The Legacy of Jihad in Historical Palestine (Part I)

[Part II of this article appears tomorrow]

Violent jihad warfare on infidels is the norm, not the exception, in Islamic history. Once successful, jihad leads to the imposition of humiliating, degrading, violent, and expensive oppression under dhimmitude, the institutionalized imposition of lowly status upon those who refuse to abandon their faith and adopt Islam. Among the worst victims of jihad and dhimmitude have been the Jews and Christians who lived in historic Palestine.

Edward Said's ridiculous polemic, The Question of Palestine, quotes the following observation by a Dr. A. Carlebach published in Ma'ariv (October 7, 1955).

The danger stems from the [Islamic] totalitarian conception of the world... Occupation by force of arms, in their own eyes, in the eyes of Islam, is not at all associated with injustice. To the contrary, it constitutes a certificate and demonstration of authentic ownership. [1]

Said cites Carlebach with ostensibly self—evident derision. Unwittingly, Said thus reveals his own belligerent obliviousness to Carlebach's acute perceptions about the ugly realities of jihad war, the resultant imposition of dhimmitude, and their brutal legacy in historical Palestine and the greater Middle East.

As elucidated by Jacques Ellul, the jihad is an institution intrinsic to Islam, and not an isolated event, or series of events:

.. .it is a part of the normal functioning of the Muslim world... The conquered populations change status (they become dhimmis), and the shari'a tends to be put into effect integrally, overthrowing the former law of the country. The conquered territories do not simply change 'owners'. [2]

The essential pattern of the jihad war is captured in the great Muslim historian al—Tabari' s recording of the recommendation given by Umar b. al—Khattab to the commander of the troops he sent to al—Basrah (636 C.E.), during the conquest of Iraq. Umar reportedly said:

Summon the people to God; those who respond to your call, accept it from them, (This is to say, accept their conversion as genuine and refrain from fighting them) but those who refuse must pay the poll tax out of humiliation and lowliness. (Qur'an 9:29) If they refuse this, it is the sword without leniency. Fear God with regard to what you have been entrusted. [3]

Jihad was pursued century after century, because jihad, which means "to strive in the path of Allah," embodied an ideology and a jurisdiction. Both were formally conceived by Muslim jurisconsults and theologians from the 8th to 9th centuries onward, based on their interpretation of Qur'anic verses and long chapters in the Traditions (i.e., 'hadith', acts and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, especially those recorded by al—Bukhari [d. 869] and Muslim [d. 874] ). [4]

Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406), jurist (Maliki), renowned philosopher, historian, and sociologist, summarized these consensus opinions from five centuries of prior Muslim jurisprudence with regard to the uniquely Islamic institution of jihad:

In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the [Muslim] mission and [the obligation to] convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force... The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense... Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations. [5]

Indeed, even al—Ghazali (d. 1111), the famous theologian, philosopher, and paragon of mystical Sufism, (who, as noted by W.Montgomery Watt, has been ".. .acclaimed in both the East and West as the greatest Muslim after Muhammad.. ." [6]), wrote the following about jihad: must go on jihad (i.e., warlike razzias or raids) at least once a may use a catapult against them [non—Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them...If a person of the Ahl al— Kitab [People of The Book —Jews and Christians, typically] is enslaved, his marriage is [automatically] revoked...One may cut down their trees... One must destroy their useless books. Jihadists may take as booty whatever they decide...they may steal as much food as they need... [7]

By the time of the classical Muslim historian al—Tabari's death in 923, jihad wars had expanded the Muslim empire from Portugal to the Indian subcontinent. Subsequent Muslim conquests continued in Asia, as well as Eastern Europe. The Christian kingdoms of Armenia, Byzantium, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, and Albania, in addition to parts of Poland and Hungary, were also conquered and Islamized.

Arab Muslim invaders engaged, additionally, in continuous jihad raids that ravaged and enslaved Sub—Saharan African animist populations, extending to the southern Sudan. When the Muslim armies were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683, over a millennium of jihad had transpired. These tremendous military successes spawned a triumphalist jihad literature. Muslim historians recorded in detail the number of infidels slaughtered, or enslaved and deported, the cities and villages which were pillaged, and the lands, treasure, and movable goods seized. Christian (Coptic, Armenian, Jacobite, Greek, Slav, etc.), as well as Hebrew sources, and even the scant Hindu and Buddhist writings which survived the ravages of the Muslim conquests, independently validate this narrative, and ,complement the Muslim perspective by providing testimonies of the suffering of the non—Muslim victims of jihad wars. [8]

In The Laws of Islamic Governance al—Mawardi (d. 1058), a renowned jurist of Baghdad, examined the regulations pertaining to the lands and infidel (i.e., non—Muslim) populations subjugated by jihad. This is the origin of the system of dhimmitude. The native infidel population had to recognize Islamic ownership of their land, submit to Islamic law, and accept payment of the poll tax (jizya).

He notes that "The enemy makes a payment in return for peace and reconciliation. " Al— Mawardi then distinguishes two cases: (I) Payment is made immediately and is treated like booty, "it does, however, not prevent a jihad being carried out against them in the future. ". (II). Payment is made yearly and will "constitute an ongoing tribute by which their security is established".

Reconciliation and security last as long as the payment is made. If the payment ceases, then the jihad resumes. A treaty of reconciliation may be renewable, but must not exceed 10 years. [9]

A remarkable account from 1894 by an Italian Jew traveling in Morocco, demonstrates the humiliating conditions under which the jizya was still being collected within the modern era:

The kaid Uwida and the kadi Mawlay Mustafa had mounted their tent today near the Mellah [Jewish ghetto] gate and had summoned the Jews in order to collect from them the poll tax [jizya] which they are obliged to pay the sultan. They had me summoned also. I first inquired whether those who were European—protected subjects had to pay this tax. Having learned that a great many of them had already paid it, I wished to do likewise. After having remitted the amount of the tax to the two officials, I received from the kadi's guard two blows in the back of the neck. Addressing the kadi and the kaid, I said" 'Know that I am an Italian protected subject.' Whereupon the kadi said to his guard: 'Remove the kerchief covering his head and strike him strongly; he can then go and complain wherever he wants.' The guards hastily obeyed and struck me once again more violently. This public mistreatment of a European—protected subject demonstrates to all the Arabs that they can, with impunity, mistreat the Jews. [10]

The 'contract of the jizya', or 'dhimma' encompassed other obligatory and recommended obligations for the conquered non—Muslim "dhimmi" peoples. Collectively, these "obligations" formed the discriminatory system of dhimmitude imposed upon non—Muslims—Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists—subjugated by jihad. Some of the more salient features of dhimmitude include: the prohibition of arms for the vanquished non—Muslims (dhimmis), and of church bells; restrictions concerning the building and restoration of churches, synagogues, and temples; inequality between Muslims and non—Muslims with regard to taxes and penal law; the refusal of dhimmi testimony by Muslim courts; a requirement that Jews, Christians, and other non—Muslims, including Zoroastrians and Hindus, wear special clothes; and the overall humiliation and abasement of non—Muslims. [11] 

It is important to note that these regulations and attitudes were institutionalized as permanent features of the sacred Islamic law, or Shari' a. Again, the writings of the much lionized Sufi theologian and jurist al—Ghazali highlight how the institution of dhimmitude was simply a normative, and prominent feature of the Shari'a:

...the dhimmi is obliged not to mention Allah or His Apostle.. .Jews, Christians, and Majians must pay thejizya [poll tax on non—Muslims]...on offering up thejizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits [the dhimmi] on the protruberant bone beneath his ear [i.e., the mandible]... They are not permitted to ostentatiously display their wine or church bells...their houses may not be higher than the Muslim's, no matter how low that is. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddler—work] is of wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. They [the dhimmis] have to wear [an identifying] patch [on their clothing], even women, and even in the [public] baths...[dhimmis] must hold their tongue. [12] 

The Great Jihad and the Muslim Conquest of Palestine

September 622 C.E. marks a defining event in Islam— the hijra. Muhammad and a coterie of followers (the Muhajirun), persecuted by fellow Banu Quraysh tribesmen who rejected Muhammad's authenticity as a divine messenger, fled from Mecca to Yathrib, later known as Al—Medina (Medina). The Muslim sources described Yathrib as having been a Jewish city founded by a Palestinian diaspora population which had survived the revolt against the Romans. Distinct from the nomadic Arab tribes, the Jews of the north Arabian peninsula were highly productive oasis farmers. These Jews were eventually joined by itinerant Arab tribes from southern Arabia who settled adjacent to them and transitioned to a sedentary existence. [13]

Following Muhammad's arrival, he re—ordered Medinan society, eventually imposing his authority on each tribe. The Jewish tribes were isolated, some were then expelled, and the remainder attacked and exterminated. Muhammad distributed among his followers as "booty" the vanquished Jews property—plantations, fields, and houses—and also used this "booty" to establish a well—equipped jihadist cavalry corps. [14] Muhammad's subsequent interactions with the Christians of northern Arabia followed a similar pattern, noted by Richard Bell. The "relationship with the Christians ended as that with the Jews (ended) — in war", because Islam as presented by Muhammad was a divine truth, and unless Christians accepted this formulation, which included Muhammad's authority, "conflict was inevitable, and there could have been no real peace while he [Muhammad] lived." [15]

Within two years of Muhammad's death, Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, launched the Great Jihad. The ensuing three decades witnessed Islamdom's most spectacular expansion, as Muslim armies subdued the entire Arabian peninsula, and conquered territories which had been in Greco—Roman possession since the reign of Alexander the Great. [16]

Gil, in his monumental analysis A History of Palestine, 634—1099, emphasizes the singular centrality that Palestine occupied in the mind of its pre—Islamic Jewish inhabitants, who referred to the land as 'al—Sham'. Indeed, as Gil observes, the sizable Jewish population in Palestine (who formed a majority of its inhabitants, when grouped with the Samaritans) at the dawn of the Arab Muslim conquest were, 'the direct descendants of the generations of Jews who had lived there since the days of Joshua bin Nun, in other words for some 2000 years...' [17] Jews and Christians speaking Aramaic inhabited the cities and the cultivated inner regions, devoid of any unique ties to the Bedouin of the desert hinterlands, who were regarded as bellicose and threatening, in the writings of both the Church Fathers, and in Talmudic sources. [18]

The following is a summary of the devastating consequences of the Arab Muslim conquest of Palestine during the fourth decade of the 7th century, directed by the first two Caliphs, Abu Bakr and Umar b. al—Khattab [notwithstanding Pervez Musharaff's hagiography of the latter, in a recent New York City speech].

The entire Gaza region up to Cesarea was sacked and devastated in the campaign of 634, which included the slaughter of four thousand Jewish, Christian, and Samaritan peasants. Villages in the Negev were also pillaged, and towns such as Jerusalem, Gaza, Jaffa, Cesarea, Nablus, and Beth Shean were isolated. In his sermon on the Day of the Epiphany 636, Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, bewailed the destruction of the churches and monasteries, the sacked towns and villages, and the fields laid waste by the invaders. Thousands of people perished in 639, victims of the famine and plague wrought by this wanton destruction.

The Muslim historian Baladhuri (d. 892 C.E.), maintained that 30,000 Samaritans and 20,000 Jews lived in Caesarea alone just prior to the Arab Muslim conquest; afterward, all evidence of them disappears. Archaeological data confirms the lasting devastation wrought by these initial jihad conquests, particularly the widespread destruction of synagogues and churches from the Byzantine era, whose remnants are still being unearthed. The total number of towns was reduced from fifty—eight to seventeen in the red sand hills and swamps of the western coastal plain (i.e., the Sharon).

Massive soil erosion from the Judaean mountains western slopes also occurred due to agricultural uprooting during this period. Finally, the papyri of Nessana were completely discontinued after the year 700, reflecting how the Negev also experienced the destruction of its agriculture, and the desertion of its villages.[19]

Dhimmitude in Palestine During the Initial Period of  Muslim Rule

Dramatic persecution, directed specifically at Christians, included executions for refusing to apostasize to Islam during the first two decades of the 8th century, under the reigns of Abd al— Malik, his son Sulayman, and Umar b. Abd al—Aziz. Georgian, Greek, Syriac, and Armenian sources report both prominent individual and group executions (for eg., sixty—three out of seventy Christian pilgrims from Iconium in Asia Minor were executed by the Arab governor of Caesarea, barring seven who apostasized to Islam, and sixty Christian pilgrims from Amorion were crucified in Jerusalem).

Under early Abbasid rule (approximately 750—755 C.E., perhaps during the reign [Abul Abbas Abdullah] al—Saffah) Greek sources report orders demanding the removal of crosses over Churches, bans on Church services and teaching of the scriptures, the eviction of monks from their monasteries, and excessive taxation. [20] Gil notes that in 772 C.E., when Caliph al—Mansur visited Jerusalem,

..he ordered a special mark should be stamped on the hands of the Christians and the Jews. Many Christians fled to Byzantium. [21]

Bat Y e' or elucidates the fiscal oppression inherent in eighth century Palestine which devastated the dhimmi Jewish and Christian peasantry:

Over—taxed and tortured by the tax collectors, the villagers fled into hiding or emigrated into towns. [22]

She quotes from a detailed chronicle of an eighth century monk, completed in 774:

The men scattered, they became wanderers everywhere; the fields were laid waste, the countryside pillaged; the people went from one land to another. [23]

The Greek chronicler Theophanes provides a contemporary description of the chaotic events which transpired after the death of the caliph Harun al—Rashid in 809 C.E. He describes Palestine as the scene of violence, rape, and murder, from which Christian monks fled to Cyprus and Constantinople. [24]

Perhaps the clearest outward manifestations of the inferiority and humiliation of the dhimmis were the prohibitions regarding their dress codes, and the demands that distinguishing signs be placed on the entrances of dhimmi houses. During the Abbasid caliphates of Harun al—Rashid (786—809) and al—Mutawwakil (847—861), Jews and Christians were required to wear yellow (as patches attached to their garments, or hats). Later, to differentiate further between Christians and Jews, the Christians were required to wear blue. In 850, consistent with Qur'anic verses associating them with Satan and Hell, al—Mutawwakil decreed that Jews and Christians attach wooden images of devils to the doors of their homes to distinguish them from the homes of Muslims. [25]

Muslim and non—Muslims sources establish that during the early 11th century period of al—Hakim's reign, religious assaults and hostility intensified, for both Jews and Christians. The destruction of the churches at the Holy Sepulchre [1009 C.E.] was followed by a large scale campaign of Church destructions (including the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, and additional churches throughout the Fatimid kingdom), and other brutal acts of oppression against the dhimmi populations, such as forcible conversion to Islam, or expulsion.

The discriminatory edicts al—Hakim imposed upon the dhimmis beginning in August 1011 C.E., included orders to wear black turbans; a five pound, 18—inch cross (for Christians), or five pound block of wood (for Jews), around their necks; and distinguishing marks in the bathhouses. Ultimately al—Hakim decided that there were to be separate bathhouses for the dhimmis use. [26]
During the early through the mid 11th century, the Jews, in particular, continued to suffer frequently from both economic and physical oppression, according to Gil. [27]

Muslim Turcoman rule of Palestine for the nearly three decades just prior to the Crusades (1071— 1099 C.E.) was characterized by such unrelenting warfare and devastation, that an imminent "End of Days" atmosphere was engendered. [28] A contemporary poem by Solomon ha—Kohen b. Joseph, believed to be a descendant of the Geonim, an illustrious family of Palestinian Jews of priestly descent, speaks of destruction and ruin, the burning of harvests, the razing of plantations, the desecration of cemeteries, and acts of violence, slaughter, and plunder. [29]

The brutal nature of the Crusader's conquest of Palestine, particularly of the major cities, beginning in 1098/99 C.E., has been copiously documented. [30] However, the devastation wrought by both Crusader conquest and rule (through the last decades of the 13th century) cannot reasonably be claimed to have approached, let alone somehow "exceeded", what transpired during the first four and one—half centuries of Muslim jihad conquests, endless internecine struggles for Muslim dominance, and imposition of dhimmitude.

Moreover, we cannot ignore the testimony of Isaac b. Samuel of Acre (1270—1350 C.E.), one of the most outstanding Kabbalists of his time. Conversant with Islamic theology and often using Arabic in his exegesis, Isaac nevertheless believed that it was preferable to live under the yoke of Christendom, rather than that of Islamdom. Acre was taken from the Crusaders by the Mamelukes in 1291 by a very brutal jihad conquest. Accordingly, despite the precept to dwell in the Holy Land, Isaac b. Samuel fled to Italy and thence to Christian Spain, where he wrote:

...they [the Muslims] strike upon the head the children of Israel who dwell in their lands and they thus extort money from them by force. For they say in their tongue, ...'it is lawful to take money of the Jews.' For, in the eyes of the Muslims, the children of Israel are as open to abuse as an unprotected field. Even in their law and statutes they rule that the testimony of a Muslim is always to be believed against that of a Jew. For this reason our rabbis of blessed memory have said, 'Rather beneath the yoke of Edom [Christendom] than that of Ishmael. [31]


[1] Edward Said. The Question of Palestine. New York: Vintage Books, 1980, pp. 89—90.
[2] Jacques Ellul. Foreward to Les Chretientes d'Orient entre Jihad et Dhimmitude. VIIe — XXe siecle, 1991. Pp. 18—19. 
[3] Al—Tabari, The History of al—Tabari (Ta'rikh al rusul wa'l—muluk), vol. 12, The Battle of Qadissiyah and the Conquest of Syria and Palestine, translated by Yohanan Friedman, (Albany, NY.: State University of New York Press, 1992), p. 167.
[4] The Noble Qur'an ; Translation of Sahih Bukhari;  Translation of Sahih Muslim
[5] Ibn Khaldun, The Muqudimmah. An Introduction to History, Translated by Franz Rosenthal. (New York, NY.: Pantheon, 1958, vol. 1), p. 473.
[6] Watt, W.M. [Translator]. The Faith and Practice of Al—Ghazali, Oxford, England, 1953, p. 13.
[7] Al—Ghazali (d. 1111). Kitab al—Wagiz fi fiqh madhab al—imam al—Safi'i, Beirut, 1979, pp. 186, 190—91; 199—200; 202—203. English translation by Dr. Michael Schub in Andrew G. Bostom, editor, The Legacy of Jihad—Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non—Muslims, Amherst, NY, Prometheus Books, 2005, p. 199.
[8] Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad, especially pp. 24—124, 368—681.
[9] Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad, pp. 190—95.
[10] Cited in, Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad, p.31.
[11] Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad, pp. 29—37.
[12] Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad, p. 199.
[13] Moshe Gil,  A History of Palestine, 634—1099, translated by Ethel Broido, Cambridge and New York, 1992, p. 11.
[14] Gil,  A History of Palestine,p.11.
[15] Richard Bell, The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment, London, 1926, Pp. 134—135; 151; 159—161.
[16] Demetrios Constantelos, 'Greek Christian and Other Accounts of the Moslem Conquests of the Near East', in Christian Hellenism : Essays and Studies in Continuity and Change, New Rochelle, N.Y., A.D. Caratzas, 1998, pp. 125—26.
[17] Gil, A History of Palestine, 634—1099, p. 2.
[18] Gil, A History of Palestine, 634—1099, pp. 15, 20; Constantelos, 'Greek Christian and Other Accounts of the Moslem Conquests of the Near East', pp. 126—130.
[19] Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, p. 44.; Bat Ye'or, 'Islam and the Dhimmis',  The Jerusalem Quarterly, 1987, Vol. 42, p. 85. Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine, 634—1099, pp. 61, 169—170; Naphtali Lewis, 'New Light on the Negev in Ancient Times', Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 1948, vol. 80, pp. 116—117; Constantelos, 'Greek Christian and Other Accounts of the Moslem Conquests of the Near East', pp. 127—28; Al—Baladhuri The Origins of the Islamic State (Kitah Futuh al—Buldan), translated by Philip K. Hitti, London, Longman, Greens, and Company, 1916, p. 217.
[20] Gil, A History of Palestine, 634—1099, pp. 471—474; Constantelos, 'Greek Christian and Other Accounts of the Moslem Conquests of the Near East, p. 135.
[21] Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine, 634—1099, p. 474.
[22] Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, p. 74.
[23] Chronique de Denys de Tell—Mahre, translated from the Syriac by Jean—Baptiste Chabot (Paris, 1895), part 4, p. 112. English translation in: Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, p. 74.
[24] Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine, 634—1099, pp. 474—75.
[25] Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine, 634—1099, p.159; Q16:63— 'By God, We (also) sent (Our apostles) to peoples before thee; but Satan made, (to the wicked) their own acts seem alluring: he is also their patron today, but they shall have a most grievous penalty'; Q5:72—'They do blaspheme who say: 'Allah is Christ the son of Mary.' But said Christ: 'O Children of Israel! worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.'  Whoever joins other gods with Allah,— Allah will forbid him the garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong—doers be no one to help.' Q58:19— 'The devil hath engrossed them and so hath caused them to forget remembrance of Allah. They are the devil's party. Lo! is it not the devil's party who will be the losers?'; Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, p. 84.
[26] Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine, 634—1099, pp. 371—379.
[27] Moshe Gil, 'Dhimmi Donations and Foundations for Jerusalem (638—1099)', Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 37, 1984, pp. 166—167.
[28] Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine, 634—1099, pp. 412—416.
[29] Julius Greenstone, in his essay, 'The Turcoman Defeat at Cairo' The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 22, 1906, pp. 144—175,  provides a translation of this poem [excerpted, pp. 164—165] by Solomon ha—Kohen b. Joseph [believed to be a descendant of the Geonim, an illustrious family of Palestinian Jews of priestly descent], which includes the poet's recollection of the previous Turcoman conquest of Jerusalem during the eighth decade of the 11th century. Greenstone comments [p. 152], 'As appears from the poem, the conquest of Jerusalem by Atsiz was very sorely felt by the Jews. The author dwell at great length on the cruelties perpetrated against the inhabitants of the city...'
[30] For example, Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades— Vol. 1— The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Cambridge, 1951, Pp. 286—87; Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine, 634—1099, p. 827 notes, 'The Christians violated their promise to the inhabitants that they would be left alive, and slaughtered some 20,000 to 30,000 people, a number which may be an exaggeration...'
[31] Isaac b. Samuel of Acre. Osar Hayyim (Treasure Store of Life) (Hebrew). Ms. Gunzburg 775 fol. 27b. Lenin State Library, Moscow. [English translation in, Bat Ye'or, The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam, Pp. 352—54.

Dr. Bostom is an Associate Professor of Medicine, and author of the recently released, The Legacy of Jihad, on Prometheus Books.