Is jizya—the money non-Muslims historically paid their Muslim conquerors—meant to buy them “protection,” including from outside enemies, as modern Western academics maintain? Or was it simply extortion money meant to buy non-Muslims their lives, as Islam’s scriptures mandate?
The word jizya appears in Koran 9:29: “Fight those among the People of the Book [Christians and Jews] who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, nor forbid what Allah and his Messenger have forbidden, nor embrace the religion of truth, until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued (emphasis added).”
In the hadith, the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad, regularly calls on Muslims to demand jizya of non-Muslims: “If they refuse to accept Islam,” said the Islamic prophet, “demand from them the jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay jizya, seek Allah’s help and fight them.”
Keeping the above in mind, consider the following July 18 report from Reuters:
Islamist insurgents have issued an ultimatum to northern Iraq’s dwindling Christian population to either convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face death, according to a statement distributed in the militant-controlled city of Mosul….
It said Christians who wanted to remain in the “caliphate” that the Islamic State declared this month in parts of Iraq and Syria must agree to abide by terms of a “dhimma” contract—a historic practice under which non-Muslims were protected in Muslim lands in return for a special levy known as “jizya.”
“We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword,” the announcement said.
“After this date [July 19], there is nothing between us and them but the sword,” it said.
The Nineveh decree echoes one that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the former name for the Islamic State, issued in the Syrian city of Raqqa in February, demanding that Christians pay the jizya levy in gold and curb displays of their faith in return for protection.
Note how straightforward the Islamic State’s words are—jizya, conversion, or death—compared to the language of Reuters, which twice invokes the concept of “protection” without explaining from whom: 1) “a historic practice under which non-Muslims were protected in Muslim lands in return for a special levy known as “jizya”; 2) “demanding that Christians pay the jizya levy in gold and curb displays of their faith in return for protection.”
Reuters doesn’t bother to clarify this notion of “protection,” but rather leaves it vague, implying that the protection Christians receive is against some random elements.
The reason for this obfuscation is that Mideast academics in the West have been whitewashing the meaning of jizya for decades. After all, the concept of jizya is one of the most ironclad proofs that Islam is innately intolerant of non-Muslims.
A very typical Western definition for jizya can be found in the Encyclopaedia Britannica: “The Muslim rulers tolerated the dhimmis [conquered non-Muslims] and allowed them to practice their religion. In return for protection [from whom?] and as a mark of their submission, the dhimmis were required to pay a special poll tax known as the jizya.”
Other academics have gone so far as to claim that non-Muslims paid jizya to buy Muslim protection against outside forces. Consider the following excerpt from John Esposito, director of the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. It essentially makes the idea of being subjugated to Islamic overlords and paying them tribute appear as an enviable position for non-Muslim minorities:
In many ways, local populations [Christians, Jews, and others] found Muslim rule more flexible and tolerant than that of Byzantium and Persia. Religious communities were free to practice their faith to worship and be governed by their religious leaders and laws in such areas as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. In exchange, they were required to pay tribute, a poll tax (jizya) that entitled them to Muslim protection from outside aggression and exempted them from military service. Thus, they were called the “protected ones” (dhimmi). In effect, this often meant lower taxes, greater local autonomy (emphasis added) …
The idea that jizya was extracted in order to buy “Muslim protection from outside aggression” is an outright lie—one that, as the equivocal tone of the aforementioned Reuters report indicates, has taken root in the West.
Equally false is Esposito’s assertion that jizya was paid to “exempt them from military service”—as if conquering Muslims would even want or allow their despised “infidel” subjects to fight alongside them in the name of jihad without first converting to Islam.
The root meaning of the Arabic word “jizya” is simply to “repay” or “recompense,” basically to “compensate” for something. According to the Hans Wehr Dictionary, the standard Arabic-English dictionary, jizya is something that “takes the place” of something else, or “serves instead.”
Simply put, conquered non-Muslims were to purchase their lives, which were otherwise forfeit to their Muslim conquerors, with money. Instead of taking their lives, they took their money. As one medieval jurist succinctly puts it, “their lives and their possessions are only protected by reason of payment of jizya” (Crucified Again, p. 22).
So jizya was, and is indeed, protection money—though protection, not from outsiders, as Esposito and others claim, but from surrounding Muslims themselves. Whether it’s the first caliphate from over a millennium ago or whether it’s the newest caliphate, the Islamic State, Muslim overlords continue to deem the lives of their non-Muslim subjects forfeit unless they purchase it, ransom it with money.
There is nothing humane, reasonable, or admirable about demands for jizya from conquered non-Muslim minorities, as the academics claim. Jizya is simply extortion money. Its purpose has always been to provide non-Muslims with protection from Muslims: pay up, or else become one of us and convert to Islam, or else die.
And it is commanded in both the Koran and Hadith, the twin pillars of Islam.
In short, jizya is an ugly fact of Islam—one that, distort as they may, the academics can’t whitewash away, even as the world stands idly by watching its resumption in the twenty-first century.