Fear of the Caliphate

In the past year, the Middle East has undergone massive changes that include the removal of the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt and protests that have rocked Libya, Syria, and Yemen. The world watched as the power of decades-long dictators was challenged. While the future is still unknown for these countries, it is clear that the fear of Islam, Islamic law, and an Islamically run government is widespread. As these leaders fell, fear of emerging Islamist governments and a new caliphate, an Islamic government led by a caliph, was repeatedly brought into the discussions. Terms like caliphate, sharia, jizya, and dhimmi continue to be utilized in many contexts to reflect this uneasiness with Islamic rule.

This fear of Islamic law and the Muslim presence extends beyond the Middle East where the Muslim Brotherhood continues to be a concern in Egypt, for example. In several European countries, laws have been passed to prohibit face veils and minarets–both visual expressions of Islam. And in the United States, many states are proposing bans on sharia. Moreover, in the blogosphere, many Islamophobic sites have propagated the idea that Muslims are trying to resurrect the caliphate, through numbers and ideology and that when Muslims are in power non-Muslims are in danger. This stems from a misunderstanding of the history of Islam and the caliphate itself.

Many times it is said that Islam was spread by the sword; that as the Islamic Empire spread, non-Muslims were given the choice to convert or die. This idea is fundamentally challenged by one verse in the Qur’an:

Let there be no compulsion in religion.
(Qur’an 2:256)

Anti-Muslim sentiment is also fueled by those who argue that under the caliphate, non-Muslims, called dhimmis, were humiliated by being forced to pay a tax called jizya. It is important to understand the meanings of these terms. Dhimmi  derives from the Arabic dhimmah, which means “pledge or covenant.” In other words, Ahl ad-dhimmah, the people of Dhimmah were non-Muslim citizens of the caliphate who had the pledge of the Islamic government to protection from external threats as well as internal tyranny. Dhimmis  had the right to practice their religion peacefully and to be protected by the state.  They were required to pay a tax called jizya which comes from the Arabic jaza “to compensate,” while Muslims had to pay their own tax: zakat. This was a tax paid to the state for protection and exemption from military service. Only able-bodied men were required to pay the jizya and it was forbidden to overburden anyone with too much tax, according to a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad:

He who harms a person under covenant, or charged him more than he can, I will argue against him on the Day of Judgement.

Furthermore, if the Islamic state was unable to protect the dhimmis, the jizya was returned to them, as was done during the time of Umar, the second caliph.

In regards to punishments, some have maintained that under the caliphate, distinctions were made between Muslims and dhimmis. What we know is that punishments were applied equally and that the only difference was in things that were permitted for non-Muslims and forbidden for Muslims. For example, non-Muslims would not be punished for drinking.  Thus, this idea that sharia was applied indiscriminately without regard for the person’s faith is not accurate.

While there were instances of persecution, according to John Esposito in Islam: The Straight Path, many times Christians and Jews found Muslim rule more tolerant and flexible.

In the current context, the emergence of another caliphate is unlikely. Muslims are much more widespread and invested in the countries in which they live. Even in majority Muslim countries, many times there is a distrust of Islamist groups and their ability to create an Islamic government that embodies the tolerance and flexibility of  the early Islamic empire. So, the fear of a caliphate and dhimmi  status is both unfounded and unrealistic.

What is your reaction to the terms caliphate, sharia, jizya, and dhimmi?  Is the history of the Islamic Empire relevant today? Why do you think there is a fear of an Islamic government? Is there the same fear of any other kind religious government?  Please share your comments below.

2 thoughts on “Fear of the Caliphate

  1. 1. Nothing in the Qur’an exempts non-Muslims from the jizya.
    2. Drawing equivalence between zakat and jizya by saying that Muslims pay zakat and non-Muslims pay jizya is absurd. By that taxation logic, since I tithe to my church as a Christian, you as a Muslim should be required to pay some type of tax to my church as well. As a bonus, my church will “exempt” you from military service. It’s silly.
    3. Non-Muslims are also required to pay kharaj. When coupled together, kharaj and jizya could easily cost more than zakat.
    4. There is a nisab for zakat. There is no nisab for jizya.
    5. Western taxes are imposed with the consent of the governed. Jizya is imposed by religious fiat.

    Ask yourself, would it be right for the U.S. to impose a special tax on non-Christians, and only against non-Christians? Would you gladly pay it until you are humbled?

  2. any believer in islam knows that there is a hadith that says that the khilafah will return.

    Hadhrat Huzaifa narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: Prophethood will remain among you as long as Allah wills. Then Caliphate (Khilafah) on the lines of Prophethood shall commence, and remain as long as Allah wills. Then corrupt/erosive monarchy would take place, and it will remain as long as Allah wills. After that, despotic kingship would emerge, and it will remain as long as Allah wills. Then, the Caliphate (Khilafah) shall come once again based on the precept of Prophethood.