Human Beings in all phases of life, from the very beginning of childhood and youth, old age till his death, 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.
Friendship is such a beautiful gift. A friend in need is a friend in deed after all. 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. Naturally, a human being feels happy at the companionship of friends, and is sad at being lonely and distress and having no worthy companions.
Islam has placed tremendous importance on the aspect of sociability and friendship. This sense of companionship holds a lot of significance in any relationship. In the Noble Qur'an, Allah (SWT) clearly states that He too chose friends for himself; who were none other than Prophet Ibrahim, Khalil Allah (as), and Prophet Muhammad, Habib Allah (saw).
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 fellowship and friendship 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.
Islam is in complete harmony with man's nature. Hence, it has dealt with this topic of friendship in detail. Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) and Ahlul Bayt (as) were at pains to explain the etiquette and decorum of true friendship, so that we can acquire benefit out of companionship; a benefit whose effects will be manifested in the world as well as the hereafter. Imam Ali (as) observes, "He indeed is unfortunate who does not have any friends, but worse is the one who has friends, but loses them."
Imam Ali (as) Says: "Live amongst people in such a manner that if you die they weep over you and if you are alive they crave for your company (friendship)."
Imam Ali (as) also said, "Try to have as many as possible true friends, for they are the supplies in joy and the shelters in misfortunes." 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)." Thus a person with maximum believer companions not only happy in this world but also enhances his chances of intercession and consequently, salvation in the Hereafter.
For us Muslims who are living in a society where we are clearly a minority, the issue of choosing right companions is essential for preserving our religion (Deen). Befriending righteous and virtuous Muslims is an essential means for staying on the Straight Path. Strong individuals are the core of a strong community, something that Muslims should always strive for.
We all know that Allah (SWT), the Most High has brought us to life in order to test us. Thus we are here for a relatively short period of time and that we shall meet Allah (SWT) one Day, so we need to use our present life for what is best for us in the Hereafter. Once we know our purpose and our goal in life, we should seek ways to achieve them so as to benefit our own selves.
Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (as) considers real friends as the treasures of this world and the hereafter, and he says: "Find friends for yourself from among your coreligionist brethren, since they are the treasures of this world and also the next world."
The point to which the leaders of Islam pay great attention in connection with friendship, is that, it may be considered worthy only if it is fostered for the sake of Allah (SWT), and a reliable friend is the one whose friendship is based on spirituality. Imam Ali Reza (as) elucidates, "One who takes up a friend to please Allah (SWT), has reserved for himself a house in Paradise." To choose someone for friendship purely on the basis of his piety and faith, only to satisfy Allah (SWT) is akin to earmarking a place in Paradise.
This was one facet of friendship. Now let us look at the flip side. A friendship that is made for the sake of wealth, position, beauty and such things will disappear automatically when those factors come to an end. No material thing can act as the basis of a lasting friendship or produce happiness. Imam Ali (as) narrates, "Any friendship and companionship that is not for Allah's pleasure, is deviation and to rely on such ties (of friendship) is impossible."
Lot of people establishes 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 Muslims.
Another point to which Islam attaches much importance is the choice of a friend. From the viewpoint of Islamic leaders, one should not make friends with each and every individual, since there are some persons whose friendship is harmful and dangerous. Without any doubt, every friend affects the material and spiritual affairs of his own companion, and each of them unconsciously influences the ideas, morals and conduct of the other.
Imam Jafar Sadiq (as) Says: "Make friends with ones who are higher than you so that you progress."
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. Experience has shown, too, that many friendships have changed the destiny of individuals and their course of life. Friends influence each other's ways, faith and religion. That is why while Islam has emphasized 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 is not.
Prophet Muhammad (saw) has said: "Man is influenced by the faith of his friends. Therefore, be careful of whom you associate with." And at another place Prophet Muhammad (saw) has said: "A person is likely to follow the faith (Iman) of his friend, so look whom you befriend."
Prophet Muhammad (saw) who has the most noble character and dealings with fellow humans gave us a very clear and simple message and advice in regard to friendship.
Friendship with worthy individuals is a great factor of happiness; and friendship and companionship with impure and polluted fellows are a cause of decline and distress.
Some people are so confident of their own purity and nobility; they imagine that they will not be subject to any harm in their association with wicked persons. They consider their personality as strong enough not to be influenced by vices. However, they forget that cotton wool gets aflame by proximity with fire, and glass breaks when it comes in contact with stones. Unfortunately, corruption and impurity can very quickly affect the human spirit, and easily make it catch fire like gunpowder, and burn the entire world with their flame.
Supposing you are so dignified and noble that you aren't influenced by the wicked persons you associate with. What will people say about you? Will they not consider you as one of the rabble when you associate with them?
One of the Hadith says as: "Don't judge anyone's goodness or badness until you see his friend, since a person is recognized by his likes and companions, and is related to his friends."
It would be impossible not to be affected deeply in our character by association with those around us, since man is by nature, an imitator, and everyone is more or less influenced by the conduct, manners and ideas of friends and companions.
Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: "Man imitates his friends. Hence, you must consider them whom you want to befriend."
Association with biased and selfish people produces great losses since the effect of their character leads to the obscurity and limitation of thought, and to the death of the spirit of manliness and noble qualities. If association with them continues for a long time, the heart becomes heavy and hardened, moral powers are weakened, and willpower, sense of progress and excelling are destroyed in man. On the contrary, friendship and contact with those who are wiser, more experienced than us, are very valuable since their association breathes a new spirit into us, teaches us better way of life, and reforms our views about the attitude towards others. It appears as if they make us share their wisdom, knowledge and experience.
Thus, for building up morality nothing is more useful and effective than association with learned and active individuals, since such contact enhances our mental powers, adds to our willpower, sublimate to our objective in the world, and prepares us for managing our own affairs and assisting others.
How should we choose our friends according to Islam?