Posts Tagged ‘ushuur’

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The (almost) weekly word: ‘ashir

January 20, 2010

You don’t see many references to ‘ashirs today.  But it’s an important concept within Islamic tax law.

“Amil” is the common term for tax collectors under Islam, but there many different words in Arabic and other languages depending on what type of Islamic tax is being collected.

In his matchless Mohammedan Theories of Finance, Nicolas Aghnides wrote, “The ‘āshirs are the collectors stationed by the imām on the public road in order to collect the zakāt of Moslem traders, as well as the tolls imposed on the dhimmi and harbi traders who pass him.”

Islamic customs duties, which are considered as zakat on articles of trade (and are sometimes referred to as ushuur because of the 10 percent rate assessed against non-Muslim traders), are a significant source of revenue for the Bayt al-Mal.

From the standpoint of tax administration, this type of zakat poses unique difficulties for the tax collector.  The standard zakat on monetary wealth is paid once during Ramadan, and is based off of the payer’s total net worth for the year.  But with the customs zakat, the tax collector does not know the net worth of the trader (who is a foreigner), or how many times the trader will enter a particular city to buy or sell goods, so the collector cannot automatically assess the zakat rate of 2½ percent of net worth on the trader.

Instead, the tax is levied on the value of the goods intended for trade.  But how do you keep a trader from being taxed for the same goods several times by different officials?  In theory, each ‘ashir has his own jurisdiction, and the caliph wouldn’t deploy more than one ‘ashir to the same area.

But this definition isn’t just some morsel of irrelevant historical trivia.  Once you understand the concept of ‘ashir, the violence and “extortion” we see throughout the Muslim world comes into stark relief.

Remember this story of “extortion” of truckers in Afghanistan by the Taliban?  If you think of zakat as just the 2½ percent wealth tax, of course theft from the truckers looks like extortion.  But if you truly understand Islamic finance, it appears that these truckers are passing through the jurisdiction of the Taliban’s ‘ashirs.

The Associated Press scoffs at the Taliban for “euphemistically” designating these payments as zakat.  But it seems that it is the Taliban who has the more accurate, historical understanding of the breadth of the zakat, and the organization that is guilty of using euphemisms is the Associated Press.

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Another discriminatory Islamic tax?

December 13, 2009

Random House defines a customs duty as a toll “imposed by law on imported or, less commonly, exported goods.”  Islam defines a customs duty as another way to jack dhimmis.

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The “richest of the insurgency groups” behind Baghdad blasts?

October 26, 2009

Over 150 people may have died in bomb blasts in Baghdad yesterday.  Somewhere around the eighteenth paragraph of this report, the New York Times finally hints at the culprits of the attack: 

No one has so far claimed responsibility for the pair of bombings, but they were remarkably similar to a pair of coordinated attacks on Aug. 19 that struck the Foreign and Finance Ministry buildings. Those attacks were claimed five days later by the Islamic State of Iraq…

This would be a good time to review just how the Islamic State of Iraq, a jihadist group with foreign (ie, Al Qaeda) leadership, is funded.  Reporting from Britain’s Channel 4 two years ago is worth revisiting:

An Iraqi Security Services report obtained by More 4 News identifies the ISI as the richest of the insurgency groups, estimating that between $1bn to $1.5bn has been collected in revenue by the group through foreign donations, enforced taxation and confiscation of the property and funds of Iraqis (both Sunni and Shia) the ISI accuse of collaborating with the “Crusaders”.

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