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The Story of the Prophetic Mission of Muhammad (pbuh) From the Qu’ran (Part 6): The People of the Book and Jiziya

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

17 August 2015

This part of the article describes the story from the Quran on the relationship between the Prophet and the “People of the Book” and the conditions that lead to the promulgation of verse 9:29 on Jiziya in Surah Taubah as part of Allah’s judgment on the immediate addressees of the Prophet’s mission. The Surah was revealed towards the end of the mission, when all territories and people in the Arabian Peninsula had come under the political control of the Prophet. The People of the Book in Mecca were few and the first real interactions with them started in Medina after the Prophet’s migration to the city in 622 CE.

Conditions In Medina Before The Arrival Of The Prophet

Arab society was tribal and lived by the laws and norms of a tribe where every person was loyal to his tribe and the tribe stood by every member. A fight between two individuals belonging to different tribes easily escalated into a full scale tribal war. Medina had twelve important pagan clans and there were frequent fights between them. The Khazraj and the Aws clan were at war in 617 CE. The Khazraj demanded hostages from the Jewish tribes of the Qurayza and the Nadir as a guarantee of their neutrality in the war. These hostages were killed by the Khazraj after which the Qurayza and the Nadir clans actually allied with the Aws and together narrowly defeated the Khazraj. In this environment of mutual suspicion, deceit and treachery, a need was felt for a neutral arbitrator who could adjudicate disputes fairly and maintain peace between the clans. Muhammad (pbuh) had such a reputation as he was called Amin or the trustworthy by all in Mecca.

A delegation from Medina, consisting of the representatives of the twelve important clans of Medina, invited him as a neutral outsider to Medina to serve as the chief arbitrator for the entire community in 621 CE. The twelve representatives also accepted the Prophet's call to Islam and signed a pledge in which they agreed to obey Allah, not commit murder, adultery or steal. This is known as the First Covenant of Al-Aqabah. The delegation from Medina pledged themselves and their fellow-citizens to accept Muhammad into their community and physically protect him as one of themselves. This is followed by the Second Covenant of Al-Aqabah in which 73 Medinians take up the pledge, including 2 women.

While the people from Medina were eager to have Muhammad (pbuh) in their midst, the people in Mecca were making life difficult for the Muslims. Persecution of Muslims by the Quaraish in Mecca intensified and in 615 CE a group of Muslims left for Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia) and sought asylum on the advice of the Prophet. A second group comprising a little over a hundred people emigrated in 616 CE. In the year 617, the Quraysh under the leadership of Abu Jahl, banished the Muslims and their supporters to a dry valley and refused to trade with them. Muhammad’s uncle, Abu Talib, lost his business and the Muslims nearly starved. Abu Bakr, once a wealthy trader, lost everything. In 619, Muhammad’s wife Khadijah died, and then Muhammad also lost his protector and uncle, Abu Talib in 620.

Migration to Medina

The Muslims were offered asylum in a city north of Makkah called Yathrib (later, Madinah). The migration of the Muslims to Yathrib, in 622, is called the Hijrah. Hearing of a joint plot by all the tribes of Mecca to kill Muhammad, he and Abu Bakr escaped to Madinah together in the night, and received a joyful reception by the leaders of that town who willingly adopted Islam. The migration is referred to in an early Medinian Surah Al-Anfal verse 8:30, and also a late Medinian Surah Taubah verse 9:40 below:

(8:30) Remember how the Unbelievers plotted against thee, to keep thee in bonds, or slay thee, or get thee out (of thy home). They plot and plan, and Allah too plans; but the best of planners is Allah.

(9:40) If ye help not (your leader), (it is no matter): for Allah did indeed help him, when the Unbelievers drove him out: he had no more than one companion; they two were in the cave, and he said to his companion, "Have no fear, for Allah is with us": then Allah sent down His peace upon him, and strengthened him with forces which ye saw not, and humbled to the depths the word of the Unbelievers. But the word of Allah is exalted to the heights: for Allah is Exalted in might, Wise.

Charter of Medina

Muhammad established a mutual defence and cooperation pact called “The Charter of Medina”. The charter constituted an agreement between the various Muslim (Muhajirun and Ansar), Jewish, Pagan, and Christian groups in Medina, declaring them to constitute Ummah Wāidah or “one nation", and formed the basis of a multi-religious Islamic state in Medina. This was the beginning of the Arab society moving away from a purely tribal society to the concept of a single nation where an individual was responsible to the state in his individual capacity and not collectively as a member of a tribe.

The Charter was created to maintain peace and cooperation among all Medinan groups and to forge a social and political entity or a single nation. The Charter guaranteed freedom of religious beliefs and practices for all citizens. The participation and involvement of all interested parties in all important matters concerning the “new nation” such as the negotiation with foreign states and defence of Medina from outside aggression was ensured. It also established the security of women, a tax system for supporting the community in times of conflict, and a judicial system for resolving disputes. It declared the role of Medina as a aram or "sacred place" where no weapons can be carried and no blood spilled.

 Rights of non-Muslims under the Charter:

The non-Muslims had the following rights under the charter:

1.       Security of life and protection against outsiders.

2.       Equal political and cultural rights and freedom of religion.


To fight against external aggression and share the cost of war..

The Charter did not cover fighting or helping the Meccan Muslims in case they were the aggressors but prevented the others from siding with the enemy of the Meccan Muslims or aiding their enemy in any manner.

Different Groups in Medina

While all the clans together were referred to as a single nation, there were clearly the following major groups:

1.       The immigrant Muslims from Mecca

2.       The pagan tribes now converted to Islam who had invited the Prophet to Medina and gave help and shelter to all the immigrants now known as the Anars or the helpers.

The Prophet was clearly the religious, spiritual and political leader of the above group of people who had accepted Islam. About these people it is said:

(3:103) And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah´s favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided.

Then there were the Jews and the Christians who do not appear to have become a part of the “single nation” even though they may have become reluctant signatories to “The Charter”.  As far as these groups are concerned, the charter remained in practice a unilateral declaration by the Prophet as is evident from the following verses of the Quran:

The Uneasy Relationship with the “People of the Book”

(5:41) O Messenger! let not those grieve thee, who race each other into unbelief: (whether it be) among those who say "We believe" with their lips but whose hearts have no faith; or it be among the Jews,- men who will listen to any lie,- will listen even to others who have never so much as come to thee. They change the words from their (right) times and places: they say, "If ye are given this, take it, but if not, beware!" If any one´s trial is intended by Allah, thou hast no authority in the least for him against Allah. For such - it is not Allah´s will to purify their hearts. For them there is disgrace in this world, and in the Hereafter a heavy punishment.

(42) (They are fond of) listening to falsehood, of devouring anything forbidden. If they do come to thee, either judge between them, or decline to interfere. If thou decline, they cannot hurt thee in the least. If thou judge, judge in equity between them. For Allah loveth those who judge in equity.

(43) But why do they come to thee for decision, when they have (their own) law before them? - Therein is the (plain) command of Allah; yet even after that, they would turn away. For they are not (really) People of Faith

(44) It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed (as in Islam) to Allah´s will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for to them was entrusted the protection of Allah´s book, and they were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not men, but fear me, and sell not my signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers.

(45) We ordained therein for them: "Life for life, eye for eye, nose or nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal." But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself. And if any fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (No better than) wrong-doers.

(46) And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah.

(47) Let the people of the Gospel judge by what Allah hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) those who rebel.

(48) To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that hath come to thee. To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute;

(49) And this (He commands): Judge thou between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, but beware of them lest they beguile thee from any of that (teaching) which Allah hath sent down to thee. And if they turn away, be assured that for some of their crime it is Allah´s purpose to punish them. And truly most men are rebellious.

(50) Do they then seek after a judgment of (the days of) ignorance? But who, for a people whose faith is assured, can give better judgment than Allah?

(51) O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.

(52) Those in whose hearts is a disease - thou seest how eagerly they run about amongst them, saying: "We do fear lest a change of fortune bring us disaster." Ah! perhaps Allah will give (thee) victory, or a decision according to His will. Then will they repent of the thoughts which they secretly harboured in their hearts.

(53) And those who believe will say: "Are these the men who swore their strongest oaths by Allah that they were with you?" All that they do will be in vain, and they will fall into (nothing but) ruin.

(54) O ye who believe! if any from among you turn back from his Faith, soon will Allah produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him,- lowly with the believers, mighty against the rejecters, fighting in the way of Allah, and never afraid of the reproaches of such as find fault. That is the grace of Allah, which He will bestow on whom He pleaseth. And Allah encompasseth all, and He knoweth all things.

(55) Your (real) friends are (no less than) Allah, His Messenger, and the (fellowship of) believers,- those who establish regular prayers and regular charity, and they bow down humbly (in worship).

(56) As to those who turn (for friendship) to Allah, His Messenger, and the (fellowship of) believers,- it is the fellowship of Allah that must certainly triumph.

(57) O ye who believe! take not for friends and protectors those who take your religion for a mockery or sport,- whether among those who received the Scripture before you, or among those who reject Faith; but fear ye Allah, if ye have faith (indeed).

(58) When ye proclaim your call to prayer they take it (but) as mockery and sport; that is because they are a people without understanding.

(59) Say: "O people of the Book! Do ye disapprove of us for no other reason than that we believe in Allah, and the revelation that hath come to us and that which came before (us), and (perhaps) that most of you are rebellious and disobedient?"

(60) Say: "Shall I point out to you something much worse than this, (as judged) by the treatment it received from Allah? those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of whom some He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped evil;- these are (many times) worse in rank, and far more astray from the even path!"

(61) When they come to thee, they say: "We believe": but in fact they enter with a mind against Faith, and they go out with the same but Allah knoweth fully all that they hide.

(62) Many of them dost thou see, racing each other in sin and rancour, and their eating of things forbidden. Evil indeed are the things that they do.

(63) Why do not the rabbis and the doctors of Law forbid them from their (habit of) uttering sinful words and eating things forbidden? Evil indeed are their works.

(64) The Jews say: "Allah´s hand is tied up." Be their hands tied up and be they accursed for the (blasphemy) they utter. Nay, both His hands are widely outstretched: He giveth and spendeth (of His bounty) as He pleaseth. But the revelation that cometh to thee from Allah increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. Amongst them we have placed enmity and hatred till the Day of Judgment. Every time they kindle the fire of war, Allah doth extinguish it; but they (ever) strive to do mischief on earth. And Allah loveth not those who do mischief.

(65) If only the People of the Book had believed and been righteous, We should indeed have blotted out their iniquities and admitted them to gardens of bliss.

(66) If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course: but many of them follow a course that is evil.

(67) O Messenger! proclaim the (message) which hath been sent to thee from thy Lord. If thou didst not, thou wouldst not have fulfilled and proclaimed His mission. And Allah will defend thee from men (who mean mischief). For Allah guideth not those who reject Faith.

(68) Say: "O People of the Book! ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord." It is the revelation that cometh to thee from thy Lord, that increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. But sorrow thou not over (these) people without Faith.

(69) Those who believe (in the Qur´an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

(70) We took the covenant of the Children of Israel and sent them messengers, every time, there came to them a messenger with what they themselves desired not - some (of these) they called impostors, and some they (go so far as to) slay.

(71) They thought there would be no trial (or punishment); so they became blind and deaf; yet Allah (in mercy) turned to them; yet again many of them became blind and deaf. But Allah sees well all that they do.

Nature of relationship with the ‘People of the Book”

The relations with the “People of the Book” continued to be on tribal lines as is evident by the entire tribe defending their members ‘in, fractions which resulted in the entire tribe being punished for it.

The examples of such tribes are the Banu Qaynuqa, Banu Nadir and the Banu Qurayza who were punished for serious infraction of the “The Charter”. 

The charge against the Banu Nadir, a Jewish tribe was:

1.       They incited the Quraysh after their loss at Badr for the revenge war at Uhud,

2.       They planned the killing of the Prophet by making it look like an accident after having invited him for negotiations. The Prophet was fortunate in narrowly escaping the attempt.

Muhammad besieged the Banu Nadir. He ordered them to surrender their property and leave Medina within ten days. The tribe at first decided to comply, but "certain people of Medina who were not Believers of Muhammad sent a message to the Banu al-Nadir, saying, 'Hold out, and defend yourselves; we shall not surrender you to Muhammad. If you are attacked we shall fight with you and if you are sent away we shall go with you.'"

The verses of the Quran that refer to this episode are:

(59:1) Whatever is in the heavens and on earth, let it declare the Praises and Glory of Allah: for He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.

(2) It is He Who got out the Unbelievers among the People of the Book from their homes at the first gathering (of the forces). Little did ye think that they would get out: And they thought that their fortresses would defend them from Allah! But the (Wrath of) Allah came to them from quarters from which they little expected (it), and cast terror into their hearts, so that they destroyed their dwellings by their own hands and the hands of the Believers, take warning, then, O ye with eyes (to see)!

(3) And had it not been that Allah had decreed banishment for them, He would certainly have punished them in this world: And in the Hereafter they shall (certainly) have the Punishment of the Fire.

(4) That is because they resisted Allah and His Messenger: and if any one resists Allah, verily Allah is severe in Punishment.

About The Hypocrites among the Muslims

 (11) Hast thou not observed the Hypocrites say to their misbelieving brethren among the People of the Book? - "If ye are expelled, we too will go out with you, and we will never hearken to any one in your affair; and if ye are attacked (in fight) we will help you". But Allah is witness that they are indeed liars.

(12) If they are expelled, never will they go out with them; and if they are attacked (in fight), they will never help them; and if they do help them, they will turn their backs; so they will receive no help.

(13) Of a truth ye are stronger (than they) because of the terror in their hearts, (sent) by Allah. This is because they are men devoid of understanding.

(14) They will not fight you (even) together, except in fortified townships, or from behind walls. Strong is their fighting (spirit) amongst themselves: thou wouldst think they were united, but their hearts are divided: that is because they are a people devoid of wisdom.

(15) Like those who lately preceded them, they have tasted the evil result of their conduct; and (in the Hereafter there is) for them a grievous Penalty;-

(16) (Their allies deceived them), like the Evil One, when he says to man, "Deny Allah": but when (man) denies Allah, (the Evil One) says, "I am free of thee: I do fear Allah, the Lord of the Worlds!"

(17) The end of both will be that they will go into the Fire, dwelling therein forever. Such is the reward of the wrong-doers.

The Banu Nadir after their expulsion, continued to fight with the Muslims by aligning with the enemy in the Battle of the Trench and they also fought in the Battle of Khaybar.

Verse 59:15 refers to the Banu Qaynuqa tribe which was expelled earlier after a series of incidents and their openly challenge the authority of the Prophet.

  The Banu Qurayza

In 627, when the Quraysh and their allies besieged Medina in the Battle of the Trench, the Qurayza entered into negotiations with the besiegers. Subsequently, the tribe was charged with treason and besieged by the Muslims. The Banu Qurayza eventually surrendered and all the men, apart from a few who converted to Islam, were beheaded, while the women and children were enslaved.

The Quranic Verses That Mention This Event Are As Follows:

(33:26) And those of the People of the Book who aided them - Allah did take them down from their strongholds and cast terror into their hearts. (So that) some ye slew, and some ye made prisoners.

(27) And He made you heirs of their lands, their houses, and their goods, and of a land which ye had not frequented (before). And Allah has power over all things.

To summarize, the Jews and the Christians never became a part of the “single nation”. They not only did not lend support for a joint defence when Medina was besieged by the Meccan army, but some of them even lent open/clandestine support to the enemy.

The Final Judgment at the End of the Prophetic Mission:

Surah Taubah announces the final judgment on the people who were the immediate addressees of the Prophet or the people of Hejaz. What this was for the Mushrikin has been discussed in my article:

The Story of the Prophetic Mission of Muhammad (Pbuh) In the Qu’ran (Part 4): The Medinian Period

For the “People of the Book” who did not openly fight with the Muslims but also did not become part of the “one nation” under the charter of Medina, the judgment announced was:

(9:29) Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

The following verses further explain their behaviour:

(5:77) Say: "O people of the Book! exceed not in your religion the bounds (of what is proper), trespassing beyond the truth, nor follow the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by,- who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the even way.

(78) Curses were pronounced on those among the Children of Israel who rejected Faith, by the tongue of David and of Jesus the son of Mary: because they disobeyed and persisted in excesses.

(79) Nor did they (usually) forbid one another the iniquities which they committed: evil indeed were the deeds which they did.

(80) Thou seest many of them turning in friendship to the Unbelievers. Evil indeed are (the works) which their souls have sent forward before them (with the result), that Allah´s wrath is on them, and in torment will they abide.

(81) If only they had believed in Allah, in the Prophet, and in what hath been revealed to him, never would they have taken them for friends and protectors, but most of them are rebellious wrong-doers.

The ultimate argument of their lack of “good faith” is that they took for friends those who were the enemies of the Muslims and aided them when they had an understanding with the Muslims to at least remain neutral. What they had covenanted with Allah according to their own scriptures was as follows:

(3:81) Behold! Allah took the covenant of the prophets, saying: "I give you a Book and Wisdom; then comes to you a messenger, confirming what is with you; do ye believe in him and render him help." Allah said: "Do ye agree, and take this my Covenant as binding on you?" They said: "We agree." He said: "Then bear witness, and I am with you among the witnesses."(82) If any turn back after this, they are perverted transgressors.

The charge against the people of the Book in 9:29 is that they did not believe in the Prophet let alone render him help.

Verse 9:29 does not negate the belief of the People of the Book in God, the Prophet and scripture; but rather simply states that they do not act on such belief because they are rebellious wrong-doers or perverted transgressors.

(6:42) Before thee We sent (messengers) to many nations, and We afflicted the nations with suffering and adversity, that they might learn humility.

It is this rebellious nature that needed to be tamed and they had to be taught to learn to be humble to the commandments of God by making them pay Jiziya in willing subjugation to the political authority of the Prophet or as willing subjects of the new political entity. Had they become part of the “one-nation” under the “Charter of Medina” and acted faithfully in accordance with its provisions or in accordance with the covenants with Allah contained in their own Books, then they would have acted as believers and there would have been no need to tame them or to teach them humility. They would have been trusted with being required to pay Zakat alone which as per the Quran is voluntary, without a fixed percentage and what is surplus after meeting ones needs besides payment on one’s income as it is received.

(2:219) ….They ask thee how much they are to spend; Say: "What is beyond your

needs." Thus doth Allah Make clear to you His Signs: In order that ye may consider-

It is also payable on the produce on the day of harvest.

(6:141) It is He Who produceth gardens, with trellises and without, and dates, and tilth with produce of all kinds, and olives and pomegranates, similar (in kind) and different (in variety): eat of their fruit in their season, but render the dues that are proper on the day that the harvest is gathered. But waste not by excess: for Allah loveth not the wasters.

Negotiation of the Terms of Jiziya

There are several verses in the Quran that give the Prophet the mandate within which he is free to negotiate. Verse 9:29 is one such. We know from history that Jiziya was implemented by the Prophet not in terms of 9:29 but quite differently. Although no accounts are available of what transpired, it would appear that the “People of the Book” were anxious to avoid Jiziya as a punitive tax for their lack of good faith and bad behaviour during the period of the Prophet’s struggles against the main enemy of Islam and the Muslims. They therefore negotiated the terms to remove the stigma of a punitive tax for their lack of “good faith “and succeeded. The final form that Jiziya took is therefore a negotiated settlement between the two parties where both parties came out winners having achieved their objectives.

Jiziya was to be levied only on males of military age for their exemption from military service. In return the state granted all people belonging to the community the status of “The Protected People” or Zimmi meaning that the state undertook the responsibility of defending them and protecting them. They also had the freedom to practice their religion unhindered.

Jiziya was therefore never a one sided imposition nor a punitive tax but “value” for money and a result of a negotiated settlement between the parties. The People of the Book came out winners and the Prophet also came out a winner having established a relationship of willing taxpaying citizens with them.

Verse 9:29 also clearly applied only to the immediate addressees of the Prophet’s mission or the People of the Book in Hejaz. It is their behaviour that is described in the verse 9:29 and all other verses in the Quran. It is not a command to fight “People of the Book” who were not the immediate addressees of the Prophet just as verse 9:5 covers only the Mushrikin who fought against the Muslims and not any other people elsewhere. Verse 9:29 therefore has nothing to do with people outside the Arabian Peninsula who were not the immediate addressees of the Prophet’s mission. However, since Jiziya had taken a secular and non-punitive form even for the people covered by 9:29, the practice was continued for all conquered people subsequently. In this, it was like the tax levied by all conquerors with the vital difference that it came with a guarantee of freedom to practice their own religion, exempted their males from conscription, and guaranteed protection. Jiziya was secular because it was clearly applicable only on males of military age and for exemption from military duty and exempted women, children, old men and even monks. Had it been based on religion, there should have been no exemption for women, old men and monks.  It was non-punitive since it clearly rendered value for money in the form of guarantees of protection, freedom to practice one’s religion and exemption from military service. While all conquerors levied taxes, none gave or guaranteed anything in return to the conquered population.

Where the practice of Jiziya can be faulted, is that it continued even after centuries of peace when it should have been abolished, after the state had introduced other taxes on land and produce and on commerce. Jiziya has no religious sanctity as proved by the fact that the Prophet himself did not implement it in the form it appears in 9:29. Verse 9:29 only proved to be an enabling mechanism for the Prophet to make the People of the Book in the territory in which he had become a political leader, agree to become willing subjects and pay tax for services rendered by the state. This was something he had failed to achieve as the political leader in Medina. 

Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to