Topic: LinguisticsTeaching

Last updated: May 20, 2019

The “Pact of Omar” is of uncertain authorship and exists in various versions. There are several versions of the pact, differing both in structure and stipulations. The Pact of Umar, a document purportedly signed by the second ruler, Umar I (634-44), is the source of the restrictive laws on non-Muslims embedded within the Islamic law (Shari’a). Under Shari’a, both Judaic and Christian minorities (dhimmi, or literally “protected peoples”) have freedom to stay in Muslim countries however no freedom to recruit. Conversions can solely be to Islam, not away from it. Like other early and medieval documents with weighty consequences for politics and religion, Umar’s pact is hard to pin down to a date. It may have originated as early as 673, after the Muslims conquered Christian Syria and Palestine.

But scholars date the text in its current form to about the ninth century. This pact made the Muslims to be more dominant and superior to the Christians. For instance, the security of the Christians was only guaranteed if they paid a head tax.

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The Christians were also not allowed to join the military or to hold any government offices. This specific rule was however sometimes ignored if there was a Christian who had skills or expertise that the Muslims required. The Christian religion was also diminished as the Christians were restricted from constructing any more churches, convents or synagogues. The Christians were also forbidden from publicly professing their faith or converting any Muslim to the Christian religion. Public display of holy Christian books and crosses was also forbidden. Christianity was considered inferior since the Christians had failed to recognize Prophet Muhammad.

The Christians were however welcomed to join Islam if they so wished.The inferiority of the Christian was emphasized with the declaration that the Christians should always leave their gates open so that nay Muslim traveling through the area can get in and rest for at least three days without question. The Christians were supposed to welcome the stranger and host him till he leaves.

The Christians were also required to stand up if in a public place and a Muslim comes by and required to sit. This was considered as a form of respect.The Christians were seen more as servants than equals as they were required to dress different so as not to be confused as Muslims, they were also not to teach their children about the Quran as it was believed that they would do it wrong and in bad taste. Though the Christians and the Muslims were living in the same geographical regions, it was evident that the Muslim had a great degree of distrust for the Christians and hence the need to dominate them.At first reading, it may seem like this pact was drafted by the Christians themselves. However, the terms were dictated to them by Umar.

This is standard procedure for any agreement we may sign today, whether it be a receipt for a grocery delivery or the deeds to our homes. If, in fact, this document is of Muslim composition, it remains that a Muslim author claiming its Christian origins would make subjugation of future conquered Christians much easier; however, this gives the document a tone of coercion or propagandas that highlights the dominance of the Muslims. In this case, the additional conditions tacked on by ‘Umar signify their ultimate authority over their dominated subjects. Perhaps one of the most interesting turn-arounds in meaning is the clause about forbidding the teaching of the Qur’an to Christian children.

Seen as an act of religious self-preservation for Christians, this clause takes on a completely different meaning under a Muslim authority and raises all kinds of historical questions about why Muslims might have been trying to temper conversion rates. This complicates the narratives of Muslim religious coercion by force and, along with the stipulations about dress, other identifying markers and the selling of fermented drinks, signals a Muslim anxiety about mixing with Christian populations.


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