HISBAH, or ihtisab, the "promotion of good and the forbidding of evil" as one of the principal religious duties of every Muslim and as the duty of a specially appointed person in each town, particularly in regard to the supervision of markets, artisans, and moral behavior in public. This person, called the muhtasib, was concerned with such matters as fraud in the manufacture of goods and swindling in their sale. In that respect he supervised the conduct of both Muslims and the AHL AL-DHIMMAH ("People of the Covenant"), or Dhimmis. His supervision had two aspects, one religious, one legislative.
The religious aspect was the injunction on all Muslims to "promote good and forbid evil." There is a strong historical connection between this formula and Christianity in Islamic tradition, for Christ, according to Islam, was the first person to enforce "what is legally right and prevent illegality," which he did on Palm Sunday.
The legislative aspect is that the coveted status of Dhimmi was authorized only by the imam or his representative and was granted only to those non-Muslims who had a religion revealed in scripture, that is, Jews, Copts and other Christians, and Magians. Polytheists, idolators, apostates, and atheists were not entitled to such status and therefore had no stable social rank in Dar al Islam (the "Land of Islam") unless they converted to Islam.
In addition to supervising commerce, the muhtasib also saw that the Copts and other Dhimmis observed the religious obligations of
their status as laid down by Umar ibn al-Khattab in the seventh century. These obligations included payment of the JIZYAH (poll tax), wearing a girdle around the waist, wearing a cross around the neck, and strictly adhering to discriminatory rules in dealing with Muslims—rules meant to humiliate the Dhimmi and exalt the Muslim.
Despite the fact that the terms hisbah, ihtisab, and muhtasib rarely appeared in Coptic books—particularly the History of the Patriarchs—in the Middle Ages, they reveal the object of the call to Islam in a different mode. This object is made clear in the hisbah register, established by the qadi ("supreme judge") al-Fasil in the twelfth century, as shown in the following quotation: "Know the Copts and Jews, the transgressors, by their discriminating dress, by their girdle, this is proof enough of the glory of Islam and the humility of the transgressors. It is a preparatory stage for them to proceed to hellfire, and it is discrimination between believers and atheists."
SUBHI Y. LABIB
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