Jews and Christians are people whom Allah describes as the People of the Book in the Qur’an. Several verses of the Qur’an describe how Muslims should behave toward the People of the Book. And when we look at the life of our Prophet (saas) we see the finest example of how those verses of the Qur’an should be applied. Accordingly, Muslims have a responsibility to show the People of the Book affection, to protect and watch over them, and to invite them to Islam with understanding and pleasant words.
Muslims have a responsibility to preach to everyone
One of Allah's commandments to Muslims in the Qur’an is to command good and forbid evil, to call people to the true path and to strive for the global dominion of Islamic moral values.
Let there be a community among you who call to the good, and enjoin the right, and forbid the wrong. They are the ones who have success. (Surah Al ’Imran, 104)
Those who repent, those who worship, those who praise, those who fast, those who bow, those who prostrate, those who command the right, those who forbid the wrong, those who preserve the limits of Allah: give good news to the believers. (Surat at-Tawba, 112)
All of Allah's prophets, messengers and pure believers have scrupulously obeyed that command of Allah’s and have preached to all sections of society of the times in which they lived. In preaching they never thought, "one cannot tell such a person about religion," "one cannot invite members of that race or people who hold those beliefs to the true path," or"one should not talk to people who dress like that." They called everyone to Allah’s true religion, without discriminating against anyone. Our Prophet (saas) preached to the pagans of Mecca, to Abu Jahil, to Abu Lahab, to all the visitors and tribes who came to the tents set up during the season of the hajj and to Jewish and Christian communities. He called on them to believe in the one Allah, making no distinctions on the basis of the other party’s position in society, view of Islam, ideas, life style, moral foundation or dress, many times over and using various wise techniques and approaches. He never adopted the attitude that one should not speak or preach to such and such a person.
The Prophet Abraham (pbuh) described the existence and oneness of Allah to Nemrud, the most extreme, cruel and ruthless person of his day. The Prophet Moses (pbuh) went to Pharaoh, who slaughtered the male children of the People of Israel, the Muslims of the time, and who persecuted them most terribly, and called on him to adopt the religion of Allah. And in doing so, Allah commanded the Prophet Moses (pbuh) to use “gentle words:”
'Go to Pharaoh; he has overstepped the bounds.
But speak to him with gentle words so that hopefully he will pay heed or show some fear.'
They (Moses and Aaron) said, 'Our Lord, we are afraid that he might persecute us or overstep the bounds.' He said, 'Have no fear. I will be with you, All-Hearing and All-Seeing.' (Surah Ta Ha: 43-46)
As we have seen, Allah sent the Prophet Moses (pbuh) and the Prophet Aaron (pbuh) to preach to the most immoral, perverse and wicked person of the time, the greatest enemy of Islam. The Prophets Moses (pbuh) and Aaron (pbuh) went to Pharaoh’s palace, the bastion of irreligion and immorality of the time, and preached to him there. But Allah commanded them to use “gentle words” even to such an enemy of the faith as Pharaoh.
As is clear from this story that Allah reveals in the Qur’an, Muslims have a duty to preach to all classes of people. And in communicating the message they have a responsibility to use a most polite, pleasant, affectionate and patient kind of language. There is no room for harsh, strict, bigoted language in Islam. No matter what the conditions, no matter who the other person may be, a Muslim is commanded to explain the faith with kindness, affection and love. What a Muslim must do is to describe the faith in the manner revealed by Allah in the Qur’an and show people the truth without resorting to pressure or compulsion, knowing that it is Allah who will lead people to happiness. One community to whom Muslims have a duty to show the truth and to call to Islam, the one true faith in the sight of Allah, is the People of the Book. While Muslims have a duty to tell those with impaired moral values and behavior, including even the irreligious, materialists and atheists about religion, they also have a responsibility to also call the People of the Book, who believe in the oneness of Allah and the prophets and who live by the books Allah has sent, to the true path. And it is clear that we need to enjoy social relations with the People of the Book if that responsibility revealed by Allah in the Qur’an is to be discharged.
There are sincere believers among the People of the Book
Some people, who ignore the explicit provisions revealed in the Qur’an, who ignore the life of our Prophet (saas) and who are bigoted and hard hearted and abide by nonsense rather than verses and hadiths, hold to the perverse belief that Allah has cursed all Jews and Christians. And they seek to sow the seeds of hatred between Muslims and the People of the Book by spreading these perverted beliefs and encourage conflict, fighting, war and bloodshed. But the fact is that there is no question of Allah indiscriminately cursing all Jews, the whole Israeli people and all Christians in the Qur’an.
It is a fact that in the Qur’an Allah reveals that Christians and Jews have flawed beliefs, values and behavior. He also reveals that He condemns, criticizes and is displeased by their ugly behavior and errors. But this is not something that includes every Jew and every Christian without exception. That condemnation, warning and reminder is directed toward those who engage in such immorality. Allah has warned the Jews who oppressed the Jews who made life difficult for the Prophet Moses (pbuh), those Jews who always deviated despite being warned, the Jews who went along with Shamir and adopted false idols and those Jews who left the Prophet Moses (pbuh) alone in his struggle, and He tells us of their immoralities in the Qur’an. In the same way, He says that those Christians who regard the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) as divine (may Allah Forbid), who say that Allah is not One and who even maintain that He has a son, have deviated into disbelief.
However, it is also revealed in the Qur’an that the People of the Book are not all the same and that there are sincere believers in Allah among them, and those who hold Him in the most profound respect:
THEY ARE NOT ALL THE SAME. THERE IS A COMMUNITY AMONG THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK WHO ARE UPRIGHT. THEY RECITE ALLAH’S SIGNS THROUGHOUT THE NIGHT, AND THEY PROSTRATE. They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and compete in doing good. They are among the righteous. You will not be denied the reward for any good thing you do. Allah knows those who fear [and respect Allah]. (Surah Al ‘Imran, 113-115)
AMONG THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK THERE ARE SOME WHO BELIEVE IN ALLAH AND IN WHAT HAS BEEN SENT DOWN TO YOU AND WHAT WAS SENT DOWN TO THEM, and who are humble before Allah. They do not sell Allah’s Signs for a paltry price. Such people will have their reward with their Lord. And Allah is swift at reckoning. (Surah Al ‘Imran, 199)
Those WE GAVE THE BOOK BEFORE THIS [THE QUR’AN] BELIEVE IN IT. When it is recited to them they say, “WE BELIEVE IN IT; IT IS THE TRUTH FROM OUR LORD. We were already Muslims before it came.” (Surat al-Qasas, 52-53)
AMONG THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK THERE ARE SOME WHO, IF YOU ENTRUST THEM WITH A PILE OF GOLD, WILL RETURN IT TO YOU. But there are others among them who, if you entrust them with just a single dinar, will not return it to you, unless you stay standing over them. That is because they say, ‘We are under no obligation where the gentiles are concerned.’ They tell a lie against Allah and they know it. (Surah Al ’Imran, 75)
As we have seen, the idea proposed by some people that, "Jews are accursed, Christians are accursed, and they are all our enemies” is not compatible with the Qur’an. Allah is the Just, He who rules His servants with the Truth. Allah will never punish a person for something he did not do, for immoralities he never perpetrated, just because he comes from a people who committed immoralities in the past. That would be incompatible with Allah’s glory, justice and sublime virtues. It is in various perverse mythological beliefs that a people may be condemned and punished en masse, not in the Qur’an. For that reasons, Muslims’ attitudes toward the People of the Book must be based on the verses of the Qur’an and the policies of our Prophet (saas), not on ideas based on superstition and fabrication.
One must first invite the People of the Book to say, “There is one Allah”
In revealing in the Qur’an the attitude that Muslims should adopt toward the People of the Book, Allah has also told us how we should preach to them. According to Allah's commandment, Muslims must first invite the People of the Book to say, There is one Allah,” in other words to be monotheists.
SAY, ‘PEOPLE OF THE BOOK! COME TO A PROPOSITION WHICH IS THE SAME FOR US AND YOU–THAT WE SHOULD WORSHIP NONE BUT ALLAH and not associate any partners with Him and not take one another as lords besides Allah.’ If they turn away, say, ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims.’ (Surah Al ’Imran, 64)
One of the important pieces of wisdom regarding why Allah reveals in the Qur’an that the People of the Book should be called on to say, “There is one Allah,”' is that it shows that Allah likes them to say, "LailahaillaAllah." When the People of the Book say, "LailahaillaAllah," they will be saying that they believe in the one Allah and that they are devoted to Him with a profound love and respect, and this is a most important and crucial matter. In order for Allah to love and be the friend of the People of the Book who express their love and friendship toward Him by saying, "LailahaillaAllah," it is essential that they also say, "Muhammadan Rasulullah" and abide by the Qur’an. Having been instrumental in the People of the Book first saying, “There is one Allah,” Muslims then have a responsibility to invite them to believe that the Prophet Muhammad (saas) in the last prophet and that the Qur’an is the last Book, and to live by the Qur’an. Allah has also revealed in the Qur’an the form that this call should take.
“The finest words” must be used when preaching to the People of the Book
Nothing in any verse of the Qur’an encourages a hostile attitude toward the People of the Book or a ruthless hatred against them. Such an idea is incompatible with the Qur’an and the Sunna. A Muslim only feels justified dislike for those who declare war on Allah and His religion, not only those who are Jews and Christians, but for whatever race or community they may come from. But that dislike never does and must never lead Muslims to adopt an unjust, intolerant and repressive attitude toward them. Indeed, Allah tells us in the Qur’an that, "You who believe! Show integrity for the sake of Allah, bearing witness with justice. Do not let hatred for a people incite you into not being just. Be just. That is closer to heedfulness. Have fear of Allah. Allah is aware of what you do"(Surat al-Ma’ida, 8).
In addition, Muslims have a duty to protect and watch over anyone who seeks their protection, even if they are unbelievers.
If any of the idolaters ask you for protection, give them protection until they have heard the words of Allah. Then convey them to a place where they are safe... (Surat at-Tawba, 6)
When dealing with the People of the Book, who believe in the existence of and fear Allah and love the prophets He sent, and particularly with those who sincerely say, "LailahaillaAllah," one must obviously adopt an affectionate and loving approach. Indeed, Allah wants us to treat these people in the kindest possible way:
Only argue with the People of the Book in the kindest way–except in the case of those of them who do wrong–saying, ‘We believe in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to you. Our God and your God are one and we submit to Him.’ (Surat al-Ankabut, 46)
Our Prophet (saas) preached to the People of the Book with love and affection
We learn in the finest and wisest way from our Prophet (saas) how to implement the provisions Allah reveals in the Qur’an. The essential thing for Muslims is Allah’s verses and our Prophet’s (saas) interpretation and application of them. When we look at the relations our Prophet (saas) enjoyed with the People of the Book, we see that he treated them with affection, understanding and tolerance, that he protected and watched over them, and that he gave them the means by which to live by their faith in freedom. The Treaty of Medina, drawn up by our Prophet (saas) in person, the agreements with the Najran Christians and the privileges bestowed by our Prophet (saas) on various Christian and Jewish tribes are all excellent examples of our prophet’s (saas) affectionate, protective and just attitude toward the People of the Book. There are also the facts in collections of trustworthy hadiths that he rose to his feet as a Jewish funeral procession passed by, that he permitted Christians to worship in the Masjid-i Nabawi, that he spread out his own cloak for visiting Christians to sit on and how he sent the first Muslims on the Hegira to Christian Najashi, with whom they would be safe. All Muslims must therefore act in the light of these facts, treat the people of the Book kindly, in a manner compatible with the Sunna of our Prophet (saas) and call them to Islam with love, affection and kindness. (You can read excellent instances from the life of our Prophet (saas) here.)
In order to be true Christians or Jews, the People of the Book must be Muslims and abide by the Qur’an
As we have seen from everything that has been said so far, from the Qur’an and with evidence from the life of our Prophet (saas), Muslims must treat the People of the Book with affection and call them to the oneness of Allah and Islam in a pleasant manner.
It is without doubt an excellent thing for the People of the Book to believe in the oneness of Allah and say, "LailahaillaAllah." But Islam is the faith in the sight of Allah. If the People of the Book want Allah to love and approve of them, then they must accept that Muhammad (saas) was the last prophet and obey the Qur’an. The true religions that Allah sent down to the Prophet Moses (pbuh) and the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) became corrupted over the course of time and various ideas and concepts that neither the Prophet Moses (pbuh) nor the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) ever preached or would ever agree with have been added on to them, while certain true concepts have been removed.
For that reason, if the People of the Book wish to abide by the true faith sent down to these holy prophets in the form it enjoys in the sight of Allah, if they want to be sincere Jews as in the time of the Prophet Moses (pbuh) or sincere Christians as in the time of the Prophet Jesus (as), then they must at the same time be Muslims and obey the Qur’an. In the Qur’an, Allah commands us to believe in all the prophets, without distinction. In the same way that a Muslim abandons the faith if he says he believes in the Prophet Muhammad (saas) but rejects the Prophet Ibrahim (as), so Christians and Jews must also accept that Muhammad (saas) is the prophet of Allah and genuinely love him. This does not mean that they are ignoring or no longer love the prophets Moses (pbuh) and Jesus (pbuh). On the contrary, it will be instrumental in their loving these holy prophets in exactly the manner Allah desires and approves of. It will enable them to be even closer to the Prophet Moses (pbuh) and the Prophet Jesus (pbuh), to understand them better and be even more devoted to them.
If, despite all this manifest truth, some of the People of the Book wish to persist with their own ideas and beliefs, then Muslims cannot oblige them to convert or employ any kind of compulsion. What Muslims must say, as Allah reveals in the Qur’an, to everyone as well as to the People of the Book, is, "You have your religion and I have my religion." (Surat al-Kafirun, 6)