MV: In Islam, we are to not to become friends with people of other religions because it states in the Quran,
“O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: they are but friends and protectors to each other. And he among you that turns to them for friendship is of them.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:51)
So doesn’t this mean we should stay in our homes and try to not make contact with people of other books as fear of becoming their friends……..Wrong! In our Muslim ummah (community) this line is vastly misinterpreted and used out of context. In fact Non-Muslims blame us for being such a selfish religion because of this verse. Yes, some Muslims believe that the verse quoted implies not having any relationship with Jews and Christians under all circumstances and in all places and times, and they seem to apply this in their life. (Try not talking to non-muslims in crowded non-Muslim countries, i.e. NYC) however, I would like to confirm that this is their own ungrounded interpretation, and not what the verse really means as an absolute rule. First of all before we should interpret ayyuts we should look at:
1. The historic context or circumstances surrounding the revelation of this verse. The Qur’an was revealed over a period of 23 years and not all at once. One wisdom behind this is that we should consider the context and circumstances surrounding the revelation and learn and apply lessons from the verse based on these circumstances. If the situation at hand is totally different from this historic context surrounding the revelation, then the verse simply does not apply. They call this tahqeeq al-manaat (verifying the applicability) in Islamic legal language.
2. The other important context is the context of the other verses. We have to ask whether the verse we are quoting is the only verse revealed on the same topic or not. If not, then it is a must that we consider the verse in context of all the other verses on the same topic.
Now that, thats cleared up, we can now interpetate the ayyut a little better. Some say that the first one applies to that ayyut:
1. It was revealed in certain historic circumstances, in which there was a war between the infant Islamic state on different occasions on four different fronts: the Romans, the Persians, the pagans of Arabia, and the Jews of Madinah. So, the historic context of the revelation of this verse is a situation of war between Muslims and the People of the Book (Jews, internally in Madinah, and Christians, through a Roman crusade). So yes, in case if no one figured this out yet, Muslims were not allowed to make friends with the enemies who were fighting them and wishing to eliminate them from the face of the earth and personally if I think I had the choice I would not want them to become my friends either.
So that clears it up, the ayyut applied to the time it was made, so it no longer applies correct? Wrong! Just because the verse has a history behind it, this does not mean that it is no longer relevant. It is totally relevant but only in a context similar to the historic context. So today Muslims are not allowed to become friends with Jews or Christians (or any other religion in that matter) if the khaafir (non-Muslim) is trying to kill you! Now that makes sense, I don’t think I want to give him a friendship gesture. (wait no, that doesn’t you can’t negotiate! In this case it means something different)
2. The second, and also very important, context is the context of other verses that address the same topic. The verse is not the only verse in the Qur’an that talks about relationships with Jews and Christians. There are many other verses that talk about different kinds of relationships between Muslims and Jews and Christians. Here’s an example The Qur’an says what means:
“Allah does not forbid you respecting those who have not made war against you on account of [your] religion, and have not driven you forth from your homes, that you show them kindness (Arabic: birr) and deal with them justly; surely Allah loves the doers of justice. Allah only forbids you respecting those who made war upon you on account of [your] religion, and drove you forth from your homes and backed up [others] in your expulsion, that you make friends with them, and whoever makes friends with them, these are the unjust.” (Al-Mumtahanah 60:8-9)
And notice that the word birr (translated as kindness) that God used in this context is the same word that is used for the type of kindness that a Muslim should show to his or her parents, as in birr al-walidain (kindness to parents). This is not just friendship but deep respect, now thats what my friends up at New York city say, word. (Failed attempt)
Therefore, no, Islam is not a selfish religion. Islam makes sense and the overall wisdom behind all these verses is the following: Islam is a religion that calls for coexisting with other religions and creating social ties to the furthest possible extent. Yet, it takes for an enemy whoever transgresses against Muslims and conspires to kill them. It does not give them the other cheek to slap, (or punch) but rather defends itself.