Bryan Caplan  

Funding Jihad

Valuing Life... Gnomonomics...

Due to mild fear of a strip search at the airport, I decided not to fly with Daniel Brown's A New Introduction to Islam. But it was worth the wait. In another fascinating section, Brown explains how the early holy warriors made ends meet:

[Caliph] 'Umar's predecessor, Abu Bakr, allegedly experimented with the distribution of expropriated land. The continuation of such a policy would have been disastrous to both tax and military policy, however, by removing land from the tax rolls and distracting soldiers from their martial duties. Consequently under 'Umar, subject populations retained title to their land, while expropriated lands became the common property of the conquerors. Proceeds from the land were then systematically distributed among the Arabs on the basis of how long they had been adherents of Islam... A participants in the early conquests might, for example, receive 3,000 dirhams per month, while an Arab who had joined the Islamic venture at a later time received a tenth as much.

Brown also observes that the conquerors discouraged conversion:

A seventh-century Iraqi Jew or Egyptian Christian curious to learn more about his new rulers might initially have found the task rather frustrating... 'Umar discouraged assimilation in several ways. In Iraq and Egypt he confined the Arabs to garrison cities... These cities were placed in such a way as to dominate major population centers without being absorbed into them...

I bet a lot of economists out there are leaping to the conclusion that conversion was discouraged to prevent subjects from escaping their tax burdens. But it turns out that this plausible story does not hold water:

Should tax status change on conversion? For the first eighty years or so of Arab rule the answer was generally no. The Arab aristocracy refused to sacrifice the cash cow that paid for the continuing expansion of the empire.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (5 to date)
J Klein writes:

There is one aspect that your one dimensional analysis does not take into account: the intrinsic attractive power of the Islam. Most of the lands where Islam is the main religion were never conquered by force of the arms, but were attracted to the concept of Islam and slowly converted. Nigerians, Indonesians, Chinese learning the Quran in Arabic do it because they think it is the true religion. IslamĀ“s missionary activity is financed by charity, which is one of the foundations of Islam. I dont think Jihad was waged after the 6th century. Maybe I am wrong.

Roger M writes:

Again, I urge readers to seek out the works of Bat Ye'or, but also Barnard Lewis, for a different perspective. Both have documented that the Arabs had two taxes, one for Muslims and one for non-Muslims, the jizya. The jizya was much greater than the tax on Muslims, so in the early days of conquest, hordes of people converted in order to avoid the tax. The Arabs lost so much revenue that they began to forbid conversions. At one point in the Ottoman Empire, the jizya brought in about 80% of tax revenue.

Robert Speirs writes:

Sounds like the Saxons and the Normans after 1066, but the Saxons couldn't convert into Normans.

J Klein writes:

Arabs should not be confused with Ottoman Turks. In the Turkish empire, Arabs were a conquered and exploited race.

dearieme writes:

"I dont think Jihad was waged after the 6th century": but after the initial impulse that had the Arabs conquering N Africa, Palestine, Syria, Iran and parts of Central Asia, there were lots of further expansions BY ARMS: India, Spain, Mediterranean islands, bits of France and Italy, Crimea and Southern Russia, the Caucusus, bits of the Sahel and East Africa, and Turkey and the Balkans. That's quite a list.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top