Examination of Verse 60 of Surat al-Ma’ida:
These verses are addressing a community that has emerged from within the People of the Book; however, this community has worshiped false gods. They are deviators who have insisted on committing unlawful deeds and have mocked the faith. The term “People of the Book” is used solely to identify the society from which these two-faced people have emerged, not to suggest that the People of the Book as a whole are guilty of such things (surely they are beyond that).
We can see the entire description when we look at the verses before verse 60 of Surat al-Ma’ida. Verse 57 says, “Do not take as friends [patrons] any of those given the Book before you or the disbelievers who make a mockery and a game out of your religion.” The term “before you” means before the Muslims, and the words “given the Book” mean Christians and Jews, and the verse refers to people who are disbelievers and who make a mockery of the religion from among Christians and Jews. Let us reiterate that this is not a general reference to Jews and Christians, but to an irreligious, aggressive and mocking community that has emerged from among them. Such a community is a grave threat and scourge, not only for Muslims, but also for Jews and Christians.
In order that the word “disbeliever” that appears in the verses cited here and below should not be misunderstood, the subject needs to be made clear: Someone may believe in a religion or may not. He is free to choose, and this is a matter he will decide on according to his own conscience. A believer will never seek to impose his beliefs on someone who does not believe in that religion. Such compulsion is explicitly forbidden in the Qur’an. Indeed, as we have seen in preceding sections, a Muslim has a responsibility to protect an unbeliever, even at the cost of his own life.
However, if that unbeliever mocks and laughs at the faith, and thus seeks to harm believers and their values, if he abandons love and affection and behaves in a hostile manner instead, and even becomes aggressive, then he is committing an offense against God. The unbelievers in the verses here possess those very qualities and have overstepped the bounds. God compares these people to monkeys and pigs because they are hypocrites and cause difficulties for believers.