The third question relates to the word jezyah or tribute. We are told to fight them until they pay the jezyah, which means until they either accept Islam or pay the jezyah. In the Quran there is no doubt that a difference has been maintained between the People of the Book and the polytheists, or mushrikin, those who formally worship idols and do not follow any holy book. Nowhere in the Quran are we told to fight the mushrikin until they pay the jezyah, and to fight them no more once they have paid it. Concerning the People of the Book, however, we are told that once they are willing to pay the jezyah, we are to fight them no longer. This is a difference that clearly exists.
This brings us to this question, namely, what is jezyah? There is debate about the word itself. Some say it is not an Arabic word by origin; that it has no Arabic root, but is a derivative of the Persian word gaziyet, the name of a tax introduced by Anoushiravan, the Sassanian King of Persia. This tax, however, was a poll tax on the people of Persia themselves and not on anyone else and it was collected for war. They say that the use of the word then spread from Iran to Hira, a town situated roughly on the site of present-day Najaf (in Iraq) and from there it was adopted by the rest of the Arabian peninsula where it became widely used.
Others reject this. Though it is true that jezyah and gaziyeh are very close, jezyah is an Arabic word from the root "jaza" - and this is the view of most etymologists. The real interest is not in the nature of the word, however, for what we are looking for is the nature of the essence which the word denotes. Is jezyah the extortion of "protection money" or "danegeld," a kind of blackmail? Does Islam tell us to fight so as to obtain blackmail and, when it has been paid, to fight no longer? A poet has even said: "We are such that from emperors we have taken taxes, then we even took their crowns and maces."
If the meaning of jezyah implies a kind of blackmail, the question arises as to what is the meaning of it all. What kind of instruction is it? Is it not a law of violence and brute force? What kind of basis in human rights and justice can it have, for Islam to give Muslims permission, even make it obligatory for them, to fight the people of other religions until they either accept Islam or buy the Muslims off? Both these alternatives present a problem, for fighting them until they become Muslims will mean imposing Islam on them, and fighting them until they buy the Muslims off will mean exacting wealth from them. Both alternatives are the use of violence and force, for either it means imposing beliefs upon them or forcefully extracting money from them. So here too we must enter into details to find out just what jezyah is. Is it really "blackmail," "protection money," "danegeld?" Or is it something else?
Here, the Quran says "vahom sagheroon" meaning, "and they are the low," "while they are the low." Sagheroon comes from the word 'seghar" and 'seghar" means "low (small)." While they are the low. What is the meaning of "they are the low?" This is also the fourth question namely what is the meaning of they are the low? Does it mean that they must only humble themselves before your power or does Islam mean other matters besides humility (being humble)?
Here we must set aside the meaning of this verse and the questions that arise from it, and look at other issues that must be separately analyzed and discussed in preparation.
Adapted from the book: "Jihad; The Holy War of Islam and Its Legitimacy in the Quran" by: "Ayatullah Morteza Mutahhari"
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