Were Christians Forced to Pay The Jizyah to Spare Their Lives?
by Sheikh Ali Gomaa
How would I explain to my American friend the following verses:
“Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture - [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.” 9:29
and “And fight them until there is no fitnah and [until] the religion, all of it, is for Allah . And if they cease - then indeed, Allah is Seeing of what they do.” 8:39
The meaning of the word “humbled” in this verse does not indicate humiliation or degradation. This understanding is supported by the renowned Islamic scholars who confirmed that such degrading meaning does not have any origin in the Prophet’s conduct or biography and was not reported in the life of any of the four rightly guided caliphs. This degrading understanding falls under the prohibited harm which Muslims are commanded to refrain from as was stated by the Hanafi scholar Ibn ‘Abedeen in his writings. The Jiziya (which is a national defense tax that is paid by non Muslims) was in exchange of the protection that is given by Muslims to the people of Dhimma (the non Muslims who reside in Muslim lands) to guarantee the safety of their lives, families and possessions. The contract of Dhimma according to jurists is a perpetual contract which guarantees for the people of Dhimma safety of their religious freedom and security in the Muslims’ land in which they reside in exchange of paying jizyah along with their acceptance of the laws of the land in which they reside regarding non religious matters.
The contract of Dhimmah is not an Islamic invention but is rather a contract that was popular among people before the advent of Islam and when Islam came, it condoned its existence and conferred legality to such practice. Islam also added some terms which changed the one who guarantees security for the people of Dhimma from individuals to security granted by God and his Prophet i.e the security is granted by the Islamic country itself. Islam also granted for this contract an eternal feature which is not subjected to any annulment to guarantee the safety of the non Muslims from any forms of injustice or oppression posed on them by Muslim rulers.
The Jizyah was not an integral binding component of this contract in all cases as it was waived by the Prophet’s companions and those who followed them when the non Muslim residents participated in defending their country as it equated jihad. Therefore, Suraqah ibn ‘Amr for example waived it from the Armenians in 22 H and so did Habib ibn Maslamah al Fihri when he waived the jizyah from the people of Antakya. The same case was repeated by the companions of Abu ‘Ubayida ibn al Jarrah with his approval and the approval of the Prophet’s companions when they waived the jizyyah from the people of a city which is located in the Turkish- Syrian borders and called “al Jarajemah”.
The Islamic history attests as well that Muslims made reconciliation with the people of Nuba at the time of ‘Abdullah ibn Abi al Sarh which conditioned the exchange of gifts every year between the two parties. Muslims also made reconciliations with the people of Cyprus during the reign of Mu’awiyyah ibn Abi Sufyan on the condition of maintaining neutrality and mutual taxes paid by the visitors of one country to another. The fact is that non Muslims who reside in Muslim countries are considered as legal citizens for more than 100 years now and they are recruited in the military and contribute their share of defending their homelands and therefore are not eligible to pay jizyah according to the sound juristic opinion of renowned scholars. Thus the accurate understanding of the non Muslims from the
juristic perspective is that they are citizens and not people of Dhimma.
When it comes to the concept of jizyah, it was not meant to be paid by non Muslims as sort of punishment for not embracing Islam or a grace conferred on them for keeping their life intact. This fact was reiterated by Sir Thomas Arnold in his book “The Call to Islam” in which he 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 thisJizyah on condition that ‘the Muslims and their leader protect us from those who would oppress us, whether they be Muslims or others.’ (Sir Thomas Arnold, Call To Islam, pp. 79-81)
It was also reported that Khaled ibn al Walid stated in the contract which he made with some cities near Hira “if we managed to protect you, then we get the jizyah and if we couldn’t we don’t get it”. When Muslims failed to meet the condition of protection of the people of the Dhimma, they returned back the paid jizyah to them and this happened during the reign of ‘Umar ibn al Khattab when he was informed that Heraclius was preparing a huge army to fight against the Muslims. Due to such circumstances, Abu ‘Ubaida, the Muslim military leader at the time, wrote correspondents to all the Muslim rulers of the cities that were opened by Muslims in the Levant area and commanded them to return back the jizyah money that was collected from these cities and he wrote to people of Dhimma saying, “we have returned back your money because we were informed of that a huge army was mobilized by the Romans and you placed a condition on us to protect you and we are unable to do it. So we have paid back your money to keep the condition intact along with the contract that was written between us and you and the contract will resume to be effective should we be granted victory”.
Therefore, huge amount of money from the Islamic state was given back to Christians who prayed for Muslims to come out of the battle victorious and said “May God return you back victoriously to us and make you win over the Romans because if it were them in your place, they wouldn’t have returned anything to us and they would have taken everything left for us”. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said in this regard “whoever hurts a Dhimmi, hurts me”. Hurting in this context is more general than psychological or physical hurt and the Islamic Shari’ah asked Muslims to maintain fine manners with the people of the book who did not fight against Muslims nor assaulted them. God says,
“Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes - from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.” 60:8
And also said, “And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.” 29:46
More importantly God Almighty asked Muslims to forgive the people of the Book who want Muslims to relinquish their faith and return back to disbelief. God says in the Quran,
“Many of the People of the Scripture wish they could turn you back to disbelief after you have believed, out of envy from themselves [even] after the truth has become clear to them. So pardon and overlook until Allah delivers His command. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent.” 2:109
These were only some of many verses which command Muslims to deal with non Muslims with fine manners, kindness and good ethics.
Regarding the first verse which was mentioned in your question, it was revealed after the battle of Motah and addressed the Romans who mobilized their armies in an attempt to vanquish the Muslims’ state after a previous failing attempt conducted by the polytheists. Therefore, this verse was addressing those who do not keep their covenant or fulfill their vows and the terms “humbleness” that is mentioned in the verse refers to the actual act of giving jizyah after being subjugated to the Muslim state and its general system in exchange of safety, security and protection. This means that the word “humbleness” does not indicate taking the money from them in a humiliating way as this false interpretation goes against the sound understanding of the Quran and the Prophetic traditions regarding the fine treatment of the people of the book and the people of Dhimma in general.
As for the second verse you mentioned in your question, it addressed the polytheists who mobilized their armies, collected their money and recruited their men to assault Muslim in the battle of Uhud and therefore the verse was revealed to motivate the Muslims to fight back the aggression and persecution. This means that the verse talks about the polytheist aggressors who prepared their troops to vanquish Muslims. Therefore this verse was not addressing non Muslims in general as the original state between Muslims and non Muslims is based on coexistence, good neighborhood, and kindness.
Please visit Sheikh Ali Gomaa’s website http://www.ali-gomaa.com/ where you will find many such scholarly opinions on current issues of concern to Muslims from a mainstream Muslim view. Sheikh Ali Gomaa is the former Grand Mufti of Egypt.