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) are adherents of Abrahamic religions that predate Islam.

In Islam, 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, YHWH (Hebrew: יהוה) 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) is 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, are not included.[1] As such, the designation is accepted by Jews as a reference to an identity rooted fundamentally in the Torah.[2]

In Christianity, the Catholic Church rejects the similar expression "religion of the book" as a description of the Christian faith, preferring the term "religion of the Word of God",[3] since the faith of Christ, according to Catholic teaching, is not found solely in the Christian Scriptures, but also in the Sacred Tradition and Magisterium of the Church. Nevertheless, other denominations, such as the Baptists, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventist Church,[4][5] as well as Puritans and Shakers, have embraced the term "People of the Book".[6][7]


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.[8]

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. Zoroastrians are briefly mentioned as "the Magians" in the Quran (22:17):

Surely the ones who have believed, and the ones who have Judaized, and the SabiÉîn [The Sabaeans] and Nasara [Christians], and the Majûs [The Magians] and the ones who have associated [i.e. other gods with Allah], surely Allah will distinguish between them on the Day of the Resurrection; surely Allah is an Ever-present Witness over everything.

This definition is usually 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.[9] 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,[9] and from Muhhammad-bin-Kasim to Aurangzib, Muslim rulers were willing to consider Hindus as people of the book.[8] Many Muslims did not treat Hindus as pagans or idol-worshippers,[9] although Hinduism does not include Adam, Eve, nor the various prophets of Abrahamic religions. 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".[10] 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[11]) 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 Buddhist 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 that mention former communities who have been given revelation from God. 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 (momim), but most of them are perverted transgressors.[12]

Quran is describing very clearly that Momins and fasiqs are among Ahlalkitab (family of book) and not Jews and Christian.

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.[13]
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.[14]

The three religions that are mentioned in the Qur'an are Christianity, Judaism, and Sabian Mandaeanism; all were mentioned in chapters [Quran 5:69] and [Quran 22:17]. There are other religions mentioned but these three are mentioned most often.


Main article: Dhimmi

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 and Buddhists.[15][16] 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.[17]

The 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 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, furthermore, because it was embraced by highly socially upwardly 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.

Christian view

In the early Christian experience the New Testament was added to the whole Old Testament, which after Jerome's translation tended more and more to be bound up as a single volume, and was accepted as a unified locus of authority: "the Book", as some contemporary authors refer to it.[7] Many Christian missionaries in Africa, Asia and in the New World, developed writing systems for indigenous people and then provided them with a written translation of the Bible.[18][19] As a result of this work, "People of the Book" became the usual vernacular locution to refer to Christians among many African, Asian, and Native American people of both hemispheres.[19] The work of organizations such as the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the United Bible Societies has resulted in Bible's being available in 2,100 languages. This fact has further promoted an identification with the phrase among Christians themselves.[7] Christian converts among evangelized cultures, in particular, have the strongest identification with the term "People of the Book". This arises because the first written text produced in their native language, as with the English-speaking peoples, has often been the Bible.[19] Many denominations, such as Baptists and the Methodist Church, which are notable for their mission work,[20] have therefore embraced the term "People of the Book".[6][7]

Seventh-day Adventists

As stated on its official world website, the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) also embraces the term People of the Book.[21] As also noted in its official flagship publication Adventist World (February 2010 edition), it is claimed that prominent Islamic leaders have endorsed Seventh-day Adventists as the Qur'an's true People of the Book.[4]

See also



  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997), n. 108.
  4. 1 2
  6. 1 2 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.
  7. 1 2 3 4 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".
  8. 1 2 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. ISBN 1-55876-151-9.
  9. 1 2 3 Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (1973). Sufi Essays. State University of New York Press. p. 139. ISBN 0-87395-233-2.
  11. Patrick Olivelle, Life of the Buddha. Clay Sanskrit Library, 2008
  12. Qur'an (3:110)
  13. Qur'an (3:113)
  14. Qur'an (3:199)
  15. The Chach Nama English translation by Mirza Kalichbeg Fredunbeg. Delhi Reprint, 1979.
  16. 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')"
  17. Thapar, R. 1993. Interpreting Early India. Delhi: Oxford University Press. p. 77
  18. Perry, Marvin; Chase, Myrna; Jacob, Margaret; Jacob, James; Daly, Jonathan W.; Von Laue, Theodore H. (2014). Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society. Volume II: Since 1600 (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning. p. 635. ISBN 978-1-305-09142-9. LCCN 2014943347. OCLC 898154349. Retrieved 2016-02-01. In the nineteenth century, in contrast to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Europeans, except for missionaries, rarely adopted the customs or learned the languages of local people. They had little sense that other cultures and other peoples deserved respect. Many Westerners believed that it was their Christian duty to set an example and to educate others. Missionaries were the first to meet and learn about many peoples and the first to develop writing for those without a written language. Christian missionaries were ardently opposed to slavery....
  19. 1 2 3 David Lyle Jeffrey. People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Retrieved 2007-10-18. "People of the Book" unsurprisingly translates many an early vernacular name for Christian missionaries among African, Asian, and Native American people of both hemispheres. The fact that these missionaries put enormous effort into reducing the language of these people to writing so as to provide a written translation of the Bible - an activity which, under such organizations as the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the United Bible Societies, has resulted in at least part of the Christian Bible now being available in 2,100 languages - has lent an identification with the phrase among evangelical Christians in particular as strong as pertains among Jews. This identity comprises the Christian converts among evangelized cultures, the more recently evangelized the more natural so, since for many of them, just as for the English-speaking people, the first written texts ever produced in their language have been a portion of the Bible.
  20. 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.


Further reading

Seventh-day Adventist-Islamic Publications:

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