Relationships with non-Muslims in Islamic Law

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Interfaith marriage is severely restricted (and for Muslim women, completely forbidden) by Islamic scholarly consensus (ijma). The Quran states in a verse about the treaty of Hudaybiyyah that believing women and disbelieving men (Kuffar) are not lawful for each other, while a later verse states that believing men are permitted to marry believing women and people of the book i.e. Jews and Christians. Believers are forbidden to marry those who associate partners with Allah (mushrikun) in another verse. The Quran and other Islamic sources also prohibit certain degrees of close friendship/allied relationships with disbelievers in certain circumstances, including with some among the "People of the Book". Its stance appears to have evolved over time at various stages of Muhammad's prophetic career, occurring in a context when the believers had been driven out from Mecca and there was a degree of enmity between them, as recorded in such verses as Quran 60:1. Some contemporary views emphasize contextual issues and use particular verses and examples from Muhammad's life to argue that close friendship/allied relationships with disbelievers is not forbidden in most circumstances.


Interfaith marriage

The Quran forbids believers from marrying those who associate partners with Allah (mushrikun). After the conquest of Mecca believing men were permitted to marry believing women and women from the People of the Book (Jews and Christians). There is no similar verse explicitly permitting the same for believing women, and they had been explicitly forbidden to marry disbelieving men (Kuffar) in a verse about the treaty of Hudaybiyyah. These verses led scholars to conclude that Muslim women may only marry Muslim men. The relevant verses are Quran 2:221, Quran 60:10, and Quran 5:5. Another justification given by scholars was that a non-Muslim husband may compell his believing wife to compromise her faith or their children's faith. The prominent reformist scholar, Dr. Abou El Fadl, professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, notes, “I am not aware of a single dissenting opinion on this, which is rather unusual for Islamic jurisprudence because Muslim jurists often disagreed on many issues, but this is not one of them". Today, there are some discenting opinions among Islamic modernists, arguing that there is some ambiguity in the relevant verses and using arguments such as that women have greater legal protections in the modern world, though this is very much a minority view. Such marriages are considered void under Islamic law. Moreover, if in a married non-Muslim couple the wife but not the husband converts to Islam, the marriage in annulled. It is also annulled if the husband becomes Muslim but the wife is neither Christian nor Jew. If a Muslim husband abandons his faith, his marriage to his Muslim wife is similarly annulled, and perhaps vice versa.[1]

Wed not idolatresses till they believe; for lo! a believing bondwoman is better than an idolatress though she please you; and give not your daughters in marriage to idolaters till they believe, for lo! a believing slave is better than an idolater though he please you. These invite unto the Fire, and Allah inviteth unto the Garden, and unto forgiveness by His grace, and expoundeth His revelations to mankind that haply they may remember.
O ye who believe! When believing women come unto you as fugitives, examine them. Allah is Best Aware of their faith. Then, if ye know them for true believers, send them not back unto the disbelievers. They are not lawful for them (the disbelievers), nor are they (the disbelievers) lawful for them. And give them (the disbelievers) that which they have spent (upon them). And it is no sin for you to marry such women when ye have given them their dues. And hold not to the ties of disbelieving women; and ask for (the return of) that which ye have spent; and let them (the disbelievers) ask for that which they have spent. That is the judgment of Allah. He judgeth between you. Allah is Knower, Wise.
This day are (all) good things made lawful for you. The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them. And so are the virtuous women of the believers and the virtuous women of those who received the Scripture before you (lawful for you) when ye give them their marriage portions and live with them in honour, not in fornication, nor taking them as secret concubines. Whoso denieth the faith, his work is vain and he will be among the losers in the Hereafter.

Prohibition on taking disbelievers as intimate friends or guardians / allies

A word common in many of these verses is awliyaa (plural of وَلِيٌّ waliyyun, from which we also have 'wali' - the male guardian of a female or orphan[2]). It is often translated as guardians, friends and protectors, or allies. The phrase walīyu 'llāh (ولي الله), means 'friend of God'.[2][3]

Let not believers take disbelievers as allies [awliyaa] rather than believers. And whoever [of you] does that has nothing with Allah, except when taking precaution against them in prudence. And Allah warns you of Himself, and to Allah is the [final] destination.
O ye who believe! Take not for intimates [bitanatan][4] others than your own folk, who would spare no pains to ruin you; they love to hamper you. Hatred is revealed by (the utterance of) their mouths, but that which their breasts hide is greater. We have made plain for you the revelations if ye will understand.

The prohibiton in the above verse does not apply to all people of the book, some of whom are contrasted with "those who disbelieve" in the preceding verses Quran 3:113-114. This may be considered alongside verses 5:51, 5:57 and 5:82 quoted below.

Those who chose disbelievers for their friends [awliyaa] instead of believers! Do they look for power at their hands? Lo! all power appertaineth to Allah.
O you who have believed, do not take the disbelievers as allies [awliyaa] instead of the believers. Do you wish to give Allah against yourselves a clear case?
O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors [awliyaa]: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.

A later verse in the same surah is more concilliatory regarding Christians, though not towards Jews and idolaters.

Thou wilt find the most vehement of mankind in hostility to those who believe (to be) the Jews and the idolaters. And thou wilt find the nearest of them in affection [mawaddatan][5]to those who believe (to be) those who say: Lo! We are Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks, and because they are not proud

The next two verses give more specific proscriptions concerning relations with disbelievers who mock the religion or Muslims who do not take their religion seriously.

O Ye who believe! Choose not for guardians [awliyaa] such of those who received the Scripture before you, and of the disbelievers, as make a jest and sport of your religion. But keep your duty to Allah if ye are true believers.
Leave alone [dhari] those who take their religion to be mere play and amusement, and are deceived by the life of this world. But proclaim (to them) this (truth): that every soul delivers itself to ruin by its own acts: it will find for itself no protector or intercessor except Allah: if it offered every ransom, (or reparation), none will be accepted: such is (the end of) those who deliver themselves to ruin by their own acts: they will have for drink (only) boiling water, and for punishment, one most grievous: for they persisted in rejecting Allah.
Thou hadst no hope that the Scripture would be inspired in thee; but it is a mercy from thy Lord, so never be a helper [thaheeran] to the disbelievers.
There is for you an excellent example (to follow) in Abraham and those with him, when they said to their people: "We are clear of you and of whatever ye worship besides Allah: we have rejected you, and there has arisen, between us and you, enmity and hatred for ever,- unless ye believe in Allah and Him alone": But not when Abraham said to his father: "I will pray for forgiveness for thee, though I have no power (to get) aught on thy behalf from Allah." (They prayed): "Our Lord! in Thee do we trust, and to Thee do we turn in repentance: to Thee is (our) Final Goal. "Our Lord! Make us not a (test and) trial for the Unbelievers, but forgive us, our Lord! for Thou art the Exalted in Might, the Wise."

Muhammad softens his stance before the conquest of Mecca: Allah forbids only guardians / allies from those who made war on the believers for religion and drove them out

Abraham's people, whom he declared enemies in the above verse, did nothing besides idolatry according to the tafsirs. But it should be noted that a softening of this stance occurs a few verses later in the same surah. It says that Allah may put love / affection between the Muslims and those who had been their enemies, that they are permitted to show kindness and deal justly with them so long as they had not made war on the Muslims and had not helped drive them out. It is only those who did do such things that the believers should not take as guardians / allies (awliyaa).

The tafsirs say that verse 60:7 was uttered because the previous verses were hard for the Muslims, telling them to disown their own relatives in Mecca, even their children in verse Quran 60:3. Regarding verse 60:8, ibn Kathir cites Sahih Bukhari 8:73:9 that it was revealed after Asma' bint Abu Bakr rejected her idolatress mother when she tried to visit her in Medina. He says that 'A'isha asked Muhammad's opinion on this.[6] Al-Tabari in his tafsir records disagreement as to whether the exemption applies only to believers who did not migrate from Mecca, or to polytheists who did not fight nor expel the believers. He also records one narration that the verse was abrogated by later commands to fight the disbelievers, while others disagreed.[7]

It may be that Allah will ordain love [mawaddatan][5] between you and those of them with whom ye are at enmity. Allah is Mighty, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Allah forbiddeth you not those who warred not against you on account of religion and drove you not out from your homes, that ye should show them kindness and deal justly with them. Lo! Allah loveth the just dealers. Allah forbiddeth you only those who warred against you on account of religion and have driven you out from your homes and helped to drive you out, that ye make friends of them [tawallawhum]. Whosoever maketh friends of them - (All) such are wrong-doers.

Prohibition on taking disbelieving family members as guardians / allies; believers disassociate from them and do not love them if they are enemies of Allah

Surah 9 (at-Tawbah) came later chronologically than surah 60 quoted in the section above, after the conquest of Mecca. Here even family could not be a Muslim's awliya if they love disbelief more than faith, though in context and according to some commentaries this may concern those who had refused to emigrate. Believers were not allowed even to have love for their relatives if they opposed Allah and Muhammad. Presumably, these restrictions did not apply otherwise.

O ye who believe! take not for protectors [yatawallahum] your fathers and your brothers if they love infidelity [kufra] above Faith: if any of you do so, they do wrong. Say: If it be that your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your mates, or your kindred; the wealth that ye have gained; the commerce in which ye fear a decline: or the dwellings in which ye delight - are dearer [ahabba] to you than Allah, or His Messenger, or the striving in His cause;- then wait until Allah brings about His decision: and Allah guides not the rebellious.
It is not for the Prophet, and those who believe, to pray for the forgiveness of idolaters even though they may be near of kin (to them) after it hath become clear that they are people of hell-fire.
And Abraham prayed for his father's forgiveness only because of a promise he had made to him. But when it became clear to him that he was an enemy to Allah, he dissociated himself from him: for Abraham was most tender-hearted, forbearing.

(see also 60:4 above, where it says Abraham is a good example to follow).

Thou wilt not find folk who believe in Allah and the Last Day loving [yuwaddoona][5] those who oppose Allah and His messenger, even though they be their fathers or their sons or their brethren or their clan. As for such, He hath written faith upon their hearts and hath strengthened them with a Spirit from Him, and He will bring them into Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide. Allah is well pleased with them, and they are well pleased with Him. They are Allah's party. Lo! is it not Allah's party who are the successful?

An earlier (Meccan) surah tells believers to accompany their disbelieving parents with kindness / fairness in this world, even if they seek to make the believer commit shirk (which should be disobeyed):

And We have enjoined upon man [care] for his parents. His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents; to Me is the [final] destination. But if they endeavor to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them but accompany them in [this] world with appropriate kindness and follow the way of those who turn back to Me [in repentance]. Then to Me will be your return, and I will inform you about what you used to do.


Only pious believers where Muhammad's friends

'Amr b. 'As reported: I heard it from the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) quite audibly and not secretly: Behold! the posterity of my fathers, that is, so and so, are not my friends. Verily Allah and the pious believers are my friends.[awliya]

Muhammad used to visit a sick Jewish servant

Contemporary scholars often cite this hadith as an example of Muhammad showing friendship to a Jewish persion.

Narrated Anas: A young Jewish boy used to serve the Prophet (ﷺ) and he became sick. So the Prophet (ﷺ) went to visit him. He sat near his head and asked him to embrace Islam. The boy looked at his father, who was sitting there; the latter told him to obey Abul-Qasim and the boy embraced Islam. The Prophet (ﷺ) came out saying: "Praises be to Allah Who saved the boy from the Hell-fire."

Umar kicked a Christian out of Medina

(And if any among you befriends them, then surely he is one of them.) Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that `Umar ordered Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari to send him on one sheet of balance the count of what he took in and what he spent. Abu Musa then had a Christian scribe, and he was able to comply with `Umar's demand. `Umar liked what he saw and exclaimed, "This scribe is proficient. Would you read in the Masjid a letter that came to us from Ash-Sham" Abu Musa said, `He cannot."

`Umar said, "Is he not pure Abu Musa said, "No, but he is Christian." Abu Musa said, "So `Umar admonished me and poked my thigh (with his finger), saying, `Drive him out (from Al-Madinah).' He then recited,"

(O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as friends...) Then he reported that `Abdullah bin `Utbah said, "Let one of you beware that he might be a Jew or a Christian, while unaware." The narrator of this statement said, "We thought that he was referring to the Ayah,

A man follows the religion of his friend

Narrated AbuHurayrah: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: A man follows the religion of his friend [Khalil]; so each one should consider whom he makes his friend.[Khalil]

Only stay with believers

Narrated AbuSa'id al-Khudri:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said: Associate only with a believer, and let only a God-fearing man eat your meals.

Whoever joins a polytheist is like him

Narrated Samurah ibn Jundub:

To proceed, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: Anyone who associates with a polytheist and lives with him is like him.


Ibn Kathir

Allah forbids His believing servants from having Jews and Christians as friends, because they are the enemies of Islam and its people, may Allah curse them. Allah then states that they are friends of each other and He gives a warning threat to those who do this"

Ibn Taymiyah

“Imitation generates friendship and love, and regarding them as allies in the inside, just as loving them on the inside generates imitating them on the outside.” Allaah tells us that there is no (true) believer who takes a kaafir as a friend, for whoever takes a kaafir as friend is not a believer. Imitation on the outside implies that a person loves (the one whom he imitates), and so it is forbidden.”
“The Qur’aan, Sunnah and ijmaa’ (scholarly consensus) all indicate that we must differ from the kuffaar in all aspects and not imitate them, because imitating them on the outside will make us imitate them in their bad deeds and habits, and even in beliefs, which will result in befriending them in our hearts, just as loving them in our hearts will lead to imitating them on the outside

Contemporary views

Some argue that friendship with non-Muslims is permitted in most situations today, appealing to verse 60:8 (see above) and certain aspects of Muhammad's life. His uncle Abu Talib was close to Muhammad and supported him throughout his life, despite remaining a polytheist. His uncle Abbas supported him in Mecca before his conversion to Islam. They also point to the non-Muslim Bedouin who Muhammad and Abu Bakr trusted to lead them through the desert when the Quraish plotted to kill Muhammad. In terms of the hadiths quoted above, it may be relevant that modernist muslim and academic scholars typically consider hadiths to often reflect later imperial circumstances.

See Also


  1. Alex B. Leeman [ Interfaith Marriage in Islam: An Examination of the Legal Theory Behind the Traditional and Reformist Positions] Islamic Law Journal, Vol. 85, pp. 756-759
  2. 2.0 2.1 wali ولي - Lane's Lexicon Suppliment pp.3060-3061
  3. Ed, , “Wālī”, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Consulted online on 16 November 2020
  4. bitanatan بِطَانَةً - Lane's Lexicon p.221
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 mawaddatan مَّوَدَّةً - Lane's Lexicon p.2931
  6. - Tafsir of ibn Kathir on verse 60:8. The comment about 'A'isha is also found in Wahidi's Asbab Al-Nuzul
  7. - Tafsir al-Tabari for verse 60:8