A Muslim’s Ramadan Message to ISIS: You Don’t Speak for Islam
Originally published in the Huffington Post
The terrorist organization ISIS has set a new low standard of barbarity and inhumanity. Their most recent act of terrorism is a demand that Christians either convert, pay the jizya, leave their homes, or be killed. Their destruction of an 1800-year-old church in Mosul is painful, condemnable without exception, and wholly in violation of every Qur’anic principle. In fact, the Qur’an 22:41 specifically commands Muslims to protect Churches from destruction.
Nothing in Islam or Prophet Muhammad’s example supports ISIS’s barbarity. The below modified excerpt from my book EXTREMIST addresses the issue of jizya and dhimmis directly — and shows without question that ISIS’s acts have nothing to do with Islam, and Islam has nothing to do with ISIS. Indeed, it is an insult to 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide to call IS as “Islamic State.” The more accurate term is Ignorant Savages.
Let’s start with dhimmi. Dhimmi is a historical term referring to non-Muslim subjects of a Muslim state. (1) The word literally means “one whose responsibility is taken” or “people with whom a covenant or compact has been made.” (2) Dhimmi describes citizens of a Muslim state afforded security over their persons, property, and religious practice in return for a tax (the jizya). Historically, when empires won battles and wars, common people were subjugated, looted, and forced to work as laborers and serve in the military. Islam did away with such practices by affording all non-Muslim subjects the special dhimmi status. (3)
Regarding dhimmis Prophet Muhammad said, “If anyone wrongs a man with whom a covenant has been made [i.e., a dhimmi], or curtails any right of his, or imposes on him more than he can bear, or takes anything from him without his ready agreement, I shall be his adversary on the Day of Resurrection.” (4)
Prophet Muhammad also made it clear that protecting the lives and honor of dhimmis was the responsibility of the Muslims, and failing in this regard would incur God’s wrath: “Whoever killed a Mu’ahid (a person who is granted the pledge of protection by the Muslims, i.e. a dhimmi) shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise though its fragrance can be smelt at a distance of forty years (of traveling).” (5) At the conquest of Mecca, Prophet Muhammad had the upper hand against those who had persecuted him for more than two decades. He could have silenced his enemies forever. Instead, he turned to the Meccans and declared, “I say to you what the Prophet Joseph said to his brothers: ‘No blame against you! You are free.'” (6)
Even before the conquest of Mecca, the Charter of Medina set the precedent for the treatment of mua’ahids (dhimmis are those non-Muslim subjects who become subjects after a war. If there is no war and there is a negotiated settlement, then they are called mua’ahids). When Prophet Muhammad was popularly appointed Medina’s ruler, he entered into a pact with the Jewish communities of Medina. Through this pact, he granted equal political rights to non-Muslims. They were ensured complete freedom of religion and practice.
After the Prophet Muhammad’s demise, non-Muslim inhabitants of the fast-expanding Islamic empire enjoyed the same dignified treatment. (7) When Hadhrat Umar, second khalifa of Prophet Muhammad, conquered Jerusalem, he entered into a pact with all inhabitants of the city, declaring:
In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, most Beneficent. This is a covenant of peace granted by the slave of Allah, the commander of the faithful ‘Umar to the people of Jerusalem. They are granted protection for their lives, their property, their churches, and their Crosses, in whatever condition they are. All of them are granted the same protection. No one will dwell in their churches, nor will they be destroyed and nothing will be reduced of their belongings. Nothing shall be taken from their Crosses or their property. There will be no compulsion on them regarding their religion, nor will any one of them be troubled. (8)
A dhimmi assassinated Hadhrat Umar in 644 CE. Rather than lashing out against dhimmis, at his deathbed, Hadhrat Umar specifically ordered:
I urge him (i.e. the new Caliph) to take care of those non-Muslims who are under the protection of Allah and His Messenger in that he should observe the convention agreed upon with them, and fight on their behalf (to secure their safety) and he should not over-tax them beyond their capability. (9)
Indeed, Hadhrat Umar merely followed Prophet Muhammad’s noble teaching regarding Christians who live under Muslim rule. In a famous letter that Prophet Muhammad wrote to the Christians of Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai:
This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity near and far — we are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant until the Last Day (end of the world). (10)
Contrary to ISIS’s barbarity, Prophet Muhammad’s example shows that Islam demands equality for all citizens.
Next, I transition to ISIS’s demands regarding jizya. The jizya tax was the only tax imposed on non-Muslims; it was typically lower than taxes on the Muslims of that state and was paid by fewer people. The term jizya comes from same Arabic root as jaza’, which means “reward” and “compensation.” So, according to Sharia or Islamic law, this money was returned to the minorities. The jizya tax, like other taxes, creates accountability on the part of the government to do right by its citizens. In Christian-ruled Sicily, for example, the Christian officials had such a tax for minorities — and they too called it “jizya.”
Thus, non-Muslims paid jizya as free citizens of the Muslim state in return for the protection of their civil and political liberties. Aside from this, Muslims were also taxed, and often at a rate heavier than the jizya. Additionally, Muslims were obligated to perform military service, from which all non-Muslims were exempt. (11)
Jizya served as the sole citizen tax to assure protection from all foreign attacks. Thus, if protection could not be promised, then jizya was impermissible. In The Preaching of Islam, Thomas Arnold records a statement of the Muslim general Khalid bin Waleed: “In a treaty made by Khalid with some town in the neighborhood of Hirah, he writes; ‘If we protect you, then Jizya is due to us; but if we do not, then it is not.'” (12)
Abu Ubaida was a famous Muslim commander of Syria. When he entered the city of Hims, he made a pact with its non-Muslim inhabitants and collected the jizya as agreed. When the Muslims learned of a massive advance toward the city by the Roman emperor Heraclius, they felt they would not be able to protect its citizens. Consequently, Abu Ubaida ordered all the dues taken as jizya to be returned to the people of the city. He said to them, “We are not able to defend you anymore and now you have complete authority over your matters.” (13) Al-Azdi records Abu Ubaida’s statement as follows:
We have returned your wealth back to you because we detest taking your wealth and then failing to protect your land. We are moving to another area and have called upon our brethren, and then we will fight our enemy. If Allah helps us defeat them we shall fulfill our covenant with you except that you yourselves do not like it then. (14)
The response that the people of Hims gave to the Muslims further substantiates that as dhimmis they were not in any way oppressed but instead lovingly embraced:
Verily your rule and justice is dearer to us than the tyranny and oppression in which we used to live. (15) May God again make you ruler over us and may God’s curse be upon the Byzantines who used to rule over us. By the Lord, had it been they, they would have never returned us anything; instead they would have seized all they could from our possessions. (16)
Blinded by their own egos, the leaders of ISIS ignore this beautiful history. Professor Bernard Lewis observes that dhimmis welcomed the change from Byzantine to Arab rule. They “found the new yoke far lighter than the old, both in taxation and in other matters, and that some even among the Christians of Syria and Egypt preferred the rule of Islam to that of Byzantines.” (17)
Moreover, the jizya was not forcefully collected. It was a tax paid willingly as a favor for the protection of the state. Hadhrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra, second khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, notes:
The expression “with their own hand” is used here in a figurative sense, signifying (1) that Jizya should not be forcibly taken from the People of the Book but that they should pay it with their own hand i.e. they should agree to pay it willingly…; or (2) that they should pay it out of hand i.e. in ready money and not in the form of deferred payment; or (3) that they should pay it considering it as a favor from Muslims, the word, yad (hand) also meaning a favor. (18)
Moreover, the Muslim state exempted from jizya those dhimmis who chose to serve in the military. Sir Thomas Arnold elaborates:
When any Christian people served in the Muslim army, they were exempted from the payment of this tax. Such was the case with the tribe of al-Jurajima, a Christian tribe in the neighborhood of Antioch who made peace with the Muslims, promising to be their allies and fight on their side in battle, on condition that they should not be called upon to pay jizya and should receive their proper share of the booty. When the Arab conquests were pushed to the north of Persia in A.H. 22, a similar agreement was made with a frontier tribe, which was exempted from the payment of jizya in consideration of military service. We find similar instances of remission of jizya in the case of Christians who served in the army or navy under the Turkish rule. (19)
Furthermore, only employed men paid this tax while women, the elderly, the ill, and the unemployed were exempt. (20) But while non-Muslim women were exempt from the jizya, Muslim women were required to pay the zakaat regardless of whether or not they worked.
In reality, the jizya tax was an agreement between those non-Muslims who chose to live in Muslim lands and under the Muslim government. The Spanish Almorvids, for example, are a living testimony to the integrity and compassion with which Muslims treated Jews and Christians. Historian Gwendolyn Hall cites Francisco Codera, who wrote in 1899 while citing ancient Spanish historians:
The Almoravids were a country people, religious and honest…Their reign was tranquil, and was untroubled by any revolt, either in the cities, or in the countryside… There was no tribute, no tax, or contribution for the government except the charity tax and the tithe. Prosperity constantly grew; the population rose, and everyone could freely attend to their own affairs. Their reign was free of deceit, fraud, and revolt, and they were loved by everyone.
…learning was cherished, literacy was wide-spread, scholars were subsidized, capital punishment was abolished… Christians and Jews were tolerated within their realms. When the Christians rose up in revolt, they were not executed but were exiled to Morocco instead. The Almoravids were criticized, however, for being excessively influenced by their women. (21)
At a time when the West drowns in misogyny, perhaps the West could learn a thing or two from the Almoravid Muslims and ensure that women become “excessively” influential.
In sum, as Muslims we hold fast to the word of our beloved Master Prophet Muhammad regarding dhimmis; i.e., the protected: “By God, Christians are my citizens and I hold fast against all that displeases them.”
ISIS must be brought to justice for their crimes against Christians and all humanity. Whatever religion they claim — it is not Islam.
1. Juan Eduardo Campo, ed., “dhimmi,” in Encyclopedia of Islam (Infobase Publishing, 2010), 194-95.
2. Edward William Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (London: Willams & Norgate, 1863), 975-76.
3. H. Patrick Glenn, Legal Traditions of the World (Oxford University Press, 2007), 218-19.
4. Sahih Sunan Abu Dawud, #3052. (Emphasis added.)
5. Sahih Jami’ Bukhari, vol. 9, Book 83, #49.
6. Zadul-Ma’ad, vol. l, 424.
7. Glenn, Legal Traditions, 219.
8. Tarikh at-Tabari, 2/308.
9. Sahih Jami’ Bukhari, vol. 4, Book 52, #287.
10. Prophet Muhammad, “Prophet Muhammad’s Letter to St. Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai,” in ZMD Corporation, Muslim History: 570-1950 C.E., trans. Dr. A. Zahoor and Dr. Z. Haq (Gaithersburg, MD), 167.
11. See http://www.alislam.org/quran/tafseer/?page=922®ion=E1&CR. Accessed August 12, 2012.
12. Thomas Walker Arnold, The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith (2007) 6
13. William N. Lees, Futuh ash-Sham ed. (Culcutta: Baptist Mission, 1854), 1/162.
14. Ibid. 137-38.
15. Ibid., 1/162.
16. Ibid., 138.
17. Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (2002), 57.
18. See http://www.alislam.org/quran/tafseer/?page=922®ion=E1&CR. Accessed August 12, 2012.
19. Arnold, The Preaching of Islam, 61-62.
20. Ibid., 60.
21. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (2005), 6.
Qasim Rashid is a best-selling and critically acclaimed author, practicing attorney, visiting fellow at Harvard University's Prince AlWaleed bin Talal School of Islamic Studies, and national spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.
Qasim’s new book #TalkToMe: Changing the Narrative on Race, Religion, & Education is due out in December 2015. #TalkToMe is a non-fiction memoir on how the power of dialogue can overcome racism, xenophobia, intolerance, and violence.
Previously, Qasim published EXTREMIST: A Response to Geert Wilders & Terrorists Everywhere (2014), which became an Amazon #1 Best Seller on Islam.
Qasim’s first solo-authored work is the critically acclaimed book, The Wrong Kind of Muslim: An Untold Story of Persecution & Perseverance (2013).
Qasim regularly publishes on TIME, The Huffington Post, Washington Post, Daily Caller, and CNN. His work has additionally appeared in USA Today, The Daily Beast, National Public Radio, Virginia Pilot, among various other national and international outlets. He also regularly speaks at a variety of universities and houses of worship, and interviews in a variety of media including the New York Times, FOX News, Pittsburg Post-Gazette, Muslim Television Ahmadiyya International, Huff Post Live, Al Jazeera, NBC, CBS, Voice of America, among several other national and international outlets.