Confusion and Consent: Land Tax (Kharāj) and the Construction of Judicial Authority in the Early Islamic Empire (ca. 12–183 A.H./634–800 C.E.)

in Sociology of Islam
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This essay examines the Islamic land tax (kharāj) during the first wave of the Arab conquests (ca. 12–24/633–50) and the following century and a half. Highlighting the confused state of land tax and landholding, it argues that Sunni jurists incorporated land tax into Islamic law despite the lack of Qurʾānic injunctions and prophetic tradition. In doing so, they drew upon Qurʾānic concepts such as fay’ and ghanīma while reinterpreting a vast body of conquest narratives and traditions that helped present land tax as a bona fide Islamic practice. A major outcome of this juristic discourse of public finance was the recognition of the ruler’s right to discretionary taxation. Just as the jurists emphasized justice and equitable application of tax laws, they also enabled the government to enjoy a wide latitude in its fiscal management without legal backlash. It further allowed the jurists to speak for God and His Prophet.

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