Sunday 8 October 2023

Argue not with the People of the Book except in the fairest manner

The purpose of the Divine religions has always been to put the people, who had otherwise directionless, to a straight path as envisioned for them by their Creator: The One and Only One True God, we call Allah in Islam. However, instead of keeping focused on the Divine framework of unity, there seems to be complete disharmony among the people of the Book. And every effort is made by the priests, pastors and Imams to prove their own view point right while outrightly negating what others have to say.

This disharmony among the people of the Book often leads to heated arguments which further widen the gap rather coming closer to each other. It is in this regard we share a few verses from Surah 29. Al Ankabut (The Spider) which instruct the Muslim scholars and Imams not to get into arguments with the people of the Book except in the fairest manner so as not to vent animosity between different Divine religions. 

However, before we do that, let us understand the difference between a debate and an argument:
A debate is formal, deliberate, executed according to an agreed upon set of rules, and a decision is made at the end of the debate to ascertain WHAT is right, based on rational thinking by well-read scholars. Debates use arguments, but an argument itself is informal, usually unplanned, can get heated, and doesn't always end in a decision. The arguments on the other hand are generally a display of emotional outburst of one's conviction and those involved in an argument tend to press upon their focused stand to press upon WHO is right. Those who get into argumentation about religion generally have a shallow language about theirs as well as others religions and their only intention is to prove their viewpoint right rather than striving WHAT is right, for they are not equipped with requisite knowledge to do that.

Therefore, when it comes to discussion on religions, the stress should be on kindness and tact and, hence, on the use of reason alone with adherents of other creeds, fully in tune with the basic, categorical injunction, "There shall be no coercion in matters of faith."  

وَلَا تُجَادِلُوۡٓا اَهۡلَ الۡكِتٰبِ اِلَّا بِالَّتِىۡ هِىَ اَحۡسَنُ ۖ اِلَّا الَّذِيۡنَ ظَلَمُوۡا مِنۡهُمۡ​ وَقُوۡلُوۡٓا اٰمَنَّا بِالَّذِىۡۤ اُنۡزِلَ اِلَيۡنَا وَاُنۡزِلَ اِلَيۡكُمۡ وَاِلٰهُـنَا وَاِلٰهُكُمۡ وَاحِدٌ وَّنَحۡنُ لَهٗ مُسۡلِمُوۡنَ‏ 
(29:46) Argue not with the People of the Book except in the fairest manner, unless it be those of them that are utterly unjust. Say to them: “We believe in what was revealed to us and what was revealed to you. One is our God and your God; and we are those who submit ourselves to Him.” 
That is, "The discussion should be conducted rationally, in a civilized and decent language, so that the ideas of the other person may be reformed. The preacher's chief aim should be to appeal to the addressee's heart, convey the truth to him and bring him to the right path. He should not fight like a wrestler whose only object is to defeat his opponent. He should rather conduct himself like a physician who is ever cautious not to cause the patient's ailment to worsen by any of his own mistakes, and tries to cure him with the least possible trouble. This instruction bas been given here especially in connection with the conduct of a discussion with the people of the Book, but is a general instruction pertaining to the preaching of the religion and it has been given at several places in the Qur'an. For example, "O Prophet, invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and excellent admonition and discuss things with the people in the best manner." (AnNahl: 125). "O Prophet, goodness and evil are not alike. Repel evil with what is best. You will see that he. with whom you had enmity, has become your closest friend. ' (Ha Mim As-Sajdah: 34). "O Prophet, repel evil with what is best: We are fully aware of what they utter against you." (Al-Mu'minun: 96) "O Prophet, adopt the way of leniency and forbearance; enjoin what is good and avoid useless discussions with the ignorant people. If Satan ever excites you to anger, seek refuge in Allah."  

(unless it be those of them that are utterly unjust) That is, "With those who adopt an attitude of wickedness a different attitude may also be adopted according to the nature and extent of their wickedness. In other words, one cannot, and should not adopt a soft and gentle attitude towards all sorts of people under all circumstances at all time, which might be mistaken for the weakness and meekness of the inviter to the Truth. Islam does teach its followers to be polite, gentle and reasonable, but it does not teach them to be unduly humble and meek so that they are not taken for granted by every cruel and wicked person."

(Say to them: “We believe in what was revealed to us and what was revealed to you. One is our God and your God; and we are those who submit) In these sentences Allah Himself has provided guidance to the best method of discussion, which the inviters to the Truth should adopt. The method is this: "Do not make the error or deviation of the other person the basis and starting point of the discussion, but begin the discussion with those points of truth and justice which are common between you and your opponent. That is, the discussion should start' from the points of agreement and not from the points of difference. Then, arguing froth the agreed points, the addressee should be made to understand that, in the matter of the things in which you differ, your stand is in conformity with the agreed points whereas his stand is contradictory to them

In this connection, one should bear in mind the fact that the people of the Book did not deny Revelation, Prophethood and Tauhid, like the polytheists of Arabia, but believed in these realities just like the Muslims. After agreement on these basic things, the main thing that could become the basis of difference Between them could be that the Muslim would not believe in the Divine Scriptures sent down to them and would invite them to believe in the Divine Book sent down to themselves, and would declare them disbelievers if they did not believe in it. This would have been a strong basis of their conflict. But the Muslims had a different stand. They believed as true all those Books that were with the people of the Book, and then also had believed in the Revelation that had been sent down to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him). After this it was for the people of the Book to tell the rational ground for which they believed in one Book sent by Allah and rejected the other. That is why Allah here has instructed the Muslims that whenever they have to deal with the people of the Book, they should first of all present before them this very point of view in a positive manner. Say to them: "We believe in the same God in Whom you believe and we are obedient to Him. We have submitted ourselves to all those Commands and injunctions and teachings that have come from Him, whether they were sent down to you, or to us. We are obedient servants of God and not of a country or a community or a race, that we should submit to God's Command when it is sent down in one place and reject it when it is sent down in another place. This thing has been repeated at several places in the Qur'an and particularly in relation to the people of the Book, it has been presented forcefully. For this,see AI-Baqarah: 4, 136, 177, 285; Al-i-`Imran: 84; An-Nisa': 136, 150 to 152, 162 to 164; Ash Shu'araa: 13.  

Ibn e Kathir explains:
That while Arguing with the People of the Book and wanting to know about religion from them should argue with them in a manner that is better, as this will be more effective. 

For Allah says: (Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair preaching...) (16:125) And Allah said to Musa and Harun when he sent them to Pharoah: (And speak to him mildly, perhaps he may accept admonition or fear.) (20:44) 

(and say (to them): "We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you;) means, `if they tell you something which you do not know to be true or false, say to them: We do not hasten to say it is a lie, because it may be true, and we do not hasten to say it is true because it may be false. We believe in it in general, under the condition that it has been revealed and has not been altered or deliberately misinterpreted.' 

Imam Al-Bukhari, may Allah have mercy on him, recorded that Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, said, "The People of the Book used to read the Tawrah in Hebrew and explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. The Messenger of Allah said: (Do not believe the People of the Book and do not deny them. Say: "We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to you. Our God and your God is One, and to Him we have submitted.'')'' This Hadith was narrated only by Al-Bukhari. Al-Bukhari recorded that Ibn `Abbas said: "How can you ask the People of the Book about anything, when your Book that was revealed to the Messenger of Allah is more recent, you read it pure and uncontaminated, it tells you that the People of the Book altered and changed the Book, that they write the Book with their own hands and then say, `This is from Allah,' to purchace with it a small price Should not the knowledge that you have, prevent you from asking them No, by Allah, we have never seen any of them asking you about what was sent down to you.'' Al-Bukhari recorded that Humayd bin `Abdur-Rahman heard Mu`awiyah talking to a group of Quraysh in Al-Madinah. He mentioned Ka`b Al-Ahbar, and said: "He was one of the most truthful of those who narrated from the People of the Book, even though we found that some of what he said might be lies.'' I say, this means that some of what he said could be classified linguistically as lies, but he did not intend to lie, because he was narrating from manuscripts which he thought were good, but they contained fabricated material, because they did not have people who were so conscientious in memorizing the Scriptures by heart as the people of this great Ummah.

Yusuf Ali is of the opinion that mere disputations are futile. In order to achieve our purpose as true standard-bearers for Allah, we shall have to find true common grounds of belief, as stated in the latter part of this verse, and also to show by our urbanity, kindness, sincerity, truth, and genuine anxiety, for the good of others, that we are not cranks or merely seeking selfish or questionable aims. However, those who are deliberately trying to wrong or injure others will have to be treated firmly, as we are guardians of each other. With them there is little question of finding common ground or exercising patience, until the injury is prevented or stopped.

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
This is explained ahead: the first common things should be presented to them. After that, their attention should be directed to the consequences and implications of the common things that can become a cause of dispute. These should be presented in decent and polite language, with cogent arguments and with the spirit of earnestly making them understand a point. Instead of a dominating style, wisdom and sagacity should be held on to. This is because this style does not hurt the ego of a person and if the addressee is an upright person, he is even prepared to reflect on what is presented.

If the people of the Book are mischievous, indulge in baseless rhetoric and engage in debates meant to humiliate others, then in other instances in the Qur’ān, it is directed that instead of engaging with such people, one should ignore them. It is not proper for the preacher of the truth to respond to an allegation by a counter allegation or answer an insult by a bigger insult. The right attitude in such a case is to say salām and go one’s way.

(Tell them: We believe in what is revealed to us and that also which had been revealed to you.) The implication is that they are not inflicted with any bias or prejudice. They accept the truth because it is the truth and attest to it wherever they find it. Their book and the book of their addresses do not primarily differ from one another. Both have the same source and origin and both call to the same religion. Hence if their addressees also reflect while disregarding prejudices, they too will say like them that they believe in what is revealed to them and also in what is revealed to their addressees.

(Our God and your God is the same and we are obedient to Him alone.)  Ie., since God is one, they are not asking their addressees to profess faith in some other god; rather they are only asking them to believe in Him and like them solely obey Him by devoting themselves to Him and submitting to Him and leave aside 

Having advised the believers how to deal with the people of the Book, the next verse tells that those who do not believe in Qur'an are utter unbelievers:

وَكَذٰلِكَ اَنۡزَلۡنَاۤ اِلَيۡكَ الۡكِتٰبَ​ؕ فَالَّذِيۡنَ اٰتَيۡنٰهُمُ الۡكِتٰبَ يُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ بِهٖ​ۚ وَمِنۡ هٰٓؤُلَاۤءِ مَنۡ يُّؤۡمِنُ بِهٖ ​ؕ وَ مَا يَجۡحَدُ بِاٰيٰتِنَاۤ اِلَّا الۡكٰفِرُوۡنَ‏ 
(29:47) (O Prophet), thus have We bestowed the Book on you.84 So those on whom We had bestowed the Book before believe in it, and of these (Arabs) too a good many believe in it. It is none but the utter unbelievers who deny Our Signs.

((O Prophet), thus have We bestowed the Book on you) This can have two meanings:
  • (1) "Just as We had sent down the Books to the former Prophets, so We have sent down this Book to you"; and
  • (2) "We have sent down this Book with the teaching that it should be believed in not by rejecting Our former Books but by affirming faith in all of them. " 
(So those on whom We had bestowed the Book before believe in it) The context itself shows that this does not imply all the people of the Book but only those who were blessed with the right understanding and the knowledge of the Divine Scriptures, and were "the people of the Book ' in the we sense. When this last Book of Allah came before them, confirming His earlier Books, they did not show any stubbornness or obstinacy but accepted it sincerely as they had accepted the previous Books. 

(and of these (Arabs) too a good many believe in it) "These people": the people of Arabia. What it means to say is: The truth-loving people, whether they already possess a Divine Book or do not possess any, are affirming faith in it everywhere. 

(It is none but the utter unbelievers who deny Our Signs.) Here, "the disbelievers" imply those people who are not prepared to give up their prejudices and accept the truth, or those who reject the truth because they do not want their lusts and their unbridled freedom to be subjected to restrictions. 

So, my brothers and sisters in Islam, while Da'wah (calling others to Islam) is the duty of every Muslim, care must be taken that Da'wah be organized with Muslims who have extensive study of other Divine Books as well as Qur'an and Sunnah. If this is done, one may never get into arguments with anyone and will lead a healthy discussion about inter faith harmony and removal of doubts. But even if the opposing sides ridicule Allah, Islam, Qur'an and the very personality of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, one should deal the situation firmly so that the opposing side should not prevail upon the Da'wah team for being otherwise courteous and friendly.  It is better to disengage from such people who instead of a healthy discussion, ridicule and make mockery of Islam, the same way Pagan of Makkah did. To such people, one should simply recite the Surah 109. Al-Kafirun to part ways happy clinging to own faith and mindset.

You may read this post in conjunction with our earlier post: Da'wah: Calling others to Islam - the sacred duty of every Muslim
May Allāh (سبحانه و تعالى‎) help us understand Qur'ān and follow the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, which is embodiment of commandments of Allah contained in the Qur'ān. May Allah help us to be like the ones He loves and let our lives be lived helping others and not making others' lives miserable or unlivable. May all our wrong doings, whether intentional or unintentional, be forgiven before the angel of death knocks on our door. 
وَمَا عَلَيۡنَاۤ اِلَّا الۡبَلٰغُ الۡمُبِيۡنُ‏ 
(36:17) and our duty is no more than to clearly convey the Message.”
That is Our duty is only to convey to you the message that Allah has entrusted us with. Then it is for you to accept it or reject it. We have not been made responsible for making you accept it forcibly, and if you do not accept it, we shall not be seized in consequence of your disbelief, you will yourselves be answerable for your actions on Day of Resurrection.

Reading the Qur'ān should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully. It will also help the Muslims to have grasp over social issues and their answers discussed in the Qur'an and other matter related to inter faith so that they are able to discuss issues with non-Muslims with authority based on refences from Qur'an.

May Allah forgive me if my posts ever imply a piety far greater than I possess. I am most in need of guidance.

Note: When we mention God in our posts, we mean One True God, we call Allah in Islam, with no associates. Allah is the Sole Creator of all things, and that Allah is all-powerful and all-knowing. Allah has no offspring, no race, no gender, no body, and is unaffected by the characteristics of human life.

You may read more posts on similar theme in our series of posts related to: Al Qur'an guides and helps those who sincerely seek Divine Guidance and Help.

For more Selected Verses, please refer to our reference page: Selected Verses from the Qur'anYou may also refer to our Reference Pages  and Understanding Al Qur'an for knowing more about Islam and Qur'ān.
Photo | Tafsir References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Qur'ān from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that the exegesis of the chapters of the Quran is mainly based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi.  
In order to augment and add more explanation as already provided, additional input has been interjected from the following sources: 
  • Tafsir Ibn Khatir
  • Muhammad Asad Translation
  • Yusuf Ali Translation
  • Translation Javed Ahmad Ghamidi / Al Mawrid
  • Qur'an Wiki
  • Verse by Verse Qur'an Study Circle
  • Towards Understanding the Quran
In addition, references of other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites.

Disclaimer: The material for this post has been collected from the references given above. If anyone differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

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