemphases]. Stillman, on the whole, lets the facts speak for themselves, and the picture that emerges is not at all flattering to Islam: "The invasion of the Middle East [by the Arabs] was not by any means a joyous, liberating experience. There was a great deal of death and destruction. The inhabitants of towns taken by storm were either killed or led into captivity, and their property was forfeited"[24] "The jizya and kharaj [taxes] were a crushing burden for the non-Muslim peasantry who eked out a bare living in a subsistence economy"[28] "Muslim authorities were concerned above all that taxes be paid and that dhimmi subjects acknowledge in a variety of ways, some more and some less humiliating, the dominion of Islam. As long as the non-Muslim complied, they were accorded a good measure of internal self-rule. However, even in the conduct of their own communal affairs, they were not entirely free of government supervision and, at times, downright interference"[38] "Furthermore, there was a tenuousness in the cordiality of interfaith relationships. The non-Muslim could never entirely disembarrass himself of his dhimmi status"[62] "The position of a Jewish community could also become precarious in times of civil strife, famine, or other catastrophe. Times of crises brought popular religious frenzy to its height. The Jews were a small, defenseless minority whose status as infidels and humble tribute bearers was defined by Islamic law." But what of the so-called Golden Age of mutual respect? "Anti-Semitism, that is, "the hatred of Jews qua Jews," did exist in the medieval Arab world EVEN IN THE PERIOD OF GREATEST TOLERANCE...Outright persecution...was rare but there was always that uncertain possibility. At the whim of the ruler, the harshest interpretations of the sumptuary laws could be strictly enforced...Even in the best of times, dhimmis in all walks of life and at every level of society could suddenly and rudely be reminded of their true status." [63]

Stillman does make one claim refuted by Bat Ye'or. According to Stillman, there were no more than half a dozen forced conversions of Jews over a period of thirteen centuries. [76] Even Stillman concedes that under the Almohad caliphs Al Mumin(d.1165), Abu Yaqub (d.1184) and Al Mansur (d.1199), there were indeed forced conversions, let us assume there was only one conversion per reign, that makes three.In Yemen the Jews were forced to choose between death and conversion to Islam in 1165 and 1678; and in Aden in 1198. Bat Ye'or continues: "There are Muslims in Tripolitania and elsewhere who are descendants of Jews forcibly converted at different periods The Jews of Tabriz were obliged to convert in 1291 and 1318,and those of Baghdad in 1333 and 1344.Throughout Persia, forced conversions from the sixteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century decimated the Christian and, even more, the Jewish communities"[61] Elsewhere, Bat Ye'or writes: "En 1617 et en 1622, les juifs persans, diffam???s par des apostats, subissent une vague de conversions forc???es et de pers???cutions...Sous leregne de Shah Abbas II (1642 _ 1666), tous les juifs de

Perse furent forc???s de se convertir de 1653... 1666." [95] There was also forced conversions in Meshed in 1839, (and in the 1840s, according to Lewis [153]

That makes more than half a dozen! We are, of course, talking of Jews only, forced conversions of Christians, Hindus, Zoroastrians and others is another, even more grave, matter.

Bernard Lewis has, of course, written a great deal on dhimmis, and, more specifically, of Jews under Islam. In his "The Jews of Islam", Lewis points out that there was never a question of "equality" between Muslims and non-Muslims: "Traditional Islamic societies neither accorded such equality nor pretended that they were so doing. Indeed, in the old order, this would have been regarded not as a merit but as a dereliction of duty. How could one accord the same treatment to those who follow the true faith and those who willfully reject it? This would be a theological as well as a logical absurdity." "Discrimination was always there, permanent and indeed necessary, inherent in the system and institutionalised in law and practice." "The rank of a full member of society was restricted to free male Muslims. Those who lacked any of these three essential qualifications -- that is, the slave, the woman or the unbeliever -- were not equal. The three basic inequalities of master and slave, man and woman, believer and unbeliever, were not merely admitted; they were established and regulated by holy law." "Tolerance" in this context has a negative connotation -- the Jews and Christians were there on sufferance. Bat Ye'or points out the difference between "tolerance" and "rights "-- while "tolerance" is revocable, rights are inalienable. Bernard Lewis makes more or less the same point. He contrasts the notion of tolerance with that of genuine coexistence: "Tolerance means that a dominant group whether defined by faith or race or other criteria, allows members of other groups some - but rarely if ever all - of the rights and privileges enjoyed by its own members. Coexistence means equality between the different groups composing a political society as an inherent natural right of all of them -- to grant it is no merit, to withhold it or limit it is an offense."

It is true Lewis does write, early on, in "The Jews of Islam", "persecution, that is to say, violent and active repression was rare and atypical." But a little later, Lewis contradicts himself: "Under the Safavid shahs they [the Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians] were subject to frequent vexations and persecutions, and at times to forced conversions." (Perhaps the adjective "frequent" does not qualify" persecutions") And towards the end of the book, Lewis tells us that "the Alliance [an international Jewish organisation] records include NUMEROUS stories of ill-treatment, humiliation, and persecution [of Jews]." [My emphases] Lewis also tends to play down the violence suffered by the non-Muslims. Confining ourselves to Jews, we can only remind Lewis of the massacre of more than 6000 Jews in Fez (Morocco) in 1033; of the hundreds of Jews killed between 1010 and 1013 near Cordoba, and other parts of Muslim Spain; of the massacre of the entire Jewish community of roughly 4000 in Granada during the Muslim riots of 1066.Referring to the latter massacre, Robert Wistrich writes: "This was a disaster, as serious as that which overtook the Rhineland Jews thirty years later during the First Crusade, yet it has rarely received much scholarly attention."Wistrich, who takes Bat Ye'or's research seriously, continues: "In Kairouan (Tunisia) the Jews were persecuted and forced to leave in 1016, returning later only to be expelled again. In Tunis in 1145 they were forced to convert or to leave, and during the following decade there were fierce anti-Jewish persecutions throughout the country. A similar pattern of events occurred in Morocco after the massacre of Jews in Marrakesh in 1232.Indeed, in the Islamic world from Spain to the Arabian peninsula the looting and killing of Jews, along with punitive taxation, confinement to ghettos, the enforced wearing of distinguishing marks on clothes (an innovation in which Islam preceded medieval Christendom), and other humiliations were rife."


Bat Ye'or is an independent scholar who has been working on the question of dhimmis for the last twenty years, starting with the history of Jews in Egypt in 1971.This was followed by Le Dhimmi: Profil de l'opprim??? en Orient et en Afrique du Nord depuis la conquete arabe", in 1980, with an enlarged English edition in 1985, under the title "The Dhimmi, Jews and Christians under Islam. "In 1991 and 1994, appeared, respectively, "Les Chretient???s d' Orient entre Jihad et Dhimmitude", and"Juifs et Chretiens sous l'Islam, les dhimmis face au defi int???griste. "It is not surprising that the colleague of Jacques Ellul was disturbed, since the works of Bat Ye'or show with ample documentation the massacres of the early conquests, the subsequent humiliations of the dhimmis, the oppressive fiscal system, the looting and pillage of homes, churches and synagogues, and the whole punctuated with forced conversions, which made the lives of the non Muslims such an ordeal.



The kharaj was a kind of land tax which had its fiscal and symbolic role. By it, the peasant no longer owned the land but worked it as a tenant. The kharaj also symbolised the God-conferred rights of the conquerors over the land of the infidels and conquered. The peasants were theoretically protected, but, in periods of instability, they suffered the most


The jizya was a poll tax which, in accordance with the Koran ix.29 ("until they pay the jizya from their hand, being brought low"), had to be paid individually at a humiliating public ceremony to remind the dhimmis that they were inferior to the believers, that is, the Muslims. The Muslim commentator on the Koran, as_ Zamakhshari ( 1075-1144) interprets Sura ix.29 to mean, "the jizya shall be taken from them with belittlement and humiliation. [The dhimmi] shall come in person, walking not riding. When he pays, he shall stand, while the tax collector sits. The collector shall seize him by the scruff of the neck, shake him, and say: 'Pay the jizya!', and when he pays it he shall be slapped on the nape of his neck."


Apart from paying higher commercial and travel taxes than Muslims, the dhimmis were subject to other forms of fiscal oppression. In periods of economic hardship, the Muslim rulers often had recourse to arbitrary taxes on dhimmis . Church leaders were imprisoned and tortured until ransoms were paid for them.

The above taxes proved such a crushing burden that many villages were abandoned as the villagers fled to the hills or tried to lose themselves in the anonymity of large towns to escape the tax-collector. In Lower Egypt, for example, the Copts utterly ruined by the taxes, revolted in 832. The Arab governor ruthlessly suppressed the insurrection - burning their villages, their vineyards, gardens and churches - those not massacred were deported.


Various Hadith forbid a dhimmi to exercise any authority over a Muslim. Various Koranic verses such as iii.28 were used to bar dhimmis from public office. Despite this, we find that dhimmis held high office. However, in the Middle Ages, any appointment of a dhimmi to a high post often resulted in public outcries, fanaticism and violence, as for example, in Granada in 1066, Fez in 1275 and 1465, Iraq in 1291, and frequently in Egypt between 1250 and 1517.Many dhimmis accepted to convert to Islam in order to keep their posts.


In all litigation between a Muslim and a dhimmi, the validity of the oath or testimony of the dhimmi was not recognised. In other words, since a dhimmi was not allowed to give evidence against a Muslim, his Muslim opponent always got off scot-free. The dhimmi was forced to bribe his way out of the accusations. Muslims were convinced of their own superiority over all non-Muslims, and this was enshrined in law. For example, any fine imposed on a Muslim for a crime was automatically halved if the victim was a dhimmi. No Muslim could be executed for having committed any crime against a dhimmi. Accusations of blasphemy against dhimmis were quite frequent and the penalty was capital punishment. Since his testimony was not accepted in court, the dhimmi was forced to convert to save his life. Conversely, "in practice if not in law, a dhimmi would often be sentenced to death if he dared raise his hand against a Muslim, even in legitimate self-defence."[Ye'or 57] Even the accidental killing of a Muslim could condemn the whole non-Muslim community to death or exile. [Ye'or 57]. Though a Muslim man may marry a Christian or Jewish woman, a non-Muslim may not marry a Muslim woman. The penalty for such a marriage, or any sexual relationship, was death.


Some of the disabilities of the dhimmis are summarised in the "Pact of Umar" which was probably drawn up in the 8th century under Umar b.Abd al Aziz (ruled 717_20):

"We shall not build in our cities or in their vicinity any new monasteries, churches, hermitages, or monks' cells .We shall not restore, by night or by day, any of them that have fallen into ruin or which are located in the Muslims' quarters. "We shall keep our gates wide open for the passerby and travellers. We shall provide three days' food and lodging to any Muslims who pass our way.

"We shall not shelter any spy in our churches or in our homes, nor shall we hide him from the Muslims. "We shall not teach our children the Koran. "We shall not hold public religious ceremonies. We shall not seek to proselytise anyone. We shall not prevent any of our kin from embracing Islam if they so desire. "We shall show deference to the Muslims and shall rise from our seats when they wish to seat down. "We shall not attempt to resemble the Muslims in any way..."We shall not ride on saddles. " We shall not wear swords or bear weapons of any kind, or ever carry them with us. "We shall not sell wines. "We shall clip the forelocks of our head. "We shall not display our crosses or our books anywhere in the Muslims ' thoroughfares or in their marketplaces. We shall only beat our clappers in our churches very quietly. We shall not raise our voices when reciting the service in our churches, nor when in the presence of Muslims. Neither shall we raise our voices in our funeral processions. "We shall not build our homes higher than theirs." To which was added, "anyone who deliberately strikes a Muslim will forfeit the protection of this pact."

Even in their religious affairs, they were not entirely free Muslims often blocked the appointment of religious leaders.

Nothing could be further from the truth than to imagine that the dhimmis enjoyed a secure and stable status permanently and definitively acquired -- that they were forever protected and lived happily ever after. Contrary to this picture perpetrated by Islamic apologists, the status of dhimmis was very fragile indeed, and was constantly under threat. The dhimmis were in constant danger of being made into slaves. For example, when in 643, Amr conquered Tripoli, he forced the Jews and Christians to handover their women and children as slaves to the Arab army, and they were told to deduct this "handover" from the poll-tax, the dreaded "jizya." Between 652 and 1276, Nubia was forced to send an annual contingent of slaves to Cairo. The treaties concluded under the Umayyads and the Abbasids with the towns of Transoxiana, Sijistan, Armenia, and Fezzan (modern N.W.Africa) all stipulate an annual tribute of slaves of both sexes. The principal source of the reservoir of slaves was the constant raids on the villages in the"dar al harb"; and the more disciplined military expeditions which mopped up more thoroughly the cities of the unbelievers. All the captives were deported en masse. In 781, at the sack of Ephesus, 7000 Greeks were deported in captivity. After the capture of Amorium in 838, the Caliph Al Mutasim ordered the captives, as there were so many of them, to be auctioned in batches of five and ten. At the sack of Thssalonica in 903, 22000 Christians were divided among the Arab chieftains or sold into slavery. In 1064; the Seljuk Sultan, Alp Arslan devastated Georgia and Armenia. Those he did not take as prisoners, he executed. The literary sources for Palestine, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Armenia, and later Anatolia and Safavid Persia reveal that those families who could not pay the crushing Jizya or poll tax were obliged to hand over their children and to"deduct "it from the Jizya. Christians, for at least 300 years, suffered one other humiliation not often discussed: a process known as DEVSHIRME. It was introduced by the Ottoman Sultan Orkhan (1326 - 1359) and consisted of periodically taking a fifth of all Christian children in the conquered territories .Converted to Islam, these children aged between 14 and 20 were trained to be janissaries or infantry men. These periodic abductions eventually became annual. The Christian children were taken from among the Greek aristocracy, and from the Serbs, Bulgarians, Armenians and Albanians, and often from among the children of the priests. At a fixed date, all the fathers were ordered to appear with their children in the public square. The recruiting agents chose the most sturdy and handsome children in the presence of a Muslim judge. Any father who shirked his duty to provide children was severely punished. Needless to say this, this system was open to all kinds of abuse. The recruiting agents often took more than the prescribed number of children and sold the "surplus" children back to their parents. Those unable to buy back their children had to accept them being sold into slavery. This institution was abolished in 1656, though a parallel system where young children between six and ten were taken to be trained in the seraglio of the sultan continued until the 18th century. The number of children taken each year seems to have varied - some scholars place it as high as 12000 a year, others at 8000; there was probably an average of at least 1000 a year. The devshirme is an obvious infringement of the rights of the dhimmis, a reminder that their rights were far from secure, once and for all.


(1) Places of Worship

In the late 19th century, Ash Sharani summed up the views of the four main sunni schools on the question of the building of new churches and synagogues: "All schools agree that it is not allowed to build new churches or synagogues in towns or cities of Islam. They differ whether this is permitted in the neighbourhood of towns. Malik, Shafe'i, and Ahmad do not permit it; Abu Hanifa says that if the place is a mile or less from a town, it is not permitted; if the distance is greater, it is. Another question is, whether it is allowed to restore ruinous or rebuild ruined churches or synagogues in Islamic countries. Abu Hanifa, Malik,and Shafe'i permit it. Abu Hanifa adds the condition that the church is in a place that surrendered peaceably; if it was conquered by force, it is not allowed. Ahmad...says that the restoration of the ruinous and the rebuilding of the ruined is never permitted."

The fate of churches and synagogues, as of Christians and Jews, varied from country to country, ruler to ruler. Some Muslim rulers were very tolerant, others extremely intolerant. In 722 A.D., for example Usama b. Zaid, the surveyor of taxes in Egypt, attacked convents and destroyed churches. But the caliph Hisham told him to leave the Christians in peace. Some caliphs not only respected the rights of non-Muslims, but very generously paid for the repairs of any churches destroyed by mob violence. Tritton also gives the example of Spain: "During the conquest of Spain the Muslims were much less tolerant. On one of his expeditions Musa destroyed every church and broke every bell. When Marida surrendered the Muslims took the property of those killed in the ambush, of those who fled to Galicia, of the churches, and the church jewels." Similarly, the caliph Marwan (ruled 744-750) looted and destroyed many monasteries in Egypt while fleeing the Abbasid army. He destroyed all the churches in Tana except one, and he asked three thousand dinars as the price for sparing that. In 853 A.D. the caliph Mutawakkil ordered all new churches to be destroyed. As Tritton says, from an early date churches were liable to be razed to the ground for some caprice of the ruler. Often the Muslim mob took matters into its own hands. Tritton gives the following examples of riots in which religious buildings were destroyed. In 884 the convent of Kalilshu in Baghdad was destroyed, the gold and silver vessels stolen, and all wood in the building sold. In 924 the church and convent of Mary, in Damascus were burnt and plundered, and other churches wrecked. Further destruction occurred in Ramleh, Ascalon, Tinnis, and in Egypt during the invasion by Asad ud Din Shirkuh. "Al Hakim biamr illah gave orders that the churches in his dominions should be destroyed. Their contents were seized and the vessels of gold and silver sold in the markets... The church lands were confiscated and every one who asked for some got it. A Muslim historian reports that over thirty thousand churches which had been built by the Greeks were destroyed in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere. Bar Hebraeus is more modest, he only says thousands." The riot of 1321 in Cairo in which several churches were destroyed, in turn led to the destruction of churches throughout Egypt -- in all more than fifty churches suffered.


On the whole, Muslims disliked the public display of other forms of worship. Umar II and Mutawakkil tried, in vain, to suppress the commonest manifestations of Christianity. "The ringing of bells, the sounding of the ram's horn, and the public exhibition of crosses, icons, banners, and other religious objects were all prohibited."


We have already mentioned the forced conversions of Jews. Islamic history is also full of references to the forced conversion of Christians, Zoroastrians and pagans. For instance, under al Mamun in the 9th century the pagans of Harran had to choose between Islam and death. Tavernier, the 17th century French traveler describes how in Anatolia," il y a quantit??? de Grecs qu'on force tous les jours de se faire Turcs."

Armenian Christians seemed to have suffered particularly severely from Muslim persecution. In 704_705, the caliph Walid I gathered together the nobles of Armenia in the church of St. Gregory in Naxcawan and the church of Xram on the Araxis, and burned them to death. The rest were crucified and decapitated, while their women and children were taken as slaves. The Armenians suffered even more between 852 and 855. Given the constant humiliation and degradation, fiscal and social oppression, it is not surprising that many dhimmis sought a way out of their impossible situation by converting But though technically not "forced" on pain of death or at the point of a sword, we can still consider these conversions as having been forced on the dhimmis. Surely, there is no moral difference between the two kinds of "forced conversions." Each century has its own, full account of the horrors. In the 8th century we had the massacres in the Sind. In the 9th century, there were the massacres of Spanish Christians in and around Seville. In the 10th, the persecutions of non-Muslims under the caliph al Hakim are well known.

In the 11th, the fate of the Jews of Grenada and Fez have already been alluded to; we might add the destruction of Hindus and their temples by Mahmud at the same period. In the 12th, the Almohads of North Africa spread terror wherever they went.

In the 13th; the Christians of Damascus were killed or sold into slavery, and their churches burnt to the ground. The Sultan Baibars, whom Sir Steven Runciman calls "evil", not respecting his own guarantees of safety to the garrison of Safed if they surrendered to the Muslims, had all the population decapitated when they did surrender. "From Toron he sent a troop to destroy the Christian village of Qara, between Homs and Damascus, which he suspected of being in touch with the Franks. The adult inhabitants were massacred and the children enslaved. When the Christians from Acre sent a deputation to ask to be allowed to bury the dead, he roughly refused, saying that if they wished for martyrs' corpses they would find them at home. To carry out his threat he marched down to the coast and slaughtered every Christian that fell into his hands. "As for Baibar's and the Muslims' capture of Antioch in 1268, Runciman's says," Even the Moslem chroniclers were shocked by the carnage that followed."

In the 14th and early 15th century, we have the terror spread by the infamous Timur the Lame, otherwise known as Tamerlane or the "bloody and insatiate Tamburlaine" of Marlowe's play. Tamerlane constantly refers to the Koran, and tried to turn every one of his battles into a Holy War, even though in many instances he was fighting fellow Muslims At least in Georgia, he was able to give his campaign the colour of a Jihad. In 1400 Tamerlane devastated the country in and around Tifflis. In 1403, he returned to ravage the country again, and destroying seven hundred large villages and minor towns, massacring the inhabitants, and razing to the ground all the Christian churches of Tifflis. Rene Grousset summed up Tamerlane's peculiar character by saying that whereas the Mongols of the 13th century had killed simply because for centuries this had been the instinctive behaviour of nomad herdsmen toward sedentary farmers, Tamerlane killed out of Koranic piety. To the ferocity of the cruel Mongols, Tamerlane added a taste for religious murder. Tamerlane "represents a synthesis, historically lacking up to now, of Mongol barbarity and Muslim fanaticism, and symbolises that advanced form of primitive slaughter which is murder committed for the sake of an abstract ideology, as a duty and sacred mission."

Confining ourselves to non-Muslims, we note that he destroyed the town of Tana, at the mouth of the Don. All the Christians were enslaved; their shops and churches were destroyed.

According to the Zafer Nameh, our main source of information for Tamerlane's campaigns, written at the beginning of the 15th century, Tamerlane set forth to conquer India solely to make war on the enemies of the Muslim faith. He considered the Muslim rulers of north India far too lenient towards pagans, that is to say, the Hindus. The Zafer Nameh tells us that, "The Koran emphasizes that the highest dignity to which man may attain is to wage war in person upon the enemies of the Faith. This is why the great Tamerlane was always concerned to exterminate the infidels, as much to acquire merit as from love of glory."

At Delhi under the pretext that the hundred thousand Hindu prisoners presented a grave risk to his army, Tamerlane ordered their execution in cold blood. He killed thousands, and had victory pillars built of the severed heads. On his way out of India, he sacked Miraj, pulled down the monuments and flayed the Hindu inhabitants alive, "an act by which he fulfilled his vow to wage the Holy War. "This strange champion of Islam, as Grousset calls him, plundered and massacred "through blindness or close-mindedness to a certain set of cultural values."

Tamerlane systematically destroyed the Christians, and as a result the Nestorians and Jacobites of Mesopotamia have never recovered. At Sivas, 4000 Christians were buried alive; at Tus there were 10000 victims. Historians estimate the number of dead at Saray to be 100000; at Baghdad 90000; at Isfahan 70000.


According to the Tarikh-i Bukhara, a history of Bukhara written in about 944 A.D., Islam had to be enforced on the reluctant inhabitants of Bukhara. The Bukharans reverted to their original beliefs no less than four times: "The residents of Bukhara became Muslims. But they renounced [Islam] each time the Arabs turned back. Qutayba b. Muslim made them Muslim three times, [but] they renounced [Islam ] again and became nonbelievers. The fourth time, Qutayba waged war, seized the city, and established Islam after considerable strife....They espoused Islam overtly but practiced idolatry in secret."

Many Zoroastrians were induced to convert by bribes, and later, out of economic necessity. Many of these "economic converts" were later executed for having adopted Islam to avoid paying the poll tax and land tax. In Khurasan and Bukhara, Zoroastrian fire-temples were destroyed by the Muslims, and mosques constructed on these sites. The Tarikh-i Bukhara records that there was considerable outrage at these acts of sacrilege, and there was a concerted resistance to the spread of Islam. One scholar sums up the situation thus: "Indeed, coexistence between Muslims and Zoroastrians was rarely peaceful, cooperation was fleeting, and conflict remained the prime form of intercommunal contact from the initial Arab conquest of Transoxiana until the late thirteenth century A.D."A similar situation existed in Khurasan: "The violent military conflicts between the forces of the Arab commander Abd Allah b. Amir and the local Iranian lords, combined later with the destruction of Zoroastrian religious institutions, produced lasting enmity between Muslims and Zoroastrians in Khurasan. "The early conquests of Zoroastrian Iran were punctuated with the usual massacres, as in Raiy. If the town put up brave resistance to the Muslims, then very few men were spared, as for example, at Sarakh, only a hundred men were granted amnesty, the women were taken into captivity; the children taken into captivity were brought up as Muslims. At Sus a similar situation emerged - about a hundred men were pardoned, the rest killed. At Manadhir, all the men were put to the sword, and the women and children enslaved. At the conquest of Istakhr, more than 40000 Iranians were slaughtered. The Zoroastrians suffered sporadic persecution, as their fire-temples and priests were destroyed, as for example, at Kariyan, Kumm and at Idhaj. In a deliberate act of provocation the caliph al Mutawakkil had a tree putatively planted by Zoroaster himself cut down. Sometimes the fire temples were converted into mosques. The fiscal oppression of the Zoroastrians led to a series of uprisings against the Muslims in the 8th century. We might cite the revolts led by Bihafarid between 746 and 748; the rising of Sinbadh in 755.

Forced conversions were also frequent, and the pressures for conversion often led to conflict and riots as in Shiraz in 979.To escape persecution and the forced conversions many Zoroastrians emigrated to India, where, to this day, they form a much respected minority and are known as Parsis. Conditions for the Zoroastrians became even worse from the 17th century onwards. In the 18th century, their numbers, to quote the Encyclopaedia of Islam (2 ed),"declined disastrously due to the combined effects of massacre, forced conversion and emigration." By the 19th century they were living in total insecurity and poverty, and suffered increasing discrimination. Zoroastrian merchants were liable to extra taxes; houses were frequently looted; they had to wear distinctive clothing, and were forbidden to build new houses or repair old ones.


All scholars agree, and even apologists of Islam cannot deny, that the situation of the dhimmis got progressively worse. Many scholars believe that as the Muslim world became weaker the position of dhimmis deteriorated correspondingly. The same scholars would put the beginning of the decline at the time of the Crusades. This perception has had the unfortunate consequence of re-enforcing the myth of the Golden Age, when supposedly total harmony reigned between the different faiths, especially in Muslim Spain. It is a lovely image, but, as Fletcher put it, this won't do. "The witness of those who lived through the horrors of the Berber conquest, of the Almoravid invasion... must give it the lie. The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was a land of tranquility. "Was there ever tolerance? "Ask the Jews of Grenada who were massacred in 1066, or the Christians who were deported by the Almoravids to Morocco in 116 (like the Moriscos five centuries later)." I have already alluded to the general causes of the rise of this myth of Islamic tolerance. More specifically, the notion of the Golden Age of Moorish Spain was perpretated, in the 19th century by "newly and still imperfectly emancipated" Western European Jews, as a means to chastise Western failings. Inevitably, there was a tendency to idealise Islam, to better contrast the situation of the Jews in Europe, and "to serve at once as a reproach and an encouragement to their somewhat dilatory Christian emancipators."

Richard Fletcher has his own analysis. "So the nostalgia of Maghribi writers was reinforced by the romantic vision of the nineteenth century. This could be flavoured with a dash of Protestant prejudice from the Anglo-Saxon world: it can be detected in Lane- Poole's reference to the Inquisition...In the second half of the twentieth century a new agent of obfuscation makes its appearance: the guilt of the liberal conscience, which sees the evils of colonialism -- assumed rather than demonstrated -- foreshadowed in the Christian conquest of Al Andalus and the persecution of the Moriscos (but not, oddly, in the Moorish conquest and colonisation). Stir the mix well together and issue it free to credulous academics and media persons throughout the western world . Then pour it generously over the truth...BUT MOORISH SPAIN WAS NOT A TOLERANT AND ENLIGHTENED SOCIETY EVEN IN ITS MOST CULTIVATED EPOCH"[My emphases]


In general, as a logical consequence of centuries of contempt, humiliation and persecution, the position of the non-Muslims in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries was very precarious indeed. As Lewis, talking of Jews, says, "From the late eighteenth century through the nineteenth century, expulsion, outbreaks of mob violence, and even massacres became increasingly frequent. Between 1770 and 1786 Jews were expelled from Jedda, most of them fleeing to the Yemen. In 1790 Jews were massacred in Tetuan, in Morocco; in 1828, in Baghdad. In 1834 a cycle of violence and pillage began in Safed. In 1839 a massacre of Jews took place in Meshed in Iran followed by the forced conversion of the survivors, and a massacre of Jews occurred in Barfurush in 1867. In 1840 the Jews of Damascus were subject to the first of a long series of blood libels in many cities. Other outbreaks followed in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and the Arab countries of the Middle East."

Coming to the twentieth century, we may mention the virulent anti-Jewish literature that has been produced in the last forty years in the Islamic world. Much of this hate-filled literature is in the form of translations from European languages of such works as Hitler's Mein Kampf, and "the Protocols of the Elders of Zion." But as Wistrich says, Muslim writers, "even when they exploit Western anti-Semitic images and concepts, usually manage to link these imported notions in a natural, even an organic manner, with ideas from within their own cultural tradition."


Armenian Christians have been subject to persecution by the Muslims for centuries. Here I want to allude to the massacres of 1894, 1895 and 1896. Against a background of hostilities between Russia and Turkey, Armenians looked to Russia for protection. But this did not prevent the massacre of more than 250 000 Armenians in Sasun, Trapezunt, Edessa, Biredjik, Kharput, Niksar and Wan. Many villages were burned down, and hundreds of churches plundered. Further massacres followed in 1904, and in 1909 when thirty thousand Armenians lost their lives at Adana. According to an article which appeared in "Revue Encyclop???dique "in 1896, the massacres of 1894-1896 were deliberately planned and executed -- it was no less than a methodical extermination of the Armenians.

Unable to support the idea of another nationality on Turkish soil, the Turks began the liquidation of Armenians, which ended in the infamous mass murders of 1915. These murders of 1915 have been described as the first case of genocide in the 20th century. Much polemic surrounds the events of 1915, with historians like Bernard Lewis denying that it was" genocide" or "planned." Indeed, Lewis is standing trial in France for his position. While other historians and many Armenians insist that more than a million Armenians were systematically exterminated in cold blood -- thousands were shot, drowned (including children), thrown over cliffs; those who survived were deported or reduced to slavery. This is surely nothing less than genocide, a genocide which seems to have deeply impressed Hitler, and which may well have served as a model for the genocide of the Jews carried out by him.

This genocide was but the natural culmination of a divinely sanctioned policy towards non-Muslims, it was nothing less than a jihad, perpetrated by Muslims, who alone benefited from the booty: the possessions and houses of the victims, the land, the women and children reduced to slavery. It was not an isolated incident, but a deliberate policy to eliminate any nationalism of the dhimmis, and to keep the conquered territory under Islamic jurisdiction. As Bat Ye'or says, "the inner logic of the jihad could not tolerate religious emancipation. Permanent war, the wickedness of the dar al Harb, and the inferiority of the conquered harbis constituted the three interdependent and inseparable principles underlying the expansion and political domination of the umma [the Muslim community]."


We are now in a position to appreciate the conclusions of the three scholars quoted below. A.S. Tritton in his "The Caliphs and their Non- Muslim Subjects..."concludes:

"[The Caliph] Mutasim bought the monastery at Samarra that stood where he wanted to build his palace. Other caliphs destroyed churches to obtain materials for their buildings, and the mob was always ready to pillage churches and monasteries. Though dhimmis might enjoy great prosperity, yet always they lived on sufferance, exposed to the caprices of the ruler and the passions of the mob. The episode of al Hakim [an absolute religious fanatic] must be regarded as the freak of a mad man, not typical of Islam. But in later times the position of the dhimmis did change for the worse. They were much more liable to suffer from the violence of the crowd, and the popular fanaticism was accompanied by an increasing strictness among the educated. The spiritual isolation of Islam was accomplished. The world was divided into two classes, Muslims and others, and only Islam counted. There were brilliant exceptions, but the general statement is true. If a Muslim gave any help to the religion of a dhimmi, he was to be summoned thrice to repentance, and then, if obdurate, he was to be put to death. Indeed, the general feeling was that the leavings of the Muslims were good enough for the dhimmis."

C.E.Bosworth, writing some fifty years later, summed up the status of the dhimmi:

"Although protected by the contract of dhimma, the dhimmis were never anything but second-class citizens in the Islamic social system, tolerated in large measure because they had special skills such as those of physicians, secretaries, financial experts, etc., or because they fulfilled functions which were necessary but obnoxious to Muslims, such as money-changing, tanning, wine-making, castrating slaves, etc. A Muslim might marry a dhimmi wife but not vice versa, for this would put a believing woman into the power of an unbeliever; for the same reason, a Muslim could own a dhimmi slave but not a dhimmi a Muslim one. The legal testimony of a dhimmi was not admissible in a judicial suit where a Muslim was one of the parties, because it was felt that infidelity, the obstinate failure to recognize the true light of Islam, was proof of defective morality and a consequent incapability of bearing legal witness. In the words of the Hanafi jurist Sarakhsi (d.483 / 1090),"the word of a dishonest Muslim is more valuable than that of an honest dhimmi." On the other hand, the deposition of a Muslim against a dhimmi was perfectly valid in law. It was further held by almost all schools of Islamic law (with the exception of the Hanafi one) that the diya or blood money payable on the killing of a dhimmi was only two-thirds or half of that of a free Muslim.

"It is surprising that, in the face of legal and financial disabilities such as these outlined above, and a relentless social and cultural Muslim pressure, if not sustained persecution, that the dhimmi communities survived as well as they did in mediaeval Islam"

The third scholar is Bat Ye'or:

"These examples are intended to indicate the general character of a system of oppression, sanctioned by contempt and justified by the principle of the inequality between Muslims and dhimmis...Singled out as objects of hatred and contempt by visible signs of discrimination, they were progressively decimated during periods of massacres, forced conversions, and banishments. Sometimes it was the prosperity they achieved through their labor or ability that aroused jealousy; oppressed and stripped of all their goods, the dhimmis often emigrated."


[1] E.W.Lane, Arabic ???English Lexicon, Beirut (Lebanon, Reprint 1968) Vol. 2 p.473

[2] R.Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam.A Reader. Princeton, 1996, p.2

[3] Bukhari, Sahih, Vol.IV trans. Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi,1984; pp. 34.

[4] Ibid., p.38

[5] Ibid., p.42

[6] Ibid., p.55

[7] Bukhari, op.cit., p.60

[8] ibid., pp.158-159.

[9] Abu Dawud, Sunan, trans. A.Hasan, Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi, 1997, p. 729

[10] Ibid. p.739

[11] Muslim, Sahih, trans.A.H.Siddiqi, Kitab Bhavan, New Delhi,1997 pp. 942- 943

[12] Averroes al-Bidaya, trans. in R.Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam, Princeton 1996, pp.29-31

[13] Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah, trans. F.Rosenthal, Princeton, Abridged Edn., 1967 p.183

Ibn Warraq is the author of Why I Am Not a Muslim and the editor of The Origins of the Koran, The Quest for the Historical Muhammad, and What the Koran Really Says.
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