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February 24, 2024
By Bassam Michael Madany

Islam spread mostly at the expense of Christian lands since its rise in the seventh century. Muslim conquerors referred to Christians and Jews as “Dhimmis,” a term that means “protected.” This classification included severe rules for the conduct of their lives, including the payment of the annual Jizya tax.

The condition of being a Dhimmi is known as Dhimmitude. I’m astonished that historian Philip K. Hitti (1886-1978), who authored several books on the History of the Arabs, remained silent about the plight of Christians and Jews living under Islam. When researching the reason for his omission, I came across this explanation generated by Microsoft Copilot in response to “Had professor Philip Hitti dealt with the plight of Christians under Islamic rule”:

Philip Khuri Hitti did not explicitly deplore the treatment of Christians and Jews under Islamic rule. While Hitti’s research provided valuable insights into the dynamics between different religious communities, he maintained a scholarly and objective perspective. His work aimed to illuminate historical contexts rather than express personal opinions or judgments. It’s essential to recognize that scholars like Hitti contributed to our understanding of complex historical relationships, but their role was primarily academic rather than advocacy oriented. The treatment of religious minorities under Islamic rule remains a multifaceted topic, and various scholars have explored it from different angles.”

While “a scholarly and objective perspective” should avoid “advocacy”, it should not avoid discussing systemic discrimination, even if it was inconvenient to narratives fashionable in academia. Avoiding the discussion of such topics is tantamount to self-imposed censorship. In Hitti’s case, it’s hard to understand it, since he was of Lebanese background and his parents must have mentioned “Dhimmitude” and told him about the 1860 massacre of Christians in Mount Lebanon and Damascus, Syria. I should add that several Western historians have assiduously avoided any reference to this aspect of Islamic history.

So, we are indebted to Bat Ye’or (Daughter of the Nile) who took the initiative by writing a book on the treatment of Christians and Jews in Islam. I learned about her work from an article in First Things, by Richard John Neuhaus, who commented on her book “The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude.”

Bat Ye’or was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Cairo, Egypt in 1933. During the Nasser regime that began in 1952, life for Egyptian Jews became intolerable. That led the family to leave Egypt in 1957 and go to the United Kingdom as refugees. Bat Ye'or married the British historian and activist David Litman in September 1959. A year later, they moved to Switzerland and lived there until his death in May 2012. They were blessed with three children.

The French author Jacques Ellul contributed the Foreword for the book. Here are some timely excerpts:

“In Islam, Jihad is an institution and not an event, it is part of the normal functioning of the Muslim world. The conquered populations change status (they became Dhimmis), and the Shari'a tends to be put into effect, overthrowing the former law of the country. The world, as Bat Ye'or brilliantly shows, is divided into two regions: the Dar al-Islam and the Dar al-Harb; the "Domain of Islam" and "the Domain of war." The author has the courage to examine whether a certain number of events that we know in the West, do not already derive from a sort of "Dhimmitude" of the West, vis-a-vis an Islamic world that has resumed its wars, hostage-taking, terrorism, the destruction of Lebanese Christianity, the weakening of the Eastern Churches (not to mention the wish to destroy Israel.)” Bordeaux, France 1991

Bat Ye’or described the plight of Eastern Christians under Islam [pages 73,74]:

"This is not a book about Islam; it neither examines its expansion nor its civilization. Its objective is the study of that multitude of peoples subjected by Islam, and to determine as far as possible the complex processes—both endogenous and exogenous—that brought about their gradual extinction.

“I am indebted to the Lebanese Bashir Gemayel for the term ‘dhimmitude’ which he used on two occasions. This word could not better express the actual subject of my research, begun in 1971, on the manifold and contradictory aspects of a human experience which millions of individuals have endured over the centuries, sometimes for more than a millennium.

“A remarkable chronicle written by a Monophysite monk, a native of Tel-Mahre a village in Mesopotamia, gives a precise description of the fiscal situation of non-Muslims. The chronicle completed in 774, provides almost photographic detail of one of the turning points in history. The description covers Mesopotamia, Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, in the 8th century at the time the Dhimmis formed most of the rural populations; small landowners, artisans, or sharecroppers farming the fiefs allotted to Arabs; a numerous Jewish peasantry lived alongside Christians villages: Copts, Syrians, and Nestorians. This chronicle reveals the mechanism which destroyed the social structure of a flourishing Dhimmi peasantry in the whole Islamized Orient.”

Excerpts from the Epilogue of the book [pages 261-265]:

“Here are peoples who having integrated the Hellenistic heritage and biblical spirituality, spread the Judeo-Christian civilization as far as Europe and Russia. Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, conquered by nomadic bands, taught their oppressors, with the patience of centuries, the subtle skills of governing empires. the need for law and order, the management of finances, the administration of town and countryside, the rules of taxation rather than those of pillages of pillage, the sciences, philosophy, literature, and the arts, the organization the transmission of knowledge--- in short, the rudiments and foundations of civilization.

“They were the peasants who sowed, planted, and farmed, who plowed. Harvested, worked in the fields, cared for the orchards and the cattle, beekeepers and vine growers, farmers, and labourers. In the towns they were the artisans who worked, hammered, wove, and fashioned objects, the glaziers, sailors, and merchants. They were also the town planners who conceived the towns, the architects who designed the mosques and the Islamic palaces, the masons who built them and the people who maintained bridges and aqueducts.

“Decimated by razzias (Arabic term for Invasions) in the countryside, they sought refuge in the towns which they developed and embellished. Branded with opprobrium, the conquerors still chose to drag them from region to region to revive ravaged lands and restore ruined towns. Once again, they built, again they worked, once again they were driven out, pillaged and ransomed. And as they dwindled, drained of their blood and spirit, civilization itself disappeared, decadence stagnated, barbarism reigned over lands which, previously when they had been theirs, were lands of civilization, of crops and of plenty.

“The elites who fled to Europe took their cultural baggage with them, their scholarship, and their knowledge of the classics of antiquity. Thenceforth, in the Christian lands of refuge --- Spain, Provence, Sicily, Italy cultured centers developed where Christians and Jews from Islamized lands taught to the young Europe the knowledge of the old pre–Islamic Orient, formerly translated into Arabic by their ancestors. Straddling the two shores of the Mediterranean, intermediaries between two civilizations, they ensured trade, exchanges, the circulation of commodities and ideas, and the transfer of technology, enriching themselves and others by their ingenuity. Then in the 19th century when Europe lifted the screed of opprobrium which stifled them, again they met their challenge of modernity. Railways, telegraph, printing, journalism, transport, industry, banking: everywhere they were the promoters, the leaven of civilization and evolution. Once again, tireless artisans of progress, builders of civilization, they created the “infrastructure of modernity from Persia to the Maghreb [northwest Africa]. And once again driven out despoiled, decimated, they fled to the Americas, to Europe, to Israel, where Armenians, Maronites, Syrians, Chaldeans, Copts, and Jews, live from their own labor and not from international charity. Henceforth, from Turkey to Iran and the Arab countries, micro communities struggle along, the last remnants of multitudes of Christians and Jews who formerly populated those lands. Only cemeteries and ruins recall their past. Their historical, political, and cultural lights dissolve in the great oblivion of time, and, in their usurped history, the profound sense of dhimmitude is revealed: obliteration in nonexistence and nothingness.”

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