Muslim-Christian relations

The meaning of not taking Christians and Jews as allies in the Quran

Salam, you articulate your explanations very nicely MashAllah. My question is in Surah Ma'idah how can Verse 52 apply to modern day Muslims? A lot of the time I read a verse and get apprehensive about how it relates to me, then I read the tasfir and it makes sense in its context. But then I struggle to apply it to my own life.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Usually when the meaning of a verse of the Quran is unclear, another part of the Quran clarifies it. That verse should be understood in the context of other relevant verses. These verses are concerned with diplomatic relations between Muslim groups and Christian and Jewish groups. The passage says:

51. O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies; some of them are allies of one another. Whoever of you allies himself with them is one of them. God does not guide the wrongdoing people.

52. You will see those in whose hearts is sickness racing towards them. They say, “We fear the wheel of fate may turn against us.” But perhaps God will bring about victory, or some event of His making; thereupon they will regret what they concealed within themselves. (The Quran, verses 5:51-52)

The chapter goes on to say:

O you who believe! Do not take as allies those who take your religion in mockery and as a sport, be they from among those who were given the Scripture before you, or the disbelievers. And obey God, if you are believers. (The Quran, verse 5:57)

In another chapter, it says:

138. Inform the hypocrites that they will have a painful punishment.

139. Those who ally themselves with the disbelievers instead of the believers. Do they seek glory in them? All glory belongs to God. (The Quran, verses 4:138-139)

In another chapter, the Quran says:

8. As for those who have not fought against you for your religion, nor expelled you from your homes, God does not prohibit you from dealing with them kindly and equitably. God loves the equitable.

9. But God prohibits you from taking as allies those who fought against you over your religion, and expelled you from your homes, and aided in your expulsion. Whoever takes them for friends—these are the wrongdoers. (The Quran, verses 60:8-9)

In these verses, what is translated as “taking as allies” are verbs from the W-L-Y root that refer to the concept of wilāya. This means to enter into a relationship where you are dependent on a person for your safety and protection. The verse you mentioned is referring to some of the hypocrites and other misguided Muslims who tried to enter into such a relationship with the Jews of Medina. They thought that in this way they would be safe in case the pagans of Mecca attacked the Muslims. The Quran is forbidding Muslims from putting their lives in the hands of Jews and Christians out of fear and in the seeking of safety, because such relationships always have strings attached. It is an unequal relationship that causes the Muslims to submissively accept the demands of the Jews and Christians. It also means putting one’s trust in people who may have agendas of their own and may betray the Muslims at some point, as the many examples of history show us.

Verse 60:8 tells us that we are not forbidden from dealing with non-Muslims justly and kindly. We can have equal relationships with them, what we cannot have are unequal relationships that make us submit to them spiritually and materially.

When it comes to individual Muslims, these concerns are usually not relevant since befriending a Christian or Jew does not automatically place you in a relationship of wilāya with them. An example of a Muslim who enters into a relationship of wilāya with Jews and Christians is a Muslim politician who builds his or her entire career around pleasing Jewish and Christian allies, relies on them for success, and does his or her best to live up to their expectations. We see such examples among British Muslim Members of Parliament. In their desire to fit in and to gain Christian and Jewish support they largely abandon their Muslim identity. That is what these verses forbid us from doing.

As for a Muslim politician who keeps friendly relations with Jews and Christians but does not submit to them or rely on them for success and protection, then such a Muslim is not doing anything wrong in this regard.

In summary, Muslims can befriend non-Muslims if the friendship is on equal, non-submissive terms. But they are forbidden from selling their Muslim identities to enter into relationships of spiritual and material submission with non-Muslims out of the desire for protection and gain.

The Islamic ruling on building new churches in Muslim lands

Ideally, Muslims should treat Christians in Muslim-majority lands the way they want Muslims to be treated in Christian-majority lands. The following fatwa by the widely respected Islamic scholar Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi finds it unproblematic for Christians to build churches in Christian-majority villages and cities where they have a need for it. He also supports the right of the leader of the Muslim community to judge church-building in Muslim-majority areas on a case-by-case basis, allowing it when the good of the public, both Muslims and Christians, is served by it.

Beginning of Translated Fatwa from IslamOnline

Islam requires non-Muslims to respect the feelings of the Muslims and the dignity of their faith, so that they do not put their religious symbols and crosses on display in Muslim cities, and so that they do not build new churches in Islamic cities where no church existed before. These requirements are there because they challenge [the] Islamic feelings [of the population], which can lead to public discontent and trouble.

As for villages and places that are not of the Muslims [apparently meaning that they are not Muslim-majority], they are not prohibited from displaying their religious symbols, renewing their old churches and building what their needs require out of consideration for their increasing numbers.

In this question there are also other opinions, the crux of which is that it is permissible for the leader of the Muslim community to allow the building of new churches in the cities of the Muslims if he sees a public good in that.

Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi says:

Islam protects the places of worship of non-Muslims and respects the dignity of their religious symbols. In fact, one of the reasons that the Quran uses to justify fighting is the protection of the freedom of religion, as God says: ”

Permission is given to those who are fought against, and God is Able to give them victory.

Those who were unjustly evicted from their homes, merely for saying, “Our Lord is God.” Were it not that God repels people by means of others: monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques—where the name of God is mentioned much—would have been demolished. God supports whoever supports Him. God is Strong and Mighty. (The Quran, verses 22:39-49)

We have seen how the treaty of the Prophet with the people of Najran mentioned that they enjoy God’s closeness and the Prophet’s protection on their properties, practices of faith and places of worship.

The treaty of Umar b. al-Khattab to the people of Ilya’ (Jerusalem) mentions their religious freedom and the dignity of their places of worship and religious symbols:

This is what God's servant Umar, commander of the faithful, bestowed on the people of Ilya' of safety and protection:

He gave them safety and protection for their selves, their properties, churches, crosses and all the rest of their items of faith (millatiha). Their churches shall not be inhabited [by Muslims], nor shall that be demolished nor reduced, nor anything within their perimeter, nor their crosses, nor their properties. They shall not be forced out of their faith, nor shall oppressive acts be carried out against any one of them. Nor shall any Jew inhabit Ilya with them. (As mentioned by al-Tabari, Egypt: Dar al-Maarif, vol 3, p. 609)

In Khalid b. al-Walid’s treaty with the people of Aanaat there is:

They may strike their church bells at any hour they wish of the day or night, except during the times of the formal Islamic prayer, and they may march with their crosses during their religious festivals. (Al-Kharaj of Abu Yusuf, p. 146)

All that Islam request of non-Muslims is that they should respect the feelings of the Muslims and the dignity of their faith, so that they do not put their religious symbols and crosses on display in Muslim cities, and so that they do not build new churches in Islamic cities where no church existed before.

But some Muslim jurists allowed the people of dhimma (non-Muslims living under a Muslim constitution) to build churches and abbeys and other places of worship in Islamic cities, and in countries conquered by Muslims after fighting (meaning that they did not peacefully surrender). The leader of the Muslims allowed them to do that [to build new churches], based on consideration for the public good, as Islam continued to respect their beliefs.

The Zaydis and Imam Abu l-Qasim (of the disciples of Imam Malik) had such an opinion (see Ahkam al-Dhimmiyyin wa-l-Musta’minin, p. 96-99).

It appears that this is how things proceeded in history of the Muslims from an early period. In Egypt a number of churches were built in the first century of the hijra, such as Mar Marqas [?] in Alexandria between 39 and 56 AH (659-660 CE to 675-676 CE). The first church in Fustat was built in Haarat al-Rum, during the governorship of Mukhlid between 47 and 68 AH (667-668 to 687-688 CE). Abd al-Aziz b. Marwan, when he founded the city of Hulwan, allowed a church to be built in it. He also permitted some bishops to built to abbeys.

There are many other examples. The historian al-Maqrizi mentions in his book al-Khitat many examples, then he finishes by saying, “All of the aforementioned churches of Cairo have been built during the Islamic period, there is no debate on this.” (See Al-Islam wa Ahl al-Dhimma by Dr. Husni al-Kharabuti, p. 139, also see The Preaching of Islam by Thomas W. Arnold, p. 84-86, third impression. Translated by Hasan Ibrahim and his colleagues.)

As for villages and places that are not of the Muslims [apparently meaning that they are not Muslim-majority], they are not prohibited from displaying their religious symbols, renewing their old churches and building what their needs require out of consideration for their increasing numbers.

This tolerance toward those who differ in religion, from a nation whose entire life was built on religion [i.e. the Muslims], after they were victorious and conquered, is something that the history of religions has not seen before, and the Westerners agree on this.

The great French scholar Gustave Le Bon says:

We have seen in the verses of the Quran that we have mentioned that Muhammad's tolerance toward the Jews and Christian was immense. Founders of previous religions did not have such a policy such as those of Judaism and Christianity. We will see how his successors continued in his tradition.

Certain skeptical European scholars, and the few Muslims who have deeply studied the history of Arabs, have admitted this tolerance. The related statements from many of their books show that our opinion in this matter is not unique to us. Robertson says in his History of the Reign of Emperor Charles V.:

The Muslims alone combined between zealous religious faith and tolerance toward the followers of other religions. Despite their eagerness to spread their religion, they allow those who were unwilling to convert to follow their own religious teachings." ([mentioned in a ] footnote on page 128 from the book The Civilization of the Arabs by Gustave Le Bon.)

And God knows best.

End of translated fatwa

Source: Arabic PDF archived from IslamOnline

It is permissible to attend Christmas celebrations as a Muslim (with conditions)

assalamu aleikum, so my grandmother’s side of the family are christians and she lives in our home country and we live in europe, she rarely gets the chance to come visit us and so do we, but she came for the holidays season and she’ll spend christmas and new year’s eve here, she wants to celebrate and organize a family dinner because she does back home with the rest of the family, is it haram if we just do that not to break her heart?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is some difference of opinion on the permissibility of attending non-Islamic religious celebrations. Among the scholars who permit it are the Egyptian al-Azhar-educated sheikh Ahmad al-Shirbasi and the important Maliki scholar sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah. Egypt’s fatwa authority, which is run by al-Azhar-educated scholars and issues fatwas for all of Egypt, also issued a fatwa permitting celebrating Christmas with Christians. The respected European Research and Fatwa Council also issued a fatwa permitting it.

No alcohol should be present at the celebration while the Muslims are there (it is not permitted to sit in a gathering where people drink alcohol). The celebration should also not include anything else that Islam forbids, but this should be obvious.

Therefore since there are highly respected scholars who permit it, and since there is nothing in it that reason or conscience objects to, I would say it is safe to do it.

Sources (all in Arabic): Collection of relevant fatwas from various scholars | European Research and Fatwa Council’s fatwa