Does Islam oppress dhimmis and demand jizya or death?
We address these two allegations together—regarding dhimmisand jizya—because they are so closely related to one another.
We begin with a proper explanation of what exactly is a dhimmi. Dhimmi is a historical term referring to non-Muslim subjects of a Muslim state . The word literally means, “One whose responsibility is taken” or “people with whom a covenant or compact has been made” . The word describes citizens of a Muslim State afforded security over their persons, property and religious practice in return for a tax, the jizya. Historically, when empires won battles and wars, common men were subjugated, looted and forced to work as laborers and serve in the military. Islam did away with such practice by affording all non-Muslim subjects the special dhimmi status .
Dhimmis had a special place in Medina. Prophet Muhammad said, “If anyone wrongs a man with whom a covenant has been made [i.e. a dhimmi], or curtails any right of his, or imposes on him more than he can bear, or takes anything from him without his ready agreement, I shall be his adversary on the Day of Resurrection.” 
He also made it clear that the protection of their life and honor was the responsibility of the Muslims, and failing in this regard would incur God’s wrath, “Whoever killed a Mu’ahid (a person who is granted the pledge of protection by the Muslims, i.e. a dhimmi) shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise though its fragrance can be smelt at a distance of forty years (of traveling).”  At the conquest of Mecca, Prophet Muhammad had the upper hand against the personalities who had persecuted him for over two decades. He could have silenced his enemies forever. Instead, he turned to the Meccans and asked:
‘O’ Quraish! How do you think I would treat you?’ They replied: ‘We expect nothing but good from you as you are a noble and kind brother to us and the son of a noble and kind brother as well.’ The Prophet said, ‘I say to you what the Prophet Joseph said to his brothers: ‘No blame shall lie on you this day! You are free to go.’
Even before the conquest of Mecca, the Charter of Medina set the precedent for the treatment of mu’ahids (dhimmis are those non-Muslim subjects who become subjects after a war. If there is no war and there is a negotiated settlement then they are called mu’ahids). When Prophet Muhammad was popularly appointed Medina’s ruler, he entered into a pact with the Jewish communities of Medina. Through this pact, he granted equal political rights to non-Muslims. They were ensured complete freedom of religion. They were not required to take part in the religious wars of the Muslims, but were required to fight a common enemy of the State. Even as the head of state, Prophet Muhammad afforded non-Muslims the same social status he afforded Muslims. For example, “Once a funeral procession passed before Prophet Muhammad and he stood up [out of respect]. He was told that he [the dead man] was a Jew. Upon this he remarked: ‘Was he not a human being or did he not have a soul?’ 
After the Prophet Muhammad’s demise, non-Muslim inhabitants of the fast-expanding Islamic empire enjoyed the same dignified treatment.  When Umar, Second Khalifa of Prophet Muhammad, conquered Jerusalem, he entered into a pact with all inhabitants of the city, declaring:
In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, most Beneficent. This is a covenant of peace granted by the slave of Allah, the commander of the faithful ‘Umar to the people of Jerusalem. They are granted protection for their lives, their property, their churches, and their Crosses, in whatever condition they are. All of them are granted the same protection. No one will dwell in their churches, nor will they be destroyed and nothing will be reduced of their belongings. Nothing shall be taken from their Crosses or their property. There will be no compulsion on them regarding their religion, nor will any one of them be troubled. 
A dhimmi assassinated Umar in 644 CE. Rather than lashing out against dhimmis, at his deathbed, Umar specifically ordered:
I urge him (i.e., the new Caliph) to take care of those non-Muslims who are under the protection of Allah and His Messenger in that he should observe the convention agreed upon with them, and fight on their behalf (to secure their safety) and he should not over-tax them beyond their capability. 
The example we see from Umar specifically condemns taxing dhimmis beyond what they can bear. Instead, Muslims were commanded to care for dhimmis, fight for dhimmis, and to keep dhimmis safe.
Fight those from among the People of the Book who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor hold as unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have declared to be unlawful, nor follow the true religion, until they pay the tax with their own hand and acknowledge their subjection. 
And kill not the soul which Allah has forbidden except for just cause. And whoso is killed wrongfully, We have surely given his heir authority to demand retaliation, but let him not exceed the prescribed bounds in slaying; for therein he is helped by law. 
Islam has reserved the death penalty for such crimes as treason, murder, or other severe acts of violence that shock the conscience. Umar, Second Khalifa of Prophet Muhammad, never sentenced a non-Muslim to death for not paying his taxes.
Critics allege that Muslim immigrants to Western nations consider themselves “divinely entitled” to the welfare payments they receive in these countries. Quoting the following verse, they claim that Muslims consider the Western nations their dhimmis and such welfare payment the jizya. 
Fight those from among the People of the Book who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor hold as unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have declared to be unlawful, nor follow the true religion, until they pay the tax considering a favor and acknowledge their subjection. 
Obviously, even plainly reading this verse demonstrates that no connection exists between the allegation and the verse itself. Having established that Islam required Muslims to protect dhimmis with equal and just treatment, we transition to the allegations regarding jizya.
Remember, the term dhimmi literally means “protected.” If no such protection existed, such minority communities could potentially be exploited. The jizya tax was the only tax imposed on non-Muslims, and it was less in number and amount than taxes on the Muslims of that state. The term jizya comes from same Arabic root as jaza’ which means “reward” and “compensation.” So according to Shariah law, that money returned to the minorities. The jizya tax, like other taxes, creates accountability on the part of the government to do right by its citizens—not unlike governments that deal with immigration and minority communities. In Christian ruled Sicily, for example, the Christian officials had such a tax for minorities—and they too called it jizya.
Thus, non-Muslims paid jizya as free citizens of the Muslim State in return for protection of their civil and political liberties. Aside from this, critics also hide the fact that Muslims were also taxed. The tax levied on Muslims was on some occasions a heavier tax than the jizya. Additionally, Muslims were obligated to perform military service, from which all non-Muslims were exempt. 
Jizya served as the sole citizen tax to assure protection from all foreign attacks. Thus, if protection could not be promised then jizya was impermissible. In his book “The Preaching of Islam,” Thomas Arnold records a statement of the Muslim general, Khalid bin Waleed, “In a treaty made by Khalid with some town in the neighborhood of Hirah, he writes; ‘If we protect you, thenJizya is due to us; but if we do not, then it is not.’” 
Abu Ubaida was a famous Muslim commander of Syria. When he entered the city of Hims, he made a pact with its non-Muslim inhabitants and collected the jizya as agreed. When the Muslims learned of a massive advance towards the city by the Roman Emperor Heraclius, they felt they would not be able to protect its citizens. Consequently, Abu Ubaida ordered all the dues taken as jizya to be returned to the people of the city. He said to the people of the city, “We are not able to defend you anymore and now you have complete authority over your matters.”  Al-Azdi records Abu Ubaida’s statement as follows:
We have returned your wealth back to you because we detest taking your wealth and then failing to protect your land. We are moving to another area and have called upon our brethren, and then we will fight our enemy. If Allah helps us defeat them we shall fulfill our covenant with you except that you yourselves do not like it then. 
More powerful, however, than the Muslims’ kind treatment, is the response that the people of Hims gave to the Muslims. They replied:
Verily your rule and justice is dearer to us than the tyranny and oppression in which we used to live. May God again make you ruler over us and may God’s curse be upon the Byzantines who used to rule over us. By the Lord, had it been they, they would have never returned us anything; instead they would have ceased all they could from our possessions. 
These so-called “oppressed” dhimmis openly declared their desire to be under Muslim rule because it was just and fair. The famous French political thinker, Montesquieu, also highlights the fair treatment of non-Muslim citizens in Muslim lands:
It was this excess of taxes that occasioned the prodigious facility with which the Mahometans carried on their conquests. Instead of a continual series of extortions devised by the subtle avarice of the Greek emperors, the people were subjected to a simple tribute which was paid and collected with ease. 
Professor Bernard Lewis observes that dhimmis welcomed the change from Byzantine to Arab rule who, “found the new yoke far lighter than the old, both in taxation and in other matters, and that some even among the Christians of Syria and Egypt preferred the rule of Islam to that of Byzantines.” 
The jizya was not to be forcefully collected. It was a tax paid willingly as a favor for the protection of the State. Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Second Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, notes:
The expression ‘with their own hand’ is used here in a figurative sense, signifying (1) that Jizya should not be forcibly taken from the People of the Book but that they should pay it with their own hand i.e. they should agree to pay it willingly…; or (2) that they should pay it out of hand, i.e. in ready money and not in the form of deferred payment; or (3) that they should pay it considering it as a favor from Muslims, the word, yad(hand) also meaning a favor. 
As previously noted, the jizya exempted dhimmis from serving in the military. Sir Thomas Arnold writes:
When any Christian people served in the Muslim army, they were exempted from the payment of this tax. Such was the case with the tribe of al-Jurajima, a Christian tribe in the neighborhood of Antioch who made peace with the Muslims, promising to be their allies and fight on their side in battle, on condition that they should not be called upon to pay jizya and should receive their proper share of the booty. When the Arab conquests were pushed to the north of Persia in A.H. 22, a similar agreement was made with a frontier tribe, which was exempted from the payment of jizya in consideration of military service. We find similar instances of remission of jizya in the case of Christians who served in the army or navy under the Turkish rule. For example, the inhabitants of Megaris, a community of Albanian Christians were exempted from the payment of this tax on condition that they furnished a body of armed men to guard the passes over Mounts Cithaeron and Geranea… The Christians who served as pioneers of the advance-guard of the Turkish army, repairing the roads and bridges, were likewise exempt from tribute and received grants of land quit of all taxation; and the Christian inhabitants of Hydra paid no direct taxes to the Sultan, but furnished instead a contingent of 250 able-bodied seamen to the Turkish fleet, who were supported out of the local treasury. 
The State is primarily responsible for protecting its citizens. In Islam, the State is also required to cater to the welfare of all its citizens. Besides other infrastructure, this requires the establishment and maintenance of armed forces, a working judicial system and civil service. It would be unfair to only ask the Muslims to fund the State and exempt the non-Muslim citizens—equal in status otherwise—hence, the jizya tax.
Furthermore, only working men paid this tax. Women and children, the elderly, the unemployed and the sick or disabled were all exempt. But while non-Muslim women were exempt from the jizya, Muslim women were required to pay the Zakat regardless of whether or not they worked. Sir Thomas Arnold notes:
The tax was to be levied only on able-bodied males, and not on women or children. The poor who were dependent for their livelihood on alms and the aged poor who were incapable of work were also specially excepted, as also the blind, the lame, the incurables and the insane, unless they happened to be men of wealth; this same condition applied to priests and monks, who were exempt if dependent on the arms of the rich, but had to pay it if they were well-to-do and lived in comfort. 
Since the Qur’an instructs that the jizya be voluntarily given, early Muslim rulers specifically forbade punishment on non-payment. Sir Thomas Arnold writes, “The collectors of the jizyawere particularly instructed to show leniency, and refrain from all harsh treatment or the infliction of corporal punishment, in case of non-payment.” 
The jizya tax was an agreement between those non-Muslims who chose to live in Muslim lands and under the Muslim government. The dhimmis recognized that they were under the protection of the Muslim state.
The Spanish Almorvids, for example, are a living testimony to the integrity and compassion with which Muslims treated Jews and Christians. Historian Gwendlyn Hall writes at length:
Some Spanish historians have emphasized the unacknowledged debt Renaissance Europe owed to Moorish Spain. In 1899, Francisco Codera, citing an early chronicle in Arabic, argued against racist interpretations of the Almoravids’ rule in Spain. The chronicler wrote:
The Almoravids were a country people, religious and honest…Their reign was tranquil, and was untroubled by any revolt, either in the cities, or in the countryside…Their days were happy, prosperous, and tranquil, and during their time, abundant and cheap goods were such that for a half-ducat, one could have four loads of flour, and the other grains were neither bought nor sold. There was no tribute, no tax, or contribution for the government except the charity tax and the tithe. Prosperity constantly grew; the population rose, and everyone could freely attend to their own affairs. Their reign was free of deceit, fraud, and revolt, and they were loved by everyone.
Even after its overthrow, other chroniclers of Islamic Spain praised the rule of the Almoravids. They wrote that learning was cherished, literacy was widespread, scholars were subsidized, capital punishment was abolished, and their gold coins were so pure and of such reliable weight that they assured prosperity and stimulated trade throughout the Mediterranean world. Christians and Jews were tolerated within their realms. When the Christians rose up in revolt, they were not executed but were exiled to Morocco instead. The Almoravids were criticized, however, for being excessively influenced by their women. (emphasis added). When the Moors ruled Western Islam, a great variety of trade goods passed abundantly within this vast region. Horses and cattle, hides, leather goods, skins, dried fruits, arts and crafts, tools, swords, and other weapons, ivory, onyx, grain, gold, silver, copper, precious gems, textiles, tapestries, pottery, salt, and kola nuts were widely traded. The coins of the Almoravids, were minted mainly from gold coming from Galam in the upper Senegal River, which arrived via long-established camel caravan routs across the Sahara. Knowledge as well as technology moved across the Sahara in all directions. Some Renaissance and post-Renaissance European music, including notation of pitch and rhythm, probably was transmitted from Moorish Spain.
In closing, as an embodiment of the true spirit of jizya and dhimmitude, once, Umar, Second Khalifa of Prophet Muhammad, met an old Jew begging on the street. Umar said to him, “Old man! We have not done justice to you. In your youth we took jizya from you and have left you to fend for yourself in your old age.” Holding him by the hand, he led him to his own house, and preparing food with his own hands fed him and issued orders to the treasurer of the Bait al-Mal [Treasury] that the old man and all others like him, should be regularly allotted a daily allowance which should suffice for them and their dependents. 
 Sunan Abu Dawud, #3052 (emphasis added).
 Juan Eduardo Campo, ed. “dhimmi”, Encyclopedia of Islam194-95 (Infobase Publishing, 2010).
 Edward William Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon 975-76 (London: Willams & Norgate 1863).
 H. Patrick Glenn, Legal Traditions of the World 218-19 (Oxford University Press, 2007).
 Sunan Abu Dawud, #3052 (emphasis added).
 Bukhari, Vol. 9, Book 83, #49.
 Zadul-Ma’ad Vol. l, pg. 424.
 Muslim, Book 4, #2098.
 H. Patrick Glenn, Legal Traditions of the World 219 (Oxford University Press, 2007).
 Tarikh al-Tabari 2/308.
 Bukhari, Vol. 4, Book 52, #287.
 Qur’an 9:29.
 Qur’an 17:34.
 Id. at 153.
 Qur’an 9:29.
 See http://www.alislam.org/quran/tafseer/?page=922®ion=E1&CR (Last Visited on August 12, 2012).
 William N. Lees, Futuh ash-Sham ed. 1/162 (Published by Baptist Mission Culcutta, 1854).
 Id. at 137-38.
 Id. at 1/162.
 Id. at 138.
 Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws Book 13.
 Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response 57 (2002).
 See http://www.alislam.org/quran/tafseer/?page=922®ion=E1&CR, Last Visited on August 12, 2012.
 Id. at 60.
 Id. at 60.
 Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links 6 (2005).
 Kitab al-Kharaj 1/139.