Bassam Obeid PhD

In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Praise be to Allah and peace and blessings upon Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah.

The purpose of this article is to clarify the issues related to the concept of Jizyah, a kind of special tax levied upon non-Muslims in an Islamic State.

Islam is a revealed and comprehensive “Deen” a system of creation and life, not just a religion as people commonly understand religion to be. The Qur’an as believed by Muslims is a divinely revealed book, which contains rulings that sensitively deal with the relationships between individual and God, between two individuals, between individual and family, between individual and neighbors, between individual and society, between individual and State, and at international level, between two or multiple States. In such a system that comprehensively deals with human relations, as complicated as they could be, there may be issues that at the outset may seem to be unfair or even hypocritical but on a deeper analysis with an open mind, will unfold the inherent wisdom they contain. Jizyah is one such issue.

Most people don’t know that Jizyah actually is a treaty or a contract between the Islamic State and its nonMuslim citizens with who the state does not have full jurisdiction to apply laws of the country in their entirety as applied to its Muslim citizens. With this contract the State is obliged to ensure security and protection to them and honor their faith-based personal laws, while they are required to pay to the State a nominal amount. One may question the need for such a contract for it is the duty of the State regardless to provide security and protection to all of its citizens. The answer needs to be understood in the context of what constitutes an Islamic State and what will be the position of non-Muslim inhabitants in such a State. By definition, Islamic State would be a country whose constitution, and to a great extent, its jurisprudential system, are heavily based upon the guiding principles of the divine Quran and the qualifying rules of conduct exemplified by Prophet Muhammad. In such a State it should be realized that non-Muslims who would not be subscribing to the constitution in its entirety, rejecting some of the core Islamic principles and laws while living under an overwhelmingly Islamic sociopolitical order, will have to hold a special position of citizenship. Non-Muslims will be dealt with, in a way that is different from its Muslim citizens. We will not have any problem if tomorrow the US declares that all non-citizen permanent residents of this country will have to pay a special tax to the State and forego certain rights exclusively reserved for its citizens, in return for the right to live in this country with full security, protection and equal opportunities. The critique and debate about such a ruling will be at a different level and style, free of accusations that Islam is subjected to, in case of Jizyah. This is all because it will be understood in the context of human relations that exist in the modern world and expressed in the modern vocabulary. But unfortunately with Islam our critiques suddenly takes the form of accusation and blame even though the categorization and differential dealing between Muslim and nonMuslim citizens in an Islamic state is not dissimilar. On the contrary, as opposed to non-citizen immigrants in the US who are bound by the law of the land even if it infringes on their personal laws, like their right to polygamy etc, Islamic State under the Jizyah contract will honor fully the personal laws of its non-Muslim citizens. Is this not a magnanimous gesture towards them in spite of their non-allegiance to the constitution of the country?

The Islamic government, through this contract, makes sure that the rights and the sensibilities of its non-Muslim citizens are not violated and that they do not feel insecure and unprotected living as aliens in a Muslim land, while at the same time, it generously exempts them from such obligatory personal laws whose origin is Islam. One example is payment of Zakath-the poordue-which is one of the five pillars of Islam. Zakath could be made compulsory by the State upon all of its Muslim citizens but not on its non-Muslim citizens. By not paying Zakath an obligation much more in monetary value than Jizyah which is comparatively fractional, non-Muslims derive a bigger benefit.

The western intellect is also ignorant of the fact that the scope of Jizyah is broad enough to include international relations between countries, and could encompass treaties with nations which would like to come under protection and security of the Islamic State like what happens in the modern world that countries go into alliances with more powerful countries with the assurance that their allegiance in some form or other might provide them security, protection and defense against their enemies.

The Islamic Jurists therefore have defined jizyah in essence as a commitment on the part of an Islamic government, formalized in the terms and conditions of a contract to protect and defend its non-Muslim citizens, who in turn are obliged to pay a very meager amount of money to complete their side of the contract. Unfortunately in the western media and secular minds, misconceived emphasis has been placed on the money paid by non-Muslims as a mark of discrimination against them, while the most beautiful aspect of Jizyah, the commitment of an Islamic government to provide their non-Muslim citizens protection of their property, honor and faith is completely ignored.

Let us examine here some of the salient features of the Jizyah contract.

  1. In the historical context it was clear that Islamic State was prohibited to extend this contract to those Arab infidels of Prophet’s time who violently opposed the message of Islam whereas to extend it exclusively to people of the book. However removed from that particular historical context, in the modern times, many eminent Islamic jurists have opined that every non-Muslim living in an Islamic State is entitled to the contract of Jizyah.
  2. This contract will not be extended to an apostate Muslim who, having been a beneficiary of Islam in so many ways and having enjoyed the fruits and privileges as a Muslim citizen denounces Islam and becomes a non-Muslim citizen. This is an agreed upon opinion among all the scholars and jurists.
  3. The contract of Jizyah is not time-bound but permanently applicable as long as a non-Muslim is living in an Islamic State. It is so because, if it were to be for a limited time, the non Muslims would have been forced into a situation, at the expiry of the contract, to either accept Islam, to seek the protection they need or to leave the countryan unjust choice in the eyes of Islam.
  4. Muslims cannot terminate the contract unilaterally except in the following situations, while it can be terminated by non-Muslims any time without having to meet any special conditions.
    1. The treaty individual becomes Muslim.
    2. He/She refuses to pay Jizyah, unilaterally breaking the contract.
    3. He/She refuses to observe the laws of the country (It needs to be clarified that as mentioned above, the non-Muslims under Jizyah are not forced to give up their personal laws dictated by their individual faith, including their acts of worship.)
    4. He/She fights against Muslims joining with enemy forces
  5. The non-Muslims under Jizyah have full freedom of movement and right to reside anywhere in a Muslim country except within the precincts of Mecca. They can privately consume alcoholic beverages, eat pork and follow their own personal laws freely. Muslims are refrained from offending them, attacking their churches and interfering in their religious rites and duties. Moreover Muslims are required to compensate for any kind of loss they inflict upon non-Muslims who are under Jizyah.
  6. Most people don’t know that those who are under the contract of Jizyah, are not obliged to participate in any war that an Islamic State is involved in, even though they may be able-bodied and quite capable of fighting. So those among nonMuslims who are not capable of fighting will automatically be exempted from payment of Jizyah without being deprived of the benefits of the contract. Accordingly;
    1. Insane individuals and the like are not required to pay Jizyah.
    2. Dependent minors are not required to pay Jizyah.
    3. Women are not required to pay Jizyah.
    4. The sick individuals who have suffered from an illness for one year or more and those with chronic disability and handicap like aged, blind, deaf and dumb, are not required to pay Jizyah.
  7. In addition to the above, the poor and the unemployed are not required to pay Jizyah and the monks and secluded worshippers who do not come into contact with people are also not required to pay Jizyah yet will remain in the contract.
  8. With these magnanimous and extraordinary benefits and privileges there come few duties on the part of those under Jizyah. They should:
    1. Pay Jizyah per male adult per year
    2. Host Muslim and non-Muslim wayfarer in need of food and shelter.
    3. Not deceive Muslims and not shelter a spy
    4. Not defame any of the prophets, peace be upon them.
    5. Repect Muslims, not hurt the physically or emotionally, and offend their faith.
  9. The amount of Jizyah varies according to the financial condition of the person under contract. At the time of Omar with his executive order, by a measure based upon the crude simplicity of life during that time, the amount annually was determined to be forty-eight, twenty four and twelve dirhams for rich, middle and poor class person respectively. By another opinion the amount of Jizyah maximally is forty (40) dirhams per person, and is tapered down according to financial condition of the individual to give more flexibility.

In any critique and analysis, a prejudiced mind would conceive what it would like to believe. Jizyah has been one of the most controversial topics in the media, but the controversy around it is artificially created by prejudice and close-mindedness.

  • In fact Jizyah if properly understood and applied would contribute to, Ending war and bloodshed in the world as the scope of contract of Jizyah includes relations or alliances between Islamic State and other countries ruled by Non-Muslims.
  • Prevalence of peace and security within the State as there will not be any violence against religious minorities and vice versa. This will certainly give rise to mutual respect and love between people of different faiths and could become a convincing evidence of the truth and finality of Islam.

It was narrated that Ali, one of the renowned companions of the Prophet, may Allah be pleased with him, said: They pay Jizyah so that their possessions become like ours and their blood becomes like ours and those whom we protect will enjoy our generosity.

Osama ibn Zeid, another companion of the Prophet, may Allah be pleased with him, said that the Messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: Whoever was unfair with a non-Muslim under Jizyah contract, derogated him, asked him to do what was beyond his capacity, or took something from him without his approval, I will be his adversary on the Day of Judgment.

Bassam Obeid, a linguist in Arabic, with an incisive understanding and knowledge of Islamic history, is a graduate in Islamic Law from Islamic University in Medina, Saudi Arabia. He is a member of the Research Experts Committee of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA). He is also the founder and a member of the Board of Trustees of the North American Imams Federation (NAIF), one of the nation’s largest conglomerates of Imams. He is the Imam and member of the Board of Directors of the Islamic Center of Charlotte. Originally from Lebanon, he is a beloved member of Charlotte Muslim Community