Cairo’s Al-Ahzar mosque, considered the highest authority among Arab Muslims, has launched a conference entitled: “Liberty and Citizenship…Diversity and Complementarity”. A number of theologians and politicians as well as different schools of Islam and Christianity are participating in it.

The speakers included a large contingent from the Vatican.

The Imam, Ahmad el-Tayyeb, is seeking to challenge the legal notion of “dhimmitude”. Throughout History, Muslim political powers have provided protection to Jews and Christians provided they defer to them. Yet during the time of Mohammed, such non-Muslims enjoyed a position of equality under the law.

The concept of “dhimmitude” has often been understood to incorporate an element of servitude, justifying the imposition of a tax on non-Muslims which, on occasion, was three times greater than that imposed on Muslims. “Dhimmitude” was also discriminatory in effect, imposing a mandatory dress code, almost leading to elimination of [non-Muslims] as was the case in Eastern Europe.

In the event a consensus were to be found, the final communiqué would bury this “out-dated” notion.

The challenge that this debate presents is not simply providing a definitive statement on this concept, for all Arab states, with the exception of Daesh, have abandoned it. Indeed, putting an end to the “Ummat” (the community of Muslims as opposed to other citizens) would be tantamount to discrediting the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Anoosha Boralessa