By Dr Patrick Sookhdeo — Originally published in barnabasfund
Pay the jizya, convert to Islam, leave or be killed. That is the impossible choice facing Christians in parts of Egypt that remain Islamist strongholds over two months after the ouster of President Mohammad Morsi.
The jizya is, on the face of it, a protection racket; it is a humiliating tax or tribute historically imposed by Muslims on Christians and Jews in “conquered” territory to safeguard their existence.
But its significance runs deeper than that of a mafia-style extortion scheme. The Quran commands that non-Muslims pay the jizya “with willing submission and while feeling themselves subdued” (9:29).
It is part of a collection of rules and regulations imposed on those granted dhimmi status that are intended to mark them out as inferior to Muslims. So while paying the jizya does guarantee a level of protection for Christians and Jews, it comes at the high price of them accepting a sub-class status in which they are not recognised as citizens and their rights are restricted.
The only way for conquered subjects to exempt themselves is to convert to Islam or to leave. Those who refuse to pay are liable to be killed as they are considered to have broken a pact with the Muslims.
This archaic tax is being enforced today in parts of Minya and Assuit, where Islamists remain strong. These provinces both have a large Christian population, Minya, the largest in Egypt, providing ruthless Muslims with ample targets.
Egyptian Christians are particularly loathe to pay the jizya – and the acceptance of inferiority that comes with it – as they are descended from the pharaonic Egyptian people who long pre-date the Arab Muslim settlers’ arrival in the country. They understandably resent being made non-citizens by those who came after them.
Minya and Assuit were among the areas worst affected by the anti-Christian violence unleashed by the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of Morsi’s removal from power; scores of churches were torched, countless Christian homes and businesses destroyed and a number of Christians killed.
With such a trail of devastation in their wake, the Islamists’ demand that Christians pay the jizya – or else – has been no idle threat.