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Who Are The “People of the Book?”

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In the Quran, Jews and Christians, the members of the religions who abide by the Divine Books revealed by God, are called the "People of the Book."

Harun Yahya

There are many nations in the world with different colors, creeds, and languages.

These differences have been a cause of enmity throughout history in societies that did not live by religious moral values.

The perceived wisdom is that people can never manage to co-exist and that disputes arise wherever such differences exist. However, this is a great misconception and the facts are otherwise.

In fact, it is God who created human beings in different communities and in the Quran, He calls all people to peace and security:

“O You who believe! Enter absolutely into peace. Do not follow in the footsteps of Satan. He is an outright enemy to you.” (Quran 2: 208)

“Allah calls to the Abode of Peace and He guides whom He wills to a straight path.” (Quran 10: 25)

All divine religions revealed through God’s Prophets summon people to have faith in God, recommend them to display moral perfection and warn them against bad morals. Despite the fact that all divine religions—except for Islam—are distorted, it is evident today that some of their messages are fundamentally the same. That is why these conflicts, which are stirred up artificially, lack reasonable and logical grounds. As stated in the verse above, the main reason for unrest among people is not complying with God‘s summoning but following in the “footsteps of Satan.”

Believers’ harboring hostile feelings to other people who have faith in God is a moral weakness that displeases God, who prohibits all believers from displaying such feelings. He calls on people to establish peace, safety and friendship. In the Quran, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), God gives believers explicit commands and recommendations on this subject.

In the Quran, Jews and Christians, the members of the religions who abide by the Divine Books revealed by God, are called the “People of the Book.” What Muslims’ views of the People of the Book should be, their relations, and the status of the People of the Book in social life are described in verses and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad in detail. The People of the Book, while they rely basically on God‘s revelation, have moral precepts and know what is lawful and what is not. For this reason, if one of the People of the Book cooks some food, it is lawful for Muslims to eat it. In the same way, permission has been given to a Muslim man to marry a woman from among the People of the Book. On this subject God commands:

“Today all good things have been made lawful for you. And the food of those given the Book is also lawful for you and your food is lawful for them. So are chaste women from among the believers and chaste women of those given the Book before you, once you have given them their dowries in marriage, not in fornication or taking them as lovers. But as for anyone who disbelieves, his actions will come to nothing and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers.” (Quran 5: 5)

Throughout Islamic history, the People of the Book have been always treated with compassion in Muslim societies. This was particularly evident in the Ottoman Empire. It is a well known fact that the Jews, whose rights were denied and were exiled by the Catholic Kingdom of Spain, took refuge in the lands of the Ottoman Empire. As will be dealt with in detail in the following sections, when Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror captured Istanbul, he granted both Christians and Jews all their fundamental rights. Throughout Ottoman history, Jews were regarded as People of the Book and enjoyed peaceful coexistence with Muslims.

How Should a Muslim Regard Judaism?

Prophet Muhammad treated the People of the Book with the utmost understanding and justice. Thanks to this noble attitude, Abdullah ibn Salam, a prominent rabbi, and his friends converted to Islam and came to believe in his prophethood.

The practices of the Inquisition in European history, which were a consequence of Christian bigotry, or of anti-Semitism that is itself linked to racist views (hatred of Jews) were never observed in the Islamic world. In the 20th century, however, with some Jews embracing atheistic Zionism, the Middle East became the scene of conflict and unrest between Jews and Muslims.

Zionism appeared in the mid-19th century as an ideology espousing a homeland for landless Jews. But as with many ideologies, Zionism became corrupted over the course of time, and that legitimate demand turned into a radical conception resorting to terror and violence and allied with extremist forces. Atheist Zionism, on the other hand, is a racist, chauvinistic and colonialist ideology.

There are two varieties of Zionism today. The first of these is the Zionist conception of the devout Jewish people, who wish to live in peace and security in Israel alongside Muslims, seeking peace and wishing to worship in the lands of their forefathers and engage in business. In that sense, Muslims support Zionism. We would fully back the devout Jewish people living in peace and security in their own lands, remembering Allah, worshipping in their synagogues and engaging in science and trade in their own land. The Zionist belief held by a devout Jew and based on the Torah does not in any way conflict with the Quran. The Jews’ living in that region is indicated in the Quran, in which it is revealed that God has settled the Children of Israel on it:

Remember when Moses said to his people, “My people! Remember Allah’s blessing to you when He appointed prophets among you and appointed kings for you, and gave you what He had not given to anyone else in all the worlds! My people! Enter the Holy Land which Allah has ordained for you. Do not turn back in your tracks and so become transformed into losers.” (Quran 5: 20-1)

It is the “irreligious, Godless Zionism” that we as Muslims condemn and regard as a threat. These Godless Zionists, who do not defend the existence and oneness of God, but, on the contrary, encourage a Darwinist, materialist perspective and thus engage in irreligious propaganda, are also a threat to devout Jews. Godless Zionism is today engaged in a struggle against peace, security and moral virtue, and constantly produces strife and turmoil and the shedding of blood.

There is no doubt that atheistic Zionism is a detrimental and harmful ideology for Muslims and world peace alike. It is therefore the duty of every Muslim and person, no matter what his political stance or belief, to struggle against this harmful ideology on intellectual grounds. However, as in the case of any sphere, it is also of vital importance to establish justice and to avoid prejudice. A Muslim must oppose radical Zionists while ensuring that injustice and oppression are not inflicted on innocent Jews.

As in every form of racism, anti-Semitism is an ideology utterly foreign to Islam. A Muslim opposes all forms of genocide, torture and violence, regardless of religion, race and ethnical origins. A Muslim will never support even the most minor attack on innocent Jews, in the same way he would not approve of any cruel treatment of a member of any other nation. On the contrary, he will denounce it. In the Quran, those who make mischief on earth, who subject people to cruelty and those who kill people for no reason are denounced. Some verses on this subject read as follows:

“Seek the abode of the Hereafter with what Allah has given you, without forgetting your portion of the world. And do good as Allah has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allah does not love corrupters.” (Quran 28: 77)

“Then, is it to be expected of you, if you were put in authority, that you will do mischief in the land, and sever your ties of kinship? Such are the people Allah has cursed, making them deaf and blinding their eyes.” (Quran 47: 22-3)

“There are only grounds against those who wrong people and act as tyrants in the earth without any right to do so. Such people will have a painful punishment.” (Quran 42: 42)

In compliance with these commands of God, the intellectual struggle against atheistic Zionism should not lapse into a kind of an “antagonism towards Jews,” and innocent people should not be subjected to such unacceptable reactions. This is what being just and tolerant entails.

In the Quran, we are commanded not to make judgments about people just because they belong to a particular race, nation or religion. In every community, there are good people as well as wicked people. The Quran draws attention to this differentiation. For instance, right after mentioning the rebellious nature-against God and His religion-of some People of the Book, there is reference to an exception:

“[However] They are not all alike. Among the People of the Book there is an upright community who recites the revelation of God during the night and fall prostrate before Him. They believe in God and the Last Day, enjoin what is right and forbid what is evil, and vie with one another in good works. They are of the righteous and whatever good they do, its reward will not be denied them. God knows those who fear [Him].” (Quran 3:113-15)

In conclusion, a person who thinks in the light of the verses of the Quran and fears God can in no way feel hostility towards Jews because of their religion or creed. The moral teachings of the Quran exclude all racism. For this reason, a Muslim who follows the Quran does not practice racism and does not despise people because they belong to a certain race. It is commanded in the Quran that, so long as they show no hostility to Islam or Muslims, a tolerant and friendly attitude must be maintained toward other religions. For this reason, a Muslim who follows the Quran should assume a compassionate and friendly manner towards people of different religions, and especially towards the People of the Book.

A Muslim’s view of Judaism and Holocaust must be based on these basic criteria. Some Jews may be subjected to criticism only because they have a racist attitude, shed blood in the name of Zionism and subject other people to cruelty in compliance with the commands of the distorted Torah. A Muslim wishes to see an end to anti-Semitic racist movements and ideologies such as atheistic Zionism that practice racism in the name of the Jews, and a peaceable world order established, in which every race and belief can live in peace and justice.

Anti-Semitism and other kinds of racism (eg. prejudice against blacks) are perversions arising from various ideologies and superstitions. When we examine anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, we see clearly that they promote ideas and a model of society that is totally contrary to the moral teachings of the Quran. At the root of anti-Semitism for instance lie hatred, violence, and lack of compassion. An anti-Semite may be so cruel as to support the murder of Jewish people, men, women, children and the aged, and condone their torture. However, the moral teaching of the Quran enjoins love, compassion and mercy for all people. It also commands Muslims to show justice and be forgiving even to their enemies.

As stated in the verse: “…if someone kills another person—unless it is in retaliation for someone else or for causing corruption in the earth—it is as if he had murdered all mankind…” (Quran 5: 32) It is a very serious crime to slay even a single innocent person.

On the other hand, anti-Semites and other racists baulk at living together in peace with people of different races or creeds. (eg. German racists (Nazis) were opposed to Germans and Jews living together. They rejected it, citing concern for the degeneration of their respective races.) However, in the Quran, there is not the slightest distinction between races; in the Quran God advises that people of different faiths live together in the same society in peace and happiness. In the Quran God does not even discriminate between those who do not believe in Him and religion and those who are actively hostile to it. God commands Muslims to make their position clear to those who are hostile, while He orders them to treat with justice to those who do not show such hostility:

“Allah does not forbid you from being good to those who have not fought you over religion or driven you from your homes, or from being just towards them. Allah loves those who are just. Allah merely forbids you from taking as friends those who have fought you over religion and driven you from your homes and who supported your expulsion. Any who take them as friends are wrongdoers.” (Quran 60: 8-9)  


Monasteries, Churches and Synagogues Must Be Respected

A Muslim must respect and protect the holy places where the People of the Book worship God, and protect them. For Muslims, these places are precious because in these places, people, whether Jews or Christians, remember God. In the Quran, the places of worship of the People of the Book, such as monasteries, churches and synagogues, are mentioned as places of worship protected by God.

“…if Allah had not driven some people back by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where Allah‘s name is mentioned much, would have been pulled down and destroyed. Allah will certainly help those who help Him—Allah is All-Strong, Almighty.” (Quran 22: 40)

As a manifestation of his loyalty to God‘s commands, the Prophet Muhammad was most careful not to destroy the holy places of the People of the Book. Such destruction means, in the first place, opposing God‘s commands. This aside, it means preventing people who have faith in God worshipping Him. Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad promised the Christians, who were the other party to a peace agreement he made, that their churches would not be destroyed and that they would never be harmed. The tax (Jizyah) agreements he made with Christians also guaranteed the safety of churches.

The first agreement made after the death of the Prophet that guaranteed the protection of the temples was a tax agreement Khalid ibn al-Waleed signed with the leader of the city of Anat. Ibn Ishaq stated that those agreements made by Khalid ibn al-Waleed were also approved by Abu Bakr and the three caliphs following him. This aside, Abu Bakr offered the same guarantees that had been offered to the people of Najran by the Prophet Muhammad.

The Islamic societies that abided by Islamic morality after the death of the Prophet also paid special attention to this issue. Muslim leaders who adhered to the Quran and the Sunnah respected the places of worship of non-Muslims in conquered countries and showed great compassion to the clergy. Christians who lived under Muslim rule for centuries never rebelled for religious reasons. This, there is no doubt, is the result of the just and loving attitudes of Muslim leaders in compliance with Quranic rules.


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