Is befriending disbelievers disbelief?
In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, Most Merciful
And whomsoever of you befriends them is one of them 
It is impermissible to judge the rulers as having committed disbelief simply because they have ties with non-Muslims. Befriending “disbelievers” does not necessitate disbelief. Making takfīr (judging someone as having apostasised) is an issue of fundamental importance that many people misunderstand.
Understanding blatant disbelief
Many dangerous mistakes that are made in matters of creed centre on misunderstanding what constitutes blatant disbelief, and the conditions whereby judgement is made on whether an individual has openly declared himself a disbeliever.
Many consider blatant disbelief to be the abandonment of the rulings of Islam, even if only in a single matter. They argue that anyone who differs with the rulings of Islam, is a disbeliever, even if he prays and fasts and declares himself to be a Muslim. The end result of their position leads to one of the greatest forms of corruption because it removes almost all Muslims from the fold of Islam.
In fact, unbeknownst to those accusers it also removes them from the fold of Islam because there is no individual, whether a ruler or a lay person, except that he has shortcomings or abandons some of the rulings of the religion; and this may be the result of his own weaknesses, shortcomings, ignorance, fears or other factors.
If those people only knew the destructive consequences of their ill understanding in this dangerous matter, perhaps they would refrain from speaking on such issues and learn that studying issues of iman is one of the most important things that Muslims need at present.
It must also be remembered that not everyone who possesses zeal for the religion, and who is able to quote some hadīth and ayāt, is a scholar. One of our greatest problems in this day and age is that those who have half – or even quarter – learned the religion hasten to pronounce religious verdicts, especially in the dangerous matters of creed.
Here, by Allah’s permission, I will explain the correct understanding of blatant disbelief as taught by Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) in the hadīth narrated by Muslim on the authority of Junāda ibn Ummaya. He said:
We visited Ubāda ibn as-Sāmit while he was sick and said, “Tell us (may Allah cure you) something by which Allah will benefit us, something which you heard from Allah’s Messenger (pbuh).” So he said, “Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) summoned us and we made a pledge to him, and from that which we agreed was to hear and obey (our rulers) in good times as well as bad times, in hardship as well as ease, and not to fight our leaders in order to gain leadership, except when we see blatant disbelief of which Allah has given proof.”
Blatancy is being apparent and announcing something; it is the opposite of something being hidden or difficult to identify. Although Islam commands us to judge a person Muslim based on the slightest indication, it is very strict when it comes to judging a Muslim as having left the fold of Islam. This can only be done with absolute certainty and the absence of doubt. We therefore judge a person to be Muslim if we see him exhibit an action indicative of Islam, such as pronouncing the two declarations of faith and praying. It is found in Sahīh Muslim on the authority of Utbān ibn Mālik that he said:
Something was wrong with my vision so I sent for Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) informing him of my wish that he pray in my house so that I may take it as a place of prayer. So the Prophet (pbuh) and those of his companions whom Allah willed came and he entered and prayed while his companions talked amongst themselves. Then they accused Mālik ibn Dakhsham of the biggest and greatest thing (i.e. they accused him of hypocrisy and bad deeds). They said that they wished the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) would pray that he would perish or that evil would befall him. As soon as Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) finished his prayer he said, “Does he not bear witness that none but Allah deserves to be worshipped and that I am the Messenger of Allah?” They said, “He says that but it is not in his heart.” Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, “No one bears witness that none but Allah deserves to be worshipped except Allah and that I am the Messenger of Allah and then enters the Fire or is eaten by it.”
And this is clear proof that the Prophet (pbuh) forbade his companions from judging a man whose evil deeds appeared to them as hypocrisy as long as he continued to bear witness that none but Allah deserves to be worshipped.
It is also reported in an authentic hadīth that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would, during times of war when they would ambushing their opponants, wait until fajr prayer.; if he heard the athān  he would refrain from attacking them, and if he did not hear the athān he would go forth. Again, this makes clear that bearing witness to the Islam of a people is affirmed when they openly practice one of the religious rites of Islam, namely the athān, and that this offers them some of the rights of Muslims, namely the impermissibility of attacking and fighting them.
Likewise, the Quranic text in Sura al-Fath, in which Allah makes known that He prevented the Muslims from fighting in the Battle of Hudaybiya because there were Muslims hiding in Mecca. Allah the Most High says:
Had there not been believing men and believing women whom you did not know, that you may kill them and on whose account a sin would have been committed by you without (your) knowledge, that Allah might bring into His Mercy whom He wills – if they (the believers and the disbelievers) had been apart, We verily would have punished those of them who disbelieved with painful punishment.
This means that even after the believers retreated and left Mecca and no one remained there except the pure polytheists Allah still demanded caution… informing us that the believer – even when hidden – is honoured and protected. Therefore, even in a situation of actual military combat between a Muslim army and their foe, it is not permissible for the Muslim forces to attack until the two sides are separated. So what about those who spread tribulation in the Muslim lands, killing their Muslim brothers, while salāh  and all the other forms of worship are established in these lands?!
The most important thing to keep in mind concerning the aforementioned facts is that judging a people’s Islam is based on what is apparent and obvious. And restraining one’s hand from harming a Muslim is his right, even if he bears witness that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah in a life or death situation. It is reported in the authentic hadīth of Usāma ibn Zayd:
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) dispatched us to Al-Harqah so we attacked the people in the morning and defeated them. An Ansari man and I caught up with one of them and as soon as we overcame him he said, “Lā ilāha illa Allah” (None has the right to be worshipped except Allah). The Ansāri man left him alone and I stabbed him with my spear until I killed him. When we arrived (in Medina) the news of what I did reached the Prophet (pbuh). He said, “O Usāma, did you kill him after he said: Lā ilāha illa Allah?” I said, “O Messenger of Allah, he was only seeking refuge.” He said, “Should you not have looked into his heart?” And he kept repeating this until I wished I had not accepted Islam until that day.
A similar narration was reported by Al-Miqdād ibn al-Aswad, who said to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh):
What if I encountered a man from amongst the disbelievers and we fought, then he struck me with his sword, cutting off one of my hands, then took refuge against me hiding behind a tree, then he said, “I have submitted to Allah.” Should I kill him after having said that, O Messenger of Allah? Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, “Don’t kill him. Because if you kill him he will be in your place before you killed him, and you will be in his place before he made his statement.”
All of this demonstrates that a person’s Islam is affirmed by him making apparent anything of Islam. He is judged on that basis and thereby gains all of the rights offered by Islam including that of (state) security, protection for his wealth and his reputation etc.
It is, under no circumstances, permissible to deem any such individual a hypocrite, even if he commits some of the actions of the hypocrites, because hypocrisy is something present within the heart and no one is aware of that except Allah. And
it is not permissible to say that a person entered Islam due to some personal need or a material advantage due to desire or fear.
If the question is then asked: is it allowed for a Muslim to love a non-Muslim apart from their religion and beliefs?
The answer is: Yes. It is permissible. And this is not from the type of befriending which takes someone outside of the religion. The proof for this is the statement of Allah the Exalted:
This day [all] good foods have been made lawful, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them. And [lawful in marriage are] chaste women from among the believers and chaste women from among those who were given the Scripture before you.
The proof specifically is found in His words: “chaste women from among those who were given the Scripture before you.” The reason that this is a proof is that Allah has allowed Muslim men to marry chaste women from the People of the Book, and it is known that the relationship of a husband and wife will not be empty of the type of love and friendship that occurs between a man and a woman.
And if the question is asked: is it possible for a Muslim to help a non-Muslim for something other than his religion or his belief?
The answer is also: Yes. A Muslim may help a non-Muslim, without necessitating supporting his religion or weakening any aspect of his own Islam.
The proof for this is what Allah has told us about Mūsa , when he helped the disbeliever that was from his people against the disbeliever that was from the people of the Pharaoh of Egypt. Allah the Exalted said:
And he entered the city at a time of inattention by its people and found therein two men fighting: one from his faction and one from among his enemy. And the one from his faction called for help to him against the one from his enemy, so Musa struck him and [unintentionally] killed him. [Musa] said, ‘This is from the work of Satan. Indeed, he is a manifest, misleading enemy.’
Similarly, in the story of Hātib, we find the helping of the pagans of Mecca, but not for their religion and beliefs, rather for a worldly aim. This did not take Hātib outside of the fold of Islam.
Trading with non-Muslims, giving and accepting gifts, etc., is permissible and it is not considered an unlawful form of befriending. Rather, this is from worldly dealings and the mutual exchange of benefit, such as employing non-Muslims. The Prophet (pbuh) employed ‘Abdullah bin Urayqit al-Laythi to guide him during his migration to Medina, even though he was a non-Muslim, for the sake of benefiting from his knowledge. It is also allowed for a Muslim to offer himself in employment to a non-Muslim, since this is a type of beneficial exchange.
A (predominately) non-Muslim society may offer to co-operate with Muslims in preventing and fighting against something which Islam prevents or prohibits. For example, in fighting against drugs or terrorism – and this includes those responsible for assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, and other things which cause panic and fear, such that people are unable to go about their lives and security and stability cannot be established. Islam encourages security, praises it, and commends it. It forbids causing fear and spreading panic, and it considers doing so to be an act of war whose perpetrator deserves to be fought and killed.
These forms of positive co-operation are not considered impermissible, so there is no consequence of disbelief for the one who participates in them, nor can they be labelled disobedient. Accusations of disbelief and disobedience are only legitimate when there is an agreement with non-Muslims on something which harms Islam or Muslims out of love for disbelief and a desire for its dominance over Islam. The proof for this is the statement of Allah the Exalted:
O you who have believed, do not take your fathers or your brothers as allies if they have preferred disbelief over belief. And whoever does so among you – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.
1 The Quran, Sura al-Mā’ida :51.
2 See al-Mundhiri’s abridged version of Sahīh Muslim, p. 331.
3 The muezzin’s call to prayer.
4 The Quran, Sura al-Fath :25.
5 The five-times daily compulsory prayer.
6 Recorded by al-Bukhāri and Muslim.
8 The Quran, Sura al-Mā’ida :5.
9 The Prophet Moses, upon him be peace.
10 The Quran, Sura al-Qasas :15.
11 The Quran, Sura at-Tawba :23.