In all phases of life, from the very beginning of childhood and youth, old age till death, human beings are in need of friendship and association with others. Owing to his social nature, man is compelled to live in society and with other individuals. And most of our lives depend on interaction with others. Islam has placed tremendous importance on the aspect of sociability and friendship. Friendship is a beautiful gift from Allah. Good friends often takes precedence over blood relations. Man tends to heed his friends more than his relatives. He trusts his companions more than his own kin. A friend is a very important person in one’s life. Those who have worthy friends are never lonely and friendless in the world, since in joy and sorrow, their true friends help and support them. Imam Ali (as) says, “He indeed is unfortunate who does not have any friends, but worse is the one who has friends, but loses them.” Naturally, a human being feels happy at the companionship of friends, and is sad if being lonely and having no worthy companions. We should choose the friend that believes in and abide by our religion (Islam) or is not against Islam and gives great respect to what Allah (SWT) and Prophet Muhammad (saw) had ordered us. And we should stay away from the one who is not well mannered and speaks against Islam or he is not bothered about what pleases or displeases Allah (SWT), for he will surely affect us negatively. There is no good if the companion drowns us in sins and displeasing Allah (SWT). The bases for the actions of those who follow the evil ways are corrupt; their actions are built upon misguidance and deviation. Good friends are those who share with their companions both happiness and sadness. If we share our feelings with the wrongdoers whose actions are worthless and based on corruption, then we are following the same ways and standards as they are doing, and we will end up being as corrupt as they are, and then we are in a big danger, how can we face Allah’s (SWT) dissatisfaction and displeasure? Instead of making friends with the misguided ones we should befriend the righteous, yet treat the rest in a gracious and just manner.
Staying at sufficient distance is necessary; yet treating everybody in a noble and kind manner is required. The danger of having corrupt friends isn’t confined to the worldly life. Such friendships produce repentance on the Day of Resurrection, too! Allah (SWT), the Exalted says in the Holy Qur’an: “And (remember) the day when the unjust one shall bite his hands saying: O! Would that I had taken a way with the Messenger! O woe is me! Would that I had not taken such a one for a friend! Certainly he led me astray from the reminder after it had come to me;” (Surah Al-Furqan, 25:27-29) The two main regrets on the day of judgement are (1) Not following Prophet Muhammad (saw) on the path of guidance and (2) Befriending a person who diverted one from the truth. Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (as) has said: “The felicity of this and the next world lie in two things: firstly, keeping secrets; and secondly, friendship with the good. And the miseries of this and the next world are summed up in two things: firstly, divulging secrets; and secondly, friendship with wicked persons.” So take heed before the inevitable day of judgement comes and we are reckoned for our acts. Allah (SWT), the Exalted says in the Noble Qur’an: “Friends on that Day will be enemies one to another, except al-Muttaqun (i.e., those who have Taqwa/Piety).” (Surah Az-Zukhruf, 43:67) .
It is wise to choose moderation in dealing with friends. Excessive love and confidence in friends are unacceptable since it happens that a friend may change into an enemy and use the secrets that he had shown as weapons. Allah (SWT), the Exalted says in the Noble Qur’an: “And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression.” (Surah Al-Maeda, 5:2) Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib (as) said: “When you cherish someone you should cherish him moderately for he may be your enemy someday, and when you hate someone you should hate him moderately for he may be your friend someday.” Also said: “If you intend to cut yourself off from a friend, leave some scope for him from your side by which he may resume friendship if it so occurs to him some day.” Imam Jafar Sadiq (as) said: “The secrets that you must show before your friends are only those through which your enemies cannot harm you, for a friend may change into an enemy.” Generally, it is noticed that misguided friend can be more dangerous than worst enemy. It is very important before chosing anyone as a friend verify/observe his/her character. Who should not be befriended according to the philosophy of Islam?
When choosing our friends we should ask ourselves first: Are they going to help us achieve the purpose for which we were brought to life? Or will they take us away from it? Will they desire for us Allah’s (SWT) pleasure or is that completely irrelevant to them and not their concern at all? Are they leading us to Paradise or to the Hell? Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (as) narrates from his father who said, “O my son don’t befriend five types of people: 1. Don’t befriend a liar (Kadhib). For a liar is like a mirage. He shows the distant as near and the near as distant. He will always deceive you and trouble you. 2. Don’t befriend a transgressor (Ghasib). For he will forsake you for a paltry sum and make your sins appear very alluring to you. He will make you a victim of Allah’s chastisement through his petty sins and take you farther away from His obedience and satisfaction. He will make Allah’s worship appear as His disobedience, and His disobedience as His worship. He will drag you along with himself in the fire of hell. 3. Never befriend a miser (Bakheel/Kanjus). For in your time of need and distress, he will withhold his wealth from you, while he is in a position to assist you. (He values his wealth more than anything else. And to that end he is prepared to forsake even his friends) 4. Do not befriend a fool (Ahmaq). For (in his foolishness) he will harm you while he intends to help you. (That is why it is said, ‘A shrewd enemy is better than a foolish friend’) 5. Don’t befriend the one who breaks relations (with his relatives/Khata Rahmi). For, such a person has been cursed in the Noble Qur’an in three places. He is engrossed in his own affairs with scant regard for others. (Friendship with such a person will eventually lead the individual towards sins and disobedience of Allah)” Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (as) said: “Do not befriend a sinner (Fasiq/Fajir) because he will sell you for a morsel.” Imam Sajjad (as) said: “Do not make anyone your enemy even though you consider him harmless and do not turn down a person’s friendship even if you think he will not benefit you.” The Noble Qur’an says, “The hypocritical men and the hypocritical women are all alike; they enjoin evil and forbid good and withhold their hands; they have forsaken Allah, so He has forsaken them; surely the hypocrites are the transgressors.” (Surah Al-Tawba, 9:67) On the other hand, Holy Qur’an discusses the believers in the following manner, “And (as for) the believing men and the believing women, they are guardians of each other; they enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, and obey Allah and His Messenger; (as for) these, Allah will show mercy to them; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.” (Surah Al-Tawba, 9:71).
The two Qur’anic verses mentioned above only go to show how critical a role friendship can play in our lives. A true friend then, is the one who takes us closer to Allah’s (SWT) compassion and grace. Having deliberated at length on who should not be befriended, we shall now see what kind of people should be befriended. Imam Jafar Sadiq (as) narrates, “Friendship entails certain trusts and duties. Then the one who observes these obligations is a true friend and the one who breaches this trust is unworthy of friendship. These obligations are: 1. He should be the same outside as he is inside. In other words, he should not have a dual personality. (In this age however, we often come across people who are exceptionally humble and modest on the outside, with little, if any humility, on the inside) 2. He will consider your virtues as his virtues and your misdeeds as his misdeeds. (In other words your virtues will cheer him and your faults will grieve him. God forbid, he must not feel relieved after observing some vice in you, and take solace from the fact that he himself is above that vice.) 3. If he acquires a position of power and authority, it must not bring about a drastic change in his attitude. In other words, prosperity must not transform the individual adversely. (There are some people who make the best of friends in adversity. But a positive change in their financial condition reveals a dark, hitherto unknown side of their personality. On the other hand we see some people who make good friends in prosperity, but misfortune transforms them, disclosing their fickleness.) 4. He must give his friendship (with you) priority over all his worldly possessions. In other words in times of adversity, he must be willing to give his all to redeem you. 5. He must never leave you alone in times of misfortune and distress.” (Unfortunately, at present we observe that fake friends taking advantage of the circumstance and create more problems). To conclude, there are three types of friends:
Those that are necessary like nourishment and you cannot live without them; those that are like medicine and are beneficial, so you need them sometimes; and finally, those that are like a sickness and you do not need them at all! Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has said, “The believer is like a mirror to other believers (in truthfulness).” Like a mirror, your friend gives you an honest image. He forgives your mistakes, but does not hide or exaggerate your strengths and weaknesses. Once Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was asked, “What person can be the best friend?” “He who helps you remember Allah (SWT), and reminds you when you forget Him,” the Prophet Muhammad (saw), counseled. Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (as) said: “A friend cannot be considered a friend unless he is tested on three occasions: in time of need, behind your back and after your death.” When we wish to point out certain shortcomings to a friend, we must do so with a degree of respect and sincerity. Our sole intention must be to reform the friend and there should be no hint of any malice and self-righteousness. A good friend must acknowledge the same with respect and gratitude without any ill will and hostility. It is well said that give thousand chances to your enemy to become your friend, but don’t give a single chance to your good friend to become your enemy or avoid your company. It is important that we advise our friends secretly and never humiliate them openly. Indeed if we establish these as the standards of friendship, definitely we shall soon find enveloped with friends who will take us closer to Paradise and farther away from the fire of hell. Allah (SWT) says in the Noble Qur’an: O you who believe!
Take care of your souls; he who errs cannot hurt you when you are on the right way; to Allah is your return, of all (of you), so He will inform you of what you did. (Surah Al-Maeda, 5:105). There are certain tips to keep a stable friendship i.e., Do not dispute with him and do not be hostile to him; Do not ridicule him; Do not quarrel with him and Give your friends respect they deserve. Imam Hassan (as) Says: “Befriend people in the same manner you would like them to befriend you.” Do not hold him in contempt nor consider him to be lower than you. Instead guard the honor of your friends during their absence and after their death. Do not claim precedence and supremacy over him. Instead forgive the short-comings of your friends, because everyone makes mistakes in life. Finally, we ask Almighty Allah (SWT) to make us of the righteous ones and give us companions that will take us away from His Wrath and lead us to His Pleasure and Paradise. May Allah fill lives of my friends with goodness and wish they live lives full of joy. Ameen!
(The author a teacher at S K University of Agriculture Sciences & Technology-SKUAST Srinagar writes on Islamic topics exclusively for “Kashmir Horizon”. His views are personal)