is jizyah an islamic invention?
many of the critics of islam cite jizyah in the context of labeling this religion as prejudicing against non-muslims. they consider jizyah as a major reason that helped islam to spread. in other words, those critics think that many people were forced to embrace islam in order to evade paying jizyah. through such a misleading depiction of the situation many would think that the following issues are true:
- jizyah was an islamic invention in order to rob people;
- jizyah was a huge amount that non-muslims were unable to pay and therefore they embraced islam;
- jizyah was paid by every non-muslim regardless race, age, financial and social status.
these three points are misleading and slanted meta narratives through which critics of islam aim to defame this religion and keep people away from it, and even instigate them against it. our objective here is to show that jizyah was not an islamic innovation. jews used it and isa (jesus) (pbuh) paid it. the amount of jizyah paid by non-muslims was nothing compared to the amount of zakat paid by muslims. moreover, jizyah was not imposed on all non-muslims as critics of islam try to indicate. based on all the above, we shall discover that jizyah was a simple contribution by non-muslims to be exempted from performing military service of the country to which they belong as citizens.
bible dictionary at the website of saint takla (www.st-takla.org) defines jizyah from the christian perspective as follows:
"(1) money, goods, or service given by a nation or an individual to another nation or a king as a sign of subservience and a contribution to expenditure (genesis 49:15, judges 1:2, ezra 4:13, isaiah 31:8, and matthew 17:25). when the pharisees wanted to trap jesus christ, they asked him about his opinion of paying jizyah to caesar. he answered them: "give to caesar what is caesar’s, and give to god what is god’s." his interrogators were flummoxed by this authoritative (though ambiguous) answer and left disappointed.
(2) according to moses' sharia'ah, jizyah of two dirhams imposed on everyone above twenty. its amount was half a shekel to be spent in community service (exodus 30:13). at the time of nehemiah, every israelite paid a voluntary jizyah of (one third) shekel for the service of the temple (nehemiah 10:32 and 33) afterwards it increased to half a shekel as an annual tax to be levied from every jew more than twenty years old all over the world. the aim of the dialogue between jesus christ and peter on jizyah paid by the former in capernaum was to clarify to boutros that he (jesus) was able not to pay it but he did in order for the people not to stumble (matthews 17: 24-27) king solomon imposed a heavy jizyah on his people (1 kings 12:4) josephus the historian wrote that after the destruction of jerusalem, emperor vespasian forced all jews all over roman empire to pay to jupiter temple in rome the same two dirhams they used to pay for their temple."
as for the story of the pharisee jews and prophet isa (pbuh) mentioned in the above definition, it can be summarized as follows.
jews was trying every method to get rid of isa (pbuh) and finally they thought of proving his disloyalty to the disunited roman empire. they asked him: "tell us therefore, what thinkest thou? is it lawful to give tribute unto caesar, or not?" (matthew 22:17) however, "jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? shew me the tribute money. and they brought unto him a penny. and he saith unto them, whose is this image and superscription. they say unto him, caesar's. then saith he unto them, render therefore unto caesar the things which are caesar's; and unto god the things that are god's." (matthew 22:18-21) (luke 20: 22-25)
in light of the above, it should be clear that jizyah was not an islamic innovation. it was applicable during the era of isa (pbuh). he paid it and asked other to do the same to roman empire which was not united at that time. in other words, isa (pbuh) allowed payment of jizyah to unbelievers and atheists. how come he does not allow its payment to muslims who worship allah (the almighty)? at the time of prophet isa (pbuh), atheistic roman empire was dominating both jews and christians. however, isa (pbuh) ordered his disciples to pay jizyah when he said, "give to caesar what is caesar’s, and give to god what is god’s."he even put the duty towards state first. the new testament mentions jizyah many times and puts it before the obligation towards allah (the almighty). some of the examples are:
- "shew me the tribute money. and they brought unto him a penny." (matthews 22:19) this is the abovementioned story.
- "render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour." (romans 13: 7) this is an explicit order to pay jizyah to whom it is due, that is, the state as mentioned in the definition mentioned at the beginning.
- "he saith, yes. and when he was come into the house, jesus prevented him, saying, what thinkest thou, simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? peter saith unto him, of strangers. jesus saith unto him, then are the children free." (matthew 17: 25-26) it is clear that prophet isa (pbuh) here states that jizyah is taken only form strangers. it is therefore an ordinary issue that cannot be dubbed as "racist" or "unjust". otherwise, prophet isa (pbuh) would have been biased and unjust! when muslims take jizyah from non-muslims, this is not racism or injustice in dealing with them. it is a kind of contribution more than which muslims pay in the form of zakat.
the old testament also indicates that prophet musa (moses) (pbuh) paid jizyah:
- "and they made a proclamation through judah and jerusalem, to bring in to the lord the collection that moses the servant of god laid upon israel in the wilderness." (2 chronicles 24:9)
- israel took jizyah. "and it came to pass, when israel was strong, that they put the canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out." (judges 1:28)
- joseph paid jizyah. "but the amorites would dwell in mount heres in aijalon, and in shaalbim: yet the hand of the house of joseph prevailed, so that they became tributaries." (judges 1:35)
- hoshea paid jizyah. "against him came up shalmaneser king of assyria; and hoshea became his servant, and gave him presents." (2 kings 17:3)
- nonpayment of jizyah led to slavery and negation of all rights. "and they drave not out the canaanites that dwelt in gezer: but the canaanites dwell among the ephraimites unto this day, and serve under tribute." (joshua 16:10)
later, we will see that obedience to the ruler in the new testament was sacred and that payment of jizyah was the absolute right of this ruler. paul ordered people to obey the ruler and pay the jizyah in subservience:
- "let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. for there is no power but of god: the powers that be are ordained of god. whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of god: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. for rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of god to thee for good. but if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of god, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are god's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour." (romans 13: 1-7)
jizyah in islam
but in islam, jizyah was very different from the way it is depicted. it was a small amount imposed only on those who are able to fight and not on women, children, salves, the mad, and the old. adam metz, a western historian, writes in the islamic civilization in the fourth century of the hegira:
the people of zimmah paid jizyah as per each one's ability. jizyah was like civil defense tax. therefore, only the person who was able to carry weapons paid such tax. handicapped, hermits, and saints did not pay it unless they were well-off.
omar ibnul-khattab (may allah be pleased with him) ordered the leaders of armies: "do not impose jizyah on women or children. impose it only on those who are adults." the amount of jizyah was not beyond the ability of men; rather, it was easy to be paid. it did not exceed one dinar per annum during the age of the prophet (pbuh) and four dinars during the age of the umayyads. in this way, jizyah was imposed only on the third of the people of zimmah or even less.
nabil luqa babwi, an orthodox coptic egyptian writer and scholar, wrote that, "jizyah was a small amount of money. over seventy percent of people of other beliefs rather than islam were exempted: the old, women, children, and monks. it was not a punishment for not being a muslim but rather a tax against the use of public facilities by non-muslims and a defense tax against any external attack. this means that islam did not spread by sword as stated by some orientalists." payment of jizyah exempted non-muslims from two obligations of muslims: defending the country and payment of zakat. is it logical that jizyah was a punishment or a burden on non-muslims to embrace islam? is it logical that non-muslims leave their beliefs to evade jizyah while in islam they must pay zakat which is more than jizyah and they must fight and may die? comparing jizyah and zakat, we will find a big difference. if jizyah was not more than four dinars under the umayyads, zakat is 2.5 percent from annual savings that are at least equal to twenty karats as determined by the prophet (pbuh), 1150 us$, after one year of non-use. this is calls nisab or minimum amount. the one who pays the least amount of zakat pays 28 us$ per annum (2.5% of 1150 us$). it is noteworthy that the one who saves more than 1150 us$ during one year has to pay 2.5% of the total amount as zakat. moreover, zakat includes cattle, harvests, gold, silver, trade money among other things and amounts of zakat are calculated for each of them in a different manner.
in asking non-muslims living in an islamic country to pay jizyah islam treats them in such a fair manner that is hard to be found throughout history. islam is the religion of mercy and justice. it was reported that prophet muhammad (pbuh) said about the people of zimmah: "whoever treats a covenanted citizen unjustly or takes away a part of his rights or overburdens him or forces something away from him, i will be his enemy on the day of judgment." the prophet's (pbuh) companions and followers followed in his footsteps. omar ibnul-khattab (may allah be pleased with him) told his leaders: "who is not able to pay jizyah, reduce it for him and who cannot pay, help him." when he saw an old dhimmi man begging people he said:"omar said to him, "old man! we have not done justice to you. in your youth we realized jizyah from you and have left you to fend for yourself in your old age". he then ordered his leaders not to take jizyah from the old. moreover, in that case the muslim state was obliged to allocate a pension for its needy non-muslim citizen. caliph omar ibn abdul-aziz (may allah be pleased with him) wrote to his basra governor that, "consider the dhimmi people in basra. for the old and the weak give them an allocation from the public treasury."
in the reign of omar ibnul-khattab (may allah be pleased with him) collecting jizyah was mercifully done. one of the leaders brought a lot of jizyah money to omar who then told him, "it seems you squeezed people." but the people told him that "no, we took only the right of the state voluntarily and without coercion." omar said, "thank allah that he has not made such matters in may reign." when omar was dying he did not forget to tell muslims to take care of dhimmi people, "i demand the caliph after me to treat dhimmi people fairly, fulfill their covenant, defend them and do not overburden them."
in brief, muslims dealt fairly with non-muslims in their state. those were asked to pay jizyah, a small amount of money, as a contribution to the state. not all dhimmi paid jizyah; almost two thirds of them did not. to say that jizyah was a heavy burden to force non-muslims to embrace islam is misleading and ridiculous. once they become muslims they should have paid more than that in zakat and they should have died in fight.
jizyah was not a punishment for non-muslims. it was rather a tax by which non-muslims do not fight enemies and enjoy the protection of muslims. in order to clarify this point, shaikh yusuf al-qaradhawi deliverd a word during iqra channel fiqh-media forum held on 8-9 october 2005 in jeddah, saudi arabia under the title of "islam considers humanity as one family" . he said:
for more clarification and for refuting each allegation and accusation i would like to mention what the noted historian sir thomas w. arnold in his call to islam, states:
this tax was not imposed on the christians, as some would have us think, as a penalty for their refusal to accept the muslim faith, but was paid by them in common with the other dhimmis or non-muslim subjects of the states whose religion precluded them from serving in the army, in return for the protection secured for them by the arms of the musalmans. when the people of hirah contributed the sum agreed upon, they expressly mentioned that they paid this jizyah on condition that 'the muslims and their leader protect us from those who would oppress us, whether they be muslims or others.' …the jizyah was levied on the able-bodied males, in lieu of the military service they would have been called upon to perform had they been muslim men; and it is very noticeable that when any christian people served in the muslim army, they were exempted from the payment of this tax. such was the case with the tribe of al-jurajimah, a christian tribe in the neighborhood of antioch, who made peace with the muslims, promising them to be their allies and fight on their side in battle. in his covenant with the people of certain cities near al-haira, khalid ibn al-walid recorded "if we are able to protect you, we deserve the collection of jizyah."
the seriousness with which the muslims took their covenants with the non-muslims is well illustrated by the following incident. during the reign of the second caliph, `umar ibn al-khattab, the roman emperor heraclius raised a huge army to repel the muslim forces. it was thus incumbent upon the muslims to concentrate their efforts on the battle. when the commander of muslims, abu `ubaydah heard this news, he wrote to his officials in all conquered cities in syria and ordered them to return the jizyah which had been levied in those cities. he also addressed the public saying, "we are returning your money because we know that the enemy has gathered troops. by the terms stipulated in the covenant, you have obliged us to protect you. however, since we are now unable to fulfill these conditions, we have returned to you what you paid to us. we shall abide by the terms agreed upon in the covenant, if allah helps us to rout the enemy.
thus, a huge amount was taken from the state treasury and returned to the christians, making them very happy. they prayed for and blessed the muslim commanders. they exclaimed, "may allah help you to overcome your enemies and return you to us safely. if the enemy were in your place, they would never have returned anything to us, but rather they would have taken all our remaining property.
the jizyah was also imposed on muslim men who could afford to buy their way out of military service. if a christian group elected to serve in the state's military forces, it was exempted from the jizyah. historical examples of this abound. al-jurajimah, a christian tribe living near antioch (now in turkey), by undertaking to support muslims and to fight on the battle front, did not have to pay the jizyah and were entitled to a share of the captured booty.
when the islamic conquests reached northern persia in ah 22, a similar covenant was established with a tribe living on the boundaries of those territories. they were consequently exempted from jizyah in view of their military services.
other examples are to be found during the history of the ottoman empire. the migaris, a group of albanian christians, were exempted from the jizyah for undertaking to watch and guard the mountain ranges of cithaeron and geraned (which stretch to the gulf of corinth). christians who served as the vanguard of the turkish army for road repairs, bridge construction, and so on, were exempted from the kharaj (land tax). as a reward, they were also provided with some lands, free of all taxes.
the christians of hydra were exempted when they agreed to supply a group of 250 strong men for the muslim naval fleet. the armatolis, christians from southern romania, were also exempted from the tax, for they constituted a vital element in the turkish armed forces during the 16th and 17th centuries. the mirdites, an albanian catholic clan who lived in the mountains of northern scutari, were exempted on the condition that they would offer an armored battalion in wartime. the jizyah was also not imposed on the greek christians who had supervised the building of viaducts that carried water to constantinople, nor on those who guarded the ammunition in that city, as just compensation for their services to the state. however, egyptian muslim peasants exempted from military service were still required to pay the jizyah.
from the above extract we have to note that:
- abu `ubaydah (may allah be pleased with him) returned jizyah tax to the christians of sham when he knew that muslims would not be able to prevent the attack. this indicates that jizyah was not to rob the people of their money or force them to embrace islam.
- once it was possible for non-muslims to participate in fight with muslims in return for a part of war spoils, jizyah was not collected.
- muslims themselves had to pay jizyah if they did not participate in fight. this is clear evidence that the aim of jizyah was not to force people to turn to islam and that all the opinions to the contrary are groundless.
in light of the above, we hope that it has become clear that jizyah was not an islamic innovation and it was known during previous jewish and christian ages when jews and christians paid jizyah to atheistic roman empire. why then do criticizers condemn payment of jizyah to the muslim state that acknowledges both religions and respect their prophets? moreover, only 30% of dhimmi people paid jizyah which was nothing compared to the zakat paid by muslims. this refutes the allegation that jizyah was imposed to force non-muslims to embrace islam. how can this be true while muslims themselves had to pay jizyah when they did not participate in fight? jizyah was a small amount of money paid by some dhimmis instead of fighting.
therefore, we can say for sure that jizyah was not a reason in spreading islam.
 st. takla haymanout is the most famous saint in ethiopia. his church is in alexandria, egypt. his website www.st-takla.org provides a definition of jizyah from a christian perspective.
 imam al-qurtubi, comprehensive interpretation of the noble qur'an (8/72).
 adam mitz, islamic civilization (1/96).
 al-albani, irwaa al-ghaleel, hadith number 1255.
 babawi, spread of islam by sword: reality and lie. bbawi publishing house, cairo, 2002. p. 45.
 from the site of international islamic charitable organization, kuwait (www.iico.net).
 abu dawud, hadith number (3052) in (3/107) corrected by al-albani (2626). an-nasaei, hadith number (2749) in (8/25).
 ibn 'asaker, history of damascus, vol. 1, p. 178.
 ibn zanjweeh, monies, (1/163).
 ibn zanjweeh, monies, (1/170).
 imam abi 'ubaid al-qasem ibn salam, monies, p. 43/ al-mughni (9/290), rules of dhimmis (1/139).
al-bukhari, hadith number (1392) in (3/1356).
 al-qaradhawi,( www.qaradawi.net) 18/10/2005. the translation of the book of sir arnold is by dr. hassan ibrahim, ismael al-nahrawi and abdul-majid 'abdeen