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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.

And God knows best.

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