The Christian Minority Becomes a Majority once again (continued)

D. The real juridical status of the Christian minority

The treaty of 638 between Omar and Sophronius had essentially guaranteed protection to Christians' persons, goods and churches, in exchange for the payment of a tribute. We have seen in the two previous sections how in subsequent copies the guarantee of the treaty of Omar and its counter-agreement underwent juridical elaborations, particularly in the shuruts. Since the ground has been cleared by modern criticism, it remains to be seen what kind of juridical status ensued in reality for the Christian population from the 638 convention. It was referred to as the dhimma, a Muslim Arab term in technical and traditional usage. This was the statute actually implemented, and imposed by the Muslims on their Christian and Jewish subjects, a statute that has since been well clarified by the studies of numerous researchers.

Christians under the Dhimma

By their conventions with the Muslim conquerors, the Christians, as well as some other groups specified in the Koran(59) , obtained the dhimma, or guarantee, also known as "the perpetual amdn"(60) . The Dhimma was a kind of bilateral contract between Muslims Muslim chiefs represented the Muslim State -(61) and heads of a population under their power. The population had to abdicate its external sovereignty, accepting the authority of the Muslim State" and committing itself to paying the gizyah. The dhimmis (62) were essentially "tributaries (63). Thus the dhimma was a status given by conquering Muslims. It implied considerable guarantees, but as a counter-undertaking the obligation to pay a tribute: this was normally specified in the initial convention. At the very beginning of the conquests, it consisted of a lump sum. but very soon, with the use of the census and communal auditing, the gizyah tribute (poll tax) and kharaj (property tax) often struck each of the dhimmis or tributaries. It should not be imagined that this was a Muslim innovation. Their imposition of tax on both persons and property had already been perfected by the Romans, particularly by Diocletian (64) the Byzantines inherited the system. The Muslims also adopted it, taking care not to upset such a well established state of affairs. At times the juridical situation of the dhimmi Christians has been seen as a jurisdictional and legislative immunity. Edelby(65) rightly prefers to call it autonomy. This status is in fact not an exception as such nor the privilege of a state within a State. It is a legislative and jurisdictional autonomy that the Muslim State, in keeping with its theocratic notions, granted to the Christians. Its foundation was the theocratic mind of Mohammed. In Islam, teaching and conduct, dogma and law, were contained in the Koran and came from Allah. They were a divine favour reserved for the "Faithful", the Muslims. But Mohammed projected his ideas over the other human communities, above all over the "tolerated" religions. He taught that each had its emissary from God(66): for the Jews, Moussa; for the Christians, Issa.

Each had its Book: the Torah for the Jews; the Injil (Gospel) for the Christians. And each bad its own doctrine and law. This theocratic conception of the religious and social phenomenon brought with it a that of coexistence of religions, nations and their legal codes: "To each his religion, in the plenary, Semitic sense of the word; that is to say, the collection of all norms governing belief, worship, morality and the life of individuals and groups (67). Mohammed thus admitted the diversity of religions revealed by God and thought that the Lord would reward each person according to their merits in their religion: "May the people of the Gospel judge according to what Allah revealed there(68) ... for each of you we have established a law and a rule of conduct"(69). This theocratic idea of Mohammed explains his religious tolerance. Even his example in the treatment of Jewish and Christian peoples, who he subdued by convention before his death, would serve thenceforth as a precedent for the conduct of his successors in their conquests. Inevitably these conquests, which were primarily plundering raids, entailed violence. But their very success, the acquisition of whole countries, the need to group and manage captured territories to facilitate their conquest and assimilation, led Muslim chiefs to the tolerance of Mohammed as their usual and normal practice. They saw clearly that it was entirely to their own advantage, for those who sought above all the levying of taxes and, to this end, the most peaceful domination possible. Respecting the religious, legislative and jurisdictional autonomy of countries was deliberate and astute policy. Conquered Christian populations, besides, certainly held their religion as their most precious possession. this was a major issue in all the conventions, under the concrete expression, apparently, of guaranteed respect for their churches as a symbol of all religious activities.

Moreover, it was often religious heads, patriarchs and bishops, who were the only remaining responsible agents in the face of Muslim conquest, and who had to handle the handing over of power. Evidently their chief concern was to assure respect for the religion of their flocks. This was done expressly in Jerusalem when Sophronius made his treaty with Omar. The conquerors, who had as their guide the example of Mohammed, besides needed to grant the greatest possible autonomy to the tributaries. The most delicate task for them was certainly that of imposing and collecting taxes, which was their main concern.They did not have among them peoples killed at doing this. Consequently for this particular area, so close to their hearts, they had recourse to locat Christian officials. These we arehighly experienced and the Muslim empireneeded their help in making the state machinery run properly, in carrying out the medical profession, and above all in acting as interpreters in translation and in public dealings with a population that knew no Arabic(70). These allowed the newcomers to avoid the inevitable disgust aroused by a new system of exploitation. Thus it is of course because of self-interest that the Arabs, first conquerors and then Omeyyades, should in their shrewdness leave as much autonomy as possible in all domains to the Christian populations. In the religious domain, in the first place, following Mohammed's example, so as not to cause difficulties in governing these populations. Also in the area of taxation, they followed the same policy so as to garner more from the country with the aid of experienced and accepted officials. Mou'a wiya entrusted to lbn Sarjoun "the diwhn(office) of taxes and accounts of his army (71).Sarjoun was also in charge of managing the arsenals, shipyards, and army stores(72). Under 'Abd'I-Malek, who began the Arabisation of the administration, the Arab governors appealed against the employment of dishonest Arab Muslims: "We have put the Muslims to the test and seen ourselves their lack of honesty"(73). They wished to keep the Christians. The Caliph put it this way: "We cannot do without the foreigners for a moment. For centuries they have never needed us to govem74). Hence the statutes of the Christian Dhimma included from the start administrative and religious autonomy. This concession, congruent with the theocratic thought of Islam, was in any case demanded by the very conditions of the conquest. The conquerors were at first only able to provide governors and soldiers, but for the remaining parts of that administration they had to rely on the experience of their tributaries. As has been rightly emphasised, if there is no positive witness with which to demonstrate the administrative autonomy of the conquest period, "the silence of documents (75), is the best proof. Besides, since religion and law were blurred into each other, religious autonomy expressly recognised as such automatically implied legislative and jurisdictional autonomy: "Each has the law of the religion that he follows (76). If the immunity of Christians is mentioned later on in the texts, we should be on our guard. These are documents that have been tampered with at a later date, by people of both sides, either to deny or to affirm such immunities. In practice, then, it seems to us that the general picture given by Fattal of the original autonomy in the dhimmis is precise: "At the same time that they receive protection from the Muslims, the Dhimmis find that their public liberties are guaranteed. Physical or individual freedom;

... Freedom of the family or of the legal person. Commercial freedom or freedom of property, association and work; only houses abandoned by refugees are acquired by Muslims. Freedom of conscience and worship; churches are not subjected to any regulation, but only those abandoned by Christians are turned into mosques. Political freedom; existing officials are kept in their positions; certain populations are brought in to fight alongside the Muslims. Finally, the Dhimmis keep the use of their laws and tribunals (77). It is better to follow this by trying to specify the progressive limitations that this freedom had to undergo from the end of the VII century.

Unfortunately, the confusion of witnesses, always too late, is a real obstacle to forming a precise idea of how the deterioration progressed. Besides, the documents adduced by the authors who would follow these developments - the deterioration of the original forms of autonomy - are not of Palestinian origin, but above all from Syria and Egypt. It has to be admitted, however, that because of the unity of the Arab empire, above all under the Omeyyads and the Abbassid beginnings, the rule of Palestinian Christians was generally the same as that of the Syrian Christians. As seen above, there is much confusion about the stages of this deterioration in status borne by Christians. Some would have it begin under the Caliph Omar at the time of the conquest, but this view has to be excluded. Omar was only the victim of later authors using his authority to justify much later measures. Taxes It was naturally in the area of taxes that the deterioration began, was most noticeable and left the most historical evidence. Under 'Abd 'I-Malek, it is noted that each monk in Egypt had for the first time to pay a denarius in gizyah. Souleiman (715-717) further increased the tax, and thus after him Hicham (724-743 )(78) .

This increase in taxes led to revolts in Egypt, which were put down violently; this reaction led to the conversion of 24,000 Copts to Islam in 727 (79) . In 826, the gizyah rose to 5 denarii; again the result was a revolt, this time of the Basmurite Christians, with a mercilessly (80)retribution followed by mass conversions: "After this, writes Maqrizi, the Copts were enslaved throughout the length of Egypt and the Muslims began to prevail in numbers in most villages"(81). The Copts were in fact converting en masse to escape the gizyah. The governor of Egypt could certainly have made the same remark as that made by a governor of the Caliph Hicham to the tax collector of Samarkand, who was worried by the conversions which threatened to dry up revenues: "I have been informed that it is not the heart that is making conversions, but fear of the gizyah(81). I many places they went as far as continuing to demand tax of converts, which led to new disturbances, as at Hajjaj(83) Omar 11 exempted the converts but imposed tax on all the other non-converts not already paying it(84). We have already pointed out the difficulty of following with certainty the stages of deterioration of the dhimma statute. Subsequent jurists wished to protect their ideal constructs by recourse to indisputable authorities. Thus they attributed elements of this legislation to Omar I (634-644) and to Omar 11 (718-720); but a good number of anti-Christian measures were executed by Mansour (954-975), Haroun 'r-rashid (786-809), especially Moutawakkil (847-861)(85) and finally by Hakem (896-1020). But our study aims to limit itself to the Christians of Palestine. It is true that the anti-Christian decrees of the Omeyyad and Abbassid rulers also came to be applied in Palestine; however, to delimit our research we have restricted ourselves to studying the shurcit document expressly concerning Jerusalem. It contains a fortunately complete account.of anti-Christian measures.

The treaties generally mentioned the guarantee of churches. Muslims were able to take inspiration from preceding Christian legislation. A law of Honorius and Theodosius from 423 forbade Jews to build new synagogues and to repair existing ones. Justinian demolished or changed the use of heretical places of worship. Therefore the guarantee clause was useful in the treaties with Muslims. At Jerusalem reference was made to the precautions taken by Omar to protect Christians from depredations in the future, as far as such a late witness can be believed. In 705, Walid is said to have confiscated the Church of St. John the Baptist, at Damascus, or half of it if there was sharing involved, with which to set up the great mosque. After some time there also arose the problem of restoring old churches that were falling into disrepair.

Islamic lawyers were divided: the "hanbalites" did not allow it, but the "malekites" allowed it in territories that enjoyed the authority of an original treaty (86). In practice, the convention was sub . ect to the liberality of caliphs or governors. A number of churches did disappear, either ruined or turned into mosques, when the population became predominantly Musloms(87). Many churches were also destroyed in spite of the guarantee of 638. Haroun had 16 demolished on the Byzantine frontiers in 808, as a security measure(88). Nevertheless, it was in the course of local anti-Christian reactions, caused above all in the tenth century by the Byzantine victories in Syria, that these destructions took place.

Thus in 923 the Muslims of Ramleh, administrative capital of Palestine, pulled down the church of this town. It should be emphasised that it had been built under Muslim rule, since Souleiman only built this town in 715-718. The same year the churches of Cesarea and Ascalon were destroyed. But Al-Mouqtader (908-932), the reigning Abbassid Caliph, allowed the rebuilding of these churches, pulled down against his wishes. In 937, there was n new anti-Christian uprising in Jerusalem: the eastern doors of the basilica were set on fire and the Anastasis was plundered. Uprising and pillage also took place at Ascalon. Caliph Alqadi dissociated himself from these excesses. On the occasion of a truce between Byzantines and Muslims, Constantine VII sent a large grant to Jerusalem. In 966, as a reaction to Nicephorus' victories, Phocas, the Byzantine basileus, plundered the Anastasis once again, helped by Jews and Arabs; they killed the patriarch, hung his body from a column and burned it. In this last incident "the Jews plundered and destroyed even more than the Muslims", attests Yahya of Antioch(89). The arrival of the Fatimite Caliph Hakem (996-1020) was to crown all the misfortunes of Palestinian churches, particularly those of Jerusalem and above all the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. He had the crosses taken away and then ordered the destruction of all the churches in Egypt, Palestine and Syria. He made an express command to the governor of Palestine at Ramleh to destroy completely the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. There has been special mention of the how this governor set to work on the 28 September 1009 and did his utmost to carry out his orders: "He razed the Holy Sepulchre itself to the ground, broke it almost com- pletely to pieces and annihilated if(90). Still capricious and moved by the threat of reprisals against ,mosques in Christian lands, Hakem gave a counter-order, allowing churches to be reopened or rebuilt if they had been destroyed, and restoring to them the goods that he had had removed(91) . At the Holy Sepulchre the restoration works began in I 0 1 0, started by Mufarrez, a Bedouin sheikh who bad revolted against Hakem. In 1038, the Caliph Mustanser authorised the Byzantines to join in the restoration of the Holy Sepulchre in exchange for 5,000 prisoners(92). This is the work that Constantine Monomachus completed in 1048 and which the crusaders found, but already ruined, in 1099.

From this we see the desolation of Christian churches in Palestine in the IX and X centuries. Behind the testimonies, which mention those of Ramleh, Ascalon, Cesarea and Jerusalem, can be guessed the extent of the destruction throughout the country. These devastations show clearly how far the guarantee given by Omar in 638 had declined. The distinctive signs Another area in which the deterioration in Christians' status is evident is the distinguishing signs they were forced to use. The were required to differentiate themselves from Muslims in their dress, hair, names and even in the beasts they rode. This is found, as we have seen, in the compendium of vexations in the text of the shurut of Omar. In this domain too the Muslims had masters that they could imitate, but whom they surpassed.

Among the Romans, customs distinguished between citizens and slaves(93). Omar 11 (718-740), following the advice of Abu Yousuf (+798), seems to have forbidden Christians the use of turbans and saddles, and ordered them to wear a be it (94). We may well ask ourselves what were the motives behind such measures. Primarily it was to differentiate the Muslims, the only soldiers of the Arab empire; the Arabic Omeyyad cavalry was also formed from horses taken from the conquered. Omar would have taken care to make the soldiers clearly recognisable(95).The first aim would thus have been to make the dhimmis easily distinguishable.

The jurists and the anti-Christians also saw in this a means of humiliating them, and lbn Taimiyya thought that these discriminatory measures would have the good effect of pushing them into embracing Islam. It also happened at times that the distinguishing signs were meant to keep Christians safe. In 750 the Abbassids at Khorasan made Christians put crosses on their persons and their houses so that they could be spares(96.) These burdensome measures were demanded by some governors of various regimes. Haroun made a decree for the dhimmis of Baghdad, influenced in certain measure by his legal expert Abu Ya'coub, so that they could be differentiated. But under Ma 'moun (818-835) the Christians of Baghdad dressed in black like the Abbassids and rode horses(97)

Thus the decrees enacted were not actually applied until Moutawakkil, in 850(98). He imposed the colour yellow, the belt, wooden saddles, the yellow turban, and the yellow veil for women. White and black were reserved for Muslims. Christian slaves had to wear on their shoulder two bands of yellow cloth hanging in front and behind. These decrees, however, fell into disuse when an attempt was made to revive them in Iraq under Mouqtader (908-932) and in Egypt under Mohammad 'I-Ikshid (930). It was Hakem again who in this area brought about the height of the vexations. He obliged the dhimmis to use black in derision for the Abbassids. He imposed on Christians eighteen-inch crosses which they had to wear hanging from their neck; Jews had to wear a block of wood with a calf's head representing the one adored in the desert(99).

Later Hakem himself withdrew these decrees, re-establishing the liberties of the dhimmis. This- did not prevent the decrees, even when withdrawn or fallen into disuse, from being ratified by their incorporation in the works of the legists as well as more or less in the Muslim mentality. A return of intolerance was al I that was needed for them to revive. This happened with Mustanser of Egypt in 1086 and in Baghdad in 1091 under Mouqtader. From the East, these distinctive signs travelled as far as Europe through Spain in the Xlll century. The tolerant status given to Christians deteriorated steadily. The most sensitive points, as we have seen, were those of increasingly onerous taxes, the religious vexations expressed in the fate of churches, and the humiliating distinctive signs that brought home in a specially hard way to Christians their diminished position in Islamic countries. The result of this ever increasing pressure was successive waves of conversions to Islam. We have seen how they were especially important in Syria under Walid (705-715) but above all in Egypt, where the treatment was always harder and the conversions were massive.

The documents do not show the same for Palestine, which though no less important was always upstaged by events at Jerusalem. Still, under such persistent pressures, there were conversions to Islam here also. These alone account for the historical fact that on the eve of the Crusades the Muslim population was in the majority in Palestine. As a corollary, the Christians there were by then no more than a minority. The progressive deterioration of their status was the true explanation.



59 FATTAL, op. cit., p. 74. The Sabeans, Jews, Samaritans and Zoroastrians are named.

60 Ibid., p. 72-73: "According to the great Arabic dictionaries, the word dhimma is synonymous with faith, pact, contract, guarantee, protection and the beneficiaries of this pact are the Dhimmis, or Ahl 'dhimma, or simply Dhimma".

61 SHIRAZI, At-tanbihfz 'I-fiqh, Leyde 1879, p.295.

62 LEVI-PROVENCAL E., Histoire de 1'Espagne musulmane, 3 voll., Paris Leiden 1950-1953, 1, p.78. In Spain the term dhimmis was reserved for Jews, while the Christians became mostly the Mozarabs, musta'riba = the arabised; SIMONET F.J., Historia de los Mozarabes de Espana, Madrid 1897-1903, VII, VIII, IX ss.

63 LAMMENS, op. cit., p. 123.

64 PIGANIOL A., La capitation do Diocletien, in Revue Historique (founded in 1876 by Gabriel Monod), LX (1935), t. 176, p. 1-13: DIEHL C., 1'Egypte chritienne et byzantine, in Histoire de la Nation Egyptienne (published under the direction of HANOTAUX G., Paris 1933), Ill, p. 461; LECLERQ H Imp6ts, in Dictionnaire d'Archeologie chretienne et de Liturgie (directed by Dom Cabrol and Dom Leclerq, Paris 1907-), VII, p. 415-463.

65. EDELBY N., Essai sur l'autonomie ligislative et juridictionnelle des chretiens d'Orient sous la domination musulmane de 638 a 1517, (Excerpta ad Lauream), Rome 1950, p. 3.

66. Le Coran, new translation and commentary by Sheikh SI BOUBAKEUR HAMZA, 2 volt., Paris 1972, X, 47:

67 EDELBY, op. cit., p. I 1.

68 Coran, V. 47:

69 Ibid., p. 48:

70 FATTAL, op. cit., p. 240-263.

71 TABARI, op. cit., 11, p. 205, 837; LAMMENS, La Syrie: Pr6cis historique, 1, p. 70.

72 LAMMENS, Ibid., p. 70.

73 Ibid., p. 84-85:

74 Ibid., p. 85:

75 EDELBY, op. cit., p. 13.

76 TABARI, Jam i'l-baydn 'an ta wili ay 'I-Quran, 3 books in 12 voll., Damas,1373 = 1954, VI, p. 265-266:

77 FATTAL, op. cit., p. 60.

78 MAQRIZI, Al-mawa'ith wa 'I-itibar bi thikr 'I-khitah wa 'I-thaAr, 2 voll., Lebanon 1270 = 1853, 1, p. 142.

79 MAQRIZI, op. cit., p. 146-147: Similarly FATTAL, op. cit., p. 342: lbn Al-MUQAFFA', Kitab siyar 'I-batarika (CSCO, Series 111, t, IX, p. 178).

80 MAQRIZI, op. cit., p. 142:

81 Ibid., p. 143:

82 FATTAL, op. cit., p. 342.

83 Ibid., p. 326-327.

84 Ibid., p. 339.

85 TABARI, op. cit., 111, p. 713, 1389, 1419.

86 FATTAL, op. cit., p. 174.

87 Ibid., p. 189.

88 TABARI, op. cit., Ill, p. 712.

89 YAHYA of ANI'IOCH, op. cit., (CSCO, Series 111, to VII, p. 126).

90 Ibid., p. 125-126.

91 Ibid., p. 194 ss.

92 MAQRIZI, op. cit., p. 355

93 FATTAL, op. cit., p. I 1 2

94 ABOU YOUSUF, Le livre de I'impot foncier (Kitab 'I-kharaj), translated and annotated by FAGNAN E., Paris 192 1, p. 195-196.

95 FATTAL, op. cit., p. 98.

96 lbn A] MUQAFFA', Kitab siyar 'I-batarika (CSCO, Series Ill, to IX, p.204).

97 YAHYA of ANTIOCH, op. cit., (CSCO, Series Ill, to VII, p.59).

98 TABARI, op. cit., Ill. p. 1389 ss. And 1419; FATTAL, op. cit., p. 10 1,207,252; H ITTI P, History of syria, London 195 1, p. 544.

99 YAHYA of ANTIOCH, op. cit., p. 187 ss.