In this article I shall address four key concepts as generally understood in the free western world and the Islamic world.

My experience when talking to Muslims is that when these (amongst other) words are used we “talk past each other” in that each is trying to convey a different concept to the other. Thus I might just as well have titled the piece “Western concepts misunderstood by Muslims”.

That said, I also have to acknowledge that some Muslim speakers exploit this disconnect in order to “say one thing whilst facing west and another whilst facing east”. In other words they use these “conceptual discrepancies” for the purposes of Taqiya.



The Western viewpoint. In the West “freedom” is used to describe a whole range of things encompassed in civil, political and individual rights.

Perhaps the most succinct definition of “freedom” is that of Thomas Jefferson: “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”

He went on to say: “I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often [nothing] but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

Quite explicit in Jefferson's definition is that all people have equal rights. Implicit also is that all (non-tyrannical) laws must apply equally to all people without exception. (This idea was put in British law as the law acting “indifferently” -as in “without difference” - towards all people.) Jefferson also neatly balances the sometimes contradictory ideas of “freedoms” and “rights” which so bedevil much of modern politics.

Freedoms are generally understood to be things that the government won’t stop you doing, whilst rights are things that the government will help protect for you. In other words the government shouldn’t tell you how to live your life, but at the same time it should ensure that everyone’s rights are being equally protected.

The Islamic viewpoint: The entry on freedom, or “hurriyya”, in the "Encyclopedia of Islam" describes a state of divine enthralment that bears no resemblance to any Western understanding of freedom as predicated on the workings of the individual conscience, nor does it speak of rights. According to the encyclopedia, Islamic freedom is "the recognition of the essential relationship between God the master and His human slaves who are completely dependent on Him."

Ibn Arabi, a Sufi scholar of note, is cited for having defined freedom as “being perfect slavery to Allah”.

To put it another way, Islamic-style "freedom" is freedom from any form of unbelief (“Khufr”) in Islam.

Is this a cause for concern? According to the Pew report (2010) 84% of Egyptians favour the death penalty for apostates from Islam and a slightly greater percentage (90%) favour religious freedom.

To the Western mind this is “double-think”. If you favour killing those who leave your religion, then you don't believe in religious freedom. Conversely, if you believe in religious freedom you don't kill those who leave your religion.

To the Islamic mind there is no contradiction because “religious freedom” is understood to mean the freedom to practice only Islam, in other words “freedom from Khufr” (unbelief in Islam).

Thus, whereas to the Western mind freedom means basically the right to “do what you want”, to the Muslim mind freedom means “the right to fully practice Islam” which in turn means the full implementation of classical Sharia law (including all its discriminatory elements against the non-Muslim, women etc).

Note: many Muslims may well want freedom from their dictatorial rulers too (who often are not very “Islamic” themselves) as seen in the recent unrest (2011) in the Mid. East and the early stages of the “Arab spring”. But this is not to say that what they mean by freedom is what we would naturally assume it to be as has been demonstrated by several of the “Arab Spring” Countries electing Islamist governments who are proving to be at least as repressive as their predecessors and in some cases more so, especially towards non-Muslim minorities.



Apart from obvious definition of peace being “an absence of conflict [war]”, this is a surprisingly difficult concept to truly pin down from any perspective.

The Western perspective:  The English word “peace” means tranquillity or serenity, silence, freedom from war, freedom from anxiety, a state of harmony and tolerance between people etc.

Tolerance, in its original incarnation was putting up with stuff with which you did not agree, but - and here's the rub - implicit was that all parties shared fundamental attitudes to society.

Thus all Americans (irrespective of their roots) would support “truth, justice and the American way” (and who could argue with Superman!), all Frenchmen would accept the principles of “Liberty, equality and fraternity”. Britain has no such catchy slogan, but perhaps the parallel would be “for Crown and Country”.

Today, however, this view has become altered, though perhaps distorted might be a better choice of word, by the multi-cultural paradigm, which sees plurality in all things as worthy of toleration and celebration – even if what we are supposed to tolerate and celebrate is an ideology antithetical to the Western way of life.

Despite this, I suspect that all people would fundamentally agree that “peace” means people of different races, colours and creeds getting along with each other, with (fundamentally) shared goals and, crucially perhaps, in a state of tranquillity -i.e. a lack of (mutual) fear.

The Islamic viewpoint:  Ibrahim Sulaiman says, "Jihad is not inhumane, despite its necessary violence and bloodshed, its ultimate desire is peace which is protected and enhanced by the rule of [Sharia] law."

Prof. Dr. Mahmoud Zakzouk in his book “On Philosophy Culture and Peace in Islam” (available as pdf) devotes an entire chapter to the “The Islamic concept of Peace”. Clearly I cannot reproduce that here, but he talks about the “path to peace” and the “straight path to peace”. Both are allusions to the prayer said in every Rakat of Salah “Guide us to the straight path. The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace,” (the Muslims) “not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger” (the Jews) “or of those who went astray” (the Christians). Therefore, underpinning the Professor's view is that 'peace' is only found by following Islam. states: “In Islam peace is advocated as a divine quality to be pursued in order to achieve the state of felicity that we were in paradise, man's former dwelling .” Thus peace comes from Allah who, so the Koran tells us, “is the enemy of unbelievers” K2:98:99 and whose “hatred of you [non-Muslims] is greater than your hatred of yourselves.” K 4:10. Also K3:85: “If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted [by Allah] of him ...”

This begs the question: If Allah hates and is an enemy of non-Muslims and will not accept a religion other than Islam, will he give “peace” to non-Muslims?

The answer must be “no”.

Therefore, the Islamic concept of peace revolves, like freedom, around the practice of Islam and, as a logical corollary, world-peace can only be achieved when Islam is the only religion in the World: “Say to those who disbelieve, if they cease (from unbelief), their past shall be forgiven; but if they return (to unbelief) [i.e. become apostate], the examples of those punished [killed for apostasy] before them have already preceded (as a warning). And fight with them [apostates, non-Muslims] until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism) and religion will all be for Allah alone, (in the whole of the world)...” 8:38-39 (Hilali/Khan). Translators interpolations (based on Tafseer) are given in (), mine for clarity in [].

Is this a cause for concern? Given that the concepts articulated by the word “peace” are so different, I believe so. It is not that Muslims are (necessarily) being deceptive when they speak of “peace”, it is simply that their conception of what “peace” means and the western concept differ so radically as to be in-congruent.

Nevertheless, it also means that a Muslim can speak of peace and truthfully say from his/her perspective, that “Islam is a religion of peace”, whilst meaning that Islam seeks to bring all people under its dominion and that by violent means.

Put another way: a Muslim can be a sincere “seeker after peace” whilst trying to undermine and overthrow Western Countries that are not fully governed by Sharia Law, even if s/he employs violence to do so.



The Western viewpoint:  This has already been covered in the section on “peace” since I regard it as a prerequisite for peace. But to summarise, western tolerance could be taken as a “live and let live” attitude, coupled with political/legal equality for all.

The Islamic viewpoint:  Despite the claims of some people that Islam is “intolerant”, this is not strictly true.

Throughout history Islam has tolerated minority groups within its domain. Indeed, Islam defines a tolerated (or protected) minority within its society as “dhimmis” who are tolerated under a “dhimmah” (also spelt “dhimma”) which is the treaty that sets the conditions of “dhimmitude” on the minority. Historically, this contract was an explicit document between the minority and the leaders of the Islamic community.

As originally conceived, the concept of dhimmitude was only applicable to Jews and Christians (“people of the book”), and possibly to Zoroastrians and Magians according to some sources, but for pragmatic reasons over time the concept was extended to other non-Muslim groups also.

Latterly, it seems that many if not all non-Muslims existing in Muslim Countries are regarded as “dhimmis” even without a contract – in other words the “dhimmah” is implicit rather than explicit, but the consequences of it still apply. It should be said that being a dhimmi is an improvement over the alternative, that of being a “harbi”{1}.

Thus to understand what tolerance means within Islam, we have to study examples of dhimmah treaties.

The archetypal dhimmah is the “Pact of Umar”{2}.

I do not intend to reproduce it here; but apart from a number of discriminatory conditions, aimed at enforcing the superiority of the Muslims over the dhimmis, or as the Pact preface words it: “conditions that ensured their continued humiliation, degradation and disgrace” it includes a “hostage” clause, this I do reproduce below:

“If we [the non-Muslims] break any of these promises that we set for your benefit against ourselves, then our Dhimmah [promise of protection] is broken and you are allowed to do with us what you are allowed of people of defiance and rebellion.”

This clause exists in several versions, but the key point is the principle that if any dhimmi breaks the rules, all dhimmis become liable for retaliation. Thus all dhimmis are “hostage” for each others' behaviour{3}.

It is also worth noting that “people of defiance and rebellion” are 'fair game' for Muslims and can be killed, raped, enslaved and despoiled with impunity{4}.

You will also note that the conditions of the dhimmah are against the dhimmis – which indicates that even the Muslims who imposed it intended that it was inequitable to the non-Muslims. (So much for the oft-stated canard that Jews and Christians were better treated under Islam than were the Muslims.)

Although in theory the breach of any one of the conditions of the dhimmah could put a person outside the law, in practice not many of the clauses were so used and the rigorousness with which they were enforced depended on the attitude of the various rulers. Thus at times, very few rules were enforced, at others all the rules were.

A consequence of this was that, in practical terms, the “law” for dhimmis could change with a change in government or even depending on how dyspeptic a ruler (or the Muslim mob) felt on the day. Inevitably this led to great uncertainty and fear within dhimmi communities since they could never be sure how the authorities (or the Muslim mob) would react to a breach (putative or otherwise) of a dhimmah – except that it was usually badly.

Within the schools of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) the consensus is that any criticism of Islam, Allah, the Koran or Mohammed or having a sexual relations with a Muslim woman{5}, or killing a Muslim (merely harming in some examples) broke the dhimmah and rendered the whole dhimmi population liable to being treated as “people of defiance and rebellion”.

Furthermore, the dhimmi was expected to pay the “Jizya” (variously translated as a “poll-tax” - though the dhimmi has no political rights- or, more accurately, as a “head tax”). Much has been written about it and whether it was a fair tax or not, on the grounds that non-Muslims are not required to pay “zakat” (the Islamic charitable wealth-tax).

Maududi, a 20th century Islamic scholar writes:

“They [Jews and Christians] should be forced to pay Jizyah in order to put an end to their independence and supremacy so that they should not remain rulers and sovereigns in the land.” (Mawdudi, S. Abul A'la, The Meaning of the Qur'an, 1993 edition), vol 2, page 183. )

Thus Maududi sees the purpose of the jizya as being to impoverish non-Muslims, thus the tax, according to Maududi, is clearly inherently unfair and onerous.

(Furthermore the dhimmis were often also subject to Kharaj and Ushr – land and produce taxes respectively – that often did not apply to Muslims. Thus even in those periods when Jizya was less than Zakat, the overall tax-burden on dhimmis was typically still higher.)

According to AL-HEDAYA Vol. II a Hanafi Sharia manual, the jizya “must be exacted in a mortifying and humiliating manner … [as] a substitute for destruction”. The first part is in accordance with K9:29{6}. The second makes clear that not paying the jizya was also a breach of the dhimmah. In fact, if the jizya was not paid those not paying it were regarded as (active) “harbis”{7}.

Thus we find Ghevond, an 8th century Armenian Christian writing about the jizya levied by the Abbasid rulers as follows: “the whole population of the country, smitten with enormous taxes... some suffered flagellation for being unable to pay exorbitant taxes; others were hanged on gibbets, or crushed under presses; and others were stripped of their clothing...”

Had he been writing in the 14th century he might have spoken about the Janissaries and the devirsme system whereby Christian boys were “levied” as a form of jizya to form the Ottoman Sultan's army, just as their sisters were “levied” to form harems.

Although alluded to earlier it is worth pointing out that dhimmis had no political rights in the Muslim state and few legal rights against Muslims (in some periods no legal rights at all).

All of that said, it must be stated that provided the dhimmis abided by the dhimmah (this is sometimes expressed as “obeyed the laws of Islam”) and paid the jizya, then his/her person, property and freedom to practice religion (provided no “song and dance” was made about it - another condition of the Pact of Umar) was guaranteed.

Implicit here is the idea that the Dhimmi is under an enforced armistice. The payment of the Jizya grants an often literal stay of execution and the Dhimmi is allowed, within strict limits, to go about his./her business. But, as noted, any failure to pay up or any breach of the armistice conditions (the Dhimmah) and the Dhimmi (and often his/her whole community) is liable to be treated as active Harbis once more.

Thus Islam is “tolerant” - provided that the non-Muslim community (theoretically world-wide) abides by the conditions set out by Islam which, as we've seen, are inherently iniquitous.

Is this a cause for concern? Given that the concepts articulated by “tolerance” are so different (the modern Western understanding: a “live and let live” attitude along with equal rights in society [legal, political etc.]; compared to the Islamic concept that non-Muslims are only tolerated within the “body-Islamic” if they obey strict rules curtailing freedom of speech and expression{8}, pay a special and often punitive tax and have few or no legal, political and general social rights) then at least we need to be clear about what is meant by “tolerance” when this is spoken of by a Muslim. Again we find incongruence between the concepts expressed by “tolerance” between the Islamic and non-Islamic way of thinking, which can lead to misunderstanding.

This also means that those Muslims who advocate Sharia law for Western Countries are actually advocating that the non-Muslims (including the majority of the native population) of those Countries be reduced to a second/third-class status, as well as expressing continued support for the continuation of that state of affairs within the Islamic world{9}.



The Western viewpoint:  In recent years the West has made great strides in the promotion of equality. The idea that laws and rights should apply to all people regardless (or in the way old English law put it “indifferently”) to all people, regardless of sex, race, colour, religion, sexual-orientation etc.

We are trying to reach a point where skin-tone, gonads (and how you employ them) etc. are irrelevant to your position in and value to society.

It is certainly true that this is “a work in progress” and there are the inevitable difficulties with balancing different freedoms and rights in particular, but that this is a worthy goal to attain is not disputed (in general) within western society.

The Islamic position:  Islam does not believe in societal equality, one the contrary it is a hierarchical system with the Muslim male at the top, the Muslim female as a second class citizen who, according to Sharia has no political voice{10}, is subservient to men{11} and who is, legally speaking, only half a person{11}. Next in the hierarchy come Muslim slaves, with the same sexual divisions, though it is debatable as to whether a male slave has more rights in some respects than a free-woman. Below that come Dhimmis and then non-Muslim slaves.

Thus Sheikh Muhammed al-Munajjid in the “Islam Q and A forum” writes:

“Those who say that Islam is the religion of equality are lying against Islam. Rather Islam is the religion of justice which means treating equally those who are equal and differentiating between those who are different... Islam does not regard men and women as equal in matters where regarding them as equal would result in injustice to one of them.”

Note that an “injustice” is something that Islam would consider “unlawful” rather than any concept of natural justice, let alone equality, which is why women are obliged to wear hijab/burkha{12} and gays face so much discrimination and persecution{13}.

Despite this, some Muslim apologists claim that Islam promotes equality. However, what seems to be really meant is an (assumed) equity of roles, rights, responsibilities etc.

Thus the Islamic website writes:

“In one sense, equality between men and women is possible and reasonable because they are both human, with similar souls, brains, hearts, lungs, limbs, etc. In another sense, equality between men and women is impossible and an absurdity due to their natural differences in physical, mental, emotional and psychological qualities, inclinations and abilities.” [Emphases mine.]

Thus Islam does not regard true equality as something to be striven for, rather it regards it either as an impossibility in many areas of life, a lie against Islam; or at best a concept subsumed by the Islamic concept of lawful and unlawful (halal and haram).

Is this a cause for concern? Again, yes. Islam does not have a sense of equality that crosses gaps such as gender or sexual orientation, on the contrary Islam has a tightly and religiously defined hierarchy of status (Mussalman; Muslima; Muslim slaves, male then female; dhimmi, non-Muslim slaves, harbis). It is true that within each group Islam sees all members of that group as equals{14}, but this is the extent of equality within Islam.

Whilst the West is aware in a generalised sense of Islamic inequality – we've all seen the dutiful, burkha'd Muslima walking 3-4 paces behind hubby and heard the arguments about the Burkha (“Badge of slavery or sign of liberation?” etc.), - we are not really cognisant of how thoroughly stratified Islamic society is, or how “low on the Totem pole” non-Muslims really are in Islamic society.

Thus the Western idea of “equality” (part of the French motto, no less) is also incompatible with the religiously mandated social hierarchy of Islam.



when we consider the actual meanings of “freedom” “peace” “tolerance” and “equality” as articulated by Islam itself, we find that all these concepts are defined in ways that promote Islamic Supremacy: freedom is freedom from unbelief; peace is found only in the practice of Islam including the imposition of Sharia law, and more grandly, that on a global scale; tolerance is found in subjugating non-Muslims and equality is only found within the same “band” of the religiously defined social hierarchy.

Thus the next time you hear a Muslim speaker explaining how “Islam is a religion of peace, freedom, tolerance and equality”; at least you will know what is meant.

Finally please note that the concepts listed above do not comprise an exhaustive list of such differences between Western and Islamic understandings.


Footnotes references:

1. “Harbi” is a person/group/Country that is considered to be a member of the Dar-ul-Harb (= world of war) and thus “at war” with Muslims and liable to being killed on sight.

2. The authenticity of this is contested and it is probable that Umar I (the second Caliph) was not the author. However, in its most important parts it mirrors other examples of dhimmahs known. Thus whilst it may not be “authentic” in that it may not have been authored by Umar, it is authentic in that is accurately reflects the sort of conditions imposed on non-Muslim minorities.

3. A modern example of this “hostage mentality” was the attack on a Baghdad Church, Iraq, (Dec. 2010) in “retaliation” for the falsely-alleged kidnap of a Muslim woman in Cairo, Egypt. In the eyes of the Iraqi attackers dhimmis in Egypt had broken their dhimmah and that made dhimmis in Iraq equally liable for the “offence”. Thus dhimmitude (like the Umma) has no geo-political boundaries.

4. There are so many references in the Koran and Ahadith. See for instance Koran 4:3, 4:24, 8:66, 9:5, 9:29, 47:4, 48:18-20, Sura 8 is called “Booty - spoils of war”. Also: Bukhari, Vol.4, Bk 52, No.276; Vol.8, Bk.77, No.600; Vol.1 Bk.8 No.387; Vol.4 Bk.52 No.196. Muslim 8:3432-34 (this hadith says in effect that a harbi's wife can be taken as a sex-slave by a Muslim).

5. This is pure tribalism. An ancient aspect of tribal supremacy was to make sure other tribes could have no access to your females, whilst obtaining access to theirs. Here we have tribalism on a global scale.

6. K9:29 (part): “... pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

7. In many ways a dhimmi is regarded as a harbi who, by paying the jizya, “bought off” the threat of attack by the surrounding Muslims for the period covered by the payment. Put this way, the Jizya sounds much like a Mafia style “protection racket” (or vice-versa).

8. Some (many?) Muslims inherently think of non-Muslims as dhimmis at best, thus the enshrining within Dhimmas of the “thou shalt not criticise Islam/the Koran/Mohammed” means that we are breaking the implicit dhimma they think have with us when we criticise Islam. This, in my opinion, explains the element of bafflement that many Muslims seem to have about criticism etc.; the “How dare you attack...” attitude which probably increases their sense of anger, since we have committed two “offences” for the price of one: not only have we been 'nasty' about Islam etc., we've also broken the treaty that guarantees “harmonious” relations - and our freedom from harm. The hostage clause within Dhimmahs also explains, the (apparently) “random” attacks that often occur around the world. (e.g. Burn a Koran in America - kill people in Afghanistan, 2011). However, none of this provides the slightest excuse for the violent way in which some Muslims behave in response to criticism levelled at Islam. Ironically, their behaviour only provides further ammunition for such criticism.

9. It should be realised that if western Countries suggested that they denied Muslims the right to vote, denied them legal representation and made them pay special taxes for example, all for just being Muslim (in other words treated them as dhimmis), that the screams of “Islamophobia” would be shrill, unending and ear-shattering. The irony of this double-think and use of double-standards is quite breath-taking.

10. See Reliance of the traveller: o25.3 - 25.7. The only permissible “rulers” are men, also K4:34; Bukhari Vol.9, Bk.88, No.219;

11. See K2:282, 4:11, 4:34; Bukhari Vol.1,Bk.6:301; Muslim 1:142.

12. The same Sheikh explains why it isn't “lawful” for a women to expose the parts of her body by saying: “A woman’s ‘awrah includes her entire body. The least that can be said is that she should not uncover anything except her face and hands, and it was said that she should not even uncover that.” The word “awrah” means “pudendum/genitals”, “defect”, “weakness/vulnerability”. Here the meaning is that a woman is regarded as a walking vagina.

13. Evidence for this is widely available from Islamic preachers on the web. All schools of fiqh regard same-sex intercourse is in violation of Islamic law and punishment ranges up to the death penalty (see The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam, p. 165.), which is specified in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mauritania, Sudan, and Yemen (ILGA World Legal Survey).

14. Even then “some are more equal than others”. For example a “Hajji” (a person who has been on the Haj) acquires a certain social cache and status, as would a Mujahid. Indeed both Koran and Ahadith make it clear that even amongst the believers in paradise there is still a hierarchy based on how “pious” they have been and the greatest of all Islamic “brownie point” earners for status in 'paradise' is to die whilst piously killing Kaffirs.

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