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Knowledge: Basics of Jizya a Tax Levied on Non-Muslims in Ages Past

MG is an air warrior and a global traveler well as an amateur astrologer who loves to visit and explore new places.



Jizya is a tax that Muslim governments and rulers used to levy on their non-Muslim subjects. The tax is now not in vogue and no government or ruler levies it. One can safely say that it is now an archaic law more to be studied for the sake of historical knowledge than anything else. The Quran and Hadith mention this tax but do the specify the quantum of money to be paid. Historically, the tax was levied on all dhimmis, which means all Muslim subjects, who are permanent residents of Islamic ruled states.

In India Qutb al-Din Aibak (1150 – 1210) was the first ruler to apply this tax on non-Muslims. In the West, historians are of the opinion that Muslim rulers began to Levi this tax on conquered lands, such as the Byzantine and Sasanian empires. The tax was to be paid by all Jews and Christians but this option was not given to the pagans, who were either required to accept Islam or die. Thus it cannot be seen as a simple tax, but an act that had an effect to hasten conversion to Islam.

Abd-al- Rehman Europe's first Muslim ruler

Abd-al- Rehman Europe's first Muslim ruler


Though the Koran mentions Jizya, it also says in a verse (2:256a) that “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256a). Literally, it means that force should not be used to convert non-Muslims to Islam. That is the reason that despite Muslim rule in India lasting nine centuries, 85% of the population has remained Hindu. In the west in battles with the Christians, the doctrine of Jihad was invoked, and as a spillover lead to conversion by the sword. This is true to an extent but some overriding factors need study and one of them is Jizya.

The Muslim faith is built on two rocks like edifices. Firstly for Muslims, the Koran is the literal transcript of the words of God. Secondly, there are the Hadiths which are an account of the exact words and deeds of Muhammad.

From these two sources it follows that the injunction for all Muslims is that when they meet their enemies who are polytheists, three courses of action are to be followed.

a) Firstly Muslims are advised that in case their enemies accept Islam then they should take the nonbelievers in their fold and desist from fighting them.

b) Secondly in case they refuse to accept Islam then demand the ‘Jizya’ from them. If they agree to pay then spare them and let them live.

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c) Thirdly in case they refuse to pay then fight them.

The jizya is a tax and is almost like a contract that allowed non-Muslims to continue to live in Muslim areas with some conditions. The only recent example is during the first rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan when they imposed Jizya tax on Non- Muslims leading to many Hindus and Sikhs fleeing the region.

Basically, the purpose of the tax was to generate revenue and as a spillover allow the Christians to practice their faith; it also exempted them from military service. In India, it was different, and right from the time of Muhammad of Ghazni, Hindus were part of the Muslim armies and during the rule of Akbar and Aurangzeb the most famous generals were Hindus i.e. Raja Man Singh and Raja Jai Singh

Some other conditions of Jizya were also prescribed. These were mostly enforced in the west and not by the Mughal rulers of India. Non-Muslims( Christians and Jews) were to wear distinctive clothing and they were forbidden to build new churches or synagogues.

Muslim jurists have pointed out that the jizya had to be paid by all non-Muslims at a public ceremony.

Another point that must be mentioned is both the jizya and the land tax were often extorted through punitive methods. This itself is not a big deal because in medieval times, all taxes by any government were collected by punitive methods.

Sometimes the quantum of Jizya was so high that entire villages fled. Thus technically the sword was not used to convert non- Muslims but conditions were so created and made life so difficult for Christians and Jews that they thought it better to convert, to avoid Jizya and all associated humiliations connected with it.

The Ottoman Empire during its entire period of existence imposed the Jizzia tax on Christians. It needs to be mentioned that women, children, elders, handicapped, the ill, the insane, monks, hermits, slaves, and musta’mins—non-Muslim foreigners who temporarily visit Muslim lands were exempted from paying Jizya.

Last word

Jizya is now part of history. In the modern world in an era of equality, no Muslim state now believes in this archaic law.

I will now conclude by saying that the basic purpose of Jizziya was also a political incentive. This has been brought out by the Muslim scholar and theologian Fakhr al-Din al-Raz, who stated that perhaps this law was there basically to allow the Christians and Jews to live under Islamic rule and see the benefit of Islamic civilization in the hope that non-Muslims would convert on their own to Islam.

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