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The Fair Logic of Jizyah

22/05/2008

I recently had a discussion with a non-Muslim friend about the jizyah (ransom) that non-Muslims have to pay in Islamic states. Is it discriminatory? Why do non-Muslims have to pay such a tax? Who has to pay it and how is it calculated? Thank you.

As-salamu `alaykum, Ahmed.

Thank you for your question.

Before addressing this question, we need to differentiate between actions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that were carried out based on some specific (in this case, political) situation, and other actions that are considered as essential part of the divine message of Islam, without which the message would be deviated.

There is a verse in the Qur’an that mentioned this tax, jizyah. The verse says what means:

*{Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay thejizyah (tribute, tax) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.}* (Al-Tawbah 9:29)

The verse has a historical context, however, which is a certain battle at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and this tax was indeed taken from the defeated people after the battle. However, it is important to ask two questions here:

  • What is the wisdom behind that tax, which was the reason behind legislating it?
  • Does this verse and its related story make that kind of tax part of the Islamic law? In other words, is this tax an Islamic obligation?

The wisdom behind the tax/jizyah paid by non-Muslims to the Islamic state was fairness. This is for two reasons:

First, Muslims were paying zakah (the annual charity) to the Islamic state, which was used for all sorts of services and social welfare. Zakah is an Islamic act of worship, but it is only for Muslims. It was fair to make non-Muslim citizens of the same state pay a similar (in fact, smaller) amount as a tax, since zakah is not taken from them as it is taken from Muslims.Jizyah was calculated in different ways throughout different eras (a certain amount of money, certain percentage of the crops, etc), but it was consistently less than the zakah, which every Muslim had to pay anyway.

In addition to that, this tax was paid in exchange of protection of these non-Muslim communities (i.e., military protection) and exemption of their men from joining the Islamic army. At that time, this was a necessary and fair measure given all the wars that the Islamic state was going through based on religious divides. It was not fair to ask these non-Muslim citizens to fight with Muslims against fellow believers of their same religion.

Then, do all the above make jizyah an eternal Islamic obligation, exactly like zakat? The answer is no! We need not to confuse between Islam as a civilization and Islam as a religion, to make a general point.

The interpretation of such verses that dealt with certain historical contexts should take into account that historical context, based on which scholars decide whether that context should or should not be extended to our context now. Given that this ruling was in particular political circumstances, it actually served a pure practical purpose. And if these circumstances and purpose no longer exist, then the ruling ceases to exist, too.

I have to stress that this applies to the area of politics and similar areas of policies, if you wish, and not the areas of`ibadat (acts of worship) and tashri` (legislation), which are eternally universal and abiding. In these areas of policies, the tradition of the Prophet (peace be upon him) teaches us higher values like fairness, justice, and compassion, rather than specific measures and procedures such as taxes, organization of the government or the army, or the division of provinces and states.

The historical context of the verse made itextendable to other similar situationsthroughout the Islamic history. Thus, similar taxes were taken from non-Muslims during the caliphates that followed the prophetic era. However, the concept of citizenship has developed in our current political culture to include people from all religions and it is no longer purely based on religion. Therefore, scholars no longer apply the rule of jizyah or exempt non-Muslims from serving their countries’ armies. The context now is different and therefore, the ruling differs and jizyah no longer applies.

If one calls for applying this ruling of jizyahnowadays, then one would miss the point and purpose behind the ruling, for which it was originally made, which is fairness!

I hope this clarifies the matter. In case you need more details, please make sure to contact us again.

Salams.

Useful Links:

Jizyah, Jihad… or Islam?!

Jizyah and non-Muslim Minorities

 

 

Jasser Auda