Let us find an easy solution but compatible with sharī’a

By Ohannes Kilicdagi

The marginal note mentioned in my previous note is a note written by a bureaucrat, most probably by the Grand Wazīr, to the sultan to inform him that some prominent members of ulema gathered under the chairmanship of the Shaykh al-Islām to discuss the issue of how the changes in the collection of jizya could be implemented in accordance with sharia and in an easy way.

It states that the Shaykh al-Islām wrote a report after this meeting where they applied to the well-known sources of previous mujtahids. The paragraph at the top of the document was written from the mouth of the sultan. The sultan gives his approval for what was written in the Shaykh al-Islām’s report and orders its implementation. Unfortunately, this report is not found in this archival file. However, examining this correspondence might provide some clues about the general characteristics of the Tanzimat Era.

This change in jizya collection is situated among the series of reforms of Tanzimat-ı Hayriye / Auspicious Reforms in the document. In other words, it was not a sporadic change but part of a wholistic transformation in administration. In addition, like almost all reforms in this period, although it was a novelty, it was tried to be legitimized and implemented through sharia. Indeed, this was a characteristic of the Tanzimat Era: on the one hand, trying to make fundamental changes in the government and law; but, on the other hand trying to present them as a necessity of, or at least compatible with Islamic law. They tried to invent something new but present it as something old. In other words, the ruling elite was trying to prove that they had done nothing contradictory with sharia. But, there is another motive that is underlined in this document not for once but twice, which is the easy practicality of reforms.  It shows that statesmen wanted to establish a balance between theory and practice. If a solution was compatible with sharia but its implementation would bring about severe resistance from people, for example, they would not be willing to enforce it.

Although this document does not help to explain why the state circles decided to change jizya from being an individual responsibility of each non-Muslim male to a communal responsibility, one can conclude that the Ottoman jurists evaluated collecting jizya from communities as a lump sum as compatible with sharī’a. They could not find anything in Islamic law prohibiting the collection of jizya on a collective basis through mediation of communal leaders, both clergy and civil, of non-Muslim communities.

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