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Osama's Tax Incentives to Americans - Not Telling the Whole Truth

by Alamgir Hossain

13 Sep, 2007

In his latest video message, Osama bin Laden coaxed Americans to accept Islam, in which, he also offered them heavy tax incentive. He said, "There are no taxes in Islam, but rather there is a limited Zakaat [alms] totaling 2.5 percent." This huge tax-cut might be very tempting for the well-off and big corporations in America . However, he is not telling us whole truth about the taxation system of ideal Islamic states, such as was in the now-defunct Islamic caliphate, which Osama wants to reinstate on the global scale.

A true Islamic state will have two kinds of citizens: the believers (Muslims) and the dhimmis. Dhimmis, according to Islam, constitute of four kinds of monotheists that existed in Arabia at time of Muhammad‚€•namely the Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians (Magians) and the Sabians. The idolaters (also heathens, atheists etc.) must accept Islam or be killed as commanded in the Quran: "kill the idolaters, wherever ye find them" [Quran 9:5]. But the Umayyad caliphs (661‚€“750 CE) allowed the idolaters to live under the category of dhimmis in violation of the Quran. Umayyads were rightly condemned as "Godless" by the pious orthodox and the wider Muslim community for their numerous actions that violated the Quran or defied Allah.

Bin Laden tells us that Zakat is the only tax in Islam. But he does not tell us that it applies only to Muslim citizens and that there are other kinds of taxes imposed on dhimmi citizens. Dhimmis must pay at least two kinds of taxes in ideal Islamic states, namely the jiziyah (poll-tax) and kharaj (land-tax). There is a third kind of divinely sanctioned income of the Islamic states, called khams.

Khams is the spoils of war, also extracted from the non-Muslims. It was the major component of income of the only ideal Islamic state of Medina, which was founded and ruled by Prophet Muhammad during his 10-year tenure (622‚€“632). Muslims, under Muhammad's leadership, only engaged in conquest, raids and plunder for making a living, which was thought to be the ideal means of earning livelihood by devout early Muslims. They never engaged in agriculture or trades. This mode of living was sanctioned by the Prophet himself according to a tradition: Narrated Abu Umama al-Bahili: I saw some agricultural equipments (sic) and I heard the Prophet saying: "There is no house in which these equipment enters except that Allah will cause humiliation to enter it" [Sahih Bukhari 3.39.514]. Dr Muhammad Muhsin Khan, the translator of al-Zubaidi's collection of Sahih Bukhari hadiths, comments on this hadith that the profession of cultivation is often of oppressive humiliation especially under the feudal system. By indulging in this work, one may neglect the obligatory Jihad in Allah's cause [al-Zubaidi, p505].

The best example of acquiring khams revenue was Muhammad's capture of the assets, weapons and abodes of the Jews, after attacking and banishing them from Medina by deportation (Qainuqa and Nadir tribes) and mass-slaughter (Quraiza tribe). In the latter case, 600-800 adult males were executed, while the women and children were enslaved and included in the khams. This also received sanction from Allah: "(of the defeated Jews) Some ye slew, and ye made captive some. And He caused you to inherit their land and their houses and their wealth, and land ye have not trodden. Allah is ever Able to do all things" [Quran 33:26-27].

A prominent instance of extracting kharaj tax from dhimmis comes from Prophet's conquest of the rich and prosperous Jewish outpost of Khyabar, 70 miles north of Medina, in 628 CE. Still commanding a small community of Muslim fighters based in Medina, it was impossible for Muhammad to take over the administration of Khaybar at this point of time, for security reasons in particular. Hence, after plundering the movable assets and enslaving the women of Khaybar, the rest of the Jews were allowed to stay in the possession of their lands on the condition that they must surrender half of the produce to Muhammad as tribute (kharaj tax). The Khaybar incidence, "struck terror to the hearts of the men of Fadak" and "They sent to him an offer of peace on condition that they should keep half of their produce," which was accepted by Muhammad [Ibn Ishaq, p510-515]. But, the Jews were allowed to be in the possession of the conquered land only until Muslims became strong and numerous enough to take it into their own possession. During the rule of caliph Omar (634‚€“644 CE), the Jews were expelled. In other instances, the Prophet had fixed the tax at 10% of the produce for some tribes who had submitted to him [Muir, p433]. The tax extracted from the produce of the land of dhimmi subjects, ranging between 10% and 50%, thus became known as kharaj or land-tax. Drawing from these examples of the Prophet, the second caliph Omar formulated the kharaj taxation, which was resolutely implemented in pre-colonial Islamic states.

Extraction of jiziyah (poll-tax) from dhimmi citizens was clearly commanded in the Quran: "Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture (Christian & Jews) as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low" [Quran 9:29]. On his last and largest expedition to border of powerful Byzantine Empire in 630 CE, Muhammad camped at Tabuk and sent out emissaries to the heads of nearby principalities demanding that they accept Islam or pay jiziyah. A letter addressed to the prince of Ayala read: "‚€¶I will not fight against you until I have written this unto you. Believe or else pay the tribute (Jiziyah)‚€¶. But if ye displease them (the emissaries), I will accept nothing from you until I have fought against you and taken captive your little ones and slain the elder; for I am the apostle of God in truth. " [Muir, p442, notes]. Upon this the chiefs of Ayala, Jabra and Adhruh principalities came to the prophet and paid jiziyah [Ibn Ishaq, p607].

Modern apologists of Islam have often sought to describe jiziyah as 'protection tax'. But protection from whom: Muslims themselves? It is actually meant for allowing the unyielding dhimmis to live in Islamic states under sufferance and humiliation for rejecting " the Religion of Truth" . It was an expression of their subjugated and lowly status to Muslims. Payment of jiziyah must accompany the intended humiliation‚€•i.e., "pay the tribute readily, being brought low"‚€•of the dhimmi as prescribed by famous Islamic scholars. Imam al-Ghazzali, the greatest Sufi master and considered the second-greatest Muslim next to Prophet Muhammad, prescribes the following protocol for payment of jiziyah by dhimmis: "‚€¶the Jews, Christians and the Majians must pay the jiziyah‚€¶ On offering up the jiziyah, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits (the dhimmi) on the protuberant bone beneath his ear" [Bostom, p199]. Ibn Warraq quotes famous Islamic commentator al-Zamakhshari's (1075‚€“1144CE) interpretation of Quran 9:29 as follows: "The Jizyah shall be taken from them with belittlement and humiliation. He (Dhimmi) shall come in person, walking not riding. When he pays, eh shall stand, while the tax-collector sits. The collector shall seize him by the scruff of the neck, shake him and say: 'Pay the Jizyah!' and when he pays it, he shall be slapped on the nape of his neck " [Ibn Warraq, p228-229].

Muslims contribute only the meager Zakat, which is fixed at 2.5% of excess produce of the year, to the treasury of ideal Islamic states. This concept of charity was borrowed by Muhammad from the existing tradition of the Jews of Medina. Zakat fund was to be used only for religious purposes, such as for building mosques, propagation of Islam, and paying the voluntary Jihadists etc.‚€•not for funding secular activities. Payment of the meager Zakat is also voluntary and there is no report of its systematic collection during Muhammad's tenure at the helm of the Medina caliphate. Muslims were only supposed to receive from the state fund, coming mainly from taxes extracted from dhimmi subjects, and from the khams, plundered from the non-Muslims. Egyptian documents, dating between 80-100 years of the Islamic calendar, show that no Muslim but only the non-Muslims paid taxes to the state [Triton; p198]. Similarly, Prof Habibullah writes of the first 100 years of Islamic rule after founding of Muslim Sultanate in India in 1206 that "the Muslim was merely a tax receiver and took little direct part in the production and increase of the country's agricultural wealth" [Habibullah, p316].

Such a protocol was in force during early period of Islam when there were large numbers of dhimmis and conquerable non-Muslim territories to contribute enough for sustenance of the state. However, the major income for the Islamic caliphate, coming in the form of spoils of war (khams), started drying up after French general Charles Martel defeated and repulsed the conquering and plundering Muslim army in the Battle of Tours in central France in 732 CE. After this defeat, Muslim rulers had to wait for centuries to make major inroads into the non-Islamic territories for capturing khams. Furthermore, Muslim population bubbled as time passed by resulting from conversion and fast reproduction. Conversion also led to progressive thinning of dhimmi population, which gradually reduced earnings from the kharaj and jiziyah taxes. This made it increasingly impossible for the burgeoning Islamic caliphate to sustain its affairs, which forced the rulers to impose extra un-Islamic taxes on Muslim citizens, too. In 764 CE, Abbasid caliph al-Mansur imposed taxes in excess of the Zakat on Muslims, giving it an Islamic color by placing the duty of its collection on the religious authority, which caused much displeasure among Muslims, in general, and among the ulema (scholars), in particular. The new extra-Islamic tax on Muslims, called 'Maks' (singular, Makus), became standard practice in later centuries. This un-Islamic imposition caused great dissatisfaction among Muslims, particularly among the clerical class and reformist Islamic political activists, over the subsequent centuries leading up to modern times ‚€• Osama bin Laden being one of them. Pakistan government reinstituted Zakat collection as state policy in the 1970s. The Almoravid rulers in Spain went back to Zakat-alone-from-the-Muslims policy in 1090 CE, and the allegedly enlightened Sultan Saladin, a jealous Sunni and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty of Syria and Egypt, also did the same. But the unsustainable policy of Saladin was soon discarded after his death by his more enlightened and pragmatic son, who even increased the rate of Maks, naturally earning much displeasure of Muslims [Pipes, 53].

This summarizes the ideal (divine) taxation system of Islamic states. Those in America, who might be tempted by bin Laden's benevolent tax incentive, must also take into account of what would befall those citizens who would not accept Islam in an ideal Islamic States of America. They must also ponder upon how the meager and voluntary Zakat tax would maintain the affair of the state and services to the citizens. Last but not least, they must remember that Islam's divine system of taxation was a failure quite early in Islam and had to be violated by the Abbasid caliphs in the 760s.



1. Al-Zubaidi, AZAL (1994) Compilation of Summarized Sahih Al-Bukhari. (trs. Dr Muhammd Muhsin Khan), Riyadh.

2. Bostom, AG (2005), The Legacy of Jihad, New York.

3. Habibullah, ABM (1976), The Foundation of Muslims Rule in India , Allahabad ( India).

4. Ibn Ishaq (1967), The Life of Muhammad, (trs. A Guillaume), Karachi (Pakistan )

5. Ibn Warraq (1995), Why I Am Not a Muslim, New York

6. Muir, W (1992), The Life of Mahomet, New Delhi

7. Pipes, D (2001), In the Path of God, New Delhi

8. Triton, AS (1970), Caliphs and Their Non-Muslim Subjects, London

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