Islam is a religion of mercy, tolerance and moderation. It teaches its followers to be moderate in all fields and walks of life: in aspects of worship, in dealing with others, and in interaction with members of other faiths. Being extreme in one way or another would entail going against the pristine teachings of Allah Most High and His beloved Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace).
If one was to look at the various texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah with regards to interaction and communication with non-Muslims, this aspect (of moderation) would become even more manifest and clear. On one hand, Islam commands us not to love and befriend non-Muslims, whilst many other texts and the practices of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and his companions (Allah be pleased with them) indicate that one should treat non-Muslims in the most respectful and amicable of ways.
Unfortunately, those who do not have a deep understanding of Islam seem to think there is a contradiction in the teachings of Islam with regards to how one’s behaviour should be towards non-Muslims. They see the various texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah admonishing those who have close relationship and friendship with non-Muslims, whilst other texts seem to indicate that having good ties with non-Muslims is permitted and encouraged. Similarly, some non-Muslims point fingers at Islam and its followers that Islam teaches hatred, violence and revulsion against non-Muslims.
However, with the above explanation, it becomes clear that both these understandings are way off the mark. There is no contradiction in the teachings of Islam; neither does Islam teach its followers to have hatred for fellow human beings even if they be from another faith. The reality is that Islam teaches moderation. It allows Muslims to have a good relationship with non-Muslims but to a certain limit. This becomes clearer by looking at the various texts of the Qur’an and the practices of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and his companions.
There are many verses of the Qur’an that prohibit one from having close and intimate relationship with non-Muslims, for example:
1) Allah Most High says in the Qur’an:
“The believers must not take the disbelievers as friends instead of the believers. And whoever does that has no relation with Allah whatsoever, unless you [do so] as a protective measure [in order to] save yourself from them.” (Surah Aal Imran, V: 28)
Imam Abu Bakr al-Jassas (Allah have mercy on him) states in the explanation of this verse:
“The statement of Allah "unless you [do so] as a protective measure [in order to] save yourself from them" "" means, if you fear for your life or limbs of your body from them, then you may save yourselves from them by expressing friendship with disbelievers without it being from the heart…This is the opinion of the majority of scholars.” (Ahkam al-Qur’an, 2/289)
2) Allah Most High says:
“O you who believe! Take not my enemies and yours as friends offering them [your] love…” (Surah al-Mumtahina, V: 1)
Imam Abu Bakr al-Jassas (Allah have mercy on him) states that this verse was revealed regarding the Companion Hatib ibn Abi Balta’a (Allah be pleased with him) who wrote to the non-believers of Quraysh giving them guidelines (with regards to their safety and other such matters). He did so, as he feared for his wealth and children that he had left behind in Makka…” (Ahkam al-Qur’an, 5/325)
“O you who believe, do not take the Jews and the Christians for intimate friends. They are friends to each other. Whoever takes them as intimate friends is one of them.” (Surah al-Ma’idah, V: 51)
Imam Ibn Kathir (Allah have mercy on him) states in the commentary of this verse:
“Allah Most High prohibits (in this verse) his believing servants from having close friendship and intimacy with the Jews and Christians – those who are enemies of Islam and its people…” (Tasir Ibn Kathir, 2/94)
“You shall not find any people who believe in Allah and the Last Day, loving those who resist Allah and His Messenger, even though they were their fathers or their sons, or their brothers, or their kindred.” (Surah al-Mujadala, V: 22)
The above few verses of the Qur’an indicate that it is unlawful to have close friendship and intimacy (muwalat) with non-Muslims, even if they were related to one. However, many other texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah, the action and practice of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), his companion’s treatment of non-Muslims all indicate that one should treat non-Muslims with sympathy, generosity, compassion and concern.
1) Allah Most High says:
“Allah forbids you not, with regards to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just.” (Surah al-Mumtahina, V: 8)
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (Surah al-Ma’idah, V: 8)
In the above two verses, Allah Most High commands us to treat non-Muslims justly and honorably. The dislike of their beliefs should not prompt a Muslim to treat them unfairly.
The beloved Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), who was sent as a mercy for the whole of mankind, demonstrated such kindness, compassion, generosity and politeness towards non-Muslims that it is difficult to find similar examples in history.
When Makka al-Mukarrama was in the grip of famine, he personally went out to help his enemies who had made him leave his home town. At the conquest of Makka, all his enemies came under his power and control, yet he set them all free saying that not only are you being given amnesty today but rather you are also forgiven for what you have done in the past. When non-Muslim prisoners of war were presented before him, he treated them with such kindness and tenderness as one would treat his own children. His enemies inflicted upon him all sorts of injuries and pain but he never raised his hand in revenge neither did he wish ill for them, rather he would pray for their guidance. A delegation from the tribe of Banu Thaqifa (who had yet not accepted Islam) came to visit him, and was given the honour of staying in the Mosque of the Prophet, a place regarded by Muslims to be the most sacred of places. (See: Ma’arif al-Qur’an, 2/51)
There are many more such examples in the life of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). The episode of Ta’if, the treaty of Hudaybiyya and many other such events quite categorically demonstrate the viewpoint of Islam with regards to treating and dealing with non-Muslims.
Likewise, the Companions (sahaba) of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) also treated non-Muslims with tenderness and kindness. They gave them their just rights and did not oppress them in any way.
As such, the verses of the Qur’an that caution against friendship with non-Muslims are not referring to each and every type of friendship and relationship. We see that Islam forbids its followers from being very intimate with non-Muslims, but at the same time, it does not prevent one from treating them in a cordial and generous manner.
Based on the above, classical Muslim scholars and jurists have categorized friendship with non-Muslims into four levels and stages:
1) Muwalat or Mawadda: This means to have close and intimate relationship and deep love and affection from one’s heart for a non-Muslim such that it makes a Muslim unmindful of his faith. At times, it might even shape up as an impediment and hinder a believer from carrying out his/her religious duties – since ‘deep intimacy’ makes one blind and thus could result in undermining one’s religious duties.
This Mawadda is reserved only for Muslims; hence it is not permitted for a Muslim to have this type of friendship with non-Muslims. The verses of the Qur’an prohibiting Muslims from having intimate and close friendship with non-Muslims, especially the first verse of Surah al-Mumtahina, is regarding this kind of relationship.
2) Mudarat: This means to express friendship and love only outwardly without having love for them and their beliefs internally. It is a mere outward expression of the first stage (muwalat), hence it entails being pleasant, friendly, polite and kind towards non-Muslims. It involves expressing good manners, courtesy and good behavior towards fellow human beings.
This kind of relationship with non-Muslims is permitted, as it is reserved for all human beings, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. This becomes even more important when the objective is to safeguard one’s self from potential harm, invite them towards Islam or when they are one’s guests. The verse of the Qur’an where Allah says “unless you [do so] as a protective measure [in order to] save yourself from them” refers to this type of relationship. However, if one fears undermining his/her religious values, then this type of friendship will also not be permitted with non-Muslims.
3) Muwasat: This means to help, assist and benefit non-Muslims. It includes charitable help and support, condolences and consolations, and removing harm, such as giving water to a thirsty non-Muslim or food to someone who is hungry.
This is also permitted with all types of non-Muslims except those who are directly at war with Muslims. The verse of the Qur’an where Allah Most High says: “Allah forbids you not, with regards to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just” refers to this kind of relationship with non-Muslims.
4) Mu’amalat: This means to deal, transact and trade with non-Muslims. This is also permitted with all non-Muslims except when it is harmful to Islam and Muslims in general. (Culled from: Ahkam al-Qur’an, al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, Ma’arif al-Qur’an, 2/50-51, Jawahir al-Fiqh, 179-193 and Ifadat Ashrafiyya, P: 11)
It is clear with the above four levels that according to Islamic teachings, to take non–Muslims as friends and associates, in general, is permissible. It is perfectly acceptable to express outward friendship towards them, engage in business transactions and dealings with them, be respectful, kind, polite, considerate, smile at them, help them if they need assistance, and generally exhibit good manners towards them and be socially good to them. In fact, this is not only permissible but encouraged.
However, what is discouraged and prohibited is to have an extremely deep and intimate connection and a “free and careless” type of association which leads to and causes grave religious harm. Islam (and in fact every other faith) does not tolerate any compromise in contravening its basic beliefs and laws.
Based on the above, let us now examine some specific fiqhi issues relating to Muslim– non-Muslim interaction:
Giving and accepting gifts from non-Muslims
It is stated in Al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, one of the leading reference works in the Hanafi School:
“Imam Muhammad (Allah have mercy on him) has recorded (apparently) conflicting narrations in his Al-Siyar al-Kabir, some indicating that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) accepted gifts from non-Muslims whilst others indicate that he did not, hence it is necessary to reconcile between these (apparently) contradicting narrations….
Faqih Abu Ja’far al-Hindawani stated that the narration wherein the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) did not accept the gift of a non-Muslim is interpreted to be in the case where the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) thought that the person giving the gift was under the impression that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was striving in order to acquire wealth and not to elevate the word of Allah, hence it will not be permitted to accept a gift from such an individual in our times also. And the narration wherein the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) did accept the gift of a non-Muslim is where the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) thought that the person giving the gift did acknowledge that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was fighting for Islam and the elevation of the word of Allah and not for any materialistic gain, hence it will be permitted to accept a gift from such an individual in our times also.
Some (Hanafi) scholars reconciled (the apparently contradicting narrations) in another way, stating that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) did not accept a gift of a non-Muslim where he thought that by accepting his gift his solidarity would weaken, lose respect and would have to soften his approach, and he accepted the gift of a person where he did not fear the abovementioned things.” (al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 5/347-348)
The above text of al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya indicates that there is nothing wrong in accepting and giving a gift to a non-Muslim provided one does not fear any harm to one’s faith. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) did not accept a gift from non-Muslims where he feared that it would be harmful for the Muslims, and he accepted the gift when there was no such fear. Rather, when there is some benefit in giving and accepting gifts, such as the hope of one accepting Islam, one should give and accept gifts. Yes, if one fears some harm with regards to one’s faith, a gift should not be given or taken.
As far as giving and accepting gifts during the period of non-Muslim religious festivals is concerned, such as at the time of Christmas, Diwali, etc, it would be permitted, as it is not per se a religious act, but a social custom. The intention in giving gifts is not to respect the religious festival, rather to respect and show courtesy to the one whom the gift is given, as pointed out by Shaykh Ashraf Ali al-Thanawi (Allah have mercy on him) in his renowned Imdad al-Fatawa, 3/482)
Therefore, it will be permitted to give and accept gifts during the Winter Break, for example, provided two conditions are met:
a) The gift should not be with the intention of celebrating a non-Muslim festival, rather merely showing courtesy to a fellow human being,
b) The gift should not be something that is connected to the non-Muslim religious festival, such as a Christmas tree or Christmas card.
It would be better if the gift is given slightly earlier or later than the actual date of the celebration, and Allah knows best.
Inviting non-Muslims for food and accepting their invitation
It ispermitted to invite a non-Muslim for dinner at one’s house occasionally due to strengthening family ties or other social ties without making it a habit. Similarly, it will be permitted to accept such an invitation from a non-Muslim, provided one is sure that the food is Halal and no other unlawful activities are taking place. (al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 5/347)
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) also accepted the invitation of a non-Muslim by eating at his house (See: Ibn Qudama, al-Mugni, 7/3) similarly, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) invited non-Muslims to his house. (Sahih Muslim, no: 2063)
It is stated in al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya:
“Is it permissible to eat with a fire-worshipper or any other non-believer? It has been related from Hakim Imam Abd al-Rahman al-Katib that if a Muslim was confronted with this once or twice, then there is nothing wrong with that, but to make a habit of doing this would be disliked.” (al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 5/347)
Attending non-Muslim religious festivals
It would not be permitted for a Muslim to attend the religious festivals and ceremonies of non-Muslims, as this would entail approving of their faith. By taking part in their religious festivals, one will be indirectly approving of their disbelief and their religion. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) forbade Muslims from even offering their own Salat at the time of sunrise, zenith and sunset, for there was an element of outwardly resembling the sun-worshippers.
The followers of every faith, whether Christians or Jews, follow their faith because they feel it is the true faith and the best for humanity. Muslims are no different in this regard. They are Muslims because they feel that Islam is the true and best religion. As such, engaging in an activity which undermines this belief and validates the beliefs and practices of other faiths is considered unlawful. Otherwise, why would a Muslim be a Muslim – and for that matter, why would a Jew be a Jew or why would a Christian be a Christian – if they feel that the beliefs and practices of all other faiths are also valid.
This does not mean a Muslim should reject the right of other faith members to follow their faith. On the contrary, a Muslim should respect the rights of others to follow whatever faith they wish to follow, but at the same time a Muslim has a right to consider his/her own faith to be the true and best of faiths.
Visiting a sick non-Muslim
There is nothing wrong in visiting a non-Muslim who is ill (iyada), whether a Christian or Jew. (al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 5/348) The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) is reported to have visited non-Muslims when they were ill, as it is evident from the Sunnah literature.
Visiting and offering condolences at the time of bereavement
It is permitted to visit a non-Muslim to offer one’s condolences for a family bereavement. It is stated in al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya:
“If a non-Muslim dies, one may say to the deceased’s father or some other relative of his: “May God recompense you with someone better and honour you with Islam, and that He bestow you with a Muslim child…” (al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 5/348)
Attending the funeral ceremony of a non-Muslim
It is permitted to attend the funeral of a non-Muslim parent, relative, neighbour, or associate. It is stated in al-Bahr al-Ra’iq:
“And one may follow their (i.e. a kafir’s) funeral from afar...” (al-Bahr al-Ra'iq, 2/205)
However, it will not be permitted to attend a religious funeral ceremony, especially when it entails praying for a non-Muslim after his/her death. Supplicating and praying for a non-Muslim after his/her death, sending him rewards (isal al-Thawab) and other such matters are all unlawful. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) was prevented from praying for his uncle Abu Talib by Allah Most High. Similar was the case of Sayyiduna Ibrahim (peace be upon him).
Allah Most High says:
“It is not for the Prophet and those who believe to pray for the forgiveness of idolaters even though they may be near of kin after it has become clear that they are people of hell-fire.” (Surah al-Tawba, V: 113)
However, it will be permitted to pray for the guidance of a non-Muslim when he/she is alive, hoping that he/she is guided and accepts Islam. It will also be permitted to pray for the good-health and well-being of a particular non-Muslim. (See: al-Mawsu’a al-Fiqhiyya, Kuwait)
Non-Muslims entering the Masjid
It is permitted for Muslims to give non-Muslims permission to enter the Masjid, especially for Da’wa purposes. It is stated in al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya:
“There is nothing wrong with non-Muslims (dhimmis) entering the Haram of Makka (al-Masjid al-Haram) and all other Mosques. This is the sound opinion in the Madhhab, as mentioned in al-Muhit of Sarakhsi.” (al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 5/346)
Muslims entering non-Muslim places of worship
It is prohibitively disliked (makruh) for a Muslim to enter a non-Muslim place of worship such as a church or synagogue, especially for worship (al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 5/346), unless there is some benefit that overcomes the harm.
Standing up for a non-Muslim out of respect
It is stated in al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya:
“If a non-Muslim (dhimmi) enters upon a Muslim and he (Muslim) stands up for him; if he stands up with the hope of the non-Muslim entering Islam, then there is nothing wrong with that. However, if one stands up without having this intention or stands up due to the non-Muslim being wealthy, then that is disliked.” (al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 5/348)
Therefore, it would be permissible to stand up for a non-Muslim without having respect for his/her faith in one’s heart, and that this is done as a social gesture or for some diplomatic reason, such as the hope of the non-Muslim accepting Islam or preventing enmity and hatred. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) also stood up for Ikrima Ibn Abi Jahl (leader of the Quraysh) and Adi ibn Hatim (leader of the tribe of Banu Tay) before they had accepted Islam. However, one should avoid standing up for a non-Muslim showing respect to his faith and beliefs.
Shaking hands with non-Muslims
There is nothing wrong (la ba’s) in shaking hands of a Christian (i.e. non-Muslim) neighbour (and other associates) after returning from a journey (and the like) if the non-Muslim is offended by not shaking his hands.” (al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 5/348)
However, one must ensure not to commit anything else unlawful, such as shaking the hands of a non-Mahram of the opposite gender.
Giving Zakat and/or other charities to non-Muslims
There is scholarly consensus (ijma’) that Zakat cannot be given to non-Muslims, as mentioned by Imam al-Kasani, Ibn Qudama, Buhuti, and others. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) specified that Zakat is to be taken from amongst the wealthy Muslims and distributed amongst the poor Muslims. (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 1365)
However, it is permitted to help and assist needy non-Muslims by giving them other forms of charity, as this would be a form of showing them kindness and dealing justly with them, commanded by Allah Most High in the Qur’an. Yes, if it is feared that the money will be used against Islam and Muslims, then one must not give them any charitable assistance.
Finally, one should always remember that our love, hate, respect and dislike relate to actions and not the person committing these actions. Thus, we dislike the act of disbelief (kufr) but we do not hate non-Muslims as they are also the creation of Allah, hence non-Muslims deserve the same rights as Muslims. May Allah Most High give us the ability to live a life that is in accordance with His and His beloved Messenger’s (Allah bless him & give him peace) pleasure, Ameen.
And Allah knows best