According to Islamic teachings, to take non–Muslims as friends and associates in general, is permissible. However, the brand of friendship referred to in the above verse, is undesirable and impermissible as it makes a Muslim unmindful. At times it might even shape up as an impediment and hinder a Believer from carrying out his/her religious duties. Other than that, it is perfectly fine to have non-Muslim friends, engage in business transactions and dealings with them, and to be socially good to them.
As a matter of fact, this is not only permissible but encouraged.
The above verse is stern condemnation of a “free and careless” type of association which leads to and causes grave religious harm. Islam will not tolerate any compromise in contravening the fundamentals of Islamic law.
The aforementioned verse was revealed at the time when the Muslims of Makkahtul-Mukarramah were required to make hijrat (migrate) to Madinahtul-Munawarrah. Many of these muhajireen had close family and friends whom they would have to leave behind in Makkahtul-Mukarramah. It was thus feared that this loyal and dedicated relationship would impede them from fulfilling/carrying out the order of migration (hijrat).
Regardless of the background of the revelation, the message is both clear and general: the honour of a Muslim is to dispel any and all inclinations of disbelief and “shirk” --- and stay away from anyone who might have a negative impact upon a believer’s Imãn and Aqeedah.
Darul Ihsan Centre