By Dr. Jamal Badawi
Chairman, Islamic Information Foundation - Canada
Friendship is a significant part of the social system, not only from the Islamic perspective, but from the sociological perspective too.
Friendship has an important role in molding an individual's mind, thinking, and attitude. In addition to these, friendship can also shape the extent of an individual's spirituality and moral well-being; it follows therefore that the well-being of society as a whole depends on the wisdom with which each individual selects his friends.
From the Islamic point of view, if friendship is based on love of God and commitment to the faith, then it will be blessed; however, if it is based on trivial factors, then it is not likely to last. In addition to this, both the Qur'an and the Prophetic tradition contain warnings against friendship with people who may take the believer away from the straight path of truth rather than help him to become a better believer.
Prophet Muhammad said, "Individuals follow the same way of life and thinking as their close friends, therefore let each of you be careful about who he is taking as his close friend" (At-Tirmidhi).
The Qur'an warns that many of the disbelievers will be in anguish on the Day of Judgment because they will realize that they had allowed themselves to be led away from the right path by friends.
[The Day that the wrong-doer will bite at his hands, he will say, "Oh! would that I had taken a (straight) path with the Messenger! Ah! woe is me! Would that I had never taken such a one for a friend! He did lead me astray from the Message (of Allah) after it had come to me!" Ah! the Evil One is but a traitor to man!] (Al-Furqan 25:27-29)
Islam is not a faith for individualists, even though it does specify in detail the relationship that should exist between an individual and Allah. Islam teaches that Muslims should not be totally detached from what is going on in the world.
Prophet Muhammad condemned monasticism, because although at first sight it appears to be spiritually uplifting to live in a monastery and to sacrifice one's life to worship God, this is not the ideal because it is an attempt to achieve individual salvation without changing society.
In contrast to this, Islam encourages people to interact and to mix together, it also encourages collective actions and co-operation between believers who should get to know one another.
Many of the pure acts of worship in Islam are designed to inculcate a community spirit like Friday and `Eid Prayers that must be performed in congregation. It is recommended that the normal daily Prayers should also be performed in congregation, even if the "congregation" consisted of just two people!
It is clear from both the Qur'an and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad that any friendship that stems from the love of Allah is on a sound basis. In contrast to this, friendship that is based on a particular benefit to be gained, on clubs, on social class, or on ethnic group cannot be regarded as a sound basis for a friendship.
Prophet Muhammad said, "Allah said 'My Love is due to those who love one another for my sake (not only to benefit from one another), who sit with one another for my sake, who visit one another for my sake, and who spend on one another for my sake'" (Muwatta' Malik).
There are specific measures that nourish friendship according to the Qur'an and the tradition of Prophet Muhammad:
Avoiding corruption, hypocrisy, and egotism because they can change hearts and destroy friendships.
Practicing social courtesies, such as asking fellow Muslim their name and from where they came from.
Expressing one's feelings of love for the sake of Allah for their brethren in faith.
Visiting one's close friends. The glad tidings of Paradise are given to a person who visits a friend for no other motive than concern and friendship.
Reciprocating kindness with kindness.
Accepting invitations for a meal.
Avoiding unselfishness: Prophet Muhammad said, "None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself" ( Al-Bukhari), particularly if that brother is in need.
Being thoughtful in the presence of your friends: If three or more people are together, it is wrong for two of them to have private conversations together, particularly in a language that the other(s) do not know.
Don't belittle or mock your friends.
Refrain from taunting your friends and hurting their feelings.
Refrain from using nicknames or titles that your friends hate.
Avoid backbiting and spying on your friends.
Be humble and avoid snobbishness.
Avoid attributing evil motives to the actions of your friends.
Be the first to try to make peace if disputes do arise.
* * Adapted from a lecture in Dr. Jamal Badawi’s Islamic Teachings series.
Dr. Jamal Badawi is a professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Canada, where he currently teaches in the areas of management and religious studies. He is the author of several works on various aspects of Islam.