Cordial Relations Between Faith Communities

During the course of interfaith dialogue some participants assert that Islam advocates intolerance of other faiths, and that Muslims are not permitted to be friendly with non believers. Some even point out references from religious texts to support their view. Sadly, a few of those who label themselves as Muslim also agree to this and maintain a view that non believers should be shunned and despised, and Muslims should not forge cordial ties with them but should be in a constant state of animosity.

Particularly, references are made towards those of Jewish and Christian tradition and the objection is raised that Muslims are advised in their holy scripture not to: “…take the Jews and Christians as allies … Anyone who takes them as an ally becomes one of them.”? (5:51)”.

If believers are not to form alliances with Jews and Christians, then how can communal harmony be built in environments where diverse faiths reside and share the same spaces? Imagine a school where children of Jewish, Islamic and Christian backgrounds come together to study, are Muslims supposed to shun their Jewish and Christan classmates, and not seek their friendship?

What about the sports team where Muslims, Jews and Christians play together? If such a view were put into practice in letter and spirit, then what would be the outcome for the Muslim community but becoming ostracized from the rest of the members of society. Sadly, this is what some misguided individuals would want us to believe. This serious misconception and errant view is the result of complete ignorance of the Qur’an and lack of understanding of Arabic language. The verse in question which is often cherry picked to ‘prove’ the intolerant behavior of Muslims is not interpreted and understood properly and distorted readings are what cause such misconceptions.

In reality the verse in question (5:51) states that believers should not take Jews and Christians as Aulia. The Arabic word Aulia is the plural form of Wali and its precise meaning is more than just ‘friend’ or ‘ally’, but the term carries the meaning of “guardian”, “manager of affairs”, “protector”, and “caretaker”. (C.F. Lane’s Arabic English Lexicon, pp. 3080).

E.g. A parent is a Wali i.e. a guardian, or manager of affairs and maintenance of his child. For ‘friend’ or ‘ally’, the words Khaleel (see 25:28 & 17:73) and Sadeeq (see 24:61) have occurred in the Qur’an. There is a difference between being friends with someone and in living as a dependent under someone’s guardianship or protection, whereby the guardian controls the material as well as spiritual needs of the dependent. But why is it that the Qur’an exhorts believers not to be under the guardianship of Jews and Christians?

Because some Jews and Christians have been identified in the Qur’an to display certain characteristics that are detrimental to the spiritual well being of believers, e.g. they will not show tolerance towards the religion of believers, but will strive to convert them to their own religion. They consider salvation to be their exclusive right, destine only themselves to paradise and condemn the rest of mankind to hellfire (see 2:111), consider only themselves as the son’s and beloved one’s of God (see 5:18), and do not have any accommodation for anyone else, even for each other (see 2:113). The believers are therefore warned that with such a mentality such individuals will not rest until they convert others to their own belief:

“And never will the Jews and the Christians be satisfied with you until you follow their religion..” (2:120)

“And they say: ‘Become Jew or Christian, and it is then that you will be guided aright!…” (2:135)

Therefore, in such a situation where believers do not have the freedom to maintain their own beliefs, and were they are under the constant barrage to convert, they should not remain under the guardianship of such individuals who do not allow them personal freedom and from whom they are under the strain of proselytism and demands for conversion. I am sure that people  will feel uncomfortable in such an environment, where “Hot Gospellers” and “Bible Thumpers” rest not until they convert people to their own point of view and will see the wisdom behind the Qur’anic advice of not remaining dependent and subservient in such a passionate evangelical or rabbinical atmosphere.

The Qur’an forbids believers to seek guardianship and protection of those who are aggressive and intolerant towards their faith. As for those who do not show aggression and intolerance towards believers, the Qur’anic advice is for good and just relations as stated:

“God 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 God loveth those who are just.” (60:8)

Deal kindly and justly with Jews and Christians who are non hostile to you. This is God’s instruction to the Muslim community. There is ample textual evidence for this case.