Books and Documents

Books and Documents (09 Jun 2015 NewAgeIslam.Com)

The Qur’an and the People of the Book: Chapter 13, Essential Message of Islam

By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed

09 June, 2015

(Published exclusively on New Age Islam with Permission of the authors and publishers)

13.    The Qur’an and the People of the Book 

13.1.       Historical Context of Inter-Faith Relation   

The Christians and Jews had remained sympathetic to the Prophet through his early years in Medina as he claimed to be preaching the true faith of their prophets and posed no political threat to either of them. So the revelation had no complaints against them. However, as he emerged the civil and political head of Medina and changed the direction of prayer1 from Jerusalem to the Ka‘ba signalling a separate religious identity of his followers, the Jews grew hostile to him and conspired against him with his Meccan foes. The tone of the Qur’an also changed (Ch. 3.6). However, the verses revealed in the concluding phase of the Qur’an are of utmost significance, as they were not specific to any context and represented the culmination of the Qur’anic message. It is therefore important to note that a passage (5:44-47) from the last revealed chapter (Surah al-Maidah) refers to the Torah and the Gospel as revealed scriptures, and thus acknowledges the Jews and Christians as people of faith. However, the Qur’an asks them not to twist the message sent down to them, and to be guided by them.

“Indeed We have revealed the Torah (to Moses) with guidance and Light in it. The prophets who submitted themselves (to God), judged thereby those who were Jewish, and (so did) the rabbis and scholars, who were entrusted with the preservation of God’s Book of which they were witnesses. So do not fear people but fear Me; and do not sell My messages for a petty price. (Remember,) those who do not judge by what God has revealed – it is they who are the deniers (of God) (5:44) We prescribed in it for them, a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and wounds like for like. But whoever (forgives as a gesture of) charity, this is the expiation for him. (Remember,) those who do not judge by what God has revealed – it is they who are unjust” (5:45)

“We caused Jesus, the Son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps confirming what was there before him of the Torah, and We gave him the Gospel with guidance and Light in it, confirming what was there before him of the Torah, and as a guidance and a lesson for the heedful (Muttaqin) (5:46). Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God has revealed in it. (Remember,) those who do not judge by what God has revealed, it is they who are perverse” (5:47)

13.2.       The Qur’an Approves Of Some of the People of the Book

The Qur’an acknowledges that some among the People of Book are righteous and heedful (Muttaqin) (3:113-115/Ch. 8.1), attests the honesty and integrity of others (3:75, 3:199) and describes them as a moderate people (5:66).

“Among the People of the Book is one, that if you entrusted him with a fortune, he would return it to you, while there is among them (yet) another, that if you entrusted him with a tiny gold coin, he would not return it to you unless you constantly chased him. This is because they say: ‘It is not our way to (deal with) these unlettered folks.’ They are telling a lie against God while they realize it” (3:75).

“There are among the People of the Book those who believe in God, and in the revelation sent to you (O Muhammad,) and in the revelation sent to them. They fear God, and do not sell God's messages for a petty price: it is they who have their reward with their Lord. Indeed God is Swift in reckoning” (3:199).

“If only the People of the Book had believed and heeded (Our message), We would have erased their evils from them and admitted them to gardens of bliss (5:65). If they had only upheld the Torah, and the Gospel, and whatever was revealed to them, they would have availed of all the blessings of life*. There is a community of moderates among them, but vile indeed is what most of them do” (5:66). [Lit., ‘from above them and below them’]

13.3.       On dealing with the People of the Book

The Qur’an calls upon Muslims to debate with the People of the Book in the most beautiful and logical manner (16:125, 29:46), except with those of them who oppress others (29:46).

“Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and pleasant counselling, and debate with them in the best manner. Indeed God knows best who is straying from His path, and He knows best the (rightly) guided” (16:125).

“And do not debate with the People of the Book, but in a way that is better (than theirs), except with those of them who oppress (others); and say ‘We believe in what was revealed to us, and what was revealed to you, for our God and your God is One (and the same), and it is to Him that we (all) submit (Muslimun)’” (29:46).

The Qur’an however censures the Christians and Jews for giving too much authority to the clergy (9:31), and for their claims to exclusivity (2:111, 2:135).

“They say: ‘None shall enter the garden, unless he is a Jew or a Christian.’ These are their desires. Say: ‘Bring your proofs, if indeed you are truthful’” (2:111).

“They say: ‘Be Jews, or Christians and you will be (rightly) guided.’ You say: ‘Nay, (we belong to) the creed of Abraham, the *true (believer in One God), and he was not among those who associate (others with God)’” (2:135).  [Lit., ‘who turned away from all false notions about God’.]

“They take their priests and their monks for lords instead of God, as well as Christ, the Son of Mary, though they were commanded to serve none, but One God. (Indeed), there is no god but He - unparalleled is He in Glory beyond all that they associate with Him” (9:31).

In the immediate context of the revelation, the Qur’an cautions the Muslims that the People of the book would never be happy with them, unless they followed their religion (2:120). Accordingly, it refrains them from allying with those of the People of the Book and disbelievers who ridiculed their religion (5:51, 5:57); and reminds them that their real allies were no other than God and the Prophet, and the fellow believers (5:55).

“Neither the Jews, nor the Christians will be satisfied with you (O Muhammad,) unless you follow their creed. Say: ‘Indeed, the guidance from God is (true) guidance’, and if you were to follow their whims, after what has reached you of the knowledge, you will not have any protector or helper against God” (2:120).

“You who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians for your allies (Auliya’)*: they are but the allies (Auliya’)* of one another, and any of you who allies with them, becomes, one of them. Indeed God does not guide the unjust people” (5:51). *[The word is the plural form of Wali, which is also rendered elsewhere as ‘protector’, ‘friend’ as fitting the text.]

“Your only ally (Wali) is God, and His Messenger, and those who believe: those who keep up prayer, and give charity, and bow down (in prayer) (5:55). Therefore, whoso allies with God and His Messenger and (with) those who believe, (belong to) the party of God, and will be victorious (56). (Therefore) you who believe, do not take as your allies those, who take your religion for a joke and a sport, be they among those whom the Book was revealed before you, or among the disbelievers; but heed God, if you are (truly) faithful (57). When you call to prayer, they take it as mockery and amusement. This is because, they are a people who do not use their reason” (5:58).

13.4.       There Is No Qur’anic Basis to Hate Christians and Jews or Any Community

The verses 5:51, 5:55/56 above are often cited in isolation and out of historical context to imply that for all times, the Muslims should not take the Jews and Christians as their friends or allies. But the Qur’anic pronouncements under 13.2/3 above, and its broader message on universal brotherhood of humanity (Ch. 9) rule out any such notion. Moreover, the Qur’an offers further illustrations to leave no ambiguity on this matter.

1.       In the context of the revelation, the Qur’an forbade the Muslims to ally with only those who fought against them for religion, and expelled them from their homelands, and helped (others) in their expulsion (60:9/Ch. 12.5). Accordingly, it did not forbid Muslims to be virtuous and just to those who did not fight against them for religion, nor drove them from their homelands (60:8/Ch. 12.5).

2.       In its concluding phase, the Qur’an allows Muslim men to marry Christian and Jewish women (5:5/Ch. 32.3), and thus make them their benefactors or allies. (9:71/Ch. 33.6).

Thus, any generalization of the noted Qur’anic verses to foment hatred against contemporary Christians and Jews will be tantamount to distorting the message of the Qur’an. To the critic however, this may sound apologetic, as it contradicts the ground reality of the present day Muslim world, where anti-Semitic sentiments run high. It may therefore be useful to clarify this by drawing on modern secular scholarship. Thus to quote Karen Armstrong:2

“Anti-Semitism is a Christian vice. Hatred of the Jews became marked in the Muslim world after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. It is significant that Muslims were compelled to import anti-Jewish myths from Europe and translate into Arabic such virulently anti-Semitic texts as the Protocols of the elders of Zion, because they had no such tradition of their own. Because of this new hostility towards the Jewish people, some Muslims now quote the passages in the Qur’an that refer to Muhammad’s struggle with the three rebellious Jewish tribes to justify their prejudice. By taking these verses out of context, they have distorted both the message of the Qur’an and the attitude of the Prophet, who himself felt no such hatred of Judaism.”  


1.      2:143 [Note 98/Ch.3.]

2.    Karen Armstrong, Islam, A short history, New York, 2002, p. 21/22.

[2 reference]

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.

URL:  http://www.newageislam.com/books-and-documents/muhammad-yunus---ashfaque-ullah-syed/the-qur’an-and-the-people-of-the-book--chapter-13,-essential-message-of-islam/d/103407


  • Dear Mohammad Imran,

    Islam is a personal religion - a covenant between man and God and Muslims are free to practice it in  any secular, democratic,  country regardless of how few may be their number. Here is a summary of the universal tenets of the Qur'anic guidance for the  broader humanity that Muslims can wittingly and non-Muslims non-wittingly follow:

     The Qur’an enjoins the doing of good and righteous deeds and control of one's base instincts / moral awareness (taqwa) as its twin foundations of faith on which God will judge all humanity; its bidding include justice and equity; charity and generosity, mercy, compassion and forgiveness, patience and tolerance, peaceful conflict resolution, vying with each other in goodness and lawful pursuits, use of reason and discernment, invoking peace upon the ignorant,  returning evil with good, returning greetings warmly and repelling all negative thoughts ; fair wages to the employee, sharing of wealth with the needy, even in bad times by personal sacrifices and writing off debt to a bankrupt debtor; excellence in lawful pursuits, unremitting personal jihad for self improvement and community development; friendliness with neighbors even erstwhile enemies; suppressing anger and forgiving others even in state of anger; speaking good of others to help avoid conflicts in the society/ family, conducting oneself graciously at places of worship; walking humbly and invoking peace on the ignorant; not being wasteful, nor miserly but to take a position in between; to speak what was just and relevant (sadida), fair and reasonable (ma‘ruf) in a goodly manner (hasana) and a soft tone. To say with mouth what is in the heart (3:167).

    The forbiddances include financial embezzlement, arrogance, speaking ill of others; include slandering, backbiting, rumour mongering, greed, bribery, trifle talk, polemical arguments, all that is vain, gross and ignoble  walking, speaking or behaving arrogantly; speaking in a deceitful or ostentatious manner; miserliness; hiding one’s possession to avoid sharing it with the needy; mocking other people, finding fault in each other or insulting others with (insulting) nicknames; to be miserly when affluent; harbour excessive suspicious of others, amassing wealth, holding back from spending for the needy in the community, bribing the authorities to usurp other’s properties; cheating others even by mutual consent; appropriating the shares of a minor business partner, money lending at exorbitant rates to quickly multiply one’ wealth; to burden anyone beyond his capacity; compelling others in religion;   

    On Pluralism, the Qur'an recognizes the diversity of human race, language and color and declares that if God willed, He would have made humanity into one community guiding them all. The Qur’an forbids any compulsion in religion and asks the Prophet not to compel people because if God so wished, everyone on earth would have believed. The Qur’an also commands Muslims not to discriminate against non-Muslims, nor to insult those whom they invoke besides God. Towards the concluding phase of the revelation, when Islam was established as an historical reality and the pagans and the native Jews and Christians did not pose any threat the Qur’an expounds its message on the plurality of faith (49:13, 5:48):

    “...... For each of you We have made a (different) code (shir‘ah), and an open way (of action) (minhaj). If God so pleased, He would have made you (all) into one community. Therefore vie (with each other) in goodness (so that) He may test you by what He has given you. (Remember, you) all will (eventually) return to God, and He will tell you in what you differed” (5:48).

     “O People! We have created you as male and female, and made you into races and communities* for you to get to know each other. The noblest among you near God are those of you who are the most morally upright (active in taqwa). Indeed God is All-Knowing and Informed” (49:13) 
    By muhammad yunus - 6/12/2015 9:03:26 AM

  • Muhammad Yunus has discussed one of the burning issues, this is, indeed appreciated 
    By Misbah - 6/11/2015 12:22:32 AM

  • “Neither the Jews, nor the Christians will be satisfied with you (O Muhammad,) unless you follow their creed. (2:120)
    There is no reason to discuss what Quran says about Jews and Christians when most Muslims are living as a minority among them and among other non-Muslims. Are Messers Younus, Syed and Nasir going to follow Quranic instructions when they live among Jews and Christians or are they are going to live as part of multicultural, multiethnic, multi religious group living peaceably among them.
    By mohammad imran - 6/10/2015 2:12:23 PM

  • Good article! I endorse the views of Yunus Sb. I have written an article which complements his views and may help in building better interfaith relations.

    Is the Quran a Book of Contradictions?

    A comment another the same article further expands the discussion in the article.


    You are missing the subtle nuances. Verse 5:118 holds out a very strong hope that those Christians who were guilty of the kufr/shirk mentioned in 5:72, 5:73 out of ignorance and not out of willful "denial of the truth" will be forgiven.

    Verse 5:72 talks about how  Jesus warned his people about the consequences of "shirk". By giving the message indirectly, God has not made the consequences of shirk detailed in the verse  incumbent upon Himself. He has left the door open for forgiveness. So also 5:73 which is not specific as to what the grievous penalty will be and whether in this World or in the hereafter. There is no escape for those who willfully violate these injunctions but hope for those who do it out of ignorance.

    Verse 4:48 is categorical and it is for the Jews. There is no escape for them if they commit any "shirk". There is an identical verse 4:116 which is for the Muslims. The Muslims also have no escape if they commit "shirk". You can see the function of repetition here. It makes clear that 4:48 is binding on the Jews and 4:116 on Muslims. Are these verses not binding or applicable to others? These become equally binding to those who have understood the true nature of God and the implications and consequences of shirk. If this was meant for all mankind, the verse would have begun with "O ye mankind!" and it would not have been repeated. If 4:48 was meant only for the Jews it would have begun with "O Children of Israel". Although it does not begin with a direct address, since it is among the group of verses for the Jews, it is as binding on the Jews as if it had begun with a direct address to them. At the same time by avoiding addressing people of a specific faith, it is also binding on others who understand its purpose and implications.

    So also 4:116 which is found in a group of verses for Muslims. It does not begin with "O ye who believe" and yet there is no doubt that it is binding on the Muslims.

    Neither verse 4:48 or 4:116 can be applied uniformly  to people of any other faith as we have seen in the case of the Christians where their "shirk" which is unintentional and from ignorance can be forgiven.

    That is why I have said that in my article Who Is A Kafir In The Quran? (Part 3): Why Kufr Is A Relative Concept While Shirk, Idol Worship Etc. Have Fixed Meanings that Kufr in the spiritual dimension is also not absolute but faith relative.

    Those who try to apply 4:48 which is identical to 4:116 to people of other faiths will end up with contradictions. We can see how these two verses "contradict" the implication of 5:118. This is an apparent contradiction which then makes us understand 4:48 and 4:116 and its limits. 

    It is now easy to see why the Mushrikin cannot be considered as Kafirin unless they reject faith and die rejecting. To the Mushrikin what is relevant is 3:91 "As to those who reject Faith, and die rejecting,- never would be accepted from any such as much gold as the earth contains, though they should offer it for ransom. For such is (in store) a penalty grievous, and they will find no helpers."

    And what is rejection? This is covered in the article cited above.

    Islam is truly a universal religion and makes allowances for people of other faiths.

    Ultimately, only those who move towards the common terms in 3:64 will be successful. Those who resist or reject after knowledge has come to them, will be treated as those who resisted or rejected.  The beauty is that no one need change his religion since every religion has elements that make it both possible and easy to move towards the common terms enunciated in 3:64 

    By Naseer Ahmed - 4/27/2015 1:50:49 AM

    By Naseer Ahmed - 6/10/2015 3:19:42 AM

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