Pay the jizya, convert to Islam, leave or be killed. That is the impossible choice facing Christians in parts of Egypt that remain Islamist strongholds over two months after the ouster of President Mohammad Morsi.
The jizya is, on the face of it, a protection racket; it is a humiliating tax or tribute historically imposed by Muslims on Christians and Jews in “conquered” territory to safeguard their existence.
But its significance runs deeper than that of a mafia-style extortion scheme. The Quran commands that non-Muslims pay the jizya “with willing submission and while feeling themselves subdued” (9:29).
It is part of a collection of rules and regulations imposed on those granted dhimmi status that are intended to mark them out as inferior to Muslims. So while paying the jizya does guarantee a level of protection for Christians and Jews, it comes at the high price of them accepting a sub-class status in which they are not recognised as citizens and their rights are restricted.
The only way for conquered subjects to exempt themselves is to convert to Islam or to leave. Those who refuse to pay are liable to be killed as they are considered to have broken a pact with the Muslims.