Research challenges taxes historically levied on non-Muslims

Essam Fadl
4 Min Read

CAIRO: The historical practice of obliging Christians living in a Muslim country to pay the jizyah, a per capita tax levied on a section of an Islamic state’s non-Muslim citizens, isn’t applicable today, a recent study found out.

Ayman Ahmed Mahmoud’s PhD thesis argued that the jizyah was originally implemented to substitute for the enrollment of non-Muslim citizens in the national army.

Some Muslim scholars have been calling for the reimplementation of jizyah, but according to Mahmoud, such calls have no basis in Sharia, which does not discriminate against non-Muslims.

Mahmoud’s thesis, titled “Jizyah in Egypt and its effects on Ahl El-Dhimma (People of the Book) – Between 1713-1856, focused on the opinion of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan El-Banna.

According to an article published in the Brotherhood’s newspaper in 1948, El-Banna said, “Paying the jizyah pardoned Christians from military service. But since the governor of a country recruits military personnel according to specific qualification, regardless of whether they are Muslims or not, Christians who enroll in the military should be exempted from paying the jizyah.

El-Banna’s views refute a common misconception that Islam favors Muslims by implementing the jizyah on non-Muslim citizens, and that it values one religion over the other, an idea that has prevailed since the introduction of Islam to Egypt, Mahmoud told Daily News Egypt.

When it was first implemented, jizyah was regarded as a price for protection against enemies or a compensation for not participating in combat in the form of extra taxation.

The tax would be irrelevant nowadays, the research says, adding that there are no Quranic verses that support the claims of those who are calling for its implementation.

At the time when jizyah was paid for compensation, non-Muslims were not integrated in the army, which was a military decision rather than a religious one.

The researcher said that his thesis disproves historical allegations that a large number of Christians converted to Islam during the Ottoman rule because they either weren’t able to pay the jizyah or wanted to escape it.

According to archives, only three Orthodox Christians converted to Islam during the Ottoman Empire. “Orthodox Christians, the majority of Egyptian Christians, favored going to prison or emigrating over converting to Islam. Conversion to Islam mainly took place within the Catholic community, reads Mahmoud’s thesis.

The study recalls that when France invaded Egypt in 1855 the jizyah was abolished for three years. After the French troops left, however, three years worth of taxes were cumulatively collected.

Implementing jizyah had economic and social drawbacks. Historians argue that it created a split in society, placing Muslims in a higher status than non-Muslims which later became evident in daily interactions.

On an economic level, Christian citizens’ money was confiscated by the government upon their death which accentuated the growing social gap between the followers of both faiths, according to some historians.

The study recommends reopening what it referred to as “the unspoken sensitive files in an effort to resolve the growing tensions between Muslims and Christians.

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