Modern Muslims defend the jizya

February 7, 2010

Over at Yanabi.com, an online Islamic forum, a participant named “Waxing Crescent” recently started a thread entitled, “Jizya – is it a means tested poll tax?”.

The correct answer (which was artfully dodged by all those who responded to Waxing Crescent’s question on the message board) is that nothing in the Koran or Hadith exempts impoverished non-Muslims from paying the jizya

Somebody named “Faraz Hasan” answered the question by quickly changing the subject to state that Muslims pay more in zakat than non-Muslims pay in jizya.  This is not necessarily true and it is misleading.  The reason it is not necessarily true is because there is no fixed jizya rate established by the Koran or Hadith.  The actual jizya levy has been higher or lower than the zakat in different parts of the Islamic world throughout history.  Also, non-Muslims pay a variety of discriminatory taxes—not just the jizya—including the kharaj on land and the sales tax/customs duty ushuur on articles of trade.

The other misleading aspect of Faraz Hasan’s statement is that it suggests that non-Muslims in majority-Muslim countries are co-equal in all the rights of Islamic society, and that non-Muslims are somehow free-riders or paying less than their fair share.  This is untrue because, for example, non-Muslims do not enjoy the freedom to worship openly.  Non-Muslims do not share the rights of full citizenship.

Historically, most theorists, politicians, and taxpayers agree that taxes are the price you pay for the protection of the state.  But if you look at the Copts in Egypt, the Jews in Yemen, or the Sikhs in Pakistan today, you see that non-Muslims do not enjoy the full protection of the state.  In fact they are victims of the state.  So why should they pay the jizya?

As Americans, we take the concept of just taxation even farther—opposing taxation without representation.  Taxes are legitimate only when they have been established by our duly elected representatives.  But the jizya is not derived from the consent of the governed—it was concocted by Muhammad as a tool to humiliate non-Muslims and “encourage” them to convert to Islam.

Getting back to the arguments being made on Yanabi, it’s worth noting that the Koran does exempt poor Muslims from paying the 2½ percent zakat tax on wealth.  But in the Kitab al-Kharaj, the most definitive Islamic tax treatise, even the poorest non-Muslim men are required to pay one gold dinar per year.  (By the way, I would estimate that one dinar’s worth of gold would represent about a 7½ percent income tax rate on non-Muslim poor in the Middle East today.)

Respondents on the message board also highlight who is exempt from the jizya—women, priests, et al.  Historically, men have borne the brunt of the jizya, but I would like to draw readers’ attention back to the Koran itself, which provides no exemptions, period:  “Fight those who do not believe in Allah… until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection” (Koran 9:29).

The technical answer to the message board question is that the Kitab al-Kharaj does acknowledge somewhat individual means to pay the jizya.  The poorest non-Muslims pay one dinar yearly; two dinars for the middle-class, and four dinars for the rich.  But, Waxing Crescent, does that really make you feel justified in subscribing to a religion that imposes any tax on non-believers?  Suppose, WC, that you live in a majority Christian nation, and that you were charged an annual tax by the Church just because you are a Muslim.  Suppose they even means-test it, and charge you at a lower rate because you are disadvantaged.  Would that make it right?

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