Does the Quran Force Jews and Christians to Submit to Islam?
The Quran states the following: INNA ALLADHIINA KAFARU SWAA ON ALAYHIM ANDHARTAHUM AM LAM TUNDHIRHUM LA YUMINOON, (Quran 2: 7).
Muslim commentators render the following interpretation: ‘God hath set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they incur. As those who reject the faith, it is the same to them whether thou warn them or do not warn them, they will not believe’ (translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali). The translator renders the following interpretation:
‘Kafara, kufr, kafir, are derivative forms of the word, imply a deliberate rejection of Faith as opposed to a mistaken idea of God or faith, which is not inconsistent with an earnest desire to see the truth. Where there is such desire, the grace and mercy of God gives guidance. But that guidance is not efficacious when it is deliberately rejected, and the possibility of rejection follows from the grant of free will.
The consequence of the rejection is that the spiritual faculties become dead to impervious to better influence. The roots kafara has many shades of meaning: (1) to deny God’s goodness, to be ungrateful. (2) To reject Faith, deny His revelation.
(3)To blaspheme, to ascribe some limitation or attribute to God, which is derogatory to His nature. In a translation, one shade or another must be put forward according to the context, but all are implied’. (See Abdullah Yusuf Commetary on the Glorious Qur’an, numbers 30 and 93).
The Quranic word ‘kafara’, which is interpreted in modern days as ‘infidel’, does not necessarily mean ‘to reject faith’. Aramaic ‘kfr’ means ‘the price of life, ransom’. Akkadian “kaparu” means ‘wipe off, redemption, ransom’. In the book of Exodus we read the following: ‘If a ransom is imposed on the owner’ (Exod. 21: 30. NRSV).
Paying ransom for life was a form of taxes. It was a natural obligation on individuals to buy protection for their lives. During the time of Moses, God imposed a ransom on each Israelite, the Bible reads: ‘The Lord spoke to Moses: When you take a census of the Israelites to register them, at registration all of them shall give a (kfr) ransom for their lives to the Lord, so that no plague may come upon them for being registered’ (Exod. 30: 11. NRSV. Biblia Hebraica).
‘kfr’ also means ‘ransom for sin offering’ as stated in the Biblia Hebraica: ‘Throughout your generations he shall perform the atonement for it once a year with the blood of the atoning ‘kfr’ sin offering. It is most holy to the Lord’ (Exod. 30: 10. NRSV. Biblia Hebraica).
The term ‘kfr’ is used to describe the ‘sin offering’ as is shown in the following Biblical passage: ‘These are the ordinances for the altar, on the day when it is erected for burnt offerings upon it and for dashing blood against it…a bull for (kfr) sin offering’ (Ezekiel 43: 19. NRSV. Biblia Hebraica).
‘kfr’ is used to mean ‘cover over, pacify, propitiate’ as indicated in the Book of Genesis: ‘Let me cover over his face by the present ) so that he does not see the offense, i.e. pacify him’ (Gen. 32: 21).
In the New Testament, the “kfr” (i.e. ransom) is no longer associated with the temple sacrifices, still less with payments of money, or incense, or even with prayers. It is the life of Jesus and his death by crucifixion, with the actual shedding of blood that makes the ransom “kfr” possible. The New Testament declares that in Christ and his death is all that man needs in order for his sins to be forgiven, and his life is “kfr” (i.e. ransomed).
There is no indication in the Aramaic language of the Bible that the word ‘kfr’ means ‘infidel’ or ‘those who did not accept Islam’. Misinterpretation of the Quran led Muslim commentators to render an erroneous definition to the Aramaic word “kfr”.
It is important to keep in mind that the early copies of the Quran did not have the vowel signs necessary for vocalization. When the vowel signs were introduced at a later time, Aramaic ‘kfr’ changed to ‘kafaru’.
The Quranic word ‘sawaa’ has been interpreted erroneously as ‘whether’. Aramaic ‘shwh’ means ‘to agree with’ (Isa. 16: 6). The shift from /sh/ to /s/ and vice versa is interchangeable in the Semitic languages as for example ‘sham[s]’ (sun) and ‘sham[sh]a’; ‘M[es]ih’ and ‘M[sh]iha’ (Messiah) etc.
The Quranic word ‘andhartuhum’ has been interpreted as ‘you warn them’. Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic) ‘etnadrat’ means ‘you give a notice, make a vow’ (Syriac Peshito, Gen. 31: 13). Aramaic ‘ndr’ means ‘vow’ (Psalms 132). In Aramaic, letter /d/ is also spirant /dh/ like ‘there’. When the Arabic vowel signs, which developed later, were added, Aramaic ‘ndr’ change to ‘nadhara’ or ‘andhara’.
The Quran is saying: ‘those who used sin offering for ransom agree (Jews and Christians), whether you give them a notice or not, are not going to believe (i.e. in the Quran). In Syriac, the verse is pronounced as following: ‘holen kafore, showe ‘layhoon, etnadrat lhun ao lo atnadrat lhun lo mhaymne enun’.
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Gabriel Sawma is a lawyer with emphasis on International Law, mainly the European Union Law, the Middle East and Islamic Shari’a Laws. Professor of Aramaic and distinguished authority on Islam. Author of “The Qur’an: Misinterpreted, Mistranslated, and Misread. The Aramaic Language of the Qur’an”. He speaks, reads, and writes: Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic.