Religious Minorities and Islamic Law: Accommodation and the Limits of Tolerance

Anver M Emon

in Islamic Law and International Human Rights Law

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199641444
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191741104 | DOI:
Religious Minorities and Islamic Law: Accommodation and the Limits of Tolerance

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At the discursive intersection of Islamic law and the rights of minorities lies a difficult, and often politicized, inquiry into the Islamic legal treatment of religious minorities — in particular non-Muslim minorities who permanently reside in the Islamic polity, known as the dhimmis. Legally, the dhimmi pays a poll tax (jizya) to enter into a contract of protection under which he is permitted to reside peacefully within Muslim lands and preserve his faith commitments. The contract of protection, or the 'aqd al-dhimma, is a politico-legal device that embraces the content of the dhimmi rules, outlining the terms under which the dhimmi lives in the Islamic polity and the degree to which his difference will be accommodated or not. The dhimmi rules often lie at the centre of debates about whether the Islamic faith is tolerant or intolerant of non-Muslims. This chapter argues that using ‘tolerance’ to frame the debate on minorities misses the larger socio-political conditions that make debates about tolerance intelligible, meaningful, and relevant in a given historical moment. To use ‘tolerance’ to frame the analysis of the treatment of minorities is to look past how the meaningfulness of being a minority is dependent upon the extent to which majoritarian values animate the governing enterprise that rules in a context of diversity. This political reality is not unique to the Islamic legal tradition; it is a shared feature of legal systems across both space and time. The chapter qualifies the use of ‘tolerance’ as a meaningful term of art, and instead recognizes that the dhimmi rules are symptomatic of the more general (and shared) challenge of governing pluralistically.

Keywords: Islamic law; religious minorities; dhimmis; dhimmi rules; religious tolerance; governance

Chapter.  11645 words. 

Subjects: Human Rights and Immigration

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