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Friendship with people of other faiths

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Question

It seems that Qur’an is requiring Muslims not to make Jews and Christians friends (auliya) (5:51), but it is also requiring them to show good attitude (birr) towards them in another passage (60:8). What is your view on this matter?

Answer

I will let you know about the more popular traditional view on the subject first, and then mention why that view is not acceptable to me. Finally you will get my understanding on the subject.

A) The Popular View
Verse 5:51 of Qur’an has been translated thus: “O believers! Take neither Jews nor Christians as your protecting friends (auliya): they are only protecting friends of one another. Whoever of you disobeys this commandment will be counted as one of them. Surely Allah does not guide the wrongdoers.”

Mawlana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani mentions in his Tafsir while explaining the above-translated verse thus:

Aulia is the plural of wali. Wali means a friend, some one close, as well as a helper. What it means is that Muslims are expected not to make Jews, Christians, and all other disbelievers (kuffar) their protecting friends, as has been clarified in surah Nisaa. However, to deal with them with justice, politeness, generosity, and decency is quite another matter. If believers feel it to be necessary, they can have agreements of peace with all disbelievers, as has been mentioned in verse 8: 61. Justice is meant to be done in case of all humans, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. The attitude of politeness and decency can be demonstrated for those non-Muslims who are not antagonistic towards Muslims. However, as far as Muwalaat (i.e. confidence of friendship and brotherly help and support) is concerned, no Muslim has a right to establish it with any non-Muslim.”

B) My Reservations
I have quite a few problems when I try to rationally understand this point of view in the light of Qur’anic teachings. I will just mention a few of them here:

  1. Qur’an allows Muslim men to marry Jew and Christian ladies: “Likewise, marriage with chaste free believing women and also chaste women among the People who were given the Book before you is made lawful for you.” (5:5) It also tells believing men to be good to their wives : “Treat them with kindness even if you dislike them; it is quite possible that you dislike something in which Allah has placed much good.” (4:19) It also tells us that good wives are the ones that have the following attributes: “Honorable women are, therefore, devoutly obedient and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah requires them to guard (their husband’s property and their own honor).” (4:34) The Almighty mentions the closeness of the husband-wife relationship in many different ways. For instance, Qur’an says: “And of His signs, another one is that He created for you mates from among yourselves that you may find comfort with them” (30: 21) He also says “They (your wives) are an apparel for you and you for them. ” (2:187)

I can’t understand how a good Muslim would be able to have very close relations with his non-Muslim wife on the one hand and yet be able to maintain the caution that the conventional point of view would like Muslims to have with non-Muslims. A lady is either your wife or she is not. And what about one’s attitude towards the in-law relatives? Are all of them to be treated with the same mysteriously unclear attitude, which is neither friendly nor frank?

  1. Consider the following Qur’anic passage:

Allah does not forbid you to be kind ( tabarru, birr) and equitable (tuqsitu, qist) to those who had neither fought against your faith nor driven you out of your homes. In fact Allah loves the equitable. (60:8)Allah only forbids you to make friends (wali) those who fought you on account of your faith and drove you out of your homes and backed up others in your expulsion. Those who will take them for friends are indeed the wrongdoers.” (60: 9)

In the verse 60:9, Qur’an is requiring believers not to make friends those non-Muslims “who fought you on account of your faith and drove you out of your homes and backed up others in your expulsion.” In the previous verse, Qur’an allows Muslims to be kind and equitable to those “who had neither fought against your faith nor driven you out of your homes.” My question is this: Where is Qur’an requiring Muslims not to make friends of those non-Muslims who “had neither fought against your faith nor driven you out of your homes?” Where is it said in this passage? When the categorical statement made is that only those “who fought you on account of your faith and drove you out of your homes and backed up others in your expulsion” can’t be made your friends, how can we add anything else into this category, especially when that category has been clearly defined as a distinct one of those people who can’t be made friends? If the answer to it is that it has been mentioned elsewhere in Qur’an, I would say that quite apart from the fact that the passages of Qur’an that have been alleged to be making such statements have been improperly understood, why has that not been mentioned in this passage, which was the most appropriate occasion for the purpose of clarifying the matter?

Imagine you are telling someone “you can’t make thieves friends; as for honest people, you can be good to them.” How on earth can you claim that this statement is requiring that honest people too can’t be made friends? If there was another category of people who were required not to be made friends, that category should have been mentioned along with thieves.

On the basis of this understanding I strongly believe that the claim that Muslims are urged not to make Jew and Christian friends irrespective of their attitude towards Islam and Muslims is incorrect.

  1. Yet another problem I have with this understanding is that if you go by what this understanding says, Islam seems to be a religion that is promoting tension and hatred amongst humans. On the other hand, when you read Qur’an you find that the Almighty wants humans to come close to one another as a family. If there is any differentiation required to be maintained that has to be on the basis of piety. Qur’an says: “O mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might get to know one another. Surely the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most righteous. Allah is All-Knowledgeable, All-Aware.” (49:13)

It is on the basis of the high status Islam attaches to piety and God-consciousness that Qur’an praises non-Muslims in several verses. For instance, Qur’an says:

Among the people of the Book there are those who if you trust them with a treasure, will return it to you; and among them there are those who, if you trust them with a dinar, will not return it to you, unless you keep standing over them.” (3:75)

They are not all alike. Among the people of the Book there is a party who stand by their covenant; they recite the Word of God in the hours of night and prostrate themselves before Him. They believe in God and the Last Day, and enjoin good and forbid evil, and hasten to vie with one another in good works. And these are among the righteous.” (3:113)

And surely among the People of the Book there are some who believe in God and in what has been sent down to you and in what was sent down to them, humbling themselves before Allah. They trade not the signs of God for a paltry price. It is these who shall have their reward with their Lord. Surely God is swift in settling account.” (3:199)

  1. Another problem with this view that considers all Jews and Christians as Kuffar (those who deliberately reject faith) is that if you accept this view then you have to accept that they are all the worst of all creatures according to Qur’an. The Book of Allah says: “Surely those who disbelieve from among the people of the Book and the Mushrikin (the polytheists) shall be in fire of hell, to dwell therein forever. They are the worst of all creatures.” (98:6) Why, if the other view is correct, is Qur’an requiring Muslims to “be kind and equitable to those (non-believers) who had neither fought against your faith nor driven you out of your homes”, when they are worst of creatures? Why have some of them been praised so lavishly in the verses mentioned in point three above?

C) The Correct View
I believe that the correct view in this regard is that Muslims are required to maintain cordial and friendly relations with all good people, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, on the basis of their behaviour towards Islam and towards Muslims. If there are so-called Muslims around, who are making fun of Islam, Muslims are expected not to be friendly with them too. On the other hand, if there are some good non-Muslims who are respectful to Islam, there is absolutely no harm in making them friends and sharing personal matters with them just as we do with our muslim friends.One of the biggest virtue in friendship is trust and anyone who has that virtue is worthy of becoming your friend.

Qur’an has clarified the reason why some Jews and Christians can’t be made friends in the following passage:

O believers! Do not make your protecting friends those, from among the people who were given the Book before you and the unbelievers, who have made your religion a mockery or pastime, fear Allah if you are true believers. When you call for Salah (prayers) they make it as an object of mockery and pastime; this is because they are a people devoid of understanding.” (5:57-58)

It is the same instruction the Almighty has given to Muslims regarding the hypocrite fellow-Muslims as well. Qur’an says “He has already revealed for you in the Book that when you hear Allah’s revelations being denied or ridiculed by people, you must not sit with them unless they change the topic of their talk, otherwise you shall be considered guilty like them. Rest assured that Allah is going to gather the hypocrites and the unbelievers all together in hell.” (4:140) “What is the matter with you, why are you divided into two groups concerning the hypocrites, while Allah has cast them off on account of their misdeeds? Do you wish to guide those whom Allah has confounded? Whomever Allah has confounded you cannot find a way for them to be guided.” (4:88)

I therefore strongly believe that Qur’an has mentioned the question of friendship to be decided only on the basis of the merit of an individual’s conduct and character rather than on a person’s apparent religious attachment. If a believer’s faith is in jeopardy while in the company of a bad Muslim, he should avoid that company, while if a believer’s character and faith are safe and secure in a non-Muslim’s friendship there is no reason why it should not continue and prosper.The Almighty wants us to avoid the company of only such people whose “… real wish is to see that you become a disbeliever, as they have disbelieved, so that you may become exactly like them. So you should not take friends from their ranks unless they immigrate in the way of Allah …” (4:89) The Qur’an clarifies in another passage that such devious people are only a few.

Hope this helps.

UIUK team

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