O ye who believe! take not others than your own people as intimate friends; they will not fail to corrupt you. They love to see you in trouble. Hatred has already shown itself through the utterances of their mouths, and what their breasts conceal is greater still. We have made clear to you Our commandments, if you will understand. (3:119)
The allegation against this verse is that it instructs Muslims not befriend non-Muslims, thus it encourages a sense of Islamic supremacy leading to animosity towards non-Muslims. However, the verse makes no such assertion.
This verse does not mean to not make friends with peaceful, well-wishing non-Muslims who are part of one’s community desiring good, neighbourly relations. The verse is pointing to those who, by virtue of their own speech, have expressed animosity towards Muslims and may harbor further ill will in their hearts. It is important to note that these verses were revealed at a time when the Muslim movement faced persecution and opposition. After escaping persecution in Mecca, the Muslims were able to establish a platform in Medina. However, it continued to face opposition in Medina where those vested in its failure devised secret plots and conspiracies to undermine the movement.
This verse does not instruct Muslims to have no relations whatsoever with non-Muslims. Elsewhere, the Quran says:“Allah forbids you not respecting those who have not fought against you on account of your religion and who have not driven you forth from your homes, that you be kind to them and deal equitably towards them. Surely Allah loves those who are equitable (60:9).”
The words la yaaloo nakum khabaalan can be rendered as, they will not fail to corrupt you, may also mean: (1) they have no scruple in ruining you; (2) they leave no stone unturned to spoil your work; (3) they will do what they can to corrupt your religion; (4) they are always busy in injuring you.
The words waddoo maa ‘aniththum (they love to see you in trouble) may, in the light of the meanings given under Important Words above, mean: (1) they love to see you fall into calamity and misfortune; (2) they love to see you perish; (3) they love to see you become weak and broken; (4) they love to see you become sinful.
The Promised Messiah (as) and founder of The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has said regarding this verse:
That is to say, do not love the Jews and Christians, nor those who are not righteous. Reading these verses, the uninformed Christians are misled. They think that Muslims are enjoined not to love Christians and other non-believers, but they do not realize that every word is used with reference to the context. What constitutes love can be entertained for evildoers and the disbelievers only when one partakes of their disbelief and impiety. Ignorant indeed would be the person who enjoined love for the enemies of his faith. We have pointed out several times that love means to look with pleasure on the words, actions, habits, morals, and faith of the beloved, to be pleased with them, and to accept his influence. But this is not possible on the part of a believer with regard to a disbeliever. A believer will, however, have compassion for the disbeliever and will have full sympathy for him and will seek to help him in his physical and spiritual ailments. Allah the Almighty has repeatedly admonished that we should have sympathy for people regardless of their religion, should feed the hungry, procure freedom for slaves, pay off the debts of those burdened with them, and have true sympathy for the whole of mankind.
He says: Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. He admonished you that you may take heed (16:91). This means that: ‘God commands you to be just or, even more than just, to be benevolent like a mother to her child, or like a person who is kind to another because of the feelings of kinship.’
Allah forbids you not, respecting those who have not fought against you on account of your religion, and who have not driven you forth from your homes, that you be kind to them and act equitably towards them; surely Allah loves those who are equitable (60:9). That is: ‘The fact that Allah forbids you from loving the Christians and others should not be taken to mean that He forbids you from doing good or showing compassion and sympathy. No. Be compassionate, sympathetic and just to those who have not fought to kill you, nor have they driven you out of your homes, whether they are Jews or Christians, for Allah loves the people who do so.’
60:10 Allah only forbids you, respecting those who have fought against you on account of your religion, and have driven you out of your homes, and have helped others in driving you out, that you make friends of them, and whosoever makes friends of them — it is these that are the transgressors.
[Essence of Islam, Vol. III, pp. 40-42.]
The subjects of this verse are those who have openly expressed their opposition to Muslims. Naturally, they cannot be taken as intimate friend in an atmosphere where forces were known to be working on destroying the Islamic movement and its advocacy for fundamental freedoms and human rights.