Islam has placed tremendous importance on the aspect of camaraderie and friendship. Companionship is crucial as it wards off loneliness and distress. This sense of companionship holds a lot of significance in any relationship. Today, we see intense disputes and altercations arising even between parents and children and as well as among siblings . This is chiefly due to the fact that, though their relationship is marked with blood ties, the all-important sentiments of camaraderie and fellowship are sorely missing. Our experience will tell us that friendship 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. The youth today, confide in their friends, while being discreet with their parents.
Making and becoming friends is inherent in man’s nature. This process of companionship commences right from the early stages of man’s life and continues till his death. Islam as explained before, is in complete harmony with man’s nature. Hence, it has dealt with this topic in some detail. The Holy Imams (a.s.) were at pains to explain the etiquette and decorum of true friendship. Hazrat Ali (a.s.) observes,
‘He indeed is unfortunate who does not have any friends, but worse is the one who has friends, but loses them.’
(Behaarul Anwaar, vol. 73 p.278)
In another tradition it is narrated, ‘Acquire more and more friends, because on the Day of Judgement each believer shall exercise his right of intercession (shafa’at).’ (Mizaanul Hikmah vol. 3) Thus a person with maximum believer companions, enhances his chances of intercession and consequently, salvation.
As in other elements of human nature, Islam has also elucidated the aspect of friendship at length. It has recommended ethics and values that a Muslim must observe in friendship, so that he can acquire some benefit out of companionship; a benefit whose effects will be manifested in the world as well as the hereafter. That is why while Islam has emphasised the importance of friendship, it has also stressed on the qualities that a friend should necessarily possess. It has clearly demarcated who is worthy of friendship and who isn’t.
However, first let us see what should be the sole objective for taking up friends.
Imam Ali Reza (a.s.) elucidates,
‘One who takes up a friend to please Allah, has reserved for himself a house in Paradise.’
(Amaalie Tusi vol. 1 p. 82)
To choose someone for friendship purely on the basis of his piety and faith, only to satisfy Allah is akin to earmarking a place in Paradise. One must take up friends, if only on the basis of faith and good ethics.
The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) narrates,
‘After the advent of Islam, the greatest benefit to a Muslim is in the guise of that friend he has selected, only to please Allah.’
(Mizaanul Hikmah). Books of ethics and traditions abound with such traditions.
This was one facet of friendship. Now let us look at the flip side. Hazrat Ali (a.s.) narrates,
‘Any friendship and companionship that is not for Allah’s pleasure, is deviation and to rely on such ties (of friendship) is impossible .’
The Holy Quran expounds further,
‘The friends shall on that day (of judgment) be enemies of each other except those who guard against evil.’
(Zukhruf : 67).
One who seeks friendship for worldly benefits, will find himself deprived (Mizanul Hikmah). A lot of people establish their bonds of friendship and enmity based on the gain they are likely to accrue on a personal level. That is, if a person has some utility, he qualifies as a friend, else he is an enemy. However, that should never be the benchmark for us. For the sake of Imame Zamana (a.t.f.s.), may Allah grant us the taufeeq to seek friends only for His pleasure and satisfaction.
QUALIFICATIONS OF A FRIEND
Friends are by no means only a means for ‘time-pass’ or entertainment. Indeed friendship is more profound than that. Friendship and companionship are inseparable aspects of an individual’s life. A friend’s character and personality will rub off on that individual. It is for this reason that it is said, ‘A man is known by the company he keeps.’ Hence Islam, while emphasising the need for companionship, also clearly outlines the qualities of a true friend.
WHO SHOULD NOT BE BEFRIENDED
Imam Baqir (a.s.) narrates from his father who said,
"O my son don’t befriend five types of people:
(a) Don’t befriend a liar. 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.
(b) Don’t befriend a transgressor. 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.
(c) Never befriend a miser. 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)
(d) Do not befriend a fool. 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’)
(e) Don’t befriend the one who breaks relations (with his relatives). For, such a person has been cursed in the Quran 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)"
The Holy Quran says,
"The men and women from among the hypocrites are friends of each other, and they invite the people towards sin and transgression, and dissuade them from goodness and virtue. They withhold their wealth from charity, and refrain from spending in the way of Allah. Indeed, they have forgotten Allah and Allah too has forgotten them. Verily these hypocrites are transgressors and immoral.’
On the other hand, Quran discusses the believers in the following manner,
”The men and women from among the believers are friends of each other. They call the people towards goodness and piety and abstain from evil and transgression. They uphold the prayer, pay the poor-rate (zakaat) and obey Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.s.). Indeed, these are the ones for whom Allah shall soon manifest His mercy and grace. Verily Allah is all-powerful, and the most wise."
(Ale Imran : 71)
The two Quranic 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 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 Sadiq (a.s.) 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 as follows;
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.
(Behaarul Anwaar vol. 74 p.173)
According to one tradition, true friendship is acknowledged in moments of affliction and anguish. For indeed a true friend is always at hand in adversity. A believer’s best friend is one who does not help him in transgression. However, he assists him in Allah’s worship and obedience and cautions him against His disobedience. Imam Sadiq (a.s.) remarks,
‘My best friend is the one who gifts me my weaknesses and shortcomings.’
(Behaarul Anwaar, vol. 74 p. 282)
In other words one who brings to your notice your defects and flaws is indeed your true friend.
However, there is one very imperative point in the above-mentioned tradition of Imam Sadiq (a.s.). When one presents an offering to a close friend, he does so with utmost care, not willing to overlook anything. He offers the gift with total respect and regard. For, even the most valuable gift if not presented with correct etiquette, can look very ordinary. While presenting the offering, the friend tries to make the most expensive gift seem very ordinary so as to not embarrass the recipient. On the other hand, the recipient of this gift tries to make even the most ordinary gift seem very precious, so as to please his friend. Similarly, 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. Likewise, when a friend highlights for us, our defects, we must acknowledge the same with respect and gratitude without any ill will and hostility. Indeed if we establish these as the standards of friendship, the believers shall soon find themselves enveloped with friends who will take them closer to Paradise and farther away from the fire of hell.