While in primary school, I came across the word jizya for the first time in my life. We were taught that great mughal ruler Akbar was tolerant for abolishing jizya and his successor Aurangzeb was less tolerant towards non Muslims for introducing it again. At a stage of my life I did not care whether jizya was something wrong or beneficial. As time progressed my love for knowledge increased and began to ponder over these topics.
Jizya has always been a disputable concept not only in the minds of non Muslims but also among Muslims. The word jizya has always been employed as a weapon to support prejudiced opinions to spread misunderstandings about the Islamic law.
The word ”jizya” is derived from the root word “jaza” which means to “compensate”. The great orientalist Edward William lane describes “jizya” as a tax that is taken from the free non-Muslim subjects of Muslim governments whereby they ratify the compact that assures them protection.”It was collected only from the free able bodied men. It cannot be collected from women, dependents and salves.
Though the Quran which is the most sacred book of the Muslims prescribes the appropriation of jizya, it does not specify the rates and conditions. The second source of Islamic law ,I.e. the tradition of the prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him) clarifies the rates and methods of collection of the tax. The collection of jizya was not new to the world. Islam was not the first religion to introduce it. It was a common practice throughout the ancient Egypt and Rome. In Rome this was not levied from the citizens of the state, rather it was charged on the alien business community of the state. The victorious nations throughout the history have persisted in levying the jizya on the conquered lands. We find in the biblical text that Joshua collected tax from the people of Canaan. Islam did not abolish this system and instead continued it as a source of revenue and maintenance of financial expenditure.
The great scholar of the eighth century, Abu Yusuf wrote a book on the appropriation of taxes from the Islamic empire at the behest of the then ruler Harun-Ar Rashid. He states in his book kitab al kharaj,
“It is proper o commander of the faithful that you treat leniently those who have a contract of protection from your prophet, you should look after them so that they are not oppressed, mistreated or taxed beyond their means.”
The Islamic law is based on justice and welfare of the people. The state is obliged to formulate and implement policies based on the general interest of the people. If the state by any means failed to protect the lives and property of the non Muslims, it is incumbent upon the ruler to return the collected amount to the payers. During the reign of second caliph Omar bin khattab,the Muslim army returned a huge sum of money to the Christians before leaving Syria to fight the Romans. Thomas Arnold comments on that, “enormous sums of money were paid back out of the state treasury and the Christians called down blessings on the head of the Muslims saying ‘may God give you rule over us again and make you victorious over the Romans.’
It should be noted out that beside paying zakaah (2.5% of savings), ushoor (10% of agricultural lands) ,the Muslims had to pay sadaqah,khums,fitrah.as matter of fact the per capita collection from the Muslims were several fold than the non Muslims.
Thus we see that jizya was a mere tax collected in return for protection granted by Muslim state to the non -Muslims. The non- Muslims were exempted from participating in wars and thus could live their life peacefully.
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