Guest review of Durie’s controversial book, The Third Choice
Whatever one thinks of the thesis of the fascinating reviewed book below (does it fearlessly hit the nail on the head? Is it one-sided? Is the picture it paints of Islam unfairly negative?), the questions it raises are of utmost importance and most discussion worthy, especially given recent horrific events in Iraq.
The guest review is written by Adam Dodds, senior Pastor of Dunedin Elim Church. He has been a Teaching Fellow at the University of Otago Theology Department, New Zealand, where he completed his PhD on Lesslie Newbigin’s Trinitarian Missiology. Adam has a MTheol from the University of St. Andrews (UK) and an MLitt from work completed at Princeton Theological Seminary (USA) and the University of St. Andrews. Adam has written ‘The Abrahamic Faiths? Continuity and Discontinuity in Christian and Islamic Doctrine’, Evangelical Quarterly Vol. 81 Issue 3 (July 2009: 230-253), and his most recent publications is “The Centrality of the Church's Missionary Nature: Theological Reflections & Practical Implications”, Missiology: An International Review Vol. XL No. 4 (October 2012: 393-407).
In publishing The Third Choice Mark Durie has provided an important contribution toward the study of Islam and specifically dhimmitude. The Third Choice is bifocal in nature, with chapters Two through to Five introducing Islam for non-Muslim readers, and then chapters Five through to Eight progress to focusing specifically on the subject of Dhimmitude and how Islam relates to non-Muslims.
Readers who have read other introductions to Islam will find new information in chapters Two through to Five. In Durie’s clear and concise introduction, he explains the importance of the Sunna – the example of Muhammad, as well as the Qur’an, to Islam and to Muslims, explaining that Muhammad is to be emulated in every way. He clearly shows that understanding this is the key to comprehending both historic and contemporaneous Muslim behaviour. In chapter Four, Durie explains polemic against other faiths as part of Islam’s message, sharia law, jihad, the challenge of lawful lying and misinformation, and da‘wah, frequently illustrated with contemporary examples.
Chapter Five – ‘Muhammad against the Unbelievers’ – comprises the linking chapter between the two foci of this book and also constitutes the beginning of the book’s original contribution. Here he examines the life of Muhammad according to Ibn Ishaq’s sira, using the experience of rejection as the interpretive key. He suggests, not without controversy, that Muhammad’s repeated experiences of rejection, and the evolution of his responses to rejection, form the historical and theological bedrock of Islam and consequently of Muslim thought and action. This then is the foundation for Muhammad’s, and thus Muslims’, treatment of non-Muslims, providing the context for the dhimma pact.
Building on the work of several scholars, especially Andrew Bostom and Bat Ye’or (who writes the Foreword), Durie offers his own study of dhimmitude and its effects. Drawing on his training as a linguist, Durie’s argument, which is conversant with Islamic primary sources and Qur’anic commentaries, is both unnerving and persuasive. He first describes the Dhimma in Islamic doctrine and history (chapter Six), its lived reality (chapter Seven), before describing the Dhimma’s return (chapter Eight). This is the heart of the book, the aim of which is to offer “a truth encounter with the theology, origins and impact of the dhimma, including the life of Muhammad. This is offered as a resource for understanding the times in which we live.” (229) The dhimma is “the theologically-driven political, social, and legal system, imposed by Islamic law upon non-Muslims as an alternative to Islam (i.e. conversion) or the sword (i.e. death or captivity). The dhimma is the ‘third choice’ offered to non-Muslims under jihad conditions, and those who have accepted it are known as dhimmis. Their condition, dhimmitude,” is described in detail in these chapters. (ix)
Doctrinally, dhimmis are the people of the Book (Jews and Christians), but in practice, dhimmis also include other non-Muslim peoples (such as Hindus and Zoroastrians) who have lived under Islamic rule, often for many centuries. Drawing on historical Islamic and non-Islamic sources, Durie gives a detailed account of the nature of dhimmitude. This dhimma pact acknowledges that the dhimmi’s life is forfeit, and only by paying a special tax called jizya, annually, is the dhimmi’s life protected from becoming the spoils of war. Durie brings to light the humiliating and psychologically-crushing nature of the jizya payment rituals which are designed to reinforce, to all parties, the superior nature of both Islam and Muslims. Consequently a dhimmi place of worship (church or synagogue) must not be taller than a mosque, a dhimmi’s home must not be taller or more impressive than the home of Muslims, and dhimmis are forbidden from criticising Islam. Durie further explains the dhimma regulations in relation to conversion, marriage, restrictions on worship and the practice of faith, opposition to Muslims, vulnerability and legal disability, rendering assistance and loyalty to Muslims, restrictions on the exercise of authority, restrictions on housing, public appearance, status and behaviour. (141-7)
Fully aware of the disturbing and objectionable nature of the dhimma, Durie engages with voices “which seek to conceal the objectionable features of the dhimma system.” (169) He views such attempts at misinformation to serve the purpose of da‘wah (Islamic mission) as well as protecting the honour of Islam. In response, Durie refers to the Qur’an (especially 9:29), the sunna, tafsir, and an impressive array of Islamic scholars to argue his case.
Durie shows that this doctrinal teaching is very much a lived reality by citing historical descriptions of dhimmitude from the inception of Islam through to the twentieth century, in countries in north Africa, the Middle East and central Asia. Focussing on the persecution of Jews and Christians, Durie contends that dhimmitude and the subsequent conditions it generates accounts for the total disappearance of Christian communities from north-west Africa, southern Arabia and Afganistan, and is directly related to important twentieth century events such as the Armenian genocide in Turkey, the Serbian war against Bosnians, and the creation of the state of Israel. Although the formal dhimma system was forcibly brought to an end by European powers in the past two centuries, Durie notes in chapter Eight that dhimmitude is still an on-going reality in at least two ways. First, Western political leaders, and some church leaders, continue to act in accordance with the dhimma pact without realising it. Second, the dhimma continues to shape Muslim thinking of non-Muslims and is directly related to persecution of non-Muslims, especially Christians. He writes: “Christians are persecuted in the name of diverse faiths and ideologies… However, it is Islam which is the largest ideological contributor to anti-Christian persecution around the world today.” (187)
In The Third Choice Durie makes no attempt to remain neutral, and in the final chapter his agenda becomes explicit: “The dhimma must be opposed for everyone’s sake, because this ancient code degrades and dehumanises Muslims and non-Muslims alike.” (225) Durie’s overall aim appears to be genuine reconciliation so that Muslims and non-Muslims can coexist peaceably and with mutual respect. This is the aim of much inter-faith dialogue, but he demonstrates that when the Islamic theology of dhimmitude is not understood interfaith activities can become counter-productive. Durie contends that this noble aim can only be achieved by way of a truth encounter with the hard reality of the dhimma, “for with no truth encounter, genuine reconciliation cannot be achieved.” (226)
In a world where conflicting accounts of Islam abound, Mark Durie’s The Third Choice is refreshing in several ways. The Third Choice is scholarly, lucid, succinct, and seeks to be not only analytical but also constructive. Explaining that dhimmitude is the subject of his book, Durie says that he “describes the challenge posed by Islam’s treatment of non-Muslims, exposes the spiritual roots of this challenge, and offers a solution...” (ix) Durie carries out his first two objectives well, but his third remains underdeveloped. The Third Choice is detailed in its scholarship, thoroughly engages with primary sources as well as with an assortment of Islamic and non-Islamic secondary sources. Critics of this work will argue that it is one-sided and overly critical of Islam, and yet Durie’s argument is compelling. What is certain is The Third Choice is an important contribution to the growing body of literature on dhimmitude.
The Third Choice is recommended reading to all who are interested in the study of Islam, both as a general introduction and as a study on dhimmitude. It is recommended reading for Jews and Christians and is a must-read for Jewish and Christian leaders who must reckon with Islam, because Islam’s “self-definition includes a deep rejection of Christianity and Judaism.” (44) This book is also essential reading for those engaged in interfaith dialogue with Muslims, for those concerned with religious persecution and human rights, and for those interested in law, politics and international relations. Finally, with the recent actions of the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) in Iraq and Syria toward Christian and other religious minorities, informed discussion of dhimmitude has become both topical and urgent.