Understanding the institution

Jizyah was a poll-tax levied from those who did not accept Islam, but were willing to live under the protection of Muslims

Dr Nazir Ahmad Zargar
Srinagar, Publish Date: Oct 17 2017 11:32PM | Updated Date: Oct 17 2017 11:32PM
Understanding the institutionRepresentational Pic

Islam is the religion of peace and justice, essentially based upon love, compassion and mercy for all beings. It therefore, enjoins upon its adherents to show utmost love, respect and compassion to all human beings. It promotes universal brotherhood, first among the Muslims themselves as members of the universal Ummah, and then between the Muslims all mankind irrespective of caste, colour or creed, as members of the family of God. Notwithstanding the fact, among many misconceptions about the true message of Islam, it is today argued that Islam warns the non-Muslims either to except Islam, or pay jizyah, otherwise they will be fought. The following Qur’anic Āyah is quoted:

“Fight those who believe not in Allāh nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allāh and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book, until they pay the jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Al-Qur’ān, al-Tawbaw 9:29)

For a comprehensive explanation of the above quoted Āyah, the understanding of the institution of Jizyah is most warranted.

According to al-Munjad, Jizyah literally means compensation. A synonym of jizyah is jāliyah (pl: Jawālī or Jāliyāt) which literally means the group of people who moved from their native land and settled in other land. It later came to mean as the non-Muslim citizens of a Muslim state.

Thus the derived meaning of Jizyah, which became its technical meaning, was that it was a poll-tax levied from those who did not accept Islam, but were willing to live under the protection of Islam, and were thus tacitly willing to submit to its ideals being enforced in the Muslim State. The tax was to be levied, says T.W. Arnold in Preaching of Islam, only on able-bodied males, and not on women or children.

Arnold says that the non-Muslims living under the Muslim state were actually exempted from compulsory military service, and were guaranteed protection in return of the jizyah. Tabarī writes that when the non-Muslims contributed the sum they agreed upon, they expressly mentioned that they paid this jizyah on condition that “the Muslims and their leader protect us from those who would oppress us, whether they be Muslims or others.” Again, when Khālid b. Walid made treaty with some towns in the neighborhood of Hira, he wrote, “If we protect you, then jizyah is due to us; but if we do not, then it is not due.”

The Muslims were very particular about these conditions and observed them with rigidity. This is well evidenced by an incident in the Khilāfah of ‘Umar, the second Khalīfah of the Muslims. “The Emperor Heraclius had raised an enormous army with which to drive back the invading forces of the Muslims, who had in consequence to concentrate all their energies on the impending encounter. The Arab general Abū ‘Ubaydah, accordingly wrote to the governors of the conquered cities of Syria, ordering them to pay back all the jizyah that had been collected from the cities, and wrote to the people, saying, “We give you back the money that we took from you, as we have received news that a strong force is advancing against us. The agreement between us was that we should protect you, and as this is not in our power, we return you all that we took. But if we are victorious we shall consider ourselves bound to you by the old terms of our agreement.” “In accordance with this order, writes Arnold, “enormous sums were paid back out of the state treasury, and the Christians called down blessings on the heads of the Muslims, saying, “May God give you rule over us again and make you victorious over the Romans; had it been they, they would not have given us back anything, but would have taken all that remained with us.”

Abdul Majid Daryabadi, in Tafsir Majidi, says that only those males who could otherwise take part in military services and were exempted from this service were to pay jizayh whereas the destitute, females, children, slaves, monks, hermits, the aged poor who were incapable of work and the poor who were dependent for their livelihood on alms, the blind, the lame, the incurable and the insane, unless they happened to be wealthy, were also exempted from jizyah.  Hence, those Christians who served in the Muslim army were exempted from jizyah. (Arnold) “The collectors of the jizyah”, writes T. W. Arnold, while quoting from Imām Abū Yūsuf’s Kitāb al-Kharāj, “were particularly instructed to show leniency, and refrain from all harsh treatment or the infliction of corporal punishment, in case of non-payment.” Once ‘Umar saw a Jew begging and asked him why he was begging. He replied that he was begging in order to pay jizyah as he could not work because of being poor and old aged. ‘Umar took him to the Bayt al-Māl, fulfilled his needs, and told the incharge of the Bayt al-Māl: Take care of these people. By Allāh it is not fair to have eaten their earnings (by taking jizyah) when they had been young and ignore them now when they are old. Know that Zakāh is meant for the fuqarā’ and masākīn (the poor) and he is among the masākīn of the Ahl al-Kitāb (the Jews and Christians). He exempted him and others like him from jizyah. Jizyah was first levied after Ghazwah Tabūk in 9 A.H. when  Makkah had already been liberated and the number of Muslims was enormous while none of them had embraced Islam merely to gain exemption from the jizyah. Later also, when Islam was extended to distant lands, it cannot be said that the non-Muslims accepted Islam with one of the reasons to save themselves from jizyah and the insult they had to suffer because of it, for the reasons:

1. Jizyah was too moderate to constitute a burden, the normal tax at first being 1 dīnār per head. In countries where the standard was a silver one, it was the equivalent, 12 dirhams. For the rich dhimmīs (money changers, dealers in cloths, land owners, merchants and physicians) the tax was next placed at 4 dīnārs or 48 dirhams while for the poor (tailors, dyers, cobblers and shoemakers) it was half i.e., 2 dīnārs or 24 dirhams per head. (Gibb and J. H. Kramers, Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam)

2. Instead of jizyah, the new Muslim had to pay the Zakāh annually levied on most kinds of movable and immovable property.(Arnold)

3. Had the non-Muslim subjects of the Muslim state accepted Islam in order to escape jizyah, then only those males should have become Muslims who had to pay it whereas the old aged, females, children, religious heads, handicapped who were already exempted from it, should not have accepted Islam.

4. Before the Āyah of jizyah (i.e., Al-Tawbah 9:29) was revealed, all the idol-worshippers of Arabia had accepted Islam.(Ibn al-Qayyim)

Is Jizyah meant for the purpose that the dhimmīs, while paying it, should clearly look as degraded and should live as second class citizens in the Muslim State? The Qur’ānic Words: (‘an yadin wa hum saaghirun) “with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued”, quoted above, have been misinterpreted in this way and hence need explanation:

The Arabic phrase (I‘taa’uhu ‘an yadin) signifies, ‘He gave it in acknowledgement of superiority of the receiver; that the power (yad) of the latter was superior to that of the giver and (saaghirun) signifies that they have accepted the authority of the law of Islam.

Ibn Taymiyyah explaining this Āyah writes:

(Al-muraadu bi I‘taa’iha iltizaamuha bi al-‘aqd) which means that the non-Muslims should pay jizyah to show that they respect their agreement of loyalty with the state. Mawlānā Mawdūdī writes that (yad) here does not mean ‘hand’ but it refers to loyalty. Hence (a‘taa fulaanun biyadihi idhaa aslama wa inqaada) means giving in submission.  Thus it means that they pay jizyah with willing submission…. Just as paying of tax to the state is sign of loyalty.

Explaining (wa hum saaghirun), Ibn al-Qayyim writes: 

“Sighār signifies that they willingly accept the authority of Allāh’s Law and abide by the constitution of justice. And the paying of jizyah is indication of this willingness.”

Thus imposition of jizyah on the dhimmīs is not any punishment for them but it serves the purpose that their loyalty to the state (as must every citizen be loyal to his state) is confirmed through its paying. Their being (saaghirun) (subdued) means that they should live (peacefully) not possessing any considerable power to spread mischief. While, instead of jizyah, the Muslim citizens of the same Islamic state have to pay various types of Sadaqāt (Sadaqāti Wājibah such as fitrah, a kind of poor fund incumbent on all legally rich Muslims and to be paid at the end of Ramadān before the ‘Idl al-Fitr prayers. ‘Ushur, the tithe and in some cases half of tithe of their land harvest. Similarly they have to offer sacrifice (Adhā and qurbānī) of particular kinds of animals by slaughtering them on the occasion of ‘Id al-Adhā etc.

Dr Nazir Ahmad Zargar is Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Central University of Kashmir