A Faith-Based Tax

Mark Movsesian describes a disturbing move by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda offshoot:

ISIL has taken the eastern [Syrian] town of Raqqa and reinstated the centuries-old dhimma, the notional contract that governs relations with Christians in classical Islamic law. According to the dhimma, Christians may live in an Islamic society as long as they pay a poll tax called the jizya, accept restrictions on their activities—for example, they may not engage in public religious displays, affect equality with Muslims, or carry weapons—and refrain from cooperating with Islam’s enemies. If they break the terms of the contract, Christians forfeit the protection of Islamic society and become subject to retaliation. ISIL has updated the dhimma for Raqqa’s several thousand Christians. For example, Haaretz reports,

According to the 12 clauses in the accord, the Christians will commit to pay a twice-yearly poll tax of “four gold dinars”—which at today’s rate, comes to about $500 per person—with the exception that members of the middle class will pay half this amount, and the poor will pay a quarter of it, on condition they do not conceal their true financial situation.

Rashid Najm talked to an Egyptian scholar who calls the tax “theft”:

The imposition of “jizya” on Christians in Syria is nothing but “a new fad, one of many launched by terrorist groups stemming from al-Qaeda, which have no legal authority to issue such edicts and rulings,” said Sheikh Abdul Zahir Shehata, a lecturer at Egypt’s Al-Azhar faculty of sharia and law. This imposition is “a form of theft that uses religion as a cover,” Shehata told Al-Shorfa. “Jizya” is not a pillar of Islamic law, he said: It emerged during the Islamic expansion era and was paid by non-Muslims who were capable of fighting in return for protection, while zakat was collected from Muslims, with proceeds going to the Muslim treasury where public funds were held.

“ISIL contradicts itself,” Shehata said. “On the one hand they say they are implementing the provisions of Islamic sharia, including the ‘jizya’, however the Islamic state must be a full-fledged state and recognised by its citizens and subjects, which is not the case in the areas where ISIL is imposing its control by force and bloodshed.”

But Mark Cohen argues that premodern dhimmi status meant Jews were better off in the Mideast than in parts of Europe:

In the premodern Muslim world Jews, like all non-Muslims, were second-class subjects, but they enjoyed a considerable amount of toleration, if we understand toleration in the context of the times. They were a “protected people,” in Arabic, dhimmis, a status that guaranteed free practice of religion, untrammeled pursuit of livelihood, protection for houses of worship and schools, and recognition of communal institutions—provided that able, adult males paid an annual head-tax, accepted the hegemony of Islam, remained loyal to the regime, and acknowledged the superiority of the Muslims. …

On the plus side, Islamic society was a pluralistic mosaic of different religions and ethnic groups and Jews were not the only marginal group. Moreover, as the smallest of the minority groups, Jews were rarely singled out for special attention. In Latin Europe, by contrast, Jews constituted the only non-conforming religion (heretics were considered bad Christians), and accordingly suffered more frequent and severe persecutions.