The Poll Tax (Jizya)

The Jizya or poll tax is a personal tax levied on non-Muslims in a Muslim State, and as such it resembles the Zakat (Alms Tax) which is levied on Muslim citizens by the Muslim State. The poll tax is levied so that all the capable non-Muslim citizens of the State can contribute, each from his own money, to the general welfare of the State, and that in return for this, they can enjoy their rights as nationals of this State, including compensation from the Muslim Exchecquer when they are in need.

Valour and mercy are not forgotten here, as the poll tax is not collected from the weak and poor. In his message to the people of Hira, Khaled Ibn Al-Walid says, “When a person is too old to work or suffers a handicap, or when he falls into poverty, he is free from the dues of the pull tax; his sustenance is provided by the Muslim Exchequer.” In his book “Al-Kharaj,” Abu Yusuf says, “No Jizya is due on females or young infants.”

When the dues of the poll tax are paid by these people, they have to be supported, protected, granted a freedom of faith, and treated on a footing of justice and equality with Muslims. They are called “Zimmis” (the Arabic origin, “Zimma,” meaning security, protection and custody) because the said rights are guaranteed by God and His Apostle, and such was the custom the Muslim leaders followed in dealing with the Zimmins. In his book “Futooh Al-Buldan” (Conquests of Countries), Al-Balathiri comments on this saying, “Khaled Ibn Al-Walid, on entering Damascus as a conqueror, offered a guarantee of security to its people and their properties and churches, and promised that the wall of the city would not be pulled down, and none of their houses be demolished. It was a guarantee of God, he said, and of the Caliph and all believers to keep them safe and secure on condition they paid the dues of the Jizya.”

The poll tax is a small sum of money indeed when compared to the services the Muslim State offers to protect the Zimmis and support the army in charge to keep them safe from others’ assaults. In his book “Al-Kharaj,” Abu Yusuf gives the following reports: “After getting on peaceful terms with the people of Syria and collecting the dues of the Jizya and the Kharaj, news reached Abu ‘Ubeida that the Byzantines had amassed their troops to attack him. The effect of this was great on Abu ‘Ubeida and the Moslesm. He sent messages to the rulers of cities with whose citizens he had made peace, asking them to return to their subjects the paid dues of the Jizya and Kharaj, with an instruction to tell these: ‘We hereby return to you the money you have paid us, because of the news of the enemy troops amassed to attack us, but, if God grants us victory against the enemy, we will keep up to the promise and covenant between us.’ When this was delivered to the Zimmis and their money returned to them, they told the Muslims: May God bring you back to us and grant you victory over them!”

In his book, “The Spirit of Laws,” on dealing with the taxes levied by the government, Montesqieu says, “Such levied taxes were one reason for the strange facility which the Muslims faced during conquests. People, then, preferred — instead of being subjected to an endless series of fines which entered the rich imagination of greedy rulers — to submit to the payment of a minimal tax which can be fulfilled and paid with ease.”