As Christians who have the orders to take the Gospel to every ethnic group on this planet, we might be well advised to understand some of the attitudes that we will encounter. As we encounter Muslim believers it would be wise to understand the Islamic doctrine of al-walāʾ wa-l-barāʾ. In a nutshell, it teaches Muslims to love and embrace what is Islamic and to give distance up to the point of hatred to whatever is not Islamic. Taken at face-value from its own texts, Islam is the stated enemy of anyone who is not Muslim. We briefly examine four scenarios in how this doctrine works out in real life. Challenges to Muslims and Christians are detailed as well.
#1. A visiting group of Christians visits a Muslim cleric who speaks through a translator. The cleric welcomes them, smiles and talks all about their commonalities. The Christians leave and write nice things about the meeting. Later the same Muslim authority make a public announcement in his own language that denigrates local Christians.
#2. A person goes into a pharmacy in North America. He observes that the person likely speaks Arabic. He greets the pharmacist with the Arabic greeting 'peace be upon you.' The pharmacist replies, "I cannot reciprocate the greeting and you should not use it, because it is reserved only for Muslims."
#3. A group of IS (Islamic State) fighters demolish a tomb of a revered Islamic mystic. They declare that such veneration is un-Islamic.
#4. A church group in the Middle East walks through their neighborhood with signs that read "My Muslim friend, we love you."
At first glance it would appear that the four vignettes have nothing in common. Yet behind the scenes of the first three the doctrine of al-walāʾ wa-l-barāʾ is at work. In each case an "us and them" dynamic has been set up, whether this is expressed overtly, as in the pharmacy or in the case of the Islamic State fighters, or covertly as in the instance of the Muslim cleric. The last item displays an attempt to break down the barriers between "others."
Islam on al-walāʾ wa-l-barā
"The subject matter is of paramount importance and utmost interest: Firstly, it is concerned with one of Islam's main foundations, which has two major prerequisites of true faith: al-Wala is a manifestation of sincere love for Allah, his prophet and the believers; al-Bara is an expression of enmity and hatred toward falsehood and its adherents. Both are evidence of true faith."
... so reads the introduction by a Saudi Sheikh in 2005 to Muhammad Qahtani's al-Wala wal-Bara. Bottom line. It is foundational to Islam. This echoes what was said much earlier by the classical Islamic scholar Ibn Taimiyya (1263-1328):
ʹThe declaration of faith, ʺThere is no god but Allahʺ, requires you to love
only for the sake of Allah, to hate only for the sake of Allah, to ally
yourself only for the sake of Allah, to declare enmity only for the sake of
Allah; it requires you to love what Allah loves and to hate what Allah hates.
It also requires you to ally yourself to the Muslims wherever you
find them and to oppose the disbelievers even if they are your closest
Ibn Taimiyya and others draw their main inspiration for this doctrine from the example of Ibrahim [=Abraham], who they see as the model Muslim, and who categorically rejected the idolatry of his family. In Surah 60:4 one reads:
“There is a good example for you in Ibrahim and those with him, when they told their people: ʹSurely we disassociate ourselves from you and all that you worship beside Allah. We have done with you. And there has arisen between us and you enmity and hate for ever [Arabic wa’l-baghdā’u abadan] until you believe in Allah only.”
Thus it would not require a rocket scientist to draw a line of logic from the Qur'anic verse 2:98 which declares that “Allah is the enemy of kafirin” [= “infidels” or “non-believers” or "non-Muslims"] to what is suggested by the two Islamic scholars. Additionally, when Muslims pray their daily al-Fatiyah prayer they ask:
Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom you have favored, not of those against whom there is wrath, nor of those have gone astray.
This text was explained by the early Muslim commentator al-Tabari (838-923) that "those against whom there is wrath" are the Jews while "those who have gone astray" are the Christians.
Clearly, the Islamic texts and commentators teach that Islam has one ethical standard for things Islamic and for fellow Muslims, and another ethical standard for those items perceived as less than Islamic and for those who are non-Muslims or even those who are viewed as less than serious Muslims. In a word, Islam has created a dualistic universe where enmity or the lack thereof is completely conditional on belief in Allah "only."
Where does this leave the Muslim?
The Muslim cleric smiled civilly in the first vignette. Likely he was consistent in his beliefs that he had been taught, namely to outwardly show civility when it was convenient while actually having animosity to Christians in his heart. His later actions showed this. The second vignette showed that the person took the expression of hostility rather literally and expressed it as such. For him, it was incumbent to ensure an "us and them" mentality. This same idea is expressed by the Islamic State fighters who see their divine mandate as a call to purify Islam, and so they have created an "us and them" dynamic.
For the less than devout Muslim living in the West, this doctrine provides a formidable challenge of loyalties. They have to wrestle with the fact that their sacred text portrays “non-believers” as; “guilty” and “unjust” (10:17, 45:31, 68:35); terror is to be cast in their hearts for their injustice (3:151); they are “disliked” and “accursed” by Allah (2:89, 3:32, 33:64); they are the “vilest of beasts” (8:55, 98:6), like “cattle” and “devoid of understanding” (47:12, 8:65); and “enemies” to Muslims (4:101). Do they apply this text literally, or do they find a way around it? How can they follow the example of the model Muslim, Ibrahim, and show loyalty and association only with Muslims, and dissociate with non-Muslims, while trying to be part and parcel of the society and even go as far as to have non-Muslim friends? If they do so, more strict Muslims of the ISIS kind would say that these "friendly" Muslims have lost the faith as this is the teaching of Surah 5:51 which suggests that if a Muslim becomes a friend of a Jew or Christian, he "is one of them." Unfortunately, as David Wood points out below, it is the radical element that seems to rule the day.
The choice, for the Muslim, it would seem, is to retain enmity, or to distance themselves from Islam.
Where does this leave the Christian?
Depending on the Muslim to whom you are speaking, one must observe that not everything is what it appears to be on the surface. Civil smiles can mask hostility and wait for an opportune time to assert Islamic dominance, especially in regions where Islamic law is not the law of the land. Declarations of superficial unity might display a lack of understanding of al-walāʾ wa-l-barāʾ and might be a kind, but misled projection of loving one's neighbour in the Judeo-Christian ethic on to the adherent of another religion.
Secondly, it would be tempting to respond in kind to the person in the pharmacy, namely that their hostility should be matched with the same. This is a prime opportunity for the Gospel as the Bible suggests that Christians can return good for evil, bless those who persecute and love enemies.
Thirdly, as much as al-walāʾ wa-l-barāʾ tries to make the world into an "us and them" camp of mortal and eternal enemies, the Gospel has very good news in that God in Christ has broken down the dividing walls between Him and us and has brought about true peace with Him. The outpouring of this unmerited love into the heart of the Christian can help the Christian to foster acceptance of the "other" as they have know what it is to be in the camp of "others" and to be accepted by God. This is not to say, however, that Christians have discarded their discernment.
The Christian does not live in a dualistic universe. He/she can say with the martyr Stephen, "forgive them for they don't know what they are doing." He/she can say from the shell of a burnt out church building, "Mr. Extremist we are here to pray for you." He/she can say, "I once was lost, but now I am found, let me introduce you to my Saviour." As the signs carried by the church people said, "My Muslim friend, we love you."
Only the power of the Gospel with its ability to embrace the "other" with the love of Christ can rise above the dualism of al-walāʾ wa-l-barāʾ. This presents a powerful apologetic appeal to the Muslim who follows in the footsteps of Ibrahim and Muhammad and has been trained to dissociate from, or to show enmity to the "other" or simply put, to be the enemy of anyone who is not Muslim. Whereas al-walāʾ wa-l-barāʾ is completely conditional on having enmity cease when a declaration of Islamic faith is made, the Gospel tells us that "while we were yet sinners" unconditionally, and due to no merit of ours, "Christ died for us." This gives the Christian a powerful tool to love inspite of hatred.
For further reading:
1. David Bukay, "Islam's Hatred of the Non-Muslim" Middle East Quarterly (Summer 2013), pp. 11-20.
Available here: http://www.meforum.org/3545/islam-hatred-non-muslim
2. A thesis by Mohamed Bin Ali, "The Islamic Doctrine of Al-Wala’ wal Bara’ (Loyalty and Disavowal) in Modern Salafism" (University of Exeter, Phd, 2012).
Available at the British Library Ethos repository online here: ethos.bl.uk/
3. The Indian-Pakistani contemporary Muslim scholar Abul A'la Maududi (1903-1979) made the following comment on Surah 60:4. He too, seems to wrestle with the doctrine of al-walāʾ wa-l-barāʾ and how to apply it in civil society. Just how one interprets "practically engaged in hostile activities against Islam" is very much open to interpretation, as some clerics would suggest that the very presence of any close examination of Islam is a hostile activity.
"Allah has taught the believers the lesson that no believer should, under any circumstances and for any motive, have relations of love and friendship with the disbelievers, who are actively hostile to Islam, and a believer should refrain from everything which might be helpful to them in the conflict between Islam and disbelief. However, there is no harm in dealing kindly and justly with those disbelievers, who may not be practically engaged in hostile activities against Islam and persecution of the Muslims."
4. To understand how this doctrine is used by the Islamic State, the following from David Wood's Understanding Jihad (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), p. 141.
" One cannot understand radical Islam, let alone globalist radical Islam, until one comprehends the importance of the doctrine
known as al-wala wa-l-bara (loyalty or fealty and disloyalty or disassociation). Basically, this is a polarizing doctrine by which
radicals—and this idea is emphasized almost exclusively by radicals, so virtually any book or pamphlet on the subject will be
written by radicals—maintain their control over what constitutes the definition of "Islam." Islam is defined according to this doctrine
not only by the willingness to fight, but also by the polarities of love and hatred: love for anything or anybody defined as Islam
or Muslim, and hatred for their opposites or opponents. In other words, anybody who demonstrates what radicals define as "love" for what is a non- or an anti-Muslim position, or associates closely (or sometimes in any way) with non-Muslims, must be a non-Muslim and is excluded, by definition, from the Muslim community.
It is self-evident that this doctrine is of crucial importance for radical Muslims, not only in their war with the outside world,
but also in their attempts to gain spiritual prestige and power within the Muslim world. One of the principal reasons for the
ineffectiveness of moderate or anti-radical Muslims is the power of the doctrine of al-wala wa-l-bara over even those Muslims
who do not accept the radical Muslim vision of the present or the future. Al-wala wa-l-bara enables radical Muslims to assert
control over the definitions of who is and who is not a Muslim and it forces those who would wish to challenge that control into
silence or into being categorized as "non-Muslims." Thus, it is not a question of whether a minority or a majority of Muslims
support or oppose the actions and agenda of radical Islam or globalist radical Islam. It is impossible to know in many cases what
Muslims really think or feel concerning a given operation. The crucial fact is that Muslims in the vast majority, whatever they
truly believe, are unwilling to disassociate themselves publicly from radical Islam. This passivity is the work of the doctrine of