Islam's 'Idealistic Version of Itself' Not Quite the Reality, Historian says.(WORLD)(BRIEFING: MIDDLE EAST: Q&A)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 30, 2002 | Go to article overview

Islam's 'Idealistic Version of Itself' Not Quite the Reality, Historian says.(WORLD)(BRIEFING: MIDDLE EAST: Q&A)


Byline: Julia Duin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Following are excerpts from a recent interview by reporter Julia Duin with historian Bat Ye'or, who grew up as a Jew in Egypt, then emigrated with her family to England. She and her husband live in Switzerland.

Q: Why have you taken on the task of explaining to people what it has been like for Christians and Jews to live under Muslim rule to the point of coining a word - "dhimmitude" - for it?

A: When I was growing up in Egypt, I knew nothing of freedom. I knew there was persecution of minorities, but we adapted to it. This was the 1950s. Then we were expelled from Egypt in 1957 under Nasser and we moved to England. It was in England I learned the word "liberty." I had to learn to be a free person. Dhimmitude is that state of fear and insecurity.

Q: But didn't Islamic law actually provide for the protection of minorities?

A: After the Islamic conquest in the seventh century, they came under the dhimma, a treaty of submission for each people conquered by jihad. The infidels who submit to Islamic rulers are given a pledge of security to protect them from the rules of jihad, so long as they accept a condition of humiliation and of total inferiority to Muslims.

Q: But didn't the Muslims get this idea from the Christians?

A: Islamic law governing Christian dhimmis developed from Byzantine Christian legislation enacted from the fifth to the sixth century. It aimed at imposing legal inferiority on native Jews of Christianized countries - lands that were subsequently Islamicized.

Q: How have Islamic governments treated their religious minorities compared to how Christians treated theirs?

A: Islam links politics and religion together, whereas Christianity separates the two. In Christianity, there is a trend that criticizes religious intolerance. Christianity has developed a dialectic that leads to self-criticism and improvement. One can then fight against racism, anti-Semitism and prejudices.

But Islam does not emancipate the dhimmis [religious minorities] nor recognize that jihad and dhimmitude are evil institutions. In fact, they say those are good institutions. They do not recognize the evil in their own history. The Islamic concept of non-Muslims engenders hostility. In Christianity, there is not a concept of permanent holy war.

Q: Where, then, did jihad originate?

A: The ideology of jihad was formulated by Muslim theologians from the eighth century onward. It separates humanity into two hostile blocks - the community of Muslims, and the infidels. According to this ideology, Allah commands the Muslims to conquer the whole world in order to apply Koranic laws. Hence, they have to wage a perpetual war against the infidels who refuse to submit. Its principle is based on the inequality between the community of Allah and the infidels. The first is a superior group, whose mission it is to rule the world. The second must submit.

Q: Does the typical Muslim understand jihad as a foundation principle governing how to relate to non-Muslims?

A: Not all Muslims know it, and many reject its ideology. It would be a great mistake to believe each and every Muslim identifies with jihad war ideology.

Q: However, dhimmitude was brought to a halt in the Near East by European colonialism. Are academics now saying you are exaggerating its negative effects?

A: Since the end of the 1960s, some professors in Europe and North America teach that jihad wars produced a minimum of civilian victims, and that the Muslim armies of conquest were welcomed by their future dhimmis with open arms.

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