As I mentioned in Part One, I turned to the internet for my answers. In my search for understanding, I came across a major problem: I didn’t know when to stop. I hopped from website to website, following the breadcrumbs of the search results. I would think I had it beat, when suddenly I would read someone’s opinion on it, and the whole loop would start again.
I had opportunities to find closure on it. I was invited to a mosque where the imam and a sheikh were discussing the issue with a group of Muslim converts.
But I declined, partly because I felt I had reached my own conclusions, but mostly because I was afraid. As time progressed, I became frustrated with myself, that I wasn’t able to just shut the issue away and move on with my life.
One day at work, I was on my break and decided—finally—to go beyond just reading articles online. I searched the issue in YouTube, and came across the name of a sheikh that was familiar with me: Sheikh Yusuf Estes.
His warm, grandfatherly appearance was immediately welcoming. Himself a convert, he explained the issue in a way that made sense to me. In the verse that states “Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends”, he explained that the word for “friend” used in the verse is wali in Arabic—which doesn’t mean “friend” in the cordial sense, but rather someone who is intimately close to you.
I felt a massive sense of relief, like something had just unclamped from my heart. It was a major turning point because, for starters, Yusuf Estes was nothing like that man who was on stage, shouting at the crowd. My opinions on religious figures began to change. And as time went on, as my search broadened, I came to a deeper understanding not just of the issue itself, but of my faith in general.
My search also brought me to Muhammad Asad’s excellent translation and commentary on the Qur’an. It was the first time I connected with the English style of a translation (Asad, formerly Leopold Weiss, was a journalist) and also with the rational, logic-based commentary that Asad wrote. He described the term wali as forming a sort of “moral alliance” with someone, and states in his commentary that this, “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”, “friend”, “helper”, “protector”, etc. The choice of the particular term – and sometimes a combination of two terms – is always dependent on the context.”
This made sense to me. It was a way to reconcile what seemed to be contradictions—particularly the verses I mentioned in Part One, which says that “God only forbids you from befriending those who have fought you for ˹your˺ faith, driven you out of your homes, or supported ˹others˺ in doing so.” (60:8-9).
It wasn’t a silver bullet that killed the issue right then and there. But it was a remedy that, slowly over time, healed me, and which I would remind myself of when I began to slip back into the cycle. In my search, I found more and more evidence to support this opinion.
As time went on, as I learned more, and as my life became more centered around the Muslim community, I began to mature in my understanding of Islam, the Qur’an and God. This issue of non-Muslim friends became more marginal as time went on. Sometimes I would relapse, and fall into a depression or obsession, but in either case I would always go back to what I had learned. In school, I developed lasting friendships with many people of many beliefs. I would speak with sheikhs and imams or listen to their lectures, and they would point me towards the same direction: to be a friend of mankind.