Islamic teachings promote bonds of peace, cooperation, goodwill and trust across people we share our lives and spaces with. The spirit of these teachings extends across to people of all faiths. Similarly, there are many teachings about looking after neighbours or the importance of dealing with matters fairly, which are understood to apply to all in society, regardless of their belief. Islamic scholars often feel a need to clarify such teachings, because in recent years some people have tried to argue that Islam discourages friendship with those who are not Muslims, and this can cause some confusion.
The misunderstanding is based on some references that are interpreted as saying that Muslims should not associate with ‘disbelievers’ nor imitate their ways. However, a closer look at these interpretations show that this is about association with those who were actively fighting the early Muslims and showing aggressive enmity towards them. On the other hand, the Qur’an allows Muslims and non-Muslims to marry, it invites Muslims to eat at the table of ‘people of the book’, and we see from the life of the Prophet, the many people who never embraced Islam but were very close allies and protectors of himself and his mission, in fact some were integral to his personal safety and security.
Friendships are of course deeply personal and a choice, and change in one’s life can affect some previous relationships. But, there is no religious requirement to cut off ties and relationships. Cases have been known where individuals were told they needed to cut old friendships and this has caused great personal harm at the very time a trusted (old) friend could be very much in need. It is a different matter if old friends turn against a person, becoming nasty or aggressive – that would be a matter of personal judgement. Even if that were to happen, there are Islamic teachings that would advise holding out for hope and a turnaround in relations for the better.