The Muslim Minority As Dhimmi

As someone who tends to keep my ear to the ground when it comes to concerns and fears about religious minorities, for somewhat personal reasons [1], it should probably come as little surprise that I view the recent terror attack on a crowd outside of a London mosque a bit differently than most people do.  There is much, for example, I find to be a bit craven that so many people feel it necessary to point out that they hate one form of terrorism as much as they do another as a way of pandering to a particular group.  Likewise, there is a great deal I find objectionable about attempts on the part of people within Western societies to appeal to sharia law as a legitimate source of law within Western society, not least because it is immensely hypocritical for biblical law to be viewed with such disrepute while inferior standards of law are accorded respect and honor because of fear on the part of those whose expressed opposition to religion depends on the harm they feel will result to them based on their expressed opposition.

The way that different religious minority populations deal with their status is quite instructive.  As a fond reader of Jewish history, for example, one comes across the phenomenon of the court Jew, a politically well-connected person who takes the troubles of the Jews of a given area to government leaders with whom he (or perhaps she) has built relationships so that those problems are smoothed over as quickly as possible.  This semi-official position, official within the Jewish population while unofficial within the host nation, allows for an informal backchannel to be developed that keeps religious tensions down and that rewards a peaceful and productive though often hated minority for behaving with restraint.  As someone of part-Jewish background and a high degree of anxiety and paranoia about the place for religious minorities within the areas I have lived, I can understand and appreciate a role that allows for the resolution of problems before they get out of hand, provided that the government is made of people who have a sufficiently high degree of concern for justice and equity.

Muslims, as a general rule, have not had an official doctrine concerning their status as minorities.  Throughout much of their history they have ruled over other religious populations, and in many cases there was a high degree of slightly enlightened pragmatism in the ways that they dealt with such populations as dhimmi.  The dhimmi was a protected minority but one that was clearly in a disadvantageous position relative to the dominant culture.  In practice, if not in doctrine, Western countries have adopted a mindset towards Muslims minorities that in general accords with the practice of giving peaceful Muslims an identity that corresponds with dhimmitude.  I find little that is objectionable in making this informal status a bit more formalized, or at least in laying out the implications of this view on the tensions between Muslims and the dominant Western culture in which many Muslims have sought refuge from the kurplunkistans from which they have fled in large numbers.

At its core, the dhimmitude of Muslims in the West represents an informal social contract whose outlines are becoming somewhat clear.  On the one hand, Muslim immigrants find in the West a safe place to reside that offers a certain base standard of living through programs of social welfare and that offers at least some freedom of opportunity for those willing to master the language and culture of their host countries.  On the other hand, though, such minorities are clearly seen as potentially dangerous populations where there are certain restrictions on the exercise of their religious beliefs and cultural traditions on humanitarian grounds.  For example, traditions of purdah or female circumcision or honor killings of females or childhood arranged marriages are either viewed with suspicion, restricted, or outright forbidden.  As the religious law of Muslims is not compatible with the Judeo-Christian background of law in the West, the dominant moral and legal tradition takes precedence, where there is freedom to exercise religion where it does not contradict with the higher law.  This generally informal social contract corresponds particularly well to the traditional Muslim practices, although with the shoe on the other foot, and recognizes that Muslims come from civilizations whose ways are not our ways.

How do we expect Muslims to respond to the anxiety and insecurity that comes from being a legally protected but generally unpopular minority?  Different groups have adopted different strategies to deal with this reality.  As we have previously discussed, the Jewish community has become hyperconnected and sought informal ambassadors with access to centers of power to defend the interests of the community.  Other religious minorities, like the Amish, have set up private communities where alien religious ways are viewed with respect and curiosity and interest because there is clearly no desire to control the majority culture and the maintenance of such ways forms a subtle and implicit rebuke to the moral decline of that majority culture.  Other minorities, like the Catholics or Mormons, have adopted a strategy which denies the existence of wide and unbridgeable gaps between majority and minority culture, making a case for acceptance and toleration without stigmatization.  In order for any of these strategies to work, though, there needs to be a substantial degree of community policing of its own so that members of a given minority do not prove themselves to be obnoxious people who bring trouble on that larger community through evil conduct.  So far, at least, it appears that Muslims have been unwilling or unable to ensure that their community is viewed as peaceful and decent, if unusual, by others, and as a result, longstanding fears of antisocial conduct have only increased the anxiety of the Muslim populations viewed with hostility and suspicion wherever they exist as a minority.  Embracing the status of a dhimmi and acting accordingly is a way for the community as a whole to recognize that its place as a protected minority depends on its continued good conduct, and also encourages the larger population to protect peaceful minorities out of their own enlightened self-interest.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to The Muslim Minority As Dhimmi

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