Origins of Islamic Policy

Upon Muhammad’s death in 632 AD, until the Battle of Talas in 751 AD, the Islamic faith was spread by its followers to most of Central Asia, northern Africa, and Spain. Within 50 years of Muhammad’s death, the Muslim world had complete control of the Fertile Crescent region.

Once an area was conquered by the Muslims, conversion of native peoples was one of the first and foremost issues. By 681, the caliphate was moved to Damascus, pushing the Byzantines north. With new Byzantine influence, a more imperialistic approach was taken by Muslim conquerors. Governors were chosen and sent to oversee the newly subjugated regions and to administer the conversion of natives.

With newly conquered lands and newly converted peoples, laws and policies had to be formed. Umar II, an Umayyad caliph living in the 8th century, sent a draft to the governors outlining fiscal policies to be instated. This set of laws regarded taxation, emigration, Almsgiving, trade, land rights and conversion to Islam.

Natives of the conquered lands were given the choice of whether or not to submit to Allah, and many chose not to. Those who chose to remain their own faith (Christian, Jewish, etc.) became known as the dhimmi, or “protected ones”. The dhimmi were forced to pay a jizya, or poll tax. If one chose to convert to Islam, the tax was waived. Therefore, submission to Allah’s will was the deciding factor in how taxes were imposed. By paying the tax, the dhimmi were treated as everyday citizens. “Whether Christian or Jew or Magian, of those who are now subject to the jizya…shall enjoy all the privileges of the Muslims and shall be subject to all duties laid upon them.” (p. 3) The dhimmi were protected by the jizya, and were able to remain whatever faith they chose. The payers of the jizya were broken into three categories, each allowed to pay in different ways: “the cultivator, who pays his jizya from its produce; the artisan, who produces his jizya from his earnings; and the merchant, who lays out his money and pays his jizya from that.” (p. 6)

The dhimmi’s property, however, was now under state control. “But as for his land and his dwelling, they are the booty which God has given to the Muslims collectively; and had these persons accepted al-Islam thereon before God should give the conquest to the Muslims, it would remain their property.” (p. 3) This shows that Allah’s will, above all else, becomes the foundation for Islamic fiscal law. The state assumed ownership of all land, and the umma (community of Muslim believers) was given rights to use it. Umar’s rescript maintained “that cultivated lands (mazari) should be restored to the function to which they were assigned; for they were assigned as sources of provisions for the Muslims collectively” (p. 7).

The policy on emigration was a very open one. “As for emigration, we open it up to whosoever may emigrate of the bedouin…to the abode of emigration and to do battle with our foe. Whoso does this shall have an equal share with the muhagurun in that which God has given them as booty.” (p. 3) If one immigrated to Muslim regions and accepted the Islamic faith, Allah would “establish to each his due the reward in the world to come, and magnify to him the importance of conquest in this world.” (p. 4)

The collection and distribution of alms was a concept that came directly from the Quran. “As all Muslims share equally in their obligation to worship God, so they all are duty bound to attend to the social welfare of their community by redressing economic inequalities through payment of an alms tax [zakat].” (Esposito, p. 90) This almsgiving served as both a religious duty and a fiscal ruling, based on the word of Muhammad. “Wherefore let the alms be exacted as the Apostle of God defined and ordained, without injustice or excess against those who pay them…..let those [charged with their distribution] distribute them as God has commanded them.” (p.4)

The use of both land and sea (for trade, etc.) by Muslims and non-Muslims alike has also been regulated by interpretations of the word of God. “For dry land and sea belong alike to God; He hath subdued them to His servants to seek of His bounty for themselves in both of them.” (p.6) Rather than develop a different policy dealing with the use of land and sea, trading and usage laws were based on the will of Allah.

The use of religious scriptures to fashion laws and policies illustrates the impact of religion on the everyday lives of Muslims. “For Muslims throughout the centuries, the message of the Quran and the example of the Prophet Muhammad….have served as the basic sources of Islamic law and the reference points for daily life.” (Esposito, p. 31) By submitting to the will of Allah, one agrees to extend Islam’s strict guidelines completely into their life, including politically and economically. When the Muslim conquest occurred, leaders naturally based the laws and policies of the newly conquered regions on the most sacred and legitimate source: the word of Allah and his Prophet.

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