The term “Ahl al-Kitab” is used in the Qur’an and the Sunnah to refer to followers of revelations from God that came before the Qur’an.
The significance of Ahl al Kitab is manifest in the repetition of this term in many verses of the Qur’an and hadith. They occupy a special position in Islam as the Qur’an and the Sunnah has acknowledged and honoured them as the recipients of Allah’s revelation, and also of His favour and special considerations.
The status of Ahl al-Kitab is also distinguished from that of the idolaters (Mushrikun).
There is no compulsion is religion. Islam respects the right of others to their faith. Regarding the Alh al-Kitab, Islam also respects their places of worship. Islam also permits the consumption of their slaughtered animals and the marriage to their women.
The Qur’an being the last revealed Scripture encompasses in its teachings, all the articles of faith and practices in the earlier revelations of God to mankind that are essential and indispensable for the guidance and salvation of mankind to the Last Day.
The belief in earlier revelation is an article of faith (Iman) for all Muslims. The teachings of the Qur’an abrogate all previous Scriptures, but this abrogation does not discard the belief in their divine character or origin, in spite of the fact that Muslims believe they have misinterpreted some of and distorted other parts of their scriptures.
These scriptures are traditionally associated with the Tawrat (Torah), the Zabur (Psalms), and the injil (the Gospel).
Some Muslims argue that Ahl-al-Kitab (The people of the Book)are no longer in existence.
They say the present day Christians and Jews are not the sam e as those described in the Qur’an as Ahl-al-Kitab because among other reasons, they have corrupted the teachings of their scriptures.
The Qur’an speaks of the Christians at the time of the Prophet (r) as having believed in the Trinity (Qur’an 4:171, 5:73) the sonship of Jesus (Qur’an 9:30), the crucifixion of Jesus (Qur’an 4:157) and the belief that he (and his mother) were divine or to be worshipped (Qur’an 5:116), etc.
Some Jews believed that Uzair was a son of God (Qur’an 9:30). The Qur’an also makes it clear that their scriptures were corrupted (Qur’an 2:79).
In spite of all these un-Islamic articles of faith, the Qur’an and the Prophet (r) still considered these Christians and Jews as Ahl-al-Kitab (People of earlier revelations) and permitted conditional intermarriage, etc. (Qur’an 22:17; 5:5).
To believe that there are no more “Ahl-al-Kitab” existing today would indirectly imply an abrogation or even irrelevance for all practical purposes of all references in the Qur’an or Hadith to Ahl-al-Kitab (Qur’an 3:64; 5:82; 22:17 etc.).
Among the Hadith on the signs of the Last Day are some that indicate the continued presence of Jews and Christians.