Kaleef K. Karim
Can Christians and Jews be friends with Muslims? The Quran says,
“O ye who believe! take not the Jews and the Christians for your awliya: They are but awliya to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust.” – Quran 5:51
Related article: “Surah 5:51, 3:28, 4:144 Explained“
When the Arabic word ‘awliya’ is translated into English as ‘friends’ (Quran 5:51), this verse appears to discourage friendly relations between Muslims, Christians and Jews. This interpretation has been accepted by some. But, many Muslim and non-Muslim scholars favour that the Arabic word ‘awliya’ should be interpreted to mean ‘guardians’, ‘allies’, ‘patrons’ and ‘protectors’, not ‘friends’, as some who have suggested.
In addition, Quran 5:51 does not allude to all Christians and Jews, it only refers to those adherents who were at war with the Muslim community, 1400 years ago. The following Quranic verse proves that 5:51 only refers to those enemies who are at war with Muslims and that they should not be befriended or make alliances with.
O ye who believe! Choose not My enemy and your enemy for allies (awliya) . Do ye give them friendship when they disbelieve in that truth which hath come unto you, driving out the messenger and you because ye believe in Allah, your Lord? If ye have come forth to strive in My way and seeking My good pleasure, (show them not friendship). Do ye show friendship unto them in secret, when I am Best Aware of what ye hide and what ye proclaim? And whosoever doeth it among you, he verily hath strayed from the right way. – Quran 60:1
The following quotes are from Muslim and non-Muslim scholars commenting on Quran 5:51. Professor Ibrahim Kalin says,
The word awliya is the plural of wali, which is rendered in most English translations of the Qur’an as ‘friend.’ According to this interpretation, the verse reads as, ‘do not take Jews and Christians as friends’. Even though the word wali mean friend in the ordinary sense of the term, in this context, it has the meaning of protector, legal guardian, and ally. This rendering is confirmed by al-Tabari’s explanation that the verse 5:51 was revealed during one of the battles (the battle of Badr in 624 or Uhud in 625) that the Muslims in Medina had fought against the Meccans. Under the circumstances of a military campaign, the verse advises the new Muslim community not to form political alliances with non-Muslims if they violate the terms of a treaty they had signed with them. It is important to note that Muslims, Jews or Christians to whom the verse represent not only religious but also socio-political communities. The meaning of ‘ally’ or ‘legal guardian’ for wali/Awliya makes sense especially in view of Ibn Qayyim’s explanation that ‘whoever forms alliance with them through a treat [ahd] is with them in violating the agreement’. 
Scholar Muhammad Asad
72 According to most of the commentaries (e.g., Tabari), this means that each of these two communities extends genuine friendship only to its own adherents – i.e., the Jews to the Jews and the Christians to the Christians – and cannot, therefore, be expected to be really friendly towards the followers of the Qur’an. See also 8:73, and the corresponding notes.
73 Lit., ‘the evildoing folk’: i.e., those who deliberately sin in this respect. As regards the meaning of the ‘alliance’ referred to here, see 3:28, and more particularly 4:139 and the corresponding note, which explains the reference to a believer’s loss of his moral identity if he imitates the way of life of, or – in Qur’anic terminology – ‘allies himself’ with, non-Muslims. However, as has been made abundantly clear in 60:7-9 (and implied in verse 57 of this Surah), this prohibition of a ‘moral alliance’ with non-Muslims does not constitute an injunction against normal, friendly relations with such of them as are well-disposed towards Muslims. It should be borne in mind that the term wali has several shades of meaning: ‘ally’, ‘helper’, ‘protector’, etc. The choice of the particular term – and sometimes a combination of two terms – is always dependent on the context. 
The Holy Qur’an Arabic text With English Translation & Short Commentary – Malik Ghulam Farid
756. The verse should not be construed to prohibit or discourage just or benevolent treatment of Jews, Christians and other disbelievers (60:9). It refers only to those Jews or Christians who are at war with Muslims and who are always hatching plots against them.
757. Jews and Christians forget their own differences and become united in their opposition to Islam. Truly, has the Holy Prophet said, ‘All disbelief forms on community’, viz., all disbelievers, however inimical to one another, behave like one when opposed to Muslims. 
Maulana Muhammad Ali
51a. All non-believers, whatever their own differences, had made common cause against Islam; this is what is meant by their being ‘friends of each other’. The Muslims are warned that they should not expect help or friendship from any party of them, whether Jews, Christians or idolaters. It would have been weakness of faith in the ultimate triumph of Islam if, from fear of a powerful enemy, they had sought help and friendship here and there are among a hostile people, as the next verse shows. When two nations are at war, an individual of one nation having friendly relations with the enemy nation is treated as an enemy; that is exactly what the Qur’an says here. 
‘Jewish Thought: An Introduction’ – Professor Oliver Leaman
CAN MUSLIMS AND JEWS BE FRIENDS?
There are verses in the Qur’an which suggest a negative answer to this question. The first verse appears in 5. 51 of the Qur’an and says, ‘O, you who believe, do not take Jews and Christians as awliya. They are awliya to one another, and the one aming you who turns to them is of them. Truly, God does not guide wrongdoing people’ (5.51). The word awliya (sing. Wali) is commonly translated as ‘friends’. The verse appears to be a very clear statement opposing friendly relations between Muslims, on the one hand, and Jews and Christians, on the other. However, while it is true that one of the meanings of awliya is friends, it also means ‘guardians’ and ‘protectors’. According to many of the traditional commentaries on the Qur’an we are told that this verse was revealed at a particularly difficult moment in the life of the early Muslims community, and here it is necessary to describe the situation of the Muslims at this time in Arabia to put verse 5.51 within the right context. Qur’anic commentators do normally link verses with the particular context in which they were revealed, since it is this that gives them a guide to how they should be interpreted.
Before 5.51 was revealed, Muhammed and the Muslims had just migrated as a community from Mecca to Medinah. They had done so, according to the Islamic account, because of the persecution to which they were subjected at the hands of their fellow tribesmen and relatives in Mecca.
Most Meccans worshipped various idols as gods and were concerned at what would happen to the idol business given the rise of interest in the message of Muhammed within the city, even though Muhammed was himself from Mecca. Islam threatened to disrupt the economic benefits of annual pilgrimage season when people from all over the Arabian Peninsula would come to worship the may idols at the Ka’ba- a cubical structure
which the Qur’an claims was originally built by Abraham and his son, Ishmael, as a temple to the one God, before the corruption of religion in Arabia hid the monotheist message of Abraham and his successors. The prospect of the bottom falling out of the idol business could not have enthused those who made their living in it, so it is hardly surprising that Muhammed faced considerable resistance at the beginning.
Muhammed and his small band of followers were eventually expelled from Mecca and found sanctuary in Medinah. According to the commentaries, it was not long after this migration to Medinah that verse 5.51 was revealed. Specifically, we are told that this verse came down around the time of the battle of Badr (3.123) or perhaps after the battle of Uhud (3.152-3).
In these early days, even though the Muslim community continued no more than perhaps a few hundred people and had already Mecca, the Meccans continued to challenge them militarily, and these two early battles, as well as others, were crucial events in the history of the early Islamic community.
The Meccans were a far more powerful force than the Muslims, and in addition, the Meccans had allies throughout Arabia. Given the small numbers of the Muslims, the Prophet and his fledging community faced the real possibility of utter annihilation should they lose any of these early conflicts.Within this highly charged environment some members of the Muslim community wanted to make individual alliances with other non-Muslim tribes in the region. Within the city of Medinah, there were Jewish tribes who constituted a powerful presence in the town and who were on good terms with Meccans, and to the north of the city there were also numerous Christian Arab tribes. Some Muslims thought it would be a good idea to make alliances with one or more of these groups as a way of preserving themselves should the Meccan armies’ ultimately triumph. The view might have been that a young community, in such dire straits, could not allow dissension in the ranks of the faithful as would be created by various individuals linking themselves with non-Islamic groups. So we can see that the translation of awliya as ‘friends’ is misleading and that it should be rendered perhaps as ‘protectors’ or ‘guardians’ in the strict military sense of these terms. The verse should be read as,
‘Do not take Christians and Jews as your protectors. They are protectors to one another.’
This is the message of the verse, and the appropriateness of this Interpretation is supported not only by the historical context of its revelation but also by the fact that nowhere does the Qur’an oppose simple kindness between peoples, as is clear from other Qur’anic verses. 
Scholar Jonathan A. C. Brown:
The word commonly misunderstood in modern colloquial Arabic… as friends (awliya) actually meant ‘patrons’ or those to whom one has some commitment, either as a protector or a subordinate. The verse thus warns Muslims against taking the side of unbelievers against fellow Muslims in conflicts, since these groups ‘are but allies of themselves’, the Qur’an explains. 
Mufti Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi former president of the Islamic Society of North America, states the following:
“… The Qur’an does not say that non-Muslims cannot be Muslims’ friends, nor does it forbid Muslims to be friendly to non-Muslims. There are many non-Muslims who are good friends of Muslim individuals and the Muslim community. There are also many good Muslims who truly and sincerely observe their faith and are very friendly to many non-Muslims at the same time.
Islam teaches us that we should be friendly to all people. Islam teaches us that we should deal even with our enemies with justice and fairness. Allah says in the Qur’an in the beginning of the same Surat Al-Ma’dah: [O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah as witnesses to fair dealings and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just, that is next to piety. Fear Allah, indeed Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.] (Al-Ma’dah 5 :8)
In another place in the Qur’an, Allah Almighty says:
[Allah forbids you not with regard to those who fight you not for your faith, nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them. For Allah loves those who are just. Allah only forbids you with regard to those who fight you for your faith, and drive you out of your homes and support others in driving you out, from turning to them for protection (or taking them as wali). Those who seek their protection they are indeed wrong- doers.] (Al-Mumtahinah 60: 8-9)
Moreover, Allah Almighty has described Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) as “a mercy” to the worlds. He was a sign of Allah’s Mercy to all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims. In his kindness and fair treatment he did not make any difference between the believers and non-believers. He was kind to the pagans of Makkah and fought them only when they fought him. He made treaties with the Jews of Madinah and honored the treaties until they broke them.
He (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have received the Christians of Najran with kindness in his Masjid in Madinah. They argued with him about Islam, but he returned them with honor and respect. There are many examples from his life that show that he was the friendliest person to all people.
In the verse you quoted, the word “Awliya” is used. It is a plural and its singular is “wali”. The correct translation of the word “”wali”” is not “friend” but it is someone who is very close and intimate. It is also used to mean “guardian, protector, patron, lord and master“.
In the Qur’an this word is used for God, such as [Allah is the Protector (or Lord and Master) of those who believe. He takes them out from the depths of darkness to light…] (Al- Baqarah 2: 257)
There are many other references in the Qur’an that give this meaning. The same word is also sometimes used in the Qur’an for human beings, such as [And whosoever is killed unjustly, We have granted his next kin “wali” the authority (to seek judgement or punishment in this case)…] (Al-‘Isra’ 17 :33)
The correct translation of the verse in Surat Al-Ma’idah is: [O you who believe! Do not take Jews and Christians as your patrons. They are patrons of their own people. He among you who will turn to them for patronage is one of them. Verily Allah guides not a people unjust.] (Al-Ma’dah 5: 51)
It is obvious that Jews patronize the Jews and Christians patronize the Christians, so why not Muslims patronize Muslims and support their own people. This verse is not telling us to be against Jews or Christians, but it is telling us that we should take care of our own people and we must support each other.
In his Tafsir, (Qur’an exegesis) Imam Ibn Kathir has mentioned that some scholars say that this verse (i.e. the one you referred to) was revealed after the Battle of Uhud when Muslims had a set back. At that time, a Muslim from Madinah said, “I am going to live with Jews so I shall be safe in case another attack comes on Madinah.” And another person said, “I am going to live with Christians so I shall be safe in case another attack comes on Madinah.” So Allah revealed this verse reminding the believers that they should not seek the protection from others, but should protect each other. (See Ibn Kathir, Al-Tafsir, vol. 2, p. 68)
Muslims are allowed to have non-Muslims as friends as long as they keep their own faith and commitment to Islam pure and strong. You are correct in pointing out that a Muslim man is also allowed to marry a Jewish or Christian woman. It is obvious that one marries someone for love and friendship. If friendship between Muslims and Jews or Christians was forbidden, then why would Islam allow a Muslim man to marry a Jew or Christian woman? It is the duty of Muslims to patronize Muslims. They should not patronize any one who is against their faith or who fights their faith, even if they were their fathers and brothers. Allah says: [O you who believe! Take not for protectors (awliya’) your fathers and your brothers if they love unbelief above faith. If any of you do so, they are indeed wrong-doers.] (Al-Tawbah 9: 23)
In a similar way, the Qur’an also tells Muslims that they should never patronize the non-Muslims against other Muslims. However, if some Muslims do wrong to some non-Muslims, it is Muslims’s duty to help the non-Muslims and save them from oppression. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said that he himself will defend a Dhimmi living among Muslims to whom injustice is done by Muslims. But Islam also teaches that Muslims should not seek the patronage of non-Muslims against other Muslims. They should try to solve their problems among themselves. Allah Almighty says, [Let not the Believers take the unbelievers as their patrons over against the Believers…] (Aal-‘Imran 3: 28)
He Almighty also says: [O you who believe! Take not for patrons unbelievers rather than Believers. Do you wish to offer Allah an open proof against yourselves?] (An-Nisaa’ 4:144) …” (Fatwa – Does Islam Forbid Befriending Non-Muslims? by Mufti Muzammil Siddiqi, online source)
Associate Professor of Religious Studies John Kaltner says that the verse refers to those disbelievers who “mistreat” Muslims:
“…5:51: ‘Oh believers, do not take the Jews and Christians as allies. They are allies of one another. Anyone who takes them as allies is one of them. God does not guide an unjust people.’
This verse has sometimes been cited in support of the argument that the Qur’an teaches Muslims to avoid Jews and Christians at all costs. This interpretation is based on a misreading of the Arabic word ‘awliya’ (sing. Wali), translated here as ‘allies.’ Some say that the word should be translated ‘friends,’ and they claim that the Qur’an is therefore prohibiting cordial, civil relations between Muslims and other monotheists. In its singular or plural form, the word wali appears almost ninety times in the Qur’an, and it has a wide semantic range. Among its possible meanings are ‘ally,’ ‘friend,’ ‘protector,’ ‘patron.’ ‘follower,’ and ‘legal guardian.’ Each usage of the word has to be understood within its own unique literary and historical contexts in order to determine which meaning is most appropriate for that text. In this case, it is found in a chapter from the Medinan period in a section (5:51-60) that describes the MISTREATMENT AND LACK OF RESPECT MUSLIMS WERE EXPERIENCING FROM JEWS, CHRISTIANS, and others.
It is therefore urging them to be cautious about whom they take as their allies or protectors and IS NOT MAKING A BLANKET STATEMENT ABOUT AVOIDING ALL CONTACT with Christians and Jews. Given those circumstances, Muslims are being told to band together and lean on each other for protection and support. This point is reinforced a few verses later, when the importance of community ties is stressed. ‘Your allies [wali] are God, His Messenger, and the believers – those who engage in prayer, pay alms, and bow down in worship’ (5:55; cf. 6:14).” (Introducing the Qur’an: For Today’s Reader [Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2011] by John Kaltner, page 147)
Surah 5:51 according to classical scholar Ibn Kathir (1301 – 1373 AD), he connects those disbelievers who insult, and are hostile to Islam and Muslims. His understanding is that is forbidden to be friends with those who openly hostile and insult your religion:
“The Prohibition of being Kind towards Combatant Disbelievers
‘It is only as regards those who fought against you on account of religion, and have driven you out of your homes, and helped to drive you out that Allah forbids you to befriend them.’ (60:9) means, `Allah forbids you from being kind and befriending with the disbelievers who are OPENLY HOSTILE TO YOU, THOSE WHO FOUGHT AGAINST YOU, EXPELLED YOU AND HELPED TO EXPEL YOU. Allah the Exalted forbids you from being their friends and orders you to be their enemy.’ Then Allah stresses His threat against being friends with them, by saying,
‘And whosoever will befriend them, then such are the wrongdoers.’ As He said;
‘O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as protecting friends, they are but protecting friends of each other. And if any among you takes them (as protecting friends), then surely, he is one of them. Verily, Allah guides not those people who are the WRONGDOERS’ (Quran 5:51)…” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) [Abridged by A Group of Scholars Under The Supervision Of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri. Maktaba Dar-us-Salam – Second Edition, 2003], volume 9, page 597 – 598)
Moreover, the idea that Muslims are encouraged not to be friends with Christians and Jews is not in harmony with many verses of the Quran which orders Muslims not to discriminate against anyone,
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah , 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 Allah ; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.” – Quran 5:8
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” – Quran 49:13
“Allah 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, Allah loves those who act justly. Allah only forbids you from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion – [forbids] that you make allies of them. And whoever makes allies of them, then it is those who are the wrongdoers.” – Quran 60:8-9
We propose the following question to those who still cling onto the idea that Muslims are not allowed to befriend Christians and Jews, using 5:51 as evidence: why does the Quran allow for marriage between a Muslim man and Christian (or Jewish) woman? Read the verse below, (‘People of the Book’ – this refers to Christians and Jews),
“This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time,- when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues if any one rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).” – Quran 5:5
In conclusion, when we examine the passage in its historical context, one sees that Q. 5:51 prohibits Muslims from making alliances with Christian and Jews who are at war with Muslims. Reading 60:1 gives more weight that 5:51 is only in reference to those Christians and Jews fighting Muslims. Moreover, Muslim and non-Muslim scholars also stated that the Arabic word ‘awliya’ should be translated as ‘allies’, ‘guardians’ and ‘patrons’, not ‘friends’ as some who have suggested.
 Religious Tolerance in World Religions [Copyright 2008 By Timpleton Foundation Press] – Ibrahim Kalin page 264
 The Message of The Quran translated and explained by Muhammad Asad Page 233
 The Holy Qur’an Arabic text With English Translation & Short Commentary By Malik Ghulam Farid page 250
 The Holy Quran Arabic Text with English Translation, Commentary and comprehensive Introduction [Year 2002 Edition] by Maulana Muhammad Ali page 264
 Jewish Thought: An Introduction [Copyright 2006] By Oliver Leaman Page 70 – 71
 Misquoting Muhammad – The Challenge and choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy, By Jonathan A. C. Brown, page 210