By Abu Amina Elias
I read some verses in the Quran that seem harsh against Jews and Christians. Are all Jews and Christians the enemies of Islam?
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
The Quran condemns the sinful behavior of some Jews and some Christians, but it also praises the righteous among them. It is careful to make the distinction between the believers and unbelievers among the people of the Book, so as not to unfairly generalize.
لَيْسُوا سَوَاءً ۗ مِّنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ أُمَّةٌ قَائِمَةٌ يَتْلُونَ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ آنَاءَ اللَّيْلِ وَهُمْ يَسْجُدُونَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَيُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْخَيْرَاتِ وَأُولَٰئِكَ مِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ وَمَا يَفْعَلُوا مِنْ خَيْرٍ فَلَن يُكْفَرُوهُ ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ بِالْمُتَّقِينَ
They are not all the same. Among the people of the Book is a community standing in obedience, reciting the verses of Allah during the night and prostrating in prayer. They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and hasten to do good deeds. Those are among the righteous. Whatever good deeds they do will never be denied, for Allah knows well the righteous.
Surat Ali Imran 3:113-115
And Allah said:
وَإِنَّ مِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ لَمَن يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُمْ وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْهِمْ خَاشِعِينَ لِلَّهِ لَا يَشْتَرُونَ بِآيَاتِ اللَّهِ ثَمَنًا قَلِيلًا ۗ أُولَٰئِكَ لَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ
Verily, among the people of the Book are those who believe in Allah and what was revealed to you and what was revealed to them, being humbly submissive to Allah. They do not exchange the verses of Allah for a small price. Those will have their reward with their Lord. Verily, Allah is swift in account.
Surat Ali Imran 3:199
And Allah said:
وَمِن قَوْمِ مُوسَىٰ أُمَّةٌ يَهْدُونَ بِالْحَقِّ وَبِهِ يَعْدِلُونَ
Among the people of Moses is a community which guides by truth and by it establishes justice.
Surat Al-A’raf 7:159
The criticism of some Jews and some Christians in the Quran is no different than criticism of the sinful among them as recorded in their own scriptures.
The Prophet Jeremiah, upon him be peace, is recorded as saying:
כִּי֩ כֹ֨ה אָמַ֜ר יְהוָ֣ה צְבָאֹות֮ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ כַּאֲשֶׁר֩ נִתַּ֨ךְ אַפִּ֜י וַחֲמָתִ֗י עַל־יֹֽשְׁבֵי֙ יְר֣וּשָׁלִַ֔ם כֵּ֣ן תִּתַּ֤ךְ חֲמָתִי֙ עֲלֵיכֶ֔ם בְּבֹאֲכֶ֖ם מִצְרָ֑יִם וִהְיִיתֶ֞ם לְאָלָ֤ה וּלְשַׁמָּה֙ וְלִקְלָלָ֣ה וּלְחֶרְפָּ֔ה וְלֹֽא־תִרְא֣וּ עֹ֔וד אֶת־הַמָּקֹ֖ום הַזֶּֽה
For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: As my anger and my wrath were poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so my wrath will be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. You shall become an execration, a horror, a curse, and a taunt. You shall see this place no more.
The Prophet Daniel, upon him be peace, is recorded as saying:
וְכָל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל עָֽבְרוּ֙ אֶת־תֹּ֣ורָתֶ֔ךָ וְסֹ֕ור לְבִלְתִּ֖י שְׁמֹ֣ועַ בְּקֹלֶ֑ךָ וַתִּתַּ֨ךְ עָלֵ֜ינוּ הָאָלָ֣ה וְהַשְּׁבֻעָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר כְּתוּבָה֙ בְּתֹורַת֙ מֹשֶׁ֣ה עֶֽבֶד־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֔ים כִּ֥י חָטָ֖אנוּ לֹֽו
All Israel has transgressed thy law and turned aside, refusing to obey thy voice. And the curse and oath which are written in the law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.
Jesus Christ, upon him be peace, is recorded as saying:
לא כל האמר לי אדני אדני יבוא אל מלכות השמים כי אם העשה רצון אבי שבשמים והיה ביום ההוא יאמרו רבים אלי אדנינו אדנינו הלא בשמך נבאנו ובשמך גרשנו שדים ובשמך עשינו גבורות רבות אז אענה בם לאמר מעולם לא ידעתי אתכם סורו ממני פעלי האון
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.”
And Jesus said:
ירושלים ירושלים ההרגת את הנביאים והסקלת את השלוחים אליה כמה פעמים רציתי לקבץ את בניך כתרנגלת המקבצת את אפרחיה תחת כנפיה ולא אביתם
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
The Quran criticizes Jews and Christians for failing to live up to the teachings in their own scriptures.
أَفَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِبَعْضِ الْكِتَابِ وَتَكْفُرُونَ بِبَعْضٍ
Do you believe in part of the Scripture and disbelieve in the rest?
Surat Al-Baqarah 2:85
Thus, the harshest criticism against Jews and Christians was directed very specifically at the contemporaries of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, who at their worst were violently persecuting Muslims.
In this regard, Allah said:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَتَّخِذُوا الْيَهُودَ وَالنَّصَارَىٰ أَوْلِيَاءَ ۘ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَلَّهُم مِّنكُمْ فَإِنَّهُ مِنْهُمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الظَّالِمِينَ
O you who believe, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are allies of one another. Whoever is an ally to them among you, then indeed, he is one of them. Verily, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.
Surat Al-Ma’idah 5:51
However, this verse is clarified by another verse. Muslims have only been prohibited from allying with Jews and Christians who persecute Muslims or commit oppression. Rather, Muslims have been commanded to make peace with every Jew and Christian who seeks peace.
لَّا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُم مِّن دِيَارِكُمْ أَن تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ إِنَّمَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ قَاتَلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَأَخْرَجُوكُم مِّن دِيَارِكُمْ وَظَاهَرُوا عَلَىٰ إِخْرَاجِكُمْ أَن تَوَلَّوْهُمْ ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَلَّهُمْ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ
Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Verily, Allah loves those who act justly. Allah only forbids you from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion – He forbids that you make allies of them. Whoever makes allies of them, then it is those who are the wrongdoers.
Surat Al-Mumtahinah 60:8-9
And Allah said:
وَإِن جَنَحُوا لِلسَّلْمِ فَاجْنَحْ لَهَا وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
If they incline to peace, then incline to it also and rely upon Allah. Verily, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.
Surat Al-Anfal 8:61
Likewise, Muslims have been taught to invite the Jews and Christians to agree upon the common values and moral teachings of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ تَعَالَوْا إِلَىٰ كَلِمَةٍ سَوَاءٍ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمْ أَلَّا نَعْبُدَ إِلَّا اللَّهَ وَلَا نُشْرِكَ بِهِ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُنَا بَعْضًا أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ ۚ فَإِن تَوَلَّوْا فَقُولُوا اشْهَدُوا بِأَنَّا مُسْلِمُونَ
Say: O people of the Book, come to a word of justice between us and you – that we will not worship except Allah and not associate anything with Him and not take one another as lords instead of Allah. But if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are Muslims submitting to Him.
Surah Ali Imran 3:64
For this reason, hundreds of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scholars signed the A Common Word interfaith letter written by Muslims. The letter reads:
Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.
The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbor. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbor is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity.
In response to this letter, Peter Ochs, Edgar Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, wrote:
God bless “A Common Word” and receive it as a powerful contribution to the peace, truth, and justice that uphold the world. This Word is worthy of the tradition of Aaron, and it enhances and extends the tradition of the sage Hillel, who taught that the “disciples of Aaron love peace and the pursuit of peace, love their fellow creatures and seek to draw them to the study of God’s word.”
In conclusion, the Quran does not condemn all Jews and Christians. It specifically criticizes the sinful among them as it is written in their own scriptures. Rather, Muslims have been taught to invite Jews and Christians to a “common word” of justice upon their shared religious values and beliefs.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.