Islamic-Christian Relations in Palestine in a Civil Society
                   "An Islamic Point of View"
                       Shaykh Jamil Hamami
                     March 1, 2000

Is there a real crisis in the relationship between Islam and Christianity in Palestine warranting investigation? Or is there a misunderstanding between the followers of the two religions, warranting efforts on our
part to clear up the situation? Or are the different ideas of Islam and Christianity forcing some to believe that the relationship between them is very tense? Is there a complicated situation that cannot be unraveled?

There are many answers that would require dialogue to clear up the picture. We are not talking about a real problem when we address the relationship between Islam and Christianity. We are not talking about misunderstandings on both sides that cannot be reversed. These are normal and occur in all societies. The important question is: What can the intellectuals do in this situation to prevent adverse results? And what is the role of education in forming minds that can accept different ideas
and opinions?

"When the believer-Muslim or Christian-lives a life of spirituality and godliness, the differences between people melt away, and life becomes a manifestation of God's greatness, a field for his blessings. All creations seem to be God's children. But one might turn one's faith inwards and concentrate on small technicalities until one sees someone on the other end of the faith spectrum to be a devil that must be avoided, an enemy that must be fought as a religious obligation. This is how ideas become convoluted, sometimes moving far away from the open godly spirit of those who are immersed in the love of God."1

When we talk about Islamic-Christian relations, we must take a moment to talk about the historic aspects of this relationship in order to clarify the basis of this relationship and understand the nature of the future relationship that we would like to see in a civil society in Palestine. Such a future relationship would be built on ideas that come together to build a strong, unified structure.

We cannot separate Islamic-Christian relations in Palestine from Islamic-Christian relations in the East in general, although in Palestine there are certain idiosyncracies because of the situation there. Israeli occupation did not discriminate between the treatment of both religions, but it did play on the contradictions in each religion to make problems that sometimes lead to tense and unstable situations. It would have been worse if not for the intervention of the intellectuals on both sides who had a feel for what the occupation was trying to do and understood the role of the occupation agencies. Their interventions led to a state of psychological stability and cooperation best suited to build a relationship based on respect and appreciation on both sides.

When talking about this relationship, one cannot deny that there are major differences in their conceptions of God, the universe, and life. But these differences are not the subject of this study. The issue was settled with the verse from the Qur'an, "Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error."2 The relationship has been tainted with
tension and misunderstanding at times. This is due to misconceptions of people on both sides who do not have sufficient knowledge of religion or of the relationship among Palestinians.

When we lay the foundations for a future relationship between Islam and Christendom in Palestine, we cannot ignore the political and social differences between the two sides. But we can try to bring the points of view closer in order to build the relationship on a sense of mutual respect and to give a chance for differing opinions to be aired. This society must make room for all ideas as long as they are healthy and follow in the tradition of our Arab and Islamic heritage. To begin discussing specific ideas, we must go beyond generalities by making two points: the first concerns the historic dimension of this relationship in terms of Omar's Covenant, and the second concerns the rules governing the relationship between Islam and Christianity.

The Historic Dimension:

Omar's Covenant is the basis for defining the relationship between Islam and Christianity in Palestine. It is the document that, in all clarity and respect, laid the foundations not only for the era of Islamic expansion, but also for the centuries after that and for the future. Anyone who studies this document finds that it contains fixed principles that apply
 to all places and times. In order to understand it fully, one must read the following text carefully:

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. This is the security that the servant of God, Omar, Emir of the Faithful, gives the people of Elia (the Christian inhabitants of Jerusalem). He gives them security for their persons and their properties, for their churches and crosses, for their sick and innocent, and for all their followers. Their churches will
not be taken over or destroyed. Nothing is taken from them that belongs to them, neither their crosses nor any of their money. They are not forced to change their religion, and none of them shall be harmed. No Jew shall live with them in Elia (no Jew had the right to settle on Christian land.

Omar later changed this and Jews were invited by Omar to settle in Jerusalem). The people of Elia must pay the tax at the same rate as other cities. They must drive the Romans and thieves out. Those who leave, as well as their money, are safe until they reach their safe havens. Whoever stays is safe, and must pay the tax at the same rate as the people of Elia. Whoever among the people of Elia wants to leave with his money and join the Romans and leave their business and crosses is safe until they reach their safe haven. Whoever is from the people of this land can stay, and must pay the tax at the same rate as the people of Elia. Whoever wants to leave with the Romans can leave, and whoever wants to return to his family can do so.

Nothing from their harvests shall be taken. This writing has the oath of God, His Prophet, the Caliphs, and the faithful as long as they pay their taxes.3

We should start with this historic treatise because I see the relationship between the two parties as based on respect and security, which in turn would lay the foundation for the society that we want. Any other behaviour would be a deviation from this foundation and would violate the true understanding of the relationship. The main points we discern from the covenant are the following. There will be:

- Personal and financial security;
- Freedom of religion in belief and worship;
- The right to be protected and for the State to come to one's defense to make sure onecomes to no harm;
-  Freedom of movement when and wherever one wants.

Omar's Covenant, which is a reference text when it comes to relations between Islam and Christianity, shows how positively the first Muslims saw the relationship between themselves and those of other religions. What Sir Thomas Arnold wrote in his valuable book, Calling to Islam, in the chapter on Christians under Islamic rule, is truly beautiful:

When the Christians lived in security for their lives and properties, reveling in such tolerance which granted them freedom of religious thought, they enjoyed a life of luxury in the early days of the Islamic Caliphate. Mu'awiya (A.D. 661-681, A.H. 41-60) was able to employ Christians as civil servants, as did others from the Umayyad house of Malik. Christians held high places in the Caliphs' court. There was Al-Aftal, an Arab Christian who was the royal court's poet, and Abu al-Qadees, a.k.a. St. John of Damascus, the adviser of Caliph Abdul Malik.4

This is the basic view of the relationship in a Muslim society. Any other situations are a deviation from the old path. By this simple introduction, I want the reader to understand how I see the basis of the relationship between Islam and Christianity not only in Palestine, and not only in the Arab world, but everywhere.

This is the basis for human relations in all societies: if they are not built on balance and respect, they become weak. "The Lord's justice manifests itself on the social level in calling for a humanistic, open society that has all faiths and opinions, or as Sayyid Qutub says, 'Where there is no force.' ... This must be a basic element of its being....It must not choke them, drive them from their homes, or bury them in the snows of Siberia. It must not assassinate them with cleansing movements.

This is because it depends on faith and on every individual's voluntary defense of the order."5

"Any regime that does not allow dissenters to live in peace and security holds the seeds of its own downfall, even if it owns all the technologies of oppression. These techniques and technologies will protect it for a short while, but it will explode from the inside. Those of other religions who refuse to live under Islam will not be the enemies of Islam unless they begin aggression. So the relationship between Islam and Christians in society must be based on justice and charity, because it is a society based on a free contract calling for justice and equality in rights and obligations. Participation is based on merit and trustworthiness. Citizenry is based on equality."6

"The healthy society is that which is able to absorb others in it, where all are working to build a better life. [The society I'm looking for is one where] the relationship between citizens is based on justice, mercy and piety, not one where xenophobia, selfishness, and close-mindedness rule, and the differences between religion, gender, and color govern."7

The reader might think that this study will be limited to generalities and nice words that confront the issue of Islamic-Christian relations superficially, without looking to the desired future relationship. But clarifying the basis of the relationship might do away with many of the conflicts that come up in daily transactions between the two groups. It
might also do away with the current argument-well-intentioned or not-about the status of non-Muslims in Islamic societies. The fear of some that the ideology-driven situation of Christians in an Islamic society must be harsh is unjustified if we look at the relationship that we have just described.

The history of Muslim-Christian relations in Palestine is enough to guarantee the construction of a strong relationship based on mutual respect and clear understanding that everyone has full rights as members of a society that all are trying to build.

Rules Governing the Relationship Between Islam and Christianity:

The basis of the relationship between Islam and Christianity springs from texts that have proven themselves over time and that have been successful in forging strong relations. In the Holy Qur'an, God says, "God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God
loves those who are just. God only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) faith and drive you out of your homes and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such who turn to them (in these circumstances) that do wrong (1)."

This is the basis of the relationship between the two parties. Long ago, Islam created a constitution guiding relations between its followers and the followers of other religions who agree to live under its governance. Islam gave them their full rights, and required from them obligations that are required of any citizen in any State. Here is a summary of the rights granted to people who agree to live in an Islamic society:

 Political rights, meaning the rights of someone as part of a political group:

(a) Right to employment. I see no reason why Christians living in a Muslim society should not be employed, especially if officials decide to give them jobs. This is based on the justice of Islamic shariah (law), which strengthens healthy practices and legislation in an Islamic society. The jobs that have to do with the Islamic religion are limited to Muslims.
Bukhari narrates as a correct saying: Abu Musa Al-Ash'ari said, "Two men and I went to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and one of the men said, 'Oh Prophet of God, give us responsibility for some of what God has given you responsibility for.' And the other said the same. So the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, 'We do not give responsibility to those who ask it, nor
those who wish to retain it.'(2)" Such are the rules of merit and fairness of employment in Muslim society. To reaffirm this Qur'anic, humanistic principle, we look to Islamic history, especially the era of ideal implementation of Islam. Muslims and non-Muslims were equal in everything that had no direct link to religion. Every citizen, regardless of creed, is allowed to attain any civil service job in the Islamic State (3).

(b) Right to candidacy and election. The right of nomination to office and to vote are rights of all citizens, without discrimination. Every group can choose its representatives for public assemblies. Each has the right to choose who represents it in expressing its special concerns. Currently, the position of head of State is not a religious position, so they have the right to choose the head of State just like other citizens. This is what Dr. Abdul Karim Zeidan wrote in his excellent work, "The Rules for Christians, Jews, and Asylum-Seekers [in the Muslim State]."

(c) Freedom of religion and thought. God said, "Let there be no compulsion in religion (4)", which is a rule that Islam brought regarding the followers of other religions in a Muslim society. They and their religions are left alone. Freedom of religion and thought is guaranteed for all citizens of the State. This is also found in the Sunna of the Prophet (pbuh) in the much-quoted saying of Najran: "Najran and its court live under God and have the protection of Muhammad, the messenger of God, for their wealth, religion, trade and every small or large thing that they might own (5)."

(d) Freedom of opinion and education. The basis of relations in civilized societies is respect for the other's opinion, and making education accessible to all citizens, allowing all to reach their potential and be the best they can be. As long as we accept Christians in the State and society they have the right to express their positions in a civilized, constructive way. They also have a right to education and teaching, and even in explaining their religion under the Qur'anic rule: "Dispute not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation) (6)." Debate and discussion on religious affairs is allowed (7).

(e) Right to access public facilities. The Prophet (pbuh) said, "People are partners in water, food, and fire (8)." People is a general term that includes every member of society, Muslim or non-Muslim. So everyone enjoys public utilities fairly. They also have the right to what is called today "social security", which is known in Islam as "guaranteeship in the Treasury". The Prophet (pbuh) said, "Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock (9)." This awesome system of social care in Muslim society is an anchor of Islamic shariah (law). An example of how it works is found in The Book of Money, by Abu Obeid. He narrates how the well-known Umayyad Caliph, Omar ibn Abdul Aziz, wrote to his representative in Basra, Uday ibn Arta: "There is one from the Protected People (dhimma) who has aged, weakened, and lost his income, so give him enough from the Muslim Treasury to better him." The State is obligated to tend to its citizens without discrimination or favouritism.

(f) Financial rights. All citizens have guaranteed financial rights, and they have the right to practice those rights according to the law. Non-Muslims and Muslims have the right to enjoy trade and ownership, and Muslim scholars have found that conducting business with Protected People is allowed, even though they allow the sale of alcohol and pork. Their
money is protected just as the Muslims' money is protected (10).


The social relationship is a complementary one for all citizens in a State. The State gives them what they want and need, the law guarantees their public and private rights, and the individuals are asked to help improve society. Those who demand and receive rights must in turn perform certain duties. Rashid Ghanouchi says in his book, Rights of Citizenship, that "the Islamic State is a universal one. Every human in it enjoys the justice of Islam regardless of creed. Everyone has the right to
citizenship as long as he or she obeys its premises. So citizenry is about rights and obligations (11)."

After presenting citizens' rights in general, we shall discuss obligations, starting with the financial ones: jizya, kharaj and ushoor. There is much confusion on this subject, because on the surface it seems like discrimination, oppression, humiliation and an indirect form of compulsion to require non-Muslims to pay the jizya tax (12). To be fair and clear, to build a healthy relationship in a civil society, jizya is a head tax taken from free, adult, working and able men. It is not assessed on women, children, the mentally disabled or those who live a life of worship. It is taken from non-Muslims in a Muslim State to guarantee State protection, support State services, and defend the State. Defense of the State is an obligation of every citizen. Ghanouchi goes farther to say, "Part of the jizya tax is that these non-Muslim citizens, if they agree to work in the defense of the homeland, do not have to pay jizya anymore. The history of Islamic conquest in reputable history books holds many examples where Protected People have preferred to perform military duties (13)."

Jizya is not a punishment for not converting to Islam, as some people argue. It is not a form of humiliation to force one to become a Muslim, for this would contradict the Islamic provisions for freedom of thought and religion. The writings of the scholar, Hussein Fadlallah, are impressive. In a study he did for the Strategic Studies and Documentation Centre in Beirut entitled, "Islamic-Christian Relations: A Reading into the Present and the Future", he writes: "What is meant by (Jizya) is a
tax that they pay in return for State protection of their property, selves, reputations, and religion without being forced to go to war or pay zakat (as Muslims do). They actually have a better tax situation than the Muslims, without any part of their humanity being taken away (14)." He also writes, "Some people talk about rejecting this special status, because it gives the impression of a lesser status of citizenship. In these cases, Islam does not prohibit them from voluntary payment of Islamic taxes and working in jihad in the framework of State defense-the new tax would not be an issue in these cases (15)."

The Concept of dhimma (protection) in the term "Protected People" raises the ire of many Christians, who see it as humiliating. It has been the subject of attack by many people with ulterior motives. But the principle of Islamic shariah is non-discrimination among people, regardless of color, gender, language, or geographic origin. Only one thing makes
people different: how close or far they are from God and how much they believe in the heavenly message. The message of Islam is a universal one for all peoples in all times and places.

Dividing humans on the basis of Islam is, in the view of shariah, a very important differentiation that defines the relationship between individuals in an Islamic society, individuals who might be Muslims or otherwise. It also defines the relationship between the Islamic polity and others, which is known today as international relations.

So what does dhimma mean? And who are dhimma people? What are its principles?

Dhimma in Arabic means "safety under covenant (16)." In this context, it means the covenant given by the Muslim governor to the People of the Book. Under this agreement, they become citizens in the Islamic polity. They have full rights and obey its laws. The Prophet (pbuh) said, "The Muslims have one protection (dhimma) and the lowest among them respects it (17)."
Scholars regard the dhimma covenant to be an acknowledgement that the People of the Book will retain their religion and live in a Muslim society under their own religious laws in return for protection, security jizya, and obeying the general laws of society. Today, this is known as the "naturalization" process that some people go through to become citizens of other States. The only one who can grant it in an Islamic polity is the governor or Muslim ruler, and this is further proof of its importance as a concept.

The Muslim's relations with others is not based on canceling the role of the other. Relationships are built on cooperation, respect and appreciation. We must build, not destroy. The greater Islamic programme is capable of providing a safe civil society in Palestine and elsewhere. Islamic-Christian relations in the future Palestine will be civilized if both sides understand each other equally, if real education is provided to both sides, and if we realize that citizenship in an Islamic polity is a right that is enjoyed by all individuals who accept the law and constitution that govern the Muslim community. The principle of equality in Muslim governance is fixed: there is no room for distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims except where religious differences govern it.

*Shaykh Jamil Hamami is a member of the Higher Islamic Council of Palestine. He was imprisoned more than once during the Intifada and after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. The study is reprinted from the Middle East Affairs Journal.


1. Qur'an: Surah Mumtahina, verses 8-9.

2. Abu Musa al-Ash'ari narrated this saying, and Bukhari documented it in the Book of Laws.

3. The Rights of Citizenry, p. 19.

4. Qur'an: Surah Baqarah, verse 256.

5. Kitab al Ikhraj, Abu Yusuf, p. 72.

6. Qur'an: Surah Al-Ankabut, verse 46.

7. The Rules of Protecting People and Asylum Seekers, Dr. Abdul Karim Zeidan, p. 101.

8. Saying narrated by Ibn Abbas and documented by Ibn Maja in the Book of Ruhoun.

9. Saying documented by Bukhari, from Ibn Omar, in the Book of Laws.

10. The Rights of Citizenry, p. 90.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Islamic-Christian Relations, p. 48.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Al-Muheet Dictionary, Fairouz Abbadi.

17. Saying narrated by Ibn Tamimi, from his father, from Ali, documented

by Bukhari in the Book of Jizya.