Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Ahl al-Kitab

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

A lot of people have opinions about the Ahl al-Kitab.  I have even heard some asatidzah speak with authority about them and yet speak nonsense.  Most people have no idea who or what they are.  The Ahl al-Kitab refers to three main groups of people in the Qur’an: Sabeans, Christians and; Jews.  It was the opinion of ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) that the Zoroastrians are included in this group and he dealt with them as such.


Those who believe (in the Qur'an) and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures) and the Christians and the Sabians, any who believe in Allah and the Last Day and work righteousness, shall have their Reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (Surah al-Baqarah:62)

We know who are the Christians and Jews but who are the Sabeans?  Some scholars actually believe that Sabeans refer to the descendents of the followers of John the Baptist or Yahya (a.s.).  Twenty years after the resurrection of Jesus (a.s.), there were still disciples of John the Baptist (a.s.) in Alexandria (Acts 18:24-25) and Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6).

Acts 18:24-25
24Now a certain Jew, named Apollo, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus, one mighty in the scriptures.  25This man was instructed in the way of the Lord: and being fervent in spirit, spoke and taught diligently the things that are of Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John.

They believed in God as Creator, but they did not view themselves as disciples of Jesus (a.s.), and they had no experience of the Holy Spirit.  There is to this day a community of 80,000 Mandean Sabaeans in Iraq.

Acts 19:1-6
1And it came to pass, while Apollo was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper coasts, came to Ephesus and found certain disciples.  2And he said to them: Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?  But they said to him: We have not so much as heard whether there be a Holy Ghost.  3And he said: In what then were you baptised?  Who said: In John's baptism.  4Then Paul said: John baptised the people with the baptism of penance saying: That they should believe in him, who was to come after him, that is to say, in Jesus.  5Having heard these things, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.  6And when Paul had imposed his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came upon them: and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.

They look back to the teachings of John the Baptist, and others they view as prophets such as Seth (a.s.) and Abraham (a.s.) as recorded in their holy book, the Kanza Rama, Aramaic for ‘Great Treasure’.  As in the case of the followers of John the Baptist (a.s.), they practice baptism, but they do not view themselves as disciples of Jesus (a.s.), nor do they speak of the Holy Spirit.  Washing with water is part of their weekly ritual, but not the bread and wine of communion.  The Sabaean temple in Baghdad has a cross that is always covered with baptismal linen to indicate it is not a Christian cross.  Their explanatory model is therefore Unitarian rather than Trinitarian, and they hardly distinguish themselves from the Muslims among whom they live.  Their numbers, less than 100,000 worldwide, are dwindling because nobody can be converted into their community.  One has to be born into the Sabaean faith.

There are also people who believe that Zoroastrians and the Yazidis are Ahl al-Kitab.  The Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar (Reigned 1556~1605) controversially ruled that the Hindus are Ahl al-Kitab to allow his marriage to a Hindu Princes from Rajput.

As was the opinion of the ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.) and many classical scholars of Islam thereafter familiar with the Persians, Zoroastrians are considered Ahl al-Kitab.  After the conquest of Sassanid Persia, they were treated as such.  However, since they are not explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an as with regards the permissibility of marriage to them, Muslim are not allowed to marry them without conversion of the non-Muslim.  The ayat identifying the Ahl al-Kitab did not mention Zoroastrians.


This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you.  The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them.  (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time - when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues.  If anyone rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good). (Surah al-Ma’idah:5)

The teachings of Zoroaster include belief in one Creator - Ahura Mazda.  They believe in angels and a Day of Judgment.  On the Day of Judgement, the assembled have to cross a bridge called ‘Swirath’.  The bridge is as wide as your deeds.  Those who fail will fall into a place of fire called ’Jahanamae’.  The faithful will be Rewarded with a heavenly abode called ‘Paradisae’.  This is the origin of the English word ‘Paradise’.

Interesting fact, Mithra or Mithras was one of the avesta, the archangels of Ahura Mazda, who eventually was worshipped as a god in his own right in the Near East.  This eventually spread t the Roman Empire and the religion of Mithras challenged the nascent Christian sect of Judaism before being absorbed by it.  The vicarious sacrifice, death and resurrection of Mithras after three days and the celebration of his birth, 25th December, by giving presents wrapped in coloured cloth was thought to be the origin of the Christian celebrations of Lent, culminating in Easter, and Advent, culminating in Christmas.  But this is uncertain and it could be Christianity that influenced the former.

As for the Yazidis, they are a mysterious religion from the Northern half of the Fertile Crescent.  Their Holy Site is Lalish near Mosul, in Iraq.  Ultimately, we are unsure of the origins of the religion, where it actually started, when it began and so forth.  The principal reason is because the primary adherents of the faith, the Kurds, are an insular people.  Thus information about the faith is difficult to come by.  Furthermore, the language of their religious texts, the Mishefa Res and the Kiteba Cilwe, is Kurmanji, a Northern Kurdish dialect.

Yazidism has many similarities with Christianity and Islam but there are principal differences.  The origin of the term 'Yazidi' itself is uncertain.  The Yazidis themselves believe that their name is derived from the word ‘Yezdan’ or ‘Ezid,’ which means God in their language.  Some scholars have derived the name Yazidi from Old Iranic yazata, divine being, while others say it is a derivation from accursed Umayyad Caliph Yazid I, Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah, said to have been revered by the Yazidis as an incarnation of the divine figure Sultan Ezi.  This derivation of the name is no longer accepted.  As to whether they revere Yazid I as avatar of the Divine Sultan is not established but religions norms such as these hardly change.

The Yazidis believe that God created the world with the help of a heptad of archangels also known as Heft Sirr, the Seven Mysteries.  The ruler of these archangels, who are analogous to the Christian and Muslim archangels, is Melek Taus.  He is also known as Shaythan.  The story of Iblis and Adam (a.s.) in the Mishefa Res is almost the same as in the Qur’an.  But whereas in the Qur’an, Iblis was accursed for refusing to bow before Adam (a.s.), the Yazidis revere him for it since they believe the source of evil is the heart of Man himself.

God first created Tawuse Melek from his own illumination, Rohani, and the other six archangels were created later.  God ordered Tawuse Melek not to bow to other beings.  Then God created the other archangels and ordered them to bring him dust, ax, from the Earth, erd, and build the body of Adam (a.s.).  Then God gave life to Adam (a.s.) from his own breath and instructed all archangels to bow to Adam.  The archangels obeyed except for Tawuse Melek.  In answer to God, Malek Taus replied, “How can I submit to another being!  I am from your illumination while Adam is made of dust.’  Then God praised him and made him the leader of all angels and his deputy on the Earth.

Yazidis also believe that the Heptad are periodically reincarnated in human form, avatars, called ‘koasasa’.  There is also a belief in the reincarnation of lesser Yazidi souls.  It is the Yazidi belief that Satan is the ruler of the world and their veneration of Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah as an avatar in a predominantly Muslim, principally Shi’a area, that has led to massive discrimination and periodic persecution.

Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah the Accursed killed Hasan (r.a.) at Karbala.  Had his head cut off and paraded throughout the Empire.  He made fun of the head of Hasan (r.a.) in his court.  Many of those present cried at the desecration of the head of the grandson of Rasulullah (s.a.w.).  Some of them left and never returned to Damascus.  He attacked Makkah, killed many of the swahabah and their families, set fire to the Ka’bah and persecuted the Ahl al-Bayt, the Family of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.).  He stabled animals in Masjid Nabawi.  His soldiers raped the womenfolk of Makkah.  He was known to have led the fajr swalah in a state of intoxication.  When admonished by the ‘ulama, he said that if they did not like it, he could lead them in another two raka’at.  He was a known pedophile and fornicator and he liked young boys.  When he was killed, his body was cut to pieces and fed to his dogs.  There was nothing left to bury.


For the most part, despite the contention of many scholars, when we talk about the Ahl al-Kitab, we generally mean the Christians and the Jews.  The Sabeans are for the most part extinct.  The term, Ahl al-Kitab, is a term of honour.  The People of the Book are accepted as the believers in the same Allah (s.w.t.) and the Keepers of the previous Covenants, the Noachide, Abrahamic and Mosaic Laws.  They are acknowledged in the Qur’an as the nearest to us in belief.


…and nearest among them in love to the Believers wilt thou find those who say: "We are Christians:" because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant. (Surah al-Ma’idah:82)

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