Is it Haram to Befriend Non-Muslims?

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam
Question: Assalamu alaykum,
I have been recently highly agitated by what I have read in Islamic sources about friendship between Muslims and non-Muslims. Essentially what I have understood is that friendship with non-Muslims is wrong. That so much as eating or chatting with non-Muslims is haram. There is also fatwas insisting that close friendship with non-Muslims is haram.
This seems horrible to me, as well as bigoted. Why is this haram?
Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray that you are in the best of health and faith, insha’Allah.
No, it is not unlawful nor disliked to befriend non-Muslims. Thinking otherwise is a misunderstanding of divine revelation and prophetic guidance.

The Qur’anic Verses

Allah Most High says, “The believers should not make the disbelievers their [supporting] allies rather than other believers– anyone who does such a thing will isolate himself completely from God– except when you need to protect yourselves from them.” [3.28]
And, “You who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians as [supporting] allies: they are [supporting] allies only to each other. Anyone who takes them as an ally becomes one of them– God does not guide such wrongdoers.” [5.51]

Making Alliances with Disbelievers

These and other related verses in the Qur’an have been misinterpreted by many Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I asked Shaykh `Ali Hani, a master, in the true sense of the word, of the Arabic language, Qur’anic Sciences, and specifically Qur’anic Exegesis (tafsir), and he categorically stated that these verses are in reference to those that make alliances with non-Muslims in a manner that harms the Muslim Community (umma).
When I consulted him, he said, “The verifiers (muhaqqiqin) from the exegetes, such as Tabari and others, explained that this verse does not prohibit dealing with Jews and Christians; rather it prohibits forming alliances (muwalat) with them, meaning assisting them against the Muslims, whether generally or specifically.”
Obviously we hate the disbelief, just as we hate the sins of those who commit them [= including other Muslims], but that doesn’t prevent us from friendship, love, and kindness towards them. The love which is prohibited is that which will make a person incline towards their disbelief and to submit to them in that.

Friendship and Noble Character

Otherwise, there is nothing wrong with friendship, wishing well for them, and dealing with them on the basis of noble character and sincere concern. Rather, this is the sunna, as we see from the practice of the Noble Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).
Allah Most High says, “and He does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with anyone who has not fought you for your faith or driven you out of your homes: God loves the just.” [60.8]
Dealing kindly (al-birr) is expansiveness in doing the good; thus it isn’t simply dealing with them with excellence, it is being expansive in the good you show them. The Muslim should be an exemplar in his character and dealings, calling to Allah by his words and states, upholding the way of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) when he said, “I was only sent to perfect noble character.”
This verse was revealed with respect to Asma’ bint Abi Bakr when her mother was coming to visit. It is related that Asma’ bint Abi Bakr said, “My mother came to me during the time of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, while she was still an idolater and I asked the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, ‘My mother has come to me, and she is still averse [to Islam]. Shall I give it to her as kin?’ He answered, ‘Yes. Give to your mother.'”

Good Relations and Righteous Company

In general, the sunna is to have good relations with your family, neighbours, co-workers, and society at large. The Muslim should be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And in any case, with regards to social rights, Muslims and non-Muslims are to be treated equally.
However, there is much benefit and virtue in keeping good company. Shaykh Faraz Rabbani explained that this can be company that is of religious good, or company that is a means to the good, whether worldly or religious, kept in a good way and with a good intention. This is the mark of the strong believer; everything he does is directed to the next life, and it is not worldliness for the sake of worldliness.
The Noble Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The metaphor of a good companion and a bad companion is that of someone possessing musk and the bellows of the blacksmith. From someone possessing musk you either buy it or smell its scent while the bellows of the blacksmith either burn your body or your clothes or you smell a foul odour from them.” [Bukhari]
Please also see: Friendship With Non-Muslims: Explaining Verse 5:51 and: Why Is the Prophet’s Character Described as Being Tremendous?
And Allah alone gives success.
Tabraze Azam
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani.