Wali, in the Arabic language, has a wide set of meanings, none of which are used to simply mean “buddy, pal or acquaintance”, the way that we would use the term “friend” in modern times to denote our casual relationships with colleagues at work, peers at school or neighbours. In an everyday reading of the Qu’ran, after reading this question initially, I came across the word wali and its various derivatives multiple times; sometimes it meant “guardian”, other times, “discharger of affairs or executor”, or “protector and ally”, and even “inheritor”. “Friendship” can be included in this, but walaa’ is a type of intimate and extremely loyal bond that is not used for everyday friendships in Arabic language. Almighty Allah calls Himself a wali of the believers and also calls Himself by its derivative, al-Maula, which roughly means “the Patron”. It gives a sense of one party standing protectively over the other, or fully backing and sponsoring them. Raghib al-Isfahaani mentions that the trilateral root wa-la-ya means that: “… that two or more things exist in such a way that there is nothing between them that is not from them, and this is metaphorically used for closeness in terms of location, relation, and from the perspective of religion, and of companionship, and of reinforcing aid, and beliefs, and wilaaya is to support [back-up] and walaaya is the encharging of affairs” [Mufradaat al-Quran, al-Isfahani].
Even when wali is translated without qualification as “friend” for humans, such as when one mentions a “wali of Allah” – may Allah Ta’ala make us amongst His awliya! – it implies a closeness between the Divine Master and slave such that absolutely nothing foreign is between them; the slave stands for everything the Master stands for, nor are they out of sync at all. So it becomes obvious from this analysis then, that the term wali here is not simply a “friend”, like the ones we make with the people we interact with each day in society. Choosing and having good companions is extremely important for many reasons and from many aspects. Mankind cannot live alone; every individual must live and interact with others, and when interacting with others, one either influences or is himself influenced. Those people whom you sit with and take as friends are inevitably from one of the two following categories. They will either be good individuals – who guide and encourage you towards what is good and help you in accomplishing that which Allah has ordered, or they are going to be bad – encouraging you to do what is pleasing to Satan and that which misleads you and leads you to the Hell-Fire. When the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was sent with the mission to establish Islam, he did not do it on his own. Rather, Allah chose for him companions who accompanied him and who carried the Message until it was complete. It is obvious that having good companions; companions who are righteous will help you and enjoin you to do what is good, remind you of Allah, and forbid you from doing what is evil. Further, it is important to avoid befriending bad companions who will have a bad effect upon you, who will help you in doing deeds which are displeasing to Allah and which lead to Hell-Fire.
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) gave a good similitude regarding this, as he said: “The example of a good companion (who sits with you) in comparison with a bad one is like that of the musk seller and the blacksmith’s bellows; from the first you would either buy musk or enjoy its good smell while the bellows would either burn your body or your clothes or you get a bad nasty smell thereof.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) explained the matter of good companionship, so that no room is left for doubt or confusion, when he said: “A person is upon the religion of his close friend, so beware whom you befriend.” [Abu Daawood and At-Tirmithi] This means that a person will be upon the same methodology as his friend, the same path as his friend, the same nature, manner and behavior as his friend. So we must be careful about whom we befriend. There is an Arabic saying: ‘Your companion is what pulls you to something.’ So if your companion is good, he will pull you towards that which is good. He will order you to do what is good and forbid you from doing what is evil. If he observes you committing sins, he would warn you, if he becomes aware of your shortcomings, he would advise you, and if he finds a fault in you, he would conceal it and not disclose it to others. About this, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “…Whoever conceals (the fault of) a Muslim, Allah will conceal his fault on the day of Judgment.” [Abu Daawood] So should you see a fault in your brother, you should wish to remove that fault from him and not expose it to the people. This is what is required by brotherhood. This stresses the importance of choosing friends who are upon the correct way, who are loyal, and who conceal your faults whilst ordering you to do good and forbid you from doing evil; they will stand beside you, support you, and co-operate with you upon all that is good. This principle is important from the standpoint of how the religion is to be established, and from the standpoint of what brotherhood is and what it does. Indeed, the reason for taking a companion is so that he helps you establish Islam, and so that you help him worship Allah. We find a good example in the Prophet Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, the one whom Allah chose and spoke to. When Allah sent him to Pharaoh, he (Moosaa), may Allah exalt his mention, said as Allah informs us saying (what means):”And appoint for me a helper from my family, Haaroon – my brother; increase my strength with him, and let him share my task (of conveying Allah’s Message and Prophethood), that we may glorify You much and remember You much.”[Quran; 20: 29-34] Moosaa, may Allah exalt his mention, wanted his brother to support and help him, protect him and accompany him. This is exactly what the believers do for one another.
What binds the believers together and makes them brothers is the bond of faith. The Prophet (PBUH) said:”There are three characteristics, whoever attains them will taste the sweetness of faith: That Allah and His Messenger are more beloved to him than anyone else, that he loves a person and does not love him except for the sake of Allah, and that he would hate to revert to unbelief just as he would hate to be thrown into the Fire.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] Thus, the connection between the believers is based upon faith and sincere brotherhood. Beware against taking any companion if such companionship is based upon other than this; for if you were to do that, you would then bite your hands in grief just as the unjust ones will bite their hands in grief. Allah Says (what means): “And (remember) the Day when the wrong-doer (oppressor, polytheist etc.) will bite at his hand, he will say: ‘Oh! Would that I had taken a path with the Messenger. Ah! Woe to me! Would that I had never taken so-and-so as a friend! He indeed led me astray from the Reminder (the Quran) after it had come to me….’” [Quran; 25:27] Almighty Allah also Says (what means): “And whosoever turns away from the remembrance of the Most Beneficent (Allah), We appoint for him Satan to be a Qareen (intimate companion) to him.” [Quran; 43:36] So all of the physical togetherness that you see around you, which is based upon other than faith, will be wiped away on that Day, and it will be a source of misery and torture. Allah Says (what means): “Close friends, that Day, will be enemies to each other, except for the righteous “[Quran; 43:67] It is interesting to study about the relationship of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with non-Muslims. When He was facing social boycott, there was a Meccan friend who secretly supplied the Muslims with food. When He was pelted with stones in Taif, He had nowhere to go, on coming back to Mecca, He first had to ask for asylum, a non-Muslim Meccan tribal leader took Him in and told the anti Muhammad faction, he would rather have his whole tribe, his sons be killed in defending Muhammad, rather than let any one harm Muhammad (PBUH). Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did not convert the entire Arabian peninsula, by making enemies. He did it by making friends. Looking carefully the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and His contemporaries, we will find a distinct pattern. The ones who opposed Muhammad were: Tribal leaders, Wealthy merchants and slave owners, The families who served the pagan Kaba (Mecca). The general population (small tribes, white collar people, slaves) openly or secretly welcomed Muhammad (PBUH). Why? because He preached humanity and human rights. They were not interested, in monotheism because they were familiar with the concept of GOD and called onto Allah (Elohim/Elahi), after all the Arab and the Israelite are all offshoots of Abraham the prophets.
The general population was being crushed (economically) out of existence, because of elite, holding all the power and not exercising justice. The rich got richer and the poor were being enslaved. Thus the preaching of Muhammad (PBUH); equality of all mankind, and being answerable to all deeds in afterlife was a hope. This hope was an upsetting factor for the rich, who foresaw a revolution at hand. We can see this, when the tribal leader came to Muhammad’s Uncle the Father of Ali (A.S) and proposed several terms as (a) We can share power with Muhammad 50/50 (b) One day we will worship in kaba His style, the other day we will do it like our forefathers did (c ) We offer Him the title of king of all the Meccan tribes (d) We offer Him the daughters (who ever he picks) as wives (e) We offer Him part of the riches (festival earnings) we have from the kaba (f) all Muhammad has to do is to stop preaching. This means people had no personal differences with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), they fear the growing popularity of a no-body (Muhammad was an orphan with no wealth, raised by his uncle, who had moderate wealth) so hate him on religion basis. To this the response from Muhammad (PBUH) was “By Allah, in whose hand is the life of Muhammad, they can offer me all they want, they can put the sun on my right hand, and the moon on my left, but I will not turn away from the responsibility ordained on me” . This is an example for all true Muslims. Islam bases ties and relations not on benefitting each other in worldly affairs but rather in our struggle for success in the Akhirah by seeking the pleasure of Allah. The ultimate goal of humans in this world is to secure a peaceful human society so that a peaceful family can protect the interests of a peaceful individual for achieving his or her true potential in deliberating on the purpose of this life and preparing for a life that is eternal in every sense of the term. The unity of humanity, the dignity, the justice and the universality of human resources pave the path for peace. They liberate humans from the mundane and profane and take them to the realm of sublime and sacred. They ensure that that human beings reconcile between their greed and their need. The message of the Quran is universal and eternal. The divine sets the standards through messages delivered to human beings. It was left to individuals to seek the path of unity, dignity, universality, justice and peace not the path to argue with each who is better than the other or who would qualify for the grace of God and who would not. Let the world not deprive itself of the benefits of the divine guidance because of the sectarian, myopic and often arrogant behavior on the part of some people.
Let the world make use of these values that are universal and would help everyone. Muslims should also not shy away from joining those who work for these values even if their proponents happen to be those who profess other faiths or no faith. Lastly, and also significantly for young Muslims as they struggle to balance between religious commitment and their roles in society, it is important to chose friends wisely. It would be very apologetic and academically dishonest to deny that the Qur’an calls upon us to seek out the best of company for ourselves, spiritually and otherwise, and that it lays emphasis on the fact that the closest and most intimate friendships should be with people who love Allah, bring you closer to Him, and do not take good actions as something unimportant. One’s suhba, or close companionship, has the greatest effect on one’s own orientation and closest of one’s friends should be those who will benefit him in this life and the hereafter; this does not preclude maintaining cordial and beneficial friendships with good people from other faiths. It is concluded that Kindness to our friends, helping them in need and consoling them in times of grief should become natural to us for everyone needs help, a shoulder to cry on and someone to share their joy. It is important to conceal the faults of a friend that does not mean we ignore them; it means that we advise our brothers of their faults in private and help them overcome their shortcomings. One of the early Muslims said that it is from Allah’s blessings upon a youth when he turns to worship that he is given brother who is a follower of the Sunnah encouraging him upon it. We ask Allah 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.
(The authors write on Islamic topics exclusively for “Kashmir Horizon” . Views are their own)