Along with the concept of “Dhimmi” the idea of Jizya is also greatly misunderstood. Orientalists like Welhausen and Beker have been in the lead to mislead people on these issues and the missionary Islamophobes simply buy their blatant lies. Let’s dig into it.
What is Jizya?
Allah Almighty says in the Qur’an;
“… until they pay jizyah with their own hands while they are subdued.” (9:29)
As to the words “they are subdued” al-Shafii’, the Imam, explains that it means, “Islamic rulings are enforced on them.” (Kitabul Umm 4/219)
Classical Muslim lexicographer Ragheb Isfahani writes about Jizya: “A tax that is levied on Dhimmis and it is so named because it is in return for the protection they are guaranteed.” (Mufradat al-Qur’an 1/204)
The purpose of Jizya:
For ensuring the protection of Dhimmis:
The purpose of this taxation is to make the non-Muslims support the government under which they are living and being protected from all sorts of aggression. In the prime time of Islamic civilization if the Muslims could not protect the dhimmis they did not levy Jizya tax on them. Following examples testifies to this;
“… in a treaty made by Khalid with some town in the neighborhood of Hirah, he writes; ‘If we protect you, then Jizya is due to us; but we do not, then it is not.’” (Thomas Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1913 p.61)
After the Muslims had captured Hims (Emesa) and taken the Jizya as agreed in the agreement signed when the Muslims entered the city, it was learnt that Roman Emperor Heraclius was advancing with a large army. Abu ‘Ubaida, may Allah be pleased with him, who was the Muslim commander on the Syrian front, ordered all the dues taken as Jizya to be returned to the people of the city. According to Baladhuri the people of the city were told,
“We are not able to defend you anymore and now you have complete authority over your matters.” (Futuh al-Baldan 1/162)
Al-Azdi narrates the same with the following wording;
“We have returned your wealth back to you because we detest taking your wealth and then failing to protect your land. We are moving to another area and have called upon our brethren, and then we will fight our enemy. If Allah helps us defeat them we shall fulfill our covenant with you except that you yourselves do not like it then.” (Futuh al-Sham ed. William N. Lees published by Baptist Mission Culcutta, 1854 pp. 137-138)
Al-Baladhuri quotes the response of the people of Hims;
“Verily your rule and justice is dearer to us than the tyranny and oppression in which we used to live.” (Futuh al-Baldan 1/162)
And al-Azdi quotes their even more emphatic reaction to the Muslim way of dealing. They said;
“May God again make you ruler over us and may God’s curse be upon the Byzantines who used to rule over us. By the Lord, had it been they, they would have never returned us anything; instead they would have ceased all they could from our possessions.” (Futuh al-Sham p. 138)
Montesquiei also highlights how the Muslim treatment of masses was far better than what preceded them under the Byzantine Greeks. He writes;
“It was this excess of taxes that occasioned the prodigious facility with which the Mahometans carried on their conquests. Instead of a continual series of extortions devised by the subtle avarice of the Greek emperors, the people were subjected to a simple tribute which was paid and collected with ease. Thus they were far happier in obeying a barbarous nation than a corrupt government, in which they suffered every inconvenience of lost liberty, with all the horror of present slavery.” (The Spirit of Laws, Book 13. Emphasis mine)
However mark his inherent hatred in the words “barbarous nation” and “horror of present slavery” which does not fit into the historical account that he gives but perhaps goes fine with his prejudices.
As a compensation for exemption from military services:
It is also a compensation for exemption from any kind of military service. As al-Alusi writes it is so because otherwise when required it is obligatory upon every citizen of the state to help the state in the war. (see Tafsir Ruh al-M’ani 7/204 under Qur’an 9:29)
(Infact this seems to be a more valid reason because it was not levied on women and the old as they were not expected to give any operational military assistance.)
Sir Thomas Arnold writes;
“… when any Christian people served in the Muslim army, they were exempted from the payment of this tax. Such was the case with the tribe of al-Jurajima, a Christian tribe in the neighborhood of Antioch who made peace with the Muslims, promising to be their allies and fight on their side in battle, on condition that they should not be called upon to pay jizyah and should receive their proper share of the booty. When the Arab conquests were pushed to the north of Persia in A.H. 22, a similar agreement was made with a frontier tribe, which was exempted from the payment of jizyah in consideration of military service.
We find similar instances of remission of jizyah in the case of Christian who served in the army or navy under the Turkish rule. For example, the inhabitants of Megaris, a community of Albanian Christians were exempted from the payment of this tax on condition that they furnished a body of armed men to guard the passes over Mounts Cithaeron and Geranea …. The Christians who served as pioneers of the advance-guard of the Turkish army, repairing the roads and bridges, were likewise exempt from tribute and received grants of land quit of all taxation; and the Christian inhabitants of Hydra paid no direct taxes to the Sultan, but furnished instead a contingent of 250 able-bodied seamen to the Turkish fleet, who were supported out of the local treasury.” (The Preaching of Islam pp.61-62)
Who all are required to pay Jizya?
The Jizya is only upon capable males. Imam Ibn Qayyim writes;
“There is no Jizya on the kids, women and the insane. This is the view of the four imams. Ibn Munzar said, ‘I do not know anyone to have differed with them.’ Abu Muhammad ibn Qudama said in al-Mughni, ‘We do not know of any difference of opinion among the learned on this issue.” (Ahkam Ahl Zimma 1/14)
“And there is no Jizya upon the aged, one suffering from chronic disease, the blind, and the patient who has no hope of recovery and has despaired of his health, even if they have enough.” (Ahkam Ahl Zimma 1/16)
One important incident quoted by Imam Abu Yusuf needs special mention;
‘Umar bin Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, passed by the door of a people’s dwelling. There was beggar there saying, “Extremely old person with blind eyesight [needs help!”] He [‘Umar] got hold of him from behind and asked, “Which community of the People of Book you belong to?” He said, “I am a Jew.” He asked, “What brought you to this condition that I see?” He said, “The demand of Jizya, the needs and the old age.” ‘Umar got hold of his hand and brought him to his place helped him a little and then called for the custodian of Baytul Mal and said, “Take a look at his suffering. By Allah this is not justice on our part that we extract from them in their youth and leave them helpless in their old age! … He exempted him from Jizya and similarly the likes of him. (Kitabul Kharaj 1/139)
Orientalist, Thomas Armold puts it as;
“The tax was to be levied only on able-bodied males, and not on women or children. The poor who were dependent for their livelihood on alms and the aged poor who were incapable of work were also specially excepted, as also the blind, the lame, the incurables and the insane, unless they happened to be men of wealth; this same condition applied to priests and monks, who were exempt if dependent on the arms of the rich, but had to pay it if they were well-to-do and lived in comfort. The collectors of the jizyah were particularly instructed to show leniency, and refrain from all harsh treatment or the infliction of corporal punishment, in case of non-payment.” (The Preaching of Islam p.60)
Is it an extra burden on the minorities?
Some accuse that it is an extra burden upon the minorities. This is a childish allegations. Let’s analyze who has more monetary obligation in an Islamic setup, a Muslim or a non-Muslim.
Muslims pay Zakah which is 2.5% of the yearly savings. Non-Muslims are to pay maximum 48 Dinars annually.
Just like poor Muslims non-Muslims are also not required to pay Jizya.
Muslim women are not exempted from Zakah, non-Muslim women are.
Zakah does not take away the military services that the state may ask for, Jizya frees one from all that.
Then how come Jizya is considered a great burden? Infact financially Islam puts more “burden” on Muslim citizen of the state than on the non-Muslims.
Jizya is a small tax levied on the Dhimmis in return for the protection that the Islamic state gives them without asking them for any military services that might be demanded of Muslim citizen. It is levied on able-bodied males only and is quite less than Zakah which is obligatory for every Muslim. Women, children and the aged are exempted and so are the poor and some other classes. Muslim history shows Muslims always stood for their commitments that gave them the right to demand Jizya.
As to the false assertions of the likes of Welhausen and Beker about Muslims using Jizya and other taxes as tools for winning proselytes or using these as devices to plunder the wealth of the non-Muslims, Daniel C. Dennet Jr.’s book “Conversion and the Poll Tax in Early Islam” is a wonderful rebuttal. I shall present the salient points from his book in a future post insha’Allah!
Indeed Allah knows the best!