Doctrines >Dialogue with the people of the Book  (3)


Dialogue with the people of the Book (3)

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The matter concerns the Muslim clergy who follow this route

These Holy verses assert that the Quran’s denunciation of the actions of this group of the People of the Book is not confined to them; rather, it extends to include people of the same kind who are devious and evil-minded. This is so, because the Qur’an does not condemn people in themselves but rather for what they hold in thought and do in practice, which they help spread through time and place.

In this spirit, we can conclude emphatically that the verses suggest that their message is directed to that brand of the Muslim clergy who put themselves above the people. Those who exploit their religious mantle to unjustly amass wealth, unlawfully procure concessions, set up barriers between people and the noble values of the faith, flatter the affluent and the powerful at the expense of the principles of the faith and people’s real issues, and use their social standing to damage people, not least by favouring a relative, albeit at fault, and disregarding an unconnected person, albeit in the right. Thus, the right loses its appeal and value in their lives as a criterion for appraising people and judging things. The tradition (hadith) in the Quranic commentary attributed to the eleventh Imam of the Progeny of the Prophet (a.s.), al-Hassan bin Ali al-Askeri, seems to allude to this, when commenting on this Quranic verse: “And there are among them illiterates, who know not the Book, but (see therein their own) desires, and they do nothing but conjecture” (2: 78). He has been quoted as saying:

A man said to Imam Jaa’far as-Sadiq(a.s.): (Referring to the verse) If those illiterates among the Jews and Christians were not familiar with the Book, only with that they hear from their clerics, how come they have been criticized for listening to their clerics? Aren’t our illiterates like those of the Jews and Christians, i.e. in emulating their clerics? So, if those had been at fault in accepting what their clerics were telling them, our illiterates should not necessarily do likewise.

Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) said: Between the laymen of our people and their scholars (ulema) on the one hand, and the laymen among the Jews and Christians and their priests, on the other hand, there are similarities and dissimilarities. The similarity starts with God’s displeasure with the laymen among our people for the way they emulate their ulema, in the same way He showed His displeasure with their laymen.

Where there is difference, the answer is in the negative. The man retorted: Explain to me O Son of the Messenger of God! The Imam (a.s.) said: The laymen among the Jews knew that their rabbis lied openly, devoured what is illicit, and accepted bribes; they were bent on falsely interpreting the laws driven by nepotism, cronyism, and favoritism; they [the laymen] were familiar with their [rabbis] entrenched bigotry, which had been a cause for their departure from their true faith, for this would lead to trampling the rights of those on the receiving end, and by siding flagrantly with the party at fault, whom they showed favour to. Thus, they do injustice to the weaker party, although in the right; they made them condone doing that which is forbidden; the laymen knew full well that whoever did what they did of wrong was a renegade who should not be believed to the exclusion of God’s instructions, nor should he be taken seriously when it comes to the dealing between the people themselves. That is why God denounced them for their following those [rabbis] whom they knew were not sincere and that they should have not believed their narrative. They should have not acted on the misleading counsel of their rabbis; they should have instead examined matters for themselves in that which the Messenger of God came to them with, which is clearly manifest.

Likewise, if our laymen have known that their jurists were in manifest error, peddling bigotry, running after worldly gains and that which is illicit, and putting the person whom they are angry with in harm’s way, although they might be in need of correction; conversely, they show favour and good to the person they like, although their share should be insult and degradation. Whoever among our laymen emulated such type of jurists, they should be treated in the same way as the Jews whom God denounced for emulating the renegade among their doctors of religion. As for him, among the jurists, who is mindful of preserving his integrity, upholding his faith, going against his caprice, and submitting to his Lord, the laymen can follow him [in matters of religious practice and law]. 4

The crux of the matter is that divine messages have not been sent down to create from the people who are entrusted with them an elitist group, enjoying privileges without right and practicing whatever they like without being held accountable. Rather, they have been sent to liberate man from the bondage of his fellow human and grant him the feeling of dignity and worth, through efficiency and good work, so that he seeks the truth from a position of intellectual freedom without yielding to another human being. He, alongside other human beings, should stand united before God in complete and pure sincerity, submission, and servitude.

Lastly, man should not feel that his faith should constitute any barrier to his relationship with others, and that he can forge relationships, at any juncture, on the basis of the truth. Rather, he should be looking far a field in his journey in search of the truth.

The Prophet stands up to the challenge

The People of the Book, especially Jews, did not respond to Prophet Mohammad’s genuine call, as it was revealed in the Qur’an. They started plotting to bring Islam down from within on the one hand, and cast doubt on its validity and sullied its reputation on the other hand. This attitude was translated into latent and blatant moves against Prophet Mohammad (p.).

Nevertheless, the Prophet (p.) did not abandon the Islamic approach in either dialogue or practice, since both seek to arrive at convictions through the shortest possible route. This is so because Islam has not adopted its approach outside the arena of challenge; rather, it has made its starting point from a position of taking the challenge head-on in powerful wisdom and wise power. That is, from a general belief in calling for what it espouses with wisdom and good counsel. The Divine address to them had remained calm and the Prophet (p.) had kept challenging them with the signs of God by way of evidence and counter-evidence, and claim and counter-claim. However, at times, his tone was sharp because the issue was not confined to trying to show them the strong side of the argument; rather, to weaken their stranglehold on people for stirring up trouble for the new religion, and mounting stumbling blocks in its way. This was the rationale behind uncovering their scheming and history, and laying bare everything, which makes innocent people trust and deal with them.

In the main, these actions were directed towards the Jews because they lived with the Prophet (p.) and ganged up against him overtly and covertly. They took the Scripture as a cover to draw on its sanctity, so that they would be secure and inviolable in their social standing, both for their own personal gratification and in the eyes of others.

The issues that Islam conducted dialogue on were many and varied, depending on the issues its enemies brought up or Islam wanted to discuss.

Prophet Mohammad (p.) started the dialogue with them on the subject, which they were trying to promote, wearing the attire of sanctity through it, viz. the Scripture, and using it as a shield. Before the advent of Islam, they used to hoist it in the face of unbelievers as evidence of the forthcoming prophet, whose coming the Torah had heralded. However, they turned their back on the Prophet after the advent of Islam and after the unbelievers, with whom they were plotting, had converted to Islam:

And when there comes to them a Book from God, confirming what is with them, although from of old they had prayed for victory against those without Faith, when there comes to them that which they (should) have recognized, they refuse to believe in it but the curse of God is on those without Faith. (2: 89)

The Qur’an puts forward for dialogue the prophecy of Mohammad

The issue, which the Prophet (p.) wanted to discuss for a start was his prophecy, which the Qur’an confirms was the gospel of both Moses and Jesus (a.s.) in the Torah and the Bible, thus:

Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (Scriptures) in the Law and the Gospel; for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him, it is they who will prosper. (7: 157)

Reference to the description of the Prophet (p.) and his companions has been made in the two Holy Books:

Muhammad is the Messenger of God; and those who are with him are strong against Unbelievers, (but) compassionate amongst each other. Thou wilt see them bow and prostrate themselves (in prayer), seeking Grace from God and (His) Good Pleasure. On their faces are their marks, (being) the traces of their prostration. This is their similitude in the Torah; and their similitude in the Gospel is: like a seed which sends forth its blade, then makes it strong; it then becomes thick, and it stands on its own stem, (filling) the sowers with wonder and delight. As a result, it fills the Unbelievers with rage at them. God has promised those among them who believe and do righteous deeds forgiveness, and a great Reward. (48: 29)

This was mentioned again in the context of the story of Jesus (a.s.): “And remember. Jesus, the son of Mary, said: O Children of Israel! I am the messenger of Allah (sent) to you, confirming the Torah (which came) before, and giving glad tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahamad” (61: 6).

In this light, the Holy Qur’an called upon the People of the Book to bear witness to the Prophethood of Mohammad on account of the testimony of the Torah and the Bible. He requested them to show the Torah and make it clear to the people so that they could see for themselves the evidence in favour of the Prophet and his prophecy. In many verses the Qur’an reiterated their responsibility for concealing what they knew of the Book, warning them against severe punishment, as is evident from these verses:

And remember God took a covenant from the People of the Book, to make it known and clear to mankind, and not to hide it; but they threw it away behind their backs, and purchased with it some miserable gain! And vile was the bargain they made! (3: 187)

The People of the Book know this as they know their own sons; but some of them conceal the truth which they themselves know. (2: 146)

Those who conceal the clear (Signs) We have sent down, and the Guidance, after We have made it clear for the People in the Book, on them shall be God's curse, and the curse of those entitled to curse. (2: 159)