Surah 9 (Al-Tawbah/Repentance): 28-29

28. O believers, the idolaters are indeed unclean, so let them not come near the Holy Mosque after this year of theirs.

If you fear poverty, God shall surely enrich you of His bounty, if He will.

God is All-knowing; All-wise.

29. Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden – such men as practise not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book – until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled.


The above verses would appear to have been announced at a time when Muhammad’s control over Masjid al-Haram, from which he and his followers had once been excluded, 〈36.〉, 〈37.〉, has been made secure and absolute. They are traditionally understood as allowing ‘those who were given the Book’, that is Jews and Christians 〈19.〉, to live under Islamic rule and to observe Jewish or Christian religious practises – but only upon the conditions that they are under no circumstances to enter the Masjid al-Haram shrine at Mecca, and that they must pay the ’jizya’, usually translated, if translated at all, as ‘tribute’, (per Arberry, Pickthall, The Study Quran, Ali Qarai) in submission to the Islamic ruler. The rationale for the demand for payment in {9.29} is given in the preceding verse, namely that the taxing of the People of the Book was a means of compensating believers who ‘feared poverty’ as a result of the exclusion of ’mushrikun‘ from the Masjid al-Haram. It is generally assumed that this fear of poverty related to the loss to the believers of opportunities to trade with pilgrims, after the announcement of {9.28}.


The reference to the payer having been ‘humbled’ (per Arberry), ‘subdued’, (Yusuf Ali), ‘brought low’, (Pickthall) or ‘humiliated’ (Qaribullah, Samira) indicates that the jizya is money paid by a non-Muslim to the Islamic state to demonstrate submission to Islam, rather than any form of welfare state from which they may expect to derive any indirect benefit. Later the institution of the jizya became an important element in facilitating the Arab conquests and encouraging conversions to Islam. If a people resisted the Arab armies and were overcome, they became liable to massacre, if an adult male, or enslavement as the spoils of war 〈94.〉 Faced with this prospect, the alternative of surrendering and retaining religious rights subject to the payment of tribute to a caliph rather than tax to an emperor had an obvious appeal. In fact, following Byzantium’s persecution of Jews and the bitter conflicts over Christian doctrine, many Jews and Christians may well have much preferred to pay the jizya and enjoy an increased freedom of religion than had been permitted to them by a doctrinaire Byzantine ecclesiastical hierarchy. John of Fenek, writing in the late seventh century commented of the Arab conquerors: ‘of each person they required only tribute, allowing him to remain in whatever faith he wished’.


Over time, though, the subservient status of ‘dhimmi’ became a major driver of conversions to Islam as non-Arab subjects realised the ease with which proclaiming oneself a believer might change their lot in life from being part a vanquished tributary people to enjoying the perks of membership of the conquering elite. Although some ancient Christian communities survive in the middle east, in general it is thought to be the financial burden and associated inferior legal and social status of ‘dhimmitude’ that has been, historically, much the greater factor in conversions to Islam in Muslim lands than forced conversions at the point of the sword.