A friend recently said to me that sharing this world with the people of different faiths is one of the biggest trials for us as Muslims. On one hand we are told not to make non-Muslims our close friends, on the other we are taught to treat them with respect and kindness. We seek the company of fellow Muslims, but often find ourselves surrounded by a multi-faith society and within this society we find people who offer us help and support. Those of us brought up without Islam may even have non-Muslims in the family.
If I imagine the perfect place to live with my family, it would be a peaceful village inhabited exclusively by good Muslims. Living in a Muslim community makes so many things easier: everyone shares your principles and your religious rituals, even though they may differentiate when it comes to details, and you don’t have to continuously explain yourself like you would in non-Muslim company.
For some of us, living in the company of non-Muslims is a necessity. Whether it’s because we live in non-Muslim majority countries or we have friends and family who belong to different religions. As we know, breaking the ties of kinship is not permitted in Islam, so once we revert we have to renegotiate the terms of our relationships. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) taught us that we should seek good company and avoid bad company, but it would be far from true to say that all Muslims are classed as good company and all non-Muslims are bad company.
“Let not the believers (Muslims) take for close friends unbelievers (non-Muslims) rather than believers. And whoever does that has no relation with Allah whatsoever, except by way of precaution that you may guard yourselves from them.” (Al Imran:28)
“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.” (Al-Mujadala: 22)
The scholars of Islamic law explain the above verses as instruction not to enter into close and intimate relationships with non-believers. We can be friends, but we cannot love them from the depth of our hearts, because their hearts do not follow the same straight path that we are striving to trail. But we are allowed to maintain friendly relationships with them:
“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.” (Al-Mumtahina: 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.” (Al-Ma’idah: 8)
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has always been famous for his kindness and consideration in dealings with non-Muslims. His forthcoming attitude to unbelievers led many of them to seek and accept Islam. The Prophet’s successors – the Caliphs – followed his code of conduct in dealings with non-Muslims and, as a result, Islam spread rapidly in the first centuries of the Hijri calendar. Caliph Umar (RA) famously declined to offer his prayers in a church in Jerusalem, which had just surrendered to him. His reasoning was that if he did so the church would not remain a Christian site, because Muslims would say ‘Umar prayed here’ and would try to turn it into a mosque.
Fairness and justice, as well as tolerance towards others, is a great tradition that the Muslim Ummah should remember and celebrate, especially in this post-9/11 era; Islamophobia is on the rise and attacks on Muslims force many to act defensively. Those who are blessed with wealth should be generous. We should also acknowledge that the greatest wealth is knowledge and understanding of Islam, therefore, we should find compassion towards those less fortunate and be kind and generous to them.
Allah’s Messenger (SAW) used to accept invitations from non-Muslims and visit them when sick, he used to remain on good terms with his non-Muslim neighbours and ask of Allah’s favours for them. His actions are criterion in the daily affairs of the Muslim Ummah and should also be applied to dealings with non-Muslims. They are not to be detested or ignored; they should get the kind treatment that fellow humans deserve. Allah (SWT) decreed for us to be kind and just to those who do not oppose our religion, but also remember that our interactions with non-Muslims are a representation of Islam. Dawah should always be on our minds, but that doesn’t mean we should continuously bore our neighbours with lectures. Making the best impression of our deen and our Ummah.
Asma bint Abu Bakr, the sister of ‘A’isha, was a Muslim, while her mother was a polytheist. Her mother came to visit her in times of need and Asma asked the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) whether she should keep good relations with her and help her and was told to do so. The Prophet’s answer to Asma’s doubts should serve as guidance to those of us who embraced Islam after being raised with a different faith. Embracing Islam and abandoning the religion of our parents nearly always creates a rift in our relations. What we may call spiritual progress, they might see as a treachery. Moreover, our principles and our moral code changes and we become almost strangers to our family. However, there is still a lot that binds us together and, to maintain those relationships, we have to work out new ways of keeping our bond strong. It is our duty as Muslims to respect our parents and keep good relations with our kin, so Islam should not be a reason to break family ties. Rather it should improve them as well as give them new meaning – let us be a source of knowledge, example and inspiration for our family members in their search for truth. We will need a lot of patience and consideration and to remember that there is no guarantee that our relationships will be as good as they used to be or as strong as we would like – this is yet another trial we must face.
We have obligations towards our relatives and we have obligations towards our neighbours, whether they are Muslims or not. We may have little in common with our non-Muslim neighbours, but we should not ignore them or alienate ourselves from our local community. We can be good neighbours and exchange greetings, help each other in times of need and share the joys of life’s important moments. We should be compassionate, respectful and kind towards the non-Muslims in our community, those we meet at schools and at workplaces, in shops and parks. This serves the local community and creates a positive image of Muslims, helping to spread the true message of Islam.
Klaudia Khan is a freelance writer born in Poland and raised as a Catholic. She reverted to Islam five years ago and now lives with her husband and two daughters in the UK and Pakistan.