Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Jacques Ellul’s View of Islam & Dhimmitude

By Rev. Bassam M. Madany

During the latter part of the twentieth century, I became aware of the writings of the French scholar Jacques Ellul. Two of his works, “The Technological Society” (reflecting his sociological analysis) and “The Meaning of the City” (his Christian testimony,) illustrate his deep convictions in the two fields of sociology and theology.

However, I am more deeply indebted to the late Professor Ellul for his invaluable exposition of the global challenge of Islam, which he enunciated in two “Introductions” to books by Bat Ye’or. Most recently he wrote a Foreword to her book “The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude,” which was published in 1996. He gave a brief, but poignant analysis of a subject that, prior to the publishing of Ye’or’s books, had received very little attention in the West.

A decade earlier, Professor Ellul contributed a frank analysis of the shocking nature of Dhimmitude in a Preface to Bat Ye’or’s “The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam” published in 1985.  It is this Preface that I will review below. 

Prior to my “discovery” of Bat Ye’or’s works, I had read three books in English on the plight of Dhimmis (Christians and Jews) under Islam. One was Edward Wakin’s, “A Lonely Minority: The Modern Story of Egypt's Copts.” New York: William Morrow & Company, 1963.

Fifteen years later, I read with appreciation Robert B. Betts’ book, “Christians in the Arab East: A Political Study,” Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1978, in which he described the desperate condition of the Arabic-speaking Christians in the Middle East.

Then, the Anglican Bishop and Arabist, Kenneth Cragg, dealt at length with the subject in “The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East.” Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991.

Professor Ellul began his discussion of Dhimmitude by pointing to the sensitive nature of the subject. Islam’s leaders have never regarded their treatment of non-Muslims as a problem. In fact they claim that the populations which were overcome by the Futuhat (conquests) were treated in a kindly manner and granted “protection,” i.e. “Dhimma.”

Furthermore, until recent times, this whole topic was rather academic, since it dealt with the past when Islam ruled great areas of the world under the successive caliphates of the Umayyads, the Abbasids, and the Ottoman Turks. But soon after WWII, things began to change. As Professor Ellul put it,

“That which was related to Islam and the Muslim world was believed to belong to a past that, if not dead, was certainly no more alive than medieval Christianity… And then, suddenly, since 1950, everything changed completely.”

It is true that Kemal Ataturk abolished the Caliphate in 1924, and established the secular Republic of Turkey, but his action was not well-received throughout the rest of the Muslim world. In India, for example, the movement of Khilafat, i.e. the re-establishment of the Caliphate arose; a phenomenon that showed the unwillingness of Indian Islam to live without the symbol of the unity of the Umma. So, when the British Raj was about to grant independence to India, its Muslim leaders demanded that the country be partitioned between Muslims and Hindus. Jacques Ellul pointed to the tragic events that accompanied the birth of Pakistan, an event of tremendous importance in the modern renaissance of political Islam:

“One ought not to forget that the terrible war of 1947 in India between the Muslims and Hindus was fought on a purely religious basis. More than one million people died, and since massacres had not taken place when the Muslims had lived within the Hindu-Buddhist orbit, one may presume that the war was caused by the attempt to set up an independent Islamic republic.”

This latent Islamic imperialistic impulse expressed itself as Muslims began to flex their economic muscles thanks to their control and exploitation of the major sources of petroleum.

“It has transformed the face of the world in less than half a century. And we are now witnessing a vast program to propagate Islam, involving the building of mosques everywhere.”

At present, to speak about the evils of Dhimmitude is no longer acceptable. The moment one broaches this subject strong feelings are easily aroused among Muslims. Nevertheless, we cannot remain silent about an institution that has impacted the lives of millions of non-Muslims during the last 1400 years. Having set forth the context for the discussion of Dhimmitude, Jacques Ellul proceeded to explain the value of Bat Ye’or’s book:

“It is within this context that Bat Ye’or’s book, The Dhimmi should be placed: and it is an exemplary contribution to this crucial discussion that concerns us all. Here I shall neither give an account of the book nor praise its merits, but shall simply indicate its importance. The dhimmi is someone who lives in a Muslim society without being a Muslim (Jews, Christians, and occasionally "animists"). He has a particular social, political, and economic status, and it is essential for us to know how this "refractory" person has been treated.”

The trouble with Dhimmitude is that it is rooted in a Qur’anic tradition, and was codified in the legal arrangements that covered every aspect of the lives of non-Muslims living within Daru’l Islam. It cannot be altered or changed without doing violence to the very essence of Islam. Non-Muslims do not and cannot have the same rights as Muslims. By their very persistence in remaining as non-believers living under the rule of their Muslim conquerors, they give evidence to their stubbornness and faithlessness. Thus a non-Muslim is regarded as a Kafir (non-believer) or a Mushrik (a term used today mainly for Christians who, in the Muslims’ view, believe in three gods.)

When writing on the subject of Dhimmis and Dhimmitude, one has to do more than discuss the etymological meaning of the Arabic word; for it is inaccurate to claim that it designates the status of “protection” for Christians and Jews living under Islam.  It is not an inherent right for a Christian, a Jew, or a Zoroastrian; in Islam, it remains a given or a granted right that can be revoked any time! This is a very important point that Ellul makes:

“However, the dhimmi itself is a controversial subject. This word actually means “protégé” or “protected person.” This is one of the arguments of the modern defenders of Islam: the dhimmi has never been persecuted or maltreated (except accidentally); on the contrary, he was a protected person. What better example could illustrate Islam’s liberalism.  Here are people who do not accept Islam and, instead of being expelled, they are protected…When this “stranger” lives in Islamic countries, the answer can only be: [protected] against the Muslims themselves.”

After dealing with the criticisms of some Western scholars of Bat Ye’or’s “The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam,” Professor Ellul ended his Preface with these words:

“If I have dealt with the criticisms at some length, it is because I feel that is important in order to establish the “scholarly” nature of this book. For my part, I consider this study to be very honest, hardly polemical at all, and as objective as possible (always bearing in mind the fact that I belong to the school of historians for whom pure objectivity, in the absolute sense, cannot exist). The Dhimmi contains a rich selection of source material, makes a correct use of documents, and displays a concern to place each situation in its proper historical context… The Muslim world has not evolved in its manner of considering the non-Muslim, which is a reminder of the fate in store for those who may one day be submerged within it. It is a source of enlightenment for our time.”

Jacques Ellul’s concluding words sounded an alarm not only for his fellow-French citizens, but for all the European states where large numbers of Muslims have settled, and altered the social and political landscape. He died in 1994, a decade before the publication of Ye’or’s latest book, “Eurabia,” another great work on the subject of Islam and the West. Nevertheless, we remain greatly indebted to the introductory “essays” he contributed to the two books of our expert on “Dhimmitude,” the indefatigable Bat Ye’or. I look forward to more writing from her.  Her output thus far has been most enlightening and has helped immensely in informing her readers about one of the most important subjects of our twenty-first century. 


Jacques ELLUL died in 1994 at 82. A jurist, historian, theologian and sociologist, he published more than 600 articles and 48 books, many of which were translated into a dozen languages (more than 20 into English).  From 1950-70 he was a member of the National Council of the Protestant Reformed Church of France. Professor at the University of Bordeaux, his oeuvre includes studies on medieval European institutions, the effect of modern technology on contemporary society, and moral theology. In American academic circles, he was widely known for "The Technological Society" written in the 1950's (English edition, 1964) and recognized as one of the most prominent of contemporary thinkers.

Books on Dhimmis and Dhimmitude by Bat Ye’or:

The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam, by Bat Ye’or, Preface by Jacques Ellul. Published in 1985 by Associated University Presses, 440 Forsgate Drive, Cranbury, NJ  08512

The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, by Bat Ye’or, Foreword by Jacques Ellul. Published in 1996 by Associated University Presses, 440 Forsgate Drive, Cranbury, NJ  08512

Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, by Bat Ye’or. Published in 2002 by Associated University Presses, 440 Forsgate Drive, Cranbury, NJ  08512

Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, January 30, 2005), is about the transformation of Europe into “Eurabia,” a cultural and political appendage of the Arab/Muslim world. Eurabia is fundamentally anti-Christian, anti-Western, anti-American, and antisemitic.

For information on the works of Bat Ye’or, please go to: