[P5901] Early Islamic Taxation in Theory and Practice: Abbasid and Fatimid Case Studies

Created by Aseel Najib
Saturday, 10/17/20 11:00 am


Taxation, a shorthand form of multiple claims made by certain actors on the person or property of others, was indispensable to early Islamic regimes such as the Abbasids and the Fatimids. Although scholars such as Chris Wickham, Michael Morony, Hugh Kennedy, Hossein Modarressi, and others have recognized the importance of taxation in the early Muslim world, there is still a great deal that is unknown about it. This panel attempts to elucidate some of these unknowns by delving into various aspects of the theory and practice of taxation under the Abbasids and the Fatimids between the second/eighth and fifth/eleventh centuries.

“The Kharaj in the Early Abbasid Period: A Conceptual History” examines the theoretical development of the kharaj, and land taxation more broadly, in normative and literary sources from the second/eighth and third/ninth centuries. “A Fatimid Ismaili Exegesis of Zakat According to Nasir-i Khusraw” studies a particular interpretation of the zakat by a fifth-/eleventh-century Fatimid Ismaili scholar. Taken together, these papers pay attention to the particular ways in which two forms of taxation (the kharaj and the zakat) were articulated, defined, justified, and philosophized in different periods and under different regimes. They also linger on the connections that taxation bears to systems of cosmology, theology, law, political theory, and ethics.

“God’s Water: Analyzing Land and Irrigation Taxation Systems Under the Early Fatimids” gleans insight into the Fatimid taxation system by examining the biographical account of a fourth-century Fatimid statesman, and relates this insight to the social history of early Fatimid Tunisia. “The Fiscal-Commercial Complex: Taxation and Capital in Fatimid Egypt” utilizes an array of sources—from the Cairo Geniza documents to Arabic papyri and fiscal manuals—in order to explore the rise of a new class of merchant capitalists and their role in the political economy of Fatimid Egypt. It also offers a call to reassess the history of capitalism. Both these papers use taxation as a lens through which to explore broad social and economic transformations.

In all, this panel examines case studies in early Islamic taxation using diverse and interdisciplinary methods to approach a variety of records of its theory and practice. In the process, it seeks to bring to light the significance of early Islamic “tax regimes” and the relationships between these tax regimes and systems of ethics, religion, law, politics, and economics.






Lorenzo Bondioli

(University of Cambridge)
I am a social and economic historian specializing in the premodern Mediterranean and Middle East. My dissertation, “Peasants, Merchants, and Caliphs: Capital and Empire in Fatimid Egypt, 900-1200 CE,” is the first to employ Geniza documents to attempt...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;