Jews in Islam

The Quranic definition of Muslim, Jew, Christian, People of the Book, Believer and Kafir

According to Qur'an, can you please let me know the exact definition of the following people ? 1. Muslim 2. Jew 3. Christian 4. People of the book 5. Believers 6. Kaafir.

Muslim: Muslim has two meanings in the Quran. The first one is what we understand by the word “Muslim”, someone who follows Prophet Muhammad PBUH and believes in the Quran. The second meaning refers to anyone who follows any of God’s true prophets. For example, Prophet Ibrahim is also described as a “Muslim”.

Jew: The Quran uses two different terms for Jews. The first one is Banū Isrāʾīl (“Children of Israel”), which refers to genetic Jews, meaning Jews descended from other Jews–whether they are religious or not, whether they follow Judaism or another religion. The second term is yahūd, which refers to Jews who identify with Jewish culture and religion. So a Jew who converts to Islam is still a member of the Children of Israel, but they are no longer a member of yahūd. In English the word “Jew” mixes up both meanings, but the Quran uses this superior terminology which helps make a distinction between the Jewish race (Children of Israel) and the Jewish culture-religion (Judaism, yahūd).

Christian: A Christian is a person who believes Jesus to be the Messiah and who follows the Gospels.

People of the Book: People who follow one of God’s true pre-Islamic revelations (whether the revelation has been corrupted or not). These include Jews, Samaritans, Christians and Sabians (followers of Mandaeism).

Believers: Anyone who believes in the true God regardless of their religion.

Kafir: A person who believes in God deep in their heart, knows His revelation is true, yet rejects it out of arrogance, greed or some other base desire. The exemplary kafir is Satan, who believes in God, has stood in God’s presence, yet rebels against God. For more on this please see this previous answer.

The meaning of not taking Christians and Jews as allies in the Quran

Salam, you articulate your explanations very nicely MashAllah. My question is in Surah Ma'idah how can Verse 52 apply to modern day Muslims? A lot of the time I read a verse and get apprehensive about how it relates to me, then I read the tasfir and it makes sense in its context. But then I struggle to apply it to my own life.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Usually when the meaning of a verse of the Quran is unclear, another part of the Quran clarifies it. That verse should be understood in the context of other relevant verses. These verses are concerned with diplomatic relations between Muslim groups and Christian and Jewish groups. The passage says:

51. O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies; some of them are allies of one another. Whoever of you allies himself with them is one of them. God does not guide the wrongdoing people.

52. You will see those in whose hearts is sickness racing towards them. They say, “We fear the wheel of fate may turn against us.” But perhaps God will bring about victory, or some event of His making; thereupon they will regret what they concealed within themselves. (The Quran, verses 5:51-52)

The chapter goes on to say:

O you who believe! Do not take as allies those who take your religion in mockery and as a sport, be they from among those who were given the Scripture before you, or the disbelievers. And obey God, if you are believers. (The Quran, verse 5:57)

In another chapter, it says:

138. Inform the hypocrites that they will have a painful punishment.

139. Those who ally themselves with the disbelievers instead of the believers. Do they seek glory in them? All glory belongs to God. (The Quran, verses 4:138-139)

In another chapter, the Quran says:

8. As for those who have not fought against you for your religion, nor expelled you from your homes, God does not prohibit you from dealing with them kindly and equitably. God loves the equitable.

9. But God prohibits you from taking as allies those who fought against you over your religion, and expelled you from your homes, and aided in your expulsion. Whoever takes them for friends—these are the wrongdoers. (The Quran, verses 60:8-9)

In these verses, what is translated as “taking as allies” are verbs from the W-L-Y root that refer to the concept of wilāya. This means to enter into a relationship where you are dependent on a person for your safety and protection. The verse you mentioned is referring to some of the hypocrites and other misguided Muslims who tried to enter into such a relationship with the Jews of Medina. They thought that in this way they would be safe in case the pagans of Mecca attacked the Muslims. The Quran is forbidding Muslims from putting their lives in the hands of Jews and Christians out of fear and in the seeking of safety, because such relationships always have strings attached. It is an unequal relationship that causes the Muslims to submissively accept the demands of the Jews and Christians. It also means putting one’s trust in people who may have agendas of their own and may betray the Muslims at some point, as the many examples of history show us.

Verse 60:8 tells us that we are not forbidden from dealing with non-Muslims justly and kindly. We can have equal relationships with them, what we cannot have are unequal relationships that make us submit to them spiritually and materially.

When it comes to individual Muslims, these concerns are usually not relevant since befriending a Christian or Jew does not automatically place you in a relationship of wilāya with them. An example of a Muslim who enters into a relationship of wilāya with Jews and Christians is a Muslim politician who builds his or her entire career around pleasing Jewish and Christian allies, relies on them for success, and does his or her best to live up to their expectations. We see such examples among British Muslim Members of Parliament. In their desire to fit in and to gain Christian and Jewish support they largely abandon their Muslim identity. That is what these verses forbid us from doing.

As for a Muslim politician who keeps friendly relations with Jews and Christians but does not submit to them or rely on them for success and protection, then such a Muslim is not doing anything wrong in this regard.

In summary, Muslims can befriend non-Muslims if the friendship is on equal, non-submissive terms. But they are forbidden from selling their Muslim identities to enter into relationships of spiritual and material submission with non-Muslims out of the desire for protection and gain.

Does being a Muslim make us better humans than non-Muslims?

Does being a Muslim make us better humans than disbelievers?

First, note that the word “disbeliever” as it is used in Quran translations does not refer to all non-Muslims as explained here. It only refers to someone who believes in God but knowingly disobeys Him and denies His blessings and scriptures.

The attributes that make some humans better than others are mercy, compassion, submission to God and fear of Him, generosity and other attributes that God teaches us to try to have. Any human who has more of these attributes is superior to those who have less of them.

It is quite possible for a non-Muslim to be more kind than a particular Muslim. In that case they are superior to the Muslim when it comes to kindness, but they may be inferior when it comes to submission to God (maybe they believe in God but knowingly reject following Him).

Some people believe that merely entering the fold of Islam automatically makes one a superior species of human compared to everyone else. But the Quran seems to reject that view. The Quran says:

13. O people! We created you from a male and a female, and made you races and tribes, that you may know one another. The best among you in the sight of God is the most righteous. God is All-Knowing, Well-Experienced.

14. The Desert-Arabs say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not believed; but say, ‘We have submitted,’ [i.e. we have entered Islam] for faith has not yet entered into your hearts. But if you obey God and His Messenger, He will not diminish any of your deeds. God is Forgiving and Merciful.”

15. The believers are those who believe in God and His Messenger, and then have not doubted, and strive for God’s cause with their wealth and their persons. These are the sincere.

16. Say, “Are you going to teach God about your religion, when God knows everything in the heavens and the earth, and God is aware of all things?”

17. They regarded it a favor to you that they have submitted. Say, “Do not consider your submission a favor to me; it is God who has done you a favor by guiding you to the faith, if you are sincere.” (The Quran, verses 49:14-17)

These verses criticize the Bedouins for claiming to have faith when they do not. They accepted Islam but they have only done so out of political and material considerations–they have not become believers yet. ﻹhe verses imply that their being merely “Muslim” has little value if they do not believe and strive in the way of God.

That teaches us that being Muslim is not automatically a ticket to being superior to others. A Christian who better embodies the attributes of submission, piety, fear of God and kindness seems to me a superior human in the Quranic view compared to a cruel and evil-doing Muslim. The Quran says:

146. Those to whom We have given the Book [Jews, Christians and followers of other Abrahamic religions] recognize it as they recognize their own children. But some of them conceal the truth while they know.

147. The truth is from your Lord, so do not be a skeptic.

148. To every community is a direction towards which it turns. Therefore, race towards goodness. Wherever you may be, God will bring you all together. God is capable of everything. (The Quran, verses 2:146-148)

Verse 148 above says “race towards goodness”. The call may be directed towards Muslims, telling them to race with one another in goodness, or it could be a call to Muslims, Jews and Christians to race each other. This second interpretation follows more logically from the context, since in 148 it says “Therefore, race towards goodness” right after it means “every community” (meaning Muslims, Jews, Christians, etc.). Now, if there is to be a race towards goodness between Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others, that means it is possible that some Jews and Christians may win the race and some Muslims may lose the race. If Muslims were supposed to always win just by the virtue of being Muslim, then there would be no point in a race. The race would be won by default every time before it even begins.

So the concept that Muslims, Jews and Christians can race one another in goodness suggests that it is goodness that matters, not the mere fact of being Muslim.

Of course, merely being Muslim comes with its own virtues, but it is only one attribute among other equally important attributes.

In summary, being Muslim does not necessarily make every Muslim automatically superior to every non-Muslim.