Indic Varta

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In this second part of the series on Jizyah, Dr. Harsh Narain, one of India’s finest historians of modern India tells us how Jizyah was nothing more than a means of fiscal Jihad, through which conversion to Islam was sought and encouraged by fiscally punishing the Hindus. This is an excerpt from ‘Jizyah and the Spread of Islam’.

Jizyah: The Fiscal Jihad

Little research appears to have been attempted on the role of Jizyah in the spread of Islam or even on Jizyah in general. We are aware of only one monograph on it, by Daniel C. Denett. An Article ‘Al-Jizyah’, in Urdu from the pen of Shibli Nu’mani (d. 1916) was hailed by Aub ‘I-Kalam Azad as a major break-through of the modern age in Islamic studies.

Shibli, Denett, and others are inclined to trace the origin of the term and concept of Jizyah to Aramaic ‘gizit’/ ‘gizyat’ (Shibli) or ‘gzitha’ known to have been in vogue from before the time of Khusrau Anushirwan (531-579 AD). It was a kind of capitation tax or poll tax, payment of which amounted to a badge of degradation and a mark of social inferiority. Therefore, privileged classes, such as ruling, military, priestly and educated aristocracy were exempt from it.

For Jizyah, the Byzantine Empire had its own counterpart, tributum capitis, from before circa 290 A.D. Constantine (274-337 A.D.) is reported to have exempted the urban pleb from it. By and by ‘the poll tax became, after fourth century, a burden uniquely assessed on the colonus and identified with this class of society, and that to this tax a stigma, “injuria”, was attached, as in the phrase, “a plebeiae capitationis injuria”. We shall see that payment of Jizyah as prescribed by the Qur’an also carries a stigma with it.

The Qur’an prescribes Jizyah in a Jihadic verse, revealed about 631 A.D. i.e. about a year after the capture of Mecca by the Prophet in 630 A.D., envisaging compounding of refusal to embrace Islam by paying Jizyah. We quote the verse in full, in original: ‘Qatilu ‘I-ladhina la yu’minuna bi ‘IIahi, wa la bi ‘I-yawmi ‘I-akhiri, wa la yuharrimuna ma harrama ‘IIahu wa rasulu-hu, wa la yadinuna dina ‘I-haqqi mina ‘I-ladhina utu ‘I-kitaba, hatta yu’tu ‘I-Jizyata ‘an yyadin wwa hum saghiruna.

Mohamed Marmaduke Pickthall translates it thus: ‘Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the religion of truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low’. This represents the common run of translations of the verse by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The verse so translated leaves the course of paying Jizyah, as alternative to conversion and death, open to the Scripturaries, people of the book, only.

And the Qur’an recognizes only two communities (ta’ifatayn), viz. Jews and Christians, as Scripturaries. Imam Shafi’i, one of the four great Jurists of Islam, includes the Magians (Zoroastrians) among the Scripturaries, on the basis of a precedent set by the Prophet in accepting Jizyah from the Magians of Bahrin, Hajar, Qatar, Qatif, and ‘Umman. Umar, the second Caliph, accorded this status to the Magians of Persia and Sabaeans of Mesopotamia, ‘Uthman to Berbers of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco (all in North Africa), and Muhammad bin Qasim under the Governor Hajjaj bin Yusuf and the Caliph Walid bin ‘Abd al-Malik to the Hindus and Buddhists of Sindh. According to Imam Malik, another of the four great jurists, the verse of Jizyah is applicable to all non-Muslims excepting apostates (murtadd-s).

Imam Abu Hanifah, a third great jurist out of the four, applies it to all excepting the idolaters of Arabia. All non-Jizyah-paying infidels deserve death as a rule.

Our interpretation of the jizyah verse is entirely different. We are inclined to believe that the doors of paying Jizyah are open to Scripturaries and non-Scripturaries alike. Let us examine the verse closely. The verse in question prescribes Jihad against non-Muslims of the following two categories:

  1. Those who do not believe in God, the Last Day, and the distinction between the tabooed (haram) and the non-tabooed (halal) drawn by God and His apostle.
  2. Those of the Scripturaries who do not accept Islam.

The people referred to under the first category cannot be Scripturaries, for the simple reason that all Scripturaries believe in God, the Last Day, and the taboo-non-taboo distinction. Hence only non-Scripturaries come under that category. This is why we maintain that the verse applies to non-Muslims of both the categories.

We would, accordingly, propose retranslation of the verse thus: ‘Fight against those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and taboo not what Allah and His apostle have tabooed, and against such of those who have been given the scripture as follow not the religion of truth, until they pay Jizyah with their own hand, being brought low.’ It is significant that this verse belongs to Surah at-Twabah/al-Bara’ah (Surah 9) revealed on the eve of and for the Great Hajj (Hajj al-Akbar) as the Qur’an calls it, which concerned the idolaters much more than others, for from then on the rule of Jahiliyyah (paganism) yielded place to Islam.

It is also to be noted, incidentally, that in the Meccan treaty, concluded in circa 623 A.D., i.e. about eight years before revelation of the verse under consideration, between the Aws and the Khazraj tribes, to which the Jews were allowed to adhere, no Jizyah nor any other disability was imposed, save the stipulation that, if they took part in a war fought by the Muslims against the Kafirs, they must share the expenses in the joint action.

Well, the thrust of the Jizyah-verse and its implications as worked out and codified in course of time boil down to the following significant points:

  1. Jizyah is primarily a Jihadic impost, not a fiscal one, as sought usually to be made out.
  2. In the matter of liability for Jizyah, Scripturaries and other non-Muslims share the same fate, with the reservation, however, that the Prophet is traditioned to have willed (awsa) and commanded (amara) at the time of his death that there should be no non-Muslims in Arabia any longer, thereby ruling out the concession of Jizyah for them.
  3. It presupposes Islam’s Eminent Domain over all other communities.
  4. It presupposes the principles:
  • That the world is meant for and belongs to the Muslims to the entire exclusion of the Kafirs, and
  • That thereby life and property of the communities conquered by the Muslims in Jihad is entirely at the disposal of the latter, who could plunder, enslave, or kill them at will.
  1. It involves no obligation (dhimmah) on the part of Islamdom towards Jizyah-paying individuals or communities called Dhimmi-s save of course the negative one of non-extermination and of not grudging them bare subsistence, as though as hewers of wood and drawers of water. Dhimmah or Dhimmi-hood is survival on ransom (Jizyah and allied imposts).
  2. Different theories are there in the field as regards the purpose of the Qur’anic provision for imposition of Jizyah, such, for example, as:
  • Satisfaction (jaza’a = he gave satisfaction),
  • Compensation,
  • Rental for residence,
  • Price for protection (aman),
  • Exchange for military service,
  • Price for exercise of religion,
  • Punishment for unbelief,
  • Humiliation for persistence in darkness or contempt for rival faith, and, by way of a secondary motive,
  • Love of power and pelf at the cost of others, which includes, inter alia, pauperization of the latter, as at any rate was the case under the Sultanate in medieval India. Imposition of Jizyah is, thereby, an engine of exploitation.

To put things straight, we may highlight the following principal motives for imposition of Jizyah:

  1. It is meant to be an alternative to killing, plunder, enslavement, ransom, forcible conversion, as well as to be a penalty for Kufr. Thereby, it transpires to be a kind of composition fine, an indulgence tax. It is a fiscal Jihad, so to speak.
  2. It is a badge of humiliation for being a non-Muslim, of utter servility to Islamdom, of abject surrender to the brute force of Islam. Islam is absolute surrender to the will of God; liability to pay Jizyah, abject surrender to the will of Islamdom. The amount of Jizyah does not matter much. The great Persian poet Bedil’s poetic verdict is memorable:

Ilaj-I nist dagh-I bandage ra

Agar besham wa gar kam afridand

That is, ‘There is no cure for the blot of servility. It matters not whether it is more or less.

  1. The long-term policy behind it appears to be to compel or motivate the Dhimmi-s slowly to turn to Islam and embrace it. They were let live in the hope of their conversion in course of time. It is hereby a camouflaged engine of repression.
  2. It opens the door to levy of other humiliating taxes on the Dhimmis, such for example as pilgrimage tax, for petty concession to them in the observance of their religious ceremonies etc. it is also a prelude to Kharaj (land-tax) into the bargain.

We cannot resist the temptation of quoting Mujaddid-I Alf-I Thani, the second-millennium reviver/rejuvenator of Islam during Jahangir’s reign, on the purpose of imposition of Jizyah: “The real purpose of imposing Jizyah on them (the Kafirs) is their humiliation. And the humiliation goes to the extent that for fear of Jizyah they may not put on good dress and live with dignity/in prosperity and they may always live in fear trembling.’

(wa maqsud-I asli az jizyah giriftan az Ishan khari-I ishan ast. Wa in khari ba-hadd-I st ki az tars-I jizyah jamah-I khub na mi-tawanand poshid, wa ba-tajammul na “u-tawanand bud, wa hamishah tarsan wa larzan mi-bashand). Indeed, levy of Jizyah is a long-term exercise in controlled compulsion for conversion.