Is it all right to call the People of the Book -the Jews and the Christians- kafir (unbeliever)? How should our relations with the People of the Book be?

Badiuzzaman was asked that question when he went to enlighten the eastern tribes after the announcement of the constitutional monarchy. As it is reported in the book named Münazarat, he based his negative answer on two basic reasons.

Firstly, it is a moral torture because it means insult. Divine justice does not permit a Muslim to torture anyone.

Secondly, There are two meanings of the word kafir (unbeliever): One and the most widespread is the one who accepts no religion and creator. Then, we have no right to call People of the Book like that. The second is the one who denies our prophet and Islam. With that meaning, we have a right to call them like that. They also accept it. However, because the previous meaning comes into mind first, it becomes a word of insult and torture. (1)

I have to say with regret that some people call the People of the Book giaour (infidel) because they find the insult in the word kafir not enough. Recently, I had a dignified guest from Turkey. We were wandering about the ancient places. Whenever my guest saw a Christian, he uttered the word giaour. After hearing the word a few times, I could not help saying: Even if you say giaour all the time every day, you can not acquire any rewards. There is no word as giaour among the holy dhikr words. You waste your time. However, if you say May Allah bestow them the right path when you see a non-Muslim, you can do a favor both for them and yourself. Every prayer out of your mouth is written as a reward on behalf of you. Nearly all of the people except very few around our prophet (pbuh) were giaour as you use the word for thirteen years after his first declaration. Our prophet (pbuh) prayed for them by both word of mouth and his attitudes to make them come to the right path instead of calling them giaour. We should follow the way of the prophets too.

We should revise the words that we use for non-Muslims. Meanings of the words like kafir and denier have had a semantic shift. They are used for insulting rather than defining. However, the words inkar(denial) and nankor(ungrateful) comes from the same root in Arabic. Both are used to mean veiling and hiding something. Kafir, i.e. the one who denies, means the one who veils the countless proofs pointing to the existence of Allah. Because he veils the proofs by ignorance, false custom or secular education, he cannot see and does not accept the existence of Allah, i.e. he denies (inkar). Similarly, the one who cannot see that countless blessings, gifts and the staff of life are coming from Allah becomes ungrateful (nankor). He cannot see the source of the blessings. Therefore the saying do not make blasphemy of the blessing is addressed to the ones who complains instead of appreciating the blessings and being grateful. (2)

The Quran tells us that everybody was created in the best way and has the opportunity to have faith and to gain the (the highest of the high) in Paradise. So, we must not use the word kafir for insulting purposes but for defining purposes. Since those words remind insulting today, we must not use them at all. Instead of them, we must use the phrase Ahl al-Kitab (people of the book) as used in the Quran. According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, people of the book were not called kafir before the Ottomans. With the Ottomans, that tradition changed and all non-Muslims were begun to be called as kafir. (3) In my opinion, we should correct that mistake that we took over from the Ottomans. We should give up using such insulting words as giaour and kaffir. Otherwise, our prejudice towards non-Muslims prevents us conveying the truth to them.

Our Relations with the People of the Book

Indeed, Christians and Jews believe in and try to worship the same Allah as us. They do not deny Allah; they make mistakes in their description or they associate partners with Allah. It is interesting that Badiuzzaman, unlike many Islamic scholars, says that a person from the People of the Book may reach salvation leaving the thought of partnership and saying La ilaha illallah (There is no god but Allah). He does not change the Kalima Shahadah (word of testifiying) -which is: La ilaha illallah, muhammadur rasul Allah (There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah)- by meaning the faith to Hz. Muhammad (pbuh) is not needed, as some people criticize. To the contrary, he says that someone who knows our prophet but does not believe in him also cannot believe in Allah properly. However, he says that the situation of the people who do not know our prophet at all or who do not know him correctly may differ:

Absence of acceptance and acceptance of absence are different things. Some people may have not heard about the prophet at all and may have not thought about him at all, so their absence of acceptance is quite normal. They are ignorant at that point. They only know the La ilaha illallah part of the divine knowledge. Those people may reach salvation.

However, if people who have heard about the prophet and who know his cause do not confirm him, they do not confirm Allah. For them only the word La ilaha illallah does not mean salvation. It is because, that state does not show the absence of acceptance, which may be an excuse, but shows the acceptance of absence, which is denial. Of course the one, who denies Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh), who is the pride of the universe and the source of honor for the humanity with his miracles and works, cannot acquire any divine light and does not confirm Allah. (4) So, our duty is not to be a prison guard at the gate of Hell putting the sinners into it, but to convey the truth to those who do not know about Islam and do not know Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) correctly.

Badiuzzaman does not only say that Christians who do not believe in our prophet because of their ignorance but who believe in one God might reach salvation, but he also says supporting his saying with sound hadiths (words of prophet Muhammad) that we should be on the same line with the People of the Book against atheist movements: As a sound hadith states faithful Christians will ally with the followers of the Quran to stand against their common enemy, aethism, in the end of time; even now faithful people need to make an alliance not only with people from their own religion, job or family, but also with the faithful Christians to stand against their common enemies who are aggressive and faithless. ... Our position, our holy duty, and this strange time require us not to argue on our controversial points. ... It is because atheism is on the attack. (5)

The alliance in question is applicable not only for communism but also for the debauchery based western culture. In our time, even though the danger of communism is mostly away, the danger of debauchery based culture is threatening all religions. There is a big need for the alliance with the People of the Book against that common enemy. (6)

Reformist Movements in Christianity

In my first church visit, I understood that the people there were in search of their God. Christianity, having only the flesh with a lost soul, was not able to help them in their search. Because they had nowhere else to go, people who were in search of their creator with an inborn nature attended to the churches holding a hope. However, the church made them servants to a prophet coming from the God instead of making them servants to God. Attendants of churches had not much guilt in it. They followed a story which was being told for two thousand years. They thought it could not have been popular so long if it were not true; like a child memorizing the multiplication table incorrectly when he first memorized it. Such a person can change his memory only by learning the truth. The church prevented people from seeing the fault even keeping the Bible away from people until the invention of the printing press. By pressure and ignorance, it forced the people in search of the truth to learn the wrong as if it was the truth.

The reformist movement in Europe is a correction movement of a falsified religion. It is the utterance of you can not fool us with that lie any more by the logical people who reached the basic sources of Christianity after the invention of the printing press. It is a struggle for escaping from the darkness that the church made with its unreasonable pressures. Unfortunately, the movement of enlightenment that people realized with their limited minds was not enough to find out the absolute truth. While the European thinkers were rejected the idea that trinity made God a human being, they turned every human being to kind of a god. In fact, neither God is a human being, nor can a human being be a god.

The first reformist movement is important because it gave people freedom to search for the truth breaking up the despotism of the church. The use of that freedom took people away from the wrong but it could not take them to the truth. It was like giving people who have no economic power for travelling freedom of travel; it did not make much change to give freedom of search for the truth to people who had been kept away from the truth. While leaving some mistakes, some people fell into other mistakes.

Now Christianity is undergoing a second reformist movement like the first one started in the sixteenth century. This movement is to be continued until Christianity is cleaned from its superstitions and turns into the true message that Hazrat Eesa (Jesus) brought. With a second reformist movement, today communities of two churches in the U.S. have quit the belief of trinity and reached to a God belief that is close to the belief of tawheed (Oneness of God). The common characteristic of people attending to those two churches named Unity Church and Unitarian Universalist which are organized countrywide is their denial of the trinity.

A Second Reformist Era in Christianity

Another reason why we should keep our relations close with Christians is that, in a time of science and reason, Christianity is undergoing a new reformist movement. Hz. Muhammad (pbuh) gives this news with his saying Hz. Isa (pbuh) will come in the end of time, and he will act in accordance with the Sharia of Muhammad. (7) Badiuzzaman tells that Christians will come to the tawheed belief leaving the trinity when commenting on that hadith: In the end of time, Christianity will be purified from superstitions, and will be transformed into Islam. At that point just as the collective personality of Christianity will kill the fearsome collective personality of irreligion with the sword of heavenly Revelation, so too, representing the collective personality of Christianity, Jesus (Upon whom be peace) will kill the Dajjal, who represents the collective personality of irreligion, that is, he will kill atheistic thought.Then, when that movement seems so strong, the real Christianity will emerge; it will purify the superstitions, be united with Islam and follow the way of the Quran. The collective personality of Christianity will be subject to Islam, and with that union, the true religion of God will become very strong. (8)

As all of the things Hz. Muhammad (pbuh) told about the future came into reality, the event told in the hadith above will come into reality with the permission of Allah. The fact that the communities of the churches like United Church and Unitarian Universalist quit the belief of trinity and got close to the belief of tawheed by is a sign of this. Then, as Muslims, instead of staying away from Christians and Jews, we should strengthen our relations with them and try to understand each other and come together around the essentials of the tawheed.

References:

1. Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, Münazarat (Discussions), İfade-i Meram ve Uzunca Bir Mazaret (Explanation of the objective and a long excuse), p. 71.
2. In the book named The Vision of Islam,written by two non-Muslim American professors, the concept of kufr (denial, inkar) is translated as ungrateful or truthconcealing instead of unbelief or infidelity. I recommend that book to non-Muslims without any hesitation to introduce Islam. The book written by Schiko Murata and William Chitteck is also being used as a textbook in many American universities.
3. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Heart of Islam, HarperCollins, 2002, p.44.
4. Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, Mektubat (Letters), 26. Mektup, 4. Mebhas, Beşinci Mesele (Letter 26, Part 4, fifth matter).
5. Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, Mektup No:151 (Letter 151), Emirdağ Lahikası (Emirdag Addendum).
6. In the winter 2003 issue of the journal Köprü (Bridge) we discussed why we need to unite with the followers of the book in detail under the title Medeniyet-i Sefahat ve Medeniyet-i Faziletin Mukayesesi (Comparison between the culture of debauchery and the culture of virtue). This article can be read at the address www.koprudergisi.com.
7. Bukhari, Mazalim (Cruelty), 31; Buyu (Purchase), 102; Muslim, Eeman (Faith), 242, 343; Ibn Majah, Fitan (Disorders), 33.
8. Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, Mektubat (Letters), 15. Mektup (Letter 15).
Note: This article is taken from the writers book named 11 Eylüle Rağmen Amerikada Yükselen İslam (Rising Islam in America despite September 11) which was published by Nesil Yayınları.

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