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Interfaith Relations: Are we really supposed to hate non-Muslims? (Part 1)

Interfaith Relations: Are we really supposed to hate non-Muslims? (Part 1) April 21, 2006

&I was asked by one of my readers this question:

“Let’s say a muslim invites a christian to dinner, tells him about the wonders of Allah (pbuh) and Islam, and humbly asks the christian to become a muslim, now that he knows the truth. And the christian declines. I am correct in thinking that the christian is now a kaffir who also is in a state of kufr? Should the muslim now hate the christian? Why does Islam teach its adherents to hate anyone?;

This is an excellent question, and it raises another, even more important question: what is the relationship of the Muslim to the non-Muslim? After all, the world will always be full of those who are not Muslim. It is, in fact, part of God’s plan to be thus:

Have, then, they who have attained to faith not yet come to know that, had God so willed, He would indeed have guided all mankind aright? (13:31)

Unto every one of you have We appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you… (5:48)

Is the relationship of the Muslim to the non-Muslim one of hatred and enmity? Hardly. Rather, it is one of peace and mutual respect. Islam does not call its followers to hate those who are not Muslim. This is a horrific misreading and misunderstanding of the Sacred Text of Islam, and it is high time for Muslims to abandon such destructive thinking.

Now, there are verses in the Qur’an that seem to contradict my contention. These verses say:

Let not the believers take those who deny the truth for their allies in preference to the believers… (3:28)

As for those who take the deniers of the truth for their allies in preference to the believers – do they hope to be honoured by them when, behold, all honour belongs to God [alone]? (4:139)

O you who have attained to faith! Do not take the deniers of the truth for your allies in preference to the believers! Do you want to place before God a manifest proof of your guilt? (4:144)

O you who have attained to faith! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for your allies: they are but allies of one another and whoever of you allies himself with them becomes, verily, one of them; behold, God does not guide such evildoers. (5:51)

The Arabic term used in these verses is awliya’, which has several meanings in the Arabic, including “friend,” “helper,” “protector,” “ally.” The meaning differs depending on the context of the verse. Now, it is very interesting that those who are bent on claiming that Muslims should hate non-Muslims almost always translate awliya’ as “friends.” The truth of the matter, however, is quite different.

Muhammad Asad (may God’s mercy be upon him) has explained the meaning of these verses the best. He wrote:

More than anything else, it obviously alludes to a “moral alliance” with the deniers of the truth: that is to say, to an adoption of their way of life in preference to the way of life of the believers, in the hope of being “honoured”, or accepted as equals, by the former. Since an imitation of the way of life of confirmed unbelievers must obviously conflict with the moral principles demanded by true faith, it unavoidably leads to a gradual abandonment of those principles.

However, as has been made abundantly clear in 60:7-9 (and implied in verse [5:57]), this prohibition of a “moral alliance” with non-Muslims does not constitute an injunction against normal, friendly relations with such of them as are well-disposed towards Muslims. [emphasis added]

The last part is the most important of his explanation. There is nothing to preclude normal, friendly relations with non-Muslims who are good to Muslims. In verse 5:57 (referenced above) it says: “O you who have attained to faith! Do not take for your friends such as mock at your faith and make a jest of it – be they from among those who have been vouchsafed revelation before your time, or [from among] those who deny the truth [of revelation as such] – but remain conscious of God, if you are [truly] believers.” This makes sense. To extrapolate this and the other verses I cited above, however, to mean that: (1) Muslims are not to have friendly relations with anyone who is not Muslim, but not only that, (2) Muslims are supposed to hate them is terribly incorrect. There is no basis for this reading at all.

In addition, an example of how I understand Asad’s above explanation is alcohol. If I start drinking (which is clearly prohibited by Islam) so that my non-Muslim friends and colleagues can like and accept me, I have taken them as “moral allies” in my hope of “being honored by them,” as verse 4:139 says. But, I should remember that “all honor belongs to God [alone],” and thus, I should not compromise my faith by drinking in order to be popular. Yet, once again, this does not mean that I have to hate all those who are not Muslim.

The adherents of what I will call “The Doctrine of Hatred” retort by citing this verse:

Indeed, you have had a good example in Abraham and those who followed him, when they said unto their [idolatrous] people: “Verily, we are quit of you and of all that you worship instead of God: we deny the truth of whatever you believe; and between us and you there has arisen enmity and hatred, to last until such a time* as you come to believe in the One God!”… (60:4)

I cannot help but sigh at this point, because it deeply saddens me to see how Muslims can terribly misuse their own sacred text to evil ends. This verse is quoted completely out of context. It can only be correctly understood when the entire passage of the Qur’an in which it is located, the first part of chapter 60, is examined. It begins with:

O you who have attained to faith! Do not take My enemies – who are your enemies as well – for your friends, showing them affection even though they are bent on denying whatever truth has come unto you… (60:1)

On the surface, this seems to bolster the contention that Muslims should not befriend non-Muslims. BUT, I intentionally quoted the verse incompletely to show how such a practice is deceitful and incorrect. The rest of the verse says:

… [and even though] they have driven the Apostle and yourselves away, [only] because you believe in God, your Sustainer! If [it be true that] you have gone forth [from your homes] to strive in My cause, and out of a longing for My goodly acceptance, [do not take them for your friends,] inclining towards them in secret affection: for I am fully aware of all that you may conceal as well as of all that you do openly. And any of you who does this has already strayed from the right path. (60:1)

As is quite clear, the verse prohibits Muslims from making friends with those who are engaged in active hostility towards the Muslims, not towards every non-Muslim on earth. Again, this only makes sense. Verses 2-3 further explain who these “enemies of God and the believers” truly are:

If they could but overcome you, they would [still] remain your foes, and would stretch forth their hands and tongues against you with evil intent: for they desire that you [too] should deny the truth. But [bear in mind that] neither your kinsfolk nor [even] your own children will be of any benefit to you on Resurrection Day, [for then] He will decide between you [on your merit alone]: and God sees all that you do. (60:2-3)

Again, these people are actively hostile towards Muslims. No where does it say that Muslims are supposed to hate all non-Muslims. No where. It is after these three verses that the example of Abraham is cited:

Indeed, you have had a good example in Abraham and those who followed him, when they said unto their [idolatrous] people: “Verily, we are quit of you and of all that you worship instead of God: we deny the truth of whatever you believe; and between us and you there has arisen enmity and hatred, to last until such a time as you come to believe in the One God!” The only exception was Abraham’s saying to his father, “I shall indeed pray for [God’s] forgiveness for thee, although I have it not in my power to obtain anything from God in thy behalf.” [And Abraham and his followers prayed:] “O our Sustainer! In Thee have we placed our trust, and unto Thee do we turn: for unto Thee is all journeys’ end. O our Sustainer! Make us not a plaything for those who are bent on denying the truth! And forgive us our sins, O our Sustainer: for Thou alone art almighty, truly wise!” In them, indeed, you have a good example for everyone who looks forward to God and the Last Day. And if any turns away, [let him know that] God is truly self-sufficient, the One to whom all praise is due. (60:4-6)

Given the context of the verse, it is quite clear that Abraham and his people had enmity and hatred for their people because their people were actively hostile towards them. Did not Abraham’s people, when confronted with the absurdity of their idolatry, say: “Burn him and give aid to your gods…” (21:68)? How, then, can one extrapolate this verse to mean that Muslims must hate all non-Muslims?

The remaining verses in this passage, in fact, declare quite the opposite:

[But] it may well be that God will bring about [mutual] affection between you [O believers] and some of those whom you [now] face as enemies: for, God is all-powerful – and God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. As for such [of the unbelievers] as do not fight against you on account of [your] faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verily, God loves those who act equitably. God only forbids you to turn in friendship towards such as fight against you because of [your] faith, and drive you forth from your homelands, or aid [others] in driving you forth: and as for those [from among you] who turn towards them in friendship, it is they, they who are truly wrongdoers! (60:7-9)

According to the Muslim scholar Zamakhshari, the phrase “God does not forbid you” implies a positive exhortation. These three verses establish the guiding principle in Islam for relations with non-Muslims. As long as those who are not Muslim are not hostile towards us, we are commanded by God to treat them kindly and equitably. There is absolutely no basis for the claim that Muslims are supposed to hate all non-Muslims.

Those who believe in the “Doctrine of Hatred” retort with yet another verse as “proof”:

Thou canst not find people who [truly] believe in God and the Last Day and [at the same time] love anyone who contends against God and His Apostle – even though they be their fathers, or their sons, or their brothers, or [others of] their kindred… (58:22)

Yet, this proves nothing. The key Arabic phrase in the text is hadda allah wa rasoolah, i.e., those who are engaged in active hostility to God and His Messenger. Thus, the Muslim is not to love the one who is actively hostile towards God, His Prophet, and Islam. Again, this makes sense. But, once again, this does not mean that the Muslim must hate all non-Muslims. The guiding Qur’anic principle for relations between Muslims and non-Muslims is contained in verses 60:8-9.

I mean, the evidence could not be any clearer in the Qur’an. Yet, if one has to mistranslate, misquote, or quote out of context verses in the Qur’an to “prove” that Muslims must hate all non-Muslims, can this be called “evidence” with any sort of credibility? I think not.

To be continued…

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at godfaithpen.com.


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