Are you a Jew or a Christian? You know better: you know Islam is true, but willfully reject it. It’s in the Qur’an.
In verses 64-120 of the Qur’an’s Sura 3, “The Family of Imran,” Allah continues to charge that Jews and Christians reject Islam only out of perversity, and call them back to the true faith of Abraham. Allah caps the Qur’an’s presentation of Christianity in verses 33-63 by calling the People of the Book to accept Islam. This is presented as an invitation to an “agreement”: “that we will not worship except Allah and not associate anything with Him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah” (v. 64). That Qur’an verse also calls Jews and Christians to come to a “common word” with Muslims, that they will worship only him. “Common Word” became the name of a popular Muslim-Christian dialogue initiative that continues to this day.
This initiative began with a letter of the same name from Muslim scholars to Christian leaders; the Muslims never explained that the rest of the passage from which the phrase “Common Word” was taken called Jews and Christians to stop associating partners with Allah in worship and worship Allah alone — that is, become Muslims. But this Qur’an verse calls on Christians to reject Christ’s divinity, as well calling on Jews and Christians to stop deifying their “rabbis and monks,” which the Tafsir al-Jalalayn mentions in connection with this verse. That charge comes from Qur’an 9:31.
Allah rebukes the Jews and Christians for arguing over something about which they “have no knowledge” (v. 66): the religion of Abraham. The Patriarch couldn’t have been a Jew or a Christian, says v. 65, because “the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed until after him.” In reality, he was a Muslim hanif (حَنِيفًا مُّسْلِمً) (v. 67) — as the Tafsir al-Jalalayn explains: “Abraham in truth was not a Jew, neither a Christian, but he was a Muslim, professing the Oneness of God, and a hanīf, who inclined away from all other religions towards the upright one; and he was never of the idolaters.”
What’s more, Muhammad and the Muslims are “the nearest of kin to Abraham,” as Ibn Kathir says: “This Ayah [verse] means, ‘The people who have the most right to be followers of Ibrahim are those who followed his religion and this Prophet, Muhammad, and his Companions.'”
Of course, if Abraham was a Muslim, Judaism is completely illegitimate. The Jews (and Christians) are simply renegades from the true faith of their own prophets — which was Islam. And that is the view of Judaism and Christianity that many Muslims have today. Allah emphasizes the perversity of some of the Jews and Christians: they wish to lead the Muslims astray, when it is actually they who go astray, rejecting the “signs of Allah” even though they are witnesses of them (vv. 69-70). “Signs” is in Arabic “ayat,” which is also the word used for the verses of the Qur’an.
This therefore could refer to the delegation of Christians from Najran and/or other Christians and Jews who heard Muhammad recite the Qur’an and still rejected Islam — and, according to Islamic accounts, knew Muhammad was a prophet but didn’t want to admit it for selfish reasons. Says Maududi: “This is why the Qur’an repeatedly blames them for maliciously misrepresenting the signs of God which they saw with their own eyes and to which they themselves attested.” And they even stooped, as recounted in verses 71-2, to subterfuges to try to turn others away from Islam: they speak untruth about Allah while they know” (v. 75).
Among these dirty tricks, they pass off their own words as Holy Scripture (v. 78); some skeptics have speculated that Muhammad himself, seeking information about earlier revelations, was among their victims, before he caught on to the ruse.
Allah dismisses as “impossible” the idea that a prophet — clearly Jesus — could have taught that he was divine (vv. 79-80). He is just a prophet like the other prophets (v. 84), and Allah will accept from no one any religion other than Islam (v. 85). And those who reject the true Faith after accepting it bear “he curse of Allah and the angels and the people, all together” (verses 86-7). This refers, says Maududi, to the “Jewish rabbis of Arabia” who acknowledged and then denied Muhammad. Allah asserts that Jewish dietary laws were invented by the Jews (or Jacob — Israel — himself, vv. 93-4), and in v. 95 calls the Jews to reject what Maududi calls “hair-splitting legalism” and return to the true monotheism of Abraham — i.e., Islam.
Allah says that the shrine at Mecca (Bakkah) was the world’s first house of worship (v. 96). It was built, says Ibn Kathir, by Abraham, “whose religion the Jews and Christians claim they follow. However, they do not perform Hajj [Pilgrimage] to the house that Ibrahim built by Allah’s command, and to which he invited the people to perform Hajj.” The People of the Book “disbelieve in the verses of Allah” (v. 98) and try to obstruct others on the path of Allah (v. 99). If Muslims listen to these Jews and Christians who reject Islam, they will become apostates (v. 100). On the Day of Judgment, the faces of the blessed will be white, and those of the damned will be black (v. 106).
On earth, meanwhile, the Muslims are “the best nation produced,” while most Jews and Christians are “defiantly disobedient” (v. 110). However, the Muslims need not fear, for the Jews and Christians are also cowards: “And if they fight you, they will show you their backs” (v. 111). They are covered with shame — “except for a covenant from Allah and a rope from the Muslims” (v. 112). This, says Bulandshahri, refers to the non-Muslims’ agreeing “to pay the atonement (Jizya) to the Muslim state, in which case they will be accorded the rights of a Dhimmi.” These rights are not equal to the rights of Muslims: the dhimmis must accept subservience and second-class status (cf. 9:29) in exchange for a guarantee of protection — as long as they do not offend the Muslims.
Now, all of this is not to paint the People of the Book with a broad brush! Some “among the People of the Scripture is a community standing, reciting the verses of Allah during periods of the night and prostrating” (v. 113). According to Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Abbas and others, this refers to “the clergy of the People of the Scriptures who embraced the faith” of Islam. But steer clear of those who don’t accept Islam: v. 118, says Ibn Kathir, forbids Muslims from “taking followers of other religions as consultants and advisors,” for even those who are outwardly kind actually hate the Muslims (v. 119-120).
(Revised March 2015)