The Late Ann Lambton on Dhimmitude: Lessons For Her Surviving “Co-Protégé”?


Professor Ann Lambton, RIP



Hugh Fitzgerald drew my attention to recent obituaries for the late scholar Ann K.S. Lambton, February 8, 1912—July 19, 2008. The obituary in The  Independent included these summary details of her life and career:


Ann Katharine Swynford Lambton, Persianist: born Newmarket, Suffolk 8 February 1912; Press Attaché, British Legation (later Embassy), Tehran 1939-45; OBE 1942; Senior Lecturer, School of Oriental and African Studies, London University 1945-48, Reader 1948-53, Professor of Persian 1953-79 (Emerita), Honorary Fellow 1983-2008; FBA 1964; Honorary Fellow, New Hall, Cambridge 1973; died Wooler, Northumberland 19 July 2008.


Her obituarist, Burzine K. Waghmar noted,


Lambton was unrivalled in the breadth of her scholarship, covering Persian grammar and dialectology; medieval and early modern Islamic political thought; Seljuq, Mongol, Safavid, Qajar and Pahlavi administration; tribal and local history; and land tenure and agriculture. Her association with SOAS (School of Oriental and Asiatic Studies) in London, which lasted from her time as an undergraduate in 1930 until her death as Professor Emerita, aged 96, was one of the longest and most illustrious, and Lambton became acknowledged as the dean of Persian studies in the West. Without hyperbole, an era has passed in Middle Eastern studies.


From 1972-78, Lambton headed the Near and Middle East department, while contributing articles and analyses for The Cambridge History of Islam, which she co-edited with Bernard Lewis. The late Professor Lambton and nonagenarian Bernard Lewis were also both protégés of the famous SOAS Islamologist Sir Hamilton Gibb.  Presently, I am reading Lambton’s State and Government in Medieval Islam (1981), a seminal analysis of Muslim statecraft. Lambton’s frank discussion of the plight of the dhimmis stands in stark contrast to the bowdlerized formulation of her “co-(Gibb) protégé,” Bernard Lewis.


I will merely quote; you dear reader, decide: might Lewis benefit—at long last—from the wisdom and intellectual honesty of his late colleague, Ann Lambton, regarding dhimmitude?


Here is what Lewis opined on the subject in 1974 (from his Islam, from the Prophet Muhammad to the capture of Constantinople, 1974, New York, p. 217):


The dhimma on the whole worked well. [emphasis added] The non-Muslims managed to thrive under Muslim rule, and even to make significant contributions to Islamic civilization. The restrictions were not onerous, and were usually less severe in practice than in theory. As long as the non-Muslim communities accepted and conformed to the status of tolerated subordination assigned to them, they were not troubled.


Ann Lambton, wrote the following in 1981 (from State and Government in Medieval Islam, Oxford, pp. 206-208):


As individuals, the dhimmis possessed no rights. Citizenship was limited to Muslims; and because of the superior status of the Muslim, certain juristic restrictions were imposed on the dhimmi. The evidence of a dhimmi was not accepted in a law court; a Muslim could not inherit from a dhimmi nor a dhimmi from a Muslim; a Muslim could marry a dhimmi woman, but a dhimmi could not marry a Muslim woman; at the frontier a dhimmi merchant paid double the rate of duty on merchandise paid by a Muslim, but only half the rate paid by a harbi; and the blood-wit paid for a dhimmi was, except according to the Hanafis, only half or two-thirds that paid for a Muslims. No dhimmi was permitted to change his faith except for Islam…


Various social restrictions were imposed upon the dhimmis such as restrictions of dress…Dhimmis were also forbidden to ride horses…and, according to Abu Hanifa valuable mules. The reason for this prohibition was connected with the fact that dhimmis were forbidden to bear arms: the horse was regarded as a ‘fighter for the faith,’ and received two shares in the booty if it were of Arab stock whereas its rider received one. Dhimmis were to yield the way to Muslims. They were also forbidden to mark their houses by distinctive signs or to build them higher than those of Muslims. They were not to build new churches, synagogues, or hermitages and not to scandalize Muslims by openly performing their worship or following their distinctive customs such as drinking wine…


The humiliating regulations to which [dhimmis] were subject as regards their dress and conduct in public were not, however, nearly so serious as their moral subjection, the imposition of the poll tax, and their legal disabilities. They were, in general, made to feel that they were beyond the pale. Partly as a result of this, the Christian communities dwindled in number, vitality, and moralityThe degradation and demoralization of the [dhimmis] had dire consequences for the Islamic community and reacted unfavorably on Islamic political and social life. So far as the dhimmis formed a considerable element in the administration, the general tone of the administration was lowered as a result of the degrading and demoralizing influences at work on them. In political life also the demarcation between the Muslim freeman and the dhimmi was fatal. The existence of large half-autonomous communities embedded in the very fabric of the Muslim state prevented political unity, while the clashing of ideals and standards of life formed a barrier to social unity. Professor  [A.] Mez’ statement [in “Die Renaissance des Islams,” Heidelberg, 1922, p. 29] that the dar-al-Islam ever remained partitioned and the believers felt themselves always as conquerors and never as citizens, is, no doubt true of the early centuries, though it does not entirely hold for later times. Nevertheless, it is the case that the theocratic principle of Islamic government prevented the assimilation of the non-Muslim minorities, which in turn impeded, if it did not prevent prevent political and economic stability.

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