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People of the Book

This article is about the theological concept in Islam. For the novel by Geraldine Brooks see People of the Book (novel).

People of the Book (Arabic: أهل الكتاب ‎ ′Ahl al-Kitāb) is a term used to designate non-Muslim adherents to faiths which have a revealed scripture.[1] The three types of adherents to faiths that the Qur'an mentions as people of the book are the Jews, Sabians and Christians.

In Islam, the Muslim scripture, the Qur'an, is taken to represent the completion of these scriptures, and to synthesize them as God's true, final, and eternal message to humanity. Because the People of the Book recognize the God of Abraham as the one and only god, as do Muslims, and they practice revealed faiths based on divine ordinances, tolerance and autonomy is accorded to them in societies governed by sharia (Islamic divine law).

In Judaism the term "People of the Book" (Hebrew: עם הספר, Am HaSefer) was used to refer specifically to the Jewish people and the Torah, and to the Jewish people and the wider canon of written Jewish law (including the Mishnah and the Talmud). Adherents of other Abrahamic religions, which arose later than Judaism, were not added.[2] As such, the designation is accepted by Jews as a reference to an identity rooted fundamentally in the Torah.[3]

In [5][6] as well as Puritans and Shakers, have embraced the term "People of the Book."[7][8]


  • Definition 1
  • In the Qur'an 2
  • Dhimmi 3
  • Judæo-Christian view 4
    • Seventh-day Adventists 4.1
  • See also 5
  • References and sources 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


The term "People of the Book" in the Qur'an refers to followers of monotheistic Abrahamic religions that are older than Islam. This includes all Christians, all Children of Israel (including Jews, Karaites and Samaritans), and Sabians.[9]

Zoroastrianism is believed by scholars and historians to have been founded between 1000 BCE and 600 BCE, making it older than Christianity and Islam. It shares similar eschatological views with Christianity and Islam, and recognizes life after death, Satan (as Angra Mainyu), Heaven, and Hell. Only in Iran, however, is it regarded as one of the "people of the book" religions.

This definition is limited to those books that predate the Quran; they are seen as divine guidance from God to man that has been incomplete or corrupted. This definition is not extended to followers of similar texts claiming divine guidance after the revelation of the Quran (such as Bahais, see Persecution of Bahais), as the Quran is seen as the final revelation and therefore any following are necessarily false.

Islamic scholars differ on whether Hindus are People of the Book.[10] The Islamic conquest of India necessitated that the definition be revised, as most India's inhabitants were followers of the Indian religions. Many of the Muslim clergy of India considered Hindus as people of the book,[10] and from Muhhammad-bin-Kasim to Aurangzib, Muslim rulers were willing to consider Hindus as people of the book.[9] Many Muslims did not treat Hindus as pagans or idol-worshippers,[10] although Hinduism does not include Adam, Eve, nor the various prophets of Abrahamic religions. However, the present Muslim and South Asian worlds traditionally were quite close in culture and trade despite differences in religions since time immemorial, as evidenced by the development of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system. It is worth mentioning that early Muslims who visited India believed they saw the worship of one true God behind the mask of several deities. However, with the 1947 partition of India, the now small minority of Hindus in Pakistan and to a lesser extent Bangladesh have been often persecuted as kuffar (see Anti-Hinduism in Pakistan, persecution of Hindus in Pakistan, in Bangladesh).

Buddhism does not explicitly recognize a monotheistic God or the concept of prophethood. Muslims however had at one point accorded them the status of "people of the Book", and Al-Biruni wrote of Buddha as the prophet "Burxan".[11] However, there is no formal God in Buddhism, although Buddhism does not specifically oppose monotheism. But, it is explicitly stated in Buddhist sutras that the worship of an Ishvara (a Sanskrit term for a creator god, most likely not referring to the Abrahamic God who may not have been known in South Asia during the Buddha's lifetime, but given the context meaning either Shiva, Kali or Brahma[12]) is unnecessary to the attainment of Nirvana, as the Buddha believed worshipers are still trapped in an endless cycle of rebirth (Samsara). Buddhists do not worship Brahma (a Hindu deity) or "Deva" (an ancient South Asian term for a deity, today meaning either a Hindi translation of the English "God"/ Latin "Deus" concept [although Christian Indians tend to use the term "Parameshvara" or "Supreme Creator God" for the Christian God the Father] or a synonym for the ancient South Asian concept of Brahman). In Buddhism, the historical Buddha, the celestial and predecessor Buddhas, the Buddhas to Be (Bodhisattvas) and the universal laws (Dharma) fulfill the devotional needs of believers, while an emphasis is placed on the lack of Creation and Judgement abilities of these Salvation/Teaching deities. Some buddhists texts symbolize the universe as an eternal Buddha, which represents omnipresent enlightenment. There are few Buddhists in Muslim countries, except for a fraction of the Chinese minorities in Malaysia and Indonesia, but Sinophobic incidents are generally blamed on the economic success of the Chinese rather than their religion.

In the Qur'an

There are many statements in the Qur'an telling that People of The Book are people who have the book of Allah but do not practice. Some examples are below:

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.[13]
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 God all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration.[14]
And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book, those who believe in God, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to God. They will not sell the Signs of God for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord, and God is swift in account.[15]

Throughout Islamic history, Muslims have used these ayah (verses) to justify a variety of positions towards non-Muslims. The Qur'an also encourages neutral position toward all non-Muslims.[16][17]


Historically, a dhimmi was a person who is protected under Islamic law by a pact contracted between non-Muslims and authorities from their Muslim government: this status was first made available to non-Muslims who were People of the Book (e.g. Jews and Christians), but was later extended to include Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Mandeans, Hindus[18] and Buddhists.[19][20] People of the Book living in non-Islamic nations were not considered dhimmis.

Non-Muslim People of the Book living in an Islamic nation under Sharia law were given a number of rights, such as the right to freely practice their faith in private and to receive state protection. In turn, they had a legal responsibility, the payment of a special tax called jizya ("tribute") in place of zakat. The social structure of the Ottoman Empire would serve as an example of how non-Muslims were treated.

Because of the Hindu traditions of Vedanta and Upanishads, and the prominent Hindu theological perspective that there is a single Reality (Brahman) from which the world arises, Hindus eventually have been included as dhimmis.[21]

The Yazidi, Druze and Azali faiths are small post-Islamic monotheistic faiths whose adherents mainly reside in Muslim-majority countries. Because they number very few and have seldom disturbed, countered or threatened Muslim authority, they are usually regarded as dhimmis.

The definition of "dhimmi" always excludes followers of the Bahá'í Faith. This is because the Bahá'í Faith, which grew out of Shi'a Islam, is a post-Islamic religion which does not accept the finality of Muhammad's revelation. Instead, Bahá'ís believe in the concept of progressive revelation, which states that God's will is progressively revealed through different teachers at different times, and that there will never be a final revelation.

The Ahmadis (usually referred to by Muslims as Qadianis) of Pakistan are also not regarded as dhimmis by the vast majority of Muslims. This is largely due to the fact that their prophet, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, came over 1,300 years after Muhammad, who is viewed as the "last of the prophets" by Sunni, Shia, and Ibadi variants of Islam. They differ from other post-Islamic faiths in Muslim lands because Ahmadis first began as an Islamic reform movement, threatening the established orthodoxy present in South Asian Islam, and further was embraced by highly socially upward mobile westernizing Muslim intellectuals of the day. These factors, compounded with the presence of the colonial British authorities in India who had overthrown the Muslim Mughal Empire, led Muslims to view the presence of Ahmadis as a fifth column serving the British colonizers, and as a threat to "true" Islam. Pakistan to this day requires its citizens to swear an oath of allegiance to Islam, and declare Mirza Gulam Ahmad to be an apostate, should they elect to register as a Muslim for governmental services.

Judæo-Christian view

In the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the United Bible Societies, have resulted in availability of the Bible in 2,100 languages, which has further lent an identification with the phrase among Christians themselves.[8] Christian converts among evangelized cultures, in particular, have the strongest identification with the term "People of the Book" as the first written text produced in their native language, as with English-speaking people, has often been the Bible.[23] Many denominations, such as Baptists and the Methodist Church, which are notable for their mission work,[24] have therefore embraced the term "People of the Book."[7][8]

Seventh-day Adventists

As stated on its official world website, the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) also embraces the term People of the Book.[25] As also noted in its official flagship publication Adventist World (February 2010 edition), it is claimed prominent Islamic leaders have endorsed Seventh-day Adventists as the Qur'an's true People of the Book.[5]

See also

References and sources

  1. ^ For a scholarly guide to the literature available on this topic, see the entry "People of the Book" in Oxford Bibliographies Online: Islamic Studies
  2. ^ Hence for example such books as People of the Book: Thirty Scholars Reflect on Their Jewish Identity (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997) and People of the Book: Canon, Meaning, and Authority (Harvard University Press, 1997).
  3. ^ David Lyle Jeffrey. People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Retrieved 2007-10-18. Though first intended pejoratively, "People of the Book" in Jewish tradition came to be accepted with pride as a legitimate reference to a culture and religious identity rooted fundamentally in Torah, the original book of the Law. 
  4. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997), n. 108.
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Dr. Andrea C. Paterson. Three Monotheistic Faiths - Judaism, Christianity, Islam: An Analysis And Brief History. Retrieved 2007-10-18. Baptists are "people of the Book." The Bible serves as a guide for faith and practice, instructing local churches and individual believers on faith, conduct, and polity. Scripture is also the final authority in determining faith and practice, and is the Word of God which is revealed to the Church in order that God's people may know God's will. 
  8. ^ a b c d David Lyle Jeffrey. People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Retrieved 2007-10-18. Nor is it unusual that the badge should be worn proudly as one means of resisting further denigration: one need only think of Puritans, Methodists, Quakers, and Shakers. In fact, the first of these groups are foremost in the Christian tradition who claimed the term in question, proud themselves to be in their own way identified as "a People of the Book." In the early Christian experience the New Testament was added to the whole Jewish "Tanakh" (an acronym from Torah, the Law, Nebi'im, the prophets, and Kethubim, the other canonical writings). This larger anthology, which after St. Jerome's translation tended more and more to be bound up as a single volume, had for those to whom the Christian missionaries came bearing it all the import of a unified locus of authority: "the Book." 
  9. ^ a b Desika Char, S. V. (1997). Hinduism and Islam in India: Caste, Religion, and Society from Antiquity to Early Modern Times. Markus Wiener Publishers. p. 127.  
  10. ^ a b c Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (1973). Sufi Essays. State University of New York Press. p. 139.  
  11. ^
  12. ^ Patrick Olivelle, Life of the Buddha. Clay Sanskrit Library, 2008
  13. ^ Qur'an (3:110)
  14. ^ Qur'an (3:113)
  15. ^ Qur'an (3:199)
  16. ^ Qur'an (2:62)
  17. ^ Qur'an (22:17)
  18. ^ Bat Ye'or (1985), p. 45
  19. ^ The Chach Nama English translation by Mirza Kalichbeg Fredunbeg. Delhi Reprint, 1979.
  20. ^ Annemarie Schimmel (2004), p.107, "The conqueror Muhammad Ibn Al Qasem gave both Hindus and Buddhists the same status as the Christians, Jews and Sabaeans in the Middle east". They were all "dhimmi" ('protected people')"
  21. ^ Thapar, R. 1993. Interpreting Early India. Delhi: Oxford University Press. p. 77
  22. ^ Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society.  
  23. ^ a b c David Lyle Jeffrey. People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture.  
  24. ^ American Methodism. S.S. Scranton & Co. Retrieved 2007-10-18. But the most noticeable feature of British Methodism is its missionary spirit, and its organized, effective missionary work. It takes the lead of all other churches in missionary movements. From its origin, Methodism has been characterized for its zeal in propagandism. It has always been missionary. 
  25. ^
  • Clark, Peter (1998), Zoroastrianism: an introduction to an ancient faith, Sussex Academic Press,  
  • Garthwaite, Gene Ralph (2005), The Persians, Peoples of Asia 9, Wiley-Blackwell, retrieved 29 November 2009 

Further reading

  • Boekhoff-van der Voort, Nicolet, "Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book)", in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (2 vols.), Edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014, Vol I, pp.9-11.
  • Yusuf al-Qaradawi has a book entitled "Non-Muslims in Muslim societies" detailing many issues including what a dhimmi is, jizyah, rights, responsibilities, and more.

External links

  • "People of the Book." Oxford Bibliographies Online: Islamic Studies.
  • Discussions at (a project of Al-Balagh Cultural Organization, a promotional organization established in Qatar in 1998.)
    • Does Islam Forbid Befriending Non-Muslims? Discussion of Quran (5:51) 15 November 2006
    • Domains of Muslim-Christian Cooperation 24 June 2007
    • Jamal Badawi: Muslim and Non-Muslim Relations: Reflections on Some Qur’anic Texts 5 April 2005
    • Islamic Dealing with People of the Book 22 November 2003
    • Inviting People of the Book 2 February 2003
    • Scope of Amicable Dealings with Non-Muslims 17 September 2006
    • Does the Term “Ahlul-Kitab” Still Apply Today? 4 October 2004
    • Should the Magians Be Treated as Ahl al-Kitab? 3 June 2003
  • The Books of the People of the Book at the US Library of Congress, Hebraic Collections

Seventh-day Adventist-Islamic Publications:

  • People of the Book
  • Salah Allah
  • Allah's Hanif
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