Indeed, people are heavily influenced by the company they keep. Friends can either influence each other to make good decisions or they can drag one another down to do unspeakable actions. How many times have we seen people who commit crimes say, their friends influenced them? Peer pressure is a serious issue that all people are faced with, especially the youth. We should make ourselves well equipped with the knowledge of Islam and the sayings of the Infallible guides from the Prophet’s (ṣ) Household (ʿa). With the right information, we will know how to better choose friends based on Divine principles.
It is clear from the traditions that it is of great importance that we choose our friends wisely. This brings us to a few questions: What is the criterion for friendship? What does Islam have to say about this?
We find a beautiful enlightening tradition from the Prophet Muḥammad (ṣ) where he has quoted the beloved Prophet Jesus (ʿa), son of Mary, saying to his disciples:
“Sit with someone (keep company with) who upon seeing him makes you remember Allah, his logic adds to your knowledge and his practice makes you inclined toward the hereafter.”
From this narration, we learn that when acquiring friends, we should look for the quality of having a friend who will remind us of Allah, religion, and the hereafter. This is very important, because when one has God-conscious friends they will remind each other if either of them gets distracted by something which is against their religion or if one starts to drift off from the right path they will remind them and bring them back, Allah-willing. We can see this in another narration of our beloved Prophet Muḥammad (ṣ) where he said,
“The best friends are those who help you when you mention (a matter) and remind you when you forget.”
The second thing we can learn from this is that we should look for friends who like to discuss beneficial things which will increase our knowledge about religion, life, and other fields of knowledge. So, we should strive to acquire friends who like to talk about meaningful things rather than gossip or other useless topics.
The third thing that we can benefit from in this narration is that we should befriend those whose actions and good deeds inspire us to be better people and inspire us to work towards securing our hereafter.
The Prophet Muḥammad (ṣ) said in regards to friendship:
“Anyone who becomes friends with others for the sake of Allah, will attain a rank in Heaven.”
From this we see that a key quality in seeking friendship is to become friends for the right reasons. People usually become friends based on some sort of benefit that they will attain from the other person, whether it be materialistic, political affiliation, status, wealth, etc. These are all superficial and useless things that will fade away and are not a good solid foundation for true friendship. Friendship should be based on sincerity and based on the mutual love of Allah, His Messenger (ṣ) and his Household (ʿa).
It is very difficult to find good friends in this day and age, but having one good friend is much better than having many unreliable friends. Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) said:
“When the friends are counted they are large in number, but the friends who come to one’s aid in dire need are very few.”
We see this every day. Think of how many people that you consider your friends and then take that number and think to yourself how many of these people would truly be there for you when you need it? You will come to realize that a lot of people may claim to be your friend, but there are very few that you can actually depend on in a crisis situation. Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) said
“A friend cannot be considered as a true friend unless he is tested on three occasions: in time of need; behind your back and after your death.”
Imām Muḥammad al-Bāqir (ʿa) warns us of befriending certain classes of people in the following narration:
“Do not approach or make friends with the fools, the misers, the cowards, or the liars. Fools will harm you instead of benefiting you. Misers will take things from you and not give you anything in return. Cowards will run away from you and their parents. Liars will testify but will not tell the truth.”
We should do our utmost to make sure we examine our associates to make sure they do not have these negative qualities in order that we may not be harmed by their characteristics.
We have a narration from Imām Jaʿfar aṣ-Ṣādiq (ʿa) which outlines the limits of friendship: “There are certain limits to friendship. Whoever does not fall within those limits should not be considered to be a perfect friend, and whoever does not have anything that falls within those limits should not be ascribed anything related to friendship. The conditions for friendship are:
- A friend should not hide anything from you,
- He should be the same person to you in private that he is in public;
- He should consider your positive characteristics as his own, and your negative characteristics as his own;
- Wealth and position should not change him;
- He should not withhold from you what he has power over, and
- He should not abandon you during times of hardship.”
What wonderful qualities to find in a person! May Allah grant us all the ability to secure good and sincere friendship for His sake. May Allah allow us to recognize the true friends that we have and be thankful for them. May Allah allow us the divine blessing of being supporters of the 12th Imām (ʿaj). And we ask that He protects us from acquiring the evil friend that Imām Jawād (ʿa) has described as a sword which deceives one by its beauty, but in reality, can lead to our destruction.
Tuḥaf al-ʿUqūl, P. 44.
Tuḥaf al-ʿUqūl, Maxims of the Prophet, Ḥadīth #6.
Mishkāt al-Anwār Fī Ghurar al-Akhbār, by Al-Ṭabarsī, Ḥadīth #1056.
Lessons from Islam, by Sayyid Muḥammad Ṣuḥufī.
100 Maxims of Imām ʿAlī, by Ansariyan Publications.
Mishkāt al-Anwār Fī Ghurar al-Akhbār, by Al-Ṭabarsī, Ḥadīth #395.