By Rachel Scott
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Additional resources for The Challenge of Political Islam: Non-Muslims and the Egyptian State
13 The capitulations coincided with the reform of the legal status of nonMuslims under Ottoman law. The Ottoman Hatti Humayun decree of 1856 changed the legal status of non-Muslims under Ottoman law and extended the implementation of Western law. The decree guaranteed freedom of religious practice and freedom to convert from Islam to other religions. It also stipulated that no distinction would be made on the basis of language, race, or religion. This provision applied to government service as well.
It is this relationship of distance between the religious groups and the caliph that came to characterize normative classical Sunni Islam. These religious groups were represented by the ‘ulamā’ (religious scholars), who evolved into the recognized carriers of religious knowledge on account of their expertise in the Qur’an and the Hadith. Their religious authority was, in theory, limited to interpreting God’s divine law. ’ 7 The ‘ulamā’, fearing proximity to power, were keen to remain at a distance from the caliph.
Were all of the stipulations and restrictions that evolved to be associated with the dhimma a clear reflection—from the perspective of contemporary Islamists and modernists—of what the dhimma was “meant” to be? Was the dhimma a divine instruction or a historical response to political circumstances? How “Islamic” was the dhimma and its stipulations? 2 Continuity, Discontinuity, and the Rise of Islamism there is a common assumption that from the mid-nineteenth century on, the Middle East underwent some kind of break from the premodern Islamic order, adopting Western laws and institutions and then establishing nationstates in the early part of the twentieth century.