‘Al-wala wal bara’

(Loyalty and rejection)

Surah 48 (Al-Fath/The Victory): 29

Muhammad is the apostle of God, and those who are with him are strong against Unbelievers, (but) compassionate amongst each other….


On multiple occasions, the Qur’an requires believers to maintain a clear division between themselves and infidels. Ten times it instructs believers not to take unbelievers as ‘walīy‘ (‘friendsper Arberry and Pickthall; ‘friends or helpers’, Yusuf Ali; ‘protectors’, The Study Qur’an, or, probably most authentically, ‘allies’, Haleem) in preference to other believers:

{3.28} (see 〈92.〉),

{4.88-89} (see 〈89.〉 and 〈93.〉), {4.139 & 144},

with specific reference to Jews and Christians, {5.51-52} (see 〈88.〉),

with specific reference to those who mock the signs of God, {5.57},

with specific reference to family members, {9.23},

{5.80}, {8.73} and {13.16}.


It also contains two, similarly worded, calls for believers to apply a double standard to others depending upon their faith or lack thereof: {48.29} (produced above), and {5.54}:

{5.54} O you who believe! Whosoever among you should renounce his religion, God will bring a people whom He loves and who love him, humble toward to believers, stern toward unbelievers, striving in the way of God (waging jihad) and fearing not the blame of any blamer…

This doctrine of confessional self-segregation within society is sometimes referred to with the Arabic maxim ‘al-wala wal bara’ (‘loyalty and rejection’).


Through these verses the author no doubt hoped to build the believers in his prophethood into an exclusive and mutually supportive community. Within the context of a society based upon clan loyalty and an ongoing conflict, this no doubt made pragmatic sense. Nevertheless, even allowing for the historical setting, these repeated instructions promoting sectarianism are in marked contrast with most other religions’ preaching of the virtues of inclusivity and even-handedness.