Pact of Umar

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Pact of Umar (also known as the Covenant of Umar, Treaty of Umar or Laws of Umar; Arabic: شروط عمر‎ or عهد عمر or عقد عمر), is a treaty between the Muslims and the Christians of either Syria, Mesopotamia,[1] or Jerusalem[2] that later gained a canonical status in Islamic jurisprudence. It specifies rights and restrictions for non-Muslims (dhimmis, or "people of the book," a type of protected class of peoples recognized by Islam including Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and several other recognized faiths[3]) living under Islamic rule. There are several versions of the pact, differing both in structure and stipulations.[4] While the pact is traditionally attributed to the second Rashidun Caliph Umar ibn Khattab,[5] other jurists and orientalists have doubted this attribution[4] with the treaty being attributed to 9th century Mujtahids (Islamic scholars) or the Umayyad Caliph Umar II. This treaty should not be confused with Umar's Assurance of safety to the people of Aelia (known as al-ʿUhda al-ʿUmariyya, Arabic: العهدة العمرية‎).

In general, the pact contains a list of rights and restrictions on non-Muslims (dhimmis). By abiding by them, non-Muslims are granted the security of their persons, their families, and their possessions. Other rights and stipulations may also apply. According to Ibn Taymiyya, one of the jurists who accepted the authenticity of the pact, the dhimmis have the right "to free themselves from the Covenant of 'Umar and claim equal status with the Muslims if they enlisted in the army of the state and fought alongside the Muslims in battle."[6]

Origin and authenticity[edit]

The origins of the Pact of 'Umar are difficult, if not entirely impossible, to identify. Western scholars' opinions varied about the Pact's authenticity. According to Anver M. Emon, "There is intense discussion in the secondary literature" about the Pact's authenticity, with scholars in disagreement over whether it might have originated during the reign of Umar b. al-Khattab ['Umar I] or was "a later invention retroactively associated with Umar -- the caliph who famously led the initial imperial expansion -- to endow the contract of dhimma with greater normative weight"[7] Several historians suggest that the Pact was written over the course of several centuries, not all at one time. Bernard Lewis, widely regarded as one of the leading scholars in Jewish history, described the "official" origin of the Pact of 'Umar: "The Muslim historiographic tradition ascribes these regulations to the caliph 'Umar I (634-644)."[8] He goes on to doubt the validity of this attribution, writing that the document "can hardly be authentic."[8] Several key facets of the document and its history—including its structure as a letter written from the conquered dhimmi to either Caliph 'Umar I or one of the generals in charge of the conquering Muslim forces, a lack of any physical texts dating back to the time of 'Umar I that either mention the Pact or his relation to it, and certain key phrases within the Pact that could only have addressed issues from a time after the rule of 'Umar I -- make the traditional attribution of the Pact of 'Umar to the Caliph 'Umar I doubtful.

The structure of the Pact of 'Umar does not fit the typical format most would anticipate, given the purpose of the document was to restrict the rights of the dhimmi. The Pact of 'Umar has several different translations and versions, but each follow the same general format described above: a peace treaty written from the dhimmi to the conquering Muslim forces. A.S. Tritton includes several of these translations/versions in "Caliphs and their Non-Muslim Subjects: A Critical Study of the Covenant of 'Umar." Each of these versions begin with some variation of “When you came to us we asked of you safety for our lives… on these conditions...” and conclude with some form of “We impose these terms on ourselves and our co-religionists; he who rejects them has no protection." [9] This format, a letter written from the conquered to the conquerors, is puzzling for a peace treaty. Given the purpose and importance of this document to Muslim rule in the Middle Ages, it is difficult to believe that it was written by the conquered peoples as a list of their own rights and the restrictions on those rights.

Mark R. Cohen makes an effort to explain the strange format of the Pact of 'Umar by comparing it to other conquest treaties from throughout the Middle Ages, writing "The literary form of the Pact… becomes less mysterious if we view the document as a kind of petition from the losers promising submission in return for a decree of protection."[10] Cohen thus attempts a comprehensive explanation for the puzzling format of the Pact of ‘Umar, but does not offer a clear answer to the question of the document’s origins, instead leaving the origin of the document as a matter of open debate. In leaving the subject open, Cohen supports the notion that the origins of this document are ambiguous at best, and has a format fitting with documents from later in the Middle Ages

Another important point to consider when studying the origins of this document is the inconsistency in to whom the document was addressed. The document was typically addressed to the Caliph 'Umar, but not always addressed directly to the Caliphate. In some translations the Pact was written as a peace treaty addressed to the conquering general of the Muslim forces, such as Abu ‘Ubaida, “the chief commander in Syria and apparently from Damascus.”[11] If the document was not always addressed to the Caliph 'Umar I, there is a strong possibility it was written outside his time despite the traditional attribution of the Pact to his rule.

There is a lack of any physical documentation of the Pact of 'Umar from the time of Caliph 'Umar I. Cohen addresses this, writing that although the Pact is “attributed to the second caliph (‘Umar I)… no text of the document can be dated earlier than the tenth or eleventh century,” well after the death of ‘Umar I.[12] Bernard Lewis supports this in his own research, writing “it is not unlikely that in this as in many other aspects of early Muslim administrative history, some measures that were really introduced or enforced by the Umayyad caliph ‘Umar II (717-720) are ascribed by pious tradition to the less controversial and more venerable ‘Umar I."[8] Lewis thus identifies Caliph 'Umar II as a potential source for portions of the Pact of 'Umar, lending credence to the likelihood that the document was written over the course of time, not under a single ruler.

The content of the Pact seems to have developed in response to social and political issues cropping up between the dhimmi and their Muslim rulers over the course of the early and high Middle Ages. Certain portions of the Pact deal with social issues between the dhimmi and the Muslim conquerors that did not exist until the 10th or 11th centuries, well after the time of Caliph ‘Umar I. An important part of the evolution of the Muslim people during the Middle Ages was their transition from a conquering people to a ruling people. During the time of ‘Umar I, Islam was in its early years and largely a society of conquering peoples. This meant that the majority of their legal focus was centered around defining their status as a small conquering minority over a larger conquered majority and ensuring that the conquered majority would not be able to interfere with their rule. Legal measures concerning the everyday rule and maintenance of their society only came later in the Middle Ages. Norman Stillman addresses this in an analysis of the content of the Pact of 'Umar, writing “many of the provisions and restrictions of the pact were only elaborated with the passage of time,” and that “certain provisions of the pact only applied to the early years of the Arab military occupation… other provisions were added to the pact when the Arabs became permanent settlers."[13] Stillman identifies the document as a type of living document, growing to encompass increasing solutions to issues between the Muslim and dhimmi populations as they became apparent and as circumstances surrounding their relationship changed. As a treaty that likely changed over time, it is difficult to pinpoint a particular date or author as the origin of the Pact, one of the foremost reasons for this longstanding ambiguity.

As described, there is significant historical debate over the origins of the Pact of 'Umar. However, there is sufficient evidence to make the validity of the attribution of the Pact to one ruler or leader highly unlikely. Below are several examples of the different opinions historians have over the origins of this debate.

A.S. Tritton is one scholar who has "suggested that the Pact is a fabrication" because later Muslim conquerors did not apply its terms to their agreements with their non-Muslim subjects, which they would have if the pact had existed earlier. Another scholar, Daniel C. Dennet, believes that the Pact was "no different from any other treaty negotiated in that period and that it is well within reason that the Pact we have today, as preserved in al-Tabari's chronicle is an authentic version of that early treaty."[7] Historian Abraham P. Bloch writes that "Omar was a tolerant ruler, unlikely to impose humiliating conditions upon non-Muslims or to infringe upon their religious and social freedoms. His name has been erroneously associated…with the restrictive Covenant of Omar."[14]

According to Thomas Walker Arnold, the pact "is in harmony" with Umar's "kindly consideration for his subjects of another faith,[15][16] "A later generation attributed to ‘Umar a number of restrictive regulations which hampered the Christians in the free exercise of their religion, but De Goeje and Caetani have proved without doubt that they are the invention of a later age; as, however, Muslim theologians of less tolerant periods accepted these ordinances as genuine"


There are several different versions of the pact that differ both in their language and stipulations.[17]

The points:[1][2][18][19][20][21][page needed]

  • Prohibition against building new churches, places of worship, monasteries, monks or a new cell. (Hence it was also forbidden to build new synagogues. It is known that new synagogues were only built after the occupation of Islam, for example in Jerusalem and Ramle. A similar law, prohibiting the build of new synagogues, existed in the Byzantines, and was therefore not new for all Jews. It was new for the Christians.)
  • Prohibition against rebuilding destroyed churches, by day or night, in their own neighbourhoods or those situated in the quarters of the Muslims.
  • The worship places of non-Muslims must be lower in elevation than the lowest mosque in town.
  • The houses of non-Muslims must not be taller in elevation than the houses of Muslims.
  • Prohibition against hanging a cross on the Churches.
  • Muslims should be allowed to enter Churches (for shelter) in any time, both in day and night.
  • Obliging the call of prayer by a bell or a kind of Gong (Nakos) to be low in volume.
  • Prohibition of Christians and Jews against raising their voices at prayer times.
  • Prohibition against teaching non-Muslim children the Qur'an.
  • Christians were forbidden to show their religion in public, or to be seen with Christian books or symbols in public, on the roads or in the markets of the Muslims.
  • Palm Sunday and Easter parades were banned.
  • Funerals should be conducted quietly.
  • Prohibition against burying non-Muslim dead near Muslims.
  • Prohibition against raising a pig next to a Muslims neighbour.
  • Christian were forbidden to sell Muslims alcoholic beverage.
  • Christians were forbidden to provide cover or shelter for spies.
  • Prohibition against telling a lie about Muslims.
  • Obligation to show deference toward Muslims. If a Muslim wishes to sit, non-Muslim should be rise from his seats and let the Muslim sit.
  • Prohibition against preaching to Muslims in an attempt to convert them from Islam.
  • Prohibition against preventing the conversion to Islam of some one who wants to convert.
  • The appearance of the non-Muslims has to be different from those of the Muslims: Prohibition against wearing Qalansuwa (kind of dome that was used to wear by Bedouin), Bedouin turban (Amamh), Muslims shoes, and Sash to their waists. As to their heads, it was forbidden to comb the hair sidewise as the Muslim custom, and they were forced to cut the hair in the front of the head. Also non-Muslim shall not imitate the Arab-Muslim way of speech nor shall adopt the kunyas (Arabic byname, such as "abu Khattib").
  • Obligation to identify non-Muslims as such by clipping the heads' forelocks and by always dressing in the same manner, wherever they go, with binding the zunnar (a kind of belt) around the waists. Christians to wear blue belts or turbans, Jews to wear yellow belts or turbans, Zoroastrians to wear black belts or turbans, and Samaritans to wear red belts or turbans.
  • Prohibition against riding animals in the Muslim custom, and prohibition against riding with a saddle.
  • Prohibition against adopting a Muslim title of honour.
  • Prohibition against engraving Arabic inscriptions on signet seals.
  • Prohibition against any possession of weapons.
  • Non-Muslims must host a Muslim passerby for at least 3 days and feed him.
  • Non-Muslims prohibited from buying a Muslim prisoner.
  • Prohibition against taking slaves who have been allotted to Muslims.
  • Prohibition against non-Muslims to lead, govern or employ Muslims.
  • If a non-Muslim beats a Muslim, his Dhimmi protection is removed.
  • In return, the ruler would provide security for the Christian believers who follow the rules of the pact.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Roggema 2009, p. 361.
  2. ^ a b Meri 2005, p. 205.
  3. ^ Cohen, Mark (1994). Under Crescent and Cross: the Jews in the Middle Ages. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 52.
  4. ^ a b Abu-Munshar 2007, p. 63.
  5. ^ Thomas & Roggema 2009, p. 360.
  6. ^ Ipgrave, Michael (2009). Justice and Rights: Christian and Muslim Perspectives. Georgetown University Press. p. 58. ISBN 978-1589017221.
  7. ^ a b Emon, Anver M. (2012). Religious Pluralism and Islamic Law: Dhimmis and Others in the Empire of Law. Oxford University Press. p. 71. ISBN 9780191637742. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
  8. ^ a b c Lewis, Bernard (1984). The Jews of Islam. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 24.
  9. ^ Tritton, A.S. (2008). Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects: A Critical Study of the Covenant of 'Umar. London: Routledge. pp. 5, 6.
  10. ^ Cohen, Mark R. (1994). Under Crescent and Cross: the Jews in the Middle Ages. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 57.
  11. ^ Tritton, A.S. (2008). Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects. London: Routledge. p. 6.
  12. ^ Cohen, Mark R. (1994). Under Crescent and Cross. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 55.
  13. ^ Stillman, Norman (1979). The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America. p. 25.
  14. ^ Abraham P. Bloch, One a Day: An Anthology of Jewish Historical Anniversaries for Every Day of the Year, p. 314. ISBN 0881251089.
  15. ^ Walker Arnold, Thomas (1913). Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith (PDF). Constable & Robinson Ltd. p. 73. It is in harmony with the same spirit of kindly consideration for his subjects of another faith, that 'Umar is recorded to have allowed an allowance of money and food to be made to some Christian lepers, apparently out of the public funds.; (])
  16. ^ Walker Arnold, Thomas (1913). Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith. Constable & Robinson Ltd. p. 57. A later generation attributed to 'Umar a number of restrictive regulations which hampered the Christians in the free exercise of their religion, but De Goeje and Caetani have proved without doubt that they are the invention of a later age; (online)
  17. ^ Abu-Munshar 2007, p. 63-4: "There are several versions of the Pact of ‘Umar, with similarities as well as differences in vocabulary or sentence order; some differ in detail, both in their stipulations and literary structure."
  18. ^ al Turtushi, Siraj al Muluk, Cairo 1872, pp 229-230.
  20. ^ Medieval Sourcebook: Pact of Umar, 7th Century? The Status of Non-Muslims Under Muslim Rule Archived 16 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine Paul Halsall Jan 1996
  21. ^ The Jews of Iran in the nineteenth century [electronic resource]: aspects of history, community, and culture / by David Yeroushalmi. Leiden; Boston : Brill, 2009.


External links[edit]