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A. Sajid: Vision of the “Other” in the Qur’an

All human beings are honored by God: It is important to know that Islam honors Judaism and the good, faithful, and God-fearing Jews:"It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed (as in Islam) to God's will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for to them was entrusted the protection of God's book, and they were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not men, but fear me, and sell not my signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what God hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers.” (5:44)

But many people who are not familiar with the Holy Qu’ran or did not make a good effort to study it are confused about the issue of befriending people from other religions. From a methodological point of view, taking a few passages from the Holy Qur'an out of proper historical and textual context to answer a problematic will not give a proper understanding of the religious scripture. Many of these people make grave judgment on this matter. The Holy Qur’an is a complete book that occasionally presents a law or commandment over several chapters or several verses in the same chapter. The practical part of this commandment can be achieved by understanding the whole issue as presented over all the verses and chapters and not by upholding only part of the Qur’an. God specifically warn us against doing just that—upholding part of the Holy Qur’an while disregarding the rest.

“Do you believe in part of the scripture and disbelieve in part? What should be the retribution for those among you who do this?”(2:85)

Then, to understand the issue of befriending the Jews and Christians, we have to study all the concerned verses together in light of the whole Holy Qur’an.

As with all scriptures, passages in the Holy Qur'an must be read within the proper context. The Holy Qur'an was not just revealed for Muslims but for all people, including Jews and Christians. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was in the line of previous Prophets of God, including Prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus. The Holy Qur'an is in the line of previous scriptures revealed by God. The Holy Qur’an does not condemn the Semitic race and, in fact, accords Jews a special status, given their shared prophetic traditions with Islam.

God teaches us throughout the Holy Qur’an that there are righteous Jews and Christians. So, if we think we are righteous, and they are righteous, what could possibly be the problem or obstacle for us to be friends? “Among the followers of Moses there are those who guide in accordance with the truth, and the truth renders them righteous.” (7:159)

“Subsequent to them, we sent Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the previous scripture, the Torah. We gave him the Gospel, containing guidance and light, and confirming the previous scriptures, the Torah, and augmenting its guidance and light, and to enlighten the righteous.” (5:46)

“Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” (2:62, 5:69)

"To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way. If God had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute.” (5:48)

Let me explain verse 5:82, from which we learn that the Christians are closer to the believers (submitters, Muslims) than the Jews. This is just a statement reflecting that particular time in history. God is the best knower of the emotional structure of His creations and therefore was this statement of fact: “You will find that the worst enemies of the believers are the Jews and the idol worshipers. And you will find that the closest people in friendship to the believers are those who say, ‘We are Christian.’ This is because they have priests and monks among them, and they are not arrogant.” (5:82)

This verse should not be used by any means to negate the fact that among the Jews (and Christians) there will be righteous people who can be good friends, as explained in the above verses; they do not fight us in our religion or our homes. They can be our neighbors, colleagues, friends, co-workers....We will be good to them as they are good to us. We, all the righteous people of all religions, can make the difference and make this world better by respecting each other, respecting each other’s freedom of choice, and remembering that we all have the One and the same God.

The Holy Qur'an speaks extensively about the Children of Israel (Bani Isra'il) and recognizes that the Jews (al-Yahud) are, according to lineage, descendants of Prophet Abraham through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. They were chosen by God for a mission (44:32), and God raised among them many Prophets and bestowed upon them what He had not bestowed upon many others (5:20). He exalted them over other nations of the earth (2:47, 122) and granted them many favors.

Anyone who says that Jewish and Muslim relations are condemned in the Qur’an are in fact ignorant of the above Qur’anic facts and the following passage: “Not all them are alike: Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (for the right): They rehearse the Signs of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in Allah and the Last Day; They enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous. Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for Allah knoweth well those that do right.” (3:113-115)

The Holy Qur'an instead criticizes those Jews who turned away from God's authentic message and admonishes those who scorned and ridiculed Prophet Muhammad and the message of the Holy Qur'an. Such criticism is similar to the criticism against Jews found in other scriptures, including the Hebrew Bible, and should be taken by all people as a reminder and warning against forsaking and straying from the authentic message of God. Such specific criticism has never been interpreted by learned scholars of the Holy Qur'an to incite hatred against Jewish people and should not be confused with anti-Semitism!

Passages in the Holy Qur’an which criticize the Jews fall primarily into two categories. First, the Holy Qur'an speaks of how some of the Children of Israel turned away from the authentic message revealed to them. They disobeyed God and showed ingratitude for God's favors on them. They lost the original Tawrat (Torah) and introduced their own words and interpretations in the divine books. They became arrogant and claimed that they were God's children and went about vaunting their position as His most chosen people (4:155; 5:13, 18). They also brazenly committed sins, and their rabbis and priests did not stop them from doing so (5:63, 79). God raised His Prophet Jesus among them so that he might show them several miracles and thereby guide them to the right path, but they rejected him, attempted to kill him, and even claimed that they had indeed killed him although they had not been able to do so (4:157, 158).

The Holy Qur'an specifically notes that such criticism is not directed against all Jews. Even when the Holy Qur'an criticizes the Jews it always notes that "among them there are some..." who are pious and righteous people, who command what is right and forbid what is wrong and try to excel each other in acts of charity and goodness. The Qur'an says that such people are assured that whatever good they do will not be denied them, and they shall receive their reward with God (3:113-115) and (2:62 and 5:69). It further says, "Of the people of Moses there is a section who guide and do justice in the light of truth." (7:159)

"We broke them up into sections on this earth. There are among them some that are the righteous, and some that are the opposite. We have tried them with both prosperity and adversity: in order that they might turn (to Us)... As to those who hold fast by the Book and establish regular Prayer, never shall We suffer the reward of the righteous to perish." (7:168-170)

God specifically addresses the Children of Israel in many of these passages. This is important, because it shows that the message of the Holy Qur'an was intended for all people, including the Jews, and the criticism was directed against a specific group of people for their specific actions. This criticism should be distinguished from cursing a people merely because of their race.

The second type of criticism of the Jews is found in verses that criticize the Jews and Christians who ridiculed Prophet Muhammad and his message: “They made mockery and sport of his call to prayer, and they rebuked him even though he was calling them to believe in what God revealed to him and to what was revealed before him through their own Prophets. They became spiteful towards him and rejected him since he did not belong to the Children of Israel." (2:109; 4:54)

Taking a few passages from the Qur'an out of proper historical and textual context will not give a proper understanding of the religious scripture.