Muslims have been widely accused of labeling Jews and Christians as “infidels”, and many point to the teachings of the Qur’an as the basis for that belief. They further believe (and often promote) that the Qur’an incites hatred towards the Jews and the Christians.
When I started to study the Qur’an over two decades ago, I paid close attention to the passages pertaining to the Jews and the Christians.
As I mentioned on my post Spiritual Travelogue of a Born-Again Muslim, growing up, I did suffer from the “I am right, so you must be all wrong” syndrome. Though I was not very religious, I was convinced only Muslims have the ticket to the heaven, “since we are the only righteous faith community.”
In that sense, I was not that far off from many of my Jewish and Christian cousins’ views.
Despite Islam and Muslims being in the limelight today, the teachings of Islam remain mostly unknown. Many myths prevail, even among the minds of the Muslims. The following fact may be at the root of the problem.
This may come across as a surprise but most Muslims have never read the Qur’an in their language cover to cover even once in their lifetime. Therefore many beliefs are shaped based on second-hand and third-hand information.
For my Christian and Jewish readers (and “secular” folks): Even if you feel your relationship with God is not dependent on how others view you, I know being labeled “infidels” remains a source of irritation, and serves as a barrier to promote interfaith understanding and harmony.
Nowadays when I hear that the Qur’an considers Jews and Christians as infidels, I cringe. Because the Qur’an is the very reason that changed my perspective on the Jews and the Christians!
So lets delve right into it and review the teachings of the Qur’an as they pertain to the Jews and the Christians.
Let me first start by setting couple of things straight.
Firstly the word infidel is not an Islamic term. It’s a Christian term, used for non-Christians. See below for more details.
Secondly, the fact remains that the Qur’an is indeed critical of (certain) Jews (some would argue more so than the Christians).
However, the Qur’an is critical of (certain) Muslims as well.
Moreover, the Qur’an’s criticism of the Jews is not unique to the Qur’an. The Torah and the Gospels are also very critical of the Jews- I would argue even more strongly than the Qur’an.
However, none of the Scriptures paint a broad brush on all Jews and Christians of all times.
Additionally the Qur’an also praises (certain) Christians and Jews, as I will point out a little later.
People of the Book
The Jews and the Christians are most often referred to in the Qur’an as ahl al-kitab or “People of the Book” as they are considered followers of the divine books-Torah and the Gospel. The term also refers to Sabians and Zoroastrians, two other monotheistic faiths that pre-date Islam. They are also mentioned simply as ‘Jews” and “Christians”.
Who is an infidel?
The term “infidel” is not an Islamic term and is derived from the French word infidèle or Latin infidelis and was originally used by Christians in the late fifteenth century. Infidel has been used broadly to describe those who rejected or opposed Christianity, or anyone who did not believe in the divinity of Christ. Muslims, Jews, Hindus and even non-Catholics such as Protestants were considered infidels. (Though the Protestants no longer are)
According to Catholic Encyclopedia 1901, volume 8 stated:
As in ecclesiastical language those who by baptism have received faith in Jesus Christ and have pledged Him their fidelity and called the faithful, so the name infidel is given to those who have not been baptized. The term applies not only to all who are ignorant of the true God, such as pagans of various kinds, but also to those who adore Him but do not recognize Jesus Christ, as Jews, Mohammedans; ….
Who is a kafir?
The word kafir is variously translated as “nonbeliever,” “unbeliever,” or “disbeliever.” The word kafir means “rejector” or “one who covers (the truth)”. A kafir, according to the concepts laid out by the Qur’an, is one who rejects the truth, an anti-submitter. (Recall that the word Muslim means “a submitter”) A kafir rejects the truth knowingly and disbelieves in God, the angels, the messengers, and the hereafter. It has many meanings in the Qur’an and in addition to the ‘disbeliever’, it also refers to someone who defies and/or disobeys God defiantly. In that sense, Satan was the first Kafir, even though he did believe in God!
Referring to the creation of Adam, Satan (known as Iblis in the Qur’an) is labeled as a kafir.
And when We said unto the angels: Prostrate yourselves before Adam; they fell prostrate, all save Iblis. He demurred through pride (arrogance), and so became a disbeliever. 2:34
So, are Jews and Christians labeled as Kafirs?
The Qur’an simply does not refer to Jews and the Christians as Kafirs.
In a verse that I have quoted many times, including my post on interfaith dialogue, the Jews and Christians are referred to as submitters along with the “Muslims”.
Do not argue with the People of the Book except in the best manner— except for those wicked amongst them, and say: “We acknowledge what was revealed to us and in what was revealed to you; Our God and your God is the same. To Him we peacefully submit.” 29:46
The Arabic text used for the last sentence (in bold fonts)is Wa nahna lahu Muslaimoon. If our God is the same and we submit to Him, then we are either all believers or submitters, or if one among this group is Kafir then all of us would be Kafirs since we believe in the same God together!
And by the way, the command to have dialogue in a kind manner is not limited to the dialogue with the People of the Book.
Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner. 16:125
Muslims do not have the monopoly on the paradise
The Qur’an makes it clear that Muslims are not the only group who has “the direct ticket to the heaven”- if such a thing exists. The basic conditions are spelled out, making it clear that no one has the monopoly.
Surely! Those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabians – whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does right – surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve(on the Day of Judgment) 2:62
And they [referring to People of the Book] say: None shall enter the garden [paradise] except he who is a Jew or a Christian. These are their vain desires. Say: Bring your proof if you are truthful. Yes! Whoever submits himself entirely to God and he is the doer of good (to others) he has his reward from his Lord, and there is no fear for him nor shall he grieve [on the Day of Judgment]. 2:111–112
In fact, the Qur’an calls those who were opposing and fighting against David, a “Jewish” prophet, as unbelievers or Kafirs.
And when they went out against Jalut [Goliath] and his forces they (referring to the Jewish army) said: Our Lord, pour down upon us patience, and make our steps firm and assist us against the unbelieving people [Kafirs]. 2:250
After criticizing certain Jews and Christians, the Qur’an reminds us that we cannot paint everyone with a broad brush and in fact refers to them as righteous- a rank much higher than just “believers”.
Not all of them are alike: Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (For the right): They recite the revelations of God all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in God and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right (good), and forbid what is wrong (evil); and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous.” 3:113-114
Does the Qur’an promote hatred towards the Christians?
When I came across the following passages, it changed my entire perspective on the Christians. Instead of promoting hatred that it is accused of, it actually quelled my negative feelings (though I never ‘hated’), and certainly made me more affectionate towards my cousins in faith.
Behold! Allah said: O Jesus! I will take you and raise you to Myself and clear (purify) you (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow you superior to those who reject faith, to the Day of Resurrection: Then shall you all return unto me, and I will judge between you of the matters wherein you dispute. 3:55
Then We made Our messengers to follow in their footsteps, and We sent Jesus, son of Mary afterwards, and We gave him the Gospel and We put in the hearts of those who followed him kindness and mercy. 57:27
As I mentioned earlier, the Qur’an is very critical of Jews and Christians in many places but this is in line with the criticism of the Israelites in Torah and of the Jewish leadership of the temple by Jesus. I would argue that the Old Testament and the New Testament are critical of the same people- except more strongly.
Referring to the Israelites who accompanied Moses in search of the promise land, the Torah is very harsh on the same group of people the Qur’an is:
The Lord told Moses, ‘Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.’ Exodus 32:7
Then the Lord said, ‘I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them.’ Exodus 32:9–10
And Jesus was also very critical of the Jewish leadership and used some unflattering words to address them.
What sorrow awaits you, teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. Then you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.’ But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and finish what your ancestor started. Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell? Matthew 23:29–33
- The Qur’an is certainly critical of (some) Jews and Christians. It would be fair to state that the Bible is even more critical of the same group that the Qur’an is critical of.
- That however should NOT be interpreted as a broad criticism by the Scriptures of Jews and Christians of all times as a group.
- The Qur’an does not label Jews and Christians as infidels or Kafirs.
- In fact there are numerous passages that praise them, with the promise of a Utopic world in the hereafter to the believing, righteous Jews and Christians (same conditions apply to Muslims or any other group).
For more detail on this subject, please refer to chapter 13 of my latest book, The Three Abrahamic Testaments– How the Torah, Gospels, and Qur’an Hold the Keys for Healing Our Fears.