Chapter XXXII - Payment of Tribute
Forign writers on Islam have generally assumed that while the Koran offered one of the alternatives, Islam or death, to other non-Muslims, the Jews and Christians were given a somewhat better position since they could save their lives by the payment of a tax known as jizia. This conception of jizia, as a kind of religious tax of which the payment entitled certain non-Muslims to security of life under the Muslim rule, is as entirely opposed to the fundamental teachings of Islam, as is the myth that the Muslims were required to carry on aggressive wars against all non-Muslims till they had accepted Islam. Tributes and taxes were levied before Islam, and had been levied to this day by Muslim and non-Muslim states, yet they had nothing to do with the religion of the people affected. The Muslim State was as much in need of finance to maintain itself as any other State in the world, and it resorted to exactly the same methods as those employed by other States. All that happened in the time of the Prophet was that certain small non-Muslim states were, when subjugated, given the right to administer their own affairs, but only if they would pay a small sum by way of tribute towards the maintenance of the central government at Medina. It was an act of great magnanimity of the Prophet to confer complete autonomy on a people who raised war against the Muslims but were ultimately conquered by them, and a paltry sum of tribute (jizia) in such conditions was not a hardship but a boon. There was no interference at all with their administration, their own laws, their customs and usages, or their religion and, for the tribute paid, the Muslim state undertook the responsibility of protecting these small states against all enemies.
There are cases on record in which the Muslim state returned the jizia, when it was unable to afford protection to the people under its care. Thus when the Muslim forces under the Muslim commander Abu-'Ubaida were engaged in a struggle with the Roman Empire at Syria, they were compelled to beat a retreat at Homs, which they had previously conquered. When the decision was taken to evacuate Homs, Abu-'Ubaida sent for the chiefs of the place and returned to them the whole amount which he had realized as jizia, saying that as the Muslims could no longer protect them, they were not entitled to the payment of jizia().
It further appears that exemption from military service was granted only to such non-Muslims as wanted it, for where a non-Muslim people offered to fight the battles of the country they were exempted from jizia. the Bani-Taghlib and the people of Najran, both Christians, did not pay the jizia (). Indeed, the Bani-Taghlib fought alongside with the Muslim forces in the battle of Buwaib in 13 A.H. Later on, in the year 16 A.H. they wrote to the Khalifa 'Omar offering to pay the zakat (the legal alms) which was a heavier burden, instead of the jizia. "The liberality of "Omar," writes Sir Muir in his 'Caliphate', "allowed the concession, and the Bani Taghlib enjoyed the singular privilege of being assessed as Christians as a double title instead of paying the obnoxious badge of subjugation" ().
From the foregoing, it is quite clear the jizia was levied not as a penalty for refusal to accept the faith of Islam, but it was paid in return for protection given to non-Muslims by the Muslim army, to which they were not compulsorily conscripted like the Muslims This tribute was levied only on able-bodied men and not on women or children, the aged and the indigent, the blind and the maimed were specially exempted as were the priests and the monks.
Islam, Jizia or The Sword
It is generally though that the Muslims were out to impose their religion at the point of the sword, and that the Muslim hosts were overrunning all lands with the message of Islam, jizia or the sword. This is, indeed, a distorted picture of what really happened. The face that there were people who never became Muslims at all, nor ever paid jizia, and yet were living in the midst of the Muslims, even fighting their battles, explodes the whole theory of the Muslims offering Islam or the jizia or the sword. The truth of the matter is that the Muslims finding the Roman Empire and Persia bent upon the subjugation of Arabia and the extirpation of Islam, refused to accept terms of peace without a safeguard against a repetition of the aggression and this safeguard was demanded in the form of jizia or a tribute, which would be an admission of defeat on their part. No war was ever started by the Muslims by sending this message to a peaceful neighbour or otherwise. History contradicts such an assertion. But when a war was undertaken on account of the enemy's aggression his advance on Muslim territory or help rendered to the enemies of the Muslim state - it was only natural for the Muslims not to terminate the war before bringing it to a successful issue. they were ever willing to avoid further bloodshed after inflicting a defeat on the enemy, only if he admitted defeat and agreed to pay a tribute, which was really a token tribute as compared with the crushing war indemnities of the present day. The offer to terminate hostilities on payment of jizia was thus an act of mercy towards a vanquished foe. But if the token tribute was not accepted by the vanquished power, the Muslims could do nothing but have recourse to the sword until the enemy was completely subdued.
The only question that remains in whether the Muslim soldiers invited their enemies to accept Islam; and whether it was an offence if they did so. Islam was a missionary religion from its very inception, and every Muslim deemed it his sacred duty to invite other people to embrace Islam. The envoys of Islam, wherever they went, looked upon it as their first duty to spread the message of Islam, because they felt that Islam imparted a new life and vigour to humanity, and offered a real solution of the problems of every nation. Islam was offered, no doubt, even to the fighting enemy, but it is a distortion of facts to assume that it was offered at the point of the sword, when there is not a single instance on record of Islam being enforced upon a prisoner of war, nor of Muslims sending a message to a peaceful neighbouring people to the effect that they would be invaded if they did not embrace Islam. All that is recorded is that in the midst of war and after defeat had been inflicted on the enemy in several battles, when there were negotiations for peace, the Muslims in their zeal for the faith related their own experience before the chiefs of the enemy. They stated how they themselves had been deadly foes to Islam, and how ultimately they found Islam to be a blessing and a power that had raised the Arab race from the depth of degradation to great moral and spiritual heights, and had welded their warring elements into a solid nation. In such words did the Muslim envoys invite the Persians and the Romans to Islam, not before the declaration of war but at the time of negotiations for peace. If the enemy then had accepted Islam, there would be no conditions for peace, and the two parties would live as equals and brethren. It was not offering Islam at the point of the sword but offering it as a harbinger for peace of equality and of brotherhood. The early Khalifas had to wage wars, but these wars were never aggressive nor were they raised for the desire of propagating the faith of Islam by force. They could not do anything which their Prophet never did, and which the Holy Koran never taught them to do.
Directions Relating to War
The following instructions were given by the Prophet to the troops dispatched against the Byzantine force who threatened to invade the Muslims:
"In avenging the injuries inflicted upon us molest not the harmless inmates of domestic seclusion; spare the weakness of female sex; injure not the infant at the breast, or those who are ill in bed. Abstain from demolishing the dwellings of the unresisting inhabitants; destroy not the means of their subsistence, nor their fruit trees and touch not palm" ().
The Khalifa Abu-Bakr also gave the following instructions to the commander of an army in the Syrian battle:
"When you meet your enemies quit yourselves like men, and do not turn your backs; and if you gain the victory, kill not the little children, nor old people, nor women. Destroy no palm-trees, nor burn any fields of corn or wheat, cut down no fruit trees, nor do any mischief of cattle, only such as you kill for the necessity of subsistence. When you make any covenant or treaty, stand to it, and be as good as your word. As you go on, you will find some religious persons who live retired in monasteries and who propose to themselves to serve God that way. Let them alone, and neither kill them nor destroy their monasteries." ().
Similar instructions were given by the succeeding Khalifas to their respective commanders of the troops, all tending to the treatment of the hostile enemies with justice and mercy.
Treatment of The Prisoners of War
If the wars, during the time of the Prophet or early Khalifas had been prompted by a desire of propagating Islam by force, this object could easily have been attained by forcing Islam upon prisoners of war who fell helpless at the hands of the Muslims. Yet this the Holy Koran does not allow; but on the contrary it expressly lays down that prisoners of war better be set free. To this effect we read in the Holy Koran the following instruction
ÝÅÐÇ áÞíÊã ÇáÐíä ßÝÑæÇ ÝÖÑÈ ÇáÑÞÇÈ ÍÊì ÅÐÇ ÃËÎäÊãæåã ÝÔÏæÇ ÇáæËÇÞ ÝÜÃãÇ ãäÇ ÈÚÏ æ ÃãÇ ÝÏÇÁ ÍÊì ÊÖÚ ÇáÍÑÈ ÃæÒÇÑåÇ.
"When the Muslims meet in battle those hostile disbelievers they have to kill them in battle. But when the Muslims have overcome the enemies they had to make them prisoners of war; and afterwards either set them free as a favour or let them ransom themselves until the war terminates" (XLVII : 4) 47:4.
Here we are told that prisoners of war can only be taken after meeting an enemy in regular battle, and even in that case they may either be set free, as a favour, or after taking ransom. The Prophet carried this injunction during his lifetime. In the battle of Hunain, six thousand prisoners of the Hawazin tribe were taken, and they all set free simply as an act of favour (). A hundred families of Bani Mustaliq were taken as prisoners in the battle of Mura'isi, and they were also set at liberty without any ransom being paid (). Seventy prisoners were taken in the battle of Bader, and it was only in this case that ransom was exacted; but the prisoners were granted their freedom while war with the Koraishites was yet in progress ().
The form of ransom adopted in the case of these prisoners was that they should be entrusted with teaching some of the illiterate Arab Muslims how to read and write. (). When war ceased and peace was established, all war prisoners would have to be set free, according to the verse quoted above.
Prisoners of War Not Slaves
The treatment accorded to prisoners of war in Islam is unparalleled. No other nation or society can show a similar treatment. The golden rule of treating the prisoner of war like a brother was laid down by the Prophet:
"They are your brethren. Allah has put them under your hands so whosoever has his brother under his band, let him give him to eat whereof he himself eats and let him give to wear what he himself wears, and do not impose on them a work they are not able to do, and if you give them such a work, then help them in the execution of it" ()
The prisoners were distributed among the various Muslim families as no arrangements for their maintenance by the state existed at the time, but they were treated mercifully. A prisoner of war states that he was kept in a family whose people gave him bread while they themselves had to live on dates ().
Prisoners of war were, therefore, not only set free but so long at they were kept prisoners they were treated generously.
War as a Struggle to Be Carried on Honestly
It will be seen from the foregoing statements concerning the injunctions relating to war and peace, that war is recognized by Islam as a struggle between nations which is sometimes necessitated by the conditions of human life. But Islam does not allow its followers to provoke war, nor does it allow them to be aggressors, yet it commands them to put their whole force into the struggle when war is forced on them. If the enemy wants peace after the struggle has begun, the Muslims should not refuse, even though there is doubt about the enemy’s honesty of purpose. But the struggle, so long as it exists, must be carried on to the end. In this struggle, honest dealing is enjoyed even with the enemy throughout the Holy Koran verse 2, Chapter V, runs thus:
æáÇ íÌÑãäßã ÔäÆÇä Þæã Ãä ÕÏæßã Úä ÇáãÓÌÏ ÇáÍÑÇã Ãä ÊÚÊÏæÇ ¡ æÊÚÇæäæÇ Úáì ÇáÈÑ æÇáÊÞæì æáÇÊÚÇäæÇ Úáì ÇáÅËã æÇáÚÏæÇä
“ And let not hatred of a people incite you to exceed the proper limits; and help ye one another in goodness and piety , and do not help one another in sin and aggression.”
Again verse 8 of the same Chapter reads thus:
“let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably; see that you act equitably, that is nearer to piety.”
The tradition of the Prophet too enjoins honest dealing in war:
“Fight and do not exceed the limits and be not unfaithful and do not mutilate bodies and do not kill children” ()
Such are some of the directions given which purify war of the elements of barbarity and dishonesty in which western warring nations generally indulge. Neither in human nor immoral practices are allowed by Islam in war or peace.