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Weekly word: jizya

March 30, 2010

This week’s word is jizya, and the definition comes from Newby’s Concise Encyclopedia of Islam:

jizyah (Arabic: tribute)  A capitulation tax or poll tax paid by non-Muslim members of the Islamic state, the Ahl al-Kitab, who also paid a land tax, the kharaj.

A poll tax is a tax on individuals rather than on wealth or income.  Poll taxes are also known as capitation (from the Latin for “head”) taxes.  Newby doesn’t use the term capitation, but rather capitulation, which is more descriptive.  The jizya is a capitulation tax, in the sense that it is paid when you capitulate, surrender, and feel subdued by Islam.

What’s also helpful about Newby’s definition is that it doesn’t insert a whole lot of editorial fluff or watering down of the jizya.  Folks like Esposito try to defend the jizya in their definitions by saying that it only applies to males in lieu of military service.

Historically, it may be true that the jizya applied to military-age men, but the Koran itself does not make that distinction.  The Koran says the jizya must be imposed upon the people of the book, meaning Christians and Jews, and does not offer any special exemptions.

Newby also does well to acknowledge the kharaj.  Many jihad watchers are unaware of the massive and punitive kharaj that has historically imposed a massive tax burden on non-Muslims.

Other “analysts” also try to describe jizya as “compensation” or “recompense.”  For an explanation of why it is more appropriate to call the jizya a “tax,” see my recent Yahoo! answer to a devious little questioner.  She contradicted my arguments, but she still selected my answer as the best!  Read the exchange for yourself and make up your own mind.

For more details, you can read my three-part essay (i, ii, and iii) on the jizya.  Definitions for other Islamist and terrorist finance terms can be found in the glossary.

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