Are Muslims really forbidden to have friendship with Jews and Christians? A careful review of the verse in the Qur’an that is used to support it, along with other passages allowing interfaith marriages and sharing meals, would reveal the true picture.
In a verse that has been flashed on TV screens and is equally misused by critics of the Qur’an, as well as by Muslims themselves, Muslims are supposedly forbidden to have “friendship” with Jews and Christians. Let me first quote a common translation:
O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people. 5:51 (Translations by Shakir, and similarly by Pickthall).
There are two points that need to be reiterated here. First, the verses of the Quran (like the Bible) should be viewed within the proper context. Second, it must be pointed out that the word used for “friendship” used in the verse is Awliya, which means allies or a protector, or protecting friend, which has a very different connotation than just a “friend.” Moreover, Awliya is used in the context of religious protector, not a social friend. Yuksel thus translates this verse as “do not take the Jews and the Christians for allies” and comments that the word is not to be taken in the context of social, personal, or financial interactions, but rather in the case of religious conflict. In addition, it does not refer to all People of the Book, as will be discussed below.
The context: The verse was revealed in Medina, where the local Jewish tribes started to show hostilities against the new converts and the budding Islamic community. According to Muslim historians, some of them were mocking and ridiculing the new Muslims. This verse was revealed in reference to these Jews, not all of them; and for that matter, not all of the Jews and Christians “who will ever live.” The verses 5:57–58 that followed verse 5:51 quoted above address that:
O you who believe! Take not for friends and protectors those who take your religion for a mockery or sport [or joke], whether among those who received the Scripture before you, or among those who reject Faith; but fear God, if you have faith (indeed). 5:57
When you proclaim your call to prayer [Adhan] they take it (but) as mockery and sport; that is because they are a people without understanding. 5:58
The Quran commands the Muslims to deal in kindness and respect those who have not done injustice to them.
God does not forbid you respecting those who have not made war against you on account of (your) religion, and have not driven you forth from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly; surely God loves the doers of justice.” 60:8
The Qur’an Allows Marrying People of the Book
The Qur’an allows believers of the Qur’an and Muhammad (commonly viewed as “Muslims”) to marry Jews and Christians with certain conditions:
Today all good clean things have been made lawful for you; and the food of the People of the Book is also made lawful for you and your food is made lawful for them. Likewise, marriage with chaste free believing women and also chaste women among the People who were given the Book before you is made lawful for you, provided that you give them their dowries and desire chastity, neither committing fornication nor taking them as mistresses. 5:5
So if the friendship with Jews and Christians was indeed forbidden, how does that jive with marrying them? You cannot make friends with them but you may marry them? The truth is that the ‘friendship’ was never meant to be forbidden. Additionally, the allowance of food in the same verse as marriage is a call for social interaction between people of faith and implies inviting each other for, and sharing meals. The allowance of interfaith marriages and promoting social friendly interaction is clearly a far cry from the call of “don’t make friends with People of the Book.”
The following verses do not address friendship with Jews and Christians but give further guidelines as to how to approach relationships with them.
And dispute you not with the People of the Book, except in the best manner, unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, “We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our God and your God is one and the same; and it is to Him we submit. 29:46
For, verily, those who have attained to faith (in this divine writ), as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Sabeans, and the Christians—all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds—no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve (on the Day of Judgment). 5:69