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Can We Fight All the People of the Book?

The second question is related to the fact that the verse does not explicitly state that we are to fight all the People of the Book, but tells us that we are to fight against those of them who believe neither in God nor in the Hereafter,... who count as permitted that which God has forbidden, and who are not at all religious in line with any religion of truth. Now what does this mean? Does it mean that the People of the Book en masse - i.e. all the Jews, the Christians and the followers of the different sects - have no faith in God, no faith in the Hereafter, no faith in God's ordinances and no faith in any religion based on truth, so that if one of them claims that he believes in God, he is a liar and does not actually believe in God? Is the Quran actually saying that all the People of the Book, however much they claim to believe in God, in reality have no such belief? Is it possible for us to argue that because the Christians claim Jesus is God or the 'son of God," they really have no belief in God? Or that, because the Jews say things about Jacob, the Jews have no more faith than the Christians? Or that those who say: "The hand of God is tied" (5:64)

cannot be believers in the true God and the same applies to the rest of the People of the Book?

Thinking in these terms will mean that we believe that the Quran does not recognize any faith in God or in the resurrection other than the faith of the Muslims. If we are asked why, we will say that the Quran states the beliefs of the People of the Book to be confused and misconceived. A Christian, even if he is a learned Christian scholar, recognizes God and even recognizes the Oneness of God, but at the same time, he may have some idea about Jesus or the angel Gabriel that pollutes his belief in the Oneness of God (Tawhid.) This is the view of some of the Quranic commentators. To them, when the Quran tells us we are to fight against the People of the Book, it means that we are to fight against all the People of the Book, that the faith in God of not one of them is a valid faith; that the faith in the resurrection and in what God has forbidden and permitted of not one of them is valid. What these commentators believe is that the word " Prophet" in this verse means the last of the prophets, Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him and his household, and that "religion of truth" means the religion which mankind of today has the duty to accept, rather than a religion which was the duty of people to accept during some particular period in the past.

A different group of commentators, however, consider that with this statement, the Quran intended to show us that the People of the Book form two categories; that not all the People of the Book are the same; that some of them really do believe in God, and resurrection, really do believe in the laws of God, and these we are to leave alone. Those of them whom we are to fight are those who are People of the Book in name only, but who in reality, have no valid belief at all, and who do not consider forbidden that which God has forbidden, even what He has forbidden in their own religion. So it is not with all the People of the Book that we are to fight, but a group from amongst them. This is another issue in itself. 1


1. In fact, in the present book, this question is answered only indirectly. However, when we take into account the conditional verses about the legitimacy of jihad, which are dealt with in this book, we realize that there are no conditions relating to the depth of the enemy's faith in religion and its principles. The word "of" (Arabic min ) when God says "of the People of the Book" is considered by the great Allamah Tabatabai, for example, in his "Mizan," as an "explanatory of" (Min bayaniyah), meaning that it could have been more accurately translated by the word "e.g." In which case, this unconditional verse reads as follows: "And fight those who have not faith in God nor in the Hereafter, and (who) forbid not what God and His Prophet have forbidden, who do not observe the religion of truth, e.g. the People of the Book, until they pay tribute by hand, and they are the low". All the conditions contained in the conditional verses then apply. As is clear, when the People of the Book live in an Islamic state, there is no question of those with more commitment to their religion paying less taxes, or tribute on this account than those with less commitment.

Adapted from the book: "Jihad; The Holy War of Islam and Its Legitimacy in the Quran" by: "Ayatullah Morteza Mutahhari"

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