Jizyh, a tax charged to people of other faiths living in a Muslim country, is a subject that has raised questions about discrimination, compulsion and contradiction.
In order to reach an accurate conclusion, let us understand the root of the expression; Jizyh is an Arabic expression that comes from the root word Jaza which means, “a recompense for a benefit”. It has been used in Islam to refer to a charge for people of other faiths living within a Muslim country. One of the reasons behind the charge was to save the people of other faiths from joining a Muslim Army while receiving the protection of that Army. Also, to save them from the position of fighting against people of their own religion, as well as serving as a small tax to enjoy the benefits that the country has to offer. Simply, paying Jizyh releases them from two mandatory acts that Muslims must fulfill, joining the army and paying Zakat.
To further understand Jizyh, we must understand that no Jizyh was due from women, children, senior citizens, disabled persons, persons living and worshipping within their monastery, as well as, persons with financial hardships. Jizyh was only taken from healthy men who have reached puberty. This means that Jizyh was only collected from about 30% of the people. The amount of Jizyh collected was pale in comparison to the amount of Zakat that was collected from Muslims.
The interaction between Muslim leaders and people of other faiths was governed by what the Prophet Muhammed said: “Beware, if anyone wrongs a person of other faith living peacefully in a Muslim country, or diminishes his right, or forces him to work beyond his capacity, or takes from him anything without his consent, I shall plead for him on the Day of Judgment.” The members of the “People of the Book” were comfortable with the payment because of its benefits however they raised a concern in the era of Omar because they thought it was intended to humiliate them. Some approached Omar to request that it be given the same name as the taxation given from Muslims (Zakat) and he agreed with them.
A Muslim might ask why Jizyh is not in existence today and others may use it as a fear tactic. It is important to note that Jizyh is not an Islamic principle that must exist all of the time, it is designed as a legal policy. When citizenship became the umbrella and members of countries joined forces to protect land, the cause for Jizyh was waived. This position has been justified by the actions of the Muslim leaders and has been a common position of Islamic scholars as early as the first century.