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The Covenants of the Prophet: Read an Excerpt
Since the monks of the Monastery of Saint Catherine were a peaceful people who had devoted their lives to prayer, the Prophet could never conceive of an occasion which would warrant sending them off to war. Consequently, he excluded them from military service. As item eleven establishes, "Neither in time of war shall they take them out of their habitations, nor compel them to go to the wars, nor even then shall they require of them any poll-tax." When dealing with Jewish and Christian tribes and communities, the Prophet typically accepted the poll-tax in lieu of military service. These communities in question could independently decide whether they wanted to pay the tax or whether they wanted to join the military when required. However, that distinction was for general populations, not the monastery. From them, the Messenger of Allah required neither taxes nor military service. In short, they were provided with rights and protections without any obligations save loyalty to the Prophet Muhammad. With regard to this "loyalty," it was not a dog-like loyalty to one's master or the servile attitude of lackeys such as was shown by some Hindus towards the British occupiers. Instead, loyalty meant a sincere respect for the covenants that had been concluded.
As the document explains, the previous eleven items applied specifically to the monks of Mount Sinai. The seven items which follow are applicable to Christians as a whole. Item twelve deals once again with the issue of taxation. These were not black-taxes or extortion as existed and continue to exist in many parts of the world. These were government taxes used to provide services to all the inhabitants of the Islamic ummah regardless of their religion. For those who argue that the Prophet Muhammad was merely a religious leader, that "there are no politics in Islam," or that "politics has always been secondary in Islam," the evidence shows that they are far afield of the historic reality. These erroneous beliefs may cause them to act in clear contravention of authoritative and unquestionable testimony. Politics is what propelled Islam into the broader global arena. The aim of Islam was not only a promising berth in the hereafter as well as a deepening sense of the presence of Allah in this life but also the creation of a just, ethically-based socio-economic system on earth which would help cultivate the best of human and spiritual values. It is this expansive and humanitarian system that helps the spirit to soar. Corrupt systems are corrupting. Immoral systems are demoralizing. It is only through a righteous Islamic Republic that Muslims can reach their highest potential securing what is best in both worlds: this life, and the Hereafter. The Messenger of Allah made sure, through such documents as these, that all People of the Book were invited into this balanced political body.
Fearing, once again, that his followers might eventually impose excessive taxation upon the People of the Book, the Prophet specified a limit. As item twelve establishes, "Those Christians who are inhabitants, and with their riches and traffic are able to pay the poll-tax, shall pay no more than twelve drachms." Clearly, this limit was not set in stone and could be changed in the future are a result of inflation. However, any increase would have to be justified. In other words, any future taxes would have to represent the equivalent of what 12 drachms were for the economy of the time. There is little doubt that the Prophet acknowledged a possible change in situation, society, and cultures. Unlike many nations, such as the United States, which provides the rich with many tax loopholes not available to the middle class, the Islamic State created by the Prophet taxed all parties equally. It should be noted, however, that although this is not mentioned in the covenant, Islamic law does not tax the poor. And the definition of poor determined by Islamic law is most generous. People are considered poor if they do not have enough savings to survive for an entire year without working. In the United States, that would represent an income of less than $20,000.00 per year in 2013 depending on where one resides. This does not have to be cash in hand. It could also be collateral as in the partial payment of a home mortgage and the value of vehicles. Still, people who live pay-check to pay-check are not obliged to pay taxes under Islamic rule. If post-medieval Europe was infamous for taxation which oppressed the poor (the Jews were crushed by these onerous taxes; large numbers of Christians from throughout Europe immigrated to the Americas to escape them), Islamic rule represented liberation. Although a great deal of fuss is made, by the foes of Islam, about the poll-tax imposed on dhimmis or Muslim subjects, the truth eludes most people. The poll-tax required of non-Muslims is actually much lower than the 2.5% zakat paid by Sunni Muslims and vastly less than the 20% of khums paid by Shi'ite Muslims. Non-Muslims are actually taxed far less than Muslims in an Islamic State. Such is the price Muslims are prepared to pay for peace. As for the political pundits who decry the "crushing taxes" that Muslims imposed on dhimmis, some economic contextualization is in order. What exactly did ten dirhams represent in the time of the Prophet? According to Muhammad Hamidullah (1908–2002 CE), the sum "represented the expenses of an average family for ten days" (Introduction 149). This is far from being the "exorbitant annual poll-tax" denounced by Habib Levy (165).