Updated: Dec 1, 2019
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Ever Merciful.
One of the criticisms levelled against Islam is that it forbids Muslims from forming friendships with Jews and Christians, along with other non-Muslims, based on an out of context misinterpretation of a few verses. The proper method of interpretation is to consider all relevant verses in their proper context. Before a discussion of the verses, my own practice has been to engage in an exchange of views or dialogue with people, and at times, debates. Whilst at university in the late 1980's, I set up a 'Comparative Religions Society' along with two christian student friends, with whom I had been engaging in dialogue, perhaps in 1988, and we had discussions on topics of mutual interest. A pagan student was appointed as treasurer in a subsequent year.
Engaging in amicable dialogue can help promote understanding, such that people become less likely to provoke others, and less likely to react to provocation, and also less likely to be driven to extremes that can spiral into mutual hatred, extremism, radicalisation, terrorism, and all out war. Inclining towards pacifism appears to be the best way forward for peace in the world. The recent concern over Liam Neeson's admission ought to make everyone ponder:
What we can learn from this is that one should behave responsibly and avoid provoking people, and if and when provoked by someone or something, one should learn not to get excited and driven to extremes. Understanding and supplicating for others helps calm anger down. Don't provoke, don't get provoked. Also, if your people, whether of your own race or religion, do something wrong, without others criticising you, start reflecting over why it happened, accept the reality, and contemplate over what measures need to be taken to prevent it from happening in the future. Be proactive. We wouldn't be human without emotions. And just as we need to trim our hair and nails from time to time, we also need to trim our thoughts and feelings from time to time, lest they get out of control.
I won't say I haven't made any mistakes over the decades, for it is human to err, but with an increase in awareness through dialogue, reflection and research, and a continuous reappraisal of one's viewpoint, one can become more sensible on how to handle and resolve differences and disputes. The first meeting I attended after arrival at university was a christian society church service. The pastor/priest suggested everyone to shake hands with those on the right and left, with me apologising to the girl on one side, saying that it was contrary to my religion to shake hands. The expressions of surprise and questioning which followed from the others made me re-think my position over the years given that Islam teaches not intentionally hurting other people's feelings.
I considered whether the hadith is true or false, given that there is no verses of the Qur'an stating it, though one can see the Qur'an supporting it in spirit. One senior missionary once said that a respected more senior missionary says he gives his hand over when a woman extends it. I considered this, but adopted the method of joining one's two hands when greeting if a woman extends her hand, which also conveys a sort of apology, so little or no offence is caused, even without having to utter the words 'sorry, it is a religious matter', for this is implied. The Qur'an tells us:
[5:82] "... And thou shalt assuredly find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ to be the nearest of them in love to the believers. That is because amongst them are savants and monks and because they are not proud."
[57:27] "... And WE put compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him (i.e. Isa a.s.). And monasticism they invented - WE did not prescribe it for them - for the seeking of ALLAH's pleasure; but they observed it not as it should be observed. Yet WE gave those of them, who believed, their due reward, but many of them are rebellious."
It becomes clear that those who truly follow the teachings of Jesus a.s., and those who truly follow Muhammad s.a., would naturally come close to each other in love and friendship, compassion and mercy. However, how many are there in the world who truly follow the message delivered to them by these noble Prophets a.s.? Alas. And this is/was the problem, which is why Muslims were warned to be wary of those Jews and Christians who didn't abide by the message/s given to them by their Prophets.
The verses prohibiting seeking the protection of some non-Muslims relate to those who are at war with or steeped in enmity towards Muslims, and this understanding is supported by the following verses:
[60:7] It may be that Allah will bring about love between you and those of them with whom you are now at enmity; and Allah is All-Powerful; and Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.
[60:8] Allah forbids you not, respecting those who have not fought against you on account of your religion, and who have not driven you forth from your homes, that you be kind to them and act equitably towards them; surely Allah loves those who are equitable.
[60:9] Allah only forbids you, respecting those who have fought against you on account of your religion, and have driven you out of your homes, and have helped others in driving you out, that you make friends of them, and whosoever makes friends of them — it is these that are the transgressors.
I shall revert to relations with the People of the Book (i.e. principally the Jews and Christians) a little later on, but let's first see what relations Muslim believers can have with idolaters.
Relations with Idolaters:
Other than those who wage war against believers and persecute them for their different faith, the Qur'an encourages normal relations of love with the idolatrous members of one's family:
[42:23] This it is whereof Allah gives the glad tidings to His servants who believe and do good works. Say: ‘I ask of you no reward for it, except love of kinship.’ And whoso earns a good deed, We give him increase of good therein. Surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Appreciating.
Some people express their misgivings about the following verse:
[60:4] There is a good model for you in Abraham and those with him, when they said to their people, ‘We have nothing to do with you and with that which you worship beside Allah. We disbelieve all that you (believe). There has arisen enmity and hatred between us and you for ever, until you believe in Allah alone’ — with the exception of (this) saying of Abraham to his father, ‘I will surely ask forgiveness for thee, though I have no power (to prevail) upon Allah in favour of thee.’ (They prayed to God saying), ‘Our Lord, in Thee do we put our trust and to Thee do we turn repentant, and towards Thee is the (final) return.
However, their objections arise from their insufficient reflection over the Qur'an, which tells us that Abraham a.s. was thrown into a fire by those idolatrous enemies:
[39:97,98] They said, ‘Build for him a structure and cast him into the fire.’ Thus they intended an evil design against him, but We made them most humiliated.
[21:68] They said, ‘Burn him and help your gods, if at all you mean to do anything.’ We said, ‘O fire, be thou cold and a means of safety for Abraham!’ And they had sought to do evil to him, but We made them the worst losers.
So, the enmity appears to have arisen due to the wrongdoing of the idolatrous enemies, not their idolatry per se.
Relations & Diet:
Let us consider some relevant verses of Sura Al-Maa'idah, which deals with inter-personal and inter-faith relations in the context of diet:
[5:3] Forbidden to you is the flesh of an animal which dies of itself, and blood, and the flesh of swine; and that on which is invoked the name of one other than Allah; and that which has been strangled; and that beaten to death; and that killed by a fall; and that which has been gored to death; and that of which a wild animal has eaten, except that which you have properly slaughtered; and that which has been slaughtered at an altar. And forbidden is also that you seek to know your lot by the divining arrows. That is an act of disobedience. This day have those who disbelieve despaired of harming your religion. So fear them not, but fear Me. This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour upon you and have chosen for you Al-Islam as religion. But whoso is forced by hunger, without being wilfully inclined to sin, then, surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.
[5:4] They ask thee what is made lawful for them. Say, ‘All good things have been made lawful for you; and what you have taught the beasts and birds of prey to catch for you, training them for hunting and teaching them of what Allah has taught you. So eat of that which they catch for you, and pronounce thereon the name of Allah. And fear Allah. Surely, Allah is quick in reckoning.’
[5:5] This day all good things have been made lawful for you. And the food of the People of the Book is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And lawful for you are chaste believing women and chaste women from among those who were given the Book before you, when you give them their dowries, contracting valid marriage and not committing fornication nor taking secret paramours. And whoever rejects the faith, his work has doubtless come to naught, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers.
What is the link between diet and marriage that they are mentioned in the same verse [5:5]? One obvious connection is that marital partners tend to share their diet, and children will generally feed on whatever is put into their mouths by the parents, being helpless in this regard to a large degree, so it appears to make sense to select a partner who does not consume what one considers unlawful, such as pork. However, there appears to be a deeper significance beyond the material diet, and I will explain my interpretation of these verses in a symbolic sense if you were to have the patience to bear with me a little. If you have some difficulty seeing eye to eye with me on this, it is simply a deeper understanding of these verses of the Qur'an in line with the rest of the Qur'an, and in the light of the interpretation of symbols in dreams.
A 'swine' symbolises an evil person who is fond of pomp and show but his inner condition is evil (according to the Islamic interpretation of dreams). Such a person's ideas (which constitutes one's mental or moral diet) would be likely to contain a great deal of unlawful thoughts, such as wrongdoing and wickedness, e.g. Nazism, or Apartheid, or evils similar to these. To intimately associate with such a person either in marriage or other forms of close friendship would run the risk of polluting one's own heart and mind.
Similarly, associating intimately with an idolater without caution may influence one's own thoughts towards idolatrous notions. However, loving idolaters whilst adhering firmly to monotheism is not forbidden, for the Prophet Muhammad s.a. loved his guardian uncle Abu Talib, and it is said that the reason for the revelation of the following verse was him (but of course the principles would also apply to other people in general):
[28:56] Surely thou wilt not be able to guide (all) whom thou lovest, but Allah guides whomsoever He pleases; and He knows best those who would accept guidance.
Now, it is not just the material diet of those who follow the Book which is generally lawful for Muslims, but it appears that the significance of these words is that the moral and spiritual diet of those who follow the previous Book is lawful for Muslims to contemplate, whereas evil ideas such as Nazism are not lawful for a believer to 'digest'. As the following article shows, Torah-observant Jews would not simply go about eating 'halal' food:
Thus, the above verses appear to have a deeper significance other than just the material diet, and this becomes more apparent on reflecting over them. And just as blood consumption is unlawful, so also it is unlawful to initiate warfare or murder people. It is unfortunate that some Muslims mix in thoughts of unlawful killing, which may be symbolised as blood, with the pure teachings of Islam, which may be likened to milk. And some scholars poison this nutritious 'milk' and wholesome 'diet' with wrong notions which corrupt the hearts, promoting arrogance, hatred and enmity.
Thus, one should associate more closely with those whose 'diet' is pure and wholesome like 'milk', and avoid that which is unlawful, such as blood and the flesh of swine (i.e. evil and wicked thoughts). There are probably few who can influence others towards virtue without being influenced by their vice at the same time. The righteous believers are granted love by Allah, a love for His creatures, be they righteous or otherwise, with such love being manifested by giving glad tidings to the righteous, and warning those who are contentious [19:96.97] of the negative consequences of their errant views and ways.
Most if not all people have been fed a particular mental and moral or immoral diet from childhood by their families, and it is not that easy for people to discard the ideas that they have been spoon-fed by those they trust, whether they be parents or religious leaders in the mosque or church etc.The struggle which the seventh day adventists went through before they eventually discarded the consumption of the flesh of swine provides 'food for thought' on this matter. Likewise, those who have been spoon-fed a diet of misinterpretations of the Qur'an distorted due to an acceptance of falsely labelled 'sahih' ahadith, having developed 'blind faith' in Bukhari and other books as 'sahih', and their revered scholars, and cherished dogmas, for a long time, would naturally be expected to undergo a long process of struggling with such notions before discarding them, if at all they do so eventually.
In terms of interpretation, if someone sees in a dream that food is ready, but it is not being eaten, it could mean that someone is refusing to digest the thoughts and ideas which are being offered to him, or it may be that someone is not willing to accept a marriage proposal from someone else who has shown readiness for it. Thus, it is essential to develop a filter within one's mind as to what thoughts and ideas to accept and what to reject of that which is presented by others, and the best way of doing so is by reflecting on relevant verses of the Holy Qur'an, which is Al-Furqaan, i.e. the discriminator between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, fact and fiction, good and evil. This means that if our opponents are uttering the truth, for which proof or sound logical reasoning is presented, then we should be willing to accept it from them.
As regards the verse [5:5] being taken to mean that there is a permission for a muslim woman to marry a non-muslim man as well, this would be going beyond what is clearly stated as permitted. The argument that women are given similar rights to men, and hence muslim women are also permitted to marry chaste men from the ahlul-kitab, appears to be weak. After all, men are permitted to marry more than one under certain conditions, whereas this is inconceivable for a woman. Moreover, men having a degree of responsibility over women, and also being made 'qawwaam', believing muslim men who properly adhere to the Qur'an would make better and more responsible husbands, so it is not in the best interests of believing muslim women to marry outside of the fold. The OT of the Bible states that the husband will rule over the wife [Genesis 3:12], and the NT of the Bible orders the wife to submit to her husband in everything:
"Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife ..." [Ephesians 5:22,23].
The Qur'an does not command the wife to obey her husband in anything, let alone submit to him in everything, as discussed in the article on [4:34]. Both spouses are expected to submit to Allah alone in everything, and only to obey fallible humans in what is 'maroof', which is pure monotheism. If someone is concerned about the erroneous attitudes of some muslim men due to an undue adherence to hadith books labelled as 'sahih', even then an Ahmadi Muslim lady might have some leverage against such ahadith by quoting the Qur'an, which is to be held supreme by Ahmadis. In addition, if an Ahmadi husband in practice disregards the incorrect label of 'sahih', then he would be more likely not to violate what is evident from the Qur'an, even if it happens to be stated in Ahmadiyya Jama'at writings.
An Ahmadi Muslim lady wanting to marry a non-Ahmadi man may not have any such leverage, and will have to contend with his relatives considering her a non-Muslim and being dealt with as a disbeliever. The prejudiced interpretations by male scholars over the centuries, and fiqh produced by the ijtihaad of fallible male scholars, some or many of whom were prejudiced and influenced by the biases of their society, is indeed a problem that needs to be resolved and rectified as soon as possible, and voices do need to be raised about this. There may be no punishment prescribed for a believing Muslim woman marrying outside of Islam, and her relatives would still be expected to treat her kindly and lovingly if they are not reluctant to apply [60:8] and [42:23] to her, but she would, in my view, still be acting in a manner contrary to what is apparent from the Qur'an, making it a sin, something she would avoid committing if she was a practising, as well as a true and sincere believer in Allah and the Last Day.
Though there may appear to be a scope for a believing Muslim man marrying a good chaste woman of the people of the book, given the issues with material diet and doctrines such as trinity which are of a polytheistic nature, and possible animosity from others within her circle who may instigate her towards enmity, as previously discussed, as well as the instruction of the Prophet s.a. to make the religion (faith, piety etc.) of a prospective wife (or spouse) the primary consideration, it may be that the door is slightly open more for an unbelieving woman to contemplate on the possibility of associating more closely with believing Muslims, than it is for a believing Muslim man to contemplate associating more intimately with unbelievers. Isn't a practising believing Muslim woman not much 'better' than a 'good' chaste unitarian woman of the People of the Book for a believing practising Muslim man? And Allah knows best.
[The rest of this article needs some editing]
A verse relevant to human relations especially for those in authority, whether over religious communities or as heads of a household, is the following one:
[3:159] And it is by the great mercy of Allah that thou art kind towards them, and if thou hadst been rough and hard-hearted, they would surely have dispersed from around thee. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them, and consult them in matters of administration; and when thou art resolved, then put thy trust in ALLAH. Surely, ALLAH loves those who put their trust in HIM.
For those in authority to criticise their dependants on petty and superficial issues is rather callous, and the verse instructs pardoning and forgiving, overlooking minor things, rather than highlighting mistakes that cause little harm and would vanish with progress in faith and knowledge anyway, perhaps only so as to try to show off one's own supposed knowledge or piety before people, and in the process, causing embarrassment to the person or people concerned. The only reason why some people might not disperse is because they find themselves trapped in such an oppressive 'house', and would look outside with a view to escaping the stifling atmosphere within the 'house'.
If one is considered 'big', one ought to have mercy for those who are considered 'small'; if one is considered wise and well versed in learning, one ought to serve those who don't know with words of wisdom, rather than desire to bring disgrace on them by exposing their supposed ignorance, whilst in reality trying to show off one's own perceived learning. One should not unduly assert oneself with pride or arrogance over others, even those who are placed under oneself. This is our teaching.
The correct way of inviting people to the way of Allah is with wisdom, and the best way to repel evil and bring about reform is, in most cases, with love and kindness instead of harshness, with justice and firmness resorted to if deemed necessary and appropriate according to the circumstances:
[16:125] Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in a way that is best. Surely, thy Lord knows best who has strayed from His way; and He knows those who are rightly guided.
[2:260] And remember when Abraham said, ‘My Lord, show me how Thou givest life to the dead.’ He said, ‘Hast thou not believed?’ He said, ‘Yes, but I ask this that my heart may be at rest.’ He answered, ‘Take four birds and make them attached to thyself. Then put each of them on a hill; then call them; they will come to thee in haste. And know that Allah is Mighty, Wise.’
Firmly warning people of the negative consequences of their erroneous views, beliefs, attitudes and practices, also stems from love for them, as the Holy Qur'an states:
[19:96-97] Those who believe and do good deeds — the Gracious God (Ar-Rahmaan) will create love (in their hearts). So We have made it (the Qur’an) easy in thy tongue that thou mayest give thereby good tidings to the righteous, and warn thereby a people given to contention.
The attribute of Allah mentioned is Ar-Rahman, understood to be applicable to believers as well as unbelievers, the righteous as well as the unrighteous. If the attribute Ar-Raheem had been mentioned in the verse, it would have been understood to signify love for the righteous believers, which would be limited and restrictive. This however is not the case, upon careful reflection on the verses. The true servants of the Gracious one do admonish people given to contention in the best and most appropriate and wise manner about the error of their ways, and this behaviour of theirs stems from love rather than hate. And the following verses are relevant for those who invite people towards Allah:
[41:34] And who is better in speech than he who invites men to Allah and does good works and says, ‘I am surely of those who submit?’ [41:35] And good and evil are not alike. Repel evil with that which is best. And lo, he between whom and thyself was enmity will become as though he were a warm friend.
Hatred for those steeped in unbelief and impiety, and the way of repelling evil with evil, can result in the sort of hard-heartedness described in the following verse, though even amongst those who have become 'stone-hearted', there still remains some hope that they may become humble:
[2:74] Then your hearts became hardened after that, till they were like stones or harder still; for of stones indeed there are some out of which gush forth streams, and of them there are some out of which flows water when they cleave asunder. And indeed, of them there are some that humble themselves for fear of Allah. And Allah is not unmindful of what you do.
(this article is under development)
[19:76] Allah increases in guidance those who follow the guidance. [20:47] Peace be upon those who follow the guidance.