There are many blessings in friendship. In his essay “Of Friendship”, philosopher Francis Bacon states that a good, honest friend is a source of constructive feedback. This idea was also stated by the Prophet (sa), as he was reported to have said: “A believer is the mirror of his brother. When he sees a fault in it, he should correct it.” (Bukhari)
The benefits above are universal and apply to all human societies. Let’s see what our Creator has advised Muslims about such a beneficial institution as human friendship.
“Verily, your Wali (Protector or Helper) is Allah, His Messenger, and the believers…” (Al-Maidah 5:55)
On the face of it, one may think that Allah (swt) wants Muslims to befriend only the people of their own community and have no friendly relations with the non-Muslims. If one studies the Sunnah, it soon becomes apparent that this is not the case.
The most general human relation possible is Muwasat. This entails wishing well for all creation, including all of humanity out of compassion. After Badr, Muslims took the disbelievers as prisoners of war. They were kept in the Prophet’s Masjid and were treated in the best manner. They were given the best food, while Muslims had to do with little. During the reign of Umar (rtam), non-Muslims used to receive monthly stipends from the state treasury. Muslims were averse only to disbelief, not to the disbelievers.
The next type of relationship is Mudarat, where one deals with people of the other communities on a one-to-one basis. These interactions may take place if, for example, one has a non-Muslim guest or a neighbour or someone sitting next to them in a flight. Again, Muslims are supposed to show their best behaviour in such interactions. A Jew visited the Prophet (sa) once and was invited to eat there and sleep in his bed during the night. The next day, when he left, he forgot his sword. The Prophet (sa) kept it safe, until he came back to collect it later.
The third type of relationship is Muamalat, where Muslims associate with non-Muslims on the basis of some work – for instance, as an employer, employee, colleague, teacher, doctor, librarian, etc. The Prophet (sa) once borrowed money from a Jewish money lender by pawning his belongings to him.
The last category of friendship is Muwalat, in which people become close intimate friends with each other. They tend to support each other at all cost, even at the cost of their beliefs. It is this friendship that is prohibited for Muslims. Such friendships can influence one’s entire way of life. If a Muslim befriends non-Muslims intimately, there is a danger that the former will forget his responsibilities as a member of the Ummah. If a Muslim condones all actions of a non-Muslim friend, how can he invite him to the Deen?
Islam encourages Muslims to take full benefit of the institution of friendship. They must have compassion for all humanity, deal well with any non-Muslim they come in contact and work with them constructively for common objectives in society in an exemplary manner. However, they must reserve the intimate nature of friendship only for fellow Muslims.