We handed them out as people left church that Palm Sunday– the branches, that is; long, narrow, palm branches. Its been several years now since that Sunday but my memory of it seems just as fresh today as it did that Sunday.

I had just finished preaching from John 12:12-19 NASB, a text familiar to most Christians. The text paints the picture of an expectant and exuberant crowd, most of them waving Palm Branches as Jesus enters Jerusalem seated upon a donkey; a glorious celebration, no doubt.  As my congregants left church that Sunday morning, I remember saying,  “Wave your branches high,” as if the higher they were held the more “real” Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was.  But my cry was to little avail.   In hindsight, the palms seemed like an after-thought, almost like a party-favor for attending church that day.  But that was then, and now is now.

Have you observed the plight of Christians as “dhimmis,” in the modern-day. Whether Copts in Egypt or Christians in Iran, Iraq, Syria or every place that ISIS has entered the fray? Palm branches were taken out of the hands of Christians in the 7th century. It is my prayer that a little history will make this Palm Sunday one you will never forget.

Before we look at the plight of dhimmis, let’s see what the Scripture has to say about palms and why wave them:

  • The people of Israel used palm branches to rejoice before the Lord in the Feast of Booths, to celebrate God’s deliverance and bounty in times of hardship. Leviticus 23:40
  • Solomon decorated the Temple with palm branches carved in conspicuous places all over the Temple. They were symbols of rejoicing in the presence of Yahweh. 1 Kings 6:32
  • Palm branches were used as ornaments to decorate the Millennial Temple in Ezekiel, presumably for the same reason as that of Solomon’s first Temple.  Ezekiel 40:16, 40:26, 41:18
  • Palm branches were waved by Jesus’s followers when He entered Jerusalem the week of His crucifixion.
    • John 12:13 (NASB) took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD, even the King of Israel.”
  • Palm branches were in the hands of the great multitude rejoicing in heaven before the throne of the Lord.
    • Revelation 7:9 (NASB) After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands;
  • Easton’s Bible Dictionary has this to say about palm branches:
    • The whole land of Palestine was called by the Greeks and Romans, “Phoenicia,” i.e., “the land of palms.” Tadmor in the desert was called by the Greeks and Romans, “Palmyra,” i.e., “the city of palms.” The finest specimens of this tree grew at Jericho (De 34:3) and Engedi and along the banks of the Jordan. Branches of the palm tree were carried at the feast of Tabernacles (Le 23:40).

Palm branches were symbols of joy to the people of the Lord, they were used to celebrate the acts of God on behalf of His people. For this reason, they frequently adorned His house or were used as symbols of His victorious actions. It is for this reason that the people waved palms as Jesus entered Jerusalem while they proclaimed Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD, even the King of Israel.”

But what does this have to do with Islam and Bible prophecy? Islam swarmed the Christian Middle East in the 7th century A.D. much like an infestation of locusts gorging the countryside.  The Christian Byzantine Empire was in control of most of the region at that time, having eventually become the religion of the land after Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 A.D.  Historian Ira Lapidus describes the Arabian conquest as follows (see Ira M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies 2nd Edition, p. 32):

In the wake of the battle of Ajnadayn, the Arabs moved against the Byzantine province of Syria. They took Damascus in 636. Baalbek, Homs, and Hama soon surrendered. The rest of the province, however, continued to resist. Only in 638 was Jerusalem taken. Caesarea fell in 640. Finally, in 641, the Arabs took the northern Syrian and Mesopotamian towns of Harran, Edessa, and Nasibin. … The next Byzantine province to fall to the Arabs was Egypt [in 641].

The successful conquest of areas never before under the dominion of the Arabs could only be explained by Muslims in one way — Allah had willed it. Conveniently, Muhammad’s revelations that began in 610 A.D., and were progressively recalled by him until his death in 632 A.D., became the impetus for continued military expansion. Qur’an 9:29 includes the divinely ordained institution of war for Islam:

Fight those of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians] who do not [truly]… believe in God and the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden, who do not obey the rule of justice, … until they pay the tax …, and agree to submit.”  Qur’an 9:29 (Abdel Haleem trans.)

Qur’an 9:29 did not include the requirement of conversion to Islam for conquered peoples. Non-Muslims could continue to practice their religion but with prescribed boundaries, limitations, and required submissive, humiliating, behaviors towards Muslims. Nevertheless, do not conclude that Islam conquered with an “Olive Branch” rather than a sword, as some would have you believe.  Qur’an 9:29 required that a treaty was only availed of after sufficient numbers had been slaughtered. It is precisely the same concept that manifests itself in the violent actions of ISIS in the modern-day. The threat of bodily harm was the inducement Islam used to motivate submission on the part of remaining captives. Quran 8:67 states,

It is not for any Prophet to have prisoners until he makes wide slaughter in the land.  Qur’an 8:67 (Arberry trans.)

Quite logically, once submission was assured, the captives agreed to conditions as defined by the Muslim conqueror. The document that came to be the model for these conditions is known as the “Pact of Umar.”  Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab was the second caliph of Islam (634 – 644 A.D.). Under his leadership, the basic ingredients of the “Pact of Umar” were developed. (It is unclear whether the Pact of Umar was actually developed under Caliph Umar’s leadership or it simply came to be named after him at a later date.)  The “pact” (“dhimma“) was a contract of sorts; but it could be broken at any time, but only by the Muslims.  The conqueror held himself out to the conquered as their “protector,” who, in return, were required to pay a special tax (“jizya“) for protection. The “protection” contract established the institution of “dhimmitude” for non-Muslims. The tax necessitated by the pact is often referred to as the “humiliation tax” because the foundation of the relationship between Muslims and dhimmis is submission; and humiliation is the called-for demeanor that most clearly communicates submission.

Here is how the BBC reported the actions of ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, in 2014:

BBC,  27 February 2014, Middle East –  A jihadist group in Syria has demanded that Christians in the northern city of Raqqa pay a levy in gold and accept curbs on their faith, or face death. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) said it would give Christian residents “protection” if they agreed to the list of conditions. The announcement came in a statement posted online. Correspondents say ISIS is trying to implement an extreme interpretation of Islamic law in areas it controls. Raqqa, seized by ISIS last year, was the first provincial capital to be completely in the hands of rebels. Read more.

The concept of dhimmitude has been practiced in Islam at varying degrees since the 10th century AD. ISIS is simply doing what Islam has done.

Here is the account of Daniel Pipes on ISIS’ enslavement of Yazidi women:

by Daniel Pipes, National Review Online, October 16, 2014 – That the Islamic State (ISIS) has enslaved Yazidi women and children it captured is an established fact; for example, a United Nations report found that “300 [Yazidi] women had been forced into slavery.” Now, in its slick multi-language journal, ISIS offers its theological justification for this practice.

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah made a statement relevant to the practice of dhimmitude in the modern-day.

BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF March 18, 2015 – Saudi Arabia’s top Muslim cleric called on Tuesday for the destruction of all churches in the Arabian Peninsula after legislators in the Gulf state of Kuwait moved to pass laws banning the construction of religious sites associated with Christianity. Read more.

The details of dhimmitude are beyond the scope of this blog post.  In my book, Islam the Cloak of Antichrist, I draw from the scholarly works of “Bat Ye’or,” renowned expert in this area, to provide a summary view of the concept. Here is a list of common conditions that Christians agreed to with their Muslim masters:
  1. We will not erect in our city or the suburbs any new monastery, church, cell or hermitage.
  2. We will not repair any of our church buildings that may fall into ruins.
  3. We will not make a show of the Christian religion nor invite any one to embrace it.
  4. We will not prevent any of our kinsmen from embracing Islam, if they so desire.
  5. We will honor the Muslims and rise up in our assemblies when they wish to take our seats.
  6. We will shave the front of our heads (to be distinguished as dhimmis).
  7. We will not display the cross upon our churches.
  8. We will strike the clappers in our churches lightly.
  9. We will not recite our services in a loud voice.
  10. We will not carry Palm branches [on Palm Sunday] or our images in procession in the streets.
  11. We will not chant loudly or carry lighted candles in the burial of our dead. (Emphasis supplied).
Did you catch item 10? “We will not carry Palm branches . . . in procession in the streets.”  Why? Palm branches are symbolic. They are not simply the branches of a tree, but rather, they communicate joy in the Lord, celebration, and victory. Their meaning is the opposite of the plight of Christians under the masters of Islam. The dhimma contract was an agreement Christians made not to rejoice or speak of their Lord. This agreement not to speak became a silence that extended to every part of the life of a Christian. Muslims may have spared the lives of Christians but they “killed” Christianity, all the same. It just took longer under dhimmitude. Whether the silence was in not building new churches, or not repairing existing churches, or not witnessing about Jesus Christ (even to their children), or not displaying crosses on church buildings, or not clapping loudly in church, or not singing loudly in church, or not carrying lighted candles in a burial procession, or not waving palm branches, the silence was effective, deafening.  It resulted in the eventual near-elimination of the Christian faith from the Arabian Peninsula to Egypt, North Africa, Mesopotamia, and beyond.
Palm Sunday is this weekend — March 29, 2015 [this post is an update of the original in 2015; Palm Sunday is 4/9/17] I pray that the palms we hand out will not be seen as party-favors but as branches of joy and celebration, and the triumph of Jesus Christ over the works of satan – 1 John 3:8 NASB.
Jesus come quickly.