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IS IT ONLY JEW AND CHRISTIAN THAT ARE AHL AL-KITAB (PEOPLE OF EARLIER REVELATION)

Some Muslims view only Jews and Christians as Ahl al-Kitab and therefore closer to Muslims than people of other faiths. Who are the Ahl al-Kitab referred to in the Qur’an and Hadith? How are they recognized, and do they include communities other than Jews and Christians?

According to the Qur’an (13:7), God has sent prophets and messengers to all communities of mankind before sending the last of his prophets – Muhammad (p).[1] These prophets were “submitters to the will and guidance of God” (referred to as “Muslims” in the Qur’an (22:78) and in Arabic).[2] Those who follow previous prophets instead of the prophet of the time are referred to as “Ahl al-Kitab” – meaning a “People of Scripture (or Book)” or “People of an Earlier Revelation”. This was the honorary name given to followers of previous prophets in the Qur’an and Sunnah, instead of referring to them as Mushrikun, meaning polytheists or polytheists. In the Qur’an, they are either referred to as Jews (Yehud)[3], Christians (Nasara)[4] or People of an Earlier Scripture  (Ahl al-Kitab)[5].

Because the Qur’an clearly identifies Jews and Christians as Ahl al-Kitab who were followers of Prophet Moses and Jesus respectively (peace be upon them both), the majority of Muslim scholars have identified these 2 communities as being the only groups that are certainly Ahl al-Kitab.[6]

Other scholars, however (such as Abu Hanifa,[7] Imam Shafi’i[8] and Ibn Hazm[9]) understood the term Ahl al-Kitab more literally as any people (ahl) with a scripture (kitab) before Muhammad (p). They regarded any religious group (ahl) that claims to be in possession of a divinely inspired scripture (kitab) and whose prophet existed before the last Prophet, Muhammad as also being among the Ahl al-Kitab. They, therefore, regarded Zoroastrians (Majus),[10] Sabians[11] (Sabi’un) and others as being among them.[12]


[1] Muhammad bin Tahir Ibn Ashur, Al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwir vol.7, p.417; Abul Fidai Ismail bn Umar Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Quran al-Azim, Dar Tayba li al- Nashr wa Tawzi’, Medina, 1999, vol.4. p.434; Abu Muhammad Alhusain bn Masud Al Bagawy, Ma’alim al-Tanzil, Dar Tayba li al- Nashr wa Tawzi’, Medina, vol.4. p.296; Abdrahman bin Nasir al-Sa’dy, Taysir Karim al-Rahman, Mu’assasat al-Risalah, Beirut, 2000, p.414

[2] Muhammad bn Tahir Ibn Ashur, Al-Tahrir wa Tanweer vol. 9, p.402;  Abul Fidai Ismail bn Umar Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Quran al-Azim, Dar Tayba li al- Nashr wa Tawzi’, Medina, 1999, vol.5, p.455; Abu Muhammad Alhusain bn Masud Al Bagawy, Ma’alim al-Tanzil, Dar Tayba li al- Nashr wa Tawzi’, Medina, vol.5, p.402; Abdrahman bn Nasir al-Sa’dy, Taysir Karim al-Rahman, Mu’assasat al-Risalah, Beirut,  2000, p.546

[3] Quran 2:113,120. 5:18, 51, 64, 82. 9:30.

[4] Quran 2:113,120. 9:30

[5] Quran: 2:105,109. 3:64,65,69,71,72,75.

[6] Al-Mawsu’at al-Fiqhiya, Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, Kuwait, vol.7 p.140

[7] Al-Mawsu’at al-Fiqhiya, Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, Kuwait, vol.7 p.140

[8] Muhammad bn Idris al-Shafi’i, al-Umm, vol.4, p. 173 (cited in Fiqh al-Aqaliyat al-Muslima p.29)

[9] Ali bn Ahmad bn Said Ibn Hazm, Al-Muhalla bi al-Aataar, Dar al-Fikr, vol.9, pp.12,17,18, and 144

[10] Al-Mawsu’at al-Fiqhiya, Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, Kuwait, vol.7 p.140

[11] Al-Mawsu’at al-Fiqhiya, Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, Kuwait, vol.7 p.140

[12] Respected scholars such as Sheikh Rashid Rida regarded some among the Hindus and Buddhists as also belonging to the Ahl al-Kitab. Others remain uncertain about the status of these religious communities and therefore regard it as safer to “leave doubt for certainty” and thus consider only Jews and Christians as Ahl al-Kitab since these are explicitly identified as such in the Qur’an and Hadith.  For further reading, see: Muhammad Rashid Rida, Tafsir al-Hakim: Tafsir al-Manar, 9 vol., Beirut, Dar al-Ma’rifah, n.d., 6:187-190, Cited in Muhammad Azizan Sabjan, The People of the Book and The People of a Dubious Book in Islamic Tradition, Penerbit Universiti Sains Malaysia Pulau Pinang, Malaysia, 2010, p.55.    


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