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Dhimmi (Arabic: ذمي) (often pronounced "Zimmi") are Christians, Jews, and sometimes  Zoroastrians and people of other faiths living in a Muslim state and enjoying special protection not afforded to other non-Muslims. Dhimmi are supposed to wear special dress and pay the jizyah tax. They are exempt (or rather forbidden) from fighting and from paying the Muslim Zakah tax. The dhimmi were often forced to wear special dress. These laws are not applied in modern Muslim countries, though Christians and Jews often have reduced rights, as is the case of the Copts in Egypt and the Assyrians and Jews in Iran.

In the context of medieval Muslim society, the Dhimmi laws were relatively progressive. The word dhimmi (plural dimam)  means "protection, care, custody, covenant of protection, compact; responsibility, answerableness; financial obligation, liability, debt; inviolability, security of life and property; safeguard, guarantee, security; conscience" and ahl-dhimmi are "the free non-Muslim subjects living in Muslim countries who, in return for paying the capital tax [Jizya] , enjoyed protection and safety. The practice was codified in the Covenant of Omar (or Umar), but that document is probably written later than the actual reign of Umar. The dhimmi laws probably evolved from similar Christian Byzantine laws regarding Jews, and non-orthodox Christians. The Muslims deemed that the payment of the Jizya was fair in view of the fact that Dhimmi did not participate in the army or pay the Zakah tax. In practice, the inability to fight in the army meant that Dhimmi could not participate in spoils including rewards of land, and usually could not hold important places in government. As Muslim charity in practice often did not extend to non-Muslim poor or was insufficient for them, the minorities had to pay their own poor-relief in addition to the Jizya. A dhimmi could not testify against a Muslim in a court of law, meaning that non-Muslims had virtually no legal relief against injustice by Muslims. Many Dhimmi converted, usually because of the social pressure, but also because of forced conversions under various Muslim rulers.

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: See History of Islam and the Arabs

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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