People of the Book

People of the Book (Arabic: أهل الكتاب‎, ahl al-kitāb) or People of the Scripture is an Islamic term which refers to Jews, Christians, and Sabians.[1][2] It is also used in Judaism to refer to the Jewish people and by members of some Christian denominations to refer to themselves.

The Quran uses the term in reference to Jews, Christians and Sabians in a variety of contexts, from religious polemics to passages emphasizing the community of faith among those who possess monotheistic scriptures. The term was later extended to other religious communities that fell under Muslim rule, including Sikhs and even Hindus. Historically, these communities were subject to the dhimma contract in an Islamic state. The Quran speaks respectfully about the People of the Book and permits marriage between Muslim men and who are People of the Book (Jews and Christians women); in the case of a Muslim-Christian marriage, which is to be contracted only after permission from the Christian party, the Christian women should not be prevented from attending church for prayer and worship, according to the Ashtiname of Muhammad.[3][4]

In Judaism the term "People of the Book" (Hebrew: עם הספר, Am HaSefer)[5] has come to refer to both the Jewish people and the Torah.[6]

Members of some Christian denominations, such as the Baptists, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventist Church,[7][8] as well as Puritans and Shakers, have embraced the term "People of the Book" in reference to themselves.[9][10]


Quran and early Islamic usageEdit

The Ashtiname of Muhammad, a treaty between Muslims and Christians, was recorded between Muhammad and Saint Catherine's Monastery, which is depicted in this icon.

In the Quran the term ahl al-kitāb, "people of the book" refers to Jews, Christians, and Sabians.[11] The scriptures referred to in the Quran are the Torah (at-tawraat), the Psalms (az-zabur) and the Gospel (al-injiil).[11]

The Quran emphasizes the community of faith between possessors of monotheistic scriptures, and occasionally pays tribute to the religious and moral virtues of communities that have received earlier revelations, calling on Muhammad to ask them for information.[11] More often, reflecting the refusal of Jews and Christians in Muhammad's environment to accept his message, the Quran stresses their inability to comprehend the message they possess but do not put into practice and to appreciate that Muhammad's teaching fulfills that message.[11] The People of the Book are also referenced in the jizya verse (Q9:29),[11] which has received varied interpretations.

The Quran permits marriage between Muslim men and women who are People of the Book (Jews and Christians).[3] The Ashtiname of Muhammad, a treaty between Muslims and Christians made between Muhammad and the Saint Catherine's Monastery, stated that if a Muslim man wished to marry a Christian woman, marriage could only occur with her consent and she must be permitted to continue attending church to pray and worship.[4] The Ashtiname states that Christians cannot be forced to fight in wars and that Muslims should fight on their behalf; it also states that Christian churches are to be respected and forbids stealing from them.[4] The Ashtiname forbids Muslims to remove Christians from their jobs, including those who serve as judges or monks.[4] Muslims are bound until the Last Judgment to adhere to the treaty or "he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet."[4]

The policy of the Ottoman Sultans abided by the Ashtiname.[4]

Later Islamic usageEdit

The use of the term was later extended to Zoroastrians, Samaritans, Mandeans, and adherents of monotheistic Indian religions, such as Sikhs.[2][11]

Islamic scholars differ on whether Hindus are People of the Book.[12] The Islamic conquest of India necessitated the definition be revised, as most India's inhabitants were followers of the Indian religions. Many of the Muslim clergy of India considered Hindus as people of the book,[12] and from Muhammad bin Qasim to Aurangzeb, Muslim rulers were willing to consider Hindus as People of the Book.[13] Many Muslims did not treat Hindus as pagans or idol-worshipers. However, Sikhs have often been considered to be people of the book due to their religion being monotheistic [12]


Dhimmi is a historical[14] term referring to the status accorded to People of the Book living in an Islamic state.[14] The word literally means "protected person."[15] According to scholars, dhimmis had their rights fully protected in their communities, but as citizens in the Islamic state, had certain restrictions,[16] and it was obligatory for them to pay the jizya tax, which complemented the zakat, or alms, paid by the Muslim subjects.[17] Dhimmis were excluded from specific duties assigned to Muslims, and did not enjoy certain political rights reserved for Muslims, but were otherwise equal under the laws of property, contract, and obligation.[18][19][20]

Under sharia, the dhimmi communities were usually subjected to their own special laws, rather than some of the laws which were applicable only to the Muslim community. For example, the Jewish community in Medina was allowed to have its own Halakhic courts,[21] and the Ottoman millet system allowed its various dhimmi communities to rule themselves under separate legal courts. These courts did not cover cases that involved religious groups outside of their own community, or capital offences. Dhimmi communities were also allowed to engage in certain practices that were usually forbidden for the Muslim community, such as the consumption of alcohol and pork.[22][23][24]

Historically, dhimmi status was originally applied to Jews, Christians, and Sabians. This status later also came to be applied to Zoroastrians, Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.[25][26][27] Moderate Muslims generally reject the dhimma system as inappropriate for the age of nation-states and democracies.[28]


Thirty-one times in the Quran Jews are referred to as "people of the book."[29] However before the rise of Islam, during Biblical times, Levitical scribes redacted and canonized the book of books.[30] In the transition from what has been called "text to tradition,"[clarification needed] Efforts are made to try to reconstruct the archival repositories for these ancient textual collections in addition to sifrei Yichusin (genealogical texts).[31] The Babylonian Talmud Baba Batra 14b-14b describes the order of biblical books. Indeed Rashi himself comments on the mishnaic statement, "Moses received the Torah from Sinai" by noting since the text does not say "ha-torah" (the written torah) but Torah (in general) this refers to both the written torah (24 books of the Old Testament) and the oral torah, which in Rabbinic theology are co-terminous,[32] as suggested by Soloveitchik who notes a recent trend in the Artscroll generation to eclipse oral transmission with written translations. Scholars of antiquity and the early middle ages do know about the canonization process of the Tanakh[33] (the Hebrew Bible) and the redaction processes of the Talmudim and Midrashim.[34] Thus the interplay between written text and orality is essential in trying to reconstruct the textual collections of Jewish texts in the middle ages[35] and modernity.[36]

Rabbinic tradition has demonstrated a reverence, respect, and love for sacred divinely revealed "text," both written and oral in the process of the chain of transmission (the masorah). Indeed the metaphor of the book is marshaled in Talmudic Tractate Rosh Hashanah, that on Rosh Hashanah the fate of each person for the year is written, on Yom Kippur sealed, and on Hoshanah Rabbah the angels of the heavenly court deliver the verdict to God's archive.

The Hai Gaon in 998 in Pumbeditah comments, "Three possessions should you prize- a field, a friend, and a book." However the Hai Gaon mentions that a book is more reliable than even friends for sacred books span across time, indeed can express external ideas, that transcend time itself.

The Spanish philosopher, physician, and poet Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi writes of the importance of books by commenting, "My pen is my harp and my lyre, my library is my garden and orchard."[37]

The Provencal scholar Rabbi Yehudah ibn Tibbon (Adler recension) further elaborates on the importance of his library by commenting, "Make books your companions; let your bookshelves be your gardens: bask in their beauty, gather their fruit, pluck their roses, take their spices and myrrh. And when your soul be weary, go from one garden to the other, and from one prospect to the other."[38]

The Spanish statesman Rabbi Shmuel ha-Nagid writes, "the wise of heart will abandon ease and pleasures for in his library he will find treasures."[39] Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud writes in his sefer ha-qabbala about rabbi Shmuel ha-Nagid that he had sofrim who copied Mishnah and Talmudim, and he used to donated these commissioned core texts to students who could not afford to purchase them."[40]

Rabbi Yitzchak ben Yosef of Corbeil (ca 1280, France) in his Sefer Mitzvot Qatan composed in 1276 outlines a detailed strategy for the dissemination of his texts by asserting that every community should finance a copy of his halkhic code and keep it for public consultation.[41]

Rabbi Shimon ben Zemach Duran (Tashbaz) in his introduction to his halakhic code, Zohar HaRakiah, writes, "When the wise man lies down with his fathers he leaves behind him a treasured and organized blessing: books that enlighten like the brilliance of the firmament (Daniel 12:3) and that extend peace like an eternal flowing river (ISa 66:12)."[42]

The love and reverence for Jewish books is seen in Jewish law. It is not permissible for a sacred Jewish text to lie on the ground and if by accident a book is dropped to the floor it should be picked up and given a kiss. A Jewish book is not to be left open unless it is being read, nor is it to be held upside down.[43] It is not permitted to place a book of lesser sanctity on top of a book of higher holiness, so for example one must never place any book on top of the Tanakh. If one says to someone, "Please hand me this book," the book should be given with the right hand and not with the left hand."[44] If two men are walking and one who is carrying a sacred books should be given the courtesy of entering and leaving the room first, as the second is enjoined to pursue knowledge."[45] Rabbi David ibn Zimra of the 16th century comments that "if one buys a new book he should recite the benediction of the She-Heheyanu."[46]

Christian usageEdit

In the early Christian experience the New Testament was added to the whole Old Testament, which after Jerome's translation tended more and more to be bound up as a single volume, and was accepted as a unified locus of authority: "the Book", as some contemporary authors refer to it.[10] Many Christian missionaries in Africa, Asia and in the New World, developed writing systems for indigenous people and then provided them with a written translation of the Bible.[47][48] As a result of this work, "People of the Book" became the usual vernacular locution to refer to Christians among many African, Asian, and Native American people of both hemispheres.[48] The work of organizations such as the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the United Bible Societies has resulted in Bibles being available in 2,100 languages. This fact has further promoted an identification with the phrase among Christians themselves.[10] Christian converts among evangelized cultures, in particular, have the strongest identification with the term "People of the Book". This arises because the first written text produced in their native language, as with the English-speaking peoples, has often been the Bible.[48] Many denominations, such as Baptists and the Methodist Church, which are notable for their mission work,[49] have therefore embraced the term "People of the Book".[9][10]

The Catholic church teaches that the Bible is "one book" in a dual sense: the Old and New Testaments are the word of God,[50] and Jesus Christ is the word of God incarnate.[51] Hence the church teaches that Christianity "is not a 'religion of the book.'...[but] the religion of the 'Word' of God," and that this Word is Christ himself.[52]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Quran - 22:17
  2. ^ a b John L. Esposito, ed. (2014). "Ahl al-Kitab". The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780195125580.001.0001. ISBN 9780195125580.
  3. ^ a b Ahmed, Akbar S. (11 January 2013). Postmodernism and Islam: Predicament and Promise. Routledge. p. 62. ISBN 978-1-134-92417-2. The Quran speaks favourably of the people of the Book. For example, Surah 3, verse 199, carries a universal message of goodwill and hope to all those who believe, the people of the Book irrespective of their religious label--Christian, Jew or Muslim. Muslims can marry with the people of the Book,
  4. ^ a b c d e f Timani, Hussam S.; Ashton, Loye Sekihata (29 November 2019). Post-Christian Interreligious Liberation Theology. Springer Nature. p. 196. ISBN 978-3-030-27308-8.
  5. ^ Kerry M. Olitzky, Ronald H. Isaacs (1992). A Glossary of Jewish Life. Jason Aronson. p. 217. ISBN 9780876685471.
  6. ^ David Lyle Jeffrey (1996). People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 9780802841773. Retrieved 18 October 2007. Though first intended pejoratively, "People of the Book" in Jewish tradition came to be accepted with pride as a legitimate reference to a culture and religious identity rooted fundamentally in Torah, the original book of the Law.
  7. ^ Johnsson, William G. (February 2010). "Adventists and Muslims: Five Convictions — How to build on what we have in common". Adventist World Magazine. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
  8. ^ "Who we are". People of the Book Publications. Archived from the original on 28 June 2011. Retrieved 23 July 2011.
  9. ^ a b Dr. Andrea C. Paterson (21 May 2009). Three Monotheistic Faiths - Judaism, Christianity, Islam: An Analysis And Brief History. ISBN 9781452030494. Retrieved 18 October 2007. Baptists are "people of the Book". The Bible serves as a guide for faith and practice, instructing local churches and individual believers on faith, conduct, and polity. Scripture is also the final authority in determining faith and practice, and is the Word of God which is revealed to the Church in order that God's people may know God's will.
  10. ^ a b c d David Lyle Jeffrey (1996). People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 9780802841773. Retrieved 18 October 2007. Nor is it unusual that the badge should be worn proudly as one means of resisting further denigration: one need only think of Puritans, Methodists, Quakers, and Shakers. In fact, the first of these groups are foremost in the Christian tradition who claimed the term in question, proud themselves to be in their own way identified as "a People of the Book". In the early Christian experience the New Testament was added to the whole Jewish "Tanakh" (an acronym from Torah, the Law, Nebi'im, the prophets, and Kethubim, the other canonical writings). This larger anthology, which after St. Jerome's translation tended more and more to be bound up as a single volume, had for those to whom the Christian missionaries came bearing it all the import of a unified locus of authority: "the Book".
  11. ^ a b c d e f Vajda, G. (2012). "Ahl al-Kitāb". In P. Bearman; Th. Bianquis; C.E. Bosworth; E. van Donzel; W.P. Heinrichs (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam. 1 (2nd ed.). Brill. p. 264. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_0383.
  12. ^ a b c Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (1973). Sufi Essays. State University of New York Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-87395-233-0.
  13. ^ Desika Char, S. V. (1997). Hinduism and Islam in India: Caste, Religion, and Society from Antiquity to Early Modern Times. Markus Wiener Publishers. p. 127. ISBN 978-1-55876-151-3.
  14. ^ a b Juan Eduardo Campo, ed. (12 May 2010). "dhimmi". Encyclopedia of Islam. Infobase Publishing. pp. 194–195. Dhimmis are non-Muslims who live within Islamdom and have a regulated and protected status. ... In the modern period, this term has generally has occasionally been resuscitated, but it is generally obsolete.
  15. ^ "Definition of DHIMMI". Archived from the original on 18 May 2015.
  16. ^ Clinton Bennett (2005). Muslims and Modernity: An Introduction to the Issues and Debates. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 163. ISBN 978-0826454812. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  17. ^ Glenn, H. Patrick (2007). Legal Traditions of the World. Oxford University Press. pp. 218–219. A Dhimmi is a non-Muslim subject of a state governed in accordance to sharia law. The term connotes an obligation of the state to protect the individual, including the individual's life, property, and freedom of religion and worship, and required loyalty to the empire, and a poll tax known as the jizya, which complemented the Islamic tax paid by the Muslim subjects, called Zakat.
  18. ^ H. Patrick Glenn, Legal Traditions of the World. Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 219.
  19. ^ The French scholar Gustave Le Bon (the author of La civilisation des Arabes) writes "that despite the fact that the incidence of taxation fell more heavily on a Muslim than a non-Muslim, the non-Muslim was free to enjoy equally well with every Muslim all the privileges afforded to the citizens of the state. The only privilege that was reserved for the Muslims was the seat of the caliphate, and this, because of certain religious functions attached to it, which could not naturally be discharged y a non-Muslim." Mun'im Sirry (2014), Scriptural Polemics: The Qur'an and Other Religions, p.179. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199359363.
  20. ^ Abou El Fadl, Khaled (2007). The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. HarperOne. p. 204. ISBN 978-0061189036. According to the dhimma status system, non-Muslims must pay a poll tax in return for Muslim protection and the privilege of living in Muslim territory. Per this system, non-Muslims are exempt from military service, but they are excluded from occupying high positions that involve dealing with high state interests, like being the president or prime minister of the country. In Islamic history, non-Muslims did occupy high positions, especially in matters that related to fiscal policies or tax collection.
  21. ^ Cohen, Mark R. (1995). Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages. Princeton University Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-691-01082-3. Retrieved 10 April 2010.
  22. ^ Al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveler (edited and translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller), p. 608. Amana Publications, 1994.
  23. ^ Al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveler (ed. and trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller), pp. 977, 986. Amana Publications, 1994.
  24. ^ Ghazi, Kalin & Kamali 2013, pp. 240–1.
  25. ^ Wael B. Hallaq (2009). Sharī'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations. Cambridge University Press (Kindle edition). p. 327.
  26. ^ Annemarie Schimmel (2004). The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture. p. 107. ISBN 978-1861891853. The conqueror Muhammad Ibn Al Qasem gave both Hindus and Buddhists the same status as the Christians, Jews and Sabaeans the Middle East. They were all "dhimmi" ('protected people')
  27. ^ Michael Bonner (2008). Jihad in Islamic History. Princeton University Press (Kindle edition). p. 89.
  28. ^ "[…] the overwhelming majority of moderate Muslims reject the dhimma system as ahistorical, in the sense that it is inappropriate for the age of nation-states and democracies." Abou El Fadl, Khaled (23 January 2007). The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. HarperOne. p. 214. ISBN 978-0061189036.
  29. ^ Albayrak, Ishmael (2008). "The People of the Book in the Qur'an". Islamic Studies. 47:3: 301–325.
  30. ^ Halbertal, Moshe (1997). People of the book: canon, meaning, and authority. Harvard University Press.
  31. ^ Levy, David B (2001). "Ancient to Modern Jewish Classification Systems: A Historical Overview" (PDF).
  32. ^ Soloveitchik, Haym (1994). "Rupture and Reconstruction:The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy". Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought. 28:4: 64–130.
  33. ^ Lundberg, Marilyn J (2013). "The Hebrew Bible Canon" in The Book of Books. pp. 20–25.
  34. ^ Schiffman, Lawrence (2013). "The Bible in the Talmud and Midrash" in The Book of Books. pp. 36–39.
  35. ^ Levy, David (2013). "Jewish Archives and Libraries in the Middle Ages and the Medieval Educational Curriculum". Archived from the original on 11 September 2017.
  36. ^ Levy, David (2016). "19th and 20th Century Scholarly Judaica Research Librarians, and Judaica Collections". Archived from the original on 10 September 2017.
  37. ^ Brodi, Hayim (1896–1930). Diyan: ve-hu sefer kolel kol shirei Yehudah ha-Levi.. im hagahot u-ve'urim ve-'im mavo me-et Hayim Brodi. Berlin: bi-derus Tsevi Hirsch b.R. Yitshak Ittskovski. pp. 166, line 37–8.
  38. ^ Steinschneider, Moritz (1852). Ermahnungsschreiben des Jehudah ibn Tibbon. Berlin. pp. 6–12.
  39. ^ Abraham, Israel (1926). Hebrew Ethical Wills. JPS. p. 64.
  40. ^ Assaf, Simcha (1930–1954). Meḳorot le-toldot ha-ḥinukh be-Yiśraʼel. Tel-Aviv, Dvir. pp. vol 4, p. 17.
  41. ^ Asaf, Simcha (1943). Be-ohole Yaʻaḳov : peraḳim me-ḥaye ha-tarbut shel ha-Yehudim bi-yeme ha-benayim. Yerushalayim : Mosad ha-Rav Ḳuḳ.
  42. ^ Duran, Shimon. " Sefer Zohar Ha-Rakiah". Archived from the original on 4 June 2017.
  43. ^ Karo, Yosef. Shulchan Arukh:Yoreah Deah 277.
  44. ^ Babylonian Talmud: Maseket Sofrim 83.
  45. ^ Likutei Mahril 118.
  46. ^ Goldman, Israel (1970). The Life and Times of Rabbi David ibn Zimra. New York : Jewish Theological Seminary of America. p. 32.
  47. ^ Perry, Marvin; Chase, Myrna; Jacob, Margaret; Jacob, James; Daly, Jonathan W.; Von Laue, Theodore H. (2014). Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society. Volume II: Since 1600 (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning. p. 635. ISBN 978-1-305-09142-9. LCCN 2014943347. OCLC 898154349. Retrieved 1 February 2016. In the nineteenth century, in contrast to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Europeans, except for missionaries, rarely adopted the customs or learned the languages of local people. They had little sense that other cultures and other peoples deserved respect. Many Westerners believed that it was their Christian duty to set an example and to educate others. Missionaries were the first to meet and learn about many peoples and the first to develop writing for those without a written language. Christian missionaries were ardently opposed to slavery.... |volume= has extra text (help)
  48. ^ a b c David Lyle Jeffrey (1996). People of the Book: Christian Identity and Literary Culture. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 9780802841773. Retrieved 18 October 2007. "People of the Book" unsurprisingly translates many an early vernacular name for Christian missionaries among African, Asian, and Native American people of both hemispheres. The fact that these missionaries put enormous effort into reducing the language of these people to writing so as to provide a written translation of the Bible - an activity which, under such organizations as the Wycliffe Bible Translators and the United Bible Societies, has resulted in at least part of the Christian Bible now being available in 2,100 languages - has lent an identification with the phrase among evangelical Christians in particular as strong as pertains among Jews. This identity comprises the Christian converts among evangelized cultures, the more recently evangelized the more natural so, since for many of them, just as for the English-speaking people, the first written texts ever produced in their language have been a portion of the Bible.
  49. ^ American Methodism. S.S. Scranton & Co. 1867. p. 29. Retrieved 18 October 2007. But the most noticeable feature of British Methodism is its missionary spirit, and its organized, effective missionary work. It takes the lead of all other churches in missionary movements. From its origin, Methodism has been characterized for its zeal in propagandism. It has always been missionary.
  50. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church 128 Archived 15 August 2018 at the Wayback Machine The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God's works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son.
  51. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church 134 Archived 15 August 2018 at the Wayback Machine All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, "because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ" (Hugh of St. Victor, De arca Noe 2,8:PL 176,642: cf. ibid. 2,9:PL 176,642-643).
  52. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church 108 Archived 15 August 2018 at the Wayback Machine Still, the Christian faith is not a "religion of the book." Christianity is the religion of the "Word" of God, a word which is "not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living". If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures."

Further readingEdit

  • Boekhoff-van der Voort, Nicolet, "Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book)", in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (2 vols.), Edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014, Vol I, pp. 9–11.
  • Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Non-Muslims in Muslim societies, American Trust Publications, 1985 details many issues including what a dhimmi is, jizyah, rights, responsibilities, and more.

External linksEdit