h1

Jesus the tax reformer. Muhammad the tax collector.

December 24, 2009

This Christmas, Money Jihad examines the striking contrast between the attitudes of Jesus Christ and Muhammad toward taxation.  

The Christmas story begins in a manger in Bethlehem.  Why Bethlehem?  Because of the Roman census and taxes.  Joseph’s lineage traced to Bethlehem, so that is where his family was due to be counted in the census of Judea (Luke 2:4).  In antiquity, a primary purpose of a census was to establish the tax amount due to the state, in this case to Rome. 

Rome depended heavily on tribute—taxes paid by the subjects of conquered provinces—to fund its imperial growth.  The Romans could not collect all taxes personally, and outsourced the collection process to local publicani, or tax farmers, who would bid for the collection rights, pay the Romans upfront, and then collect enough from their own countrymen not only to cover their expenses but to line their bulging pockets. 

The tax farmers of the Roman provinces became stinking rich in the process.  They were subject to little regulation or control by any civil authority.  This was the context of tax collection at the time of Jesus. 

Matthew, also known as Levi and traditionally considered to be the author of the Gospel of Matthew, was a tax collector.  We do not know how personally corrupt Matthew was, but his reputation seemed to be no different from most tax farmers at that time.  That all changed one day when Jesus found Matthew, and Matthew found Jesus (Matthew 9:9).  Many depictions of Jesus summoning Matthew show the tax collector working at a desk, focused on his tax rolls with gold coins on the table: 

The Calling of St. Matthew

This painting by Hendrick ter Brugghen is especially helpful in showing the utter confusion of Matthew at being selected by Jesus.  His perplexed expression and head-scratching gesture say, “You mean, me?  A tax collector?”  It was a surprising choice in an era when tax collection was frequently equated with harlotry and sin. 

When the Pharisees asked why Jesus would eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners, he answered, “Those that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32). 

In other words, Matthew was not selected because his profession was “righteous,” but to bring him to repentance and salvation.  Neither was Matthew selected for his abilities to collect revenues for a new Christian state, because Jesus would never impose any taxes. 

Later, when the Pharisees tried to ensnare Jesus by asking him if it were lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus answered, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”  (Mark 12:17).  Thus Jesus acknowledged the civil authority of the state.  At the same time, Jesus rejected profiting from the house of God, as when he famously drove the money-changers out of the temple in Jerusalem. 

Metzger & Coogan’s entry on the publicani in the Oxford Companion to the Bible says, “Most of the time we hear of the humble and despised publicans, whom Jesus made a point of treating, as he did other outcasts, like human beings who could be saved.”  If Jesus had any message for the tax collectors, it wasn’t “how much can you rake in?” it was “go and sin no more.” 

In addition to saving mankind, Jesus ushered in a new way of looking at taxes:  he acknowledged the power of the state to collect it, but he worked to reform individual tax collectors by abandoning their sins, and Jesus never profited from taxes himself. 

Muhammad, on the other hand…eschewed any separation between secular government and religious authority.  Unlike the largely spiritual ministry of Jesus, Muhammad engaged in secular pursuits of business, warfare, and governance.  The objectives of Muhammad and of Islam would soon necessitate the development of the Bayt al-Mal, or house of money, to serve as the treasury of the new Islamic state. 

It was Muhammad who announced tax levies in the Koran including the zakat (9:60) and the jizya (9:29). 

Muhammad also established tax rates.  He declared rates of 2½ percent on goods and money (Sahih Bukhari 2.24.534), 10 percent on agricultural yields (Sahih Muslim 5.2143), and 20 percent on ghanima (Koran 8:42).  He also established minimum taxable amounts (Sahih Bukhari 2. 24.487). 

Muhammad personally appraised property to assess its taxable worth: 

We took part in the holy battle of Tabuk in the company of the Prophet [Muhammad] and when we arrived at the Wadi-al-Qura, there was a woman in her garden. The Prophet asked his companions to estimate the amount of the fruits in the garden, and Allah’s Apostle estimated it at ten Awsuq. The Prophet said to that lady, “Check what your garden will yield”… [H]e asked that woman how much her garden had yielded. She said, “Ten Awsuq,” and that was what Allah’s Apostle had estimated.  (Sahih Bukhari 2. 24.559) 

Muhammad also supervised tax collections: 

  • “Allah’s Apostle had taken the Jizya from the Magians of Hajar” (Sahih Bukhari 4.53.384)
  • “Allah’s Apostle sent Abu ‘Ubaida bin Al-Jarreh to Bahrain to collect the Jizya” (Sahih Bukhari 4.53.385).
  • “Allah’s Apostle (p.b.u.h) ordered (a person) to collect Zakat” (Sahih Bukhari 2.24.547)
  • “The Prophet appointed a man from the tribe of Al-Azd, called Ibn ‘Utbiyya for collecting the Zakat.”  (Sahih Bukhari 3.47.769)

Muhammad personally received the ushr, jizya, and zakat tax payments: 

  • The ushr:  “Dates used to be brought to Allah’s Apostle immediately after being plucked. Different persons would bring their dates till a big heap collected (in front of the Prophet)”  (Sahih Bukhari 2.24.562).
  • The jizya:  “Money from Bahrain was brought to the Prophet . He said, ‘Spread it in the Mosque.’” (Sahih Bukhari 4.53.390).
  • The zakat on flocks & herds:  “I saw in the hand of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) an instrument for cauterisation and he was cauterising the caracia collected as Zakat” (Sahih Muslim 24.5288).

It’s remarkable enough that Muhammad engaged in tax collecting, but even more so for the favor he bestowed upon other individuals involved in the tax process.  Muhammad’s tax emissary to Bahrain, Abu ‘Ubaida bin Al-Jarrah, was one of Muhammad’s ten favorite people who was guaranteed to enter paradise.  Muslims have glorified Ubaida for his role in building the Islamic state.  Notice the bags of gold on this hagiographic book cover in honor of the Prophet’s taxing companion: 

Ubaida was a favorite of Muhammad because he was an effective tax man, not because he had abandoned tax corruption like Matthew had when called by Jesus.

Not all taxes are evil and neither are tax collectors. But the difference between the approaches to taxation by Jesus and Muhammad could not be starker. Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), and indeed it wasn’t. But revenue collection was a central objective of Muhammad and to the propagation of Islam to this day.

Advertisements

9 comments

  1. Very well said. Thank you very much for an excellent post. As men, Jesus and Muhammad were about as different as day and night.


  2. Good reflection. It helps me to do my way as a Christian. Thanks a lot. Jesus bless you. Happy Easter!


    • So glad to hear that, Max. Happy Easter to you as well.


  3. This is an interesting way to view things.


  4. AMERICA IS ONE NATION UNDER GOD AND WE PLAN TO STAY THAT WAY. WE WANT OUR FREEDOM AND JUSTICE FOR ALL AND WE WANT TO KEEP OUR GUNS FOR PROTECTION. WE WANT THE INTERNET TO BE FREE FROM GOVERNMENT AND BILL GATES CONTROLS. WE ALL NEED TO READ THE HISTORY OF THE MORMONS AND THE CHATOLICS AND WE CAN SEE WHY THE WORLD IS IN THE SHAPE ITS IN. NOW WE HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THE FOOD WE EAT,NANO FOOD, NANO SEEDS AND ABOUT EVERYTHING WE BUY HAS NANO IN IT. GOD BLESS US ALL THANK YOU DONNIE C, BARBER


  5. DONNIE CLAYTON BARBER donniecbarber@aol.com


  6. […] Money Jihad: […]


  7. Reblogged this on .



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: