Skip to content


Jizyah and Its Associations-Implications

Little research appears to have been attempted on the role of Jizyah in the spread of Islam or even on Jizyah in general. We are aware of only one monograph on it, by Daniel C. Denett.1 An article, ‘Al-Jizyah’, in Urdu from the pen of Shibli Nu’mani (d. 1916) was hailed by Abu ‘I-Kalam Azad as a major breakthrough of the modem age in Islamic studies.

Shibli, Denett, and others are inclined to trace the origin of the term and concept of Jizyah to Aramaic ‘gizit’/’gizyat’ (Shibli)2 or ‘gzitha‘ known to have been in vogue from before the time of Khusrau AnushirwaN (531-579 A.D.). It was a kind of capitation tax or poll tax, payment of which amounted to a badge of degradation and a mark of social inferiority. Therefore, privileged classes, such as ruling, military, priestly and educated aristocracy were exempt from it.3 For Jizyah, the Byzantine Empire had its own counterpart, tributum capitis, from before circa 290 A.D. Constantine (274-337 A.D.) is reported to have exempted the urban pleb from it. By and by ‘the poll tax became, after fourth century, a burden uniquely assessed on the colonus and identified with this class of society, and that to this tax a stigma, “injuria”, was attached, as in the phrase “a plebeiae capitationis injuria”.4 We shall see that payment of Jizyah as prescribed by the Qur’an also carries a stigma with it.

The Qur’an prescribes Jizyah in a Jihadic verse, revealed about 631 A.D., i.e. about a year after the capture of Mecca by the Prophet in 630 A.D., envisaging compounding of refusal to embrace Islam by paying Jizyah. We quote the verse in full, in original; ‘Qatilu ‘I-ladhina la yu’muna bi ‘llahi, wa la bi ‘l-yawmi ‘l-akhiri, wa la yuHarrimuna ma Harrama ‘Ilahu wa rasulu-hu, wa la yadinuna dina ‘I-Haqqi mina ‘I-ladhina utu ‘I-kitaba, hatta yu’Tu ‘I-jizyata ‘añ yyadiN wwa hum Saghiruna.5 Mohomed Marmaduke Pickthall translates it thus: ‘Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the religion of truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.’ This represents the common run of translations of the verse by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The verse so translated leaves the course of paying Jizyah, as alternative to conversion and death, open to the scripturaries, people of the book, only. And the Qur’an recognizes only two communities (Ta’ifatayn), viz. Jews and Christians, as scripturaries.6 Imam Shafi’i, one of the four great jurists of Islam, includes the Magians (Zoroastrians) among the scripturaries, on the basis of a precedent set by the Prophet in accepting Jizyah from the Magians of BaHrin, Hajar, QaTar, Qatif, and ‘Umman. ‘Umar, the second Caliph, accorded this status to the Magians of Persia and Sabaeans of Mesopotamia, ‘Uthman to Berbers of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco (all in North Africa), and Muhammad bin Qasim under the Governor Hajjaj bin Yusuf and the Caliph Walid bin ‘Abd al-Malik to the Hindus and Buddhists of Sindh. According to Imam Malik, another of the four great jurists, the verse of Jizyah is applicable to all non-Muslims excepting apostates (murtadd-s). Imam Abu Hanifah, a third great jurist out of the four, applies it to all excepting the idolaters of Arabia. All non-Jizyah-paying infidels deserve death as a rule.

Our interpretation of the Jizyah verse is entirely different. We are inclined to believe that the doors of paying Jizyah are open to scripturaries and non-scripturaries alike. Let us examine the verse closely.

The verse in question prescribes Jihad against non-Muslims of the following two categories:

  1. Those who do not believe in God, the Last Day, and the distinction between the tabooed (Haram) and the non-tabooed (Halal) drawn by God and His apostle.

  2. Those of the scripturaries who do not accept Islam.

The people referred to under the first category cannot be scripturaries, for the simple reason that all scripturaries believe in God, the Last Day, and the taboo-non-taboo distinction. Hence only non-scripturaries come under that category. This is why we maintain that the verse applies to non-Muslims of both the categories. We would, accordingly, propose retranslation of the verse thus: ‘Fight against those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and taboo not what Allah and His apostle have tabooed, and against such of those who have been given the scripture as follow not the religion of truth, until they pay Jizyah with their own hand, being brought low.’7 It is significant that this verse belongs to Surah at-Tawbah/al-Bara’ah (Surah 9) revealed on the eve of and for the Great Hajj (Hajj al-Akbar) as the Qur’an calls it,8 which concerned the idolaters much more than others,9 for from then on the rule of Jahiliyyah (paganism) yielded place to Islam. It is also to be noted, incidentally, that in the Meccan treaty, concluded in circa 623 A.D., i.e. about eight years before revelation of the verse under consideration, between the Aws and the Khazraj tribes, to which the Jews were allowed to adhere, no Jizyah nor any other disability was imposed, save the stipulation that, if they took part in a war fought by the Muslims against the Kafirs, they must share the expenses in the joint action.

Well, the thrust of the Jizyah-verse and its implications as worked out and codified in course of time boil down to the following significant points:

  1. Jizyah is primarily a Jihadic impost, not a fiscal one, as sought usually to be made out.

  2. In the matter of liability for Jizyah, scripturaries and other non-Muslims share the same fate, with the reservation, however, that the Prophet is traditioned to have willed (awSa) and commanded (amara) at the time of his death that there should be no non-Muslims in Arabia any longer,10 thereby ruling out the concession of Jizyah for them.

  3. It presupposes Islam’s Eminent Domain over all other communities.

  4. It presupposes the principles

(i) that the world is meant for and belongs to the Muslims to the entire exclusion of the K5firs, and

(ii) that thereby life and property of the communities conquered by the Muslims in Jihad is entirely at the disposal of the latter, who could plunder, enslave, or kill them at will.11

  1. It involves no obligation (dhimmah) on the part of Islamdom towards Jizyah-paying individuals or communities called Dhimmi-s save of course the negative one of non-extermination and of not grudging them bare subsistence, as though as hewers of wood and drawers of water. Dhimmah or Dhimmi-hood is survival on ransom (Jizyah and allied imposts).

  2. Different theories are there in the field as regards the purpose of the Quranic provision for imposition of Jizyah, such, for example, as

(i) satisfaction (jaza’a = he gave satisfaction),

(ii) compensation,

(iii) rental for residence,

(iv) price for protection (aman),

(v) exchange for military service,

(vi) price for exercise of religion,

(vii) punishment for unbelief,

(viii) humiliation for persistence in darkness or contempt for rival faith, and, by way of a secondary motive,

(ix) love of power and pelf at the cost of others, which includes, inter alia, pauperization of the latter, as at any rate was the case under the Sultanate in medieval India. Imposition of Jizyah is, thereby, an engine of exploitation.

To put things straight, we may highlight the following principal motives for imposition of Jizyah:

  1. It is meant to be an alternative to killing, plunder, enslavement, ransom, forcible conversion, as well as to be a penalty for Kufr. Thereby, it transpires to be a kind of composition fine, an indulgence tax. It is fiscal Jihad, so to speak.

  2. It is a badge of humiliation for being a non-Muslim, of utter servility to Islamdom, of abject surrender to the brute force of Islam. Islam is absolute surrender to the will of God; liability to pay Jizyah, abject surrender to the will of Islamdom. The amount of Jizyah does not matter much. The great Persian poet Bedil’s poetic verdict is memorable:

‘Ilaj-I nist dagh-i bandagi ra
Agar besham wa gar kam afridand

That is, ‘There is no cure for the blot of servility. It matters not whether it is more or less.’

  1. The long-term policy behind it appears to be to compel or motivate the Dhimmi-s slowly to turn to Islam and embrace it. They were let live in the hope of their conversion in course of time. It is thereby a camouflaged engine of repression.

  2. It opens the door to levy of other humiliating taxes on the Dhimmi-s, such for example as pilgrimage tax, for petty concession to them in the observance of their religious ceremonies etc. It is also a prelude to Kharaj (land-tax) into the bargain.

We cannot resist the temptation of quoting Mujaddid-i Alf-i Thani, the second-millennium reviver/rejuvenator of Islam during JahaNgir’s reign, on the purpose of imposition of Jizyah: ‘The real purpose of imposing Jizyah on them (the Kafirs) is their humiliation. And the humiliation goes to the extent that for fear of Jizyah they may not put on good dress and live with dignity/in prosperity and they may always live in fear trembling.’ (Wa maqSud-i aSli az jizyah giriftan az ishaN khari-i ishan ast. Wa in khari ba-Hadd-i ‘st ki az tars-i jizyah jamah-i khub na mi-tawanand poshid, wa ba-tajammul na mi-tawanand bud, wa hamishah tarsaN wa larzaN mi-bashand).12 Indeed, levy of Jizyah is a long-term exercise in controlled compulsion for conversion.

This is theory. Let us look into history,

How did Jizyah come to be introduced? It was Najran, a district of Yaman and the greatest centre of civilization and Christianity in the Arabian peninsula. Long before the pretensions of the Quraysh of Mecca whose nobility came to be recognized only after their Islamization and mainly because of their kinship with the Prophet, the Najranites were esteemed as the wealthiest and noblest of the Arabs by all, including poets. Having emerged as the biggest power in Arabia, the Prophet began to send squads of missionaries far and wide to spread Islam. When one such squad reached Na.jr5n, in 629 A.D., the Christians there began to question the validity and authenticity of the Qur’an, which the illiterate missionaries of Islam had not visualized. The Christians drew their attention to the blunder in the Qur’anic description13 of Mary, Jesus’s mother, as the sister of Moses and Aaron. Mughirah bin Shu’bah, the leader of the mission, failed to reply and reported the matter to the Prophet. The Prophet called the Christians. Their delegation started in horror, with the following verses on their lips: ‘We are appearing before you in such a way that even the embryo in our camel’s womb is feeling restless. His religion is opposed to that of the Christians.’14 When they drew near the Prophet, he turned his face from them and did not talk to them. Next morning he invited them to embrace Islam, which they rejected. There was a virtual debate between him and the Christians. The Prophet criticised their doctrine of the Christ’s Sonship of God. Upon this, the Christians asked him who in his opinion was the father of Jesus. The Prophet could not reply. After some time, however, a revelation came to him to the effect that the birth of Jesus was akin to that of Adam.15 As regards the Christians’ question about Mary, the Prophet said nothing beyond the statement that the Israelites sometimes named their members after the names of their forbears.16 When the Prophet failed to satisfy them, however, he challenged them to settle the dispute by the old Arab method sanctioned by the Qur’an, of reciprocal curses (mubahalah).17 The Christians disapproved of it and withdrew, as the New Testament forbids cursing. Then the Prophet dictated his terms, asked them to embrace Islam, and, upon their refusal, to accept his suzerainty and pay Jizyah. They were made subjects of the Prophet and had Jizyah imposed upon them perforce.

The treaty concluded by the Prophet with the Najranites served as a model for future treaties with scripturaries. According to it, the Najranites were to enjoy protection of life, property, and religion, ‘till God ordained otherwise, in return for the payment of an annual Jizyah of two thousand garments (Hullah-s) of a specified value plus one uqiyyah (40 dirham-s/ one pound, more or less) of silver, with each garment, together with the provision of board and lodging to the Prophet’s envoys for upto a month. It was also incumbent upon the Najranites to lend thirty coats of mail, thirty horses, and thirty camels in the event of a war with al-Yaman and refrain from usury.18

The first Caliph, Abu Bakr, honoured the agreement, but ‘Umar, the second Caliph. took advantage of the clause to the effect that the agreement was valid till God ordained otherwise and the Prophet’s will that there should be no non-Muslims in Arabia, and banished the Najranites after buying up their property. He also gave them a writ to the effect that they must be provided with land for residence and cultivation in Syria and Iraq. Thereafter, they had to disperse and seek asylum in Syria and Kufah. In Kufah, they founded a town named An-Nairaniyyah. When ‘Uthman, the third Caliph, came into power, it was represented to him that ‘Umar’s writ served to deprive the original land-holders of their land. He, therefore, decreased their Jizyah by two hundred garments. The Najranites’ untold suffering constrained them to represent to ‘Ali, the fourth Caliph, to let them revert to Najran in terms of their agreement with the Prophet reduced to writing by ‘Ali himself. But to no effect. They in due course approached the fifth and sixth Caliphs, who decreased their Jizyah further by two hundred garments. Later, Hajjaj bin Yuasuf, governor of Iraq, tyrannized over them and enhanced their Jizyah beyond endurable limits. When ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz became Caliph, they complained to him that they were virtually ruined and that they remained only one tenth of their population. The Caliph reduced their Jizyah to two hundred garments.19

This in short is the tale of the finest civilization of the Arabian peninsula uprooted and thrown out of history for good, by what is flaunted as the religion of peace.

Jizyah remained an instrument of motivation towards conversion throughout the history of Islam. Besides, believe it or not, it sometimes operated as a stumbling block in the path of conversion. It became an instrument of exploitation at the hands of greedy rulers, so much so that it came sometimes to be levied on neo-Muslims as well, outside Arabia. This became the order of the day during the Umayyad regime. It was ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, (d.720 A.D.), one of the Umayyad Caliphs themselves, who abolished it altogether. There appears, however, to have been a relapse of the malaise during the regime of Hisham bin ‘Abd al-Malik soon after. One of his governors did exempt the neo-Muslims from the liability to pay Jizyah, but it came to be reimposed when its abolition began to affect the exchequer adversely. ‘Umar, the second Caliph, had earlier practised the anomaly of imposing double Zakat on the Christians of Bane Taghlib, even though Zakat is due from the Muslims only, according to the Qur’adn. This led to complications, religious as well as political. The Caliph did propose to impose Jizyah on them, but they considered it beneath their dignity to be rendered liable to pay Jizyah, and threatened exodus from the Dar al-Islam. Upon this, ‘Umar was advised not to antagonize that extremely warlike Arab tribe and he levied Zakat on them instead of Jizyah. The tribe preferred it to Jizyah.20

Jizyah continued to be used with varying degrees of emphasis for compelling conversion. Twenty-four thousand Christians embraced Islam, when Al-HafS bin al-Walid, the deposed governor of Egypt, took advantage of the Umayyad family revolution to regain his office and proclaimed (in 744 A.D.) that converts to Islam would be exempted from Jizyah. The same thing happened in 751 A.D., when the Abbasid governor of Egypt held out the same promise.21

Sometimes, the Jizyah gun misfired. We have seen how the Christians of Banu Taghlib accepted liability for double Zakat and rejected levy of Jizyah as humiliating. A Christian named Jabalah offered to pay Zakat but not Jizyah. ‘Umar did not agree. Then he left the Dar al-Islam for some territory under the Roman empire along with thirty thousand people. ‘Umar relented and requested them to return and pay whatever they had offered to. But they did not accede to his request and the Caliph was deprived of an important source of revenue.22

Unlike the other Umayyads who were interested more in Jizyah than in the spead of Islam, ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz was all for the latter. His governor of Egypt, Hayyan, wrote to him: ‘O Commander of the Faithful! If things continue as they are now in Egypt, all the “Protected Peoples” will soon become Muslims and then we shall cease to get money (taxes) from them.’ Whereupon ‘Umar sent him a messenger saying: ‘Go down to Egypt and give Hayyan thirty stripes with a whip upon his head as a punishment for that which he has written and tell him as follows: “Take care, O Hayyan! whosoever has become a Muslim, do not ask poll-tax from him. I only wish that the whole bunch of them would become converted. Verily! Allah has sent MuHammad as a preacher, not as a tax-gatherer.’‘’ (al-Wasiti, alive 1292).

‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz’s governors and Jizyah-collectors tried, however, to circumvent his dispensation. The governor of Khurasan planned to keep the number of Jizyah assessees as high as possible by laying down conditions of circumcision to be certified by a staff appointed for the purpose, of memorizing at least one chapter of the Qur’an, of proving by word and deed loyalty to the Muslims, and so forth, with the result that the great majority of neo-Muslims had to keep bearing the burden of Jizyah.

Thus, though Jizyah has played enormous role in the spread of Islam, it sometimes helped retard it as well. When a tribe found that acceptance of Islam failed to save it from Jizyah and other humiliations accompanying it, it saw no point in continuing in Islam or embracing it. Sometimes, they had to revert to their ancestral religion. Thus, the Sughdi-s of the trans-Âmu region had become Muslims for exemption from Jizyah but had later to revert to their native religion in thousands on finding themselves still under the yoke of the same disabilities and indignities as ordained for non-Muslims. Sometimes, again, even exodus took place for fear of Jizyah. During the regime of ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz himself, when Asharas, the governor of Khurasan, reimposed Jizyah on neo-Muslims, seven thousand of them left Samarqand in search of a Jizyah-free abode.

In fact, not only Jizyah but also booty (nafal/ghanimah) in war with non-Muslims was responsible for retarding the process of conversion to Islam. A couple of the Qur’anic verses prescribe plunder or booty as an integral part of Jihad and legitimate source of income.23 And plunder is of three kinds:

  1. Property, movable and immovable (amwal wa amlak)

  2. Women and children, especially women (sabaya)

  3. Prisoners, especially male prisoners (usara’)

Booty in war with non-Muslims proved so gainful to the Muslims even during the Prophet’s time that, when a Companion of the Prophet planned to attack a non-Muslim tribe and the tribe not only surrendered but also, on a promise being held out by him to save their life and property on embracing Islam, did embrace Islam, his comrades took him to task for thus depriving the Muslims of booty.24 ‘Umar, the second Caliph, wrote to Sa’d when he conquered Iraq: ‘Anyone who obeys you and accepted Islam prior to the battle is one of the Muslim, owning what they own and having a share in Islam. But he who obeyed you after the battle and the defeat, is (also) one of the Muslims; however, his property goes to the people of Islam because they acquired it before the conversion to Islam. The people of any town subjugated by force who embrace Islam prior to the division of spoils are considered free people, but their properties go to the Muslims.’25

This is itself a licence to loot neo-Muslims.

Sometimes, however, temptation of direct plunder is found to have been resisted with an eye to more substantial gains expected to accrue otherwise. So, when ‘Umar conquered as-Sawad (south Iraq), he proceeded to take a census with a view to dividing its land-holdings among the Muslims. But ‘Ali dissuaded him from confiscating these as booty, on the plea that the non-Muslim cultivators would prove a better source of income as Jizyah- and Kharaj-payers.26

What was the rate of Jizyah? The Qur’an gives no guidance in this behalf. The Prophet levied Jizyah usually at the rate of one dinar (five rupees) and one jarib (about 20 kilograms) of wheat per major male and female. In al-BaHrin, however, he made a compromise on half the quantity of dates and coms.27 ‘Umar, the second Caliph, established three grades of Jizyah:

  1. Rupees six on major workers, cultivators, and artisans

  2. Rupees twelves on the middle classes

  3. Rupees twenty-four on the rich.

He exempted children, women, old persons, and monks from Jizyah. In addition to Jizyah, cultivators of the countryside had to pay Kharaj (land-tax) also, and inhabitants of uncolonised suburbs of cities had to make provisions of ration, olive oil, honey and vinegar for Muslim armies stationed there. His Egyptian governor, ‘Amar bin al-‘ÂS added clothing to the list and increased the rate of Jizyah from six rupees to ten rupees, extorting ration etc. at a higher rate into the bargain. Later, under ‘Umar’s own dispensation, the rate of Jizyah for Syria, Iraq, and Egypt was increased to twenty rupees plus a lot of provisions in kind at a highly enhanced rate and hosting of Muslim wayfarers and armies for three days.28 It was also made incumbent upon the Jizyah-payers of Iraq to guard the paths and bridges and repair these at their own cost. The loss sustained by these Dhimmi-s consequent upon movement of Muslim armies was never compensated for.29 During ‘Umar’s time, a trade and commerce tax called ‘Ushur was also levied on the Dhimmi-s.30 Till the time of the fourth Caliph, ‘Ali, eight sources of revenue to the state exchequer had come into vogue:

  1. Spoils of war/booty/plunder (anfal/ghanimah)

  2. Jizyah

  3. Kharaj (land-tax)

  4. Fai’ (tax due in respect of a treaty)

  5. ‘Ushur or the tithes (trade and commerce tax)

  6. Sawafiyy (estates and villages deserted by non-Muslim in the event of attack by Muslim armies or left by the former after death, set apart for the Caliph)

  7. The farms and oases of Banu NaDir, Fadak, Khaybar, and Mecca, the income from which accrued to the Muslim state from the time of the Prophet

  8. Zakat

The Umayyads added certain minor sources of revenue to the list.

Out of these, Muslims came ultimately to bear the burden of only the following:

  1. Zakat,

  2. Kharaj, usually but not always, in the event of retaining their land after conversion to Islam. ‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz exempted the Khurasanites from Kharaj on their conversion to Islam.31

  3. An infinitesimal part of ‘Ushur, leaving all else to the Dhimmi-s.

Abu Yusuf prescribes Kharaj on Dhimmi-s at double the rate thereof on Muslims.32 As regards Zakat, which is flaunted as a liability upon Muslims juxtaposed to Jizyah, it is noteworthy that, though Muslims were expected to pay 40% of their total income of a whole year as Zakat, yet it ceased to be irksome inasmuch as

  1. it wa s not realized by the state, at any rate the way Jizyah was,

  2. it was meant for charitable purposes,

  3. it was supposed to earn religious merit (thawab), and

  4. it was a matter of individual conscience.

Thus, Jizyah implies and involves a lot more than the so-called paltry sum of a few rupees yearly per taxable head. It opens the door to unlimited exploitation, and addition of insult to injury, into the bargain. It kept Dhimmi-s exposed to victimization when the state stood in need of money. On the towns surrendering by peaceful treaties, such as Hira, Ullays, ‘Ayn at-Tamr, and Baniqiyah in south Iraq (as-Sawad), and Damascus, Bala’bakk, HimS, and Jerusalem in Syria, imposition of collective Jizyah became the order of the day, so much so that, while those who died or became Muslims were freed of Jizyah, the sum total of Jizyah on each town remained constant, the remaining Dhimmi-s bearing the burden of the Jizyah paid earlier by the deceased while alive and the converts to Islam before their conversion. For instance, by death or conversion the population of Najraniyyah, founded in Iraq by the Christians of Najran on being driven out of their homeland by the Arabs, dwindled, but neither Mu’awiyyah nor others would easily reduce the quantum of Jizyah. YaHya bin Âdam (757-818) rules: ‘All of them are charged with whatever was peaceably agreed upon, taking into consideration their ability to pay from their properties and lands, but nothing will be deducted following death or conversion to Islam of any of them, as the whole should be collected from the rest in accordance with their ability to pay and to be charged.’33

‘Umar bin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz had the conscience to abolish the cruel system and enforced a uniform rule that each Dhimmi had to pay Jizyah on his own head.34 On the other side, when the burden of the ever-increasing liability for the others’ Jizyah on the Dhimmi-s became intolerable, Hajjaj bin Yusuf, the governor of Iraq, reimposed Jizyah on the converts.

Sometimes, assessees of Jizyah found themselves under the painful necessity of selling their women and children to be able to pay Jizyah. Accordingly, ‘Amar bin al-‘ÂS levied collective Jizyah of thirteen thousand dinars on the residents of Barqah near Alexandria and gave them the option of raising money by selling their women and children for payment of Jizyah.35

The classical jurist-theologians give us the Covenant of ‘Umar, preserved in the form of a letter submitted by the Christians of Syria as Dhimmi-s to Abu ‘Ubaydah, which ‘Umar ratified. The letter contains the following terms, ostensibly on behalf of the Christians:

  1. ‘not to build in Damascus and its environs church, convent, chapel, monk’s hermitage;

  2. ‘not to repair what is dilapidated of our churches nor any of them that are in Muslim quarters;

  3. ‘not to withhold our churches from Muslims stopping there by night or day;

  4. ‘to open doors to the traveller and the wayfarer;

  5. ‘not to shelter there nor in our houses a spy, not to hide one who is a traitor to the Muslims;

  6. ‘to beat the naqus only gently in our churches;

  7. ‘not to display a cross on them;

  8. ‘not to raise our voices in prayer or chanting in our churches;

  9. ‘not to carry in procession a cross or our book;

  10. ‘not to take our Easter or Psalm Sunday processions;

  11. ‘not to raise our voices over our dead, nor to show fires with them in the markets of the Muslims, nor bring our funerals near them;

  12. ‘not to sell wine nor parade idolatry in companies of Muslims;

  13. ‘not to entice a Muslim to our religion nor invite him to it;

  14. ‘not to keep slaves who have been the property of Muslims;

  15. ‘not to prevent any relative from entering Islam if he wishes it;

  16. ‘to keep our religion wherever we are;

  17. ‘not to resemble the Muslims in wearing the qalansuwah (hat of a Greek priest), the turban, shoes, nor in the parting of the hair, nor in the way of riding;

  18. ‘not to use their language nor be called by their names;

  19. ‘to cut the hair in front and divide our forelocks;

  20. ‘to tie the zunnar round our waists;

  21. ‘not to engrave Arabic on our seals;

  22. ‘not to ride our saddles;

  23. ‘not to keep arms nor put them in our houses nor wear swords;

  24. ‘to honour Muslims in their gatherings, to guide them on the road, to stand up in public meetings when they wish it;

  25. ‘not to make our houses highter than theirs;

  26. ‘not to teach our children the Koran;

  27. ‘not to be partners with a Muslim except in business;

  28. ‘to entertain every Muslim traveller in our customary style and feed them in it three days;

  29. ‘We will not abuse a Muslim and he who strikes a Muslim has forfeited his rights.’36

All the four leaders of Muslim law agree that no new construction of places of worship by Dhimmi-s is permissible in cities and big towns of Dar al-Islam. Those other than Imam Abu Hanifah do not permit such construction anywhere else as well. Imam Abu Hanifah permits it to scripturaries at a distance at least of one mile from the fortifications of a town. Imams other than Imam AHmad ibn Hanbal permit repairs of churches and synagogues in case their site had been gifted to the Dhimmi-s. Ibn Hanbal appears generally to be opposed to repairs of all kinds, though he sometimes opines otherwise also.

The Dhimmi suffered from legal disabilities as well, in matters of testimony, criminal law, marriage, inheritance, etc. He could not inherit from a Muslim. In the event of his wife’s conversion, he was required to be converted or to divorce her. If he was employed in the army, he could get allowances but no legal share in the spoils (ghanimah).37 Besides, there were certain extra-constitutional disabilities and indignities to which the Dhimmi-s were subjected without scruples. Muslims used to gather fruits from the former’s orchards and gardens, pastured their cattle on their fields, took begar from them. Zayd bin Sa’sa’ah told the governor of BaSrah (36-40 A.H.) that Muslims knocked at the doors of Dhimmi-s, and, if the doors were not opened, broke them open, took out the coats therein, and slaughtered them for food at will.38 Indeed, non-Muslims found Jizyah as the most degrading of the disabilities and indignities under the Muslim rule. That is why many non-Muslim rulers and tribes were prepared to open the doors of their treasuries to the Muslim armies but shuddered to think of paying Jizyah. The offer of the Byzantine governor to the Muslims referred to above is an instance in point. Indeed, in history the dread of Jizyah on the part of the non-Muslims consisted in not only the quantum of the tax and of all other discriminatory fiscal liabilities that it implies but also and more so in its being a symbol of utter servility and abject surrender and subjection demonstrated by the procedure, written and unwritten, laid down for paying Jizyah and thereby becoming a Dhimmi.39

We have seen that sometimes liability to pay Jizyah did not cease even after conversion. A strange phenomenon indeed. But a stranger phenomenon is the plight of neo-Muslims even if not assessed to Jizyah. Even after conversion to Islam, a non-Arab continued to suffer a number of humiliations and disabilities. Under the Umayyads, no non-Arab convert to Islam could marry an Arab girl. Under Hajjaj bin Yusuf’s dispensation, no such convert could lead the prayer assembly in a mosque in al-Kufah, nor could he be appointed as a judge (qaDi). In many matters he was ill-treated like a Dhimmi. Non-Arab converts to Islam were called Mawali (singular Mawla), like manumitted slaves, who, too, were called Mawali. We cannot go into details here. Suffice it to add that, in his Murawwaj adh-Dhahab, Mas’udi quotes a verse to the effect that ‘Whoever wants to see degradation, infamy, and disgrace cumulatively at one place would do well to see a Mawla.’

Till the conquest of Mecca by the Prophet in 8 A.H., there had been no concept of non-Muslim subjects. There were only treaties with non-Muslims on specific terms and conditions. The idea of their subject-hood came to the fore thereafter, with Jizyah. Non-Muslims could become part of the protectorate under Muslims and save their life and property to a given extent and their religion, too, to some extent by paying Jizyah. The non-Muslims so protected, called Dhimmi-s, were not citizens - yes, neither first-class citizens nor second-class citizens - but miserable subjects of the Muslim state, with no political rights, or even fundamental rights worth the name. Maududi writes: ‘During the times of the Prophet and the ‘legitimate’ Caliphs, no example is available of a Dhimmi having been appointed as a member of the Advisory Council (majlis-i shura), a governor of some region, a judge of some place, a minister or administrator of some department, or a commander of some army, or of a Dhimmi having been given an opportunity to take part in the selection of a Caliph; although Dhimmi-s did exist during the age of the Prophet, and during the times of the legitimate caliphs their population ran into crores.’40

Indeed, Dhimmi-s were just a tolerated mass managing their own affairs according to a schedule imposed upon them against their will.

There is, however, a silver lining in the dark cloud. Sometimes, Jizyah was refunded in the event of the Muslims leaving the Dhimmi-s to fend for and defend themselves against the onslaught of a superior power. When, for example, Abu ‘Ubaydah gave way to Heraclius in HimS (Syria), he is said to have refunded the Jizyah collected by him from the Dhimmi-s of the city, on the ground that he was no longer in a position to protect them from their enemies, even though the Dhimmi-s protested that they preferred the Muslims’ to the Greeks’ rule.41 C. H. Beeker and L. Caetani reject this story, however, on the ground that the Arabs at that period had not the intelligence to make the connection between tribute and protection. Caetani thinks it unlikely that the Arabs could have collected Jizyah during the period of the Greek occupation.42 But Denett refers to ,an anonymous Syrian chronicle, which tells us that during the period before the battle of Yarmuk the tribute of Damascus as well was refunded.’43

It is also noteworthy that the Christian tribe of al-Jarajimah in the neighbourhood of Antioch were exempted from Jizyah and required to take part in Jihad.44

It must, however, be borne in mind that, such exceptions apart, Dhimmi-s could hardly consider it morally imperative to cooperate with the Muslims in the latter’s bid to exterminate the former’s own religions and communities. The war fought by the Muslims was far from being an ordinary war; it was a war often against what the Dhimmi-s held dear. In such a war no non-Muslim would like to side with the Muslims, unless he chooses to turn a traitor to his own religion. And, if the Muslims do find such a one, they would naturally welcome him. Exemption from Jizyah is nothing compared with the stakes involved. And the fact that the Muslims did succeed in finding such Dhimmi-s on occasion serves to betray the amount of torture the latter must have been subjected to, turning them practically against themselves to enable them to heave just a sigh of relief.

Let us wind up the discussion with a quotation from a contemporary writer on the Islamic law of war and peace: ‘The question has been raised as to whether it is not inconsistent with Islam’s objective, seeking ultimate supremacy of the true religion, to accept payment in money for persistence in unbelief. Sarkhasi45 held that the object is not pecuniary consideration, but the invitation of unbelievers to Islam in the most gentle manner. By being allowed to live among Muslims, the dhimmi-s will be attracted by the beauties of the Muslim faith, and they may willingly accept it.’46


In translating it we are guided by the translation of the Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d, III, p. 148.

  1. Daniel C. Denett, Conversion and Poll Tax in Early Islam, Historical Monographs, No.XXII (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950). 

  2. Shibli Nu’mani, ‘Al-Jizyah’, Rasa ‘I-i-Shibli (Delhi: Rahmani Press, n.d.), p. 76. 

  3. Denett, p. 15. 

  4. Ibid., pp. 45-55. 

  5. Al-Tawbah (9) 29. 

  6. Al-An’am (6) 157. 

  7. According to M.J. Kister, ‘yad‘ signifies wealth, ability, or resources, vide Arabica, XI (1964), p. 278. M.M. Braymann takes it to mean ‘benefaction’, vide his The Spiritual Background of Early Islam (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972), pp. 199-212. Though these meanings do fall within the signification of the term as used in pre-Islamic poetry, its interpretation in the Qur’anic context appears to be unwarrantably far-fetched, involving translation of the term ‘Jizyah’ in the second case as reward. 

  8. At-Tawbah (9) 3. 

  9. See Ibn Hisham, pp. 655 ff. 

  10. Bukhari, II, Kitab al-Jihad wa ‘s-Siyar, Hadith-s 300, 405, pp. 144, 196; Kitab al-Maghazi, Hadith 1557, p. 694. 

  11. cf. al-Anfal (8) 41, 69. 

  12. Mujaddid-i Alf-i Thari, Maktubat-i Imam-i Rabbani (Kanpur: Nawalkishore Press. n.d.), I, Letter No. 163, p. 166. 

  13. Maryam (19) 28. 

  14. Ilay-ka taghdu qaliqan waDinu-ha
    Mu’arriDan fi baTni-ha janinu-ha
    Mukhalifan dina ‘n-NaSara dinu-ha

  15. Âl ‘Imran (3) 59. 

  16. Muslim, II, Kitab al-Âdab, Hadith 502. 

  17. Âl ‘Imran (3) 61. 

  18. Anmad bin YaHya bin Jabir ash-Shabir bi ‘I-Baladhuri, usually referred to as al-Baladhuri, FutuH al-Buldan, Urdu tr. by Sayyid Abu ‘I-Khayr Mawdudi (Karachi: Nafis Academy, 1962), pp. 106 ff.; Imam Abu Yusuf, Kitab al-Kharaj, pp. 72-73. 

  19. Ibid., pp. 110-113. 

  20. Ibid., pp. 268-271. 

  21. Denett, p. 86. 

  22. Al-Baladhuri, p. 205. 

  23. Al-Anfal (8) 41; al-FatH (48) 15. 

  24. Shibli Nu’mani, Siratu ‘n-Nabiyy, III, ed. & enlarg. by Sulayman Nadwi (3rd impression, Azamgarh: Daru ‘I-Musannifin, 1339 A.H.), p. 528. 

  25. YaHya bin Âdam (757-818 A.D.), Kitab al-Kharaj, ed. & tr. under the title Taxation in Islam by A.ben Shemesh (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1958), Art. 49-50, p. 3 1. 

  26. Al-Baladhuri, p. 382. 

  27. Ibid., p. 129. 

  28. Khrushid Ahmad Fariq, Tarikh-i Islam (Delhi: Jamal Printing Press, n.d.), pp. 80,116,120, 

  29. Ibid., p. 121. 

  30. Ibid., p. 133. 

  31. Al-Baladhuri, p. 606. 

  32. Ibid., p. 132. 

  33. YaHya bin Âdam, Art 20, p. 26. 

  34. Al-Baladhuri, pp. 111-112. 

  35. Ibid., p. 324. 

  36. Ibn ‘Asakir, Tarikh,I, p. 149, tr. in A.S. Tritton, The Caliphs and Their Muslim Subjects (London, 1930), pp. 6-8. There are other versions, given in Tritton, pp. 5-6. ‘Shafi’i gives perhaps the most elaborate text, embodying the provisions of the Covenant of ‘Umar, which he suggests should be the model treaty between a Muslim ruler and scripturaries. See Shafi’i, Kitab al-Umm, IV, p. 118. For a translation of this text see Tritton, op. cit., pp. 12-16.’ Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1955), p. 194, fn. 

  37. Shafi’i, IV, p. 177, and Mawardi, Kitab al-AHkam as-SulTaniyyah, pp. 250-251, cited in Khadduri, p. 198. 

  38. Fariq, p. 570. 

  39. Even a mystic-philosopher like al-Ghazzali prescribes a harsh enough procedure for realizing Jizyah, vide his Kitab al-Wajiz, II, p. 200. 

  40. Abu ‘I-A’la Maududi, Islami Riyasat (2nd impression, Lahore: Dacca: Karachi: Islamic Publications Ltd., under the auspices of Idarah-i Ma’arif-i Islami, 1967), p. 353. 

  41. Al-Baladhuri, pp. 206-207. 

  42. Denett, pp. 56-57. 

  43. Ibid., p. 57. 

  44. Al-Baladhuri, p. 237. 

  45. As-Sarkhasi, Kitab al-MabsuT, X, p. 77, cited in Khadduri, p. 177. 

  46. Khadduri, p. 177.