The “Upright Community”: Interpreting the Righteousness and Salvation of the People of the Book in the Qurʾān

in Jewish-Muslim Relations in Past and Present

Abstract

This chapter looks at a broad range of exegeses of Qurʾān 3:113 which refers to an “upright community” (umma qāʾima) from among the People of the Book (ahl al-kitāb), the Qurʾānic appellation for Jews and Christians. Considered together with Qurʾān 5:66 which refers to a “moderate community” (umma muqtaṣida) from among them, this verse clearly suggests that it is subscription to some common standard of righteousness and ethical conduct that determines the salvific nature of a religious community, and not the denominational label it chooses to wear. The principal exegetes consulted are Muqātil b. Sulaymān, al-Ṭabarī, al-Rāzī, al-Qurṭubī, Ibn Kathīr, and Muḥammad ʿAbduh, among others. A diachronic survey of their exegetical works reveals significant transformations in the understanding of this key verse, which had considerable implications for interfaith relations in the pre-modern world, as they do in the contemporary period.

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