The Issue of Jezyah
The final issue to be discussed is jezyah, i.e. tribute. In one of the Quranic verses, it has been revealed that we are to fight the People of the Book unconditionally or those who do not have real faith until they pay jezyah. What is jezyah? Is the meaning of jezyah some kind of "protection money" or "danegeld?" Were the Muslims who took jezyah in the past taking protection money? Protection money, seen from any angle, is injustice and oppression and the Quran itself negates it in all its forms. Jezyah finds its root in the word jaza. Jaza in the Arabic language is used both for reward and for punishment. If jezyah in this context means recompense or punishment, then it can be claimed that its meaning is "protection money" or "danegeld," but if it means a reward, which it does, then the matter changes.
Previously we said that some have claimed that jezyah is fundamentally a non-Arabic word, that it is originally Persian, that it is the Arabicized form of the Persian word "gaziyeh," the name of a head-tax which was first introduced by the Persian king, Anoushiravan, and that when this word reached the Arabs, the "gaf" ("G") was changed into a "jim" ("J") in accordance with the normal rule, so that the Arabs instead of saying "gaziyeh", called it "jezyah." Thus, jezyah means a tax, and paying taxes is not the same as extorting protection money. The Muslims too must pay taxes and the only difference is between the actual types of taxes that the Muslims have to pay and those the People of the Book have to pay. There is no proof however, for this view, that the origin of the word is not Arabic, and furthermore, we have no immediate interest in this word. Whatever the root of the word may be, what we must do is find out the nature of jezyah from the laws that Islam has introduced for it, and by which it is defined practically.
To put it in a different way, we must look to see whether Islam considers jezyah to be a reward or a punishment. If in return for the jaziyah, Islam makes certain undertakings, gives us certain services, then the payment of the jezyah is its reward. If, however, it takes the jezyah without giving anything in return, then it is a kind of protection money. If there is a time when Islam tells us to take jezyah from the People of the Book without giving anything in return, tells us just to take money from them or otherwise fight them, then it is protection money. Taking protection money means taking the right to use force. It means that the strong tell those who are weaker to give a sum of money if they want to be left alone and if they do not want interference or their security be destroyed. If, on the other hand, Islam says that it places an undertaking before the People of the Book and in return for that undertaking they are to pay jezyah to Islam, then in this case, the meaning of jezyah is a reward, whether it is an Arabic word or a Persian word. What we must pay attention to is the nature of the law, not the nature of the word.
When we perceive the essence of this law, we notice that jezyah is for that group of the People of the Book who live under the protection of the Islamic state, who are subject to the Islamic state. The Islamic state has certain duties towards its nation and likewise, the latter has its respective duties towards the Islamic state, and the first of these is to pay taxes to maintain the state budget. These taxes include that which is taken as zakat and that which is taken as other than zakat in the form of various taxes that the Islamic government introduces in accordance to the best Islamic interests. All these must be paid by the people. In case they do not, then the Islamic government would automatically not be able to function. There is no governmental, budget which is not fully or partly financed by the people. Any government to have a budget, must sustain it either directly or indirectly by taxes.
The second duty of the citizens is to provide soldiers and undertake sacrifices for the sake of the state. There may be future dangers when the citizens of the state must help in its defense. If the People of the Book are living under the protection of the Islamic state they are not bound to pay those Islamic taxes and are not bound to take part in jihad, even though any advantages resulting from the jihad will also benefit them. In accordance with this, when the Islamic government secures the safety of a people and places them under its protection, whether they are its own people or not, it requires something in return from them; financial or other than financial. From the People of the Book, instead of zakat and the other taxes, it requires the jezyah and even instead of soldiers, it requires jezyah. So that in early Islam, it was such that whenever the People of the Book volunteered to come and fight in the ranks of the Muslims in the interests of the Islamic state and the Muslims, the latter didn't collect the jezyah and saying that the jezyah was received from them for the reason that they were not bound to provide soldiers, but, as they had themselves come forth to fight, that money was theirs and the Islamic state could not rightfully take it. In the
commentary on the Quran called "Tafsir al-Menar," there are many accounts from various history books of how the early Muslims took jezyah instead of soldiers, and how the People of the Book used to be told that since they were living under the protection of the Islamic state and of the Muslims, but sending no soldiers (the Muslims would themselves not accept them), then instead of sending soldiers, they had to pay the jezyah. And if once in a while the Muslims in certain instances found confidence in them and accepted their soldiers, they no longer took jezyah from them.
According to this, whether or not jezyah is Arabic or Persian, whether it is from jaza or from gaziyah, this much is clear: from its legal meaning it is a reward to the Islamic government from its non-Muslim People of the Book citizens, in return for the services that it performs for them and in return for them not having to provide the state with soldiers and not having to pay taxes.
Now the first problem of how and why Islam stops its jihad for the sake of jezyah becomes clear. The answer is provided by the question, "Why does Islam want jihad?" It does not want jihad for the sake of the imposition of belief it wants jihad for the removal of barriers. When the other side tells us that it has no wish to fight us, and that it will not create a barrier to the call of tawhid, and keeps to its word, it is to be ruled in accordance with this verse: «And if they incline to peace, then incline to it.» (8:61)
If they have been humbled, and manifest a mind and heart of peace and compromise, then we are not to be severe anymore.
We are not to say "Oh no. We do not want peace, we are going to fight." Now that they have come forward to live in peace and concord, we too must announce the same thing. Of course, now that they want to live with us under our protection, but do not have to pay any of the Islamic taxes, nor provide any soldiers, and neither do we have any confidence in their soldiers, then, in return for our services and protection, we take a simple tax from them called jezyah.
Some Christian historians like Gustav Le Bon and George Zaydun have discussed this issue in detail. Will Durant in Vol. II of his series "The History of Civilization" has also discussed the Islamic jezyah and tells us that the Islamic jezyah was so trivial an amount that it was even less than the taxes the Muslims themselves paid and thus there was never any question of exaction.