The following paper was submitted as a homework assignment for the AlMaghrib Heavenly Hues course taught by Shaykh Yaser Birjas in Houston. The assignment was to search through the ayaat of the Quran to see what guidelines are given for establishing a foundation of dialogue with Ahl al-Kitab. It was mentioned in class that it would be posted here, and you can find it below insha’Allah.
A Foundation for Dialogue With Ahl al-Kitab
Does the Qur’an elucidate a manner of having dialogue with the People of the Book? Does it simply give a message to convey, or does it also put that message into a greater context taking into account their history, characteristics, and potential for accepting the message in the future?
The Qur’an not only gives guidance on these affairs, but establishes detailed guidelines for the believer to follow in creating a foundation for dialogue with the People of the Book. Dialogue in this context necessitates a focus on giving da’wah, foundations for how to give da’wah, and discussion of issues of common concern and disagreement.
While there are hundreds of ayaat dealing with those given previous Scripture and their stories, a select few can be taken from them to show the Divinely ordained method of having dialogue with them and inviting them to the truth.
Establishing any kind of dialogue with someone requires understanding and truly knowing the one being invited. The caller must familiarize himself or herself with the dispositions held by the other party, including their background and status. After this, a framework for discussion must be established, with the caller focusing on the etiquettes of dialogue and the arguments he or she plans to proffer. In the end a resolution must be offered and its potential results evaluated.
Know Your Audience, Knowledge Precedes Action
Before initiating a dialogue with the People of the Book, Muslims must first familiarize themselves with who they are, and their history.
Muslims must learn the message that was given to the People of Scripture and how they responded to it. This is essential to understanding why we need to have dialogue with them in the first place.
The People of the Book broke the covenant they had with Allah and changed the religion revealed to them. This is the primary reason that dialogue is needed. Many ayaat in the Qur’an reference various events of this nature. Some of the ayaat specifically shed light on the covenant that Allah took from them.
The Covenant Taken by Allah
The People of the Book are the Jews and Christians entrusted with the previous revelation,
Verily, We did send down the Torah, therein was guidance and light, by which the Prophets, who submitted themselves to Allah’s Will, judged the Jews. And the rabbis and the priests, for to them was entrusted the protection of Allah’s Book, and they were witnesses thereto. Therefore fear not men but fear Me and sell not My Verses for a miserable price. …. And in their footsteps, We sent Jesus, son of Mary, confirming the Torah that had come before him, and We gave him the Gospel, in which was guidance and light and confirmation of the Torah that had come before it, a guidance and an admonition for the pious.
The covenant Allah took from them is the same as the message of Islam that Muslims are commanded to invite to,
And [recall] when We took the covenant from the Children of Israel, [enjoining upon them], ‘Do not worship except Allah; and to parents do good and to relatives, orphans, and the needy. And speak to people good [words] and establish prayer and give zakah.’ Then you turned away, except a few of you, and you were refusing.
Instead of holding steadfast to this covenant though, the People of the Book broke it and committed crimes against what Allah entrusted them with. One particularly heinous example was killing the Prophets sent to them,
Verily, We took the covenant of the Children of Israel and sent them Messengers. Whenever there came to them a Messenger with what they themselves desired not – a group of them they called liars, and others among them they killed.
They were even cursed by their own prophets for the injustices they committed,
Those among the Children of Israel who disbelieved were cursed by the tongue of David and Jesus, son of Mary. That was because they disobeyed and were ever transgressing beyond bounds.
Their greatest transgression committed by The People of the Book was the crime of shirk. They claimed that Allah was a part of a Trinity and that He had taken a son, thus disbelieving in the message sent to them.
Surely, they have disbelieved who say: “Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary.” But the Messiah said: “O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.” Verily, whosoever sets up partners in worship with Allah, then Allah has forbidden Paradise for him, and the Fire will be his abode. And for the wrongdoers there are no helpers. Surely, disbelievers are those who said: “Allah is the third of the three (in a Trinity).” But there is no god (who has the right to be worshipped) but One Ilah (Allah). And if they cease not from what they say, verily, a painful torment will befall the disbelievers among them.
Both nations ascribed a son to Allah (far removed is He from such accusations),
And they (Jews, Christians and pagans) say: Allah has begotten a son. Glory be to Him. Nay, to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth, and all surrender with obedience (in worship) to Him.
It is even more amazing that they consider themselves to be saved from punishment in the Hereafter despite holding these beliefs,
And (both) the Jews and the Christians say: “We are the children of Allah and His loved ones.” Say: “Why then does He punish you for your sins?” Nay, you are but human beings, of those He has created, He forgives whom He wills and He punishes whom He wills. And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, and to Him is the return (of all).
Dialogue is necessary with them due to these deviations in belief, and the altering of the message sent to them. In spite of these blameworthy actions, the People of the Book still enjoy a special rank and status due to the fact that they were recipients of a Scripture from Allah Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala.
Status and Rank of the People of the Book
The sincerity held by the pious amongst them must be recognized. These qualities are mentioned to show their nearness to the message that Muslims must invite them to. By reminding them of their positive qualities, it eases taking the next step into accepting the message.
Allah says regarding some of them,
Not all of them are alike; a party of the people of the Scripture stand for the right, they recite the Verses of Allah during the hours of the night, prostrating themselves in prayer.
And in another ayah,
And there are, certainly, among the people of the Scripture, those who believe in Allah and in that which has been revealed to you, and in that which has been revealed to them, humbling themselves before Allah. They do not sell the Verses of Allah for a little price, for them is a reward with their Lord. Surely, Allah is Swift in account.
While this is the case for some of them, the Qur’an reminds to be on guard,
You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah. If only the People of the Scripture had believed, it would have been better for them. Among them are believers, but most of them are defiantly disobedient.
The People of the Book are also addressed directly in the Qur’an by Allah Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala.
The Address of Allah Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala to the People of the Book
The same points made before are now directly reemphasized by Allah to the People of the Book.
He calls upon them to reaffirm the original covenant of worshipping Allah alone without any partners,
O people of the Scripture! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, nor say of Allah aught but the truth. The Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, was (no more than) a Messenger of Allah and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary and a spirit created by Him; so believe in Allah and His Messengers. Say not: “Three (trinity)!” Cease! (It is) better for you. For Allah is (the only) One Ilah (God), Glory be to Him (Far Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is All-Sufficient as a Disposer of affairs.
He also commands them to accept the pristine guidance sent down in the Final Revelation to mankind,
O people of the Scripture! Now has come to you Our Messenger explaining to you much of that which you used to hide from the Scripture and passing over much. Indeed, there has come to you from Allah a light and a plain Book.
And He leaves them no excuse to reject it,
O people of the Scripture! Now has come to you Our Messenger making (things) clear unto you, after a break in (the series of) Messengers, lest you say: ‘There came unto us no bringer of glad tidings and no warner.” But now has come unto you a bringer of glad tidings and a warner. And Allah is Able to do all things.
For the believers to understand how to correctly call to this guidance, they must not only understand the history that has preceded, but see the reality of their relationship vis-à-vis the People of the Book.
The Relationship of Muslims to the People of the Book
The People of the Book work to mislead and deceive the believers. They do this because they will not be pleased until everyone else follows their way of life,
Never will the Jews or the Christians be pleased with you until you follow their religion. Say: “Verily, the Guidance of Allah is the (only) Guidance.” And if you were to follow their desires after what you have received of Knowledge, then you would have against Allah neither any protector nor any helper.
While they wish to mislead the believers, they only harm their own selves,
A party of the people of the Scripture wish to lead you astray. But they shall not lead astray anyone except themselves, and they perceive not.
The Muslims though, view the People of the Book with balance and respect. They understand the disbelief they have committed, but still acknowledge the piety held by some amongst them,
Verily, you will find the strongest among men in enmity to the believers the Jews and those who associate others with Allah, and you will find the nearest in love to the believers (Muslims) those who say: “We are Christians.” That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not proud.
The following ayah conveys the same message by commanding the believers to be just in their interaction with them,
Many of the people of the Scripture wish that if they could turn you away as disbelievers after you have believed, out of envy from their own selves, even, after the truth has become manifest unto them. But forgive and overlook, until Allah brings His Command. Verily, Allah is Able to do all things.
Part of the relationship the believers must maintain regarding the People of the Book is to interact with them with good manners. This establishes the etiquettes of dialogue with them.
Manners of Invitation to the People of the Book
Allah Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala commands the believers to have good manners with them and to call them with the best of argument and dialogue.
And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.
One important principle of dialogue is to not give into falsehood. A severe warning is given for those who compromise the truth,
O you who believe! If you obey a group of those who were given the Scripture, they would (indeed) render you disbelievers after you have believed!
The believers are now ready to follow the command to establish direct dialogue with the People of the Book.
To Speak a Just Word
Dialogue starts by asking them to come to a statement that should be an issue of commonality between both parties, worshipping Allah alone without any partner. This is also a commandment given in the Bible. Allah says,
Say: “O people of the Scripture: Come to a word that is just between us and you, that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partners with Him, and that none of us shall take others as lords besides Allah.” Then, if they turn away, say: “Bear witness that we are Muslims.”
The invitation must always begin with the call to Tawheed, the message which was the basis upon which all Messengers were sent.
Say: “O people of the Scripture! Exceed not the limits in your religion (by believing in something) other than the truth, and do not follow the vain desires of people who went astray in times gone by, and who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the Right Path.”
Response to the People of the Book
As the believers start this dialogue, it is expected for the People of the Book to respond as well. Allah Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala has given instruction on how to respond to their assertions. The believers are not only given the responses, but also commanded to stop after conveying the message.
So if they dispute with you say: “I have submitted myself to Allah, and (so have) those who follow me.” And say to those who were given the Scripture and to those who are illiterates: “Do you (also) submit yourselves (to Allah in Islam)?” If they do, they are rightly guided; but if they turn away, your duty is only to convey the Message; and Allah is All-Seer of (His) slaves.
They will find ways to criticize the believers for following the Message sent to them,
Say: “O people of the Scripture! Do you criticize us for no other reason than that we believe in Allah, and in (the revelation) which has been sent down to us and in that which has been sent down before (us), and that most of you are disobedient?”
As with any debate and discussion, Muslims are commanded not only to defend themselves against accusations, but to be on the offensive in their dialogue as well,
Say: “O people of the Scripture! Why do you reject the verses of Allah while Allah is Witness to what you do?”
In one encompassing ayah Allah instructs the Prophet Sal Allahu ‘alayhi was-Sallam to convey the message and not grieve over their rejecting it.
Say “O people of the Scripture! You have nothing until you act according to the Torah, the Gospel, and what has been sent down to you from your Lord (the Quran).” Verily, that which has been sent down to you from your Lord increases in many of them their obstinate rebellion and disbelief. So be not sorrowful over the people who disbelieve.
Dealing with their rejection of the message is a central theme in how the Qur’an shows believers to react after the dialogue has finished.
Deconstructing the Dialogue
Once the dialogue is finished, a conclusion must be reached. For the believers, it requires understanding the responses of the People of the Book in light of their past history.
They Differ After Receiving the Truth
Allah Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala gives some explanation to the believers regarding those who rejected the message,
Truly, the religion with Allah is Islam. Those who were given the Scripture did not differ except, out of mutual jealousy, after knowledge had come to them. And whoever disbelieves in the ayaat of Allah, then surely, Allah is Swift in calling to account.
They differ despite the clear evidences conveyed to them,
And the people of the Scripture differed not until after there came to them clear evidence.
This behavior is not new, but is something that has been manifest numerous times. The primary example of this is their rejecting and covering up the prophecies of the Prophet Sal Allahu ‘alayhi was-Sallam in their own Scripture.
Prophecies in Previous Scripture
Allah Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala informed us that the coming of the Prophet sal-Allahu ‘alayhi was-Sallam is confirmed in the scriptures of the People of the Book. This lets the believers know that not only was evidence established upon them prior to their dialogue, but also that their dialogue was still a duty in spite of their response.
And when there came to them a Messenger from Allah confirming what was with them, a party of those who were given the Scripture threw away the Book of Allah behind their backs as if they did not know!
And He said,
Those to whom We gave the Scripture recognize him as they recognize their sons. But verily, a party of them conceals the truth while they know it.
The knowledge in the previous Scripture was so detailed that the Messenger was even named,
And [mention] when Jesus, the son of Mary, said, “O children of Israel, indeed I am the messenger of Allah to you confirming what came before me of the Torah and bringing good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad.” But when he came to them with clear evidences, they said, “This is obvious magic.”
With this in tow, a final outcome must still be reached from this dialogue.
The Desired Outcome
The ideal result from this dialogue is that the People of the Book will accept Islam, upholding the main tenets of faith in that they testify to worshiping Allah alone without any partner, and affirming that Muhammad Sal Allahu ‘alayhi was-Sallam is His final Messenger.
Then, We sent after them, Our Messengers, and We sent Jesus son of Mary, and gave him the Gospel. And We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him, compassion and mercy. But the Monasticism which they invented for themselves, We did not prescribe for them, but (they sought it) only to please Allah therewith, but that they did not observe it with the right observance. So We gave those among them who believed, their (due) reward, but many of them are disobedient to Allah. O you who believe [in Moses and Jesus]! Fear Allah, and believe too in His Messenger (Muhammad), He will give you a double portion of His Mercy, and He will give you a light by which you shall walk (straight), and He will forgive you. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. So that the people of the Scripture may know that they have no power whatsoever over the Grace of Allah, and that (His) Grace is (entirely) in His Hand to bestow it on whomsoever He wills. And Allah is the Owner of Great Bounty.
Some will also readily accept the message because they immediately recognize the truth as a result of this dialogue,
And when they (Christians) listen to what has been sent down to the Messenger, you see their eyes overflowing with tears because of the truth they have recognized. They say: “Our Lord! We believe; so write us down among the witnesses.”
Unfortunately, not all immediately recognize the truth, and someone engaged in dialogue with them must always be prepared for this.
Part of conveying the message properly is to make sure that the dialogue concludes without any ambiguity. In this vein, there are two ayaat in particular that lay out the ultimate choice for the People of the Book.
They are reminded with censure of their previous transgression while at the same time being given hope of a good reward should they accept the message,
And if only the people of the Scripture had believed (in Muhammad and warded off evil and had become pious, We would indeed have blotted out their sins and admitted them to Gardens of pleasure (in Paradise).
It is up to them to choose the path of success,
Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered prophet, whom they find written in what they have of the Torah and the Gospel, who enjoins upon them what is right and forbids them what is wrong and makes lawful for them the good things and prohibits for them the evil and relieves them of their burden and the shackles which were upon them. So those who have believed in him, honored him, supported him and followed the light which was sent down with him – it is those who will be the successful.
If they still reject the message though, then the blame lies on their shoulders in the Hereafter,
Verily, those who disbelieve from among the people of the Scripture and the polytheists will abide in the Fire of Hell. They are the worst of creatures.
Final Advice to the Believers and the People of the Book
And to Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And verily, We have recommended to the people of the Scripture before you, and to you (O Muslims) that you (all) fear Allah, and keep your duty to Him, But if you disbelieve, then unto Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth, and Allah is Ever Rich (Free of all wants), Worthy of all praise.