Question # 283: Assalamualakum, is it permissible to have disbelievers as friends?
Bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,
Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,
All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.
Shorter Answer: Islam encourages Muslims to take full benefit of the institution of friendship. However, some of the verses of the Qur’an, which admonish Muslims for having friendship with non-Muslims have been misconstrued. In fact, these verses do not refer to each and every type of friendship and relationship. Actually, Muslims should have compassion for all humanity, deal well with all non-Muslims and work with them constructively for common social objectives in an exemplary manner. It is perfectly acceptable to express friendship towards them, engage in business transactions and dealings with them, be respectful, kind, polite, considerate and helpful towards them. This behavior is not only permissible but also encouraged. These types of relationship have been classified as Muwasat (showing concern), Mudarat (cordiality) and Mu’amalat (dealings) by the scholars. We can find from the actions and practices of Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and his companions, whereby non-Muslims were treated with sympathy, generosity, compassion, justice and concern.
The only exception is Muwalat or Mawadda (affairs of the heart), whereby Muslims are discouraged and prohibited to have an extremely deep and intimate relationship with non-Muslims because at times, it might shape up as an impediment and hinder a believer from carrying out his/her religious duties. In summary, it is the duty of every Muslim to convey the message of Islam to the Non-Muslims; however, if we end up with close relationship with them to the extent that we imitate them, there is no way we can honor of responsibility of dawah. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said: “Man follows his friend’s religion, you should be careful who you take for friends”. Lastly, it is to be noted that Muslims are averse only to their disbelief, and not to the disbelievers themselves.
Long Answer: Islam is a religion of mercy, tolerance and moderation. It teaches its followers to be moderate in all fields and walks of life: in aspects of worship, in dealing with others, and in interaction with members of other faiths. Being extreme in one way or another would entail going against the pristine teachings of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) and His beloved Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
If one was to look at the various texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah with regards to interaction and communication with non-Muslims, this aspect (of moderation) would become even more manifest and clear. On one hand, Islam commands us not to love and befriend non-Muslims, whilst many other texts and the practices of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and his companions (رضي الله عنهم) indicate that one should treat non-Muslims in the most respectful and amicable of ways.
Unfortunately, those who do not have a deep understanding of Islam seem to think there is a contradiction in the teachings of Islam with regards to how one’s behavior should be towards non-Muslims. They see the various texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah admonishing those who have close relationship and friendship with non-Muslims, whilst other texts seem to indicate that having good ties with non-Muslims is permitted and encouraged. Similarly, some non-Muslims point fingers at Islam and its followers that Islam teaches hatred, violence and revulsion against non-Muslims.
However, …these understandings are way off the mark. There is no contradiction in the teachings of Islam; neither does Islam teach its followers to have hatred for fellow human beings even if they be from another faith. The reality is that Islam teaches moderation. It allows Muslims to have a good relationship with non-Muslims but to a certain limit. This becomes clearer by looking at the various texts of the Qur’an and the practices of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and his companions.
There are many verses of the Qur’an that prohibit one from having close and intimate relationship with non-Muslims, for example:
- “The believers must not take the disbelievers as Awliyaa’ instead of the believers. And whoever does that, has no relation with Allah whatsoever, unless you [do so] as a protective measure [in order to] save yourself from them.” (Soorah Al-Imran, 3:28) [The word awliyaa’ used here means overlords or protectors or close companions not mere friends.]
Imam Abu Bakr al-Jassas (Allah have mercy on him) states in the explanation of this verse: “The statement of Allah “unless you [do so] as a protective measure [in order to] save yourself from them” “” means, if you fear for your life or limbs of your body from them, then you may save yourselves from them by expressing friendship with disbelievers without it being from the heart…This is the opinion of the majority of scholars.” (Ahkam al-Qur’an)
- “O you who believe! Take not my enemies and yours as friends offering them [your] love…” (Soorah al- Mumtahanah, 60:1)
Imam Abu Bakr al-Jassas (Allah have mercy on him) states that this verse was revealed regarding the Companion Hatib ibn Abi Balta’a (رضي الله عنه) who wrote to the non-believers of Quraysh giving them guidelines (with regards to their safety and other such matters). He did so, as he feared for his wealth and children that he had left behind in Makkah…” (Ahkam al-Qur’an)
- “O you who believe, do not take the Jews and the Christians for intimate friends. They are friends to each other. Whoever takes them as intimate friends is one of them.” (Soorah al-Ma’idah, 5: 51)
Imam Ibn Kathir (Allah have mercy on him) states in the commentary of this verse: “Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) prohibits (in this verse) his believing servants from having close friendship and intimacy with the Jews and Christians – those who are enemies of Islam and its people…” (Tasir Ibn Kathir)
- “You shall 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.” (Soorah al- Mujadilh, 58: 22)
The above few verses of the Qur’an indicate that it is unlawful to have close friendship and intimacy (muwalat) with non-Muslims, even if they were related to one. However, many other texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah, the action and practice of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم), his companion’s treatment of non-Muslims all indicate that one should treat non-Muslims with sympathy, generosity, compassion and concern.
- “Allah forbids you not, with regards 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 loves those who are just.” (Soorah al-Mumtahanah, 60:8)
- “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (Soorah al-Ma’idah, 5:8)
In the above two verses, Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) commands us to treat non-Muslims justly and honorably. The dislike of their beliefs should not prompt a Muslim to treat them unfairly.
The beloved Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم), who was sent as a mercy for the whole of mankind, demonstrated such kindness, compassion, generosity and politeness towards non-Muslims that it is difficult to find similar examples in history:
When Makkah al-Mukarramah was in the grip of famine, he personally went out to help his enemies who had made him leave his home town. At the conquest of Makkah, all his enemies came under his power and control, yet he set them all free saying that not only are you being given amnesty today but rather you are also forgiven for what you have done in the past. When non-Muslim prisoners of war were presented before him, he treated them with such kindness and tenderness as one would treat his own children. His enemies inflicted upon him all sorts of injuries and pain but he never raised his hand in revenge neither did he wish ill for them, rather he would pray for their guidance. A delegation from the tribe of Banu Thaqifa (who had yet not accepted Islam) came to visit him, and was given the honor of staying in the Mosque of the Prophet, a place regarded by Muslims to be the most sacred of places. (See: Ma’arif al-Qur’an)
There are many more such examples in the life of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم). The episode of Ta’if, the treaty of Hudaybiyya and many other such events quite categorically demonstrate the viewpoint of Islam with regards to treating and dealing with non-Muslims.
Likewise, the Companions (رضي الله عنهم) of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) also treated non-Muslims with tenderness and kindness. They gave them their just rights and did not oppress them in any way.
As such, the verses of the Qur’an that caution against friendship with non-Muslims are not referring to each and every type of friendship and relationship. We see that Islam forbids its followers from being very intimate with non-Muslims, but at the same time, it does not prevent one from treating them in a cordial and generous manner.
Based on the above, classical Muslim scholars and jurists have categorized friendship with non-Muslims into four levels and stages:
- Muwasat [(Concern)]: This means to help, assist and benefit non-Muslims. It includes charitable help and support, condolences and consolations, and removing harm, such as giving water to a thirsty non-Muslim or food to someone who is hungry. [For example, after Battle of Badr, Muslims took the disbelievers as prisoners of war. They were kept in the Prophet’s Masjid and were treated in the best manner. They were given the best food, while Muslims had to do with little. During the reign of Umar (رضي الله عنه), non-Muslims used to receive monthly stipends from the state treasury.]
This is also permitted with all types of non-Muslims except those who are directly at war with Muslims. The verse of the Qur’an where Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says: “Allah forbids you not, with regards 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 loves those who are just” refers to this kind of relationship with non-Muslims.
- Mudarat [(Cordiality)]: This means to express friendship and [compassion]… without having love for them and their beliefs… It entails being pleasant, friendly, polite and kind towards non-Muslims. It involves expressing good manners, courtesy and good behavior towards fellow human beings.
This kind of relationship with non-Muslims is permitted, as it is reserved for all human beings, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. This becomes even more important when the objective is to safeguard one’s self from potential harm, invite them towards Islam or when they are one’s guests. The verse of the Qur’an where Allah says “unless you [do so] as a protective measure [in order to] save yourself from them” refers to this type of relationship. However, if one fears undermining his/her religious values, then this type of friendship will also not be permitted with non-Muslims.
- Mu’amalat [(Dealings)]: This means to deal, transact and trade with non-Muslims. This is also permitted with all non-Muslims except when it is harmful to Islam and Muslims in general. (Culled from: Ahkam al-Qur’an, al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, Ma’arif al-Qur’an; Jawahir al-Fiqh and Ifadat Ashrafiyya) [For example, ‘Aishah (رضي الله عنها) reported: When Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) died, his armor was mortgaged with a Jew for thirty Sa’ (measures) of barley. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim). The Jew who was a wheat trader, did not mind giving barley to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) nor did the he (صلى الله عليه و سلم) mind mortgaging his armor to the Jew.]
- Muwalat or Mawadda [(Affairs of the Heart)]: This means to have close and intimate relationship and deep love and affection from one’s heart for a non-Muslim such that it makes a Muslim unmindful of his faith. At times, it might even shape up as an impediment and hinder a believer from carrying out his/her religious duties – since ‘deep intimacy’ makes one blind and thus could result in undermining one’s religious duties.
This Mawadda is reserved only for Muslims; hence it is not permitted for a Muslim to have this type of friendship with non-Muslims. The verses of the Qur’an prohibiting Muslims from having intimate and close friendship with non-Muslims, especially the first verse of Soorah al- Mumtahanah, is regarding this kind of relationship.
It is clear with the above four levels that according to Islamic teachings, to take non–Muslims as friends and associates, in general, is permissible. It is perfectly acceptable to express friendship towards them, engage in business transactions and dealings with them, be respectful, kind, polite, considerate, smile at them, help them if they need assistance, and generally exhibit good manners towards them and be socially good to them. In fact, this is not only permissible but encouraged.
However, what is discouraged and prohibited is to have an extremely deep and intimate connection and a “free and careless” type of association which leads to and causes grave religious harm. Islam (and in fact every other faith) does not tolerate any compromise in contravening its basic beliefs and laws.
Finally, one should always remember that our love, hate, respect and dislike relate to actions and not the person committing these actions. Thus, we dislike the act of disbelief (kufr) but we do not hate non-Muslims as they are also the creation of Allah, hence non-Muslims deserve the same rights as Muslims.
[In summary, it is the duty of every Muslim to convey the message of Islam to the Non-Muslims; however, if we end up imitating them, there is no way we can honor of responsibility of dawah. In fact, we become their enemies as opposed to friends. So, what is forbidden is that which makes to lose your own faith, belief and religion on the basis of this friendship. Abu Hurairah (رضي الله عنه) reported: I heard the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) saying, “Man follows his friend’s religion, you should be careful who you take for friends”. (At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud)]
(Most part of the above answer is taken from the Article ‘The Fiqh of Muslim Non-Muslim Interaction’ by Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam, Darul Iftaa)
Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.