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Editorial: The West must not fall for Islamists' spin on jizya

16 September 2016

In the last few weeks there has been a series of competing claims about the imposition of jizya tax on Christians by Islamic State (IS), all of which fall for the Islamist spin that paying jizya protects Christians and gives them certain rights.

Some people are claiming that even though what is happening to groups such as Yazidis is clearly genocide, this is not so for Christians because they are allowed to pay jizya, which it is claimed protects them and allows them to practise their religion. This of course flies in the face of the evidence of execution, enslavement and religious cleansing of almost entire Christian populations. Unfortunately, even a Syria study group set up by the UN Human Rights Council appears to take this approach.

In response to this others, such as a recent article in the Spectator are claiming that what IS are doing is not true Islamic jizya. It’s just extortion, as churches are destroyed and normal Christian life is clearly not continuing in areas ruled by IS.

In fact, the enforcement of dhimmi status on those the Qur’an terms “People of the Book” (primarily Christians and Jews) symbolised by payment of jizya is an entire deprivation of all citizenship rights. It requires them to follow very strict rules on pain of death, but gives them no legal rights. Its closest modern analogy is the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis in lands they conquered.

Jizya is inherently related to jihad. The world, according to classical Islam, is divided into Dar al-Islam (the house of Islam i.e. the part of the world ruled by Islam) and Dar al-Harb (the house of war i.e. the part of the world where Muslims should be conquering and subduing). The shari’a of classical Islam states that when non-Muslims are conquered the Islamic leader must treat them in particular ways according to which religion they follow.  Pagans are to be executed, but Christians and Jews can be offered dhimmi status. This allows them to continue to live and practise their religion in private, but they must in return pay the jizya tax and submit to a set of rules designed to show their total humiliation and inferiority in comparison with Muslims. For example, in the past dhimmis have been required to wear a piece of yellow cloth to identify themselves as dhimmis - in a similar manner to the yellow star Jews were made to wear by the Nazis. They have also been required to prostrate themselves before Muslims when paying jizya and be struck forcefully on the back of the neck to demonstrate their subservience and degradation.  However, if they are ever perceived to have broken any of the rules of the dhimmi “contract” in the slightest way, including any implied criticism of Islam, then they are treated as harbis (enemies) and can be immediately killed as if they were pagans ineligible for dhimmi status. 

This is what is happening to Christians in areas controlled by IS.

Although jizya is sometimes referred to as a “poll tax”, at some points in Islamic history it has, perhaps more accurately, been called a “captivity tax” and was used to finance jihad against other non-Muslims. Bat Ye’or, the world’s foremost scholar of dhimmitude summarises what jizya symbolises:

“The vanquished had to pay the victor for the right to survive in his own homeland and the product of his labour was not merely paid to the state but was used to finance the jihad and consolidate its acquisitions. Thus the dhimmi worked for the benefit of the power that oppressed him, and for the community from which he was excluded.”

Whilst jizya has been interpreted in a whole variety of ways during Islamic history, with Saladin even viewing it as payment for protecting Christians, for Christians in the Middle East it has more commonly been part of a history of brutal oppression and periodic genocide for centuries.

Jizya is directly based on the teaching of the Qur’an. The jizya verse (Q9:29) is widely accepted to date from 9 AH (631 AD) i.e. nine years after Muhammad migrated to Medina, where he became both the religious and political leader. This verse makes clear that Muhammad himself had by then already instituted jizya for Christians and Jews and ordered that jihad be fought against them until they submitted to it.

 “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

In some respects this early period in Islamic history actually provides quite close parallels to what is happening in Syria today. When Muhammad became ruler of Medina he instituted “the Constitution of Medina” allowing the Jewish clans who had lived there for generations to remain and practise their religion, provided they submitted to Islamic government. However, as the Jews began to point out differences between the Torah and Muhammad’s claims relations between them deteriorated. Within five years all but one of the dozen or so Jewish clans had been expelled, being required to leave their homes and goods behind. In 5 AH (627 AD) the last remaining Jewish clan was accused of not supporting Muhammad when the pagan Meccans had attacked. The Jewish men were placed in a ditch and beheaded and the women and children enslaved. Later, jihad was declared against Jewish tribes living north of Medina with Muhammad’s rule enforced on them. Then in 9 AH (631 AD) the jizya verse (Q9:29) urged continuing jihad and the enforcement of jizya on Jews and Christians elsewhere.

After Muhammad’s death his example (sunna) formed the basis on which the early Muslim leaders treated Jews and Christians in lands that they conquered. One of the earliest examples of this was “the Pact of Umar” attributed to Umar the second caliph (successor of Muhammad). One only has to compare this with the dhimma contract that Islamic State has forced on Syrian and Iraqi Christians to see that it is almost identical:

 Pact of Umar – Christians in Syria forced to sign in 7th Century CEIslamic State dhimma contract forced on Christians in al Qaryaten, Syria in Sept.  2015
Forbidden to build churches or monasteriesWe shall not build, in our cities or in their neighbourhood, new monasteries, Churches, convents, or monks' cellsChristians may not build churches, monasteries, or hermitages in the city or in the surrounding areas.
Forbidden to repair churches and monasteriesnor shall we repair, by day or by night, such of them as fall in ruins or are situated in the quarters of the Muslims. (IS has repeatedly destroyed Churches and monasteries in areas it has captured)
Christian worship only allowed in private behind closed doors. We shall not manifest our religion publicly nor convert anyone to it. We shall not prevent any of our kin from entering Islam if they wish it. Christians must not perform religious rituals in public.
Christian symbolism including the cross must be hiddenWe shall not display our crosses or our books in the roads or markets of the Muslims. We shall use only clappers in our churches very softly. We shall not raise our voices when following our dead. We shall not show lights on any of the roads of the Muslims or in their markets. We shall not bury our dead near the Muslims. Christians may not show the cross or any of their books in the Muslims' streets or markets, and may not use amplifiers when worshiping or during prayer. Christians may not make Muslims hear the reciting of their books or the sounds of church bells, which must be rung only inside their churches.
Christians subservient to MuslimsWe shall show respect toward the Muslims, and we shall rise from our seats when they wish to sit. Christians must respect Muslims and not criticize their religion
Not allowed to own weapons to defend themselvesWe shall not mount on saddles, nor shall we gird swords nor bear any kind of arms nor carry them on our persons. Christians may not own guns.

The truth, uncomfortable as it is for many, is that much of what IS are doing is deeply rooted in the Islamic scriptures. Claiming that IS’ imposition of jizya is just an extortion racket and not “true Islam” plays into the hands of Islamists who repeatedly and falsely claim that jizya protects Christians. There have even been recent suggestions that the Constitution of Medina  can form the basis of modern relations between Muslim and members of other faiths. Such claims fundamentally deny the suffering experienced by Christians in the Middle East over many centuries.