2.9 Muslim and Non- Muslim Relations
Host: To all of the viewers of the Islam In Focus program I greet you with the greetings of all of the prophets from Abraham to Prophet Muhammad (PBUT) AsalmuAlikum which means peace be upon you. In today’s session we will be dealing with the ninth program in the series on prophet-hood in Islam. In the previous series on Monotheism or the oneness of Allah the concluding session focused on the practical application of monotheism on the thinking and life of the Muslim. Likewise in today’s program we are starting the concluding portion of the series Prophet-hood in Islam by looking into some of the practical applications of the belief of all prophets on the thinking, the attitude and the actions of the Muslim.
More specifically what is the effect of the Muslim’s belief in prophet-hood on his or her attitude towards non-Muslims?
Does the Qur’an contain any instructions on how he/she is to relate to others who are non-Muslims?
Is there any basis in the Qur’an for peaceful co-existence, what is the general rule and what are some of the exceptions concerning this relationship?
In the Qur'an, we find that the basic general role between the Muslim and non-Muslim is very clearly spelled out. This is not the only citations, but is one of the key citations; the translation of the meaning reads “Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just. Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong.” (60:8-9) There are three important observations on this text.
First, it is clearly stated that as a general rule the relationship between a Muslim and a Non-Muslim is that of justice and kindness or in other words peaceful co-existence. It is obvious, also, that if there is any deviation from that basic rule of friendship and fellowship it is only because of certain exceptional reasons. According to the verses I sited these reasons include people who are fighting others regarding their faith. An exception includes when one is fighting another because of their Muslim faith and trying to obliterate or destroy their religious identity.
The verse mentions the second exception ‘those who drive you out of your homes.’ This is specific to those who are engaged in actual violence and hostility against Muslims or those who are supporting others in driving Muslims out of their homes. I don’t think there is any sane person who can extend intimacy and friendship to those who are trying to destroy him/her.
The third observation on this is that there are two key phrases used in this citation, which can be explained further. The words are tabarohum and tuqsitho illaihim. The second term means to be ‘just with them’ so justice is one meaning. This means we can’t persecute people, take away their rights or hurt them simply because they are not Muslims. The first term is quite interesting tabarohum comes from the Arabic verb bir and this word doesn’t just connote justice and kindness it goes beyond that. Bir means everything that is good, decent, respectable and compassionate. To clarify that further, we find that in Islamic literature, especially in the Prophetic Tradition, the exact term bir is used between a person and his parents. In other words a person is supposed to have bir for his parents, which is a lot more than kindness it is a combination of kindness, decency, respect and compassion.
It is obvious then that on the basis of this general rule in the Qur’an any non-Muslim who accepts to have peaceful co-existence with Muslims is to be treated justly and kindly and friendship or fellowship may be extended to him/her. On the other hand it is also obvious and practical to say that those who promote hostility or hatred towards Muslims can’t expect to have this kind of intimacy or friendship.
Host: The verses that we have just been discussing seem to refer to the situation of non-Muslims in general are there are other verses that speak more specifically about the relationship between Muslims and Jews and Christians in particular?
Yes, there are but first of all lets not forget that the extension of the same justice and kindness as ordained in the Qur’an definitely include Jews and Christians in the verse that I sited before. The verse was general and applies to Jews, Christians and others. But just to satisfy the question over and above this general treatment of non-Muslims we find that the Qur’an calls Jews and Christians by a particular title. In Arabic the title is Ahlul Kitab translated literally to People of the Book. In fact, I counted a minimum of twenty nine places in the Qur’an where the term the People of the Book is used to refer to Jews and Christians.
Then you may ask what the significance is of the Qur’an singling out Jews and Christians from among all non-Muslims with this particular term. The reason being is the word Kitab itself, which means Book, refers to scriptures. The title refers to people whose prophets received scriptures like the Torah and the Gospel. That in itself is the greatest manifestation of the special status given to this group of non-Muslims, Jews and Christians, because they are definitely closer to Muslims than other who disbelieve in God or believe in tribal gods or believe in multiplicity of gods. They are definitely closer because of four basic reasons.
First of all, in all these great faiths Judaism, Christianity and Islam there is one commonality: the belief in God or Allah (which means the supreme creator and sustainer of the universe). Figuratively speaking, the three religions believe in one supreme loving father. There may be differences with respect to issues like the trinity, for example, or Prophet Jesus being God’s son, which are not accepted by Muslims and Jews. Again, that doesn’t bear on the basic concept of believing in God.
Secondly, in all three faiths there is a belief in prophet-hood and that God sent messengers or prophets throughout history in order to guide humanity, to reconcile them to their creator and to guide them to the path of truth. Of course prophets die, but their message is never dead because the followers carry the message to others. So the death is physical but the messages of the prophets live on.
Thirdly, all three faiths believe in divine revelation and that scriptures are revealed to the prophets in order to guide humanity. Again, there may be differences as to which scripture is relatively more authentic and remains without change versus one that may have incorporated other philosophies and had omissions and additions over time. Yet, the belief in scriptures is common.
A fourth commonality is the belief in the law of punishment and reward, that is accountability, and the hereafter. People in the hereafter will be rewarded or punished depending on their belief and behavior and their compliance with the moral code, which has been echoed by all prophets throughout history, from Adam to the last prophet, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
So in that sense the areas that I described provide for a lot more commonality between Muslims on one hand and Jews and Christians on the other as distinct from atheists or polytheists.
Host: Sometimes the claim is made that there is a verse in the Qur’an, which actually implores or discourages the Muslims from befriending Jews and Christians as a rule? Is this true and if so how does that verse relate to the verses we have been discussing?
The verse cited earlier, is so conclusive and so clear that this is the general rule. If there is anything else in the Qur’an, it would have to be interpreted under that general rule. It seems that one of the main issues is when things are taken out of context and so would then have opposing meanings.
This reminds me of one verse in the Qur’an that says do not go to prayers when your mind is beclouded. So if you cite do not approach prayer (and leave out the rest of the verse) it means one should not pray which is the exact opposite meaning of what the verse intends. If someone says the Islamic testimony ‘there is no God but one God’ but instead says there is no God and stops then the meanings are completely different. Everything must be taken in the proper context of the verses around it as well as with other supporting verses in the Qur’an.
The verse cited earlier is so clearly that there is no restriction on friendship so long as they do not fall within the exceptions. There is a verse in the Qur’an, in the fifth chapter, which may give the misleading impression that a Muslim is not supposed to befriend Jews and Christians.
Let’s look into that verse as well as the following verse that is normally neglected when people quote this verse. This verse appears in Qur’an saying, “O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.” (5:51) Some people quote this and forget to quote the following verse, which really makes it clear as to which conditions this would be applicable.
The Qur'an goes on to day, “Those in whose hearts’ is a disease - thou seest how eagerly they run about amongst them, saying: "We do fear lest a change of fortune bring us disaster." Ah! perhaps Allah will give (thee) victory, or a decision according to His will. Then will they repent of the thoughts which they secretly harboured in their hearts.” (5:52)
When we refer to the interpretation of the Qur’an that is tied to the reason for that revelation and the conditions it deals specifically with some of the hypocritical people who were within the ranks of Muslims. These people would claim to be Muslim on the surface however they expected the non-Muslims, who were at the time in conflict with the Muslims, to achieve victory. So they tried to keep this friendship with the non-Muslims secret even though they were fighting and trying to obliterate the Muslims in the hope that if the Muslims are winners then they are accepted as such and if the non-Muslims win they would go back to them as supporters. It is obvious then that what the Qur’an is condemning is this kind of duplicity and hypocrisy.
There is something more important than this also and it goes back to the original words used in the Qur’an. If we refer to the first verse it says don’t take Jews and Christians awlia’a doesn’t necessarily just mean friends actually the closer meaning is what Yusuf Ali (translated the Qur’anic verses above) included as an explanatory term ‘protectors.’ The word is actually much closer in meaning to protectors than friendship. There are lots of verses in the Qur’an that confirm this meaning of awlia’a as protector. This means that one can’t depend on the defenses of those who show open hostility towards them.
Finally, maybe I should add the point that this deals with communal relationships when there are Muslims and non-Muslims engaged in hostility (war). It is very ironic, as many Muslim jurists pointed out, that this verse is to apply to every individual Jew or Christian. This is definitely far from the intention behind these verses and contradictory to other instructions that appear in the Qur’an. So in this sense one can’t say that this last verse applies to a Jew or Christian who is a decent neighbor, colleague or acquaintance. This is the problem with partial quotations or quotations that are taken out of context.
Host: I wonder if you may take some time to share with us a few more verse from the Qur’an which confirm the statement that friendship and co-existence is a rule in Islam and the restrictions that are placed on this are the exceptions.
I’ll refer to three passages in the Qur’an. The first one states, “O ye who believe! Take not into your intimacy those outside your ranks: They will not fail to corrupt you. They only desire your ruin: Rank hatred has already appeared from their mouths: What their hearts conceal is far worse. We have made plain to you the Signs, if ye have wisdom. Ah! ye are those who love them, but they love you not,- though ye believe in the whole of the Book. When they meet you, they say, “We believe”: But when they are alone, they bite off the very tips of their fingers at you in their rage. Say: “Perish in you rage; Allah knoweth well all the secrets of the heart.” If aught that is good befalls you, it grieves them; but if some misfortune overtakes you, they rejoice at it. But if ye are constant and do right, not the least harm will their cunning do to you; for Allah Compasseth round about all that they do.” (3:118-120) In this passage there is a problem with the translation. What is mentioned here are only concerning the people who are bent on corrupting Muslims, who really envy or have bad feelings towards them and who take any chance to ruin and destroy Muslims. This passage is highly specific and does not relate to the general public.
The second passage instructs Muslims, “O ye who believe! Take not my enemies and yours as friends (or protectors),- offering them (your) love, even though they have rejected the Truth that has come to you, and have (on the contrary) driven out the Prophet and yourselves (from your homes), (simply) because ye believe in Allah your Lord!” (60:1) This again is a reference to those who again harbor aggressiveness towards Muslims and actually participate in driving them out of their homes.
The third and final passage is the verse, which shows again that Muslims should not have intimate relationship with those who are not sincere to God or those who are fighting or offending God, which of course would not apply to any sincere believer regardless of his faith, even if they are friends or relatives. The passage says, “Thou wilt not find any people who believe in Allah and the Last Day, loving those who resist Allah and His Messenger, even though they were their fathers or their sons, or their brothers, or their kindred.” (58:22) Then the verse continues on praising the people who refuse to have intimacy with those who offend God or resist God and the truth.
Host: In the exceptions that you have sited is there room for reconciliation?
There is no question about that, in fact if there is any restriction on friendship and fellowship with any non-Muslim, especially Jews and Christians, it has to be regarded as temporary. Since it is by exception for certain reasons if the reasons are removed then friendship can be extended. We find this very noble rule in the following verse, “It may be that Allah will grant love (and friendship) between you and those whom ye (now) hold as enemies. For Allah has power (over all things); And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (60:7)
Something that is even more interesting and shows the attitude of Islam towards those who wrong them with the right to defend themselves and their existence but still the appeal to turning evil into good, which would lead to the improvement of the situation. I refer in particular to the following passage, “Who is better in speech than one who calls (men) to Allah, works righteousness, and says, "I am of those who bow in Islam"? Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate! And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint,- none but persons of the greatest good fortune.” (41:33-34) It shows very clearly as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that “goodness, is not to be good to one who is good to you, but goodness is to do good to some one who has wronged you.”
Host: Now besides the appeals that are made in the Qur’an for charity and forgiveness towards fellow non-Muslims is there anything in Islamic law that corroborates or substantiates this attitude and give practical application for what the Qur’an says?
There is a verse in the Qur'an, in the same chapter as the passage referred to earlier that provided the restriction on friendship under certain circumstances, which says “This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time,- when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues if any one rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).” (5:5)
In this verse what it really says is that a Muslim is permitted to eat the slaughtered animals of the Jews and Christians. As you know in Islamic law, one is not permitted to eat the same meat if an atheist or polytheist slaughtered it. So this is something that relates to dietary laws that considers the People of the Book closer to Islam and as such it is lawful to eat their food and especially the mean they slaughter. But perhaps the noblest evidence that there is an attitude of openness and tolerance to followers of other faiths is the question of marriage. According to that very verse, it says that a Muslim man may also marry a Jewish or Christian woman. What could be closer in terms of intimacy and friendship than the noble relationship of marriage of which the Qur’an says, “And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.” (30:21)