The takfir of Christians and Jews is a traditional issue that is part of a ‘parallel religion’ of declaring others ‘infidels’ and has nothing to do with Islam, since the Qur’an did not declare them as infidels but continued to address them up and down the Text as: “O People of the Book.” [1]


THEY WERE NOT stripped of the category of ‘the Faith’ and indeed were at times held to be ‘very religious’. We have evidence of this in the Almighty’s saying: 

O People of the Book, do not go to extremes in your religion.

Exaggeration in religion is rigidity in faith. It means an excessive love for God, something which clearly contradicts the concept of ‘disbelief’. It means, from the outset, that declaring the People of the Book ‘infidels’ by linguistic definition, is an unjust, alien slander against the Qur’an itself.

So where did this takfir of the People of the Book flow from? Where did the despising, the hatred and the obligation to kill non-Muslims gush out, to become eventually an established article of faith? It streamed out from the traditionalist’s misunderstanding of a number of verses, the most important of which are:

Surat al-Ma’ida, verse 72:

They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary.

Surat al-Mujadala, verse 22:

Thou wilt not find folk who believe in Allah and the Last Day loving those who oppose Allah and His messenger, even though they be their fathers or their sons or their brethren or their clan. As for such, He hath written faith upon their hearts and hath strengthened them with a Spirit from Him, and He will bring them into Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide. Allah is well pleased with them, and they are well pleased with Him. They are Allah’s party. Lo! is it not Allah’s party who are the successful? 

If the Qur’an had meant all of the People of the Book it would have clearly said so

As regards Surat al-Ma’ida, verse 72 the understanding is very simple. With all of its clarity, eloquence, and precise wording, the Qur’an says: 

They surely disbelieve who say [that is, just ‘those who are saying’] 

If the Qur’an had meant all of the People of the Book it would have clearly said: The People of the Book are surely infidels or The People of the Book, those who said … are surely infidels.

As for verse 22 of Surat al-Mujadala, all the books in the heritage have interpreted the verse as meaning that those addressed as folk who believe in Allah and the Last Day are Muslims. This is not true. The historical context of this verse is well known – it does not talk about Muslims but rather about the People of the Book who lent their support to the polytheistic Persians against the Byzantines (the People of the Book), in the same way that they allied themselves with the ‘infidels of Quraysh’ (the idolaters) against the Messenger and his community (the monotheists).

So what is the evidence that those addressed in the verse are the Jews and not the Muslims?

As is well known, Shaykh al-Tahir bin Ashour’s approach in interpretation is one that is based on knowledge and narration. The first pillar when it comes to narration is the interpretation of the Qur’an by means of the Qur’an itself.

If we return to verse 14 of the same Surat al-Mujadala, we read that the Almighty’s said: 

Hast thou not seen those who take for friends a folk with whom Allah is wroth? They are neither of you nor of them, and they swear a false oath knowingly. 

God Almighty is here telling the Prophet about the Jews of Medina (the People of the Book) with whom he made a covenant, but who then turned against their covenant, and allied themselves with the infidels of Quraysh (the idolaters) – that is the non-monotheists who have nothing in common with the Muslims nor with the People of the Book (They are neither of you nor of them). And when the Messenger asked them: ‘Did you break the covenant and ally with Quraysh?’ They swore that it did not happen. And so they were liars.

So verse 14 gives an explanation for verse 22 that comes after it in the same context. Therefore those who take for friends a folk with whom Allah is wroth in verse 14 – that is, those who allied themselves with Quraysh against the Messenger Muhammad and his community – are the same People of the Book who are loving those who oppose Allah and His messenger in verse 22: that is, the People of the Book who cooperated with the Persians against the Byzantines.

Everything mentioned in the inherited works that refers to the takfir of non-Muslims stands in contradiction to the Qur’an

Shaykh al-Tahir bin Ashour in his work Al-Tahrir wal-Tanwir[2], after completing the linguistic exposition, puts the verse in its historical context:

The polytheists wished for the people of Persia to be victorious over the Byzantines, because the polytheists and the Persians were idolaters. The victory mentioned in the verse: The Romans have been defeated in the nearer land [3] refers to the defeat suffered by the Byzantines in the war that took place between them and the Persians in the year 615 A.D. Ibn Hormuz, the Shah of the Persians, had attacked the Byzantines in the Levant and Palestine, countries under the rule of the Roman Caesar Heraclius. Ibn Hormuz seized Antioch and then Damascus, and the defeat of the Romans took place in the regions of the Levant bordering the Arab countries (the nearer land). The idolaters of Mecca rejoiced at the victory of the Persians, while the Muslims grieved [because the Byzantines were People of the Book like them]. When the Quraysh accordingly displayed aggression against the Muslims God revealed this sura in hatred for them and to give good tidings to the Muslims that God would grant victory to the Byzantines over the Persians: 

The Romans have been defeated in the nearer land, and they, after their defeat will be victorious in a few [lit. less than ten] years. Allah’s is the command in the former case and in the latter, and in that day believers will rejoice.

Now why would the Muslims rejoice at the victory of the People of the Book over the fire-worshipping Persians? Does this joy for their victory override their duty to hate and be hostile to the People of the Book and declare them infidel?

In any case – and this is what concerns us here – verse 22 of Surat al-Mujadala, upon which the ancients based their takfir of Christians and Jews, does not actually mention the Muslims at all. For they are neither ‘loving those’ nor ‘those who oppose Allah and His messenger’. Perhaps this misunderstanding of the identity of those addressed is what distorted the understanding of the verse and led to the takfir of the People of the Book in general, without any distinction being made and for time or place.

One very important detail should be pointed out, and that is that Surat al-Mujadala is, by consensus, a Madinan sura and it is mufassil, that is, part of the Qur’an’s core and as such free from any abrogation. We can confirm this by the fact that none of Followers ever mentioned that ‘this is a subsequently abrogated verse’.

Another verse out of several clearly shows that everything mentioned in the inherited works that refers to the takfir of non-Muslims stands in contradiction to the Qur’an and in spells catastrophe for Islam:

And We have not sent you except as a mercy to the worlds.[4]

That is, as a mercy for all people without exception. It does not make sense for the Messenger to be a Messenger of takfir. The word ‘except’ here is a term that is all-embracing, that is that mercy is for all people and races, the very cause and purpose of the Message.

See also this explanation:

Allah forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers.[5]

That is, with the exception of those who attacked you and declared war on you and drove you from your homes. As for the rest of God’s creation, you are required to honour them and treat them well.

It is a matter of absurdity to believe that a Christian born in Sri Lanka in the year 1970 AD is to be declared infidel because of a crime committed by another Christian in the year 605 AD

The clearest verse, one which refutes all the takfiris is the following:

And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we submit.[6]

And unto Him we submit, meaning we are submissive to him in obedience, in compliance. But with the exception of such of them as do wrong, those who are known to the Prophet, in that the Text says to him: ‘O Muhammad, with the exception of those who do you wrong by breaking the compact, or those who attack your home’. As for the other Jews and Christians, dispute with them in the most courteous terms.

Other highly clear verses are those of Surat al-Baqara 135-137:

And they say: Be Jews or Christians, then ye will be rightly guided. Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Nay, but (we follow) the religion of Abraham, the upright, and he was not of the idolaters. Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered. And if they believe in the like of that which ye believe, then are they rightly guided. But if they turn away, then are they in schism, and Allah will suffice thee (for defence) against them. He is the Hearer, the Knower. 

God will suffice the against them – that is God alone will take care of them. As for you, Muhammad, it is not your affair. 

The essential question is: what was intended here? A specific group, or all of the People of the Book? It is, of course, a specific group that existed in a specific place and time and one which attacked another specific group in a specific way. For it is simply a matter of absurdity, madness and a distortion of religion to believe that a Christian born in Sri Lanka in the year 1970 AD is to be included in this takfir because of a crime committed by another Christian born in the Levant in the year 605 AD.

Naturally, as a first line of response someone will say: ‘Is your understanding superior to those who have traditionally understood it?’ Absolutely yes. We understand it a thousand times better than them, because we possess the tools for understanding that were not available to them in the second century of the Hijra. At that period there was no study of comparative religion, no science of religious anthropology, or of linguistics. What is more, dear friend, the Qur’an is written in classical Arabic, which we can read, write and understand its context and connection to culture, history and geography – far more than they could.

The fact is the meaning is very clear: Those of (or among) the People of the Book) [7] to the exclusion of others. The word min (‘from’ or ‘among’) here clearly indicates ‘those few’. It does not denote the entirety, nor an explanation, nor a substitution (for the entirety), nor a definition, nor a synecdoche (indicating the whole by a part), nor any affirmation of generality.

This is all that min can mean according to all dictionaries of the Arabic language.

[1] ‘The People of the Book’ or ‘The People of the Scripture’ – in Islamic doctrine these are non-Muslims who are adherents to faith which have a revealed scripture. See Glossary: ‘Ahl al-Kitāb’.

[2] Shaykh al-Tahir bin Ashour: تفسير التحرير والتنوير. The work is available online here.

[3] Qur’an XXX (al-Rum), 2-3. The term ‘Romans’ here means the Byzantines, since this is the term by which they were known in the Middle East, as heirs to the Roman empire.

[4] Qur’an XXI  (al-Anbiya’) 107.

[5] Qur’an LX (al-Mumtahina), 8.

[6] Qur’an XXIX (al-‘Ankabut), 46.

[7] Cf. the passages in Qur’an (al-Bayyina), 6: Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings; and Qur’an (al-Hashr), 2: He it is Who hath caused those of the People of the Scripture who disbelieved to go forth from their homes unto the first exile.