The Jizyah – A Tax on Non-Muslims?
  • Tue, 08/21/2007
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Allah says: “They pay the jizyah by hand in a condition of submission.” [from Sûrah al-Tawbah: 29]

This is the verse that establishes the jizyah – a tax that is paid by non-Muslims who live as citizens in the Muslim state.

There is considerable confusion among people as to what the jizyah is all about and why only non-Muslims have to pay it. This article seeks to address the nature of the jizyah, the reasons for it, and the rationale behind it.

Looking at the Phrase:

Some people feel that the words “in a condition of submission” mean that the jizyah is some sort of punishment or humiliation for the non-Muslim citizens. This is a misreading of the verse and a common misunderstanding held by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The words in Arabic are: “yu`tû al-jizyata `an yadin wa hum sâghirûn”.

yu`tû al-jizyata” = they pay the jizyah

`an yadin” = roughly translated: from hand to hand. The word “yad” in Arabic is often used to mean power or ability. Essentially, it means here that what they have to pay is something that is within their capacity to pay.

wa hum sâghirûn” = “in a condition of submission”

The phrase “wa hum sâghirûn” is an adverbial clause. It is specifically a “hâl” – a part of speech that refers to the circumstances of the subject or object of the verb while the action of the verb is taking place.

The particle “wa” here is called “wâw al-hâl”. In Arabic grammar, this is a particle that turns the full sentence that comes after it into an adverbial clause depicting the circumstance of the action.

The word sâghir means “meek” or “subdued”. What this means is that the non-Muslim citizens of the state are subordinate to the state and not in an act of opposition or rebellion against it.

This means that these non-Muslims are paying the tax that is due upon them in a framework of obedience to, and recognition of, the state wherein they are full citizens.

The Nature of Jizyah

Non-Muslims live in the Muslim state as citizens under a contractual agreement of mutual social responsibility (aqd al-dhimmah) whereby they pay the jizyah, a fixed annual levy, in lieu of two things:

1. Jizyah is paid in lieu of exemption from military service. Non-Muslim citizens receive the protection of the state, whereby they are allowed to live in peace and security, without being obliged to engage in any military service. The Muslims, by contrast, are required to engage in military service when they are called upon to do so.

Historically, at times when the Muslim government could not afford protection from enemies to the non-Muslims living in the outlying regions of the Muslim state, this levy was returned to them.

2. Jizyah is paid in lieu of exmption from paying zakâh. In spite of the fact that, as citizens, they have full rights to receive assistance from the public treasury and to benefit from public services and public works, non-Muslims are exempt from paying zakâh. By contrast, Muslims in the Muslim state must pay zakâh to the public treasury.

Each of these two forms of taxation has economic advantages and disadvantages for those who have to pay it, which we can ascertain by making a comparison between them.

First, we must understand that neither jizyah nor zakâh is a tax on income. Jizyah is a head tax levied as a fixed sum upon each taxable individual. Zakâh is a tax on savings, levied upon the money that is kept in savings by a Muslim.

The jizyah is paid annually as a fixed sum of money levied upon each free, adult male citizen. No jizyah is paid by or on behalf of a child, a woman, or a slave. A poor man who cannot afford to pay the jizyah is also exempt. It can be a graduated tax, whereby the very poor pay nothing, the lower class pays little, the middle-class pays more, and the wealthy pay the most. However, each grade is still a fixed limit.

We can contrast this with zakâh. The zakâh on monetary wealth is 2.5% of all savings retained for a year. A Muslim who has little or no savings will pay little or no Zakâh, regardless of how well-off he or she might otherwise be. (No Muslim who possesses savings is exempt, not even a child.) However, a Muslim who possesses considerable savings has a very heavy annual tax burden, many times in excess of the jizyah that any non-Muslim citizen would have to pay, and regardless of the Muslim’s annual income.

Moreover, the zakâh tax is levied on the savings year after year, meaning that over time, the savings will become greatly diminished. This makes it extremely difficult for a thrifty Muslim of modest income to amass large amounts of savings over time.

From a purely economic perspective, the zakâh tax is economically favorable to someone who possesses little or no savings. Such a person will either pay nothing or very little, even if that person is affluent in his or her daily means. By contrast – and from the same purely economic perspective – zakâh is disadvantageous to a person who possesses a considerable amount of monetary wealth or is trying to amass investment capital over the course of years (like someone saving to buy a house).

From the same perspective, the jizyah is disadvantageous to people of low income, since they have to pay the flat tax regardless of whether or not they enjoy a surplus. It is economically advantageous to those who have large capital savings or who are seeking to amass investment capital.

This has, throughout history, provided non-Muslim citizens in the Muslim state with an economic advantage in business. They could amass huge amounts of investment capital as individuals or through corporations, all of which was tax-exempt. This is one reason why throughout Muslim history – and without exception – every Muslim country that had a Christian or Jewish community also had a very robust Christian or Jewish business sector. They were always the leaders in business and trade.

We must keep in mind that it is Allah’s wisdom that He conferred this system of taxation upon the people. One possible aspect of the wisdom in this system is that, in this way, non-Muslims could always find prosperity in the Muslim state, even when they were in the minority, and therfore would be content and feel loyalty to their country.

Also, in reality, there is no disadvantage to the Muslims for having to pay zakâh on their savings, since zakâh is an act of worship whereby the Muslim purifies his or her wealth – which is a gift and a trust from Allah. In doing so, the Muslim attains Allah’s pleasure and receives increase in both this world and the Hereafter from whence he or she cannot fathom. There is also the inestimable satisfaction of doing a good deed that is absent from the payment of other forms of taxation.

The Rights of non-Muslim Citizens

The non-Muslims who pay the jizyah – as well as those non-Muslim citizens who are exempt from paying it for whatever reason – are all full citizens of the Muslim country. Their rights, their lives, their property, and their honor are inviolable. They have the right to employment, education, and to freely engage in commerce. They can, and historically often did, hold high-level government posts. They cannot, however, hold a government post that would put them in charge of the religious affairs of the Muslims. For instance, a non-Muslim cannot be Minister of Islamic Endowments in charge of the mosques.

Non-Muslim citizens have the right to practice their religion among themselves as they like without molestation, provided they do not call Muslims to it. They have the right to have civil courts under their own religious jurisdiction to handle affairs such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and disputes among themselves.

However, they must abide by the criminal code of the Muslims, except in a few matters. They are allowed to engage in those matters deemed lawful in their religion that are unlawful in Islam, like the consumption of pork and alcohol, provided they keep this among themselves and do not make it accessible to the Muslim population.

The jizyah goes into the same public treasury that zakâh funds, import taxes, and land levies go into. Very poor non-Muslims are exempted from paying this tax. Instead, as citizens they are just as eligible as Muslim citizens to receive welfare payments from the public treasury. Also, the salaries of non-Muslim government officials and employees – as well as the maintenance of public services like the non-Muslim religious courts that are exclusively for the benefit of the non-Muslims – are paid out of the same treasury.


The jizyah and zakâh are two taxation schemes for citizens in the Muslim state. It is only fair that both groups of citizens pay into the state treasury, since both have equal access to state welfare, government services, and public works. The Muslims pay zakâh upon their savings as an act of worship, to purify their wealth. Likewise, military service in the Muslim state is seen as a religious duty when the state summons the person to serve. Non-Muslims are therefore exempt from military service for this reason. Likewise, instead of having to pay the religious tax of zakâh, they have to pay a fixed tax that is purely a civil duty and not tied in with any religious conviction.

And Allah knows best.