Doctrines >Dialogue with the people of the Book  (5)


Dialogue with the people of the Book (5)

part (4) < > part (1)


The Qur’an responds to the Jews with gentle counsel

In other verses, the Qur’an takes a calm position on the issue of belief and unbelief of the Jews. It expresses disappointment with them, in that they should have been at the forefront of those wanting to embrace the new religion, instead of being its arch-enemy, not least because it had confirmed their Scripture with clear proofs, in which case, it should have made the issue of following him a case of submitting to God, worshipping Him, and giving thanks to Him for all the graces He showed to them.

This style, although it blends rebuke with a feeling of disappointment, yet it is still imbued with preaching and good counseling, with a view to manipulating a whole range of factors that could animate their conscience and stimulate their brains. This had been a way to try to overcome the psychological barrier that led them to reject the Faith. A way that had linked the present with both the past and the future in this world – what they preach and what they practice – and standing before God on the Day of Judgment to answer for their malpractices. That is, treating religion in the same way that they barter goods, with all the haggling it involves, and leaving God behind them.

Let us spend some time with the following Quranic verses, where God addresses the Israelites:

O Children of Israel! Call to mind the (special) favor I bestowed upon you, and fulfill your covenant with Me and I shall fulfill My covenant with you, and fear none but Me. And believe in what I reveal, confirming the revelation which is with you, and be not the first to reject Faith therein, nor sell My sings for a small price; and fear Me, and Me alone. And cover not Truth with falsehood, nor conceal the Truth when ye know (what it is). And be steadfast in prayer: Give Zakat [the poor rate], and bow down your heads with those who bow down (in worship). Do ye enjoin right conduct on the people, and forget (to practice it) yourselves, and yet ye study the Scripture? Will ye not understand? Nay, seek (Allah’s) help with patient perseverance and prayer: It is indeed hard, except to those who are humble. Who bear in mind the certainty that they are to meet their Lord, and they are to return to Him. O Children of Israel! Call to mind the (special) favor which I bestowed upon you, and that I preferred you to all others; then guard yourselves against a day when one soul shall not avail another, nor shall intercession be accepted for her, nor shall compensation be taken from her; nor shall any one be helped (from outside). (2: 40–48)­

This is a style that combines leniency with toughness, and counseling with warning, in order to moderate any psychological complex that may form a barrier between man and the right path, should there be any room for guidance to that path. The Qur’an had sought, from these verses, to create the right conditions, i.e. calm and tranquility that might prove conducive to conducting a meaningful dialogue as a way of life. That is, when the confrontational ponder on the matter they might, perchance, feel the need to think straight and be practical, after the reasons for doubt and the fabrications have been removed, only for the truth to look them in the eye.

Let us carefully examine the components of this approach of reasoning. To start with, God reminded them of the favors He had done them, to the exclusion of other people. He then asked them to honor their covenant with Him, so that He can honor His side of the deal in this world and the hereafter. The Quranic verses ended with a stern warning, should they not be mindful of their duty towards Him. In such a situation, God put them face to face with the new religious call, for responding to it positively would be the natural outcome to thanksgiving for the favors bestowed, keeping the covenant, and fearing God.

Then God Almighty turned His attention to their corrupt practices, which were manifested in confusing falsehood with the truth, concealing the truth, and neither performing prayers nor giving the poor tax, in spite of the fact that they knew that this was unlawful. God did not conceal His displeasure and bitterness with them for enjoining people to do good deeds, while they themselves did not practice the same. By way of helping them to mend their ways, He commended them to get help through fasting and prayer, which are the ways for the soul to ascend, in submission and peace, to loftier levels. That is, when the soul finds solace and strength in the feeling that it is going to meet with God.

The appeal closed as it had started: counting the favors God had bestowed on them, admonishing them to fear Him and be pious, because a day will come when nothing can avail, apart from man’s good works, so that work should be man’s slogan for success in this world and happiness in the hereafter. This brilliant style paints a picture of how man can have audience with God, giving account of all his deeds and aspirations, past, present, and future, in this world and the hereafter, all in a bid to shoulder responsibility with clarity of vision.

Espousing the approach is worthy of bearing fruit

It is desirable to use this approach in facing up to the entrenched position of those who are bent on confrontation. Perhaps creating the conditions for such an atmosphere would pay off, not least because the factors of concentration and excitement would be available to man to explore matters in depth and come up with a position.

It should be borne in mind, however, that the place for giving good counsel should not be overlooked, because it is capable of transporting the soul to an impending audience with God, when every soul will stand accountable to Him. The soul may yield when preached, especially at times of spiritual transparency that may take it to the realm of God’s spirit.

The Qur’an continues the dialogue in order to expose the positions

The Qur’an continues the dialogue and creates the right conditions for it, so that it could reveal their changing positions, and insulates people against their influence after it had given up on the possibility of their coming back to the right path. God had made this abundantly clear to His Prophet, Muhammad (p.):

Even if thou were to bring to the People of the Book all the signs (together), they would not follow thy Qiblah [way]; nor art thou going to follow their Qiblah; nor indeed will they follow each other’s Qiblah. If thou after the knowledge hath reached thee, were to follow their (vain) desires, then were thou indeed (clearly) in the wrong; 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: 145–46)

Can ye (O ye men of Faith) entertain the hope that they will believe in you? – Seeing that a party of them heard the Word of Allah, and perverted it knowingly after they understood it. (2: 75)

Thus, God’s messages to His Prophet Muhammad (p.) began in earnest, requesting him to deal with the issues Islam wanted to discuss with them [the Jews]. That is, they either respond to the call or start the debate or Islam takes the initiative to explore what they are up to, or they should shut up. This was what they did, in which case they had no escape from those issues, which came to haunt them and expose their real positions in the end.

The Qur’an made a point of addressing them with the description that connected them to the Scripture, suggesting that they were far removed from it and its injunctions. This is particularly so, when comparison is made between what people preach and what they practice.

We are not trying here to trace all the Quranic verses revealed in this regard; rather, to refer to some that reveal the general trends and common threads that run throughout the Islamic approach to dialogue: “Say: ‘O People of the Book! Do ye disapprove of us for no other reason than that we believe in Allah, and the revelation that hath com to us and that which came before (us), and (perhaps) that most of you are rebellious and disobedient?’” (5: 59).

With amazement and bitterness it raises the question as to why they were revengeful and averse to the Prophet (p.) and his followers. Was it because they believed in God, His messengers and His Books, which were revealed to him and the other messengers, in whom the People of the Book believe? If that was the reason, how could this correspond to their adherence to the line of belief and their fight against the way of unbelief? Is this not a contradiction between what they call for and what they practice in reality? The Holy Qur’an dwells on the matter, leaving the questions begging for answers:

No just estimate of Allah do they make when they say: “Nothing doth Allah send down to man (by way of revelation)”: Say: “Who then sent down the Book which Moses brought: a light and guidance to man: but ye make it into (separate) sheets for show, while ye conceal much (of its contents): therein were ye taught that which ye knew not – neither ye nor your fathers;” Say: Allah (sent it down)”: Then leave them to plunge in vain discourse and trifling. (6: 91)

The approach exposes the Jews’ historical complex

The style of these Quranic verses suggests that it intends to lay the Jews bare and discredit their stand by unfolding their past history and its relationship to their contemporary one, i.e. at the time of Prophet Muhammad (p.). This is in order to familiarize the people with the nature of the complex they suffer from and which dictates the type of positions they take. The aim of this is to present the people with the conclusive evidence that they do not have anything in their doctrine to fall back on for that which they reject. Rather, they are driven by self-centered interest, with the aim of preserving their concessions, be they material or social.

It then seeks to make people aware of their crooked ways in deliberately confusing the truth with falsehood, falsifying truths, concealing the truth, and preaching what they do not practice. This is bound to put them on trial at all times and places. It is also bound to make them lose the trust that they endeavor to gain in order to carry out what they aspire to. The end result would be that people would be mindful of their deeds and words, lest they should be deceived by them.

The Quranic verses then divulge the intractability and unity of the Jews’ position throughout history for they all sing from the same sheet. The later generation condones what the former one has done; thus, the moral responsibility is a joint one, because the present suggests the past. Imam Ali (a.s.) said, “What brings people together is pleasure or displeasure. It was one person who touched the she-camel of Prophet Saleh with evil; yet the entire people were subjected to God’s torment, for they did not show displeasure for his heinous act”. This means that society is held responsible for what some of its members do, when the rest of its members condone the vile deeds of the few.

They do not want to accept that God sends down something to one of His creation, for this, to their mind, is not in keeping with the magnitude of the Message, or maybe they cannot comprehend it.

If this is the case, how can they justify the sending down of the Torah to Moses (a.s.)? Was he not a human being like Muhammad (p.)? Who sent it down? Was it not God? The answer has to be in the affirmative for they deal with the Torah, in the name of God, as though it were merchandise. Thus, they show what profits their business and conceal whatever may uncover their deception and disingenuous practices.

In the light of this answer the issue is in its natural context, in that it is possible that God sent down revelations to a human and that the human in question was Mohammad, the Prophet of God, to whom He revealed the Qur’an. Thus, the Qur’an leaves the issue to simmer, without trying to provide an answer, a silence that speaks louder than words, if they would discern it. God has said:

Say: “O ye that stand on Judaism! If ye think that ye are friends to God, to the exclusion of (other) men, then express your desire for Death, if ye are truthful!” But never will they express their desire (for Death), because of the (deeds) their hands have sent on before them! And God knows well those that do wrong! Say: “The Death from which ye flee will truly overtake you: then will ye be sent back to the Knower of things secret and open: and He will tell you (the truth of) the things that ye did!” (62: 6–8)

Say: “If the last home, with God, be for you specially, and not for anyone else, then seek ye for death, if ye are sincere.” But they will never seek for death, on account of the (sins), which their hands have sent on before them. And God is well acquainted with the wrongdoers. Thou wilt indeed find them, of all people, most greedy of life, even more than the idolaters: Each one of them wishes He could be given a life of a thousand years: But the grant of such life will not save him from (due) punishment. For God sees well all that they do. (2: 94–96)

They allege that they are God’s friends, that they are His chosen people that they are the most favored by God among all peoples, and that Heaven is theirs alone and Hell is others’ destiny.

If this is so, the Qur’an asks them to sincerely seek death because true believers love the life of this world insomuch as it benefits them to be closer to God, i.e. by doing more good deeds and asking forgiveness for the wrongdoings they have committed. So, if a person is absolutely sure of success in the hereafter, what are they waiting for here? Why do not they go to Heaven?

Yet, they remain speechless. Since this is been the case, the Qur’an takes up the responsibility of answering on their behalf. They do not wish to die, for they will be held accountable for the crimes they committed – they unjustly killed the prophets, devoured illicit gains, branded the prophets liars, distorted the Words of God, and concealed His Book, etc. These vile deeds would turn their final abode into a nightmare; thus they hate death as much as they hate hellfire.

Asking for the evidence

Nevertheless, the Qur’an does not leave this point at rest. It demands that they provide evidence for their claim, on the one hand, and to reiterate the criteria God has set for proximity, or lack of it, to Him and consequently earning His pleasure or wrath, on the other hand. The criterion is acting upon what He commanded and leaving out what He forbade, irrespective of whether you are Jew, Christian, or other. God has no special relationship with any of His creation. They are all the same in servitude before Him. The distinction between one and another is piety and good deeds, regardless of their status or lineage. This is brilliantly captured in the following verses:

And they say: “None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.” Those are their (vain) desires. Say: “Produce your proof if ye are truthful.” (2: 111)

(Both) the Jews and the Christians say: “We are sons of God, and His beloved.” Say: “Why then doth He punish you for your sins? Nay, ye are but men, of the men He hath created: He forgives whom He pleases, and He punishes whom He pleases: and to God belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between: and unto Him is the final goal (of all).” (5: 18)

The Qur’an is commenting on their claims, in that it is just wishful thinking, in the same way people make wishes in this world; yet, it is not necessary that such wishes come to fruition. This is because turning wishes and dreams into reality requires proof, which they do not have. It then follows that they are lying in what they are claiming.

As for the second verse, it is dismissive of their claim by posing the question as to why God punishes them for their sins, knowing that He does not punish His friends and those He loves. Then God outlined the criterion for judging all people, which leaves no doubt that all are equal before Him in piety or impiety, and punishment or reward. God is the absolute arbiter in who is going to be punished and who is going to be rewarded, and none will have any concession outside the remit of His Will and Wisdom. To this general principle, the Qur’an, in its appeal to Muslims, has alluded:

Not your desires, nor those of the People of the Book (can prevail): whoever works evil, will be requited accordingly. Nor will he find, besides God, any protector or helper. If any do deeds of righteousness, be they male or female, and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them. (4: 123–24)

So, what will become of us in the hereafter is tied in with what we have done in this world, be it evil, which would keep the doer far away from God, or good, which would earn them a place near to Him. Thus, neither a helper nor a friend shall avail, regardless of their description or their importance, be they Muslim, Jew, or Christian. This is the fact and anything else is a mere dream that has no basis in reality or the truth.