From Academic Kids

A Dhimmi, or Zimmi (Arabic ذمّي), as defined in classical Islamic legal and political literature, is a person living in a Muslim state who is a member of an officially tolerated non-Islamic religion. The term literally means person of the dhimma, the security treaty signed with the Muslim state. In both legal theory and practice, dhimmis have fewer legal rights and obligations than Muslims.



The root of "dhimmi" is the Arabic "dh-m-m", "dhimma" meaning: "being in the care of". The term initially applied to "People of the Book" living in lands under Muslim rule, namely Jews and Christians. Over time Muslims extended this category to Zoroastrians, Mandeans, and Sikhs. Many, but not all, extend this to Hindus.

Its origin is traced to the Pact of Umar (text) (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/pact-umar.html): a treaty supposedly drawn up by Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second Caliph, to deal with non-Muslims living on land conquered by Muslims.

In the Middle Ages, the dhimmi concept was tolerant by the standards of the time. Christians and Jews were allowed to live in peace within the Muslim society, on the condition (also required of Muslim subjects) of submission to their rulers. There were many Christian and Jewish scientists that prospered under Muslim rule. An example is the Muslim state of Cordoba in Southern Spain where Christians and Jews prospered. Maimonides, by some considered the greatest Jewish philosopher and Talmudic sage, lived in Muslim Spain, North Africa and Egypt. However, he and his family fled Spain to escape religious persecution after Cordoba was conquered by the less tolerant Muslim Almohads from the Muslim Almoravids, and then fled from North Africa as well, before eventually finding refuge in Egypt. As well, some of his more famous works were his Iggereth Teiman, a letter written to raise the spirits of the severely oppressed Jews of Yemen, and Iggereth HaShmad, an essay on the legal implications of forced conversion to Islam.

As late as the 16th century, religious tolerance in Europe was greatest within the Ottoman Empire.

Modern vs. customary practice

The attitude towards dhimmis varies from Muslim to Muslim. The religious and legal views of this issue have historically been a practical issue, but today have become a purely theoretical issue for many Muslim nations. Very few such nations now have any legally defined special status for dhimmis. Dhimmitude still is legally important in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and until recently was important in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Some Islamist organizations are working to make Islamic law, including dhimmitude, applicable in all Muslim nations.

Some Muslim authors present the dhimmi as being equal to Muslims. For example:

"Islam does not permit discrimination in the treatment of other human beings on the basis of religion or any other criteria... it emphasises neighborliness and respect for the ties of relationship with non-Muslims ...within this human family, Jews and Christians, who share many beliefs and values with Muslims, constitute what Islam terms Ahl al-Kitab, that is, People of the Scripture, and hence Muslim have a special relationship to them as fellow 'Scriptuaries'."Template:Ref

Others present the dhimmi as being second-class citizens.:

"In a country ruled by Muslim authorities, a non-Muslim is guaranteed his freedom of faith... Muslims are forbidden from obliging a non-Muslim to embrace Islam, but he should pay the tribute to Muslims readily and submissively, surrender to Islamic laws, and should not practise his polytheistic rituals openly."Template:Ref

Indeed, Sayyed Al-Qimni has criticized books used in the curriculum at Al-Azhar University in Cairo and other Islamic universities for teaching that dhimmis should be degraded. For example: "If a dhimmi invites a Muslim to a wedding celebration, he must not go, 'because one must degrade dhimmis...'" 2 (http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP79004)

Bernard Lewis comments:

Two stereotypes dominate most of what has been written on tolerance and intolerance in the Islamic world. The first depicts a fanatical warrior, an Arab horseman riding out of the desert with a sword in one hand and the Qur'an in the other, offering his victims the choice between the two. This picture […] is not only false but impossible […]. The other image, almost equally preposterous, is that of an interfaith, interracial utopia, in which men and women belonging to different races, professing different creeds, lived side by side in a golden age of unbroken harmony, enjoying equality of rights and of opportunities, and toiling together for the advancement of civilization. Both images are of course wildly distorted; yet both contain, as stereotypes often do, some elements of truth. Two features they have in common are that they are relatively recent, and that they are of Western and not Islamic origin.Template:Ref

Status of Dhimmis

For several centuries following the codification of the Qur'an, the Islamic Caliphate expanded its political control rapidly through warfare. Conquered peoples—including Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Sabians, and Hindus—became dhimmis: protected citizens under Islamic law, allowed the rights listed below on condition of loyalty or acquiescence to the government and paying the taxes mentioned below. The status of dhimmis has varied at different times and between nations.


  • Protection of life, wealth and honor by the Muslim state (even against other co-religionist states)
  • Right to reside in Muslim lands
  • Right of worship according to their own religion
  • Right to choose their own religious leaders: patriarchs for the Christians, exilarchs and geonim for the Jews. The choice was subject to the approval of the Muslim authorities, who sometimes blocked candidates or took the side of the party that offered the larger bribe.Template:Ref In Saudi Arabia, where no religion apart from Islam is officially recognized, this right is moot.
  • Right to work and trade
  • Right not to be enslaved; this was not always respected, as the application of the devshirmeh under the Ottomans demonstrates, and became void should the dhimmi rebel.


  • Exemption from paying zakah "alms to the poor"
  • Exemption from being drafted in military service
  • Exemptions from religious duties specific to Muslims
  • Exemptions from personal Muslim laws (e.g. marriage, divorce)


  • Paying jizyah (a poll tax applied to non-muslims, unless they served in the military, an exception to this was the janissaries in the Ottoman empire)
  • Paying kharaj (a land tax applied initially to dhimmi but extended in the early 8th century to cover certain classes of land regardless of the cultivator's religion)Template:Ref


  • Not allowed to build new non-Muslim houses of worship, or expand existing locations.
  • Not allowed to display non-Muslim symbols on the outside of their existing houses of worship.
  • Not allowed to pray non-Muslim prayers, perform non-Muslim rituals, wear symbols of their faith visibly on their clothing, or preach non-Muslim faiths in public.
  • Not allowed to publish or sell non-Muslim religious literature.
  • Not allowed to ask Muslims to join them in worship (see proselytization).
  • Non-Muslim males cannot marry Muslim females (but Muslim males may freely marry non-Muslim females).

Other points: Later legislation in the Sharia codified the rule that Jews and Christians were forbidden to blaspheme the Qur'an, the religion of Islam, or Muhammad. Jews and Christians were also forbidden to ask Muslims to join their faith, but Muslims were allowed to ask Jews and Christians to convert to Islam (see proselytization). Violation of these rules could invoke the death sentence.

Dhimmis were sometimes subject to other restrictions. Each of the following were forbidden to dhimmis at some point somewhere in the world:

  • Holding public office. This was very rarely enforced: in reality, many non-Muslims held high positions in Muslim states, including Samuel Ha-Nagid in Spain, as well as others in Egypt, Iraq, and the Ottoman Empire.
  • Bearing weapons.
  • Riding camels or horses. Also rarely enforced.
  • Building houses of worship higher than mosques.
  • Mourning loudly.
  • Dressing in the same way that Arabs dressed. Dress codes, such as forcing all Jews to wear a yellow badge, were sometimes—but not always—enforced, so that dhimmis would be visibly distinct from Muslims. The practice is not found in the Qur'an or hadith.

Death penalty

In certain schools of Islamic jurisprudence, if a Jew or Christian is convicted of killing a Muslim, the sentence is death, while if a Muslim is convicted of killing a Jew or Christian, it is not. The following extract from Sahih Al-Bukhari (Hadith 9.50; Narrated by Abu Juhaifa) supports this view:

"I asked 'Ali 'Do you have anything Divine literature besides what is in the Qur'an?' Or, as Uyaina once said, 'Apart from what the people have?' 'Ali said, 'By Him Who made the grain split (germinate) and created the soul, we have nothing except what is in the Qur'an and the ability (gift) of understanding Allah's Book which He may endow a man with, and what is written in this sheet of paper.' I asked, 'What is on this paper?' He replied, 'The legal regulations of Diya (Blood-money) and the (ransom for) releasing of the captives, and the judgment that no Muslim should be killed in Qisas (equality in punishment) for killing a Kafir (disbeliever)'."

As does this text from Sunan of Abu-Dawood (Hadith 2745; Narrated by Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-'As), which states:

"The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) said: ... A believer shall not be killed for an unbeliever, nor a confederate within the term of confederation with him."

While this point of view is indeed present in Islamic jurisprudence, it is not the only interpretation, nor has it been the practice over most of Muslim history. There is a hadith (narrated in Abdul Razzaq and Al Baihaqi) which states that Muhammad ordered the execution of a Muslim because he killed a dhimmi. This hadith's authenticity is disputed. Ali would have ordered an execution in a similar case had the dhimmi victim's brother not asked that the Muslim not be executed. Ali said: "Those who have our dhimma have their blood equal to ours ... [they paid the jizyah so that their life and our lives are equal]". Moreover, Omar Ibn Abdul Aziz ordered his regional governors to execute those who kill any dhimmis.

This view is adopted by the Maliki and Hanafi schools, as well as many other jurists, such as Al Laith Ibn Saad, Al Sha'bi, Ibn Abi Laila, and Al Nakh'i.

Most Islamic states followed the latter interpretation, as during Ali's and Omar II's reigns, and in the Ottoman Empire until its end in 1924.

Dhimmis in Islam vs. minorities in non-Muslim societies

Non-Muslim societies in the medieval period had comparable laws and regulations. Severe and harsh restrictions were imposed on Jews in Europe before Islam came to Spain. The Visigothic Code (or Forum Judicum), has an entire book dedicated to laws concerning Jews, with severe restrictions, and often one-sided laws. King Ervigius's additions to the code were even more restrictive. It forced Jews not to prevent their children from baptism, prohibited them from celebrating Passover, undergoing circumcision, marriage of relatives, observing dietary laws, reading books that the Christian faith rejects, and testifying against Christians—as well as forbidding Christians from defending or protecting Jews, and forcing Jews to abstain from labor on Sundays and Christian holidays.

Dress code and other restrictions were forced by Christians on Jews, as well as Muslims in Europe. In Spain it was enforced, and penalties were levied if mudejars did not observe it. As early as 1215 the Fourth Council of the Lateran under Pope Innocent III issued a decree that Muslims and Jews shall wear a special dress to distinguish them from Christians. This concept is thus common to medieval Christendom and Islam. Such measures no longer exist in European law codes, though a few Muslim countries still impose dhimmi restrictions up to the present day.

See also


  1. Template:Note Haneef, Suzanne. What everyone should know about Islam and Muslims, Kazi Publications, Lahore, 1979, p. 173
  2. Template:Note Abdul Rahman Ben Hammad Al-Omar, The Religion of Truth, Riyadh, General Presidency of Islamic Researches, 1991, p. 86.
  3. Template:Note Lewis, 1984, p. 3
  4. Template:Note Stillman, 1979, pp. 37–39
  5. Template:Note Lewis, 1950, pp. 77–78


  • Duran, Khalid; Hechiche, Abdelwahab. Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews (Ktav, 2001)
  • Gardet, Louis. La Cite Musulmane: Vie sociale et politique (Paris: Etudes musulmanes, 1954), p. 348.
  • Lewis, Bernard. The Jews of Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984)
  • Lewis, Bernard. The Arabs in History (London: Hutchinson's University Library, 1950)
  • Stillman, Norman. The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979)
  • Ye'or, Bat. The Dhimmi (NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1985), pp. 43-44.
  • Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing

External links

de:Dhimmi fr:Dhimmi it:Dhimmi nl:dhimmi sv:Dhimmi


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