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Last Updated: 2009/06/22
Summary of question
Aren’t we free in choosing our religion? Then why did the Prophet demand the people of Yemen to either become Muslim or pay Jizyah?
Aren’t we free in choosing our religion? Then why did the Prophet demand the people of Yemen to either become Muslim or pay Jizyah?
Concise answer

Jizyah gives non-Muslims the freedom of choosing whether they want to be Muslim or simply be a non-Muslim citizen of an Islamic government without having to convert their religion and it is natural to expect them to contribute to the management of the countries affairs by paying taxes as is the case with Muslim residents. Perhaps, in some cases the taxation lain upon Muslims could even be higher than that of what was expected by non-Muslim citizens. Therefore, we cannot interpret the imposition of jizyah as forcing one to accept the religion.

Detailed Answer

Your inquiry could possibly have stemmed from several vague and undefined points, which will be thoroughly explained and subsequently followed up by a final conclusion:

1. What type of freedom do we have in accepting a certain religion?

2. What is jizyah and can the disbursement of jizyah be assessed as forcing one into Islam?

3. Why did the Prophet (S.A.) participate in battles that resulted in forcing non-Muslims into a situation where they had to choose between one of two ways despite that they might have not been content of either one (Islam or Jizyah)?

We will answer the above questions in order of mention.

1. Please pay close attention that the religious freedom referred to in the verse “لا اکراه فی الدین[1] doesn’t verify religious carelessness and validate all religions, but attempts to glamorize another point which must be noted:

If we assess different peoples’[2] position in relation to religion we can divide them into a number of groups:

1-1. Those who have accepted religion outwardly and have reached certainty within. This group doesn’t have the least doubt regarding his/her religion and won’t deny anything for his/her divine cause.[3]

1-2. Those who are inwardly infidel and do not refrain from exposing their infidelity; the Prophet’s efforts in guiding this group are useless.[4] In fact, they waste a high amount of effort in trying to deviate the people from God’s path.[5]

1-3. Another group who aren’t truly faithful, but look to benefit from the advantages of Islam, are simply claimers of being Muslim! God Almighty, has addressed the Prophet (S.A.) and demanded him to tell this group of people that you do not believe but say, We submit; and faith has not yet entered into your hearts![6]

1-4. The final group would be those who, despite inner faith, cannot express their faith and are considered as atheist in the eyes of others, but still contribute greatly to the religious society. The believer within the Pharoah’s household[7] who saved Prophet Musa (S.A.), Abū Ṭālib, the uncle of the Prophet of Islam who was a strong and influential supporter of him when facing many difficulties and ‘Ammār Yāsir, for a short period, are all considered to be examples of this group and this kind of behavior (taqīyyah) is approved of in the Quran.[8]

Considering the above groups, we can easily deduce that inner faith or in other words religion isn’t a subject that can be forced upon people and instilled in their hearts without their consent, which has been pointed out by the holy Quran. However, we must remember that the same God who has said: “لا اکراه فی الدین[9] has also declared Islam to be the only acceptable religion[10] or that other religions aren’t acceptable.[11] On this basis, we must conclude that even though the only acceptable religion in the eyes of God is Islam, this is not to imply that inner faith can be brought about through force and compulsion. Therefore, we cannot say that we are free to choose any religion we desire, meaning that we will never be asked of why we have chosen it; in fact we must strengthen our faith by striving to find and instill the true religion in our hearts.

2. According to what has been said above, if a group of unbelievers fall within the boundaries of an Islamic sovereignty as a result of war or compromise, they have one of the following options:

2-1. They will be executed if they don’t accept Islam.

2-2. They will be banished from their homeland and driven to non-Islamic lands.

2-3. They will be forced by the Muslims to convert to Islam.

2-4. They will be left to remain committed to their own religion and won’t have to pay anything in return for benefitting from the country’s facilities.

2-5. They will be given the choice to become Muslim and contribute to the nation’s financial obligations like every other Muslim or remain committed to their own religion but pay an amount relative to their financial situation as tax.

The first and second options are without doubt unjust, especially in regards to those haven’t had armed encounters with the Muslims.

Considering the fact that inner faith is not subject to force and compulsion, and also that forced faith is of no use, the third option isn’t possible either.

Even though the fourth option seems to give a vast amount of freedom to the unbelievers, it also seems to be unfair to Muslims who have to legally pay khums and zakat as well as contribute to the Islamic governments expenses such as defensive affairs, which might even overall add up to a higher amount than what is paid in the form of jizyah!

Now, do you see it just and fair if an unbeliever is given all rights to live and prosper from what is in the Islamic country without having to give any payment and at the same time be able to refuse to participate directly in any war?!

Therefore, the fourth option doesn’t seem to be acceptable either and the fifth option seems to be the only plausible one standing in which unbelievers are not forced to change their religion but have to pay an amount in the form of “jizyah”, that is, according to the ahadith, definitely calculated in respect to his/her financial abilities[12], to live in the Islamic country and benefit from the support of the Islamic government. However, if they convert to Islam they will be exempted from tax, but still have to contribute to the society and government through zakat, khums, etc.

Do you believe there might be a better option where their freedom in choosing their religion isn’t taken from them and by paying a certain amount of money they have the support of the government?!

3. Another question could be why did the Prophet (s.a.w.) engage in battles with other countries which would create a situation for non-Muslims where they had to choose between converting to Islam or paying jizyah?!

In response, we must first take a look at the international relations of that time:

After studying history we realize that war and battles were an accepted fact of the time, even hundreds of years proceeding the emergence of Islam, while peace and reconciliation were exceptional approaches. In other words, different powers were in constant conflict and war with each other. The battles of Greece, Iran and Rome from that time and the bloody wars of WWI and WWII, from more contemporary times can be marked upon as examples. With the establishment of prominent treaties and international organizations such as the United Nations, it is claimed that peace governs the world, but still there many wars taking place all around the globe!

In the holy Quran God Almighty has invited Muslims to peace and reconciliation with non-Muslims, especially those who haven’t been a threat[13] and has advised the Muslims, especially the Prophet being their leader, to refrain away from war when the enemy shows interest in peace, and to try to reach a treaty with relying on God.[14] Essentially, we must say that God Almighty has never given the right to Muslims to harm a non-Muslim who is not the participant of any war or conspiracy.[15] But none of these facts make it incorrect for the Prophet (s.a.w.) to be well aware of the countries relations with its neighbors and to sit aside hiding in a corner waiting for other governments to come and oppress the Islamic government, especially when war was a considered the most decisive factor. In line with this reality the Prophet (s.a.w.) would sometimes realize that the enemies of Islam were planning to attack the Islamic country and would attack before they were completely ready, putting an end to the conspiracy before it started. The Battle of Tabuk, which is the greatest military campaign lead by the Prophet (s.a.w.), is a good example in which the war ended without the least bloodshed. On this basis, even considering international rights set down today, the wars undergone by Muslims weren’t incompatible but rather known as defensive and preventive battles nowadays. The defensive natures of the wars lead by the Prophet (s.a.w.) such as Uhud and Khandaq cannot be denied.

In line with the above, some writers have done research regarding every battle carried out by the Prophet (s.a.w.) and reasoned that even though some seem to have an attacking approach and form they all had defensive aspects by mentioning the reason.[16]

The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) says: “As long as it (peace) doesn’t weaken the foundations of religion, I see peace to be greater and better than war and bloodshed”[17] and it is because of this very mentality that the most important period of Islamic spread occurred after the treaty of Hudaybiyyah between the Muslims and polytheists of Quraysh. This period only lasted for two years but historians narrate that those who converted to Islam in this period were more than all the Muslims who converted to Islam from the beginning of the call of the Prophet, which would be twenty years in length![18]

Now, if the residence of a non-Muslim is justly added to the boundaries of an Islamic country as a result of defensive war or peace treaty such as the peace treaty the Prophet agreed upon with the Christians of Najrān, and the non-Muslims decide not to change their religion and still benefit from the freedom given to them in the Islamic country, jizyah would be the most just method applicable to this situation.


[1] Baqarah:256.

[2] Of course, with making an exception for those who haven't heard of Islam and its teachings and know nothing of it.

[3] Hujurat:15 “إنما المؤمنون الذین آمنوا بالله و رسوله ثم لم یرتابوا و جاهدوا...”.

[4] Baqarah:6 “إن الذین کفروا سواء علیهم أ أنذرتهم أم لم تنذرهم لا یؤمنون”.

[5] Anfāl:36 “إن الذین کفروا ينفقون أموالهم لیصدوا عن سبیل الله...”.

[6] Hujurat:14 “قل لم تؤمنوا و لکن قولوا أسلمنا و لما یدخل الإیمان فی قلوبکم”.

[7] Ghafir:28 “و قال رجل مؤمن من آل فرعون یکتم إیمانه...”.

[8] Nahl:106 “إلا من أکره و قلبه مطمئن بالإیمان...”.

[9] Baqarah:256.

[10] Aal Imran:19 “إن الدین عند الله الإسلام”.

[11] Aal Imran:85 “و من یبتغ غیر الإسلام دینا فلن یقبل منه...”.

[12] Kulayni, Muhammad ibn Yaqub, Kāfī, vol. 3, p. 566, hadith 1, Daar al-Kutub al-Islamiyyah, Tehran, 1365 (solar).

[13] Mumtahinah:8 “لا ینهاکم الله عن الذین لم یقاتلوکم فی الدین و لم یخرجوکم من دیارکم أن تبروهم و تقسطوا إلیهم إن الله یحب المقسطین”.

[14] Anfāl:61 “و إن جنحوا للسلم فاجنح لها و توکل علی الله ...”.

[15] Nisa:90-91 “فإن اعتزلوکم فلم یقاتلوکم و ألقوا إلیکم السلم فما جعل الله لکم علیهم سبیلا...”.

[16] Abd al-Khaliq al-Nawawi, al-Alaqat al-Duwaliyah wa al-Nadhm al-Qadha’iyah, pp. 99-102, Daar al-Kutub al-Arabi, Beirut, 1974.

[17] Kāfī al-Din Abi al-Hasan al-Laythi al-Wasiti, Uyun al-Hikam wa al-Mawa’idh, p. 506, Daar al-Hadith Press, 1376 (solar).

[18] Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadhlullah, Al-Islam wa Mantiq al-Quwwah, p. 211, Daar al-Ta’aruf li al-Matbu’at, Beirut, 1987.


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