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Christian Dhimmi Status
Christians in a land militarily occupied by Muslims have only three choices. The first is to adopt Islam so as to be absorbed into the faithful. The second is to pay the special tax known as jizya, which turns them into dhimmi or second-class citizens. The third is simply to be killed by the sword. Choosing to pay the tax is in effect to submit and thereby to accept conditions of tolerance that were painful and humiliating. These treaties or, as they are sometimes called, “covenants” were all designed to socially oppress and humiliate. When Omar conquered Jerusalem, he included the following conditions in the decree of capitulation often referred to as the “Covenant of Umar:”2828 (1) Christians are free to worship in their churches, but Muslims are allowed to attend at any time, day or night; (2) they will never perform their worship services on the street; (3) they will not teach the Qur’an to their children; (4) they will not convert anyone to their religion; (5) they will not hinder anyone from becoming Muslim; (6) they will always give Muslims the highest seat of honour in their meetings; (7) they will not dress like Muslims (8) they will never write in Arabic, the glorious language of Islam; (9) they will not adopt Muslim names; (10) they will not ride on large saddles; (11) they will never carry weapons; (12) they will shave their beards; (13) they will never place crosses on their churches; (14) they will never play their carillons; (15) they will bury their dead without public display; (16) they will never harbour a slave that belongs to a Muslim; (17) they will never peek into Muslim houses; (18) they will never raise a hand against a Muslim. These conditions were to be accepted at the time of the capitulation for themselves and their descendants. Should they ever fail to strictly observe any of these conditions, they would in effect concede to Omar the right to apply any penalty against them that is due to a sovereign over against rebel subjects.
In Egypt, these conditions were made even heavier. Christians were obligated to carry a wooden cross of considerable weight around the neck, while they also were forced to wear very dark and almost dishonourable clothes. Every Christian was made to feel deeply that every Muslim was of higher status, that in public life only Muslims counted for full and that they were in fact marginalized from society. It soon became clear that this harsh treatment of a subjugated people was less inspired by Islam than by a lust for spoils.2929Italics by translator. The Khalif wanted to see money at every turn. The more the head tax yielded, the happier he was. When that tax began to shrink because the payers converted to Islam, this conversion was greeted at the Court in Baghdad with some misgiving. In Egypt the yield of the tax diminished within a few years from ten to three million dinars, a painful statistic of Christian apostasy. Amr bin Al-As, the general who conquered Egypt but who did not send enough money from this rich country to the Khalif’s Court or for the construction of the large mosque in Jerusalem, was eventually even recalled and replaced by Abdullah, who was a more willing tool.
Even though Muslims exerted little pressure on Christians to convert, the social humiliation inflicted on them in the long run proved to be unbearable. Persecution steels and stimulates; it fires up a holy enthusiasm and revives heroism, but never-ending social humiliation depletes energy and leads eventually to total collapse. Imagine being excluded from everything prestigious and honourable, constantly to be treated like an inferior, to be held back at all fronts, to see your family move about with oppressive inferiority, your children robbed of any future improvement, to be walking around in shameful clothes day after day. And then, on the contrary, to see everyone who accepts Islam crowned with honour, helped to advance and gain in power. This contrast constitutes life-long torture that at the end becomes too heavy to bear. And then to realize that with only one word it is possible to throw off this yoke, to be free from the head tax, and to open for yourself and for your children the path to honour and power. And come to think of it, Islam did not demand a lot. The kiss [of peace] was offered as soon as you call upon Allah and His Prophet. This is the temptation for which entire Christian families, century after century, have fallen. To be sure, there has also been courageous resistance and energetic opposition so that whoever digs deeply into this sad history of nameless suffering will experience profound admiration for the toughness and the unyielding spirit with which numerous families preferred this harsh humiliation to denying Christ. But this fire of holy faith could only glow where faith had sunk deeply into the heart—and that was exactly where the masses were lacking. For this reason, the masses gradually moved over to Islam, family after family. As the number of Christian families in the cities and villages gradually diminished, it became increasingly difficult for the remnant to hold out. As apostasy of others became the pattern, your own apostasy seemed less sinful. And so it was that, with the exception of small remnants, everywhere in Asia and Africa entire nations were converted to Islam.
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