July 01, 2008

Jizya: Amounts Paid in the Treaties of Orihuela and Misr (Egypt)

One of the complaints about Islam by Islamophobes is the issue of jizya, the tax levied on non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state. In return for the payment of the jizya, non-Muslims were permitted to practice their faith, to enjoy a measure of communal autonomy, to be entitled to Muslim protection from outside aggression, to be exempted from military service and taxes levied upon Muslim citizens. What has never been brought up in any argument I've read against the jizya is exactly how much was paid by the non-Muslims. In another of my posts about Hugh Kennedy's book, The Great Arab Conquests (yes, I am almost finished with the book ;) ), Kennedy addresses this issue in several passages. The first passage is with respect to the Treaty of Orihuela (pp. 315-16):

We are better informed about the conquest of the area around Murcia in south-east Spain. This was ruled by a Visigothic noble called Theodemir (Tudmīr). He negotiated a treaty with Abd al-Azīz, of which the text, dated April 713 [Rajab, 94 A.H.], is recorded in several Arabic sources.

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This text was written by Abd al-Azīz b. Mūsā b. Nusayr for Tudmīr b. Ghabdush, establishing a treaty of peace and the promise and protection of God and His Prophet (may God bless him and grant him His peace). We [Abd al-Azīz] will not set any special conditions for him or for any among his men, nor harass him, nor remove him from power. His followers will not be killed or taken prisoner, nor will they be separated from their women and children. They will not be coerced in matters of religion, their churches will not be burned, nor will sacred objects be taken from the realm as long as Theodemir remains sincere and fulfils the following conditions we have set for him:

He has reached a settlement concerning seven towns: Orihuela, Valentilla, Alicante, Mula, Bigastro, Ello and Lorca.

He will not give shelter to fugitives, nor to our enemies, nor encourage any protected person to fear us, nor conceal news of our enemies.

He and each of his men shall also pay one dinar every year, together with four measures of wheat, four measures of barley, four liquid measures of concentrated fruit juice, four liquid measures of vinegar, four of honey and four of olive oil. Slaves much [sic; must] each pay half of this.

Kennedy continues:

This treaty is a classic example of the sort of local agreements that were the reality of Arab "conquest" in many areas of the caliphate. It is clear that rather than embark on a difficult and costly campaign, the Muslims preferred to make an agreement that would grant them security from hostile activities and some tribute. It is a pattern we can observe in many areas of Iran and Transoxania. It is interesting to note that much of this tribute was taken in kind (wheat, barley, vinegar, oil, but of course no wine). In exchange for this, the local people were allowed almost complete autonomy. Theodemir was clearly expected to continue to rule his seven towns and the rural areas attached to them. There is no indication that any Muslim garrison was established, nor that any mosques were built. Theodemir and many of his followers may have imagined that the Muslim conquest would be fairly short lived and that it was worth paying up to preserve their possessions until such time as the Visigothic kingdom was restored. In fact it was to be five centuries before Christian powers re-established control over this area. We do not know how long the agreement was in force: Theodemir himself died, full of years and distinction, in 744. It is likely that it was never formally abolished but rather that as Muslim immigration and the conversion of local people to Islam increased in the late eighth and ninth centuries, its provisions became increasingly irrelevant.

In another passage, with respect to the Treaty of Misr (Egypt), Kennedy writes (pp. 153-54):

It was probably at this time that the document known as the Treaty of Misr (Egypt) between the Muslims and the Byzantine authorities was drawn up, though the exact context of this document remains unclear. It is in many ways similar to the treaty Umar had made with Jerusalem and was presumably modeled on it. It begins with a general clause safeguarding the people their religion (millat), their property, their crucifixes, their lands and their waterways. They would be obliged to pay the jizya (tribute) every year when the rise of the Nile (ziyādat nahrihim) was over. If the river failed to rise properly, payment would be reduced in proportion. If anyone did not agree to it, he would not pay the tribute but he would not receive protection. Romans and Nubians who wanted to enjoy the same terms might do so and those who did not were free to leave.


In many of them [different written accounts about the treaty] the tax to be paid was assessed at 2 dinars per adult male except for the poor. Some also said that the Egyptians should provide the Muslims with supplies. Each landowner (dhī ard) was to provide 210 kilos of wheat, 4 liters of oil, 4 liters of honey and 4 liters of vinegar (but, of course, no wine). They were also to get clothing: each Muslim was to be given a woolen jubba, a burnūs or turban, a pair of trousers (sarāwīl) and a pair of shoes. It may be that many of these south Arabians had arrived very ill prepared for the coolness of an Egyptian winter.

In other words, the jizya paid per person in terms of currency was a very nominal amount. It would be like asking for a tax of one or two dollars per person; the poor, any slaves, presumably women and children would either pay a lower amount or be exempted altogether. The in-kind payments of food and clothing would cost more, but these were no doubt requested by the Arab armies because their soldiers needed the supplies. As Kennedy points out (p. 334), Arab soldiers were expected to provide their own equipment and pay for their own food. Once the payment was made, life went on as before. Muslim armies charged less in terms of the jizya if the town submitted peacefully instead of battling with the army (probably what the slave had told the people at Junday-Shapur, who quickly realized how much cheaper it would be for them to pay the tribute than to fight the Muslims; in fact, Kennedy tells of a number of cities that came to the same decision).

Jizya, then, was not the crushing tax burden one finds in ancient Greek and Roman histories. It was a relatively small amount paid by the non-Muslims; as more and more people became Muslim, the amount paid for jizya actually shrank over time. Of course, we Muslims have our own taxes (e.g., zakat).

Photo credit: A street in Lorca, Spain, by Howzey

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