by Deana Nassar*
Raised as a Muslim in a non-Muslim country, my late father instilled in us the significance of supplication.
This was very important for me, especially facing challenges of a practicing Muslim and for a youngster raised in what were relatively conservative ways, the supplications served as some sort of sanctuary.
Many times he prayed for my siblings and I to make decent friends highlighting the value of good company away from loneliness; hence at an early age I was taught by my parents the value of friends, in turn passing my experiences on to my children.
Many years later, I have learnt that isolation for some is scary, and it’s not easy to face confrontations and tests when being alone. However making suitable friends helps making our journey and decisions in life somewhat easier.
Befriend Who Leads You to God’s Path
One such journey for some is the decision to convert or revert to Islam. Despite being one of the easiest steps, it undoubtedly spells a difficult journey ahead for converts who stay on their own and avoid the community. Unfortunately these are the most likely ones to lose their way.
It is at these times one comes to appreciate good friendships, the kind of friends who will enrich our life, pull us up when we are down, and push us when we cannot go on by ourselves. These friends while generous with praise at our successes and eager with encouragement at our struggles will not patronize us to make us feel good for a moment, but those who will tell the truth and help us improve for a lifetime.
As Muslims, we plead to be guided to the straight path at least seventeen times a day as we recite from the Quran verses from the Fatihah during our five daily prayers which reads: (Guide us to the straight path.)
Many times I have reflected on the nature of this guidance and the path that we are supposed to be upon. The Arabic word ‘ehdena’ does not simply imply guidance, but rather to guide gently with emphasis on ‘us’ rather than ‘me’ indicating the weight of unity as a group and instilling in us the importance of brotherhood underscoring that Islam is all about community and not a loner’s affair.
I read once that strength comes in numbers; hence the continued call for travelling this journey with friends who may guide you when you falter and who may in turn feel secure with your companionship.
Picture being lost in the forest, where we come across a path crowded with people. Wouldn’t we feel safer to join in and follow along as opposed to hanging back, or walking on our own, where we might get lost going down an alternative route and in due course off the ‘straight path’?
During these trying times and regardless of where we are, Islam is not a religion to be practiced in seclusion or isolation; in short it demands community and friends who will make our journey throughout this life into the next an enjoyable and uncomplicated one. The Prophet Muhammad in fact emphasized that there will be a time when following his ways will in itself be a trial. He said:
“There will come a time when holding onto your faith will be like holding a piece of hot coal.” (H.R. At-Tirmidhi, 2260)
Be a Model of a Good Friend
While making new friends after reverting can be intimidating, it is definitely rewarding. After all, these friends will form a big part of our life. They are the ones who will walk through our life together, sharing our ups and downs and joys and pains.
These friends will be the ones we can talk about anything and everything with. We may or may not meet up every day, but it does not matter, since the strength of our friendship is not determined by how frequently we meet up but rather the common ground we share. These are the friends who can be trusted to be there for us whenever we need them, and they will go the extra mile for us.
We learnt from Prophet Muhammad that following his move to Madinah from Makkah, he spent the initial months establishing friendship and brotherhood demonstrating that it is an important aspect of our life and, as Muslims, integrating with the community is similarly important.
These Muslim communities can be a means of support for new Muslims who have unfortunately often become isolated from family members, and a means of constant companionship. This friendship in fact can be viewed by others who observe your moves without you even noticing. In fact you can even be a teacher of Islam just by practicing being a ‘good friend’.
With social networking sites being a predominant part of life, I recall a personal story where I found a friend request recently on Facebook from a childhood friend who said that she remembered how I always went about my fasting and prayers quietly. She said after reading many of my posts she had come to the stage of asking herself “What does the remainder of my life have in store for me?”
She told me her life was lacking meaning and direction and began to imagine the future in another 20 years thinking whether she would still be going out Friday and Saturday night adding she remembered how I did not join them. It was then that she asked me to help her know more about Islam stating she wanted new meaning, wanting to learn also Arabic. While the story doesn’t end in her embracing or reverting to Islam ‘yet’, it was a highlight in my life that just by my actions and being a friend I was able to give her a glimpse of my religion.
Although in all honestly I hadn’t intended to win brownie points, it was an eye opener that just by actions we may be the reason someone follows our lead. She even expressed great surprise that I invited her into my home stating that she had seriously believed that non-Muslims were not allowed into our homes.
My high point was when she expressed that she began learning and enjoying life ever since our reunion thanks to FB after remembering how I honored the agreement or contract which was between me the individual and God alone describing it as definitely admirable since no one in her words was ‘keeping record’.
How to Choose Good Muslim Friends
While we, as Muslims, know all our actions are recorded, it was complimenting to hear that the self discipline of Muslims won the commendation of an observer who said she seriously thought of joining me during my next fast praising my Muslim ethics which honored friends without judging.
The Prophet was reportedly asked:
“Which of our companions are best?”
“One whose appearance reminds you of God, and whose speech increases you in knowledge, and whose actions remind you of the hereafter.” ( H.R. An-Nasa’I, 4209)
It is on this note that I stress that although both born and new Muslims’ level of faith goes up and down throughout our life, what will definitely keep someone from straying away from Islam is support from other Muslims, and guidance that we wouldn’t have access to on our own.
We should take any chances to connect with each other and cultivate relationships, and look for classes and seminars which offer knowledge and guidance in new terrain of course following the Prophet’s advice throughout the process and limiting ourselves to as little male/female intermingling as possible.
While finding new friends is difficult, it is not impossible. We need close, long-term relationships; we need to be able to confide in others; we need to belong; we need to get and give support. In fact studies reveal that if we have five or more friends with whom to discuss an important matter we are far more likely to describe ourselves as ‘very happy’.
Making good Muslim friends adds a special meaning to life since they help us enjoy the good times and overcome the difficult ones. These friends will improve our mood in turn helping us reach our goals of becoming better, decent, God fearing, practicing Muslims. Prophet Muhammad teaches:
“The example of the believers, in their mutual love and mercy for one another is like the example of one body, if one part feels pain, then all of the body suffers in sleeplessness and fever.”(H.RMuslim, 6258)
The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ: لا يُؤْمِنُ أَحَدُكُمْ حَتَّى يُحِبَّ لأَخِيهِ مَا يُحِبُّ لِنَفْسِهِ
“None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” ( H.R. Al-Bukhari, 13)
As believers we are connected by our love of God and His messenger which entails certain responsibilities since a good friend is one who accepts your shortcomings, but at the same time guides and supports you.
Of course, friendship is a two-way street. While developing and maintaining a friendship takes time and effort, the many benefits of having a close friend make it a valuable investment.
Prophet Muhammad emphasized the need to surround ourselves with good people. He spoke to his companions about the value of good companionship underscoring that people who hold the same values and beliefs that we do, make the best friends and companions.
Friendship however isn’t about who you’ve known the longest; it’s about who walked into your life and said I’m here for you and proved it. Bear in mind that differences of opinion, different lifestyles and interests may make our friendships interesting and sometimes challenging, but if the core value system that is being Islam is not the same the friendship itself probably has no solid foundation. The prophet said:
عَنْ أَبِي مُوسَى الأَشْعَرِيِّ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم “ الْمُؤْمِنُ لِلْمُؤْمِنِ كَالْبُنْيَانِ يَشُدُّ بَعْضُهُ بَعْضًا
While this kind of relationship between friends may sound too good to be true, a kind of Utopia really, Islam advocates it strongly. It is simply a way of life and our religion expects each person to respect every other person. It stresses that friends are an important and necessary part of our lives; they are our mirrors, and our sounding boards.
We are after all part of a community and it is our right and responsibility to be the very best person that we can be. Seeking good companions and maintaining good relationships are a responsibility that each of us as believers has towards ourselves, our community and God.
In short we must seek companions who are seeking paradise in the Hereafter. Just as they say – You are what you eat, the same applies to the proverb:
“Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.”
Remember Islam is a journey that doesn’t need to be made alone especially as friendship and companionship are highly regarded in our religion.
We should surround ourselves with friends who are models of something instead of experts of nothing, for if we share our problems with someone who is incapable of contributing to a solution dipping in their own life’s experiences, our time and energy is wasted.
Keep in mind that a good friend is one who accommodates our faults but corrects them where possible and who will always love and forgive us for the sake of God. (Imt/R03)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)