The Church required Jews and Muslims to dress differently from Christians!

Christians often times bark about isolated cases in Muslim history where the Muslim government required minorities, such as Jews and Christians, to dress in a way that distinguished them from Muslims. Due to the terrible memories of Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, a part of which involved forcing them to wear a “Star of David” on their clothing to identify them as Jews, many contemporary people (Christians especially) criticize Islam for having similar laws (e.g., the infamous “Pact of Umar“).

Before we expose the Christians’ hypocrisy, it is pertinent to ask: is it really “persecution” if a minority group is required by law to dress in a certain way? Certainly, if such a law was accompanied by injustice, oppression, discrimination, and even violence, then it would certainly be wrong and immoral. But in the absence of such actions, would merely requiring a dress code really be “persecution”? I do not think so. In fact, many Jews, especially Hasidic Jews, already dress in a particular way that clearly distinguishes them from non-Jews. I submit what I know will be an unpopular opinion in the liberal west: a dress code to distinguish a minority group for religious reasons, without any unfair treatment, is not persecution.

Having said that, did you know that in its long history of persecution of Jews and other non-Christians, such as Muslims, the Catholic Church did require Jews and Muslims in Christian lands to dress in a way that was distinctive from Christians? Yes, it’s true! Not only that, but the Church also forbade Jews and Muslims from public appearances during certain days of the year. In addition, this law was justified by quoting the Bible! In the 4th Lateran Council, held in the year 1215 CE and presided over by Pope Innocent III, the Catholic Church passed a resolution requiring Jews and “Saracens” (i.e., Muslims) to dress differently from Christians. The text of “Canon 68” of the council states (emphasis mine):

“A difference of dress distinguishes Jews or Saracens from Christians in some provinces, but in others a certain confusion has developed so that they are indistinguishable. Whence it sometimes happens that by mistake Christians join with Jewish or Saracen women, and Jews or Saracens with Christian women. In order that the offence of such a damnable mixing may not spread further, under the excuse of a mistake of this kind, we decree that such persons of either sex, in every Christian province and at all times, are to be distinguished in public from other people by the character of their dress — seeing moreover that this was enjoined upon them by Moses himself, as we read. They shall not appear in public at all on the days of lamentation and on passion Sunday; because some of them on such days, as we have heard, do not blush to parade in very ornate dress and are not afraid to mock Christians who are presenting a memorial of the most sacred passion and are displaying signs of grief. What we most strictly forbid however, is that they dare in any way to break out in derision of the Redeemer. We order secular princes to restrain with condign punishment those who do so presume, lest they dare to blaspheme in any way him who was crucified for us, since we ought not to ignore insults against him who blotted out our wrongdoings.”[1]

Well, how about that? Now again, I am of the view that dress codes to distinguish religious groups is not a bad thing, as long as it is not accompanied by verbal or physical abuse and other others forms of persecution. But notice how the church not only justified this law, claiming that it was required by Moses (peace be upon him), it also added the caveat that both Jews and Muslims were banned from public appearances on Christian holy days. Of course, these restrictions were mild compared to the terrible things the church often did to Jews, Muslims, and anyone else it deemed to be “enemies of Christ”. In fact, in the 4th Lateran Council, Canon 69 forbade Jews from holding public offices, arguing that:

“It would be too absurd for a blasphemer of Christ to exercise power over Christians.”[2]

And as if it was not enough, the church finished the council with Canon 71, which called for a new crusade against the “Saracens”. We all know how that went![3]

And Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) knows best!


[1] https://www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/ecum12-2.htm#68

[2] https://www.papalencyclicals.net/councils/ecum12-2.htm#69

[3] The Fifth Crusade began in 1217, after the death of Innocent III, and ended in defeat for the Crusaders in 1221 and a truce between the Muslims and Christians.

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