قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ تَعَالَوْا إِلَىٰ كَلِمَةٍ سَوَاءٍ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمْ أَلَّا نَعْبُدَ إِلَّا اللَّهَ وَلَا نُشْرِكَ بِهِ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُنَا بَعْضًا أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ
“Say (to them, O Messenger): “O People of the Book, come to a word common between us and you, that we worship none but God, and associate none as partner with Him, and that none of us take others for Lords, apart from God.” (Al ‘Imrān 3:64)
The Qur’ān commands us to be kind to people in conveying the message of Islam. It commands that we are kind not only to the People of the Book but even to people so refractory like Pharaoh. God Almighty ordered Prophet Moses, upon him be peace, to be gentle when He sent him to Pharaoh in the following verse: “But speak to him with gentle words, so that he might reflect and be mindful or feel some awe (of Me, and behave with humility)” (Tā-Hā 20:44). There is no place for repulsive manners, condemnation, and rudeness in conveying the Islamic message.
The above verse gives us a vivid example of good manners, such as speaking with sympathetic words and using endearing and appealing com-munication in conveying the Message. If we consider Islam as a magnificent castle with numerous gates and surrounded with the towering walls of the limits established by God, there are as many roads to its gates as the breaths of creatures. Islam embraces people at any point on any of these roads and takes them into the castle through any of its gates by means of its particular manners or methods. The incomprehension or misunderstanding of this causes some mistakes in calling people to Islam.
The verse under discussion meets “the People of the Book” on one of the roads mentioned or at one of the points on them, and approaches them with geniality and soft words, saying to them “Come!” Its invitation implies: “The things that I invite you to are not the ones that you do not know. On the contrary, they are the ones you already know and are familiar with. They are the kind of things that you came across long before Islam, and you may have forgotten or remember incorrectly.” The Qur’ān builds a bridge between the Muslims and the People of the Book, on which it embraces them gently from a familiar point. This method is very important in conveying the Islamic message and approaching the addressee. One may name this method “dialogue,” which is a well-known term nowadays. This means that the common point to which the Qur’ān calls the People of the Book is so clear and identifiable that it can be summarized with only one word. The Qur’ān demands from them only one thing: to go across the bridge and reach that gate. Apart from everything, it is quite possible to see the delicacy, tenderness, and the bridge between the two, even with the word “sawāun” (common) used in the verse. What are the characteristics of this bridge, then?
In dealing with this matter, the Qur’ān points out a negative aspect rather than a positive one. First of all, the People of the Book had known about Allāh from their Book. However, ages had passed since their recogni-tion of God with the result that their knowledge did not remain alive. Consequently, there was only one thing to be done in order for the truths to be manifested clearly: it was the process of takhliyah, or purification. It is even possible to see this purification in the words of “lā ilāha illa’llāh” (There is no deity but God). As a matter of fact, Islam begins everything with this same process. It purifies the mind of wrong conceptions and obsessions, and the sight of wrong points of view, and then presents belief in God and His Unity. It makes an operation on minds, on sight, on hearts, and on actions. This is why, first of all, the verse suggests not doing something, rather than doing something, saying: “… that we worship none.”
Truly, in the course of history, some of the People of the Book be-gan associating partners with God. Similar to pagans or polytheists, they began attributing sons or daughters to God; fell into complicated errors such as trinity—one in three and three in one; and ascribed to their priests or rabbis divine functions such as accepting prayers, forgiving sins, and the authority to legislate on God’s behalf, all of which amount to associating partners with God. The expressions of “taking others for God, apart from God,” and “taking rabbis and monks for Lords besides God” in verse 31 of Sūratu’t-Tawbah mean holding as lawful or unlawful what rabbis and monks decree to be lawful or unlawful, yet against God’s decree. So, God’s Unity makes it absolutely necessary to attribute to God the right and au-thority to establish rules in life. The Qur’ān begins the purification of the hearts and minds not by prohibiting association of partners with God in legislation or regulating social or economic areas of the daily life but by banning associating partners with God in His Divinity. In other words, wor-shipping anyone other than God is absolutely prohibited. Therefore, Prayers must be performed for Him exclusively; people must fast for Him and give alms for Him, and they must sacrifice animals for Him exclusively. At this point, the People of the Book may say: “We are already doing these for God.” So the prohibition of associating partners with God is followed by taking God for the sole, unique Lord; the sole, unique Creator; the sole, unique Provider, the sole, unique Director of the universe, and so on. This means believing in the Unity of God. This belief also requires believing that God is absolutely free from having children and being born, from needing anything and anyone, and from any defects or shortcomings. When the dark veils are removed from recognizing God’s Unity and believing in it, next comes the regulation of social and economic areas of the daily life according to this belief so that belief in God’s Unity can be realized in the world. Just as conveying the Islamic message follows a gradual way or process, so do we see gradualism in binding first the heart and intellect to belief in God’s Unity and the application of tawhid in the regulation of daily life. As Bediüzzaman Said Nursi emphasized importantly, Islam is, in one respect, the acquisition, confirmation, and strengthening of faith. Essen-tially, everything is based on faith, the bedrock of which is belief in God’s Unity. In addition to being the basis of Islam and everything related to Islam, God’s Unity and belief in it determine all the other parts of the building of Islam.
The incomprehension or misunderstanding of this degree of pro-fundity, gradualness, and gentility in conveying Islam and building bridges between people of every faith or faithlessness has caused many people to become more distant from Islam or to misperceive it as a religion completely opposite to its essence or real identity, although Islam is essentially the sublime center of gravitation and attraction. Public views and feelings are directed wrongly, and human impetuousness dominates and causes many mistakes in the name of Islam, and gradualness is set aside. More importantly, the steps described in the verse under discussion are ignored, and the secondary or later issues are given precedence over the primary or initial ones. Consequently, some people become involved in tendencies that the naïve masses may find excessive while some others claim that even those who do not follow the way of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, will enter Paradise, without understanding the contents of the relevant verses and the path they describe. However, when the relevant verses are examined carefully, it becomes obvious that—as it is also obvious in the verse discussed—the People of the Book are offered bridges and entrances. The requirements after stepping through the entrances are explained not here but in certain other verses. No one can claim on the basis of this verse that the People of the Book will be like this or like that if they believe in God and Prophet Muhammad, even though they do not follow the path of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. For this and similar other verses were revealed in order to call them to the path of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. It goes without saying that once one has submitted themselves to the path of Prophet Muhammad, or once one has entered the palace of Islam through one of its gates, it is quite clear that they will follow his way. In order to have a correct, adequate understanding of Islam and the Qur’ān, it is a must to regard the Qur’ān and Sunnah (the way of Prophet Muhammad) together in their entirety, to see them as inseparable, and to be able to evaluate the parts constituting each of them in their proper place in the whole. Just as during the formation of the human body each atom goes to the exact place in the body where it has been destined to go and is established, as it is explained in the Thirtieth Word in The Words by Said Nursi, so too it is necessary that each part and aspect of the religion falls into place during the formation of an Islamic life. This requires knowledge of the Qur’ān and Sunnah in their integrity as well as the functions of each part. Otherwise, distortions, wrong interpretations, contradictions, and juridical faults may be inevitable in the approach to and understanding of the religion.
To conclude, the verse under discussion lays a bridge where differ-ent souls, minds, cultures, and civilizations as well as different Books re-vealed at different times and the communities formed by these Books can come together on a line, which we may call “the line of peace and reconciliation.” In laying this bridge, the verse has its source in the profound mercy of God and preserves the universality of God’s Message. In reality, every consciousness and thought can be managed only through the justice and fairness of such a universal truth. Souls are freed from the pressure of individual desires and ambitions and attain servanthood and obedience to the Absolutely All-Worshipped One, with the world being freed from worship of and servanthood to false deities.