Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds, and the most honorable prayer and peace be upon the master of the first and the last, our master, Muhammad, the chosen, the trustworthy, and upon his pious and pure family, his faithful companions, and those who followed them in goodness until the Day of Judgment, may Allah Almighty be pleased with them all.
Islam is a way of life, it gives the Muslims a unique identity among other non-Muslim communities or societies. The relations of Muslims among each other have to be based on Islamic principles, such as love, care and protection. The relations of a Muslim with other non-Muslim individuals must, as well, be based on Islamic principles. One of the main principles is monotheism, loving Allah as the only God who deserves worship, and not to follow other creeds which associate partners with him, as Allah says in the Qur’an, “You shall find no nation believing in Allah and the Last Day loving anyone that opposes Allah and His Messenger, even though they be their fathers, their sons, their brothers, or their tribe. Those, He has written upon their hearts faith and strengthened them with a spirit from Him. He will admit them to the Gardens underneath which rivers flow, where they shall live forever. Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him. They are the Party of Allah; and the Party of Allah are the winners” (Surah 58, Ayah 22). So if one is not to follow another creed that doesn’t worship Allah alone, and if the Party of Allah are the winners, does that mean that Muslims are to reject their own family members who do not believe, or turn against non-Muslims in general? This actually is the concept of wala’ and bara’ which is taught in some Muslim texts, but not the holy scriptures themselves, that all Muslims must withhold loyalty from all nonbelievers and disavow and fight them.
But in truth this is a very misunderstood concept, for in the Qur’an, Allah teaches all Muslims to be kind and just with non-Muslims in general, but also warns against Muslims being loyal to non-Muslims who are enemies. This is an important distinction explained in the Quran as when Allah says, “Allah does not forbid you to be kind and to act justly to those who have neither made war on your Religion nor expelled you from your homes. Allah loves the just. But Allah only forbids you to be guided by those who have fought against you in your religion’s cause and expelled you from your homes or have supported others in your expulsion. Whosoever takes them as guides are harm doers” (Surah 60, Ayah 8-9).
The question which might arise when reading the previous ayas is that it obviously talks about Muslims and their enemies, enemies who declared war on them and their religion and displaced them from their homes and properties. This makes perfect sense, in fact, for a Muslim is forbidden to make a loyal relations with such people. So, the act of withholding one’s loyalty and also disavowing non-Muslims does not apply in general as some groups, like ISIS and AQ insist, but only applies specifically, according to the previous ayah, to those people who declared war on our religion.
We, Muslims, allege that there is no contradiction in the Qur’an. Allah says in the Qur’an, “Will they not contemplate upon the Qur’an? If it had been from other than Allah, they would surely have found in it many contradictions.” (Surah 4, Ayah, 82). Thus, the rational person would say, with an amount of satisfaction, that there is no other ayah in the Qur’an, or an authentic hadith, which is in contradiction to this ayah.
Now, what urged me to write this article on wala’ and bara’, or loyalty and disavowal, is that I found a great confusion in the Muslim’s mind pertaining to this concept. This confusion comes from believing that this concept is related to creed and belief rather than to Islamic law -fiqh- and policy. This is a problem, at least in my view, when it comes to practical everyday life. This concept creates certain amounts of contradictions in the Muslim character, especially if he was living within a minority in a non-Muslim country. He would have to constantly deal with non-Muslims in his life and he has to be kind to them and show love and care, and in the same time he has to know that they are unbelievers and he, as a good Muslim, if he believes in the creed of wala’ and bara’ he believes he has to show enmity and disavow his very neighbors and co-workers until it is time to fight them unless they believe in Allah and his Prophet. This creates pure cognitive dissonance, which leads to hypocrisy, a state which is more evil than blasphemy.
Let us now see the shape of this concept in the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him. In his biography, we read that when he went to Ta’if, a city to the east of Mecca, to preach Islam and call them to support and protect him, but they did not believe him and caused great harm to him by throwing stones at him and casting him out of their city with his blood dripping on his feet. It was then that he made this prayer to Allah, he said, “Oh, Allah, I appeal to you for the weakness in my strength, and my limited power, and the treatment of contempt and humiliation from people. To you, the most Merciful of all the Merciful ones, you are the Lord of the oppressed, and you are my Lord, under whose care are you leaving me to? To an enemy oppressing me? Or to a friend you have given control of my affair? If there is no anger from you on me I will forever be content. However, your blessing is vastly important for me. I seek refuge with the glory of your light, which the heavens and earth are lit from, your anger will not befall on me, nor your displeasure descends on me. To you is the supplication until you are pleased, and there is no control or power except by you”.
Our Prophet was calling out to Allah in his distress and humiliation and was not expressing anger at those who had harmed him as much as seeking refuge in Allah and asking Allah’s support and guidance to please Allah in how he should deal with the polytheists. He was asking Allah not to be displeased with his failure and to protect him in his great task preaching Islam. Didn’t he know that this is against the “creed of wala’ and bara’?” that he should have sought no loyalty with the polytheists and simply disavowed and fought them, yet he seems to be asking Allah how to succeed to reach out to them and gain Allah’s blessing. So was the Prophet wrong or is it our understanding of that concept which is wrong?
When our Prophet went out of Ta’if, he had nowhere to go, so he went back to Mecca, but there the Meccan people –the polytheists and mushriks – were also against him, especially his own tribe, Quraish, and he was afraid that they might hurt him as well. So the Prophet tried to contact three people whom had great reputation among Quraish to aid him, but they apologized because they did not want to have problems with the biggest and strongest tribe in Mecca. The Prophet floundered until he reached to a fourth person, al-Mut’im bin Adi, a great and famous Meccan polytheist, who promised Muhammed, peace be upon him, to protect him. So, Muhammed, peace be upon him, entered Mecca with al-Mut’im and his three of his sons, who were polytheists as well, fully equipped with weapons until they brought him to his house in Mecca. Now, didn’t Muhammed, peace be upon him, know that this is against the “creed of wala’ and bara’?” Or is it our understanding of that concept that is wrong?
In the battle of Bard, the first battle between Muslims and the polytheists of Quraish, the Muslims captured prisoners of war, and the Prophet, peace be upon him, remembering the protection he had received from the polytheist in Mecca said “If al-Mut’im bin ’Adi had been alive and spoken to me about those filthy ones (as they were polytheists), I would have freed them for him” (Bukhari, book 11, hadith 1326). Now, how can the Prophet, peace be upon him, consider a polytheist as a man for whom he has respect and would listen to his words. Didn’t he know that this is against the “creed of wala’ and bara’?” Or is it our understanding of that concept that is wrong?
It is crucial to read the context of every ayah in the Qur’an to have a full understanding of every concept. One of which is the ayahs which talk about wala’ and bara’, or loyalty and disavowing. All the ayah which talk about this concept are in the context of war, not peace.
So, as I said in the beginning of this article, Islam is a way of life, and life has two main statuses, peace and war. The ayahs which talk about loyalty and disavowing are to be applied only in times of war, such as the first ayah, Surah 58- ayah 22. And the ayahs which talk about being kind and just, not disloyal and disavowing, to non-Muslims are to be applied at all times in times of peace, such as the other ayahs, surah 60- ayah 8-9. It would be a great misconception and misunderstanding to take otherwise.
One last point on this concept, I believe that the concept of wala’ and bara’ was intentionally elevated to be one of the bases of Islamic belief by those who were trying to twist Islam for their purposes historically at the time it was so elevated in creed. This concept was not present in the past as a basis of belief and creed, rather it was regarded as an act of policy. Policy might be right and might be wrong, that is normal. But it has nothing to do with you being a Muslim, or not, if you did certain acts. One of the funny examples, that makes clear that wala’ and bara’ are not defining characteristics of a believing Muslim, is that Allah has permitted that a Muslim may marry a Jew or a Christian, as he said in the Qur’an, “The food of those to whom the Book was given is lawful to you, and your food is lawful to them. Lawful to you (in marriage) are the chastite believing women and the chastite women from among those who were given the Book before you, provided that you give them their dowries in marriage, neither committing fornication nor taking them as mistresses. Whosoever denies the belief, his labors will be annulled. In the Everlasting Life he is of the losers” (Surah 5, Ayah 5). So, Allah has permitted that I marry a Jewish or a Christian woman, and she is going to be my sexual partner and the mother of my children which means that I love her, how can I love her and hate her in the same time as would be required by the creed of wala’ and bara’? This is a pure contradiction, and the Qur’an does not contain any type of contradiction. The thing is that we misunderstood the ayahs of the Qur’an to fail to make the distinction between warring enemies in specific from nonbelievers in general and were misled by certain new extreme beliefs which claim to be Islamic.
Extremist beliefs which we now see in groups like ISIS, AQ, al Shabaab, Boko Haram etc. all focus on war as a default status of the Muslims, claiming Muslims are under attack from Western powers and nonbelievers and this then extends to Muslims wrongly being called into seeing all nonbelievers as their enemies and themselves in a constant state of war even if this war was against all the world. Extremists make everyone who does not conform to their beliefs as enemies and forget the ayahs which talk about being kind and just to non-Muslims. The only escape for them was the concept of abrogation, as they allege that all ayahs which talk about peace, love, justice and care to non-Muslims were abrogated, which means that they are no longer applicable. This is a disastrous belief, to force the Qur’an to serve your version of understanding, particularly one that destroys harmony and peace and brings violence into the world. But this concept of abrogation is going to be the focus of an article which I will write in the near future inshallah.
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds.