Jizya is a tax that Muslim governments and rulers enforced on non Muslims. This was not a simple tax, but had deep connotation. Its basic purpose was to hasten conversion to Islam.
The Koran in a verse (2:256a) does say that “Let there be no compulsion in religion”. Literally it means that force should not be used to convert non-Muslims to Islam. Despite this Islam also mentions that non-Muslims are asked to pay a special tax called Jizya. This tax hastened the conversion of non-Muslims notably Christians to Islam.
Muslim faith is built on two rocks like edifices. Firstly for Muslims the Koran is the literal transcript of the words of God. Secondly there are the Hadiths which are an account of the exact words and deeds of Muhammad.
From these two sources it follows that the injunction for all Muslims is that when they meet their enemies who are polytheists, three courses of action are to be followed. The Koran Verse 9:29 is explicit on this point. The Hadith of Ishaq 956 & 962 also says “He who withholds the Jizya is an enemy of Allah and His apostle”.
a) Firstly Muslims are advised that in case their enemies accept Islam then they should take the non believers in their fold and desist from fighting them.
b) Secondly in case they refuse to accept Islam then demand the ‘Jizya’ from them. If they agree to pay then spare them and let them live.
c) Thirdly in case they refuse to pay than fight them.
The Hadith of Bukhari (53:386) says very much the same thing.
The Jizya is a tax and is almost like a deal which allowed non-Muslims to continue to live in the Muslim areas with other conditions. Muslim armies swept across North Africa and in 643, Tripoli was conquered. The native Christian Berbers were taxed and Jizya imposed. In most cases the wives and children were taken slaves by Muslims as a part of Jizya. The Taliban recently in the North West Tribal region of Pakistan imposed Jizya tax on Non- Muslims leading to many Hindus and Sikhs fleeing the region.
Some other conditions of Jizya were also prescribed. These required non Muslims to wear distinctive clothing. In addition their houses were to have special markings and they were forbidden to build new churches or synagogues. Jizya also required that non Muslims who owned land to pay land tax which was many times higher than the normal.
Muslim jurists have pointed out that the Jizya had to be paid by all non-Muslims. It was a sign of subjugation of the defeated people. This was enforced by the Mughals rulers over their Hindu subjects during the centuries of Muslim rule over India.
Another point that must be mentioned is both the Jizya and the land tax were often extorted through torture and punitive methods. Sometimes the quantum of Jizya was so high that entire villages fled. Thus technically the sword was not used to convert non- Muslims but conditions were so created and life made so difficult for Christians and Jews that they thought it better to convert to avoid Jizya and all associated humiliations connected with it. It must also be mentioned that many idol worshipers notably Hindus were asked to convert or get killed. The option of Jizya was not given to them. This happened on many occasions notably at the siege of Somnath (1024) when all the Hindu priests were given the option to convert to Islam and on their refusal were beheaded.
The Jizya is an anachronism of history, but hard line Muslim organizations that believe in the Wahhabi concept of Islam swear by it.