Allah has blessed me with many wonderful friendships throughout my life. Most have served as a comforting, healing balm that has pulled me through some of the more difficult times of my life. Others have created so much drama and turmoil that I couldn't cut them loose fast enough! I have friendships that have followed me from childhood until now, as I attempt to raise my own children, and I have encountered fresh, new relationships in the process of carving their own deep, meaningful connections. The Prophet was known to have said, "When souls recognize one another, they will become friends, if not, they will simply part ways." [Muslim]
The Prophet also stated, “A true believer is a mirror to his brother. He prevents him from any harm.” [Abu Daawood] We are in fact mirrors in some way of those we decide to take on as companions. I have been guilty of associating with individuals whose behavior is not worth mentioning, let alone imitating. I have suffered the consequences of those alliances. When left alone for a while after having departed their company, I would suddenly see the light and recognize them for the lying/undependable/deviant person they really were all along. But then also came the sobering realization that I might not be so different, as I had found something attractive enough in them to pursue an acquaintance, regardless of all the glaring, warning signs.
As believers, we are instructed to be careful of the companions we choose for friendship. Our friendships can draw us closer to our Creator or cause us to sever all ties of faith we have established. As with most relationships in this lifetime, we will experience blessings in some friendships, and trials through others. Just who are your friends? How do they affect the person you are or hope to become? What kind of friend are you?
The Peer Pressure that Never Ends
It doesn't matter if you are a high school student, university student, or working your way through the corporate world. Peer pressure is a never-ending presence that must be dealt with. Its face may change, but its goal is unwavering: to influence you by attacking your personal vulnerabilities. It may be the quiet urge to join your fellow students after a difficult exam at that party everyone's been talking about all week. Sure there will be drinking, smoking and free gender mixing, but you can still go and have a good time without indulging in all of that, right? Or maybe it's the feeling that you might fit in with your coworkers even better if just once and a while you joined them after work at their favorite little bar down the street. After all, there's no harm in a little socializing after work, right?
We all want to fit in. In our human desire to feel comfortable in our surroundings with others, we must always consider the cost, for there is a consequence for every action we choose. Most of us are usually aware of who, what, when and where pressure to do wrong can surface. It is important that we surround ourselves with righteous friendships, the kind that provides goodness, security, and remembrance of Allah. The Quran encourages us to cultivate such relationships: “And keep your soul content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His face, and let not your eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this Life; nor obey any whose heart We have permitted to neglect the remembrance of Us, one who follows his own desires, whose case has gone beyond all bounds.” [Quran 18:28]
When faith wanes in the presence of beneficial friendships, you find that you are surrounded by those who stand strong in front of you, beside you, and behind you providing much needed support. When it seems you might slip and fall, they are there with ropes of faith that tie around you and pull you up and onward. The Prophet gave a beautiful analogy of this sort of friendship saying, “The good companion and the bad companion are like the bearer of musk and the one who pumps from the bellows. With the bearer of musk, he will give you a share, or you will buy from him, or you will smell a pleasant scent from him; but the one who pumps the bellows, either he will burn your clothes or you will smell a foul stench from him.”[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
What About Your Friends?
We are most likely to be similar to those we spend the majority of our time with. As the Prophet once said, “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, look (carefully) whom you choose to befriend.” (Ahmad) So what are some specific traits of sincere, loving, true friends?
They Help You to Become a Better and More Productive Person. A good and sincere friend actually inspires you, through his/her words or actions, to do self-reflection and to improve yourself.
He/She is Like a Mirror to You. The Prophet stated, "The believer is like a mirror to other believers (in truthfulness)." [Abu Daawood]. Like a mirror's ability to cast a true reflection, so should your friend be true enough to give you an honest image of yourself. They should be able to for-give your mistakes, but not hide or exaggerate your strengths and weaknesses.
His/Her Manners and Lifestyle Remind You of Allah? The Prophet was once asked, “Who is the best person to befriend?” He who helps you remember Allah, and reminds you when you forget Him," he wisely counseled. The Prophet was also asked, "Who is best among people?" He replied, "He who, when you look at him, you remember Allah." A friend such as this reflects qualities of love, mercy, honesty, service, patience, optimism, professionalism, and the entire lifestyle taught by Islam.
Does He/She Love You Solely for the Sake of Allah? Often the friendships we have from school, work, and throughout our community may crumble over time if not initiated for the right reasons. A friendship based on Islamic principles is sincere and ever-lasting. It can be strengthened by a higher purpose and strong faith.
Do You Feel Comfortable and Secure in His/Her Presence? If you are in the midst of a friendship that leaves you feeling guilty about the things you do and the conversations you share, then it might be time to question the benefit of that relationship. Is the short time in this life with such a friend worth the consequences that you may ultimately have to face with Allah?
It is important that you have complete confidence in your values and beliefs. This makes setting limits and boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable much easier. You must be completely aware of your boundaries at all times. Above all, you must know what pleases and offends Allah. Friendships based on superficial principles can lead you to an artificial world of false hopes and illusion. There are two ways to handle a "toxic" friendship: either try gently to influence your friend through positive, Islamic inspiration, or simply to end the relationship. We are all familiar with the popular saying that every relationship that we encounter has "a season and a reason," meaning some friendships will stand the test of time and last a life-time, while others will be brief encounters. Every relationship has a valuable lesson for us to learn. When considering your friendships, remember the wise saying: “Being alone is better than having an evil companion; and having a sincere companion is better than being alone.” (Unknown)