There are several verses which talk about this topic. They are: 3:28, 3:118, 4:144, 5:51 and 58:22. The verses have to be analysed in the light of the Quran and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him), which are the cornerstones of Islamic belief and the foundations for Islamic laws.
Analysis of the Verses – 3:28, 4:144 and 5:51
Let’s now look at the translation of the verses.
Let not believers take disbelievers as Awliya rather than believers. And whoever [of you] does that has nothing [i.e. no association] with God, except when taking precaution against them in prudence. And God warns you of Himself, and to God is the [final] destination. 3:28
O you who have believed, do not take the disbelievers as Awliya instead of the believers. Do you wish to give God against yourselves a clear case? 4:144
O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as Awliya. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, God guides not the wrongdoing people. 5:51
Linguistic analysis of the above verses
The Arabic word used in the above verses is “Awliya” which some translators have translated as “Friends”. The word “Awliya” is the plural form of the Arabic word “Wali” which has several meanings like: friend, protector, ally, helper, guardian etc.
When a word has more than one meaning, we should take the meaning that suits the context. This holds good for any language.
Let us consider the English word “beat”. It has several meanings, one of the most common meanings is: “to hit repeatedly so as to inflict pain”. However, the meaning of the word “beat” depends on the context.
For example; if you read “Roger Federer beat Nadal in the Wimbledon final”, what would you understand? Will you understand that Federer hit Nadal to inflict pain or will you understand that Federer defeated Nadal in the final game? Obviously, you will go with the latter.
If someone insists on using the meaning for “beat” as “to hit repeatedly so as to inflict pain” and claim that newspapers reported that Federer hit Nadal repeatedly to inflict pain, you will dismiss him saying he is incorrect and you might even call him crazy for making such an absurd claim.
Please keep this mind while we analyze the verses given earlier.
Before we define what the word “Awliya” means in that verse, let us look at a hadith (saying of the Prophet).
Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) said: “There is no nikaah (marriage) without a wali.”
In this context the word “Wali” means “Guardian”. None has understood the hadith as “There is no marriage without a friend.”
If we now go back to the verses in the Quran mentioned above, “Awliya” (the plural of wali) here means “protectors” or “allies” and not “friends”. The reason for this conclusion is the context in which the verses were revealed. The verses talk about people who claimed to be Muslims but sought the protection of disbelievers who were at war with Muslims and wanted to kill them.
Note: The word “Friend” is very generic and can take several meanings depending on the situation. In this context, we understand “friendship” as righteous, kind and just treatment extended to non-Muslims.
Analysis of the Verse 3:118
“O you who have believed, do not take as intimates those other than yourselves, for they will not spare you [any] ruin. They wish you would have hardship. Hatred has already appeared from their mouths, and what their breasts conceal is greater. We have certainly made clear to you the signs, if you will use reason.” Chapter 3: Verse 118
A mere reading of the translation of the verse will clarify that the verse speaks about the disbelievers who wanted to harm the Muslims.
Analysis of the Verse 58:22
“You will not find a people who believe in God and the Last Day having affection for those who oppose God and His Messenger, even if they were their fathers or their sons or their brothers or their kindred. Those – He has decreed within their hearts faith and supported them with spirit from Him. And We will admit them to gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they abide eternally. God is pleased with them, and they are pleased with Him – those are the party of God. Unquestionably, the party of God – they are the successful.” Chapter 58: Verse 22
The verse was revealed during the time of war (Battle of Badr) when the enemies of Islam wished to destroy the Muslims and came with an army which was thrice the number of Muslims. God appreciates the Muslims because the affection for their kith and kin did not stop them in standing for truth and justice.
Moreover, any book, including the Quran, has to be analyzed as a whole and not just in bits and pieces. Let’s now see what the Quran says about kind and just treatment of non-Muslims.
O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for God, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear God; indeed, God is Acquainted with what you do. Chapter 5: Verse 8
“Indeed, God orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded.”
Chapter 16: Verse 90
The verses make it clear that Muslims are never allowed to be unjust or unfair even if they dislike a community or a group of people.
Moreover, God says in the Quran:
“God does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, God loves those who act justly.” Chapter 60: Verse 8
The Arabic word used to mean “righteous“ in the verse is “Tabarru”. The root word for “Tabarru” is “Birr”. The word “Birr” is used for highest form of righteousness like righteous treatment of parents. Example: “Birrul Walidain”, meaning “Righteousness to parents”. Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) used the word “Birrul Walidain” when he spoke about righteousness towards parents.
So, it is explicitly clear that God does not prevent Muslims from being just and extending highest form of righteous treatment to non-Muslims.
Treatment of Neighbors
Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) said: “(Angel) Gabriel continued to recommend me about treating the neighbours, kindly and politely so much so that I thought he would order me to make them as my heirs.”
Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) did NOT say treat the Muslim neighbors kindly and politely rather all neighbors should be treated kindly and politely.
Reading all these, it will be very clear that God instructs the Muslims to be just and treat all people regardless of their religious beliefs, with righteousness and kindness.