Death and/or Taxes

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) started as a militia seeking to establish a new Caliphate that governs all Muslim land by the Shari’a, and then move on to do other wonderful and romantic things, like conquering Rome. The group is known for ridiculous atrocities done in the name of Islam, for example, destroying shrines and Christian churches.

And about a week ago, they presented a very traditional Islamic ultimatum to the Christian population of Mosul.

Unlike in my last post, I’m not going to write a full explanation and background of this because it makes the article unnecessarily longer (like this sentence). But I’ll still link to an excellent introduction because I love you so much.

The Caliphate ordered the Christians of Mosul to choose one of the following, in order of preference:

  1. Convert to Islam
  2. Pay the infidel’s tax (a.k.a. Jizya)
  3. Die

Besides a hidden fourth option, of course, which is to get the hell out of there (and leave your property as spoils of war).

Reactions to this ultimatum from the Muslim and non-Muslim Arab networks on social media had ranged from condemnation to shameful silence to contentedness, with a few rare cases of acclaim from more extreme circles. Like with most other ISIS crimes, almost all condemnations were accompanied by assertions that this is not “true Islam”, and that Islamic law is one of tolerance and peace. Such an assertion conveys the intrinsic kindness of most moderate Muslims, but unfortunately, it is undeniable that this ultimatum is completely in keeping with both the spirit and the letter of Islamic law, and is not unprecedented in the history of the early caliphates.


The primary reference to Jizya comes from the Qur’an:

“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.”

Al Tawbah, 29 (9:29). Translation by Yusuf Ali.

However, the jizya and the context surrounding it are not well defined in this verse, leaving the definition mainly up to Hadith and the life of the Prophet Muhammad, in his dealings with both subjects of non-Muslim independent states and individual subjects within the Islamic realm. For foreign states, Prophet Muhammad’s standard process was to send a military commander on a task to do exactly the above: Fight the opposing army until the ruler agrees to either convert or pay a tribute (i.e. Jizya). There are also accounts of foreign kings paying this tribute of their own initiative in exchange for being left alone.

As for internal subjects, the practice is pretty much the same. Infidels in the early Islamic caliphate were mostly tolerated as long as they paid Jizya, and paying this tax guaranteed them certain rights as well. Non-Muslims who paid were considered full subjects of the state, and were guaranteed protection and exemption from military service. Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad had maintained that the life of a dhimmi (Non-Muslim subject) under protection is sacred; saying that anyone who kills somebody under this protection will not even smell the fragrance of heaven. Additionally, non-Muslim subjects who were slaves or too poor to afford the tax were exempted from paying it and granted the full rights of a “taxpayer” anyway.

I want to reiterate that ISIS, by its foundation and the force driving it, is by no means a successor to the legacy of the Islamic Caliphate; at this stage it’s no more than a ragtag bunch of ambitious warlords and exasperated fighters with a black banner. However, it is just as much the purpose of this post to confirm that not all of ISIS’s barbarity is baseless. The ultimatum given to the Christians of Mosul is indeed brutal, but it’s Islamic just as much. It’s exactly the same as stoning those accused of adultery, only a lot less popular.

In the same way that Bucaille’s theories strengthened Muslims’ faith by reconciling the Qur’an with their respect for Science, the shock of ISIS’s atrocities – particularly the ones based in the Qur’an – will push Muslims to reconsider the relationship of Islam with the basic human values of compassion, tolerance, and peace.


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