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From the Blog
An Islamic Framework for Social Interactions with People of Other Faiths
"God forbids you not, with regard to those who did not fight you for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly (Tabarruhom) and justly (Toqsitu) with them: for God loves those who are just" (Qur’an 60:8).
According to Islamic scholars, this verse outlines the framework that governs a Muslim’s relationship with people of other faiths. It is necessary for us to comprehend fully the clear distinction between a person’s theological beliefs and a person’s social interaction with others as established in this verse. Ambiguity around this concept in the minds of many Muslims has lead to an isolationist approach to society that goes against Islamic teachings.
Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal narrated that Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) said, "The believer who mingles with people and is patient with their weaknesses and faults will receive greater reward from God than the one who does not mingle with others and has no patience with them." Note that the narration says "with people," not with "Muslims," which reinforces the meaning outlined in the above verse.
Furthermore, the verse uses two Arabic terms that have no equivalent translation in English. These two terms describe how a Muslim should deal with and treat non-Muslims who do not explicitly fight the religion of Islam and who do not take Muslim lands. The first term, "Birr" refers to all of the following: virtue, goodness, truthfulness, honesty, good company, taking care of and being faithful to others, and other praiseworthy behavior. Moreover, some scholars summarize "Birr" to mean the best of manners. The second term, "Qist" refers to fairness and justice, but goes beyond the traditional meaning of justice in the civic and legal sense to a more social, economic, political, and emotional meaning.
In addition to this verse, there are many incidents which occurred at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that reinforce this concept. The mother of Asma (Abu Bakr’s daughter), who was not a Muslim, bought a gift for her daughter. Asma asked the Prophet whether to accept the gift or not, taking into consideration that her mother had also requested to strengthen their mutual relationship. The Prophet replied, "Yes, respond to your mother’s request of building a stronger relationship (Birr) with her and accept her gift."
The Prophet (pbuh) was also narrated to have said, "My father’s tribe is not my source of religious solidarity, but I have blood ties with them that I cannot abandon so I honor and cherish such relationships" (narrated by Imam Bukhari). I direct attention to the fact that the Prophet, again in accordance with the verse, made this clear distinction between our disagreement with non-Muslims’ belief systems and our social ties with them. In this way, we should honor and practice Birr.
From this verse and all of these sayings of the Prophet (and others not mentioned here), it is necessary to construct an Islamic concept or guideline that every one of us can use and apply in our daily lives to answer questions that may arise. For example, "Is it permissible to exchange gifts with non-Muslim family members, or co-workers?" or "Can I attend weddings, ceremonies, and funerals of friends or family relatives?"
The formula can then be stated as follows: Any act, saying, or thought towards or with non-Muslims who are not currently fighting you militarily or occupying your lands is classified as Birr or Qist. In other words, that which strengthens social relationships and increases the positive image of Islam in the practical sense is an act that is not just Halal but Mustahabb (highly recommended) so long as there is no explicit verse or authentic saying of the Prophet that specifically prohibits such a practice.
Notice that the formula says "that strengthens social relationships" as opposed to acts or sayings that are related to the belief system, again a distinction between accepting the other belief system and dealing in a socially positive manner with others. Also, note that there are certain explicit prohibitions to some forms of social interactions which serve as exceptions of the general rule.
Then, according to this formula, exchanging gifts, for example, is considered a social relationship builder. The Prophet said, "Exchange gifts as they bring hearts together." Accepting a gift is an act that does not imply that you agree with the belief system of the other side; it only means that you respect that person and appreciate his/her efforts in building a relationship.