Understanding Jizya, and is it a Non-Muslim Tax?

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day, nor comply with what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, nor embrace the religion of truth from among those who were given the Scripture, until they pay the tax, willingly submitting, fully humbled” (Quran 9:29)

There is wisdom and logic behind the concept of Jizya. The word Jizya is derived from the word Jaza, which translates to mean compensation. Jizya was a form of compensation or payment to the Islamic State for its public services rendered to non-Muslims living under Islamic rule. All states need funding to run their organized government, which is why all nations today level taxes against their citizens. Funding goes to support public services like police, military protection, welfare services, and more to help protect citizens’ lives, families, property, and wealth.

In an Islamic state, Muslim citizens pay Zakat as their tax. Zakat stands as one of the five pillars of Islam, one that goes to help less fortunate citizens and supports the welfare system. Zakah is obligatory for Muslims so that a certain amount of their wealth will be contributed to the welfare of the poor. Zakah is a form of worship. Non-Muslims, on the other hand, cannot be forced to engage in religious obligations such as paying this Zakat — as it is a form of worship, and compulsory payment would infringe on non-muslims’ religious rights.

Non-Muslims living under Muslim rule are free to practice their own religion in any Muslim land without being forced into any form of Islamic practice. But since non-Muslims also reap the social benefits of services provided by their Islamic host state, it is only fair that they pay a tax similar to that paid by their Muslim neighbors — identical to those taxes paid in all countries today. It would be an act of injustice towards Muslims to require them to pay a tax and not to require non-Muslims living in the same land to pay a share too.

Honoring and upholding treaties with non-Muslims is a solemn obligation for the Muslim community. The payment of Jizya ensures that the Islamic State protects and guards non-Muslim citizens against harassment from external enemies and funds any ransom imposed on their behalf if they are taken as captives by an external enemy.

Suppose that the Islamic State fails to protect or fears they cannot guarantee security for the non-Muslims living in their land as imposed by an external enemy. In that case, they will return the Jizya paid by the non-Muslims. This happened when Umar the Second Caliph ordered the treasury officer to refund Jizya collected from Syrian Christians because he feared he could not protect them from a military attack by the Byzantines.

Unlike countries today that charge taxes to all citizens, Jizya is not paid by all non-Muslim citizens but only by men of sound mind and of military age who are healthy and capable of earning a living. Women, children, the poor, students, the blind, the disabled, enslaved people, monks, the elderly, and those who chose to fight in the military were exempt from paying this tax. On the other hand, Zakat is paid for by Muslim men and women, but Muslim men cannot be exempt from being drafted into the military. Still, the Jizya payment exempts non-Muslims from joining the military even though the state’s military benefits Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Jizya paid by non-Muslims is generally less than what Muslims pay for Zakat.

The Islamic State is required to provide social security services to non-Muslims with disabilities who cannot work. There have been many instances where Muslims provided social security services to non-Muslim citizens living in their land.

It’s important to mention that in an Islamic state, non-Muslims can observe the civil law prescribed by their own religious scriptures in matters such as marriage and divorce and others, and they are allowed to practice those acts and rituals that they consider permissible, such as eating pork and drinking wine. Furthermore, non-Muslims living under Muslim rule have the right to work, housing, education, transportation, religious centers, etc., just like Muslims.

If a non-Muslim resident refuses to pay the Jizya, consequences would be imposed on them, similar to the consequences faced by citizens who don’t pay taxes to their government today — they often face criminal penalties. Jizya is not collected in modern Muslim nation-states and hasn’t been accrued since the 19th century.

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