Quran’s Stand on the People of the Book
By: S. Arshad
The Quran enjoins on man to co-exist in peace and respect each other’s faith. The Quran says that God has made the universe full of variety and the mark of His creativity is manifest everywhere. The heavens, the earth, the oceans and the flora and fauna are marked with variety and difference in shape and colour. The way of living and eating habits of people is also different. Therefore, the religions and the way of thinking of different peoples also differ. This is according to the scheme of things of God. He says that if he had willed, all the people of the world would have believed in one religion. But through difference in faith and way of worship of God, he wants to test man’s faith and wants to see how man tries to co-exist in peace with others despite difference in way of thinking.
A general opinion found among the Muslims is that the Quran abrogates all the previous scriptures whereas the Quran has been called Zikr – a reminder of the previous scriptures and it corroborates all the previous Books. The Quran indeed calls Islam the best religion but does not abrogate the previous scriptures — The Gospel, the Old Testament and Psalms and other ancient scriptures. Akmalto Lakum Dinakum means that the Deen started to be revealed with Prophet Adam and culminated on Prophet Muhammad pbuh:
“This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion”. (Al Maida: 3)
But the general Muslims have the view that Akmalto Lakum Dinakum means that the Deen started with the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad pbuh and completed when the Quran was fully revealed to him pbuh, limiting the meaning of the Deen. The truth is that the Quran does not abrogate the previous scriptures. It only warns the people of the Book making innovations in faith like Trinity or calling Jesus the son of God as it warns Muslims against innovations and wrong practices that are found among them.
“O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son.” (Al Nisa: 171)
On many occasions, the Quran mentions the People of the Book in very good words. Not only that, the Quran enjoins on the People of the Book to persevere on their Scriptures and guide their life according to the commandments of the Book that was revealed to them. It says that those who believe in the divine scriptures believe in one God and the Day of Judgment and do good deeds are blessed people and they can live peacefully side by side with Islam with their own religious identity.
“To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what Allah hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that hath come to thee. To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you” (Al Maida: 48)
God has made the system of the world on democratic lines and religious, linguistic, political and cultural democracy has been existing on earth and this democracy has remained intact through ages. In other words, all kinds of ideologies and thoughts of schools survive and grow together. No system has ever been so powerful as could destroy all the other schools of thought and ideologies and establish a cultural, religious or political uniformity on earth. In every age, all the religions existed together and the followers of any single religion could never become so powerful so as to destroy all the other religions. The Quran says:
“Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure.” (Al Hajj: 40)
There are aggressive and irresponsible elements in all the religions who pose danger to other religions but God’s democratic system is so strong and powerful that they have never been able to disturb this democratic equilibrium in the world.
Quran is of the opinion that the followers of the previous scriptures are also on the right path. Some of the people among them may have gone haywire as some people among the Muslims have also gone haywire and have made innovations.
The Quran makes its view clear in the following verses.
“Not all of them are alike: Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (For the right): They rehearse the Signs of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in Allah and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous.”(Al-e-Imran: 113-114)
The Quran further says:
“And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book, those who believe in Allah, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to Allah: They will not sell the Signs of Allah for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord, and Allah is swift in account.”(Al-e-Imran: 199)
About the Jews too, the Quran has the same view:
“There are among them some that are the righteous, and some that are the opposite.”(Al Araf: 168)
The Quran clubs all the religious groups that believe in one God, believe in the Day of Judgment and do good deeds and calls them blessed people:
“Those who believe (in the Qur’an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”(Al Maida: 69)
“Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve”.(Al Baqar : 62)
The Quran displays a liberal outlook by enjoining on the People of the Book to establish their religious scriptures in the following verse:
“If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course: but many of them follow a course that is evil.”(Al Maida: 66)
“Say: “O People of the Book! ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord.” It is the revelation that cometh to thee from thy Lord, that increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. But sorrow thou not over (these) people without Faith”. (Al Maida: 68)
Muslims of the world are expected to behave in a manner that establishes peace among different religious groups by having dialogue with them and concentrate on the similarities and points of agreement among the religions rather than focusing on the points of differences. Therefore, the Quran produced the concept of interfaith dialogue 14th centuries ago but unfortunately, they think that this concept is foreign to Islam due to their ignorance of the democratic principles it preaches.
“And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, “We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).”(Al Ankabut: 46)
“Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah. If only the People of the Book had faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors”. (Al-e-Imran: 110)
To sum up, the Quran has equal respect for the previous scriptures and their followers if they persist on their basic principles and teachings which was originally revealed to them. The Qurans calls all the people of the Book blessed as they believe in one God, Day of Judgment and do good deeds.