alladhīna ūtū al kitāb in the Qur’an

Those in possession of  the law

This article is from The Qur’an: A Complete Revelation.

We should begin by outlining the Traditionalist’s understanding of this term:

And when a messenger from Allāh came to them confirming that which was with them, a party of those who had been given the Scripture threw the Scripture of Allāh [i.e., the Torah] behind their backs as if they did not know [what it contained]. (2:101)

We have certainly seen the turning of your face, [O Muḥammad], toward the heaven, and We will surely turn you to a qiblah with which you will be pleased. So turn your face [i.e., yourself] toward al-Masjid al-Ḥarām. And wherever you [believers] are, turn your faces [i.e., yourselves] toward it [in prayer]. Indeed, those who have been given the Scripture [i.e., the Jews and the Christians] well know that it is the truth from their Lord. And Allāh is not unaware of what they do. (2:144)

And if you brought to those who were given the Scripture every sign, they would not follow your qiblah. Nor will you be a follower of their qiblah. Nor would they be followers of one anothers qiblah. So if you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, indeed, you would then be among the wrongdoers. (2:145)

Indeed, the religion in the sight of Allāh is Islām. And those who were given the Scripture did not differ except after knowledge had come to them – out of jealous animosity between themselves. And whoever disbelieves in the verses of Allāh, then indeed, Allāh is swift in [taking] account. (3:19)

So if they argue with you, say, “I have submitted myself to Allāh [in Islām], and [so have] those who follow me.” And say to those who were given the Scripture and [to] the unlearned, “Have you submitted yourselves?” And if they submit [in Islām], they are rightly guided; but if they turn away – then upon you is only the [duty of] notification. And Allāh is Seeing of [His] servants. (3:20)

O you who have believed, if you obey a party of those who were given the Scripture, they would turn you back, after your belief, [to being] unbelievers. (3:100)

You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. And you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allāh much abuse. But if you are patient and fear Allāh – indeed, that is of the matters [worthy] of resolve. (3:186)

And [mention, O Muḥammad], when Allāh took a covenant from those who were given the Scripture, [saying], “You must make it clear [i.e., explain it] to the people and not conceal it.” But they threw it away behind their backs and exchanged it for a small price. And wretched is that which they purchased. (3:187)

O you who were given the Scripture, believe in what We have sent down [to Muḥammad (ṣ)], confirming that which is with you, before We obliterate faces and turn them toward their backs or curse them as We cursed the sabbath-breakers. And ever is the matter [i.e., decree] of Allāh accomplished. (4:47)

And to Allāh belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And We have instructed those who were given the Scripture before you and yourselves to fear Allāh. But if you disbelieve – then to Allāh belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And ever is Allāh Free of need and Praiseworthy. (4:131)

This day [all] good foods have been made lawful, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them. And [lawful in marriage are] chaste women from among the believers and chaste women from among those who were given the Scripture before you, when you have given them their due compensation, desiring chastity, not unlawful sexual intercourse or taking [secret] lovers. And whoever denies the faith – his work has become worthless, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers. (5:5)

Fight those who do not believe in Allāh or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allāh and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth [i.e., Islām] from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled. (9:29)

Has the time not come for those who have believed that their hearts should become humbly submissive at the remembrance of Allāh and what has come down of the truth? And let them not be like those who were given the Scripture before, and a long period passed over them, so their hearts hardened; and many of them are defiantly disobedient. (57:16)

And We have not made the keepers of the Fire except angels. And We have not made their number except as a trial for those who disbelieve – that those who were given the Scripture will be convinced and those who have believed will increase in faith and those who were given the Scripture and the believers will not doubt and that those in whose hearts is disease [i.e., hypocrisy] and the disbelievers will say, “What does Allāh intend by this as an example?” Thus does Allāh leave astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. And none knows the soldiers of your Lord except Him. And it [i.e., mention of the Fire] is not but a reminder to humanity. (74:31)

Nor did those who were given the Scripture become divided until after there had come to them clear evidence. (98:4)
[Saheeh International]

The Traditionalist has, somewhat untypically, managed a high degree of consistency. But one instance of consistency given a general rule of arbitrariness does not help us much.

Here, as with the sections above, since we have established the meaning of al kitāb as the law the task is not one of translation but of interpretation. The Arabic alladhīna ūtū al kitāb is then those given the law. I render this formula throughout those in possession of the law to distinguish it from those whom God specifically gave the law.

Thus those in possession of the law is the larger set from which those whom we gave the law forms a subset.

There are so many errors in the rendering of the verses above that is not possible to unpick them all here without rehearsing much of what has been covered in the entire Appendix. Rather, I will take one or two verses to illustrate that the nomenclature here indicates a parent set and leave the interested student to review the instances within the text for himself.

The verse at 2:101 is representative:

And when a messenger from Allāh came to them confirming that which was with them, a party of those who had been given the Scripture threw the Scripture of Allāh [i.e., the Torah] behind their backs as if they did not know [what it contained]. (2:101)

We see mentioned here a subset (a party) of the larger set (i.e. those in possession of the law). The fact that it does not mention those whom we gave the law here, I would argue, is because that group itself a subset of those in possession of the law and that subset (i.e. those whom God specifically gave the law) holds on to it.

And again:

You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. And you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allāh much abuse. But if you are patient and fear Allāh – indeed, that is of the matters [worthy] of resolve. (3:186)

The verse at 3:186 divides humanity along its primary fault lines which are ‘those who were given the Scripture’ (by which is meant those in possession of the law – the first article of which is that there is no god but God), and ‘those who associate others with Allāh’. This second category stands in contradistinction to the first and comprises that part of humanity which has no law from God but holds to shirk-based faiths such as polytheism and forms of pantheism, including atheism. Both categories are metacategories: those with a monotheistic revelation and those without one.

The value those in possession of the law has been applied consistently throughout the text and the interested student will be able to verify that the value fits in all cases.

All instances in the text are footnoted.

References

2:101, 2:144, 2:145, 3:19, 3:20, 3:100, 3:186, 3:187, 4:47, 4:131, 5:5, 5:5, 5:57, 9:29, 57:16, 74:31, 74:31, 98:4.

About the Author Sam Gerrans

Sam Gerrans is an English writer and speaker with professional backgrounds in media, strategic communications, and technologies. He is driven by commitment to ultimate meaning, and focused on authentic approaches to revelation and Realpolitik. He is founder of Quranite.com and author of The Qur’an: A Complete Revelation where his consistent, Qur'an-centric hermeneutical methodology is applied to the text of the Qur’an in its entirety. Read more...

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