Here is a fascinating extract from Professor Abdel Haleem’s discussion of The jizya Verse (Q. 9:29). I have copied and pasted the first three pages. If you would like to read the whole article just leave a request in the comments below and I will email you the PDF.
The jizya Verse (Q. 9:29): Tax Enforcement on Non-Muslims in the First Muslim State
M.A.S. Abdel Haleem
SOAS, University of London
‘I swear by God that if they refuse to pay me even a camel-halter which they used to pay to the Prophet, I will fight them for it. ’1
The jizya verse has been the basis of a huge amount of writing by Muslims in Islamic law and Qur ’anic exegesis, and by non-Muslim scholars writing about Islam. It continues to be used by some academics, members of the media, and anti-Islamic propagandists to denigrate Islam and its treatment of non-Muslims, especially the ‘People of the Book ’.2
This article aims to examine the verse afresh, using close linguistic analysis and paying due regard to the linguistic and historical contexts of the verse with all its elements, as well as the style of the Qur ’an and what it says outside the confines of this verse. Such analysis will prove that the picture that has been made of this verse, based on various historical contingencies, both by Muslim exegetes and jurists and non-Muslim writers, is post-Qur ’anic, inaccurate and far removed from the actual picture as given in the Qur ’an itself.
The jizya verse (Q. 9:29) has been translated by Arberry as follows:3
Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden – such men as practise not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book – until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled.
Such literal translations make it more difficult for a reader to recover the real meaning of the Arabic text. Beyond this initial hurdle, there is the interpretation of crucial elements of this verse. I have counted the following eight points in this one verse which have given rise to misunderstandings and which I will discuss phrase by phrase as follows:
1. Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day ( qā talū’ lladhī na lā yuʾ minū na bi’ llā hi wa-lā bi’ l-yawmi’ l-ā khir)
For reasons we explain later, even some Muslim exegetes have taken this phrase literally and set out to explain how the People of the Book do not believe in God and the Last Day: that the Jews and Christians associate others with God, for example seeing Ezra and Jesus as ‘sons of God’.4 They also explain that Jews and Christians do not really believe in the physical resurrection5 and therefore cannot be said to believe in the Last Day.6 Such explanations run counter to what we know of Qur’anic style. The Qur’an uses belief in God and the Last Day to emphasise a point – if you truly believe in God and the Last Day, you should refrain from such and such, or do such and such. This is found, for example, in instructions advocating good treatment of women in divorce situations (Q. 2:232, Q. 8:41, Q. 65:2). It is also very common in the ḥadīth, for example, ‘Let him who believes in God and the Last Day not harm his neighbour’ and ‘Let him who believes in God and the Last Day, say what is good or keep silent’.7 In Q. 5:81, in connection with the People of the Book, the Qur’an says, If they had believed in God, the Prophet and in what was sent down to him they would never have allied themselves with the disbelievers, but most of them are rebels. This does not negate the belief of the People of the Book in God, the Prophet and scripture; but rather simply states that they do not act on such belief because they are rebellious. Commenting on the jizya verse, Abū Ḥayyān states, ‘they are so described because their way [of acting] is the way of those who do not believe in God’.8 In any case, there is nothing in the Qur’an to say that not believing in God and the Last Day is in itself grounds for fighting anyone.
2. Do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden ( wa-lā yuḥ arrimū na mā ḥ arrama’ llā hu wa-rasū luhu)
Many exegetes have interpreted this phrase as asserting that what God and His Messenger have forbidden includes such things as eating pork and drinking wine. However, this cannot be correct since Islamic law does not require the People of the Book to refrain from these, and indeed Muslims should not interfere with them in these matters: any Muslim who pours away their wine or forcibly appropriates it is liable to pay compensation.9 Other explanations given by Abū Ḥayyān are that the People of the Book do not forbid lying about God, for instance, saying, ‘We are God’s sons and beloved’ (Q. 5:18); or saying, ‘ Nobody will enter the Gardens unless they are Jews or Christians’ (Q. 2:111), and that what God has forbidden them means usury and unlawful consumption of the property of gentiles (Q. 3:75).10 However, these actions do not constitute grounds for fighting the People of the Book.
The context of this phrase in the jizya verse requires that the thing being forbidden is something that the People of the Book ought not to be doing according to their belief in God and their own prophets, but must also connect to non-payment of jizya which is the cause for fighting them. It cannot relate to their food or drink, or what they say about God, because these are not given as causes for fighting them, and after paying the jizya they will still be consuming these things and saying these things without being fought. The closest and most viable cause must relate to jizya, that is, unlawfully consuming what belongs to the Muslim state, which, al-Bayḍā wī explains, ‘it has been decided that they should give’ ,11 since their own scriptures and prophets forbid breaking agreements and not paying what is due to others.12 His Messenger in this verse has been interpreted by exegetes as referring to the Prophet Muḥammad or the People of the Book’ s own earlier messengers, Moses or Jesus, but the latter must be the correct interpretation as it is already assumed that the People of the Book did not believe in Muḥammad or forbid what he forbade. They are condemned for not obeying their own prophet, who told them to honour their agreements. To make sense in the context of the jizya verse, this must mean ‘they do not forbid breaking an agreement – something that God and His Messenger forbid’ . The agreement here was to pay jizya. It is not likely to mean that they should pay jizya when initially asked to do so. God and their prophet did not forbid refusing to pay what you are simply being asked to pay, but they did forbid going back on an agreement they have entered into. They forbid refusing to pay what is due to others (Q. 3:75– 8).
1 Caliph Abū Bakr, on his decision to fight Arab Muslim tribes who refused to pay zakāt after the death of the Prophet (Ṣālih b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz l al-Shaykh (ed.), al-Kutub al-sitta (Riyadh: Dār al-Salām, 1999), p. 606).
2 Their criticism relies, as we shall see, upon the meaning as understood in some classical sources and as sometimes applied in history.
3 A.J. Arberry, The Qur’an Interpreted (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 183. I must point out that Arberry’s is one of the best translations of the Qur’an into the English language.
4 See al-Qurṭubī, al-Jāmiʿ li-aḥkām al-Qurʾān (8 vols. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2000), vol. 4, p. 70; Sayyid Quṭb, Fī zilāl al-Qurʾān (Cairo: Dār al-Shurūk, 1985), p. 1,632.
5 Al-Rāzī, al-Tafsīr al-kabīr (16 vols. Beirut: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Turāth al-ʿArabī, n.d.), part 16, p. 29.
6 Abū Ḥayyān records the view from al-Kirmānī that the People of the Book describe God in a way that does not befit Him, and another view from al-Zajjāj that they assign a child to Him, that that they have changed their scriptures, have made unlawful what God made lawful and made lawful what He made unlawful. A third view, from Ibn ʿAṭiyya, was that they had abandoned the Islamic sharīʿa, which they should have accepted (Abū Ḥayyān, al-Baḥr al-muḥīṭ (8 vols. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1993), vol. 5, p. 30.
7 Al-Nawawī, Matn al-arbaʿīn, tr. E. Ibrahim and D. Johnson-Davies (Damascus: Dār al-Qurʾān, 1977), p. 61.
8 Abū Ḥayyān, al-Baḥr al-muḥīṭ, vol. 5, p. 30.
9 Al-Qurtubī, al-Jāmiʿ li-aḥkām al-Qurʾān (21 vols in 11. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1999), vol. 4, p. 72.
10 Abū Ḥayyān, al-Baḥr al-muḥīṭ, vol. 5, p. 30.
11 Al-Bayḍawī, Tafsīr (2 vols. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 1988), vol. 1, p. 401.
12 For example, King Solomon wrote, ‘It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay’ (Ecclesiastes 5:5).
Journal of Qur’anic Studies 14.2 (2012): 72–89
Edinburgh University Press
# Centre of Islamic Studies, SOAS