Palm Sunday – Why Wave the Palms?
By Jack Smith
We handed them out as people left church that
Palm Sunday– the Branches, that is; long, narrow, Palm Branches.
I had just finished preaching from John 12:12-19, a text familiar to most Christians. The text paints the picture of an expectant and exuberant crowd, most of them waving Palm Branches, as Jesus enters Jerusalem seated upon a donkey; a glorious celebration, no doubt. As my congregants left that Sunday morning, I remember crying out, “Wave your branches high,” as if the higher they were held the more “real” Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was. But my cry was to little avail. As I reflect now, my congregants were more interested in waving good-by to one another than in waving Palm Branches. The Palms seemed like an after-thought, almost like a party-favor for attending church that day. But that was then, and now is now. Since then, I have learned about the plight of “dhimmis,” and what it meant when the Palm Branches were taken out of the their hands so many years ago. It is my prayer that a little history will make this Palm Sunday one you will never forget.
Islam swarmed the Christian Middle East in the 7th century A.D. much like an infestation of locusts engorging the countryside. The Christian Byzantine Empire was in control of most of the region at that time, having eventually become the religion of the land after Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 A.D. Historian Ira Lapidus describes the Arabian conquest as follows (see Ira M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies 2nd Edition, p. 32):
In the wake of the battle of Ajnadayn, the Arabs moved against the Byzantine province of Syria. They took Damascus in 636. Baalbek, Homs, and Hama soon surrendered. The rest of the province, however, continued to resist. Only in 638 was Jerusalem taken. Caesarea fell in 640. Finally, in 641, the Arabs took the northern Syrian and Mesopotamian towns of Harran, Edessa, and Nasibin. … The next Byzantine province to fall to the Arabs was Egypt [in 641].
The successful conquest of areas never before under the dominion of the Arabs could only be explained by Muslims in one way — Allah had willed it. Conveniently, Muhammad’s revelations that began in 610 A.D., and were recalled by him until his death in 632 A.D., became the impetus for continued military expansion. Qur’an 9:29 includes the divinely ordained institution of war for Islam:
Fight those of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] who do not [truly]… believe in God and the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden, who do not obey the rule of justice, … until they pay the tax …, and agree to submit.” Qur’an 9:29 (Abdel Haleem trans.)
Qur’an 9:29 did not include the requirement of conversion to Islam for conquered peoples. Non-Muslims could continue to practice their religion but with prescribed boundaries, limitations, and submissive behaviors towards Muslims. Nevertheless, do not conclude that Islam conquered with an “Olive Branch” rather than a sword, as some would have you believe. Qur’an 9:29 and other “surahs” ( “chapters” in the Qur’an) required that treaty was only availed of after sufficient numbers had been slaughtered. The threat of bodily harm was the inducement Islam used to motivate submission on the part of remaining captives. Quran 8:67 states,
It is not for any Prophet to have prisoners until he makes wide slaughter in the land. Qur’an 8:67 (Arberry trans.)
Quite logically, once submission was assured, the captives agreed to conditions as defined by the Muslim conqueror. The document that came to be the model for these conditions is known as the “Pact of Umar.” Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab was the second caliph of Islam (634 – 644 A.D.). Under his leadership, the basic ingredients of the “Pact of Umar” were developed (it is unclear whether the Pact of Umar was actually developed under Caliph Umar’s leadership or it simply came to be named after him at a later date). The “pact” (“dhimma”) was a contract of sorts (it could be broken by the Muslims) between the conquered (“dhimmis”) and the conqueror. The conqueror (Muslims) became the “protector” of the conquered who, in return, was required to pay a special tax (“jizya”) for protection. The “protection” contract (“dhimma”) established the institution of “dhimmitude” for non-Muslims. The tax necessitated by the pact is often referred to as the “humiliation tax” because the foundation of the relationship between Muslims and dhimmis is submission; and humiliation is the called-for demeanor that most clearly communicates submission.
To help you understand the level to which dhimmis were required to submit, consider the following (See Bat Ye’or’s book, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, p. 114):
Under the Ottoman Sultan Orkhan (1326–1359), the devshirme was instituted. This practice consisted of a levy or tax equal to one-fifth of the Christian children from the conquered Balkan regions…. These youngsters, aged between fourteen and twenty, were converted to Islam and entered the corps of janissaries, military militias formed almost exclusively of Christians.… At a fixed date, every father had to gather with his sons at the central place of the village. The recruiting agents, themselves janissaries, then selected the handsome and most robust youth in the presence of the qadi (ruling judge of Islamic law) … These levies gave rise to further abuses, the recruiters taking a surplus of children in order to sell them back to their parents. … Removed from their families, hardened by painful experiences, and turned into fanatics by their education, these soldiers became the cruelest weapon against their own people.
Thus, submission with humiliation was an ever-present requirement that reminded the conquered that their lives may have been spared, but their will and lands (and their children in some cases!) were under the hands of their Muslim lords. The jizya was assessed at three rates, based on the economic condition of each individual male above puberty. The payment process was a public process; and, as stated, it required the demonstration of humiliation by the payee. Author Bat Ye’or describes the humiliation process: “This [tax] was to be paid by each person, individually, at a humiliating public ceremony in which the dhimmi, while paying it, was struck either on the head or the nape of the neck.” (See Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi, p. 52-53).
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam explains,
Muslim jurists tended to translate the submission of non-Muslims to Muslim rule into the requirement of humility and humiliation…. This laid down a number of restrictions regarding dress and hairstyle, worship, the construction and repairing of churches and synagogues, the height of houses [never higher than the home of a Muslim], the use of animals, and so forth, which served not only to identify thedhimmīs, but also to discriminate against them. (See Krämer, Gudrun, Joseph A. Kéchichian, Syed Z. Abedin, Saleha M. Abedin and Saleha Mahmood Abedin. “Minorities.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0536 (accessed 20-Mar-2012).
The details of dhimmitude are beyond the scope of this blog post. I have discussed some of the highlights in my book, Islam the Cloak of Antichrist, where I draw from the scholarly works of “Bat Ye’or,” renowned expert in this area, as well as others (see Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Source Book, 315–1791, (New York: JPS, 1938).
Here is a list of common conditions that Christians agreed to that became a part of the “dhimma,” the contract defining their relationship with their Muslim masters:
- We will not erect in our city or the suburbs any new monastery, church, cell or hermitage.
- We will not repair any of our church buildings that may fall into ruins.
- We will not make a show of the Christian religion nor invite any one to embrace it.
- We will not prevent any of our kinsmen from embracing Islam, if they so desire.
- We will honor the Muslims and rise up in our assemblies when they wish to take our seats.
- We will shave the front of our heads (to be distinguished as dhimmis).
- We will not display the cross upon our churches.
- We will strike the clappers in our churches lightly.
- We will not recite our services in a loud voice.
- We will not carry Palm branches [on Palm Sunday] or our images in procession in the streets.
- We will not chant loudly or carry lighted candles in the burial of our dead. (Emphasis supplied).
March 6, 2012, Assyrian National News: A court in Edfu [Aswan, Egypt] has sentenced Reverend Makarios Bolous, pastor of St. George’s Church in the village of Elmarinab, Edfu, in the Aswan province, to six months prison and a fine of 300 pounds for violations in the height of the church building. The court also ordered the removal of the excess height. (Emphasis supplied) (see Assyrian National News, March 6, 2012, http://www.aina.org/news/20120306013944.htm accessed March 20, 2012).
Robert Spencer, Director of Jihadwatch.org, explains the basis of the Egyptian court’s ruling:
According to Umdat al-Salik, a manual of the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence certified as “reliable” by none other than Al-Azhar University in Cairo:
“The subject peoples … must keep to the side of the street; may not build higher than or as high as the Muslims’ buildings, though if they acquire a tall house, it is not razed; are forbidden to openly display wine or pork…recite the Torah or Evangel aloud, or make public display of their funerals or feast days; and are forbidden to build new churches.” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o11.3, 5).
Recently, an astounding statement was made by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah. The Middle East Forum reported (March 14, 2012), that according to several Arabic news sources, the Sheikh declared that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region [Arabian Peninsula].” According to the Middle East Forum,
The Grand Mufti made his assertion in response to a question posed by a delegation from Kuwait: a Kuwaiti parliament member recently called for the “removal” of churches (he later “clarified” by saying he merely meant that no churches should be built in Kuwait), and the delegation wanted to confirm Sharia’s position on churches. Accordingly, the Grand Mufti “stressed that Kuwait was a part of the Arabian Peninsula, and therefore it is necessary to destroy all churches in it.” As with many grand muftis before him, the Sheikh based his proclamation on the famous tradition, or hadith, wherein the prophet of Islam declared on his deathbed that “There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula,” which has always been interpreted to mean that only Islam can be practiced in the region.