Dhimma Space: The Protection Relationship as a Socio-Political 'Field'

By Kerstin Hunefeld
Submitted to Session P5288 (Minority Communities: Identity, Law and Politics, 2018 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
Based on the example of Zayd? Yemen, I present a new concept of perceiving the dhimma relationship called Dhimma Space. This concept understands the dhimma relationship as an integral part of Islamic statehood and sharia governance in general. It involves society as a whole and is influenced by factors such as domestic and foreign politics, the struggle for religious-legal authority and political power, as well as by pragmatic considerations and the individual aims of the actors concerned.
Conceptualizing the protection relationship as a socio-political ‘space’ produced (Lefebvre) by the actions of the players (Jews and Muslims) involved and as a ‘field’ that reproduces itself with a ‘structuring structure’ (Bourdieu) helps to detect aspects hidden in a bilateral vision of this relationship, which focuses on the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ treatment of the protected minority by the ruler. Aimed at gaining an unbiased insight, the Dhimma Space concept takes the flexibility of Islamic law into account, as well as the possibilities of ‘protected people’ for action. This allows for exploring the interplay between legal theory and practice as well as between the (claimed) socio-political order and (asymmetric) control.
Following the presentation of the idea of Dhimma Space, I focus on the theoretical legal aspect and its political dimensions. This section is based on the analysis of both Zayd? and neo-Sunn?/Salaf? jurisprudential literature from Yemen, some of which is unpublished and handwritten. Although composed in the sixteenth and eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, these texts have up to the present day been treated in Yemen as authoritative sources.
The practical dimensions of Dhimma policy in twentieth-century Yemen now take centre stage. I focus on the reign of Im?m Ya?y? ?am?d al-D?n (1869-1948), examine day to day practice and shed light on the socio-political game rules applied and embodied by both Muslims and Jews to successfully navigate this space. For this purpose, I draw on documents from sharia courts and the reminiscences of Yemeni Jews.
In a last step, I address the overall picture and suggest how the Dhimma Space concept can be applied rewardingly to contexts beyond Zayd? Yemen. In my conclusion I suggest that the socio-political and legal construct in which Dhimmis were expected to take a subordinate albeit legally secure position was steadily reproduced/disturbed by the actors concerned in an effort to affirm/challenge the postulated political order, the legitimacy of the Imam and with that to negotiate their own position in society.