Gabe Salmon: Social Harmony Furthered by Potential Qur’anic Strategies of Friendship

The Qur’an advances a collection of cardinal themes and strategies of righteousness to support social harmony. One such principle—proportional or redistributive justice—seeks to correct transgressions between communities. But in practice, the pursuit of “justice” is used punitively (as in lex talionis, or “an eye for an eye”, sura Q5:45) and relies on mistrust to enforce order. Punitive justice can impose a fragile and hostile coexistence, easily leading to spirals of retribution apparently justified by religious ideology.

However, the Qur’an presents such justice as a mere precursor to a more potent unifier of peoples: benevolence enabled by forgiveness. Forgiveness is, for the Qur’an, one of the deepest manifestations of piety. Surat 40, “Forgiver,” lauds God’s application of mercy towards the virtuous as “the greatest of triumphs” (Q40:8), establishing forgiveness as a sacred standard of behavior. As scholar Abdulaziz Schedina observes, this standard applied to human interactions can motivate “a just and peace political order by bringing individuals, families, and groups closer together” (page 105). To forgive is to go against punitive justice, to replace exacting punishment with exacting understanding—to extend and build human connection.

Forgiveness, then, stimulates the formation of friendship. The Qur’anic framework of friendship offers insights which extend beyond interpersonal affection into lessons for the geopolitical realm. Between nations, friendship is both arduous and essential. Even relationships between neighbors are demanding, let alone those among nations that dominate or devastate the international stage.

Three key notions in the Qur’an reveal practical steps towards scaling friendship to become a conceivable paradigm for international accord: trustworthiness, mutual forgiveness (via pragmatic transparency), and the courage to invest in our relations amongst ourselves and other countries. Trustworthiness built by the sanctity of agreements between parties is a highly useful Qur’anic ideal. The Qur’an maintains this principle of integrity unambiguously, declaring, “Fulfill your contract [even] with polytheists with whom you made a treaty and who did not violate any of its terms with you . . .” (Q9:4). This alone—keeping one’s word and one’s respect for other countries, even through disagreements—is something that actors in the international community would do better to remember and enact more consistently to approach peace.

Mutual forgiveness, already having paved the way for friendship, can also be supported by sharing more information with other nations. This transparency among friendly nations is, perhaps, currently counter-cultural in diplomatic contexts, but it is easier to forgive each other when mitigating circumstances are shared.

Finally, to forge lasting friendships between faiths and nations, we need to actively pursue shape relationships towards moral righteousness. According to the Qur’an, divine credit is granted not for passive peace but active pursuit of moral balance and social equanimity. As we discussed in class (and as argued by Professor Mahallati [2]), the same humanity which so easily transgresses also intrinsically forms friendships. It is our duty to pursue relationships with even unexpected potential friends to advance the prospect of social harmony.

[1] Abdulaziz Schedina: “Chapter 4: Forgiveness Toward Humankind”, The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism, 

[2] Professor Jafar Mahallati: “Friendship as a Better Paradigm for International and Interfaith Relations: A Qur’anic Perspective”