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Jewish-Muslim Relations: The Qur’anic View (1/5)

Jewish-Muslim Relations: The Qur’anic View (1/5)

By Abdullah Craig Walker

The core belief of both Judaism and Islam is the absolute unity of God.

The core belief of both Judaism and Islam is the absolute unity of God.


As to Islam itself, intolerance is woven into its very fabric….The Qur’an’s strong message is that Allah loves Muslims and hates everyone else. If you don’t believe this, just read the Qur’an.”(1)


It is past time to separate the wheat from the chaff. The Qur’an says:

We believe in God, and in that which has been revealed to us, which is that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Jacob and the tribes [of Israel], as well as that which the Lord revealed to Moses and to

 Jesus and to all the other Prophets. We make no distinction between any of them; we submit ourselves to God. (Aal `Imran 3:84)

Further, the Qur’an addresses itself to the whole of mankind, and does not limit or restrict its message to Muslims of the Islamic faith:

There should be no compulsion in religion. Surely, right has become distinct from wrong; so whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress, and believes in Allah, has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (Al-Baqarah 2:256)

In fact, anyone who “submits” to the Will of God (Allah) is a Muslim by definition.    In the Qur’an, Adam and Eve are referred to as the first Muslims, as well as Prophet Abraham (peace be upon them all):

Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was one inclinin

g toward truth, a Muslim. (Aal `Imran 3:67)

The concept that enmity between Jews and Muslims is a religious tenet in Islam is fraudulent and debases the Qur’an, as well as the life and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). However, the concept is a common misconception among many Muslims, Jews and others. Religious extremists and political demagogues select Qur’anic verses taken out of context to support their anti-Semitic views, while ignoring the fundamental precepts of the Qur’an, as well as the Hadith.

This series of articles proposes to refute the anti-Semitic doctrines propounded by religious and political extremists, and to examine the Qur’anic references which are cited in support of these pernicious interpretations. Further, this series will document the abundance of laudatory references to Israelites, Jews, Hebrew prophets, and the Torah found throughout the Qur’an which inform and illum

inate Islamic history and teachings.The history of Muslim-Jewish relations will be explored, including examination of the social, political and religious dynamics in Medina which circumscribed Muslim-Jewish relations when Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his followers migrated there from Mecca in 622 c.e. In particular, this series will probe criticisms of Jews found in secular commentaries in the Qur’an pertaining to three wars that occurred in the 7th century between Medina’s Muslim, Arab and Jewish tribes.

Islamic and Judaic Shared Beliefs and Practices

The core belief of both Judaism and Islam is the absolute unity of God, which Muslims acknowledge in their five daily prayers, and Jews observe in prayer three times daily.

And dispute ye not with the People of the Book [i.e. Jews, Christians, and Muslims] except in the best way, unless it be with those of them who do wrong; But say, ‘We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us [the Qur’an] and in that which came down to you [the Torah and the Gospels]; Our God and your God is One; and it is to Him we submit.’ (Al-`Ankabut 29:46)

According to both the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an, Abraham (peace be upon him) was the forefather of many tribes through his sons Ishmael and Isaac, namely the Israelites, Ishmaelites, Midianites and Edomites. Abraham was a descendant of Noah’s son, Shem. Christians believe that Jesus was a descendant of Abraham through Isaac, and Muslims believe that Muhammad  was a descendant of Abraham through Ishmael (peace be upon them all).

Prophet Abraham is the preeminent religious figure for Muslims, second only to Prophet Muhammad. In Islam, Abraham is recognized as a prophet, patriarch, messenger, rebuilder of the Ka`bah, and archetype of the perfect Muslim. The Qur’an mentions Abraham by name at least 66 times. Perhaps, the clearest example of the reverence and respect that Muslims hold for Abraham is reflected in their daily prayers. Referring to Abraham and the People of the Book, Muslims entreat God to:

“Bless, O Allah, Muhammad and his people as You did bless Abraham and his people. Your are indeed Praiseworthy, the Exalted.

“Prosper, O Allah, Muhammad and his people as You did prosper Abraham and his people. You are indeed Praiseworthy, the Exalted.”

During their obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca, known as Hajj,, Muslims commemorate Abraham’s two supreme sacrifices made at the behest of God: that of leaving his wife Hager and infant son Ishmael in the desert, and his willingness to sacrifice his only son. Although Jews and Christians differ with Muslims on the identity of the son to be sacrificed, the Scriptures of the three faiths share the same allegory, and interpret its meaning similarly. Muslims acknowledge Abraham and Hager’s unwavering faith and obedience to God through ritual acts of devotion during the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, which is a pillar of Islam.

Moses (peace be upon him) is the most important prophet of Judaism, and is revered as a prophet and messenger in Islam. Moses is mentioned in the Qur’an 149 times by name, and his life is narrated and recounted more than that any other prophet. The Qur’an corroborates several Jewish historical events, including the parting of the Red Sea to allow safe passage for Moses and his followers, Moses speaking with God and leading the Jews out of Sinai, and others.(2)

One of the clearest correlations between Jews and Muslims is their common belief that both Moses and Muhammad (peace be upon them all) received Divine revelations containing the teachings of God’s message. Muslims believe that God sent the Jewish people Scriptures containing the Divine teachings through their Prophets, and that the Muslims received the Qur’anic Scriptures in the same way through Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

It was We who revealed the Torah [to Moses]: therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed [as in Islam] to Allah’s will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for to them was entrusted the protection of Allah’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 what Allah hath revealed, they are [no better than] Unbelievers. (Al-Ma’idah 5:44)

There are several references in the Qur’an to “Allah’s Book”, the Umm al-Kitab or “Mother of Books”, which is safeguarded in Heaven, according to the Qur’an. Read for example Al-Zukhruf 43:4. The Umm al-Kitab is believed to be the original source of God’s guidance from which the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’an were drawn.(3)

Allah! There is no god but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting, the All-Sustaining. It is He who has sent down to you (step by step) the Book containing the Truth, and confirming what went before it; And He sent down the Torah [of Moses] and the Gospel [of Jesus] before this; as a guide to mankind, He sent down the Criterion [the Qur’an]. Surely, those who deny the Signs of Allah shall suffer the severe chastisement. And Allah is exalted in Might, the Possessor of the power to requite(Aal `Imran 3:2-4)

The Qur’an also affirms that God’s message has been sent to all of mankind through the Prophets.

To every nation We sent a Messenger who told its people, ‘Worship God and stay away from satan [evil; false idols].’ Some of them were guided by God, and others were doomed to go astray. Travel through the land and see how terrible was the end for those who rejected the truth! (An-Nahl 16-36)

The Qur’an reveres all of the Jewish prophets, including Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Aaron, and Jesus (peace be upon him). While Muslims believe that God sent a large number of “messengers” (i.e. prophets), only about two dozen are named in the Qur’an. When joined with those prophets named in the Bible, approximately 50 prophets are identified by name, while a large number remain anonymous. The Qur’an affirms that all prophets were extraordinary people selected by God. We read what means: “And We chose them knowingly above the peoples of their time.” (Ad-Dukhan 44:32)

The Qur’an does not merely recognize the similarity of Islam and Judaism, but identifies Jews with Muslims. While the overarching common heritage of the Abrahamic faiths is affirmed repeatedly in the Qur’an, so too are the diverse communities of monotheistic “believers” who are referred to as People of the Book. In fact, the Qur’an mentions “People of the Book” more than 700 times.

The Qur’an speaks extensively about Bani Israil, the Children of Israel, and Chapter 17 in the Qur’an is titled, “Banu Israil.” Excluding references to individual prophets, there are approximately forty-three references to the Israelites in the Qur’an, while Jews are referred to 19 times.

The Qur’an recognizes that, according to their lineage, Jews are descendants of Prophet Abraham through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob (peace be upon them all). According to the Qur’an, Allah exalted the Jews over other nations of the earth:

O children of Israel! remember My favor which I bestowed upon you and that I exalted you above the peoples. (Al-Baqarah 2:47)

And remember when Moses said to his people, ‘O my people, call to mind Allah’s favor upon you when He appointed Prophets among you and made you kings, and gave you what He gave not to any other among the peoples. (Al-Ma’idah 5:20)

O children of Israel! remember My favor which I bestowed upon you, and fulfill your covenant with Me, I will fulfill My covenant with you, and Me alone should you fear. (Al-Baqarah 2:40)

Jerusalem is the holiest city for the Jews, and the third most sacred city in the Muslim world after Mecca and Medina. In fact, up until 624 c.e., the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Muslim followers faced Jerusalem in prayer. However, in the second year of the Prophet’s residence in Medina, it was revealed(4) to Him that Muslims were to face in the direction of the Ka`bah when praying. Early historians report that, for the first two centuries of Islam, Muslims regularly read the Torah alongside the Qur’an.(5)

There are many common practices shared by the two faiths. For example, the traditional greetings used by Muslims and Jews throughout the world are identical. Shalom aleichem means “Peace be upon you”, and is derived from the Talmud, the Judaic text pertaining to law and ethics. The Islamic greeting, As-Salamu `Alaykum, also means “Peace be upon you.” According to the Qur’an, the requisite greeting is from Allah:

But when you enter the houses, greet one another with a greeting from Allah, blessed and good (say: As-salaamu `Alaykum). (An-Nur 24:61)

The two faiths also share practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, as well as dietary laws. Jews traditionally wash their hands and feet before prayer, which is equivalent to the Islamic practice of washing before prayer, termed wudu’. Allowed food is called Kosher in Judaism and Halal in Islam, and both religions prohibit the consumption of pork. Both Islam and traditional Judaism ban homosexuality, forbid sexual relations outside of marriage, and practice circumcision for males.

With such extensive references in the Qur’an to the principles of faith and common heritage of the monotheistic Abrahamic religions, the Torah, the People of the Book, and veneration of the Jewish Prophets, it is incomprehensible how the Qur’an could be interpreted to propound anti-Semitic theses, or that bigotry and persecution of Jewish believers could be construed as a tenet of Islamic faith.


1- M. Carlos, Naming the Darkness: Religious Roots of the Middle East Conflict,,  August 26, 2011.

2- A well-sourced paper by Dr. Aisha Musa, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Florida International University, examines the numerous references to Moses and the Jewish prophets found in the Qur’an: [accessed 2 Feb 2012]

3- Salman Akhtar, Ed., The Crescent and the Couch: Cross-Currents Between Islam and Psychoanalysis, 2008, p 224.

4- Al-Baqarah 2:142-5.

5- Reza Aslan, No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, And Future of Islam, 2005, p. 100; Nabia Abbott, Aishah: the Beloved of Mohammed, 1933.


This series of articles is published with kind permission from the author.

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Commentary on the Verse of Light

Commentary on the Verse of Light


It is the light that He has sent down to His servants, by which He gives them life, and by which they walk among people

It is the light that He has sent down to His servants, by which He gives them life, and by which they walk among people

Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah

God strikes a parable about His light within the heart of His servant (the human being), which only the learned understand:

God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His light is a niche in which there is a lamp. The lamp is in a Glass, the Glass, like a glistening star, kindled from a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil well nigh glows though no fire has touched it: light upon light. God guides to His light whom He wills, and God strikes parables for mankind, and God knows everything. (An-Nur 24:35)

Ubayy ibn Ka`b, who was one of the most learned companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), said: ‘the similitude of His light (takes place in) the Muslim’s heart’.  (Ibn Kathir)

This light, which He has placed in the heart, comes from love, faith and the remembrance of God. It is the light that He has sent down to His servants, by which He gives them life, and by which they walk among people.

Its origin is in their hearts, but then He strengthens and increases it until it appears upon their faces, limbs, bodies, even their clothes and dwellings. People of this nature perceive it, while others deny it. On the Day of Judgment, however, it will come forth by their faith, and hasten before them in the darkness of the Bridge, that they might cross it. They will proceed in proportion to either its strength or its weakness in their hearts during their life in the world.

For one person, it will be like the sun, for another like the moon, the stars or a lamp. For yet another, this light will be only at the tips of his toes; it will shine, then go out, then shine, then go out, for just as his light had been in this world, so he shall be given when crossing the Bridge on the Day of Judgment.

In fact, it is the same light that had appeared to him before. However, just as the hypocrite has no real light in this world, or has only an outward light but none within, so shall he be given (on that Day) an outward light which will vanish in the darkness and be lost.

It is about this light-its abode, its bearer and its fuel-that God has coined the parable of the niche, which is like the breast. In this niche lies a globe made of purest glass, like a glistening planet in whiteness and purity-a similitude for the heart, likened to glass inasmuch as it possesses the qualities of the believer’s heart: clarity, fineness and firmness. By its clarity the believer sees truth and direction; by its fineness he acquires kindness and mercy; by its firmness he combats God’s enemies, and stands firm in his resistance to them and upholds the truth.

None of these qualities negate another or oppose it. They strengthen and complement each other.

(The faithful are) strict against the unbelievers, merciful to each other. (Al-Fath 48:29)

By the mercy of God, you were gentle to them. For had you been harsh, or hard of heart, they would have fled from your presence. (Aal-`Imran 3:159)

The expression translated as ‘hard of heart’ (ghalizh al-qalb) literally means ‘thick-hearted’.

O Prophet, strive against the non-believers and the hypocrites (who plot against you) and be firm against them. (At-Tawbah 9:73)

According to a hadith (saying of the Prophet), that has been passed down: “Hearts are God’s vessels on earth, and most beloved unto Him are the finest, firmest and clearest of them.” (At-Tirmidhi)

In contrast to this heart, there are two other reprehensible types. One is the heart that is hard like stone, devoid of compassion, generosity or social good; devoid, too, of the clarity by which God may be seen -a heart dominated by ignorance, with neither knowledge of the truth, nor compassion for fellow creatures.

The other is the heart that is as weak as water. It is devoid of strength and firmness, accepts any idea, but lacks the strength to stand by what it accepts. It is devoid of the power to affect anyone, but is itself affected by everything it mingles with-be it strong or weak, wholesome or tainted.

In the glass there is a lamp which bears the light. The fuel for this light is oil pressed from an olive tree, (which grows) in a place so medial that the sun reaches it at both the beginning and the end of the day, making its oil the purest and least opaque-so clear it almost glows by itself, without fire.

Such is the fuel for this lamp’s light, and such is the fuel of the lamp in the believer’s heart which comes from the tree of revelation, the greatest in blessing and the farthest removed from extremes. Indeed, it is the most central of all things, the most balanced, the most excellent. It reaches neither the extreme of the Christians nor that of the Jews, but rather seeks a middle way in all things. Such is the fuel for the ‘Lamp of Faith’ which burns in the believer’s heart.

Because this oil is so limpid that it almost glows by itself, when it is mingled with fire its glow becomes even more intense, its substance is strengthened and there is ‘light upon light’. Similarly, the heart of the believer is so illumined that he could almost know God solely by way of his own God-given nature and his own intelligence, though he had no fuel. Then the fuel of revelation reaches him, gives glad tidings to his heart and mixes with his own radiance. The light of revelation is added to the light of his own God-given nature, and the two combine to become ‘light upon light’.

He (the believer) had almost been able to speak of God without ever hearing anything about Him. When he hears utterances which his own nature has already perceived, it becomes ‘light upon light’. Such is the case of the believer who first experiences the truth in a general way through his God-given nature, and then hears the words brought by (the Prophet) which explain the details. His faith is thus founded on the testimony of revelation and the testimony of his God-given nature.

Let a person of insight reflect on this great verse and on how it can be applied according to this noble meaning. God mentions His light in the heavens and on earth, and His light in the hearts of His believing servants. There is intelligible light, perceived by insight, illuminating inner visions and hearts. And there is the physical light, perceived by the faculty of sight, illuminating the upper and the lower regions of the world: two sublime lights, one more sublime than the other. When physical light is absent from some place, no human being or animal can live there. Animal life is engendered only where there is light. It cannot thrive in dark places where no light shines. And so, a people for whom the light of revelation and faith has gone out, and a heart in which this light has gone out, must be dead, no more alive than the most lifeless place on earth.

In His words, God connects life with light:

Or is one who was dead, and whom We gave life and made for him a light by which to walk among people, like one who is in a darkness from which he cannot emerge? (Al-An`am 6:122)

Or His words:

Thus have We inspired you with a spirit from Our command; you had known neither the Book nor faith, but We made it a light by which We guide those of Our servants whom We Will. (Ash-Shura 42:52)

About this second verse, it has been said that the pronoun ‘it’ refers to command, or to faith, but the correct reading is that it refers to spirit. Thus, ‘We made that spirit with which We inspired you a light.’ In other words, we say spirit when life is brought forth, and light when radiance and illumination are brought together. But the two are inseparable. If life exists through the Spirit, so does light; and where there is light, there is also light. So the heart of one who does not accept this Spirit is dead and benighted, as dead as one whose soul has separated from his body.





The article is an excerpt from ‘The Invocation of God’ (the English translation of ‘Al-Wabil al-Sayyib min al-kalim al-Tayyib’ by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah).

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Jewish-Muslim Relations: The Qur’anic View (2/5)

Jewish-Muslim Relations: The Qur’anic View (2/5)

shaking hands

Prophet Muhammad viewed both Christians and Jews as natural allies.

By Abdullah Craig Walker

This is the second part of the series. The author focuses here on the Jewish-Muslim history, Muslim Jurists and the Rules of Protected Minorities, and The Qur’an’s Portrayal of the Jews. To read Part 1, click here.


Jewish-Muslim History

There is a dearth of available material pertaining to Jewish-Muslim relations during the early period of Islam. Jewish-Muslim relations, which did not begin until the Prophet (peace be upon him) migrated to Medina in 620 c.e., have not been examined in their full historical and socio-political contexts. A few fragmented, sometimes contradictory accounts, derived mainly from Muslim oral sources, were recorded long after the events occurred.

In the expanding world of Islam during the 6th-7th centuries c.e., the aggregation of the distinct cultures, languages and religions of non-Arabs and non-Muslims generated new ideas and created new problems which challenged Muslim rulers.  Early Muslim historical recorders were preoccupied, understandably, with the political issues of the early Caliphates – the outbreak of the fitnas (civil wars), the early Shia-Sunni schism, the Shia conflict with the Syrian caliphate, the Umayyad and Abbasid bias. The early writers also were engaged in prevailing theological controversies, and advancing their own views.

Most European scholarship focused narrowly upon the influence of Judaism and Jewish teachings on Islam, the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) disappointment at his rejection by the Jews, the expulsion of two Jewish tribes from Medina, and the execution of enemy combatants who were members of a third Jewish tribe. Syed Barakat Ahmad, a renowned contemporary scholar and diplomat, examined the early Islamic sources and Jewish writings dealing with the relationship between the Jewish tribes, Prophet Muhammad and the Muslims in Medina.(1) He found that, although Muslim historians’ and Orientalists’ research has contributed to an understanding of the Prophet’s relations with the Jews of the Hijaz and Medina, their work was compromised by its reliance upon questionable accounts compiled during the Abbasid Caliphate, more than 120 years after Prophet Muhammad’s death.

Muslim Jurists and the Rules of Protected Minorities

The record of Muslim-Jewish relations is found mainly in the works of Muslim jurists, who expounded upon themes of social and political relationships with dhimmis, i.e. literally “the protected peoples”, or non-Muslim minorities. Within a generation after the birth of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries c.e., Muslims found themselves in military and political control of vast populations of non-Muslim People of the Book and so-called non-believers in the Middle East, North Africa and West Asia.

The challenges of governance and control of non-Muslim populations presented Muslim authorities with a myriad of legal complexities, including rights of citizenship, arbitration and settlement of individual and family disputes, tribal conflicts, border and property disputes, broken contracts, betrayal of alliances, and even war. A policy of governance gradually evolved known as ahkam al-dhimmah, or the “Rules of the Protected Minorities, which became the means by which Muslim authorities addressed these issues.

The scriptural basis for the policy of ahkam al-dhimmah is a single, controversial verse in the Qur’an:

Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden — such men as practise not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book — until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled. (At-Tawbah 9:29)

The meaning and significance of this verse has been the focus of heated debate among Muslims and scholars for generations. The historical context of this verse, along with variability of the Arabic language when translated, including grammar, syntax, and definitions of specific words and phrases, have contributed greatly to the controversy surrounding it, as well as other verses in the Qur’an. For example, the word “fight” also translates as “oppose”, which is a critical difference. The reference to the “religion of truth” also has two plausible interpretations. One being that the “religion of truth” refers to the revealed Scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — in toto. A second interpretation argues that the phrase refers to Islam exclusively. Muslim political extremists and Jihadists believe that the “religion of truth” refers exclusively to Islam, and that the word “fight” provides Scriptural legitimacy to violent acts committed against non-Muslims and those who oppose them and their interpretations of the Qur’an and Islamic law.

Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the Muslims’ political leader as well as the Prophet of Islam. During his lifetime, all Muslim law and spiritual practice proceeded from him. Upon the Prophet’s death in 632 c.e., religious and political authority passed to His companions, who served in the role of Caliph through 661 c.e.

In 637 c.e., the second Caliph, `Umar ibn al-Khattab, a respected jurist and companion of the Prophet, concluded a treaty known as the Covenant of `Umar with the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronius. The treaty, which outlined the rights and limitations of People of the Book and non-Muslims residing in Syria and Palestine, evolved into the Rules of the Protected Minorities pertaining to non-Muslims in Muslim-controlled regions throughout the world. Of note, the Covenant of `Umar allowed Jews to live inside Jerusalem for the first time in 500 years since their expulsion from the Holy Land. 1,300 years later, many Palestinian Christians and Muslims still regard the Covenant of `Umar as having legal legitimacy.

Although the policy of ahkam al-dhimmah cast non-Muslims minorities in an inferior religious and socio-political status to Muslims, People of the Book were not required to convert to Islam, and Muslim armies were ordered to preserve the Christian institutions they encountered and not to interfere with Jews in their practice of Judaism. Also, non-Muslims were exempted from Zakah, which was obligatory for all Muslim citizens in this early period.

During the period of the 3rd Caliph, the Prophet’s companions recorded and codified His revelations, and the Qur’an became the supreme authority for Muslims. During this early period, as well, the companions orally transmitted their recollections of the words and deeds of the Prophet to the next generation, who passed them on to the next, and so forth. These recollections eventually were recorded and became known as the Hadith.

By the time of the 5th Caliph in 661 c.e., religious authority was no longer vested solely with the Prophet’s companions, who had served as Islam’s first Caliphs.            It became dispersed to include the ulema, scholars versed in the Qur’an and Hadith. As the ulema expanded to include Islamic lawyers and judges, the power and influence of the ulema grew accordingly, and they began to determine what was legal and orthodox according to the Qur’an and Hadith.(2)

Controversy surrounds a second treaty defining the policy of ahkam al-dhimmah. The Pact [covenant] of `Umar II was concluded in 717 c.e. under the caliph `Umar II, a great-grandson of `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, with non-Muslims and People of the Book residing in Muslim lands. However, the document apparently exists in different textual forms, and some scholars believe that it may have been the product of later jurists who attributed it to `Umar II in order to lend greater authority to their own opinions.

From the 9th century c.e., the power to interpret and refine the dhimmahh contract was vested solely in the ulema. Since few laws are prescribed in the Qur’an, the ulema were free to issue their own fatwas, or legal opinions(3). Whatever its original intent, the ulema came to interpret the Qur’anic verse in question (At-Tawbah 9:29) to mean that non-Muslims, including People of the Book and non-believers, were to be “opposeduntil and unless they submitted to Muslim rule. To ensure the loyalty of indigenous populations under their control, Muslim authorities granted non-Muslim citizens religious and communal autonomy, protection from outside aggression, and exemption from military service in return for payment of the jizyah, a per-capita “protection tax”. The tax levied on all non-Muslim adult males was regarded as evidence of submission to Muslim authorities.

The evolving body of interpretations and decisions of the ulema became an integral part of Islamic law, known as Shar`iah. Many of the jurists’ legal opinions and interpretations relating to People of the Book acquired theological affirmation, and became accepted as Islam’s articulation of the social and religious status of People of the Book, including Jews. However, the practice of transposing the jurists’ interpretations into Islamic theology and Shari`ah, and applying them to all Muslim societies, continues to be the subject of intense controversy and debate among Islamic scholars, educated Muslims, politicians, and others.

Critics point out that doctrinal approbation has been conferred upon jurists’ writings, notwithstanding the fact that the Qur’an prohibits any alterations or additions to revealed text. Other critics argue that it is unreasonable to generalize the work of jurists for all Muslims given the linguistic, geographic, and cultural diversity of Muslim societies. The practical problem is that several generations of Muslims in Asia, Africa and the Middle East have been taught, and have accepted as revealed truth, controversial interpretations of the Qur’an, particularly concerning non-Muslims, in spite of the universality of Qur’anic theology and the example set by the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

In summary, the decisions and writings of Muslim jurists, from Medina through the 13th century concerning Jews and non-Muslim minorities, reflected localized secular conditions where Muslims held political power. Although the jurists endeavored to interpret and apply Qur’anic doctrine to the issues brought before them, their judgments nevertheless were influenced by prevailing cultural prejudices and biases, as well as political context. Still, the jurists did not postulate anti-Semitism, as some of their writings have been characterized erroneously.

The Qur’an’s Portrayal of the Jews

The work of Muslim jurists relating to the People of the Book is eclipsed in importance by more fundamental historical factors referenced in the Qur’an.               Of greater significance than jurisprudence and legend in deconstructing anti-Semitic interpretations of the Qur’an are the migration of Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 c.e., known as the Hijrah, and the complex relationships there among the Jewish tribes, Arab clans, the Prophet and his followers during this early period of Islam.

While there is no reliable historical evidence to establish the approximate date of Jewish settlement in Arabia, Arab legends trace their first settlements in Mecca to the time of Moses.(4). At the time of the Prophet’s migration to Medina, historians estimate that there were more than twenty Jewish tribes and clans settled there. These tribes were not Israelites; they were Arab converts.

There is no evidence that that they either spoke or read Hebrew, and therefore would have been unable to read Hebrew scriptures. Modern scholars, such as S. W. Baron(5) and D. S. Margoliouth(6) believe that the Medina Jews’ knowledge of Hebrew Scriptures was limited to a few scrolls of law, and fragmentary Arabic translations of the Torah.

Early Muslim historians paid minimal attention to Muslim-Jewish relations in Medina, where Prophet Muhammad and his Muslim followers first encountered Jews directly. The basic source of Islam’s early history is the Qur’an. However, while the Qur’an is contemporaneous with the Prophet’s life, it is not a history book. Nonetheless, a running commentary of important events that occurred during the Prophet’s lifetime is woven into the Qur’an. While the Qur’an does not provide specific dates or sequence of events, it plays an important role in corroborating many of the actual events which took place during the Apostle’s lifetime.

Prophet Muhammad initially viewed both Christians and Jews as natural allies sharing the core principles of the Qur’anic revelations, and anticipated their acceptance and support.

They are not all alike. Among the People of the Book there is a party who stand by their covenant; they recite the word of Allah in the hours of night and prostrate themselves before Him. They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and enjoin what is good and forbid evil, and hasten, vying with one another, in good works. And these are among the righteous. And whatever good they do, they shall not be denied its due reward; and Allah well knows the God-fearing. (Aal `Imran 3:113-5)

Nonetheless, acceptance and support of the Prophet and His Message by Christians and Jews was not forthcoming. We read in the Qur’an what means:

Say, ‘O People of the Book! you stand on nothing until you observe the Torah and the Gospel and what has now been sent down to you from your Lord.’ And surely, what has been sent down to you from your Lord will increase many of them in rebellion and disbelief; so grieve not for the disbelieving people. (Al-Ma’idah 5:68)

In the early period of revelation, Jews were condemned in the Qur’an for rejecting Muhammad’s prophetic status, and distorting their own scripture in order to discredit the message of the Qur’an.  Allah says:

“And how will they make you their judge when they have with them the Torah, wherein is Allah’s judgment? Yet, in spite of that they turn their backs; and certainly they will not believe.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:68)

The Qur’an also admonished Jews for failure to uphold the Torah, and for excessive legalism and exaggerated authoritarianism by some rabbis, issues which Jews themselves have addressed.

And if they had observed the Torah and the Gospel and what has been now sent down to them from their Lord, they would, surely, have eaten of good things from above them and from under their feet. Among them are a people who are moderate; but many of them — evil indeed is that which they do. (Al-Ma’idah 5:67)

Angry polemic was a common characteristic among the emergent Religions of the Book. Their anger was directed against the conjoined religious and political structures that opposed them. Hebrew scriptures railed against idolatrous nations such as the Moabites, Midianites, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Babylonians.

Christian scriptures directed their anger towards Greco-Roman pagans, Roman authorities and Jewish religious leaders. The Qur’an contains angry references to Arab idol-worshipers, as well as to People of the Book (mainly Jews) who rejected the Revelations. In each case, the prophetic revelations and religious movements that grew from them threatened the established social order, and were perceived as revolutionary in the regions where they emerged. The impact of these movements in their historic settings were secular, notwithstanding the fact that their roots were intrinsically spiritual and personal.


(1) Syed Barakat Ahmad, Muhammad and the Jews: A Re-examination, New Delhi: Vikas, 1979.

(2) Patricia Crone and Martin Hinds, God’s Caliph: Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam, Cambridge University Press, 1986.

(3) Samuel Shahid, Rights of Non-Muslims in an Islamic State, , accessed June 3, 2012, summarizes Islamic law (Shari`ah) according to the four principal schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and the written opinions of Islamic scholars and Muftis (Muslim legal authorities).

(4) Amalek,The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion, 1965, p 27-8

(5) Salo W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, 1937.

(6) David Samuel Margoliouth,The Relations Between Arabs and Israelites Prior to the Rise of Islam, 1924.


This series of articles is published with kind permission from the author.


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What Is Fitrah?

What Is Fitrah?

Nature in Islam

Righteousness is that about which the soul feels tranquil and the heart feels tranquil, and sin is what creates restlessness in the soul.

Al-Nawwas ibn Sam`an (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Righteousness is good character, and sin is that which wavers in your heart and which you do not want people to know about.” (Muslim) 

What is al-birr? 

Al-birr comes from the same root as the word for ‘land’ in Arabic. Allah (the Almighty) says: “The land and the oceans” in the Qur’an. Why is there a relationship between the two? Just as the land seems vast and infinite, so too are the ways of becoming closer to Allah and pleasing Allah. There is a vast way to become closer to Allah (Glory be to Him) by certain channels. The word righteousness comes from the same root which means vast. Also, the meaning of (al-birr) has the connotation that the goods that come out of what you do are also vast and infinite. The rewards for being righteous cannot be counted. Allah (Glory be to Him) uses the word (birr) in the Qur’an for righteousness in many verses.

The hadith of Al-Nawwas tells us the action of birr and the hadith of Wabisah tells us the psychology of (birr). “Righteousness is good character, and sin is that which wavers in your heart and which you do not want people to know about.”

It is as if the Prophet (peace be upon him) said good manners is all of (birr), but the hadith is more profound than this. The phrasing indicates that the essence of

(birr) is good manners. For example: when the Prophet (peace be upon him) said that Hajj is standing at Arafat, he equated the two. Is Hajj only Arafat? No, yet the Prophet (peace be upon him) said this because the essence of Hajj is standing at Arafat. This is the entire point of going for Hajj. Similarly, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said righteousness is to have good manners meaning the essence of righteousness is good manners.

Husn al-khuluq (good manners) consists of three separate yet related spheres. A person can be good in one of them but until he is good in all three, he will not be righteous.

  1. Being good in your conduct with Allah
  2. Being good with other men
  3. Being good with yourself

Many Muslims read these hadiths and only think of husn al-khuluq with other men, but the reality is that all three are important. They are not all equally important and not all equally essential. The most important is with Allah then with other men and then with yourself.

“…Righteousness is that about which the soul feels tranquil and the heart feels tranquil, and sin is what creates restlessness in the soul and moves to and fro in the breast…”

Righteousness is that which makes your heart happy and brings solace to your soul. This brings us to a fundamental point of Islamic psychology: The general state of man upon which Allah created him is that man loves good and hates evil. Doing good makes a person feel good. Being good brings about a state of good. This is the general rule of human nature. Doing sins and evil and vice brings about evil and discontent to your soul. The proof of this is this hadith and many hadiths and verses about the fitrah (natural disposition). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Every single child is born upon the fitrah.” This mean that every child has innate knowledge that is embodied in the fitrah and then his parents make him into a Christian or a Jew or a fire worshipper.

Narrated Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him): “Allah’s Apostle said, “Every child is born with a true faith of Islam (i.e. to worship none but Allah Alone) but his parents convert him to Judaism, Christianity or Magainism, as an animal delivers a perfect baby animal. Do you find it mutilated?” Then Abu Hurayrah recited the verses:

So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. [Adhere to] the fitrah of Allah upon which He has created [all] people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah . That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know. (Ar-Rum 30.30) (Al-Bukhari)

The fitrah leads to Islam and is compatible to Islam. When a child is raised as a Muslim, the fitrah is nourished and is not corrupted. The fitrah is to Islam like a hand is to a glove (meaning it fits perfectly).

This fitrah tells us many things: there is a God and God is Perfect. Allah is worthy of worship. It tells us of the basics of morality, which is why every single civilization considers murder to be a crime. Every society knows it is good to take care of orphans, the elderly, and the weak and that it is evil to lie and plunder. These are not acquired truths. If you use rationality, many times you can justify some of these sins in certain situations, and yet no society does. These universal truths come from the fitrah.

The fitrah feels good when good is done and feels evil when evil is committed. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) said good brings comfort to the heart. It is impossible to find a human being who does no good whatsoever. Why do people give charity? It makes them feel good. Conversely, you feel bad doing bad. In English there is an expression: ‘gnawing at my conscience.’

The opposite of (birr) is (ithm). If you feel guilty about committing something and do not want others to know about it, then it is a symptom that what you have done is wrong. What the Prophet (peace be upon him) is talking about is actions above and beyond what all men and women do of a personal nature like relieving ourselves or being intimate with spouses.

It is possible that you feel guilty for the wrong reasons, so the hadith will not apply to you. When you feel guilty for doing the right thing, you are not feeling guilty because of religion but because of societal pressure. For example, a sister may be social friends with non-practicing Muslims, and she decides to wear the hijab. It is very possible that when she takes this bold step and places her trust in Allah that when she goes into the gatherings of her friends, she will feel embarrassed and foolish and feel guilty. This guilt is not religious based but is the guilt of being different. The Prophet (peace be upon him) is talking about the guilt that comes from the conscience (an inner guilt) and not an outer guilt.


This hadith tells us about Islamic psychology and the role of conscience. This hadith informs us that the average state of man is that he likes to be good and being good leads to good. Coming closer to Allah (Glory be to Him) is what the soul wants to do. Going away from Allah harms the soul, and the soul does not like it.

This hadith applies to those who have iman (faith in Allah) and not to those who do not have iman. The Prophet (peace be upon him) told us of a group of people who have distorted their fitrah to such an extent that this hadith has no meaning for them whatsoever, and these humans have no conscience whatsoever. By their own deeds and actions that their own hands have caused, they have destroyed their own fitrah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) called these people shayatin (devils) in human form, and for them, the evil is pleasing and the good is despicable. The hadith apply to people who are sane and rational and not to these people.


Source: Taken with modifications from a book entitled “Sacred Scrolls: 40 Hadeeth Nawawi”

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10+ Hadiths about Women

10+ Hadiths about Women

By Editorial Staff

In what follows, we will quote 10+ Prophetic Hadiths about women with a view to seeing how Islam honors and respects women’s rights.


The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “O Allah, I declare inviolable the rights of two weak ones: the orphans and women.” (An- Nasa’i)

Rights of Women are Inviolable

  1. `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated, “The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “O Allah, I declare inviolable the rights of two weak ones: the orphans and women.” (An- Nasaa’i)

Good Treatment with Wife

  1. Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported, “The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “A believer must not harm (his) believing woman; if he dislikes one of her characteristics, he will be pleased with another.” (Muslim)

No Compulsion in Marriage

  1. Sufyan (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “A woman who has been previously married (thayyib) has more right to her person than her guardian, and a virgin’s father must ask her consent from her, her consent being her silence.” (Muslim)

Reward of Raising Children

  1. `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) reported, “A woman came to me with her two daughters. She asked me (for charity) but she found nothing with me except one date-fruit, so I gave it to her. She accepted it and then divided it between her two daughters and herself ate nothing out of that. She then got up and went out. When the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) came in, and I narrated to him the story, he said, “He who is involved (in the responsibility) of (bringing up) daughters, and he is benevolent towards them, they would become protection for him against Hell-fire.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Rights of Mothers

  1. Narrated Abu Hurayrah, “A man came to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) and said, “O Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him)! Who is more entitled to be treated with the best companionship by me?” The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Your mother.” The man said. “Who is next?” The Prophet said, “Your mother.” The man further said, “Who is next?” The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Your mother.” The man asked for the fourth time, “Who is next?” The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Your father.” (Al-Bukhari)

Non-violence against Women

  1. `A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) never hit anything with his hand, neither a servant nor a woman, but of course he did fight in the Cause of Allah. (Muslim)

Treating Women Gently

  1. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best morals, and the best of you are those who are the best to their wives.” (At-Tirmidhi)

Care for Women’s Rights

  1. Jabir ibn `Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Fear Allah concerning women! Verily you have taken them on the guarantee of Allah, and intercourse with them has been made lawful unto you by words of Allah.” (Muslim)

Wife’s Rights

  1. Mu`awiyah ibn Haidah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported, “I asked Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him): “What right can any wife demand of her husband?” He replied, “You should give her food when you eat, clothe her when you clothe yourself, not strike her on the face, and do not revile her or separate from her except in the house”. (Abu Dawud)

Loving One’s Wife

  1. Narrated `A’ishah, “I never felt so jealous of any wife of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) as I did of Khadijah because Allah’s Messenger used to remember and praise her too often and because it was revealed to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) that he should give her (Khadijah) the glad tidings of her having a palace of Qasab (hollowed pearls) in Paradise.” (Al-Bukhari)

Right to Education

  1. Narrated Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri, “Some women requested the Prophet (peace be upon him) to fix a day for them as the men were taking all his time. On that he promised them one day for religious lessons and commandments.” (Al-Bukhari)
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