Doesn't the Quran say that Muslims should not take Jews and Christians as friends?
Some translations render this verse (Quran 5:51) as follows:
O you who believe, don't take the Jews and the Christians as friends. They are friends of each other. And whoever amongst you takes them for friends he is indeed one of them.
The word translated as 'friend' in this verse is awliya', in Arabic, plural of the singular wali . I love to challenge my Muslim audiences by asking them how can this rendering be true when classical Islamic law allows a Muslim to marry a Jewish or Christian woman and have her retain her religious practice? The Prophet Muhammad himself married two Jewish women and a Christian woman. Obviously something is missing in this translation.
But before we delve deeper into the interpretive nuances of this verse and the term wali , it is critical to bear in mind that Quranic interpretation is never about looking at one verse without factoring four essential criteria:
1. The specific historical context of the verse's revelation. (1)
2. Supersession of verses by others. This is called naskh in Arabic. This is not only about a verse being completely superseded by another, but when a notion is clarified or nuanced further.
3. Other Quranic verses that speak of the same subject and provide additional nuance.
4. Examining how the Quran defines and re-defines some terms, considered by Quranic scholars as 'key concepts'. In this case, the term wali and its connotations of meaning are critical to the correct interpretation of this verse.
A good example that demonstrates the absurdity of just taking a verse or two without looking at the historical context of its revelation, or at other verses that explicate the issue further, is given by verse 9:97 which unequivocally asserts that:
The Arabs are the worst unbelievers and hypocrites, and are most disposed not to know the limits of what God has revealed to His Prophet. And God is all-knowing, Wise.
One would be led to believe from this that Arabs are furthest from being Muslim. Two verses down the Quran nuances it:
And of the Arabs are those who believe in God and the Last Day, and regard their expenditures and the Prophet's prayers as bringing them closer to God. Indeed these things do bring them closer to God. God will admit them into His mercy, and surely God is forgiving, merciful. (Quran 9:99)
And yet another two verses down, verse 9:101 goes back to state that:
Among those around you of the Arabs are hypocrites-as also among the inhabitants of Medina; they are insolent in their hypocrisy. You don't know them-We do. We will torment them twice, then turn them over to a great punishment.
Today the inhabitants of Medina are regarded among the sweetest and most devout Muslims in all of the Arabian peninsula. Although many modern Arab and Muslim readers are unaware that the Quranic expression a`rab, rendered above as 'Arab,' refers to the Arab nomads, they are unlikely to nuance it incorrectly and go swinging at Arab nomads or non-nomads, or looking for hypocrites in Medina, for it is evident to the modern Arab or Muslim readers that these Quranic verses revealed 14 centuries ago refer neither to all nomadic Arabs at all times, nor to the modern inhabitants of Medina. They know better than to take it out of its historical context.
The same analysis naturally applies to verses on how to regard unbelievers and the People of the Book (i.e. Jews and Christians). The Quran has to be understood in the context of its revelation, and the long history of harmonious Muslim relationships with Jews, Christians and adherents of other faiths demonstrates that such nuanced understanding was the norm.
The second Caliph `Umar issued an edict protecting the churches and monasteries upon Jerusalem's falling under Muslim rule, and he invited Jews back to Jerusalem after they had been banished in 70 CE. This clearly proves that `Umar's understanding of these verses did not mean that Muslims were to be unfriendly to Jews and Christians. And `Umar was among those that had the greatest sense of the Quran's intent and meanings.
But let's now turn to the word wali and the plural awliya'. Although wali includes the idea of 'friend,' it primarily means someone who is a trusted recourse or authority, someone or something you turn to and can count on to protect, advise and guide you regarding a particular matter. A guardian for an orphan is a wali ; Merrill-Lynch or Charles Schwab is a wali for your financial assets or stock portfolio, your bank is a wali, a trustee for a trust you establish. So if a friend warns you not to take Smith-Barney as your wali for your stock portfolio, he doesn't mean not to befriend them, he means not to let them cloud your financial and investment judgment.
In the Quranic context the primary meaning of the term wali is the one to whom you entrust your guidance and turn to and count on in religious affairs, your 'religious trustee, custodian, guardian, savior, and benefactor.' Anyone entrusting his religiosity to other than God is putting it in the wrong place:
Those who take as awliya' (protectors, friends) other than God are like the spider that trusts in its web; and the frailest of houses (i.e. the frailest trustee to entrust your affairs to) is the spider's, if they but knew! (29:41)
Broadly, the Quran divides religious trustees into two polar opposites: God and His supporters/followers on one side (including those he appoints for the purpose of guiding humanity), and Satan and his supporters/followers on the other (whom God also appoints for the purpose of human misguidance). So when God addresses the believers: Don't take your fathers and brothers as awliya' if they prefer disbelief over faith, (9:23) this does not mean that we are not to befriend them; it means we are not to entrust our religiosity to them any more than you would trust your business to your father or brother if they had no business sense. Thus we have the following Quranic examples:
God is the wali (trustee, guardian, protector, custodian, friend) of those who believe; He brings them out of darkness into light. And those who disbelieve, their custodians (awliya') are demons that take them out of light into darkness. 2:257
One part (of humanity) He has guided, and the other part has fallen into error-taking satans as their custodians (awliya') instead of God, thinking they are guided. 7:30
And whoever takes Satan as a protector (wali) instead of God is clearly a big loser. 4:119
You have nowhere to hide (from God) on earth or in the heavens, and you have no protector (wali) nor helper other than God. 29:22
In the Arabia of the time of the Prophet, where there was no police or standing army to protect you from crime or political enemies, a wali was also a 'protector' who was responsible for your personal safety.
So it becomes clear that one has to probe deeper, examine the Arabic meanings and the context in order to come to the true meanings of certain verses.
(1) This is called asbab un-nuzul.
How are Muslims taught to behave towards non-Muslims who worship a plurality of Gods?
Behave kindly and well. The Quran points out that:
Had God wished, they (the polytheists) wouldn't have set up partners (with Him). We haven't appointed you as their keeper, nor as their guardian. So don't abuse what they worship and call upon (in their prayers) besides God, lest they abuse God out of their own ignorance. We have made their actions look good to them; they will return to their Lord and He will inform them of what they did. (Quran 6: 108-109)
The message here is that different beliefs are part of the divine plan, and who are we to think we can alter the divine plan? God will explain to every person upon their returning after death to God what they did and where they went right or wrong in their beliefs and actions. While we can teach people what right religion is about, we are not to tell them they are wrong and insult their religion and their gods.
This verse implies that we are responsible for non-Muslims attitude towards our faith if it is a result of our own abusive behavior towards theirs. The Prophet once said, "Woe to the man who curses his own parents." A companion asked him, "O Messenger of God, who is the man who curses his own parents?" The Prophet replied, "He curses the parents of another man, who then responds in his anger and curses his parents in return."
Do the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah teach Muslims to hate Christians and Jews?
Verse 2:62 of the Quran says:
Surely those who believe, and the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, they have their reward with their Lord; there shall be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.
The Quran asserts that those who practice these faiths, believing in God and in their accountability before God, and do good, shall receive Divine salvation. In a generalized sense, therefore, Muslim scholars have extended the understanding of the above verse to mean that any individual shall receive salvation if he or she admits the oneness of God and ascribes no falsehood or partnership to God, does good and believes that God will resurrect him or her and hold them accountable for their actions.
This understanding was practiced by those who understood the Prophet Muhammad's teachings best-his companions. The second Caliph, Umar bin al-Khattab, during whose reign Jerusalem came under Muslim rule in 638 CE, issued edicts protecting the rights of the Christians to practice their faith and protecting their churches and monasteries, and it was under Umar's rule that seventy Jewish families were invited to take up residence again in Jerusalem after they had been banished from this noble city.
These incidents and a long history of pluralist societies under Muslim rulers demonstrate that Islam is not inherently anti-Christian or anti-Jewish.
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