In discussions about the status of non-Muslims in Muslim-majority countries one issue that has been hotly debated is that of the jizyah tax. Much has been written, by both Muslim as well as non-Muslim scholars, on jizyah. Most non-Muslim scholars see jizyah as a symbol of what they regard as the degradation and subordination of non-Muslims under Islamic or Muslim rule. On the other hand, Muslim scholars argue that jizyah is a blessing for non-Muslim minorities, on the payment of which they are excused from military service and are also provided protection (zimma) by the Islamic state. They also claim that, in the past, in many cases the amount levied as jizyah was considerably less than the zakat tax that was obligatory on all eligible Muslim subjects.
In my view, those who invoke jizyah to argue that Islam seeks the subjugation of non-Muslim minorities are incorrect. In fact, several non-Muslim scholars have admitted that in the medieval age in many places, jizyah was not regarded as a symbol or badge of non-Muslim degradation. They also admit that, especially when compared to the Christian kings of Europe, medieval Muslim rulers generally adopted a far more enlightened and tolerant policy towards minority groups living in their domains.
Be that is it may, one question that is yet to be satisfactorily discussed is: In a modern Islamic or Muslim-majority state, are non-Muslims still to be treated as zimmis or ‘protected subjects’ who are obliged to pay jizyah to the state in return for protection? The fact of the matter is, as the noted Indian Islamic scholar Dr. Nejatullah Siddiqui convincingly argues in his recent book Maqasid-e Shariah(‘The Aims of the Shariah’), that, ‘[Muslim scholars] have focused on trying to argue that zimmis are given many rights in an Islamic state, but, despite these claims, the reality cannot be concealed that the status of a zimmi would be different from that of a citizen. Obviously, this different status cannot be higher than that of a citizen.’
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