The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






People of the Book

In Islam, People of the Book or ahl al Kitāb, Arabic: اهل الكتاب, are peoples who have, according to the Qur'an, received and possess the divine scriptures. The term "People of the Book" (Am HaSefer) is also used in Judaism, where it refers to the Jewish people.

In Islam, the term applies to monotheistic faiths prior to Islam who received revelation(s) (hence "book") from God. To orthodox Muslims this includes at least all Christians, Jews (under which rubric they would include Karaites and Samaritans), and "Sabians" (a term generally identified with Mandaeans.) Many early scholars (eg Imam Malik) agree in also including Zoroastrians. The legal interpretation was later expanded to accommodate other non-Muslims living under Muslim rule (e.g., Hindus in India), where certain aspects of being a dhimmi were granted (paying jizyah, protected status, freedom of worship, etc.), but others were not (e.g., Muslim males allowed to marry their females).


The Qur'an

There are many statements in the Qur'an that promote tolerance towards People of The Book. For example:

And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God is One, and to Him do we submit.(Qur'an 29:46)

There are also many statements that promote an adversarial relationship. For example:

O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people. (Qur'an 5:51)

Throughout Islamic history, Muslims have used these verses to justify a variety of positions towards non-Muslims. In some places and times, Muslims showed a great deal of tolerance towards non-Muslims; in other places and times non-Muslims were treated as enemies and persecuted. Islamic law demands that Muslims treat Jews and Christians as dhimmis, second-class protected citizens who have a limited number of rights.

Similarities in belief

The various faiths of the People of the Book share several qualities:

Islamic law

Where non-Muslim People of the Book live in an Islamic nation under Sharia law, they become dhimmi. They are given a number of rights, such as the right to freely practice their faith in private, in return for state protection, and exemption from military service. They also have some responsibilities, such as the payment of a special tax called jizyah ("poll tax"). People of the Book living in non-Islamic nations are not considered dhimmi.


  • Yusuf al-Qaradawi has a book entitled "Non-Muslims in Muslim societies" detailing many issues including what a dhimmi is, jizyah, rights, responsibilities, and more.

See also

External links

  • "People of the Book" and Muslims . A positive view of attitudes concerning People of the Book
  • The Books of the People of the Book: Judaic Collection of Library of Congress
  • Islam and the People of the Book . A negative view of attitudes concerning People of the Book

Last updated: 02-19-2005 17:44:46
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01