Kaleef K. Karim
Previously I wrote on Quran 9:29, you can read it here. As I examined the passage in its historical context, using early Muslim sources, it was evident that the aggressors were the Byzantine (Roman) Empire who had mobilised troops in order to exterminate the Muslim community in Arabia. The fighting that is mentioned in Q 9:29 was to a specific group of Christians and Jews in the life time of Prophet Muhammed (p), 1400 years ago. Moreover, Recently I finished reading a book by a well-known, respected Muslim Scholar. He pointed out that the Arabic words ‘Minal-ladhina’ used in Q 9:29, can only be aimed at a group from among the People of the Book, that the verse is not aimed generally at all Jews and Christians.
Scholar Zakaria Bashier
Although the verse refers to the People of the Book, in a way that refers both to the Jews and Christians of the time, yet the Arabic text clearly indicates that this reference is not absolute or general. The Arabic expression (minal ladhina) clearly indicates that the reference here is to a certain faction, from among the People of the Book, who are characterized as:
Not believers in God;
Not believers in the last day;
Non-practicing (i.e. they did not observe what God had made forbidden);
Not acknowledging or recognizing anything in common with (the religion of Truth namely Islam).
If we put this verse in historical perspective, it becomes quite clear whom it is referring to. It is definitely not referring to the Christians of Arabia at that time, who were described elsewhere as believers in God and the last Day, who uphold religious values and obligations. Most importantly, these people of the Book maintained peaceful and even cordial relations with the Prophet of Islam, and from the start opted for and accepted the citizenship of the Medinah State. Those were the Christians of Najran in the Yemen, to the south, and the Christians of the Banu Taghlib to the North of Madinah. Both Christian groups were of Arabic stock, visited the Prophet (p) in his capital, and were very well received by him. Indeed, when the Christians of Najran came, the Prophet (p) attended to their needs, with special cordiality and kindness, and permitted them to perform their Christian rites and prayers in his own Mosque. He conducted very elaborate dialogue with them, and when they indicated their desire of sticking to their faith, he accepted and respected their decision and choice in good faith and cheer, and bid them farewell, with warm feelings and even gifts. For their part, they accepted the peace of Islam, and declared themselves citizens of the new Muslim State, as well as their willingness to pay the Jizayah tax. There were never any ill-feeling between the two groups. This was also the case with the Christians of Banu Taghlib to the North of Madinah. History does not record and such misunderstanding or tension between the Prophet (p) and those Arab Christians of Najran or Taghlib; never a single incident of conflict or discord. Most Probably, those Arab Christians tolerated the new Islamic authority in Madinah because they recognized that it was closer to them than the Roman authority of Syria or the Persian Authority of al-Hirah, in southern Iraq. Moreover, the Islamic State was not aggressive but quite tolerant towards them, as Christians.
However, with the other people of the Book, namely the Jews, the story was quite different: First of all, the Jews of Madinah and other enclaves to the North of Madinah were not Arabic stock. If anything, they showed nothing but arrogance, intransigence, and contempt towards the Arabs, as and ignorant and backward lot.
Although they entertained friendly relations with the Prophet (p) and the Muslims in the first days of the inception of the Muslim State, and even signed an accord with the Prophet (p) (the Sahifah of Madinah) they later violated that accord. Not only that, they declared themselves as allies of the Qurayshite idolaters, and did all they could to incite them to engage in hostilities with the Prophet (p) and Muslims.
From the other perspectives, those Jews of Madinah were characterized with haughtiness. They were not particularly religious people either, and some of them took Judaism as a sort of nationalism. Together with this, they were given to belligerency and conflict. They were quite rich, but a substantial source of their wealth came from the fact that they were makers and traders of weaponry. So it was in their interest to fan wars and military conflicts, out of which they stood to gain handsome dividends. They were also quite lax in their way of living, given to wine drinking, and the practice of usury. Therefore, it was quite obvious that the Jews of that time and place were the ones meant in the above verse, and not the Arab Christians. The advocacy of hostilities with them was dictated by their belligerent and aggressive attitudes towards the Prophet and the Muslim State of Madinah. In a way, it is a reaction to their misdeeds, and scheming against the Muslims.
For there is an abundance of Qur’anic verses which admonish the Muslims to maintain cordial relations with the People of the Scripture generally, so long as they do not wage war on, or start hostilities with the Muslims. We will quote just one clear comprehensive Qur’anic verse as an example:
God forbids you not, with regard to those who did not fight you because of your faith, nor did they drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them, for God loves those who are just! God only forbids you, with regard to those who fought you, because of your faith, drove you out of your homes, and supported others in driving you out that you turn to them for friendship and protection… [al-Mumtahinah 60:8-9]
These verses 8 and 9 of Surah Al-Mumtahinah; made it quite clear that there was nothing wrong, if the Muslims befriended the Jews or Christians, so long as these remained pacific in their intentions and actions.
The prophet (p) used to treat the Jews of Madinah, who opted to stay after the banishment of their settlement, with obvious compassion and care. He continued to have commercial dealing with them, including borrowing money from them. It was said that when the Prophet (p) died, his shield was mortgaged to a Jew. When the Prophet was living in Makkah before Hijrah he had a Jewish neighbour, who used to throw garbage in the Prophet’s yard, almost everyday day. Then the throwing stopped for some time. The Prophet (p) went to visit his Jewish neighbour, to see what was wrong with him, that he stopped throwing garbage in his yard, and he found him ill in bed. The Prophet continued to visit him and send gifts to him, until he became well again. The Jew was so moved by the Prophet’s behaviour that he embraced Islam.
THE SPECIAL STATUS OF THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK
That the people of the Book have a special status in Islam is well-known. It is indeed a very privileged status. A Muslim will not be a Muslim, if he does not believe in the Prophethood of both Moses and Jesus Christ. Further, he is enjoined to show great veneration, respect and love for them. The Prophet (p) used to allude to Moses and Jesus Christ as ‘my dear brothers’. So with such a conceptual, religious and legal framework, it would indeed be very odd for the Prophet (p) to have waged unprovoked war against the people of the Book. The only feasible explanation for the outbreak of hostilities between the Prophet (p) and the Jews of Madinah, must be political one. The responsibility for these hostilities must be placed squarely on the shoulders of the Jews themselves.
Some of orientalists cite the invasion of Byzantine and Persian Empires by the Muslims, as a conclusive proof that Islam is an aggressive and belligerent religion. However, it is well known that the Romans, in particular, were amassing huge forces on the Northern frontier of the Muslim State of Madinah. They had stationed large forces to invade Madinah, for this reason the Prophet (p) mounted the Mu’tah and Tabuk expeditions.
The hostile intent if the Romans is borne out, not just by their amassing of soldiers, but by encouraging opposition inside Madinah itself. Apparently, they were able to monitor events inside Madinah, through their agents and spies:
A. When Jabalah ibn al Aytham apostatized they all summoned him to Constantinople and he went there. They were obviously monitoring every small event in the Muslim State.
When Ka’b ibn Malik, one of the three Muslims who failed to join the Tabuk expedition, and who was subsequently boycotted by the Muslims on the orders of the Prophet (p) and the instructions of the Quran, the Roman secret agents came to him in Madinah, with gifts and money, and told him that their Caesar would offer him political asylum with dignity and honour, if he chose to come to Constantinople. 
About Zakaria Bashier (b.1940). He obtained his BA and M.litt. in Philosophy from the Universities of Khartoum, Sudan and Durham, UK respectively, and his PhD on Islamic Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh, USA. Apart from holding faculty positions at the Universities of Sudan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, he had also been the Vice Chancellor of the University Of Juba, Sudan.
 War and Peace In the Life of the Prophet Muhammed, by Zakaria Bashier page 285 – 292