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KHUMS. The khums (“fifth”) as a tax developed in very early Islam and was based on the principle that one-fifth of war booty taken by Muslims belonged to the prophet Muhammad. It was used for the benefit of the holy family as well as some categories of the indigent. Later on, it was interpreted as an Islamic tax on profits of various sorts beyond expenditures. In Sunni Islam this tax was less important than in the Shi’i branch; for instance, Hanafis could give the khums, but it was used primarily for succoring the poor and was not donated to the descendants of the Prophet, called Sayyid or sharif.

In Shiism, which maintained the right of the family of the Prophet to continue to receive many of the perquisites associated with his office, khums was seen as a tax owed by the Muslim community for the support of sayyids. With the occultation of the Twelfth Imam in AH 26o/873-874 CE and the end of the line of visible direct descendants of the Prophet exercising spiritual authority from God, the question arose in medieval Shiism of whether believers should continue to pay the khums, and if so, to whom. The conservative, literalist Akhbari school of jurisprudence tended to see the obligation to pay the khums as having lapsed in the absence of the imam, although some Akhbaris advocated setting aside the amount due and burying it in expectation of the judgment Day.

The later Usuli school of jurisprudence, which grew influential beginning in the thirteenth century CE, advocated that the khums as a tax be revived and divided into two. One portion should go to the support of indigent sayyids. The other should benefit the Usuli jurisprudents or mujtahids, who determined the law for the community based on their individual reasoning. Most mujtahids were themselves sayyids. Usulis believed in the consensus of juridical tradition as a source of law and said that the consensus in Shiism was that the khums should be paid on war booty, on mined precious metals after costs, on hidden treasure that was found, on pearls and other valuables found in the sea, on profits from handicrafts, trade, and farming, on lawful money any time it became tainted with ill-gotten wealth from any source, and on the proceeds of land sales by Sh!’Is to Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. The khums was to be paid to an upright mujtahid, who accepted half of it as the share of the imam (sahm-i Imdm) and who distributed the other half to the poor, orphans, and wayfarers among the sayyids (no other Shi is were eligible for charity from this tax).

Nikki Keddie and others have argued that the payment of khums by artisans and merchants in the bazaar gave Shi i clergymen in Iran a source of income that contributed to their independence from the state. It might also be argued that the mujtahids’ control of charity monies gave them substantial patronage to distribute and allowed them to build networks of support among the poor. Such payments and donations from the bazaar to radical clergymen helped fuel the Iranian Revolution of 1979. [See Bazaar.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Calder, Norman. “Khums in Imam! Shii Jurisprudence from the Tenth to the Sixteenth Century A.D.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 45 (1982): 39-47.

Keddie, Nikki R. “The Roots of the Ulama’s Power in Modern Iran.” In Scholars, Saints, and Sufis, edited by Nikki R. Keddie, pp. 211219. Berkeley, 1972.

Sachedina, A. A. “Al-Khums: The Fifth in the Imam! Shi’ ! Legal System.” Journal of Near East Studies 39 (198o): 276-289.

JUAN R. I. COLE

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/khums/
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  • writerPosted On: July 26, 2014
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