Zunar (Islamic Yellow-Badge Practices)

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Left: Yellow badge made mandatory by the Nazis, worn to identify Jews in France. Right: 10th century badge incorporating a cross, worn to identify Christians in Egypt.

Zunār (زنار) was a wide yellow belt made of cloth. It was part of the clothing that non-Muslims under Dhimmitude were required to wear in order to differentiate themselves from Muslims.

The requirement to wear it were dictated by Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second Rightly-guided Caliph, and formed one of his many "well-known conditions" in the Pact of Umar (637 AD).[1]

The yellow badge that was to be eventually used by the Nazis as a badge of shame against the Jews was actually first introduced by a Muslim caliph in Baghdad in the 9th century as a variant of the zunār. This then spread to the western world during medieval times.[2]

As recently as 2001, Afghanistan's Hindus were required to wear yellow badges to segregate "un-Islamic" and "idolatrous" communities from Islamic ones.[3][4][5]

Traditional Islamic sources proscribe Islamic rulers to impose the dhimma or pact of "protection" upon non-believers living in their realms. This pact includes inter alia the responsibility of the protected dhimmis (Christians or Jews under the "protection" of the dhimma) to pay a special tax, not propagate their religion, not take Muslim women as wives, and also to wear special articles of clothing to distinguish them from non-Muslims inter alia. These articles of clothing took many forms, such as a special color of cloth or a specially colored belt, and may have influenced later European Christian traditions of enforcing special colors of clothing on non-believers, particularly Jews, and even the Nazi practice of forcing Jews to wear the "Judenstern" or yellow "Jew-star."

The yellow badge (or yellow patch), also referred to as a Jewish badge, was a cloth patch that Jews were ordered to sew on their outer garments in order to mark them as Jews in public. It is intended to be a badge of shame associated with antisemitism.[6]

This badge, that was to be eventually used by the Nazis against the Jews, was actually first introduced by a Muslim caliph in Baghdad in the 9th century as a variant of the zunnār belt. This then spread to the western world in medieval times.[7]

Origin and history

Under Dhimmitude, the Islamic system of governing non-Muslim populations and their interactions with Muslims, Muslim superiority was expressed through numerous ways, including laws that established what colors, clothing or hats they were permitted or not permitted to wear.

In Islamic orthodoxy, the use of distinctive clothing or marks for Jewish and other religious communities can be traced back to the Pact of Umar (637 AD), a pact that contains the terms dictated by the second Rightly-guided Caliph,[8] and seems to reflect Prophet Muhammad's wishes for his followers to look and act "differently" than the Jews.[9][10]

In the early Islamic period, non-Muslims were required to wear distinctive marks in public, such as metal seals fixed around their necks. Likewise, they were not allowed to wear colors associated with Islam, particularly green.[11] The practice of physically branding Jews and Christians appears to have been begun in early medieval Baghdad and was considered highly degrading.[12]

Christians and Jews were forced to wear special emblems on their clothes. The yellow badge was first introduced by a caliph in Baghdad in the 9th century[7] as a variant of the zunnār belt and spread to the western world in medieval times. Even in public baths, non-Muslims wore medallions suspended from cords around their necks so no one would mistake them for Muslims. Belts, headgear, shoes, armbands and/or cloth patches were also used. Under Shi'ite rules, they were not even allowed to use the same baths.[7] In 1005 the Jews of Egypt were ordered to wear bells on their garments.[13]

Apart from Jews, Hindus living under Islamic rule in India were often forced to wear yellow badges as well. During the reign of Akbar the Great, his general Husain Khan 'Tukriya' forcibly made Hindus wear discriminatory yellow badges[14] on their shoulders or sleeves.[15]

The yellow badge first appeared in Europe via the Fourth Council of the Lateran of 1215 which ruled that Jews and Muslims must be distinguishable by their dress (Latin "habitus")". The Jewish Encyclopedia entry notes: "The idea of such a discrimination seems to have been derived from Islam, in which the dress of the Jews was distinguished by a different color from that of the true believer as early as the Pact of Omar (640), by which Jews were ordered to wear a yellow seam on their upper garments (D'Ohsson, "Histoire des Mogols," 1854, iii. 274)."[13]

It was later revived by the German Nazis. After the invasion of Poland in 1939 there were initially different local decrees forcing Jews to wear a distinctive sign, during the General Government. The requirement to wear the Star of David with the word "Jude" (German for "Jew") inscribed was then extended to all Jews over the age of six in the Reich (current day Germany, Austria, parts of Poland, Slovakia and Luxemberg where German speakers predominated) and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (German-occupied Czechoslovakia) (by a decree issued on September 1, 1941, signed by Reinhard Heydrich) and was gradually introduced in other German-occupied areas, where local words were used (e.g. Juif in French, Jood in Dutch).

This practice was again revived most recently in the Islamic world, where in 2001, Afghanistan's Hindus were required by the Taliban to wear yellow badges to segregate "un-Islamic" and "idolatrous" communities from Islamic ones.[16][17][18]

Islamic timeline

Date Description
637 AD The Pact of Umar which stipulates that Christians (and by implication also Jews) living in Muslim lands are required to wear the Zunār, a wide yellow belt made of cloth, in addition to other forms of distinctive clothing.[19]
850 AD A decree of the Abbassid Caliph Al-Mutawakkil, reported by the 10th century historian Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, requires Christian and Jewish subjects to wear honey-coloured hoods and belts of a particular type.[20]
1005 AD Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim, orders Jewish and Christian residents to wear bells on their garments and a "golden calf" (made of wood) around the neck when bathing with Muslims.[21]
1058 AD Seljuk authorities in the Abbasid empire start to enforce existing laws imposing distinctive dress on Christians and Jews. Non-Muslims in Baghdad are forced to wear signs on their dress.[22]
1085 AD Non-Muslims are required to wear distinctive signs on their turbans.[22]
1091 AD Abbasid Caliph Al-Muqtadi decrees that the "non-believers" had to wear yellow headgear and girdles of various colors, and a sign of lead around their necks to show they had to pay the poll-tax. Women had to wear shoes of different colors, such as one red and the other black.[22]
1121 AD A letter from Baghdad describes decrees regulating Jewish clothes: "two yellow badges, one on the headgear and one on the neck. Furthermore, each Jew must hang round his neck a piece of lead with the word dhimmi on it. He also has to wear a belt round his waist. The women have to wear one red and one black shoe and have a small bell on their necks or shoes."[23]
1215 AD The yellow badge makes its first appearance in Europe when the Fourth Lateran Council headed by Pope Innocent III declares: "Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public from other peoples through the character of their dress."[24]
1315 AD Emir Ismael Abu-I-Walid forces the Jews of Granada to wear the yellow badge.[13]
1939 AD The yellow badge makes its first appearance among the Nazis, when a number of local German occupational commanders order Jewish Poles in their areas to wear an identifying mark under the threat of death.
2001 AD The Taliban regime in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan require all Hindus to wear yellow badges to segregate "un-Islamic" and "idolatrous" communities from Islamic ones.[16][17][18]

Related practices

Stamping the necks of dhimmis who paid the Jizyah

A related practice to visually distinguish those who had and had not paid the Jizyah (described below as the 'poll-tax').

In order to manage the affairs of the land, Caliph 'Umar, first had experienced persons survey it and then conduct a census of the population which was also to be subjected to poll-tax [defined by the author as Jizyah]. It is not known how large a team of assistants they took with them because a survey of the whole province could not be undertaken by only one or two men in a reasonable time. Residential areas and houses were excluded from survey. Similarly the undergrowth, area covered under water, or the area inaccessible to water, and mounds (tala) were also excluded. Thus the total area of surveyed land was reportedly 36 million jarib or 125 farsakh in length and 80 farsakh in breadth or 10,000 square farsakh. In order that people should not evade poll-tax [defined by the author as Jizyah] by pretending to have been counted, a seal was fixed on their necks after they had been counted. A man without a seal was declared to be unprotected [i.e. they would have no civil rights or protections]. Thus about 550,000 persons were dealt with in this way.

Taliban issues yellow badges for Afghani Hindus

As pressure mounted on the Taliban, the moderate wing within its leadership – who despised the Arabs, was opposed to international terrorism, and was secretly willing to negotiate with the United Nations and others – suffered a major setback when their leader, Mullah Mohammed Rabbani, died of cancer in a Karachi hospital on 16 April. Rabbani was the de facto second in command of the Taliban and had strongly opposed the growing influence of the Arabs on the movement. With Rabbani gone, Al Qaeda persuaded Mullah Mohammed Omar to issue extreme edicts imposing mandates that were unrelated to Afghan culture and tradition. Over a few weeks the Taliban ordered the closing down of foreign hospitals, declared that all Afghan Hindus would have to wear yellow badges, banned the Internet, put eight Western humanitarian workers on trial and forced the UN’s World Food Programme to shut down its bakeries, which had provided affordable bread to millions of hungry people.

See also

External links


  1. Tafsir ibn Kathir - Paying Jizyah is a Sign of Kufr and Disgrace
  2. Bernard Lewis - The Jews of Islam - Princeton University Press, June 1, 1987, pp. 25-26.
  3. Taliban to mark Afghan Hindus - CNN, May 22, 2001
  4. Jack Kelley - Taliban: Hindus must wear identity labels - USA TODAY, June 19, 2001
  5. T.C. Malhotra - US Lawmakers Condemn Taliban Treatment Of Hindus - CNS News, July 7, 2008
  6. "But the wearing of a badge or outward sign — whose effect, intended or otherwise, successful or not, was to shame and to make vulnerable as well as to distinguish the wearer…" - D'Ancona, Jacob (2003). The City Of Light. New York: Citadel. pp. 23–24. ISBN 0806524634.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam, Princeton University Press, June 1, 1987, ISBN 9780691008073, pp. 25-26.
  8. "...This is why the Leader of the faithful `Umar bin Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, demanded his well-known conditions be met by the Christians, these conditions that ensured their continued humiliation, degradation and disgrace." - Tafsir ibn Kathir, Paying Jizyah is a Sign of Kufr and Disgrace
  9. "Narrated Abu Huraira : The Prophet said, "Jews and Christians do not dye their hair so you should do the opposite of what they do." - Sahih Bukhari 7:72:786
  10. "Narrated Ubadah ibn as-Samit: The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) used to stand up for a funeral until the corpse was placed in the grave. A learned Jew (once) passed him and said: This is how we do. The Prophet (peace be upon him) sat down and said: Sit down and act differently from them." - Sunan Abu Dawud 20:3170
  11. Hourani, Albert, A History of the Arab Peoples, London: Faber and Faber, 1991, ISBN 0571166636, p.117
  12. Bernard Lewis, Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry Into Conflict and Prejudice, 1999, W. W. Norton & Company press, ISBN 0393318397, p.131
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Yellow badge - Jewish Encyclopedia, accessed May 15, 2012
  14. Harbans, Mukhia (2004). The Mughals of India. Blackwell Publishing. p. 153. ISBN 9780631185550.
  15. Nijjar, Bakhshish Singh (1968). Panjāb Under the Great Mughals, 1526-1707. Thacker. p. 128.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Taliban to mark Afghan Hindus - CNN, May 22, 2001
  17. 17.0 17.1 Jack Kelley - Taliban: Hindus must wear identity labels - USA TODAY, June 19, 2001
  18. 18.0 18.1 T.C. Malhotra - US Lawmakers Condemn Taliban Treatment Of Hindus - CNS News, July 7, 2008
  19. Tafsir ibn Kathir: Paying Jizyah is a Sign of Kufr and Disgrace
  20. Decree of Caliph al-Mutawakkil - Jewish Virtual Library, accessed May 15, 2012
  21. Roumani, Maurice M. (Summer 2003). "The Silent Refugees: Jews from Arab Countries". Mediterranean Quarterly (Duke University Press) 14 (3): pp. 41–77.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Fatimids and Seljuks: 909 CE-1100's CE - JewishGates, Internet Archive capture dated April 16, 2007
  23. Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (1987), p.204
  24. Fourth Lateran Council, Canon 68