To celebrate the beginning of the Islamic new year, here is the second Jihad by Word instalment. Jihad by Word is a semi-regular series from Jalal Tagreeb in which he relates how, through being exposed to the flaws in Islamic apologetics during debates with nonbelievers, he left Islam and became a freethinker. The introduction to and first instalment of the series can be found here and other instalments in the series can be found here.

Present-day building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. it is said that in the 7th century, Caliph umar ibn al-khattab, despite being invited to do so, did not pray inside the church (then called the church of the resurrection) so as not to establish a precedent which might threaten the church’s Christian status. image: Wayne McLean. CC BY 2.0.

When I was preparing to become a Muslim scholar, one of the arguments I focused on countering was the argument that dhimmis—nonbelievers with legal protections in an Islamic state—were humiliated by Muslims. By addressing this, I aimed to show that Islam is a religion of peace. I believed I could win this debate despite its difficulty.

However, my argument was debunked. Below is my defence of jizyah and a summary of a debate I had with a secularist, where I was defeated using logic and Islamic sources.

My defence of jizyah

Jizyah was a tax paid by dhimmis in Islamic states (not to be confused with zakat, a tax paid by Muslims only). The jizyah rate varied based on the financial status of the dhimmi. Roughly speaking:

A. The richest dhimmis paid four dinars (gold coins).

B. Moderately wealthy dhimmis paid 20 dirhams of silver.

C. Those unable to pay did not pay anything.

This shows that the levying of jizyah was not intended to humiliate dhimmis: it was a fairly administered tax. Quran verse 9:29 indicates that only those capable of paying should do so. Though zakat was generally lower, jizyah still differentiated between dhimmis with different incomes. This fiscal system was fair, especially in an era with minimal tolerance for different faiths.

There were various valid justifications for jizyah:

1. The Islamic state uses zakat and jizyah payments for services, like security, benefiting all residents.

2. The extra amount of jizyah compared to zakat compensates for the dhimmis’ freedom to practice their faith. Countries today legitimately use citizenship rules to define rights and relationships among citizens, refugees, and immigrants.

3. The gradual increase in payment is based on financial capability, with the rich paying more and the poor paying nothing.

Do these not strike you as fair points?

Additionally, Islamic history shows that the Prophet forgave his enemies, so why would he humiliate dhimmis? Here, for example, is one of the authentic hadiths:

‘Al-Qasim ibn Salam reported: When his enemies came to the Ka’bah, they were holding onto its door and the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “What do you say? What do you think?” They said three times, “We say you are the son of our brother.” The Prophet said, “I say to you as Joseph said to his brothers: No blame upon you today. Allah will forgive you, for he is the most merciful of the merciful.” In another narration, the Prophet said to them, “Go, you are free.”’

Another example of Islamic mercy is Umar’s Assurance, a document written by Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab to the people of the recently captured Jerusalem in AD 637 or 638. This assurance guaranteed the safety of Christian churches and property, and it is said that the Caliph, despite being invited to do so, did not pray inside the Church of the Resurrection so as not to establish a precedent which might threaten the church’s Christian status.

The medieval Muslim scholar Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim, in his book Ahkām ahl al-dhimma, provided copious evidence that the humiliation of nonbelievers was not intended in Islamic states and that dhimmis were well treated (see, for example, his interpretations of Quran 9:29 and Umar’s Assurance). 

Further, the Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that:

‘During the Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime, the jizyah was not imposed on non-Muslim tribes consistently. For example, the Nubians of North Africa, despite being non-Muslim, were exempted; instead they entered into a trade agreement (baqt) with Muslims.

In the period following Muhammad’s death, the jizyah was levied on non-Muslim Arab tribes in lieu of military service. Performance of military service earned an exemption; for example, under the second caliph, ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, the Jarājimah tribe was exempted when it agreed to serve in the army. The non-Muslim poor, the elderly, women, serfs, religious functionaries, and the mentally ill generally did not pay any taxes. Early sources state that under the first caliphs poor Christians and Jews were instead awarded stipends from the state treasury, which was funded largely by monies derived from the zakat, the obligatory tax paid by Muslim men and women of financial means, and from the jizyah paid by non-Muslim men of means.’

The principles instilled by the Prophet and Umar can still be felt today in regions where dhimmis and Muslims live in peace and mutual respect. In short: jizyah was a legitimate tax administered fairly and Islamic principles allowed for peaceful coexistence between believers and nonbelievers.

The debate

Such was my case for the defence when I engaged in a debate with a secularist on the issue.

My opponent questioned the three levels of jizyah I mentioned and the context around ‘humiliation’ in its payment. He argued that the terms used in Quran 9:29 imply subjugation and belittlement and questioned the validity of my interpretation of the verse.

I emphasised the importance of consulting the original Arabic text, explaining that ‘عن يد’ (ean yad) translates roughly to ‘out of hand’, or ‘those who can pay’, indicating flexibility in payment, not humiliation, and noted that many interpreters assert that the verse speaks of commitment rather than degradation. My opponent remained sceptical, insisting that ‘صاغرون’ (saghirun; roughly, ‘slavish’) implies humiliation and that the verse pertains to conquering non-Muslim lands.

The debate shifted to the concept of dhimmitude, the protected status of non-Muslims under Islamic governance. I clarified that ‘dhimmi’ means ‘protected person’ and that dhimmis’ feelings of subjugation stemmed from their having to live under Islamic law in general, not from any particular mistreatment. My opponent countered with examples from the time of Umar’s Assurance, highlighting restrictions imposed on Christians and arguing that these were humiliating. He pointedly asked if Muslims would find similar rules degrading.

I pointed out that the authenticity of Umar’s Assurance is debated, with some attributing it to later jurists rather than the Caliph himself. My opponent argued that the legitimacy of Islamic laws does not rest solely on the character of political leaders but on the consensus of jurists.

I asserted that true Islamic law is derived from the Quran and authentic hadith. My opponent questioned who determines the proper understanding of these texts, noting that scholars diverge widely in their views. I mentioned that consensus among scholars is crucial but acknowledged that different groups might have their own consensus. He cited legal manuals from various schools of Islamic jurisprudence, all of which included humiliating conditions for dhimmis, reinforcing his point that such practices are integral to Islamic law.

My opponent maintained that Islamic legal texts mandate even the poor to pay jizyah and that the humiliation is inherent in the laws themselves.

I argued that the Quran should be the primary source of Islamic law, and it contains no explicit command to humiliate dhimmis. My opponent pointed out that Islamic jurisprudence combines Quranic text, hadith, and juristic consensus, and that these have long produced discriminatory laws. He quoted various scholars and legal manuals to prove that systemic humiliation is part of established Islamic law, showing that my argument was insufficient against historical consensus.

To counter, I cited Ibn al-Qayyim’s work, which denies historical evidence for such humiliations in jizyah collection. Ibn al-Qayyim interprets the dhimmis’ feelings of being low or sad as arising from a feeling akin to paying taxes one disagrees with rather than stemming from discrimination and humiliation. My opponent remained unconvinced, emphasising that the majority consensus among jurists includes humiliating conditions and cannot be dismissed by a single scholar’s opinion.

Towards the end of the debate, I acknowledged the diversity of interpretations and the rigorous methods scholars use to authenticate hadith and derive legal rulings. My opponent insisted that the established body of Islamic law, including its dhimmi-humiliating aspects, is backed by centuries of juristic consensus and cannot be easily refuted. Despite my attempts to present a more humane and flexible understanding of jizyah, my opponent’s extensive citations from legal texts and historical practices ultimately made a compelling case for the systemic nature of these conditions, highlighting the challenge of reconciling ideal Islamic principles with historical jurisprudence.

I have now accepted my full and decisive defeat in this debate and my inability to defend the Islamic argument.

As a penance for this and many other defeats in debate, I have now shaved my beard and abandoned Islam. I have also paid my own form of jizyah to secular societies—a much better use of money, I think! I hope that by sharing these stories of my defeats I can help others to counter Islamic apologetics—and perhaps even help some Muslims to go on the same journey of enlightenment as I have.

Jalal’s ‘statement of defeat’ by secularists in debate can be found here.

Related reading

The need to rekindle irreverence for Islam in Muslim thought, by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Artificial intelligence and algorithmic bias on Islam, by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

When does a religious ideology become a political one? The case of Islam, by Niko Alm

Surviving Ramadan: An ex-Muslim’s journey in Pakistan’s religious landscape, by Azad

From religious orthodoxy to free thought, by Tehreem Azeem

Britain’s liberal imam: Interview with Taj Hargey, by Emma Park

Breaking the silence: Pakistani ex-Muslims find a voice on social media, by Tehreem Azeem

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