Islamophobes often use isolated verses from the Qur’an to show how evil Islam is. For example, they quote: “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as Auliya' (friends, protectors, helpers), they are but Auliya' to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as Auliya', then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allah guides not those people who are the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong¬doers). [Al-Ma`idah 5: 51]
And these Islamophobes can also add this verse: “O you who believe! Take not as Bitanah (advisors, protectors, helpers, friends) those outside your religion (pagans, Jews, Christians, and hypocrites) since they will not fail to do their best to corrupt you. They desire to harm you severely. Hatred has already appeared from their mouths, but what their breasts conceal is far worse.” [Al-'Imraan 3: 118]
So, does this mean that Muslims should not have Christian and Jewish friends/? Should Muslims avoid everyone who isn’t a fellow Muslim? Not at all.
Before the rise of 20th century militant political parties; and governments that scapegoated minorities in order to remain in power; the norm in Muslim societies, with occasional exceptions, was for most Christians and Jews to report that they had many Muslim neighbors who were good friends.
These interfaith friendship occurred more frequently in traditional Muslim villages than in the expanding urban cities where people were more rootless, and politics was more ruthless.
So, were these Muslims with Christian and Jewish friends less religious? Not at all.
First of all, they knew that the Qur’an did not state ‘Do not take any Jew or Christian as Auliya’ .
Second, they knew that the Qur’an did state: “Many of the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) wish that if they could turn you away as disbelievers after you have believed, out of envy from their own selves, even, after the truth has become manifest unto them.” [Al-Baqarah 2: 109]
So they understood that the Qur’an was warning them to stay away only from those who wish they could turn you away as disbelievers after you have believed. This is no different than Jewish parents who warn their children to stay away from Christian missionaries.
And the clear evidence that this is the true understanding of the first two verses; is the statement of the Qur’an that: “So ask of those who know the Scripture [learned men of the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel)], if you know not.” [An-Nahl 16: 43]
And the Qur’an goes still further when it states that it is even permitted to inquire of Jewish and Christian scholars; but only if they do not wish they could turn you away as disbelievers after you have believed. This is evidence of how openminded the Qur’an is.
Unfortunately, in later centuries, under attack from Eastern Orthodox Church polemics, the tendency was to ignore the tolerant verses and understand the first two verses without context and in a narrow minded way. Many Muslim scholars no longer used the following verse to understand the others:
“We have revealed to you, the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a safeguard for it. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth.
“To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [one religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race (compete) for good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.” [ Al-māidah 5:48]
Religious pluralism is the will of Allah. No one of any religion is required to become friends with people who disrespect and even hate the religion they themselves treasure. And surely no Muslim is wrong to avoid contact with Islamophobes.
Rabbi Maller's website is: www.rabbimaller.com. His new book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi's Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism’ (a collection of 31 articles by Rabbi Maller previously published by Islamic web sites) is now for sale ($15) on Amazon and more books.
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