Archive for zimmah

More proof that Robert Spencer is an intellectual huckster, part 2; Spencer digs himself into a deeper sh*% hole

Posted in Feature, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2010 by loonwatch

In part 1, I refuted Robert Spencer‘s outlandish claim that the Arabic word dhimmi means “guilty person.” In specific, I quoted p.49 of his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), in which he says:

The dhimmi

The Qur’an calls Jews and Christians “People of the Book;” Islamic law calls them dhimmis, which means “protected” or “guilty” people–the Arabic word means both…Jews and Christians are “guilty” because they have not only rejected Muhammad as a prophet, but have also distorted the legitimate revelations they have received from Allah.  Because of that guilt, Islamic law dictates that Jews and Christians may live in Islamic states, but not as equals with Muslims.

Robert Spencer has completely fabricated this from his own mind and attributed it to Islam, passing it off as “scholarship.”  In reality, the word dhimmi does not mean “guilty person” and no Arabic dictionary says this.  I reproduced the definition of the word as found in Lisan al-Arab, the most authoritative source used in the classical times of Islamic jurisprudence.  And I challenged Spencer to provide an Arabic dictionary that translates the word to mean “guilty person.”

Of course, Spencer could not meet this challenge, proving that he cannot defend his own writing.  (Spencer’s book is used by the Islamophobic world as an “authoritative” and “scholarly” source for understanding Islam, yet it cannot withstand even cursory critical analysis.)  Of course, most of Spencer’s gullible audience does not speak Arabic and choose to unquestioningly believe him, mostly because they desperately want to believe him.

Robert Spencer was forced to respond to my article, and amusingly he refused to take my name or mention the site I work for.  He has responded to me several times in the past, and I am forever “he whose name shall not be mentioned.”  I’m glad I bother him so much that he can’t even take my name! In any case, it would have been better for Spencer if he had chosen not to reply, because he ended up digging himself deeper into the sh*% hole he created for himself. Spencer’s reply reads as follows:

Christians are also by definition guilty people. As I noted in my book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), “The Qur’an calls Jews and Christians ‘People of the Book;’ Islamic law calls them dhimmis, which means ‘protected’ or ‘guilty’ people-the Arabic word means both.” While the classic Islamic laws regarding dhimmis are not in force in Egypt today, they’re still part of Islamic law, and as such Islamic clerics regard them as the proper status that Christians and other “People of the Book” should assume in the Islamic state. The Arabic word ذمي‎ (dhimmi) is derived from ذمة‎ (dhimma), “‘protection, custody’”), and from ذم‎ (dhamma), which means “to blame.” Thus the dhimmis are the blamed, or guilty ones.

How is it that “protection” and “custody” can be related to “blame” and “guilt”? Dhimmidoes indeed mean “protected,” “guaranteed,” and “secured,” but the semantic connotations of the word pertain to “indebtedness” and “liability.” That’s according to the online Sakhr dictionary, which is not by any stretch of the imagination an “Islamophobic” publication — for example, it translates the word “Israel” into “a Jewish country set up on the Palestinian land.” So when it says that dhimmi has to do with guilt, it is not reflecting some anti-Muslim bias!

In any case, the Arabic root-word “Z-M-M” (from which “dhimmi” issues) means “the opposite of praise,” that is, to “censure,” “dispraise too much,” “blame,” “criticize,” “find fault with,” “accuse,” “obligate,” “hold liable,” “hold in bad conscience,” “accuse,” and “hold guilty,” etc. And that’s not a semantic connotation, that is the meaning, according to the Elias Modern Arabic Dictionary.

Notice here that Spencer has moved the goalposts, as he always does.  In his response, Spencer has tried to prove that the two words–”dhimmi” and “guilty”–are related or connected to each other.  But his initial claim (found on p.49 of his book), the one I refuted, was that the word dhimmi means“guilty person.”  It does not.  The authoritative Hans Wehr Arabic dictionary defines the word “dhimmi” as “a free non-Muslim subject living in a Muslim country.”

In fact, the very sources that Spencer has invoked support this.  For example, Spencer cites theonline Sakhr dictionary as a proof for his claim; yet, when we look up the word “dhimmi” in this dictionary, we find that it simply says: “a free non-Moslem under Moslem rule, adherent of a revealed religion.”  It does not mean “guilty people” as Spencer explicitly claims on p.49 of his book, nor does it mean “guilty ones” as he implies in his response.  The same is the case if we look up the Elias Modern Arabic Dictionary.  Neither dictionary that Spencer cites says the word dhimmi means “guilty person”.  Nor is “dhimma” defined with the word “guilty.”

If two words are related or connected to each other, they do not mean the same thing.  They are two separate words entirely.  Let’s say that dhimmi is related to the word “guilt”; in that case, why did Spencer claim that the word means “guilty person” or even “guilty”?  Is this the level of Robert Spencer’s academic integrity and scholarship that he would use the word “means” when in fact he should have said “related (or connected) to”?  There is a world of difference between the two.  And this cannot be understood as a mere typo, since Spencer writes (emphasis is mine): “dhimmis, which means ‘protected’ or ‘guilty’ people–the Arabic word means both.”  Whatever he meant by the word “means” is the same for “protected” and “guilty,” as we equates them both.  In other words, the word “dhimmis” translates to “protected people”, and it equally translates to “guilty people.”  He didnot say: “dhimmi, which means ‘protected’ people, but is also related to the word ‘guilty.’”

All of this of course begs the question why the Prophet Muhammad didn’t simply refer to these non-Muslims as sha’ab mudhnib (which literally means “guilty people”) as opposed to “dhimmis” (which means “protected people”)?  Does that not seem more straightforward and logical?  Why use the word “protected people” if the intent was to cast them as “guilty people”?

I’ve quite clearly established that Robert Spencer’s claim that the word “dhimmi” means “guilty person” is complete fabrication.  I will not, however, belabor this point and instead choose to move on.  So if the word “dhimmi” does not mean “guilty person”, is it at least related to the word “guilty”?  Yes, it is.  Case closed?  Not so fast.  The two words are connected, but in a way that actually punches Spencer in the mouth and proves that he only dug himself into a deeper sh*% hole.  The root letters dh-m-m do in fact have the meaning of “blame” or “censure”.  But although dhimmi/dhimma is related to this root, the blame or censure in this word is not meant in the sense Spencer is using it.

The authoritative Lane’s Lexicon explains the sense in which “dhimma” (which means “compact, covenant or contract”) is related to dh-m-m: “because the breaking thereof necessitates blame” (Volume 3 p. 976). The larger Arabic dictionaries from which Lane’s is derived–such as Taj al-Arusand al-Muhit–say the same. In other words, the blame (or “guilt”) involved in the term “dhimma” is related to breaking the covenant of security, and the blame/guilt is ascribed to the Islamic statenotthe non-Muslim resident.  An Islamic state would be guilty/blameworthy if it did not uphold and protect the “sanctity” of the covenanted non-Muslim’s life and property.

Kinana of Khaybar, a loyal fan of, tries to defend Robert Spencer’s claim that dhimmi means “guilty person” by claiming that the dhimmi (non-Muslim resident) would be “guilty” if he/she broke the covenant.  In other words, Kinana is ascribing the guilt to the dhimmi, not the Islamic state.  Of course, Kinana’s claim is not true at all, but let’s for argument’s sake pretend it is.  Let us suppose then that it is the dhimmi who is “guilty” if he breaks the covenant.  Even if we were to concede this (which we don’t–but let’s just say we do), this still does not disprove that Robert Spencer is guilty of wholesale fabrication.  Spencer did not just claim that the dhimmis are guilty; he told us why they are called “guilty people.”  Here are Spencer’s words from p.49 of his book (emphasis is mine):

The dhimmi

The Qur’an calls Jews and Christians “People of the Book;” Islamic law calls them dhimmis, which means “protected” or “guilty” people–the Arabic word means both…Jews and Christians are “guilty” because they have not only rejected Muhammad as a prophet, but have also distorted the legitimate revelations they have received from Allah.  Because of that guilt, Islamic law dictates that Jews and Christians may live in Islamic states, but not as equals with Muslims.

In other words, Spencer has wholly imagined the claim that the word “dhimmis” means “guilty people” because they are guilty of “reject[ing] Muhammad as a prophet” or because they have “distorted the…revelations.” According to Kinana’s own argument, the word “dhimmi” is related to “guilt” not because of any of this but for breaking the covenant.  Again, even if we were to grant Kinana his fantastic defense, it still wouldn’t answer how it is that Spencer’s shoddy scholarship is such that he doesn’t mind completely fabricating the bolded part above.

Secondly, and more importantly, Kinana is guilty of wholesale fabrication himself (which is why he fits right into the JihadWatch crew).  The word “dhimma” is related to “guilty” not because the dhimmi is a “guilty person” but because the one granting the dhimma (protection) would be guilty if he/she violates it.  Said in a clearer way, it is the Islamic state (not the non-Muslim resident) that would be guilty of violating the sanctity of the dhimmi’s life and property.

Lane’s Lexicon reads:

Dhimma: A compact, a covenant, a contract, a league, a treaty, an engagement, a bond, or an obligation; because the breaking thereof necessesitates blame: and a right, or due, for the neglect of which one is to be blamed: [an inviolable right or due:]… a thing that should be sacred, or inviolable; or which one is under an obligation to reverence, respect, or honour, and defend.

The sacred and inviolable right that must be respected, honored, and defended is the safety (amaan) of the non-Muslim resident.  As Lane’s Lexicon says:

dhimma signifies also amaan [as meaning security, or safety; security of life and property; protection or safeguard; a promise, or an assurance, of security, safety, protection, or safeguard…]

But Kinana knew this quite well, evidenced by his deceitful half-quoting of another source.  Says Kinana:

Thanks for addressing this Robert.

Also from T. P. Hughes’ A Dictionary of Islam,

1) “ZIMMAH. , pl. zinam, from the root zamm, “to blame.” A compact, covenant, or contract, a league or treaty, any engagement or obligation, because the breaking thereof necessitates blame; and a right or due, for the neglect of which one is to be blamed. […]“


2) “ZIMMI. , a member of the Ahlu ‘z-Zimmah, a non Muslim subject of a Muslim government, belonging to the Jewish, Christian, or Sabean creed. who, for the payment of a poll— or capitation-tax, enjoys security of his person and property in a Muhammadan country. […]“

Note: Zimmah = dhimma, zimmi = dhimmi.

The T. P. Hughes dictionary is available free online courtesy of Answering-Islam, see their Index to Islam. The section on the zimmi goes into considerable detail.

Notice how Kinana cites (the horribly outdated) T.P. Hughes’ A Dictionary of Islam, and yet he purposely places ellipses […] in the definition of the word “zimmah” in order to hide the fact that the “blame” (or “guilt”) is attributed to the Islamic state, not the non-Muslim resident.  This cannot be a mere mistake on the part of Kinana; it is academic deceit of the highest order.  T.P. Hughes’ A Dictionary of Islam reads (emphasis is mine):

Zimmah, pl. zinam, from the root zamm, “to blame.” A compact, covenant, or contract, a league or treaty, any engagement or obligation, because the breaking thereof necessitates blame; and a right or due, for the neglect of which one is to be blamed.The word is also synonymous with aman, in the sense of security of life and property, protection or safeguard, and promise of such; hence ahlu ‘z-zimmah[dhimmis], or , with suppression of the noun ahlu, simply az-zimmah, the people with whom a compact or covenant has been made, and particularly the Kitabis, or the people of the book, i.e. Jews and Christians, and the Majusi or Sabeans, who pay the poll-tax called jazyah. [JAZYAH.] An individual of this class–namely, a free non-Muslim subject of a Muslim Government, who pays a poll- or capitation-tax, for which the Muslims are responsible for his security, personal freedom, and religious toleration–is called zimmi (see the following article).

Notice quite clearly that both A Dictionary of Islam as well as Lane’s Lexicon equate the word “dhimma” with the word “amaan”.  Amaan means “safety” and is related to the word amaanat which means “trust, keepsake.”  If, for example, a person gives his property to you to keep it safe until he returns from a business trip, then his wealth is an amaanat (i.e. given in trust) to you.  If you violate the sanctity of that trust by failing to safeguard his wealth, then you would be blameworthy/guilty for doing that.  It would be absolutely absurd to claim that the person who entrusted his wealth to you is blameworthy/guilty.

Likewise, the word “amaan” means “safety” and refers to “safe passage” granted to a person by the state.  The state promises to safeguard the person’s life, and would be blameworthy/guilty for not upholding this.  For example, ambassadors from other empires would visit the Islamic caliph, and be granted amaan (safe passage) to travel in the Islamic lands without fear of being harmed.  This amaan was granted without any payment or other obligation on the ambassador, so it cannot be said that the ambassador is the one blameworthy/guilty of breaching the covenant of security.  Rather, it is the state that would be blameworthy/guilty should it harm the ambassador.

Kinana’s own source, A Dictionary of Islam, says:

The word [zimmah] is also synonymous with aman, in the sense of security of life and property, protection or safeguard, and promise of such…the Muslims are responsible for [the zimmi’s] security, personal freedom, and religious toleration.

There is absolutely no doubt that it is the Islamic state that is blameworthy/guilty if it violates the dhimma.  It therefore cannot at all be said that dhimmi means (or even implies) “guilty people” or “guilty ones.”  Even if Robert Spencer or Kinana of Khaybar were to claim that it could also refer to the dhimmi if he breaks the contract (which does not at all seem to be true, but let’s just say it is for argument’s sake), then this is an incredibly weak polemical point, since the Islamic state is also “guilty” in the same way then!

Furthermore, as I mentioned in my previous reply, the word “dhimma” was used for Muslims as well:

…The exact same word–dhimma–is used for both Jews and Muslims in theConstitution of Medina.  This document declares that all who uphold the pledge–Jew and Muslim alike–are granted dhimma (protection).  If the word meant or implied “guilt”, why did the Prophet Muhammad include the Muslims under this?  As I said before, it is complete fabrication on the part of Robert Spencer to claim that the word means “guilty”.

But to completely shatter Spencer and Kinana’s argument, I will reproduce the words of the Prophet Muhammad himself, who said in a hadith narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari:

Whoever prays our [Islamic] prayer, faces our Qiblah [Mecca], and eats our slaughtered meat [Zabiha] is a Muslim who is under the dhimma [protection] of God and His Messenger.

If we say “dhimma” also means “guilt”, then the saying makes no sense, as it would read “a Muslim…is under the guilt of Allah and His Messenger.”  Complete nonsense.  Rather, the word means “protection,” and in the above quote the meaning is that God and His Messenger promise the believers to uphold the sanctity of the Muslim’s life.  Clearly, the word “dhimma” cannot mean something negative if it is equally applied to the Muslim believers.  As I have said repeatedly, Spencer’s entire claim is complete fabrication.

Spencer and Kinana then try to obfuscate the issue by claiming that non-Muslims in general are “guilty” of sins such as shirk.  This seems like a strong point to the uninitiated, until of course you think about it.  If Muslims believe that non-Muslims are “guilty” of shirk, then what of Hindus who believe that unbelievers are “guilty” of eating beef?  Or what of Christians who believe that unbelievers are “guilty” of not taking Christ as their Lord and Savior?  For that matter, Christians believe that whoever is guilty of this cannot attain salvation and will thus burn in Hell.  Yes, unbelievers would be–by definition–guilty of unbelief!  This is not something unique to Islam.

Furthermore, Muslims are also “guilty” of many sins, and Islamic theology states that no human being–not even the best Muslim–could be completely blameless of sin.  So if non-Muslims are guilty of shirk, Muslims are guilty of other sins.  But none of this has anything to do with the word “dhimmi” or “dhimma.”  Of course, both Spencer and Kinana know this very well and are just desperately trying to obfuscate the issue.

The word “dhimmi” is derived from “dhimma”, a word that was used for Muslims as well!  If the non-Muslims are to be “under dhimma” because of their shirk, then why are Muslims also “under dhimma” (as quoted in the hadith above)? In fact, by definition, a Muslim is automatically under the dhimma (protection) of the Islamic state.  So when Kinana feigns to be perplexed by me, saying:

Interesting that Danios thinks the dhimma is something positive.

I respond by saying: your ignorance is profound.  We know for a fact that “dhimma” is something positive, because it is granted to Muslim believers, as the Prophet Muhammad declared:

Whoever prays our [Islamic] prayer, faces our Qiblah [Mecca], and eats our slaughtered meat [Zabiha] is a Muslim who is under the dhimma [protection] of God and His Messenger.

And this same dhimma–or protection (a good thing!)–was granted to non-Muslim “citizens” in the Constitution of Medina (as I mentioned in part 1) and to non-Muslim “non-citizens” via the jizya.

To conclude, Robert Spencer is an intellectual huckster.  His writings are full of wholesale fabrications, and he has become too accustomed to nobody spending the time to thoroughly debunk his nonsense.  Unfortunately for him, that time has come to an end.

Spencer’s claim that “dhimmi” means “guilty person” is completely false, and no Arabic dictionary supports this.  Blame/guilt is related to “dhimma”, but Spencer is incorrect to claim that the dhimmi (non-Muslim resident) is the “guilty one” for disbelieving in the Prophet Muhammad or distorting the scriptures.  Rather, the blame/guilt is attributed to the Islamic state should it violate the inviolable rights of the non-Muslim residents.  This, according to the most authoritative Arabic dictionaries, including those cited by Spencer and Kinana.  We see that Robert Spencer completely flipped reality on its head.  As for Kinana of Khaybar, he too is an intellectual huckster, evidenced by his deceitful half-quoting of a passage of T.P. Hughes’ A Dictionary of Islam, the entirety of which negates his claim and supports mine.

As I said before, Spencer has, by replying to me, dug himself into a deeper sh*% hole.

Update: If you turn to page 133 in the Hans Wehr Arabic dictionary, you will find that cowardice (jubn) and cheese (jubna) share the same root: j-b-n.  Are these two words related in such a way that a man who is a coward is also a…cheese?  Or does eating cheese make you a coward?  Using Spencer’s logic, probably.  (hat tip to Ibksi for this humorous but effective point)