The Truth About Jizyah

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DTT: Although we have written about the concept of Jizyah previously here: “Answering Jihad: ‘Fight Against Those Who Do Not Believe’ – Quran 9:29“, we believe Scholar Louay M. Safi has written a better perspective in regards to this subject.


Scholar Louay M. Safi

Jizyah was not levied on the ‘People of the Book’ for the purpose of increasing the income of the Muslim state or promoting the wealth of the Muslim community. Nor was it levied to place financial burden on non-Muslim individuals and force them to accept Islam: for the amount of Jizyah was very minimal and levied only on financially solvent males, while exempting women, children, monks, or poor non-Muslims. 21 (Al Mawardi, page 125-126)

Rather, Jizyah attained historically a symbolic meaning as it aimed at subduing hostile states and oppressive regimes so as to assure Muslims that they could promote Islam in that community, and to assure non-Muslims that they could profess Islam without being persecuted or harassed.
Al-Sarakshi proclaims:

“The purpose of Jizyah, is not the money, but rather the invitation to Islam in the best manner. Because, by establishing a peace treaty [with non-Muslims], war ceases and security is assured for the peaceful [non-Muslim], who, consequently, has the opportunity to live among the Muslims, experience first-hand the beauty of Islam, or receives admonition, which could lead him to embrace Islam.” (Kamil Salamah al Duqs, al ‘Ilaqat al Dawliyyah fi al Islam [Jeddah: Dar al Shuruq, 1396/1976], page 302)

In other words, Jizyah was intended to assure freedom of expression for Muslims to promote Islam in non-Muslim territories, and freedom of belief of those who may choose to embrace Islam. Because Jizyah was aimed at turning hostile territories into friendly ones, the Muslims did not collect Jizyah from those who expressed a friendly attitude toward them, or entered a mutual alliance with them, pledging thereby their military support.

Al-Tabari, for example, reported in his treatise on history that Suayd Ibn Maqrin entered into an agreement with a non-Muslim community, which reading in part:

“Whoever of you provides services to us will get his reward rather than paying Jizyah, and you are secure in your lives, property, and religion, and no one can change the provisions of this agreement.” (Kamil Salamah al Duqs, al ‘Ilaqat al Dawliyyah fi al Islam [Jeddah: Dar al-Shuruq, 1396/1976], page 302)

Suraqah Ibn Amr, likewise, signed a treaty with the Armenians in 22AH/642 AC, in which the latter were exempted from paying Jixyah for supporting the Muslims militarily. (Ibid. citing Tarikh al Tabari, volume 3, page 236)

Habib Ibn Muslimah al-Fahri, the deputy of Abu Ubaydah, also signed a treaty with the Antakians in which the latter were exempted from Jizyah in return for services and help rendered to the Muslims. (Al Daqs, page 303, citing Futuh al Buldan, page 166)

It was also reported in Futuh al-Buldan that:

‘Mu’awiyah Ibn Abi Sufyan signed a treaty with the Armenians in which the institution of religion, the political order, and the Judicial system of the latter were left intact, and the Armenians were further released from Jizyah duties for three years; after that they could either pay an amount of Jizyah as they chose, or if they did not wish to pay Jizyah, prepare fifteen thousand warriors to help the Muslims and to protect the Armenian land. Mu’awiyah pledged to provide logistical support, should they be attacked by Byzantines.’ (Al Daqs, page 308)

It is clear from the forgoing examples that the early Muslims regarded Jizyah as a measure for neutralizing hostile political communities and opening their territories to Muslims, and not a measure for dominating them or placing financial burdens on them. Previous perception of the real intent of Jizyah is demonstrable, in a yet clearer fashion, in the friendly relations between the Islam state and Ethiopia during the early Islamic epochs.

Peaceful Coexistence: Abyssinia and Islam

The relationship between Abyssinia and the early Islamic state is an excellent case study for rebutting the classical conception of the two territories [dar al-Islam and dar al-harb ], which calls for a permanent war against non-Muslim political communities until they accept Islam or pay jizyah. Malik ibn Anas, the founder of the Maliki school of law, advised that the Muslims should not conquer Abyssinia predicating his opinion on a hadith of the Prophet:

“Leave the Abyssinians in peace so long as they leave you in peace.” He acknowledged that he was not sure of the authenticity of the statement, but said: “People still avoid attacking them.” (Ibn Rushd, page 11; Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam [N.Y: AMS Press, 1400AH/I979 AC], page 256; and Fathi al Ghayth, Al Islam wal Habashah `Abra al Tarikh [Cairo: Maktabah al Nahdah al Masnyyah, n.d.], page 57, citing Al Sirah al Halabiyah; volume 3, page 294)

Abyssinia had maintained its Christian identity long after Islam was established in Arabia and North Africa. Few Muslim families could be found in the fourth Hijri century. (T. W. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam (London: Constable and Company, 1332 AH/1913 AC), page 113)

From the beginning, Abyssinians showed their good will to the early Muslims who, escaping the persecution of Quraysh, had sought refuge in Abyssinia. The Muslim emigres were welcomed by the Abyssinians and were further protected from their persecutors who sent a delegation to bring the Muslim escapees back home. Good relations between Abyssinia and the Islamic state continued, the former being the only nation to acknowledge Islam at that time. [1]

The peaceful relationship between Abyssinia and the Islamic state is very significant for rebutting the concept of the two territorial division of the world, and its corollary conception of a permanent state of war which does not permit the recognition of any non-Muslim state as a sovereign entity and insists that the latter should always pay a tribute to the Islamic state. For although Abyssinia had never been a Muslim nation, it was recognized by the early Islamic state as an independent state that could be let alone without imposing any kind of tax on it or forcing it into the orbit of the Islamic state. Obviously, Abyssinia could not be considered apart of the territory of Islam (dar al-Islam), for Islamic rule had never been exacted therein; [2] nor would it be considered apart of the territory of war (dar al-Harb), since there had been no attempt to force it into the pale of Islam or to declare a permanent war against it. The only satisfactory explanation of the peculiar position of Abyssinia is that the doctrine of the two territories was founded on a fragile basis. Some Muslim sources claim that al Najashi, the king of Abyssinia during the time of the Prophet, had embraced Islam after receiving the invitation of the Prophet. (Zahir Riyad, Al Islam fi Ethyubiya. [Cairo: Dar al Ma’rifah, 1384 AH/1964 AC], page 46)

Ibn al Athir, for instance, wrote in this regard:

“….When al Najashi received the letter of the Prophet, he believed in him, following his [instructions] , and embraced Islam in the presence of Ja’far ibn Abu-Talib, then sent sixty Abyssinians to the Prophet headed by his son; the group had drowned however while sailing [to Madinah ]…..” (Ibn al Athir, Al Kamil fi al Tar’ikh [Cairo: al Tiba’ah al Munniyyah, 1349 AEV 1930 AC], volume 2, page 145)

The story about al Najashi’s accepting Islam did not affect the status of Abyssinia as a territory in which Islam did not rule, and, consequently, should be considered, according to the definition of classical writers, a territory of war. [3] 

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[1] Ibid. , page 113-4; Muhammad Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, trans Ismail al Faruqi [North American Trust Publications, 1397 AH/I976 AC], page 97-101; and Ibn Hisham, Sirat Ibn Hisham, in Mukhtasar Sirah ibn Hisham, ed.’Abdal Salam Harun [Beirut: al Majma`al Imi al Arabi al Islami, nd.], page 81-87)
[2] The classical definition of dar al Islam, which was formulated by early Muslim jurists, is the territories in which the Islamic law is enforced. See al Daqs, pp 126-28, Khadduri, War and Peace, page 62; and al Ghunaimi pages 155-8. Some jurists, such as al Shawkani, expand the definition of the territory of Islam to include any area where Muslims can safely reside “even if the territory is not under Muslim rule,” quoted in al Ghunaimi, pages 157-58)
[3] (Majid Khadduri translated the text of a letter that al Najashi allegedly sent to the Prophet. The letter reads: In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate. To Muhammad, the Apostle of God, peace be on you. May God shelter thee under His compassion, and give thee blessings in abundance. There is no god but God, who has brought me to Islam. Thy letter I have read. What thou hast said about Jesus is the right belief, for he hath said nothing more than that. I testify my belief in the King of heaven and of earth. Thine advice I have pondered over deeply… I Testify that thou art the Apostle of God, and I have sworn this in the presence of Ja’far, and have acknowledged Islam before him. I attach myself to the worship of the Lord of the worlds, O Prophet. I send my son as my envoy to the holiness of thy mission. I testify thy words are true. (Quoted in Khadduri, War and Peace, page 205-206).

– This work was taken from the Book: “Peace and the Limits of War: Transcending Classical Conception of Jihad”, by Islamic scholar Louay M. Safi, page 14 – 17



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