What does the People of the Book mean?

People of any divine religions such as Jews, Christians are called the People of the Book. The Holy Quran mentions the People of the Book on many occasions. Although they are called unbelievers for refusing the prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH), yet they are not unbelievers in the sense of negating Allah.

The Holy Quran in some respects grants privileges to the People of the Book compared to unbelievers. For example, to marry someone from the People of the Book and eat their food is lawful. (Al-Maidah, 5) The privilege granted to them is because of their being closer to the true faith compared to the people of disbelief. The Holy Quran announces to them:

Say: O People of the Book! Come to an agreement between us and you: that we shall worship none but Allah, and that we shall ascribe no partners unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside Allah. (Al-i Imran Surah, 3:64) That is, let us not call others Lord, God, Creator. Let the order of Allah (SWT) and His Pleasure be our criteria for our deeds Let all of us be servants to Allah (SWT). Let us consider ourselves responsible to Him. Let us be dependent on and loyal to each other in accordance with these rules. (1)

The Holy Quran declares that the People of the Book have taken their own rabbis and monks as their lords. They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their monks and the Messiah son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only One God. There is no God save Him. Be He glorified from all that they ascribe as partner (unto Him)! (At-Tawbe Surah, 9:31) When Adiy Bin Hatem, who converted to Islam from Christianity, said to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), The Messenger of Allah! We did not take them as our Lord, the Prophet Muhammad made this explanation: They made those unlawful which Allah declared lawful and lawful which Allah declared unlawful, and you obeyed them. That is taking them as lords. (2) One need not necessarily call something lord in order to have it as his lord. (3)

The following verse indicates the way to follow in the treatment of the People of the Book: And argue not with the People of the Book unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender. (Al-Ankaboot Surah, 29:46)

In this verse, the People of the Book are divided into two:
1. Those cruel
2. Those fair
It is commanded that there only be an argument with those fair in a way, which is better. This kind of approach will bring them closer to Islam and they will experience no difficulty in converting to Islam. Because when they convert to Islam, they do not have to reject Moses, Jesus (peace be upon them) Thus, they will follow the religion of the Seal of the Prophets (PBUH) and save themselves from being the members of a falsified religion.

The Holy Quran announces that Christians are closer to Islam than Jews are, Thou wilt find the most vehement of mankind in hostility to those who believe (to be) the Jews and the idolaters. And thou wilt find the nearest of them in affection to those who believe (to be) those who say: Lo! We are Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks, and because they are not proud." (Al-Maidah Surah, 5:82)

History is a proof of the verse above. Among Jews are few to convert to Islam. Yet many among Christians have chosen Islam as a result of their researches. Today in Europe, the number of Muslims of previously Christian upbringing exceeds one hundred thousands. Again, in Europe, a large number of churches have been transformed into mosques and these mosques serve as the centers of Islamic activities.

Just as the fine results of Islamic activities in Christian countries are realities, the negative attitudes of governors against Islam are also realities.

Allah Almighty, Who orders a proper argument with the fair people of the Book, decrees His ordinance for the cruel ones with the verse below:

Fight against such of those who have been given the Book as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the religion of truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low. (At-Tawbe Surah, 9:29)

From time to time, the question if the features which read in the verse include all of the People of the Book becomes a matter of debate. (4) It must not be ignored that the verse does not say Fight against those all who have been given the Book until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low, actually it says Fight against such of those who (5) The practice of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) became in this way. In the Mecca era of Islam, The Prophet Muhammad sent some Muslims to Abyssinia, which was a Christian country then, and told them they would be at peace there. As for the era of Medina, he was engaged in dialogue with both Jews and Christians, told them the religion of Allah Almighty, tried to convince them. As a result, many people converted to Islam.

As the Quran states, not all of them (the People of the Book) are alike (Al-i Imran Surah, 3:113) to regard all of them within the same category is contrary to the Quranic and historical reality. The verse, O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors; they are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust. (Al-Maidah Surah, 5:51) is not prevention for dialogue and social relations with them for to marry someone from the People of the Book is permitted in the Quran (Al-Maidah, 5).

Hamdi Yazır speaks of the verse above as follows: Muslims are not prohibited to do goodness to them, to make friends with them and to be governor of them, but prohibited to have them protectors and be involved in complicity. Because they cannot be companions to Muslims. (6)

It is possible to sum up the point as follows: To be involved in social relations with them is one thing, and to admire their religion and common practices is quite another thing. Whereas the first is not included in the Quranic prohibition, the second one is strictly prohibited.

1-Yazır, II, 1132
2-Razi, XVI, 37
3-Yazır, IV, 2512
4-Rıza, X, 333; Kutub, III, 1631-1634
5-Ateş, III, 1133-1134
6-Beydavi, II, 211

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