I would like to know what is the difference between People of the Book (Ahle Kitab) and Kaafir? How does one define a Kaafir and how do these people, mainly Christians and Jews differ from other Kaafirs?
If there is no basic conceptual difference, what is the rationale for allowing Muslim men to marry Ahle Kitab women without them necessarily converting into Muslims?
For a brief explanation regarding what exactly is a Kaafir (rejecter of truth), according to the Qur’an, and the application of the term on the present day non-Muslims, please refer to one of my previous answers to a similar question titled, ‘Are Christians Mushrik (polytheists) or Kaafirs (rejecters)?‘
As far as the reasons for the allowance of marrying the chaste women of the People of the Book is concerned, there could indeed be a number of reasons for such allowance but the Qur’an has not mentioned any of these. It, however, seems that Islam does not want to completely break social ties with any religious group, apart from the polytheists. This seems to be quite apparent in two cases. Firstly, the Qur’an has allowed marriage with chaste women from amongst the People of the Book, but has disallowed such social ties with the polytheists. Secondly, the Qur’an has expressly allowed us to eat the food of the People of the Book, but such is not the case with that of the polytheists.
Such allowances in the case of the People of the Book are also an evidence of the severity in which God holds the crime of ascribing partners to Him. It seems that it is only the crime of ascribing partners to God, in retaliation of which God directs His people to break or extremely limit any social ties with such transgressors. Islam does not want to sever social ties with monotheistic nations, who do not ascribe partners to God. This allowance provides a chance to build a healthy social interaction between all monotheistic peoples and subsequently opens the doors for the propagation and understanding of Islam for all such peoples. It should be remembered that a healthy social interaction is a prerequisite for effective communication, propagation and understanding of each other’s points of views. By keeping the doors of social ties open with other monotheistic peoples, God has, in effect, kept the doors of understanding Islam and thereby finding the path of assured success open for them.
25th February 2000