Some Islamic apologists have asserted that the dhimma is a relic of history (here is my reply to that argument). But it isn’t at Islam Web, where this fatwa (dated 30 Muharram 1423, or April 13, 2002) still appears (thanks to Satinder for the link):
Fatwa No. : 2860
Fatwa Title : Temples into mosques, mosques into temples
Fatwa Date : 30 Muharram 1423
During the Islamic rule in India some of the temples were converted to mosques by the rulers. Is this acceptable in Islam? And what if a mosque which was built at a place where there was a temple earlier and now when Hindus demolish the mosque, should the Muslims oppose and sacrifice their lives for it? Please answer in detail with Qur’an and Sunnah.
Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the World; and may His blessings and peace be upon our Prophet Muhammad and upon all his Family and Companions.
From Islamic point of view, there are three kinds of countries where non-Muslims live.
First, countries established by Muslims. In such countries, non-Muslims are allowed to live, but they are not permitted to build temples, churches or synagogues. Also, they are not allowed to eat pork or drink wine in public. In addition, even if they had an agreement with an Imam allowing the eating of pork and drinking wine in public such an agreement is not valid because such an agreement is unsound. Ibn al-Qayyim said: ‘There is no disagreement concerning the above ruling among Muslims’.
It is reported form Ibn ‘Abbas as presented by Abu Yusuf in his book “al-Kharaj: land tax”. ‘Non-Muslims are not allowed to build some temples in a country that is built by Muslims and are not allowed to toll a bell nor to drink wine in public or raise pig’.
Imam Ahmad (May Allah’s Mercy be upon him), while answering a question about churches and synagogues built by Zimmis (non-Muslims in a Muslim country), said: ‘churches and synagogues should be destroyed, and they are not permitted to build a new one in a country that is built and inhabited by Muslims. They are not allowed to do what is mentioned above except what they have reconciled with and agreed upon with Muslims. It is said to Abu Abdullah : ‘What is the evidence that prevent, them from building a synagogue or church if the land is theirs and they pay Jizyah (poll tax) and they are not a source of mischief?’ He answered: the Hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas (Radiya Allahu Anhu) mentioned above.
Ibn al-Qayyim said: ‘The above ruling rendered by Sunnah is established by virtue of Shari’a rules and fundamentals, since allowing non-Muslims to build temples constitutes a banner of disbelief and such a work is worse than establishing bars and brothels constitutes a banner of dissoluteness. Thus, the ruler of Muslims is not allowed to reconcile non-Muslims to produce rites of disobedience and lewdness, not to speak of producing a location for disbelief and polytheism’. We exclude from the above-ruling only places of worship that were built in the desert, and then, Muslims settled around them, i.e. such buildings are not to be destroyed.
Second, countries established by non-Muslims, and then, Muslims conquered them by force. In such countries, it is Haram to give rise to any place of worship for non-Muslims. As for places of worship that were established before conquest, Muslim scholars have two opinions:
1) All such places are to be destroyed; it is Haram to leave them as they are, since possession of such countries is conveyed to Muslims. So, it becomes Haram to maintain, in such countries, any places that show the banner of disbelief, just as the countries that are established and inhabited by Muslims. Another reason is that possession of places of churches and synagogues is conveyed to Muslims. This means that if we allow non-Muslims to establish their rites of disbelief, then it becomes like selling or renting out those places, and that is Haram. In addition, Allah has legislated Jihad until all kinds of worship are for Allah alone. If we help or allow them to establish their rites of disbelief in such places, then all kinds of worship will be for others, not for Allah.
2) It is permissible to leave places of worship as they are. This opinion is based on the Hadith stated above from Ibn ‘Abbas . This Hadith reads: “In a country that was established by non-Muslims, and then, Muslims conquered it, non-Muslims have the rights mentioned in their agreement with Muslims, who are to honor their agreement with non-Muslims. The Muslims have no right to put on non-Muslims a burden greater than they have strength to bear” .
In the same vein, the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) did not destroy Jewish places of worship after the conquest of Khaibar, but he left them as they were. The Prophet’s (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) companions did not destroy churches after conquering many countries. Such old places of worship exist at the present time.
Umar Ibn ‘Abdul ‘Aziz sent his officials the following: ‘Do not destroy a church or synagogue or a temple of fire worshippers’.
Ibn al-Qayyim said: ‘The sound judgment concerning the above-stated issue is that the Muslim ruler is authorized to do what is more suitable on behalf of Muslims. So, he can decide to take hold of non-Muslim places of worship or to remove them depending on Muslims’ need of such place, paucity of non-Muslims and numerous temples. But, if he finds it is better to leave such places as they are due non-Muslims’ need and Muslims’ sufficiency, then he has to do so’. This is the superior saying.
Third, countries captured through reconciliation. If an agreement of reconciliation states that Muslims are only entitled to receive Kharaj (land tax) and the land is for non-Muslims or both parties have a truce only, then places of worship of non-Muslims are to be kept safe and non-Muslims can build new ones, since the land is theirs. This last picture of reconciliation was done with Najraan Christians by the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam), and he did not stipulate prevention of building a new church or abbey.
On the other hand, if an agreement of reconciliation states that the land is for Muslims and non-Muslims are to pay Jizyah (poll tax), then Muslims, (in case of ability) are to follow the steps of ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab (Radiya Allahu Anhu), i.e. to prevent non-Muslims from establishing any church, synagogue or hermitage. In addition, if the agreement does not specify something, then we are to follow ‘Umar ‘s way of reconciliation, since it becomes a ruling of Shari’a for all Muslim rulers.
Thus, we have mentioned the general ruling, i.e. when there is a Muslim ruler who leads Muslim armies and manages Muslims’ affairs and as long as Muslims have the ability to defend themselves or to wage Jihad. But, if Muslims are weak or there is no an independent Muslim state and entity, or they live as a Muslim minority, then the Muslims’ interest should be the criterion. In simple words, if it will be a good advantage for Muslims to destroy non-Muslim places of worship and build new mosques instead of them, then Muslims have to do so. On the other hand, if such a work may lead to worse actions such as killing and destruction by fire, Muslims have to do nothing. Here, we apply the ruling that states: ‘Warding off an evil is preferred to getting benefit’.
Allah knows best.