New book on kharaj due out next spring

December 9, 2009

A new book on the history of the kharaj (yet another Islamic tax!) is due out next April entitled Islamic Land Tax—Al-Kharaj by Prof. Ghaida Khazna Katbi.  Being a tax geek, I am pretty excited about its publication, as there is currently little being written about the kharaj.  But what is the kharaj, you ask?

Basic elements of kharaj

The kharaj is a tax on land value, not like the ushr on actual crops produced.  The land is assessed for its potential productive value for farming, or more recently, for its development value.  Historically, like the jizya, the kharaj signaled the inferiority of non-Muslims in a Muslim society (see the Jewish Virtual Library’s article on jizya & kharaj here).  The jizya, however, taxed persons (a head tax) rather than land. 

The steepness of the kharaj tax was designed in part to encourage conversion to Islam.  However, as the Caliphate began loosing revenues due to conversion of non-Muslim land owners to Islam, the kharaj was modified to apply to any land ever owned by a non-Muslim in perpetuity.  Thus, if non-Muslim land is purchased by a Muslim, that Muslim must still pay the kharaj.

Islamic legal basis

Wikipedia claims that the basis for the kharaj comes from a legal consensus of Islamic scholars rather than a particular passage of the Koran or Hadith.  However, Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry posits that the basis for “al-kharaj” is Sura 59.  That chapter in my own copy of the Koran (Rodwell’s translation) reads as follows:

The spoil taken from the people of the towns and assigned by God to his apostle, belongeth to God, and to the apostle, and to his kindred, and to the orphan, and to the poor, and to the wayfarer, that none of it may circulate among such of you only as are rich:  What the apostle hath given you, take… (Verse 7)

Although the rates and methods of collection varied, the kharaj was imposed for centuries beginning with the very first Muslim caliphs right up through the Ottoman Empire.

Modern attempts at restoring kharaj

This is where you say, “Oh, AD, you and your analysis of defunct tax regimes.  What on earth does this have to do with Islam today?”  For starters, Malaysia’s Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, has called for implementation of a kharaj tax off and on in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  It’s a fitting location given that Malaysia’s bumiputra system resembles the jizya and kharaj in its impact on “dhimmis.”

There is also broader intellectual movement afoot among Muslims who want to see a restoration of the Caliphate to levy the kharaj against any lands owned by former colonialists (especially Britain and France) and whatever local owner or party “inherited” the land from the imperialists.  See Khilifah.com’s pro-kharaj comments here.  Al-islam.org calls the “khiraj” tax law part of “an ideal Islamic society.”  If imposed, any Western businesses or investors would have to pay the price (even beyond the significant corporate taxes they already pay).

I’m unfamiliar with Prof. Khazna Katbi (although I saw her referred to in another publication as a “medievalist” and historian).  It is worth noting that the University of Jordan where she works is funded by the Jordanian government.  I know little about the university, although I’ve heard their student council elections were taken over by Islamists.  But we won’t hold that against the professor.  As for the $82 price tag on the book however, she and her publisher need to do something about that  I’ll have to see if the university library across town will order it for me.


  1. […] the kharaj can be even an even greater tax burden than the jizya, and it is imposed on land owned by […]

  2. […] The ruling is in keeping with the teachings of deceased Al Qaeda imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who urged dispossession of infidel wealth.  The fatwa may also be partly inspired by the kharaj, an Islamic tax against defeated non-Muslims and their land. […]

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