"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dhimmis in the West

I have noted on here previously the question of dhimmitude which has so often entangled so many Eastern Christians following the Islamic conquest of their lands. A new study, just released, expands our understanding of this crucial, and often misunderstood, legal arrangement, this time in the West rather than the East: Maribel Fierro and John Tolan, eds., The Legal Status of Dimmis in the Islamic West (Second/Eighth-Ninth/Fifteenth Centuries) (Brepols, 2013), 370pp.

About this book we are told:
The studies brought together in this volume provide an important contribution to the history of ḏimmī-s in the medieval dār al-islām, and more generally to the legal history of religious minorities in medieval societies. The central question addressed is the legal status accorded to ḏimmī-s (Jews and Christians) in the Muslim law in the medieval Muslim west (the Maghreb and Muslim Spain).  The scholars whose work is brought together in these pages have dealt with a rich and complex variety of legal sources. Many of the texts are from the Mālikī legal tradition; they include fiqh, fatwā-s, ḥisba manuals. These texts function as the building blocks of the legal framework in which jurists and rulers of Maghrebi and Peninsular societies worked.  The very richness and complexity of these texts, as well as the variety of responses that they solicited, refute the textbook idea of a monolithic ḏimmī system, supposedly based on the Pact of ‘Umar, applied throughout the Muslim world.  In fact when one looks closely at the early legal texts or chronicles from both the Mashreq and the Maghreb, there is little evidence for a standard, uniform ḏimmī system, but rather a wide variety of local adaptations.  The articles in this volume provide numerous examples of the richness and complexity of interreligious relations in Medieval Islam and the reactions of jurists to those relations.
Another and related study has recently been published in paperback form: Joseph Montville, ed., History as Prelude: Muslims and Jews in the Medieval Mediterranean (Lexington Books, 2013), 208pp.

About this book we are told:
This collection of essays by seven highly respected scholars is a straightforward narrative of real world—intellectual, commercial, spiritual, philosophical, scientific, aesthetic—creative engagement among Jews, Muslims, and some Christians in daily life in Spain and around the Mediterranean. History as Prelude is a major contribution to the Israeli-Arab peace process because it undermines—in fact, blows away—the efforts of propagandists who serve governments or political movements to negate the reality of the Arab-Jewish relationship in the medieval Mediterranean. The contributors, in unassuming, well-researched scholarship have erected a wall protecting historical reality from distortion, providing irrefutable—and often delightful—examples of creative coexistence.

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