The Position of the ‘ahl al-kitab’ in the Qur’an: Case study of the Christians

Dr. Mamadou Bocoum

Christians and Jews are referred to as Ahl al-Kitab, People of the Book, and have been defined in the Qur’an as those to whom divine revelations have been given prior to the advent of Islam. The Qur’an, by referring to them as Ahl al-Kitab, indicates that they possess divine scriptures just as Muslims do.The term Ahl al-Kitab has 32 occurrences in the Qur’an. Mary, Jesus’ mother, is distinguished in the Qur’an as being the only woman after whom a chapter is named and the only woman’s name mentioned in the Qur’an. Her name has 34 appearances in the Qur’an. Jesus alone is mentioned in the Qur’an more than 30 times. The word Injil, the Qur’anic term corresponding to the Gospel, is mentioned 12 times in the Qur’an.

However, some Muslims, mainly those with literalistic reading of the Qur’an, argue that Muslims should have nothing to do with the Ahl al-Kitab. The latter, they argue, should convert to Islam because their religions have been abrogated by Islam. For Muslim subscribers to this school of thought the matter is quite clear. Not only is Islam the very last religion revealed by Allah but Christians and Jews have a religious obligation to convert to Islam.

However, this paper examines only the position of Christians in the Qur’an. Firstly, it illustrates how Christians are viewed by Muslims; a view that is moulded by a very literalistic reading of some Qur’anic verses, mainly the following: “The only true religion with God is Islam” (Q.3:19); “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the hereafter he will be one of the losers” (Q.3:85); and “This day, I have perfected your religion for you, and completed my favour upon you, and chosen for you Islam as your religion” (Q.5:3). Secondly, after having studied the above mentioned verses and some Prophetic Traditions, I argue against the claim that Christianity is abrogated by Islam and that Christians must convert to the Islamic faith. Instead the paper concludes that, as Ahl al-Kitab , ‘People of the Book’, Christians in fact share the same concept of monotheism as Muslims.