Jizya: The Return of Muslim Extortion

By Raymond Ibrahim Published on March 11, 2024

Jizya is back in the news, driving Muslims to murder. 

Last month, jihadists attacked a passenger bus in Mozambique’s terror-stricken province of Cabo Delgado. The driver was abducted and later executed. Terrorists left two handwritten notes — one in English and the other in Portuguese — at the scene. 

The contents of the English note follow (thanks to Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi for locating the original; flawed grammar is original, not ours):

We declare war on all Christians in the world for three things: either to be a Muslim or pay Jizya. If you haven’t pay Jizya it’s a war until final earth, Qiyama. [In other words, war to the ends of the earth until Resurrection Day.] To Muslims we announce peace to all the world. Let’s work together to defend the religion of Allah together. If you [Christians] refuse [to convert to Islam] then you will pay Jizya and if you refuse to pay Jizya you will be killed.

Two days later, the terrorists stopped another bus and forced its Christian passengers to relinquish all their money on pain of death.

But what, exactly, is jizya?

The Ransom You Pay for Not Becoming Muslim

The word jizya appears in Koran 9:29: “Fight those among the People of the Book [Christians and Jews] who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, nor forbid what Allah and his Messenger have forbidden, nor embrace the religion of truth [Islam], until they pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.”

The root meaning of this Arabic word is simply to “repay” or “recompense,” basically to “compensate” for something. According to the standard Arabic-English dictionary, Hans Wehr, jizya is something that “takes the place” of something else, or “serves instead.”

In the hadith, Muhammad regularly calls on Muslims to demand jizya of non-Muslims:  “If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay jizya, seek Allah’s help and fight them.”

An Intentional Mark of Humiliation

The second “righteous caliph,” Omar al-Khattab, reportedly said that any conquered “infidel” who refuses to convert to Islam “must pay the jizya out of humiliation and lowliness. If they refuse this, it is the sword without leniency.”

This theme of non-Muslim degradation appears regularly in the commentaries of Islamic authorities. According to the Medieval Islamic Civilization Encyclopedia, Muslim “jurists came to view certain repressive and humiliating aspects of dhimma as de rigueur. Dhimmis [subjugated non-Muslim Christians and Jews] were required to pay the jizya publicly, in broad daylight, with hands turned palm upward, and to receive a smart smack on the forehead or the nape of the neck from the collection officer.”

Some of Islam’s jurists mandated a number of other humiliating rituals at the time of jizya payment, including that the presiding Muslim official slap, choke, and in some cases pull the beard of the paying dhimmi, who might even be required to approach the official on all fours, in bestial fashion.

Buying Back Your Life

Simply put, conquered Christians and Jews were to purchase their lives, which were otherwise forfeit to their Muslim conquerors, with money. Instead of taking their lives, the Muslims took their money. As one medieval jurist succinctly put it, “their lives and their possessions are only protected by reason of payment of jizya.”

None other than Eastern Roman Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (1350–1425), who regularly challenged Muslims about their teachings — once notoriously asserting, “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached” — also took the logic of jizya to task. 

First he described what Islam imposes on non-Muslims:

[1] They must place themselves under this law [sharia, meaning become Muslims], or [2] pay tribute and, more, be reduced to slavery [an accurate depiction of jizya and dhimmi status], or, in the absence of wither, [3] be struck without hesitation with iron.

In the context of proving that irrational teachings cannot emanate from God, he argued that these three options are “extremely absurd.” After all, if being a non-Muslim is so bad, why should jizya allow one to “buy the opportunity to lead an impious life?” argued the emperor.

At any rate, past and increasingly present, Muslims profited immensely by exacting jizya from conquered peoples. Moreover, many if not most of today’s Muslims are descendants of Christians and other dhimmis who chose conversion over payment.

Fair Game for Plunder

Related to the idea of institutionalized jizya is the notion that non-Muslims are fair game to plunder whenever possible. The jizya entry in the Encyclopaedia of Islam states that “with or without doctrinal justification, arbitrary demands [for money] appeared at times.” Even that medieval traveler Marco Polo (1254–1324), whose chronicles appear impartial, made an interesting observation concerning the Muslims in Tauris (modern-day Iraq) in the thirteenth century:

According to their doctrine [Islam], whatever is stolen or plundered from others of a different faith, is properly taken, and the theft is no crime; whilst those who suffer death or injury by the hands of Christians [who defend themselves during the course of a plunder-driven raid], are considered as martyrs … . These principles are common to all Saracens [Muslims].

All this is echoed in modern times by Egyptian cleric Abu Ishaq al-Huwaini (b.1956) concerning what the Muslim world should do to overcome its economic problems:

If only we can conduct a jihadist invasion at least once a year or if possible twice or three times, then many people on earth would become Muslims. And if anyone prevents our dawa [invitation to conversion] or stands in our way, then we must kill or take them as hostage and confiscate their wealth, women and children. Such battles will fill the pockets of the Mujahid [holy warrior] who can return home with 3 or 4 slaves, 3 or 4 women and 3 or 4 children. This can be a profitable business if you multiply each head by 300 or 400 dirham. This can be like a financial shelter whereby a jihadist, in time of financial need, can always sell one of these heads.

And so it was for well over a millennium: Muslim rulers and mobs extorted money from “infidels” under their sway as a legitimate way to profit.

It Took Imperialism to Pause This Practice

Much of this financial fleecing came to an end thanks to direct European intervention. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, one Muslim region after another abolished the jizya and gave non-Muslims unprecedented rights — originally to appease Western powers, later in emulation of Western governance. The Ottoman Empire’s Hatt-i Humayun decree of 1856 abolished the jizya in many Ottoman-ruled territories. Elsewhere in the Muslim world, the jizya was gradually abolished wherever Western powers were present.

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Today, however, as Muslims reclaim their Islamic heritage — often to the approval and encouragement of Western leadership — jizya, whether institutionalized as under the Islamic State and its offshoots in Mozambique and elsewhere, or as a vigilante rationale to plunder infidels, is back.

One of the most memorable examples was voiced in 2013. Then, Anjem Choudary, a British-born Pakistani cleric who was receiving more than 25,000 pounds annually in welfare benefits, referred to British taxpayers as “slaves,” and explained:

We take the jizya, which is our haq [Arabic for “right”], anyway. The normal situation, by the way, is to take money from the kafir [infidel], isn’t it? So this is the normal situation. They give us the money — you work, give us the money, Allahu Akbar! We take the money.


Raymond Ibrahim, author of Defenders of the West and Sword and Scimitar, is the Distinguished Senior Shillman Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and the Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.



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