People of the Book
(ahl al-kitāb)

Muzaffar Iqbal

People of the Book are called ahl al-kitāb in eight Madinan (Q 2:105, 109; 3:64, 65, 69, 70, 71, 72, 75, 98, 99, 110, 113, 199; 4:123, 153, 159, 171; 5:15, 19, 59, 65, 68, 77; 33:26; 57:29 59:2, 11: 98:1, 6) and one Makkan (Q 29:46) sura. They are also referred to as those who have been given the Book (alladhīna ūtū-l-kitāb) fifteen times (Q 2:101, 144, 145; 3:19, 100, 186, 187; 4:47, 131; 5:5, 57; 9:29; 57:16; 74:31; 98:4), and three times with a slightly different wording, those who were given a portion of the Book (alladhīna ūtū naṣīban min al-kitāb) (Q 3:23; 4:44, 51). 

The technical usage of the term is specifically reserved for the Jews (al-yahūd) and Christians (al-naṣārā) only; this delimiting is based on Q 6:156, where the dual noun ṭāʾifatān (“two groups”) is explained as such by Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/620-688), Mujāhid (d. ca.99/718), Qatāda (d. 117/735), and al-Suddī (d. 127/744) (Muqātil; Ṭabarī; Ibn Abī Ḥātim; Baghawī; Rāzī; Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīrs, sub Q 6:156), to the exclusion of the Majūs (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt, sub Q 4: 47, Q 6:156; Jaṣṣāṣ, aḥkām; al-Kiyā al-Harrāsī, aḥkām, sub 9:29).

The exegetes identify—sometimes with difference of opinion—verses where Jews are the exclusive referent (e.g., Muqātil, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:101; Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:23; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 4:44), and where Jews and Christians are both included in the phrase. Examples of the latter include Q 4:131, where the phrase is glossed as “People of Torah and Injīl” by Ṭabarī and Samarqandī; Q 5:5, which makes lawful the food of those who were given the Book (Muqātil; Ṭabarī; Baghawī); Q 9:29, which imposes jizya (q.v.) on them (Muqātil; Ṭabarī; Rāzī; Tafsīrs; Thaʿlabī, Kashf); Q 57:16, which mentions those whose hearts have hardened (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr); Q 74:31, which refers to the number of keepers of the gates of Hell, which the “People of Torah and Injīl” also find in their Books (Ṭabarī), and Q 98:4, as those who became divided after clear evidence had come to them (Muqātil; Ṭabarī, Tafsīrs; Samarqandī, Baḥr).

Legal rulings pertaining to the food and marriage are mentioned in Q 5:5:

This day, all pure things are made lawful for you. The food of the People of the Book is made lawful for you and your food is made lawful for them. It is lawful for you to marry chaste Muslim women and chaste women of the People of the Book, provided, you pay their dowry, maintain chastity, and avoid fornication or lustful relations outside of marriage. The deeds of anyone who rejects the faith, certainly, become fruitless. He will be of those who lose on the Day of Judgment. (Q 5:5)

See also

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