بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
“Let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.”
— Kahlil Gibran.
How do we measure what makes a good friend? Sometimes it is the number of years we spent together; the level of trust we have with each other; the comfort we feel with each other; and/or what they’ve done for us. There are different levels to that too- there are certain friends we feel such a strong bond with, despite the fact that we may not have known them for long (or as long as our other friends). Friends provide for us comfort, a safe haven from our worries; we see them as our kindred spirits. We appreciate them the more we go through with them and when we see the way they sacrifice for us.
When we think of these things, as wonderful as they are, we think of them only in terms of dunya matters. Many of us would do so much for those we regard as our true friends. But on a day when “there will not benefit [anyone] wealth or children” (Surat Ash-Shu’ara, 26:88), we need to ponder deeply over the statement of the Prophet (pbuh) when he said: “You will be with those you love” (Bukhari).
At the highest level is of course love for Allah and His Messenger (pbuh) above all and everyone else. And we must strive to make that our reality. Yet this can be difficult if we are not constantly reminded of Allah’s bounty and mercy, and of the Prophet’s (pbuh) virtue. But then there is the level of the company we keep, those friends we so deeply cherish- we speak of love, but do we benefit them for their akhira? Do they benefit us for ours? Do they help us increase in our trust in Allah, in our adherence to the prophetic way? Do we do that for them? That is the ultimate test.
We cannot claim to love our friends if we do not at least try to benefit them for their akhira. And we cannot claim to love Allah and His Messenger if the sole company we keep is people who do not increase this love. The Prophet (pbuh) made a beautiful statement in this regard: “A person is on the religion of his companions. Therefore let everyone of you carefully consider the company he keeps” (Tirmidhi)
So what makes good company? The Prophet (pbuh) was asked: “Which of our companions are best?” He replied: “One whose appearance reminds you of God, and whose speech increases you in knowledge, and whose actions remind you of the hereafter” (al-muhasibi)
That is the best companion. Note the three characteristics: “one whose appearance reminds you of God” is one who is presentable yet humble and modest, who is not ostentatious; “whose speech increases you in knowledge” these people do not waste your time with offensive or idle talk, but they speak with deliberation and benefit you; and “whose actions remind you of the hereafter” because they are always mindful themselves- you see them exerting effort for their akhira by restraining their anger, giving even though they may be in need, praying on time and other things.
A good companion may not even speak sometimes, but their state inspires you. They truly live this religion, not just in their acts of worship and speech, but in their character and their activities.
It is these people, and their antithesis, that the Prophet (pbuh) described in the following hadith:
“A good friend and a bad friend are like a perfume-seller and a blacksmith: The perfume-seller might give you some perfume as a gift, or you might buy some from him, or at least you might smell its fragrance. As for the blacksmith, he might singe your clothes, and at the very least you will breathe in the fumes of the furnace.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
What else makes a good friend?
Ibn Hazm stated: “Anyone who cares about your friendship is willing to criticize you, while those who make light of your faults show they do not care”. It’s not easy being criticized. For a person who loves you, it’s most likely difficult for them to criticize you as well. But it is more difficult for them to see you harming yourself- that is why they will advise you. Those who allow you to persist in doing things that will eventually bring your downfall, whether in this life or the next, do not care for you much. This why Imam Al Muhasibi stated: “Know that the one who has given you sincere advice has displayed love for you”.
These days, good friends and family provide a buffer from the negativity that we are faced with. We are bombarded with things that make it hard to hold on to our religion- from newspaper articles telling us how backwards our religion is, to those people from within who are either passive in the religion and use it when convenient or who do disgusting things in the name of God. And then of course, we have everything else telling us to forget, telling us that the pleasure of life can be summed up in the consumption of an intoxicant; the purchase of the latest the ‘it’ thing; the dancing to the most popular obscene tune; or the idolizing of celebrities. The worth of good company is only truly realized when all of the above fades away, and we are left with emptiness.
This doesn’t necessarily mean we should leave behind our friends if they are not as we described. Rather we should attempt to be like the perfume-seller the Prophet (pbuh) described to them. Yet we should not and cannot forget our own souls, and we should seek venues where we will meet those who remind us of Allah, because that shows how much we value our relationship with Him. The first step is to ask Him.
And if we have found those companions, even if it is just one person, we must remember to thank Allah for this blessing. Allah gives us gifts in so many ways, and if we found we have that person in our life who is always reminding us to go back to Allah, perhaps it is Allah’s way of saving us from ourselves, and His way of giving us the means to be under His shade on the Day of Judgement, as the Prophet (pbuh) told us that one of the seven people promised the shade of Allah are two persons who loved each other for the sake of Allah (swt), got together and departed on this basis (Bukhari, Muslim).
May Allah give us the gift of good company, and may we be good company to those around us. Ameen.