From its beginnings in the seventh century, Islam was spread by means of its practitioners' violent conquest of non-Muslim lands. For more than a millennium (from 638 to 1683), these conquests expanded Islam's empire over vast territories in Africa, Europe, and Asia. During that period, the conquered "infidels" (non-Muslims) -- who each possessed their own unique religion, culture, and language -- constituted a significant majority of the population of the newly Islamized lands.
As early as the eighth century, a formal set of rules was created to govern the relationships between the conquering Muslims and the defeated infidels. The framework of these regulations is known as "dhimmitude," a term connoting the lowly legal and social status of Jews and Christians who are subjected to Islamic rule. Dhimmi was the name applied by the Arab-Muslim conquerors to the indigenous non-Muslim populations that surrendered by a treaty (dhimma) to Muslim domination.
A non-Muslim community that is forced to accept dhimmitude is condemned to live in a system that will protect it from violent jihad on only one condition: if it is completely subservient to a Muslim master. In return for that subservience, the community is granted limited rights, although dhimmis could be capriciously subjected to such depredations as mass slavery, abductions, and deportations.
According to Dr. Mitchell G. Bard, director of the Jewish Virtual Library:
“Dhimmis were excluded from public office and armed service, and were forbidden to bear arms. They were not allowed to ride horses or camels, to build synagogues or churches taller than mosques, to construct houses higher than those of Muslims, or to drink wine in public. They were not allowed to pray or mourn in loud voices as that might offend the Muslims. The dhimmi had to show public deference toward Muslims, always yielding them the center of the road. The dhimmi was not allowed to give evidence in court against a Muslim, and his oath was unacceptable in an Islamic court. To defend himself the dhimmi would have to purchase Muslim witnesses at great expense. This left the dhimmi with little legal recourse when harmed by a Muslim. Dhimmis were also forced to wear distinctive clothing. In the ninth century, for example, Baghdad's Caliph al-Mutawakkil designated a yellow badge for Jews, setting a precedent that would be followed centuries later.”
Dhimmitude was abolished from the Islamic world during the 19th and 20th centuries under European military pressure, or by direct European colonization. But it has recently made a resurgence -- along with jihad itself -- as a consequence of the Islamic wars in Sudan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Algeria, and Israel. Moreover, non-Muslim minorities suffer severe discrimination in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and countries that apply or recognize the shari’a law. Ultimately, dhimmitude is an outgrowth of the fact that Muslims consider themselves to be in a perpetual state of war with their non-Muslim neighbors.