November 04, 2005

The Jizya or Poll Tax

Here is another excerpt from Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl's writings, this being on the topic of the jizya or poll tax. In 9:29, the Qur'an says:

"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 the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."

This is one verse hostile non-Muslims like to point out, whining that we Muslims would inflict upon them the jizya if we were able. (Hey, everyone's gotta pay their taxes, ya know? ;) )

On page 27, Dr. Khaled addressed this topic in his article, The Place of Tolerance in Islam." (To read the entire article, click on the Inabah button at the top of Masjid Khadijah's website, then click on the Issue 21 icon. The article, in PDF format, is on pp. 21-27 (pp. 19-25 on Adobe Reader). This excerpt is another good reason why everyone (Muslims and non-Muslims) need to understand the historical context underlying the revelation of the Qur'an.

The other major issue on the point of tolerance in Islam is that of the poll tax (jizyah) imposed on the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) who live in Muslim territory. When the Qur'an was revealed it was common inside and outside of Arabia to levy poll taxes against alien groups. Building upon the historical practice, classical Muslim jurists argued that the poll tax is money collected by the Islamic polity from non-Muslims in return for the protection of the Muslim state. If the Muslim state was incapable of extending such protection to non-Muslims, it was not supposed to levy a poll tax. In fact, 'Umar, the second Rightly Guided Caliph and close companion of the Prophet, returned the poll tax to an Arab Christian tribe that he was incapable of protecting from Byzantine aggression.

Aside from the juristic theory justifying the poll tax, the Qur'an does not, however, pronounce an absolute and unwavering rule in favor of such an institution. Once more, attention to historical circumstance is essential. The Qur'an endorsed a poll tax as a response to particular groups in Arabia who were persistently hostile to the early Muslims. Importantly, the Prophet did not collect a poll tax from every non-Muslim tribe that submitted to Muslim sovereignty, and in fact, in the case of a large number of non-Muslim but non-hostile tribes, he paid them a periodic sum of money or goods. These tribes were known as "those whose hearts have been reconciled." Furthermore, 'Umar entered into a peace settlement with Arab Christian tribes pursuant to which these tribes were obligated to pay the Islamic annual tax known as the zakah and not the poll tax. Reportedly, although they refused to convert to Islam the Christian tribes contended that paying the jizyah (poll tax) was degrading and, instead, asked to pay the zakah, and 'Umar accomodated their request.

In short, there are various indicators that the poll tax is not a theologically mandated practice but a functional solution that was adopted in response to a specific set of historical circumstances. Only an entirely ahistorical reading of the text could conclude that it is an essential element in a Divinely-sanctioned program of subordinating the non-believer.


DrMaxtor said...

Very nice, mashallah. Why is it the lowlives never have anything to say when confronted with facts?

JD said...

Thank you. Most of the "lowlives" don't visit here because I am more than happy to delete their comments. ;)

DrMaxtor said...

Exactly JD, I do the same.

DrMaxtor said...

BTW how is your health? Did you try my plan yet ? LoL

JD said...

My health is so-so: could be better, but could be much worse. I am in need of my herbal tea. No, I haven't been able to put your plan into effect yet, although not for lack of want. Here in S'pore, the month of Shawwal is not a good time to try to go on a diet. ;)