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Ahl-e-Kitab: The Status Quran gives to Jews, Christians and other People of the Book in an Islamic State, though Muslims do not accept that any more


By Aftab Ahmad, New Age Islam

27 May, 2014

(1)      O you who were given the Scripture, believe in what We have sent down [to Muhammad], confirming that which is with you, before We obliterate faces and turn them toward their backs or curse them as We cursed the Sabbath-breakers. And ever is the decree of Allah accomplished.(Al Nisa: 47)

(2)      You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah. If only the People of the Scripture had believed, it would have been better for them. Among them are believers, but most of them are defiantly disobedient.(Al-i-Imran: 110)

(3)      They are not [all] the same; among the People of the Scripture is a community standing [in obedience], reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating [in prayer]. They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and hasten to good deeds. And those are among the righteous.(Al-e-Imran: 113-114)

(4)      And indeed, among the People of the Scripture are those who believe in Allah and what was revealed to you and what was revealed to them, [being] humbly submissive to Allah. They do not exchange the verses of Allah for a small price. Those will have their reward with their Lord. Indeed, Allah is swift in account.( .(Al-e-Imran:199)

(5)      He has sent down upon you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming what was before it. And He revealed the Torah and the Gospel. Before, as guidance for the people. And He revealed the Qur'an. Indeed, those who disbelieve in the verses of Allah will have a severe punishment, and Allah is exalted in Might, the Owner of Retribution.( Al-e-Imran:3-4)

(6)     And let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed - then it is those who are the defiantly disobedient. And We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth. To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good.(Al Maidah: 47-48)

7)  And if only they upheld [the law of] the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to them from their Lord, they would have consumed [provision] from above them and from beneath their feet. Among them are a moderate community, but many of them - evil is that which they do.

8) Say, "O People of the Scripture, you are [standing] on nothing until you uphold [the law of] the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been revealed to you from your Lord."(Al Maidah: 68)

(9) Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture - [fight] until they give the Jiziyah willingly while they are humbled.(Al Tawbah:29)

(10) Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] - those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness - will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.(Al Baquarah: 62)

(11) Indeed, those who have believed [in Prophet Muhammad] and those [before Him] who were Jews or Sabeans or Christians - those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness - no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.(Al Maidah:69)

The verses quoted above make the position of the Quran clear on the Ahl-e-kitab vis-à-vis Muslims. By the Ahl-e-kitab the Quran means the followers of other prophets of God i.e. Moses, Jesus Christ and David among others who were given divine scriptures by God like the Torah, the Gospel, the Psalms etc. The verses of the Quran clearly describe the status of Ahl-e-Kitab in a Islamic state or in a society where Muslims, Jews and Christians co-exist. The Quran does not deny the followers of other religions, especially Ahl-e-kitab a place in a Islamic state. The verses quoted above have both religious and political bearing.

Verse No. (Al Nisa: 47) asks the members of the Ahl-e-Kitab to have faith in what has been revealed (the Quran) that confirms what has been revealed to them (Torah and Gospel). As the Muslims (the followers of Quran) are mandated to have faith in the earlier scriptures, Gospel, Torah and Psalms, the Ahl e Kitab have also been mandated to have faith in what has been revealed after the Gospel that is the Quran. Their faith will be complete only with that.

 In verse No 2 (Ale-Imran: 110) and verse No.3 (Al-e-Imran: 113-114) the Quran says that some of the Ahl-e-Kitab are on the right path. It repudiates the common belief of the Muslims that the entire community of the Jews and the Christians have lost faith and deviated from the right path. Verse No.3 (Al-e-Imran: 113-114) rather clearly says that a section of the Ahl-e-Kitab (Jews and Christians) recite the verses of God, prostate at night, have faith in one God and in Day of Resurrection and enjoin good and forbid evil as was the practice of the earlier communities of Ahl-e-kitab. Orthodox Jews are believed to be the followers of true Judaism. Among the Christians too, there may be many who do not believe in Trinity, have faith in one God, prostrate and believe in the Day of Judgment.

Verse No 4 (Al-e-Imran: 199) and Verse No.7 (Al Maidah: 66) also corroborate the view.

Verse No. 6 (Al Maida: 48-49) is of a political nature. The verse presents the political and legal rights of Ahl-e-kitab in an Islamic state or in a multicultural society. The followers of Gospel and Torah have been ordained to uphold the laws of their scriptures in their communal affairs or judge their cases according to them. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has been ordained to uphold what has been revealed to him (in Quran) in the affairs of the Muslims. In this way the Quran recognises the Personal Law or religious rights of Ahl-e-kitab or the Jews and Christians in an Islamic state. In the same way, the Muslims will have the same religious rights or can claim their Personal law in a Christian or Jewish state. During the Prophet’s life, some cases involving Jews were decided according to Torah.

 Verse No. 7 (Al Maidah: 66) says that if the Ahl-e-Kitab had upheld their scriptures in their individual and communal life (offered Namaz, paid Zakat and did righteousness) they would have flourished on earth. They became a condemned community because they abandoned what was revealed to them and deviated from the right path.

Verse No.9 (Al Tawbah: 29) talks of Jizya (tax payable to the government by the non-Muslims and Ahl-e-Kitab). Since Muslims pay a certain percent of their annual income and property, the non Muslims and Ahl e Kitab too should pay some tax to the government. They would get protection and financial and economic security from the government in lieu of that. The word Jizya has been presented in a negative sense. The verse says that if the Ahl-e-Kitab agree to convert to Islam, it is good but if they want to stick to their religion and live in the Islamic state, they should pay tax (Jizya). If they convert to Islam, they will not have to pay Jizya but then they will have to pay Zakat as other Muslims do. In other words, both Muslims and non-Muslims must contribute a portion of their earnings for the welfare of the state and the citizens.

Verse No.10 (Al Baquarah: 62) and Verse No.11 (Al Maidah: 69) are a little tricky as they have presented a challenge to the sincerity of the translators and exegetes. The verses say that among those from Muslims, Jews, Christians or Sabeans who believed in God, in the Day of Judgment and did righteousness will be rewarded by God and they will have nothing to worry. The exegetes have suggested that the verses ask Jews, Christians and Sabeans to convert to Islam. Only then they will be rewarded by God. If it was so, why the Mushrekeen, the Zoroastrians and worshippers of stars were not included in the list? Didn’t God want them to become Muslims or come onto the right path? And secondly, why were the Muslims included in the list who should convert to Islam as they are already Muslims?

Actually, the Quran has already said in Verse No. 2, 3,4 & 7 that some people among the Ahle-kitab are already believers, that is they believe in one God, in the Day of Judgment and in all the prophets and scriptures. So if the Muslims, the Jews, the Christians and the Sabeans while sticking to their religion believe in one God, prostrate before God, believe in the Day of Judgment and all the scriptures and uphold their scriptures, they will be rewarded and will be considered on the right path. This is what can be made out of the verses. Since the polytheists, the Zoroastrians and the star-worshippers do not believe in one God, they were not included in list in the verses.

The Quran mentions on many occasions that earlier prophets of God were told to offer Namaz pay Zakat and make animal sacrifice and do fasting. So all these practices are not specific to Islam. They have been a part of other divine religions as well. And God asks the Ahl-e-Kitab to upheld Namaz, pay Zakat and do righteous deeds. This is taken by the Muslim exegetes that God asks them to convert to Islam as only Islam talks of Namaz, Zakat and Qurbani.

Therefore, the verses quoted above clearly show that Quran speaks of a multicultural Islamic state where the Ahl-e-kitab will be given their full religious, political and legal rights and will live as equals and not as second class citizens. In return, they can rightfully claim their religious and political rights in Muslim minority states.

Aftab Ahmad is a columnist for New Age Islam.  He has been studying the Holy Quran for some time.