The Jews’ Position in Islamic Society
The direct addressees of these verses are the Children of Israel, which is to say, the Jews. As you may know, Muslims consider Jews to be ‘people of the Book,’ that book being the Bible. Because Muslims believe that the Bible is revealed scripture from God – with the Quran being God’s final communique with men – Jews and Christians are both respected as people who acknowledge Allah and follow his word, just not all of it. For this reason, in Muslim culture, Jews were given the status of dhimmi, a second-class citizen (pretty good compared to anyone who wasn’t Jewish, Muslim or Christian) and paid an additional tax and were subject to additional rules (related to dress, their houses of prayer, living situation, etc.).
The Jews and Their Scriptures in the Quran
In any case, this passage of the Quran acknowledges the traditional relationship between God and the Jews, with God recalling all that he had done for the Jews (presumably, freeing them from Egyptian bondage, giving them a homeland and protecting them so long as they were good). This was part of the covenant, which verse 40 calls a “pledge,” though I’m curious about the original Arabic. Is the root of the word b-r-t/s?
Verse 41 is fascinating because it tells the Jews that they should recognize the holiness and from-God-ness of the Quran, these very verses, because it verifies (and complements) “what is already with” them, which is to say, the Bible (or at least the Old Testament). The next few verses are an exhortation along similar lines, telling them not to be misled, and then verse 44 asks why, if the Jews have read the Scriptures, do they not understand the veracity of this text.
Though the Children of Israel will come up again and again throughout the Quran, this first mention sets up the historical attitude of Islam towards Judaism, which is that it must be respected as having understood part of the picture, but that the religion still rejects that which it knows should be true. I think that this attitude is well-intentioned and one of tolerance, but does not go the full mile when it comes to our modern sentiments about acceptance.
Still, for an idea originating 1400 years ago, we should appreciate what it’s doing and not expect it to conform to our modern wishes. Fortunately, there are many Muslims today that take this farther and recognize that Jews (as well as Christians) have a right to worship God to the extent that they please, acknowledging those of His scriptures that work for them. I only hope this attitude spreads, not just among Muslims but Christians and Jews as well.
Some Questions and Related Articles
What do you think about these verses? What are your thoughts on the modern need for inter-religious toleration and acceptance verse the right of a religion to believe its traditional teachings (whether related to Islam or not)?
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The Cow 40-46
40. O Children of Israel, remember the favours I bestowed on you. So keep your pledge to Me, and I will mine to you, and be fearful of Me, 41. And believe in what I have sent down which veifies what is already with you; and do not be the first to deny it, nor part with it for little gain; and beware of Me. 42. Do not confuse truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth knowingly. 43. Be firm in devotion; give zakat (the due share of your welath for the welfare fo others), and bow with those who bow (before God). 44. Will you enjoin good deeds on the others and forget your own selves? You also read the Scriptures, why do you then not understand? 45. Find strength in fortitude and prayer, which is heavy and exacting but for those who are humble and meek, 46. Who are conscious that they have to meet their Lord, and to Him they have to return.
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