Dhimmitude

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d1thumbJust a fortnight or two ago, the world was rocked by a violent and destructive Islamic backlash in various countries to a crude, low-budget internet video made by an American citizen, entitled “The Innocence of Muslims,” which intentionally mocked and denigrated the Prophet Mohammed. In the aftermath of the uprising and venting of Muslim anger against America, the US ambassador in Benghazi, Libya was violently killed along with three of his staff members. There has been untold collateral damage in Muslim countries the world over. Much has been said and written by way of analysis: Was this widespread display of anger political or religious?

In the process of such analysis, I have been introduced by Al Mohler to a new word and a concept with which I was not familiar. It is the word dhimmitude. The word demit is a verb meaning “to depress” or “to let fall.” The concept of dhimmitude, with reference specifically to Islam and its relationship to other religions, is that Muslims would accept co-existence with non-Muslims only on the basis of dhimmitude. Others must be subservient to the Muslims.

Dhimmitude is an interesting concept, and one of which we must be aware as we seek to understand Islam and the attitude of Muslims to all non-Muslims, or infidels, as we are called by Muslims. This concept comes into view when the issue of free speech is in question. Islam is an honour-religion, calling upon all Muslim men to avenge the denigration of or insult to either their Prophet or their Holy Book. Young male Muslims especially are expected to protect the honour of their religion. For this reason Islam is practically and socially twitchy—as recent violent events have demonstrated.

In this regard, Christianity, by contrast, is not an honour-religion. Our Saviour did not defend Himself. He made Himself nothing; He served; He endured insult and rejection from sinful men. He expressly instructed us to leave vengeance to Him alone. He made much of humility and servanthood toward others.

Given this example and heritage—both express and implied—Christians need to be aware of the expectation on the part of Muslims regarding dhimmitude. Should Christians and the culture and kingdom we are seeking to establish for the glory of the God of the Bible, be willing to be put into a lower place vis a vis a system that worships a God other than the triune God of the Bible? Can Christians accept a position of inferiority, a position of lower status or rank to Muslims? Are Muslims justified in expecting that their sensitivities about their religion are sacrosanct and beyond question or potential insult?

The questions continue: Is it fair and acceptable for Muslims to say that Islam lies at the very centre of their identity, and then to expect that no one may comment negatively regarding their religion? They’re expecting nothing other than a protected and privileged existence! Surely we simply cannot expect freedom of religion without also fighting for freedom of expression?

As these social and interfaith dynamics develop in various cultures around the world, Christians, and especially those who have a heart for crosscultural missions, must be aware of the debate and the issues that lie at the very heart of the matter. Calling on others to bow the knee to King Jesus will certainly bring these issues of dhimmitude to the fore in violent ways.

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