dar al-islam

The conquests of Islam's first century provided an extremely durable legal paradigm for appropriate relations between Muslim and non-Muslim governments and their subjects, a paradigm that would guide Islamic thought on the subject for many centuries. The whole edifice of Islamic legal doctrine dealing with jihad is distilled from debates during the eighth and ninth centuries on the events of the early Arab-Muslim conquests. The conquest era paradigm stayed on the books, so to speak, until the end of World War I, though it had become progressively harder to apply in any meaningful way to the realities confronting Muslim states throughout the nineteenth century. The traditional legal doctrine of jihad has retained a vestigal role in interstate relations in the twentieth century (particularly in the various wars with Israel([search])), but almost all Muslim regimes have preferred to carry out their dealings with foreigners and with other countries on the basis of standard international law.

What then is the doctrine of classical Islamic law as regards jihad? In simple terms, the medieval jurists divided the world into two parts: the Realm of Islam (Dar al-Islam) and the Realm of War (Dar al-Harb). The former was made up of all those territories that had a Muslim government; non-Muslims living under these governments suffered a number of legal and civil disabilities, but they were to be secure in their persons and property and were granted a substantial if limited freedom of religion. As non-Muslim subjects of a Muslim government, they lived under a formally defined pact of protection (Ar., dhimma), and were normally called ahl al-dhimma or dhimmis.

The Realm of War was a different matter; this encompassed all the lands whose rulers and peoples had refused to accept Islam or rule by a Muslim government. These lands were therefore assumed to be in a permanent state of war with the Muslims, and a Muslim government could authorize warfare against them at any time. The object of such warfare was not conquest per se but either to defend the Muslims against attack or to bring nonbelievers into the Islamic fold. Only war conducted with those two intentions, and formally authorized by a lawful Muslim government, could be qualified as jihad, because only such a war was struggle carried out in the service of God and His religion.

The appropriateness of defense is self-evident, but the idea of offensive warfare aimed at spreading Islam requires further explanation. The expansion of Islam through warfare could be achieved essentially in three ways. First, the peoples of the lands under attack could agree to accept Islam as their own religion; with that, fighting was to cease forwith, and the only question concerned the political relationship between the existing regime and the Muslim government that had launched the struggle. Second, the nonbelievers could agree to accept Islamic rule while retaining their old religions. That is, they would surrender on terms. In this case, they would have more or less the same protected status as nonbelievers who had always lived under a Muslim government. Third, if they refused both alternatives, they were subject to forcible conquest, with all that this implied in the ancient and medieval world.

Islam's medieval jurists were usually realistic men, and they provided for several mitigations of this permanent state of war. First, if a Muslim government was too weak to attack a non-Muslim territory with success, it should by no means do so, since that would endanger the lives and well-being of its own subjects. Second, doctrine allowed for limited-term truces with non-Muslim rulers; in principle these were only to last a short time, but in fact they were almost indefinately renewable. Third, a Muslim ruler had broad discretion to make military alliances with non-Muslim regimes for the benefit of the Muslims, and these alliances sometimes lasted for generations....Fourth, trade was a good and lawful thing in itself, and apart from military truces with non-Muslim governments, treaties of commerce could be signed which would grant their subjects the privilege (always revocable) of living and working within Islamic territories.

Law and reality are not always the same thing, of course. By the early 800s, the jihad impulse in its optimistic, expansionist form was begining to wane, and in most Islamic lands it faded away during the following two centuries. The famous Harun al-Rashid (who reigned over most of the Muslim world from 789 to 809) was the last caliph to make the jihad of expansion the heart of his foreign policy, though in fact his unrelenting attacks against the Byzantines achieved very little. As a formal concept, the idea of jihad as a war of expansion against the foreign infidel was never abandoned (at least until the mid-nineteenth century, and then only partially), but it was invoked only occasionally and very soon ceased to be a practical framework for state policy. On the contrary, by the mid-800s (i.e., some two centuries after the intial burst of conquests) we see a clear tendency among the major Muslim states toward permanent accommodation and coexistence with their Christian and other neighbors. Increasingly, the more powerful monarchs treated these non-Muslim states as elements in a secular balance of power, even as allies whom they could enlist against Muslim opponents if need be. The jihad, when and where it occurred, fell to pirates and frontier barons, who fought with their Christian or pagan counterparts on a basis of near-equality.


By the time we come to the modern era - roughly 1700 - Islam's wars of expansion already belonged to a glorious but remote past. When jihad against the infidel was invoked in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as it often was, it was done to mobilize the Muslims against the growing threat from Europe, a region that had heretofore been treated with condescension and disdain but whose relentless economic dynamism and military power now threatened to subvert not only Muslim political independence but also the very foundations of Muslim society.

r. stephen humphreys, between memory and desire: the middle east in a troubled age

also, your evocation of apartheid, which is by definition segregation based entirely on race, is off the mark for your argument (as usual), though i suppose it really doesn't advance anything for me to point out this flaw in your thinking to you other than to make note of it in case it comes in handy for future reference.

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An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war.
-- Mark Twain
Source: "Glances at History" (suppressed)

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