Can we extend rahmah to members of other faiths?
We are encouraged to do good to others, especially our
neighbours. The Prophet s.a.w. mentioned that, “By Allah, he is not a
believer! By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer.” It
was asked, “Who is that, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “One whose
neighbour does not feel safe from his evil.” (Bukhari and Muslim).
Similarly, the Quran informed us that,
Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives,
orphans, the needy, the near neighbour, the neighbour farther away, the
companion at your side, the traveller and those whom your right hands possess.
Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful.”
The hadith and the Quranic verse did not distinguish
between a Muslim and non-Muslim neighbour. The act of kindness and rahmah
transcends religious affiliation and ethnicities. It is our religious
obligation to show mercy to all, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Some Muslims claim that the Quran prohibits us from taking
non-Muslims as friends and allies by quoting the following verses,
“The believers should not make the disbelievers
their [supporting] allies rather than other believers – anyone who does such a
thing will isolate himself completely from God – except when you need to
protect yourselves from them.” (Al’Imran: 28)
“You who believe, do not take the Jews and
Christians as [supporting] allies: they are [supporting] allies only to each
other. Anyone who takes them as an ally becomes one of them – God does not
guide such wrongdoers.” (Al-Maaidah: 51)
These verses are often quoted to justify claims that
Muslims should not be taking non-Muslims as their friends, or to curb our social
relationship with the religious others. This is clearly not the intended
message of the revelation. A look into the exigencies of tafsir of these
verses, we will realise that they are in fact making a specific reference to
forming alliances with non-Muslims who seek to harm the Muslim community. In
addition, these verses were revealed against the backdrop of political
hostility and not during peaceful times. According to At-Tabari and other
scholars of tafsir, this verse is not a blanket prohibition for Muslims
from dealing with religious others.
A careful examination of the overarching message of the
Quran, together with the Prophetic practices, would render to us reject any
narrow and exclusivist interpretations of these verses. There have been various
verses in the Quran that call us to do good to non-Muslims and encourage us to
establish good relations with them. Allah s.w.t. mentioned,
“And He does not forbid you to deal kindly and
justly with anyone who has not fought you for your faith or driven you out of
your homes: God loves the just.” (Al-Mumtahinah: 8)
As a matter of fact, besides his uncle who was also one of
his closest confidantes, the Prophet s.a.w. also trusted several other
non-Muslims in pivotal moments of the Islamic history, including during the
event of hijrah, when he tasked Abdullah bin Urayqit to guide him and
Abu Bakar r.a to safely reach Madinah. In fact, there were other various
historical examples of the Prophet s.a.w. which demonstrated how Muslims can
establish cordial and healthy social relationship with non-Muslims.
The show of respect in Islam is done through offering greetings of peace between individuals regardless of gender, and handshakes between individuals of the same gender. This is the customary practice and religious etiquette when Muslims meet each other in social gatherings.
This custom is different between Muslims and those from other communities. In a multi-religious society and secular country such as Singapore, it is customary to offer a handshake to welcome and show respect to neighbours, friends and colleagues, or to show appreciation at events and ceremonies. This practice is in line with the Islamic principle of preserving the larger common good, especially when Muslims live alongside, and frequently interact with other communities in a multi-religious society.
In particular, at state and national-level events and ceremonies, the principle of the secular government should be upheld and the norms of courtesy and social interaction in our multi-racial and multi-religious society should be observed by all communities, including Muslims. In such contexts, it is appropriate for Muslims to shake the hands of the GOH, regardless of gender, race and religion. Similarly, at public service ceremonies, Muslim public officers are expected to observe this protocol in receiving awards from GOHs which applies to all award recipients.
In extending our rahmah towards our non-Muslims
friends, we are encouraged to share food, exchange gift and wish each other
good will. As for wishing them on their festive seasons, it is not an act that
is prohibited in Islam. Those who call against Muslims from wishing their
non-Muslims friends a joyous celebration on their religious festivals generally
warn that such practices may render one to commit syirik or act of disbelief
that may render one’s faith to be nullified. Such viewpoints are highly
problematic. An innocent and simple act of wishing a fellow human being should
not have the unintended effect of excluding the wisher out of the Islamic
faith. One does not profess the belief of the other by merely wishing well on
the other faith tradition’s festivals. Congratulatory expressions on the
celebration of the other faiths are meant to cement better social relationship
among Muslim and non-Muslims. It is not about agreeing to the religious
doctrines or subscribing to the other faith’s creed and belief system.
With regards to verses in the Quran that seem to paint more hostile picture on the relationship between Muslim and non-Muslims, there is a need to understand the contexts of the revelations. We need to know that there are variances in the Quranic references to non-Muslims. The more hostile descriptions tend to refer to those who prosecuted the Muslims such as the Quraish of Makkah during the period of political hostility. The Quran did not consider non-Muslims and disbelievers as a monolithic entity. The Quran made clear distinction between those who seek to oppress and fight the Muslims and those who did not fight against the Muslims.
“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 wrongdoers.” (Al-Mumtahinah: 9)
There is hence an imperative need to differentiate between those who fight the Muslims and those who coexist peacefully. To those who live with us peacefully, we should be kind and just towards them. The historical reality demonstrated that Muslims continued to value positive relationship with non-Muslims who were at peace with them, as demonstrated in Abyssinia.
Even with those who did not treat the Prophet s.a.w. well, they were given kind treatment by the Prophet. Indeed, his act of mercy extended even to those who committed injustices and cruelty towards him and his companions.
It is hence apparent that those who seek to sow discord among Muslims and non-Muslims today are preaching hatred by indulging in conspiracy theories that view them as inherently hostile towards the Muslims. They engage in such dogmas to promote religious exclusivism to stymie religious harmony. Often time, these positions are taken to pursue a political or militant agenda, such as those subscribed by radicals including the bali bomber, Imam Samudra and ISIS.
Therefore, in emulating our beloved Prophet Muhammad s.a.w., we should not seek to make enemies and live in hostility with non-Muslims. They can be our friends, neighbours, colleagues and even family members, and we will treat them with due love and respect.