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Jizyah

By:
Vincent J. Cornell
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Jizyah

A word meaning recompense, compensation, or requital, as in the Qurʿān: “Fight those who believe not in Allāh, nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allāh and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth—from those who have been given the Book—until they pay the jizyah by hand and are subdued” (9:29). In Islamic history jizyah has most commonly referred to a head tax, levied on non-Muslim dhimmīs (protected monotheists under a contract of obligation) as a form of tribute and an exemption from military service.

Little guidance about the nature of jizyah is found in the canonical ḥadīth collections, other than exempting converts from paying the tax after they have embraced Islam. This lack of textual guidance has led to considerable confusion in regard to its definition and regulation. In the early caliphal period jizyah was often confused with kharāj, a tax on land that was paid in kind. In the ʿAbbāsid era (749–1258), jizyah was formally defined as a head tax, specific to the dhimmīs, and was paid in specie.

According to the Ḥanafī jurist Abū Yūsuf (d. 808), qāḍī (chief judge) for the ʿAbbāsid caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd, jizyah was a form of tribute that exempted the person who paid it from military service. Consequently, it was not required from those incapable of fighting. Abū Yūsuf also conceived of jizyah as a graduated head tax, in which the poor paid less than the rich, and the elderly, women, children, the sick, and the penniless were exempted. For the jurist and law-school founder al-Shāfiʿī (d. 820), jizyah was a tributary and protection tax that was required of all dhimmīs, regardless of status. However, if a Muslim ruler failed his non-Muslim subjects by not providing them with adequate security, he was obliged to return the money. This was actually done for Christians by the Egyptian amīrṢalāḥ al-Dīnal-Ayyūbī (“Saladin,” d. 1193), when he was compelled to withdraw his army from Syria.

Sometimes, the requirements for jizyah could be interpreted severely. In Tafsīr al-kashshāf, the Muʿtazilah exegete al-Zamakhsharī (d. 1144) assumes that the intent of the Qurʿānic commandment was to highlight the subordinate status of the dhimmī in Muslim society. Therefore, the jizyah should be exacted as a form of humiliation. The non-Muslim should come to pay the tax walking, not riding. When he pays, he is made to stand, while the tax collector sits. The collector should seize him by the scruff of the neck, shake him, and say, “Pay the jizyah!”, cuffing him on the back of the head once the tax has been paid. A similarly hard line is taken by the modern commentator and political activist Sayyid Quṭb (d. 1966) in his widely read commentary, Fī ẓilāl al-Qurʿān. This prominent ideologist of the Muslim Brotherhood is defiantly triumphalist, claiming that jizyah amounts to a punishment for polytheism (especially for Christians) and is required before peaceful relations can be established between Muslims and the “People of the Book.” Seeing sharīʿah (the divine law) as a sort of positive law, Quṭb intimates that jizyah is a recompense or protection, not from military service or external enemies, but from jihād. If it is not paid as part of a peace agreement, the Islamic state owes no obligation to non-Muslims, whether at home or abroad.

A more liberal stance is taken by the contemporary Muslim writer Abdul Rahman Doi, who prefers to cite the Qurʿānic verse, “There is no compulsion in religion” (sūrah2:256). For Doi, jizyah is an obligatory tax paid by non-Muslims in return for being exempted from the zakāt (alms tax). Therefore, the amount paid ought to be proportional to the zakāt itself. Furthermore, the Muslim is obliged to treat the dhimmī honorably and with respect. Doi stresses that in the present day, when protecting the state requires vast sums of money, the jizyah is mainly symbolic and can be waived at any time. To prove his point he cites a historical account from the Ṭabaqāt of Ibn Saʿd (d. 844), in which the prophet Muḥammad says on the death of his son Ibrāhīm, who was born to Maria, a Coptic concubine: “If my son Ibrāhīm had lived, I would have exempted every Copt from the jizyah.” The difference of opinion between Doi and Quṭb illustrates the fact that there is no more of a consensus about jizyah today than there was in the past.

See also DHIMMī and TAXATION.

Bibliography

  • Aslan, Reza. No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. New York: Random House, 2005.
  • Doi, Abdul Rahman I. Non-Muslims under Shariʿah (Islamic Law). Lahore, 1981. Somewhat idealistic, but still the best treatment of the subject in English. The perspective is middle of the road and reflects the ideology of Pakistan 's Jamāʿat-i Islāmī.
  • Esposito, John L.Islam: The Straight Path, rev. 3rd ed.New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Esposito, John L.What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Esposito, John L., with Natana J. DeLong-Bas. Women in Muslim Family Law, rev. ed.Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2001.
  • Hodgson, Marshall. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization. 3 vols.Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1974.
  • Lewis, Bernard. The Jews of Islam. Princeton, 1984. Despite the fact that Lewis judges the past according to modern values, chapter 1 (pp. 3–66) is a good introduction to medieval Muslim attitudes toward the Peoples of the Book.
  • Quṭb, Sayyid. Fī ẓilāl al-Qurʿān. Cairo and Beirut, 1981. Although most of this commentary on the Qurʿān has not been translated into English, it remains one of the most influential works of its genre published in the twentieth century. See pages 1220–1250.
  • Quṭb, Sayyid. Social Justice in Islam, trans. John B. Hardie and Hamid Algar. Oneonta, N.Y.: Islamic Publications International, 2000.
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