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Scriptures of People of the Book

20 September, 2016
Q In the Quran Allah states that the People of the Book should conduct their daily lives and affairs according to their books, namely the Torah and the Gospel. Yet, at the same time, in the Quran, God also states that they - i.e. the Jews and the Christians - had knowingly and for profit changed/altered the wording in their holy books. Also, the Quran had been sent down to confirm the previous books and to preserve the Guidance of Allah. My question is this: How is it possible to hold the Jews and the Christians responsible for upholding their books, yet, at the same time, also hold them responsible for altering their respective books? That they've altered their books is without question a fact as there's ample evidence for that. But what answer can we give the Jews and the Christians when they raise the above question? Thank you for your time and taking into consideration my above dilemma of sorts...


Salam Dear Ibrahim,

Thank you very much for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

It seems your question has resulted from a confusion created in your mind by a Jewish or Christian friends. In fact, there is no conflict in the Quranic position on the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

You have written that God blames the Jews and Christians for upholding their books. The truth is just the opposite: God blames them for not upholding their books, and not the other way. And also Allah finds fault with them for altering these scriptures. These are two charges against the Jews and the Christians. And let us see some of the relevant Quranic verses, which mean:

{It was We who revealed the law [to Moses]: therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed [as in Islam] to God’s will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for to them was entrusted the protection of God’s book, and they were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not men, but fear me, and sell not my signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by [the light of] what God hath revealed, they are [no better than] unbelievers.} (Al-Ma’idah 5:44)

{And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him: We sent him the Gospel: therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him: a guidance and an admonition to those who fear God. Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God hath revealed therein. If any do fail to judge by [the light of] what God hath revealed, they are [no better than] those who rebel.} (Al-Ma’idah 5:46-47)

{Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say: “This is from God,” to traffic with it for miserable price!- Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby.} (Al-Baqarah 2:79)

From the above verses, we understand the following:

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God revealed His Guidance to the people through Moses and Jesus; and the duty of their followers was to obey the commands given in those books and to judge by the principles therein. But their rabbis and doctors of law, instead of preserving God’s book intact, made additions or corrections to it with their own hands for miserable gains.

Here the People of the Book are held answerable for not following the commands of God given in their books and for making changes in them. Though this is plain commonsense, the missionaries would create some confusion here.

They argue:

“God asks the People of the Book to follow their Books; this is possible only if the Books are extant. But then the Quran says that those books have been changed!”

In fact, neither the Quran, nor any knowledgeable Muslim says that the Books of the Jews and Christians do not contain the Truth. The point is that the Jewish and Christian scribes and priests have added many things to the Book as God’s word on the one hand and on the other, they distort the true message through misinterpretation.

For example see how the Jews misinterpret Jehovah’s promise of the Land of Canaan to the Children of Abraham (Genesis 17): They claim that “the seed” of Abraham in the context refers to the Children of Israel only, and not to the Children of Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael.

Similarly the Christians introduce into their Book, the pagan idea that Jesus was the only begotten son of God, (begotten not made!) and that he was/is really God Himself!

The Quran refers to such distortions of the Holy Book. But this fact does not in any way invalidate the truth that is still remaining in the Books of the Jews and Christians. And this is specifically ascertained by many verses. Note that the Quran gives this meaning when it says:

{And when there came to them an apostle from God, confirming what was with them, a party of the people of the Book threw away the Book of God behind their backs, as if [it had been something] they did not know!} (Al-Baqarah 2:101)

What some Jews and Christians try to do is to tell the Muslims that their own Book – the Quran – certifies the authenticity of the present versions of their books. But the Quran says what means:

{To thee We sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety: so judge between them by what God hath revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging from the Truth that hath come to thee…} (Al-Ma’idah 5: 48)

The actual Arabic expression used in the Quran, that is translated as “guarding in safety” above is: “muhaiminan”. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the famous English translator of the Holy Quran has this to say about this expression:

“The Arabic word ‘muhaimin’ is very comprehensive in meaning. It means one who safeguards, watches over, stands witness, preserves, and upholds. The Quran safeguards ‘the Book’, for it has preserved within it the teachings of all the former Books.

It watches over these Books in the sense that it will not let their true teachings be lost. It supports and upholds these Books in the sense that it corroborates the Word of Allah which has remained intact in them.

It stands a witness because it bears testimony to the Word of Allah contained in these Books and helps to sort it out from the interpretations and commentaries of the people which were mixed with it: what is confirmed by the Quran is the Word of Allah and what is against it is that of the people.” [Emphasis added.]

So it is clear that the expression, “confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety” indicates that the confirmation applies only to the truth that remains in the book, and not to all the spurious things that the scribes with their “false pen” had interpolated in it. Please see Jeremiah 8:8, where the prophet scolds the scribes whose job it was to write and copy the scripture:

“But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.”

And remember Jesus himself in Matthew 23, calling the scribes and the Pharisees, hypocrites:

“Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

Now, the present Christian concept of the Book includes even the letters written by one Saul of Tarsus – later called Saint Paul – addressed to various individuals or church groups. It is unreasonable to imagine that when God in the Holy Quran refers to the Book revealed to Jesus, He means even the inventions and additions to it made by hypocrites. Allah (swt) says in the Holy Quran, about such hypocrites, what means:

{Those who conceal the clear [Signs] We have sent down, and the Guidance, after We have made it clear for the people in the Book,-on them shall be God’s curse, and the curse of those entitled to curse,- except those who repent and make amends and openly declare [the Truth]: To them I turn; for I am Oft-returning, Most Merciful.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 159-160)

And Allah knows best.

Thank you again Ibrahim for your question and please keep in touch.


About Professor Shahul Hameed
Professor Shahul Hameed is an Islamic consultant. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.