The Dhimma's Return
Edited excerpts from The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom
by Mark Durie (February 2010)
When the Ayatollah Khomeini ushered in the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979, Muslims all over the world greeted this event with enthusiasm. At last, so it was thought, Islam would be implemented rigorously to reinstitute an Islamic utopia on earth. Yet along with the Islamization of Iran came the return of the laws of the dhimma. The Iranian democracy activist Frank Nikbakht describes what happened:
Non-Muslims had become “Dhimmis”, second class citizens with limited rights, or non-citizens with absolutely no rights, just based on their beliefs. The Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians were given certain rights but their lives were legally valued as less than 1/2 or 1/8th of a Muslim’s life (depending on which source of Shari’a a judge decided to use in cases of compensations for loss of life or limb). They lost their right to testify in court against Muslims and they lost all sorts of imaginable rights to material and social status which might demonstrate any semblance of superiority or power over Muslims.
In contrast to the Iran’s revolution, the case of Pakistan illustrates a steady trend of Sharia reimplementation, and advancing discrimination. In 1947, when Pakistan was established as a secular state, its founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah declared in a speech three days before partition ‘You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.’ However already by 1956 Pakistan had been proclaimed an ‘Islamic Republic’. Over the next four decades, legislation progressively diminished and then demolished Jinnah’s vision of equality for all, until in 1993 the Pakistan Supreme Court ruled that fundamental constitutional rights are subject to ‘the injunctions of Islam as contained in the Quran and Sunna’. This reduced the human rights of Pakistani non-Muslims to those granted them by Sharia law: they had become dhimmis.
Today, dhimma-tracking human rights violations reported from Pakistan including restrictions on worship, freedom of speech, conversion and marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims, abduction of non-Muslim women, limitations of non-Muslims’ capacity to give evidence in court, discrimination in compensating victims of crime (courts award far lower restitution to non-Muslims), forced evictions and land seizures, discrimination in employment, and provision of essential services. In response to all this, in 1998 John Joseph, Catholic bishop of Faisalabad, committed suicide, protesting the worsening plight of Christians in his nation.
It must be emphasized that a state need not have formally embraced the Sharia for laws to be shaped by its principles, which include the dhimma regulations. In recent decades, most Muslim nations have taken steps, however small, towards re-implementing Sharia, and wherever this happens discrimination against non-Muslims increases. As Muslim women from Jakarta to Cape Town have been putting on the veil, so also Christians and other non-Muslims have been feeling the brunt of worsening human rights conditions.
In Indonesia, Egypt or Turkey – to name but a few examples – it can be very difficult for Christians to gain a permit to build a church. Why? The ultimate cause is that the dhimma stipulates that there will be no new churches after Islamic conquest. Such restrictions apply even in a state which is not officially Islamic, such as Indonesia, or is officially secular, such as Turkey.
There also need not be specific dhimmi laws in place for abusive behaviors to be enacted which accord with the stipulations of the dhimma pact. The dhimma is not merely a legal contract: it is a religious institution which informs and influences the culture and behavior of whole societies, whether the political authorities uphold the dhimma or not.
The recent shooting of Copts  as they filed out from Church on January 6th in Hag Hammadi  was allegedly triggered by accusations that a Coptic youth had violated a Muslim girl. What is striking about the circumstances of this attack and the allegation associated with it, is the mismatch between the collective character and the individual nature of the alleged transgression. An individual was said to have crossed the line, but the whole community was attacked.
The line alleged to have been crossed in this case is one of the many boundary markers which constitute the dhimma pact: Christian males are not supposed to have any relations – let alone criminal ones – with Muslim women.
Such events need to be understood in the context of the communal or collective nature of the dhimma pact. As it was the whole Christian community which made the pact, it is the whole community which must bear the burden of collective guilt and pay the price of collective retribution if the pact is broken. Even a breach by a single individual dhimmi could result in jihad being enacted against the whole community.
Muslim jurists have made this principle explicit, for example, the Yemeni jurist al-Murtada wrote that ‘The agreement will be cancelled if all or some of them break it ...’ and the Moroccan al-Maghili taught ‘The fact that one individual (or one group) among them has broken the statute is enough to invalidate it for all of them.’
A development parallel to the return of the laws and behavior patterns of the dhimma has been the worldwide advance of the psychosocial characteristics of dhimmitude.
The silence of the dhimmis
One of the hallmarks of the dhimmi syndrome is silence. For those living under Islamic law, to criticize the dhimma is forbidden. Dhimmi testimony against Muslims was prohibited. It was never permitted for the dhimmis themselves to expose or analyze their own plight: it sufficed rather that they be grateful for it. Asking challenging questions was not permitted. Criticism of Islam in any of its aspects was prohibited: for dhimmis this was a crime which cancelled their protection. Thus the whole institution of the dhimma, including the history of Islamic conquest, became a taboo subject for the dhimmis themselves. Bat Ye’or writes:
The concealment of the dhimmis’ history arises from the silence imposed on them and the ban on any criticism. ... In the dominating group, this refusal of testimony by the suppression of speech – the distinctive sign of humanity – reflects a denial of rights. This mutilated speech, this rejected testimony, is transposed from the individual to the group and is perpetuated in time. History being also the testimony of a people and the foundation of its rights, the effacement of the past abolishes its rights.
In 2008 the Egyptian Muslim writer Ahmad al-Aswani lamented the escalating attacks on Copts in his nation, which have been egged on by Islamic leaders. Al-Aswani held Christian clergy partly responsible for denying that Islamic sentiment was behind the abuse. He writes that after attacks:
Of course, the usual Coptic notables deny any suspicion of sectarianism, and affirm national unity, and the sheikh and the priest embrace. … It causes me regret, and as an Egyptian it makes my heart bleed, to see this farce endlessly repeated ... lives and property are taken with impunity, and clearly with the authorities’ collusion – with no fear of effective response, and with the confidence of all that, as always, the matter will end with beard-kissing and forgetting.
In the Palestinian territories the devastating impact of such silence threatens the continued viability of the Christian Arab community.
Justus Reid Weiner, in his investigation of the deteriorating human rights situation of Christians living under the Palestinian Authority, has pointed out that there is a widespread distrust of religious leaders among Palestinian Christians, who ‘obfuscate the situation as it affects their constituents’. One Christian man said, ‘Our leaders are liars: They tell the newspapers that everything is OK. But when Christians go to the market, they’re afraid to wear crosses.’
Weiner identifies the two main reasons for the denial:
What Weiner describes is a vicious cycle, where dhimmis, eager to placate the Muslims and afraid if they do not, identify strongly with Palestinian nationalist aspirations (including anti-Israeli rhetoric). This ‘leads them to deny the persecution of their community’. As an example, Father Labib Kobtl, from the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, urged others to:
... refuse ... the propaganda that wants to prove that there were any studied or willed persecution from our Muslim brothers and sisters of the Christians. We consider it as a mere propaganda against Islam, a cold war against our Muslim brothers that only benefits the Zionists of Israel.
Displays of devotion to the Umma such as this may appear to purchase some degree of temporary immunity from Muslim extremists, but they reinforce the cloak of silence over the sufferings of the Christian community, and contribute to the worsening human rights situation.
It is a difficult and painful reality that Middle Eastern ‘dhimmi clergy’ play a strategic role in preventing the international community from understanding the suffering of Christians living under Islam, and its foundations in the dhimma. This undermines Western Christians’s capacity to intervene effectively on behalf of their co-religionists living under Sharia conditions. In fact, by embracing a culture of denial, dhimmi Christian leaders use their positions of leadership to promote the cause of the Islamists to the West:
... although certain Christian religious leaders such as Bishop El-Assal [former Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, responsible for Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria] enjoyed close connections with Arafat over the years, these mutually supportive relationships bear no resemblance to the difficult, often dangerous, circumstances in which common Palestinian Christians live. These leaders are given special access to the media and used this opportunity to gain sympathy and political support from Christian countries for Arafat and his policies.
The silence of the dhimmis continues to have a profound impact upon the attitude of the rest of the world to Islam and its history. When spokespeople from a dhimmi background – like Edward Said or Bishop El- Assal – take up Islam’s causes as their own, they are heeded in the West. The Iraqi scholar Kanan Makiya has made the point that ‘The ironical fact is that [Edward Said’s Orientalism] was given the attention it received in the “almost totally ethnocentric” West largely because its author was a Palestinian.’
The West assumes that local sources, from ‘on-the-ground’ Christians, will have better insight and be more credible than any objective analysis from outside, but as Weiner grimly observes, the dhimmi leaders’ strategy of buying immunity through service to the Umma ‘may prove self-destructive in the long run’.  The great Maimonides came to the same conclusion in the Middle Ages: ‘... the more we suffer and choose to conciliate them, the more they choose to act belligerently toward us’.
In reality the whole function of the silence imposed upon the dhimmis is to empower and reinforce the very condition which the dhimmi leaders deny so vehemently: the dhimma itself.
The silence of the historians
Dating back at least to the Enlightenment, there has been a parallel trend in western historical writings to conceal the historical condition of dhimmis. The reasons for this are complex, and its manifestations diverse. Ibn Warraq has identified a trend among Western intellectuals, including Voltaire and Montesquieu, to use the ‘putative tolerance’ of Islam ‘to belabor Christianity and her relative intolerance’.
Building on this tradition, 19th century Jewish historians promoted the myth of an Islamic golden age to garner support against the rise of racism across Europe. Gerber has observed that ‘The cult of a powerful, dazzling and brilliant Andalusia in the midst of an ignorant and intolerant Europe formed an important component in these contemporary intellectual currents.’
Another political factor during the 19th century was the alliance of western Europeans with the Ottomans against Russian and Austrian designs, and the resulting polemical propaganda that the Christian provinces of the Ottoman Empire were thriving under Islamic ‘tolerance’. A military manifestation of this alliance was the Western nations’ participation in the Ottoman jihad known as the Crimean War. At the time it was politically expedient for Europeans to whitewash the conditions of Christians and Jews who were living under the rule of their Ottoman ally.
The historian Bernard Lewis, writing in the second half of the 20th century, continued this theme:
The dhimma on the whole worked quite well. The non-Muslims managed to thrive under Muslim rule, and even to make a significant contribution to Islamic civilization. The restrictions were not onerous and were usually less severe in practice than in theory ...1
Lewis compared the example of medieval Islam favorably to that of Christian Europe:
If we compare the Muslim attitude to Jews and treatment of Jews in medieval times with the position of Jews among their Christian neighbors in medieval Europe, we see some striking contrasts. Even the hostilities of the two majority communities differ considerably. In Islamic society hostility to the Jew is non-theological. It is not related to any specific Islamic doctrine, nor to any specific circumstance in Islamic sacred history. For Muslims, it is not part of the birth pangs of their religion, as it is for Christians. It is rather the usual attitude of the dominant to the subordinate, of the majority to the minority, without that additional theological and therefore psychological dimension that gives Christian anti-Semitism its unique and special character.
Lewis’ statements in bold (my emphasis) are baseless. Islamic hostility to the Jews is theological to its bootstraps. It is founded upon very many verses from the Quran and the traditions of Muhammad. There are many dogmas of Islamic theology which underpin Islam’s treatment of Jews. One can point, for example, to the seventeen daily recitations of al-Fatihah by every observant Muslim, which characterize Jews – according to a hadith of Muhammad – as those ‘who have incurred Allah’s wrath’, as well as the repeated denunciations of the Jews throughout the second sura of the Quran.
Not only this, but Muhammad’s hostility to the Jews is a key part of his personal life-story, which is the bedrock of Islam’s genesis.  Virtually all of Muhammad’s life is of theological significance in Islam, and his theological debates with the Jews and ensuing military hostilities against them contributed essential building blocks of Islamic sacred history and law. Indeed, the conquest of the Jews of Khaybar is cited by Islamic authorities as the theological precedent in Muhammad’s life for the whole dhimma system.
Lewis’ astounding claim that Islamic antisemitism has no theological basis in Islam has been relied upon by many Western intellectuals, corrupting their understanding of Islamic history. As the error is so blatant, and so easily refuted, one must be astonished at the degree to which a capable scholar could be so blinkered. Lewis’ denial is testimony to the hypnotic power of the dhimma to shape the worldview even of those who study it.
Islamizing the text books
A related development can be seen in history text books, increasingly appearing in the school systems of Western nations, which downplay all talk of jihad, battle or conquest in accounts of the advance of Islam, and blame terrorism on ‘colonial domination’.
A repeated theme in these school texts is that the West should be grateful to Islamic civilization for preserving Greek philosophy. The narrative offered to justify this gratitude is that during the Dark Ages the Islamic world underwent a golden age of cultural and scientific development, preserving Greek learning, which then kick-started the Western Renaissance.
Of course Greek civilization did not need ‘rescue-by-conquest’: indeed it continued in Constantinople all through the European dark ages. It is true that when the Europeans translated Arabic texts into Latin, this did stimulate the development of Western philosophy and science. However the fact that elements of Greek philosophy and science were transmitted to Europe via Arabic was not something for which Western children should be schooled to feel grateful. If Arab conquest had never happened, we can assume that Greek culture and philosophy would have continued to develop in Alexandria, Damascus and Constantinople to the present day.
In reality, as Crombie pointed out in Augustine to Galileo, it was the conquest of the heart of the Greek-speaking world by Islam, and resulting Arab control of the Mediterranean, which stunted scientific progress in Europe. Islam’s disruption of the Mediterranean as a thoroughfare of commerce and thought ushered in the so-called European ‘Dark Ages’, so that, as historian Henri Pirenne concluded: ‘The West was blockaded and forced to live upon its own resources.
It is disappointing that today history books are teaching a dhimmified version of history, according to which children are schooled in feeling grateful to Islam for rescuing Western and Christian culture from Islam itself. This is exactly the dhimmi condition, and the essential meaning of the jizya payment ritual: to render gratitude to Islam for being rescued by conquest.
For more than a century, Christians have been re-examining their history, and apologizing for their errors. Reconciliation with Jews and with indigenous victims of colonization is well advanced. Popes too have uttered their apologies. But the Muslim world has not to this day apologized to non-Muslims for jihad and dhimmitude. Muslims have not allowed themselves to confront their bitter past. For example, secular Turks, having a historical consciousness shaped by Islam, still deny the genocide of the Armenians, and bitterly oppose commemorations of this event by its survivors.
A group’s historical worldview determines its own self-understanding, including its claim to political rights. When national worldviews are distorted by the concealment of jihad and dhimmitude, it can make it virtually impossible for different groups to live together peaceably in the same space. The bloody outworking of the conflicting historical claims of the Orthodox Christian Serbs and Muslim Bosnians offer a compelling modern-day example.
The silence of the politicians
There is a good deal of evidence that senior Western political leaders are submitting to the worldview of dhimmitude. In the wake of the post-9/11 declaration by George Bush that ‘Islam is peace’, European leaders have been lining up to praise Islam.
Mary Robinson, former president of the nation of Ireland, was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2002 when she read a statement to an Organization of Islamic Conference Symposium on Human Rights in Islam held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva in 2002. After offering praise, Robinson adopted the strategy of affirming the inherent righteousness of Islam:
It is important to recognize the greatness of Islam, its civilizations and its immense contribution to the richness of the human experience, not only through profound belief and theology but also through the sciences, literature and art.
Observe here the dhimmitude themes of gratitude (for bestowing rights upon women), affirmation of the moral superiority of Islam (with the implication of inferiority of the infidel), and silencing any possible voice of protest by the repeated phrase ‘no one can deny ...’
The same censorious tone prohibiting criticism of Islam came out loud and clear in the comments of British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, when she commented immediately after the Glasgow attempted bombing: ‘Any attempt to identify a murderous ideology with a great faith such as Islam is wrong, and needs to be denied.’
In a similar vein, President Obama acted quickly to deflect critique of Islam after the Fort Hood massacre, declaring about Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged gunman: “we cannot fully know what leads a man to do such a thing.” 
Tony Blair manifested dhimmi-like self-rejection and denial when he made the following public statement at the ‘Islam and Muslims in the World Today’ conference in June 2007, announcing a grant of one million pounds to support the study of Islam in British universities:
The voices of extremism are no more representative of Islam than the use in times gone by of torture to force conversion to Christianity represented the teachings of Christ.
In putting Christian transgressions forward as part of his strategy of evaluating the moral worth of Islam, Blair engages in a display of self-rejection, his intent is to deny what the reality that Islam has genuinely violent strands in its canon (Quran and Sunna).
It is an age-old dhimmi strategy to avoid confrontation by affirming what is best in Islam. Change for the better is only allowed to arise from values which Muslims will admit as springing from their faith itself. Under the dhimma, Christians are not supposed to confront Islam, but they are permitted to look for the best in Islam and affirm it. They may challenge it only by praising it. This strategy, endorsed by some of the most powerful leaders of the Western World, conceals and disempowers the moral worth of non-Muslim value systems. It is the strategy of those whose existence is marginal and threatened. If you adopt the posture of praising Islam, you are already acting like a threatened or defeated person.
Dhimmitude at the United Nations
Not only are significant western Christian leaders embracing the dhimmi syndrome, but the United Nations, in which Muslim nations form the most powerful voting block, has been a scene of much dhimmification.
A ‘Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights’, was proclaimed at UNESCO in 1981 and followed by the ‘Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam’, adopted in August 1990 by the Nineteenth Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers of the then 45 (now 57) Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) countries. The Cairo Declaration was subsequently published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1997. At the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna, Iran proposed, with the support of several other states, that the Cairo Declaration be adopted as an alternative to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 24 of the Cairo Declaration states that its provisions are ‘subject to the Islamic Sharia’, and article 25 confirms that Sharia ‘is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of this Declaration.’ The essence of these statements is that the example of Muhammad (the Sunna), which is the root of Sharia, has supremacy in the domain of human rights. This includes the principles of the Sharia’s dhimma legislation. Moreover, article 25 makes clear that the Sharia has primacy over all universal human rights declarations, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and all other UN covenants.
Mary Robinson’s 2002 statement, referred to above, must be read against the background of this Islamic challenge to the Universal Declaration. By adopting an attitude of humble gratitude to the Sharia, she effectively lent credibility to the efforts of the OIC to introduce Sharia-compliance into international human rights frameworks.
In 2005 the Organization of the Islamic Conference adopted a ‘Ten Year Action Plan’ to address challenges facing Muslims in the world today. Item 6 on their plan was to combat Islamophobia, and one of their strategies was to get the United Nations to ‘adopt an international resolution on Islamophobia, and call on all States to enact laws to counter it, including deterrent punishments’.
At the December 2006 meeting of the OIC a decision was taken to create an ‘Observatory’ to monitor all reports of ‘Islamophobia’. This strategy proved effective. In August 2007, Mr Doudou Diene, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council on ‘the manifestations of defamation of religions and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia on the enjoyment of all rights’. After this, the OIC’s ‘anti-defamation of religion’ resolutions were passed, first by the UN Human Rights Council, and then at the General Assembly in December 2007.
... that in order to have peace, the correct (OIC-approved) version of history and of Islam must be understood, accepted and promoted (anything else is ‘baseless’ Islamophobia or inciteful ‘defamation’ of Islam)
In such ways, Muslim nations are seeking to impose the silence of the dhimmis upon the whole world.
Law and disorder
Distortions are also creeping into the fabric of Western societies. One common pattern is the privileging of Islam in law enforcement and legal processes.
At the start of 2007, Channel 4 in the UK screened a program titled ‘Undercover Mosque’ which presented video clips of Muslim preachers in Britain. The preachers’ remarks incited hatred and violence against women, Jews, homosexuals and non-Muslims. However, the Telegraph reported that the police and crown prosecutor, instead of investigating the Muslim preachers, investigated the television station.
Many cases have been reported in Western nations where violent attacks by Muslims against non-Muslims have been mishandled by the police, in ways which are reminiscent of the difficulty which dhimmis have in securing justice under Islamic rule.
The long litany of such incidents, not just in policing, but in many areas of life, points to a drift in Western nations to adopt the stance of the dhimmi in relating to Islam and Muslims. We are seeing the privileging of Islam in the public square, mandating of compulsory respect for Islam, erosion of the principle of reciprocity and equality, implementation of Sharia restrictions on freedom of speech and religious practice, denial and deception about the teachings of Islam including jihad and the Sharia, and denial about the religious motivations of some Muslims who engage in intimidation and criminal acts.
The dhimmitude of the West
Today Islam is exerting an increasingly important influence in the destiny of Western cultures.Through mass immigration, oil economics, cultural exchange and even terrorism, the remnants of what was once Christendom now find themselves having to respond to Islam and its distinctive ‘take’ on the world. One of the great challenges is that the West, in seeking to find a response, is coming under the influence of the worldview of dhimmitude.
Within the Islamic worldview, there are limited options for the roles that non-Muslims communities can play. In classic Islamic theology, the dogma of the ‘three choices’ meant that the only real alternative to ‘enmity to Allah’, apart from conversion, was dhimmitude.
The requirement that non-Muslims – at least those who are not enemies – embrace dhimmitude, and affirm, appease and serve Islam, greatly limits the repertoire of responses that non-Muslims can have towards it.
Where there are grounds for confrontation, the only way of struggling permitted to the dhimmi is by saying soft things. Direct confrontation is discouraged, penalized, made illegal, and ostracized.
This is a key reason for the weak international response today to the persecution of Christians under Islam. The media provides many reports of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but over two million African Sudanese have perished in the Sudanese jihad. Such asymmetries, hidden from many Westerners, are only too obvious to African Christians.
Such political correctness is itself an injustice that needs to be exposed and challenged. Yet at the same time, jihad is claimed as a divine right of Islam without apology of any kind. Even in non-Muslim societies, some Muslims can be extremely aggressive and confrontational in pressing for their rights, and yet take offense when non-Muslims insist on theirs. The cumulative effect of this asymmetrical world view can be that the gross injustices come to seem as somehow excusable or unexceptional to Western non-Muslims.
When Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 they lost no time in announcing to the tiny Christian community that they were now in a full Islamic system and had to accept Islamic law. Sheikh Abu Saqer declared that Christians ‘must be ready to accept Islamic rule if they want to live in peace’. In the light of this statement, it is hardly surprising that the Gazan Christians’ church bells have fallen silent, in submission to one of the age-old requirements of the dhimma. Katya Adler, BBC News reporter from Gaza city described a moving scene during a Christmas service at which the Latin Patriarch was presiding:
As the crowded church was belting out hallelujahs, I stepped into the church courtyard for some fresh air. The Muslim call to prayer was beginning to echo from the myriad of mosques all around.
I thought how this reflected the situation in Gaza in Christmas 2007 – that while the muezzin were on loudspeaker, the church bells here are played from a cassette tape. A nervous young nun adjusted the volume – loud enough to peel through the church but not to penetrate its walls – it might risk offending Muslim Gazans passing by.
Ironically, Adler sugar-coated her report: ‘There is no evidence to suggest the Hamas government here officially discriminates against Christians ...’ She crucially misinterpreted the silence of the bells as a Christian gesture to avoid offending Muslims – a sign of interfaith tolerance – instead of correctly identifying it as evidence that the Christians of Gaza are, quite simply, living under the dhimma.
A regime of silence has descended over the subject of the history of dhimmi peoples. Today many who write and speak about Islam, if they refer to the dhimma, will describe it in glowing terms which are nothing but misleading, and which do not accurately reflect fourteen hundred years of Islamic thought and practice on this subject, let alone the sufferings of millions of non-Muslims.
Dhimmitude is concealed. Yet it is of great importance as a whole tendency of thought influencing our world today. It is as important for understanding Christian-Muslim relations as racism is for understanding slavery, or sexism for understanding gender relations. In our era this taboo of silence needs to be deliberately and comprehensively broken. There is a lot of ground to be made up.
textbook_lies_about_islam_124840.htm, accessed 8 June, 2009,
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