Before you start reading this article, take out a piece of paper and fold it in half. Think of your two closest friends, the friends you spend the most time with. Write their names on top of the two separate columns. Under the name of the first friend, write 4 good qualities and 3 not-so-good qualities about him/her and do the same with the other. Take a look at those lists. Do you see any qualities there, good or bad that you also have? You probably circled quite a few of the items on those lists. That is the effect the friends have on each other. You are the product of your friends so who you spend time with is important- not only because your time is valuable but because who you are as a person is largely determined by the friends you spend time with.
The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam) said, “The example of a good companion in comparison with a bad one, is like that of the seller of musk and the one who blows the blacksmith’s bellows. So as for the seller of musk, then either he will grant you some, or you buy some from him, or at least you enjoy a pleasant smell from him. As for the one who blows the blacksmith’s bellows, then either he will burn your clothes or you will get an offensive smell from him.” (al-Bukhari) This is what your friends do. You can’t spend time with a person without them having some sort of effect on you- good or bad, small or huge. You want to leave your friends feeling as though your relationship with them has brought you closer to Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala), not the other way around.
Psychological research studies have given even further proof of the wisdom behind the advice of the Prophet Muhammad (sala Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam). In one study, a researcher named Thomas Berndt speaks about the effect that friendship has during adolescence. Many of us aren’t adolescents but we are still in the process of developing our own self-identities and we change a little everyday. We are never completely exempt from the impact that our environment has on us, although we might be a little more susceptible during our younger years. Keep in mind that when the Prophet gave advice regarding the friends we keep, he wasn’t just addressing the youngsters of that era; he addressed everyone. We are never too old or mature to be impacted by those who surround us. Berndt’s studies have shown that friendships have a major influence on the development of personality, social skills and social behavior. In a 10-year study of 5,100 people, researchers discovered that when one person in a group begins to feel lonely, the negative emotion can spread to others, increasing everybody’s risk or feelings of loneliness (Cacioppo, Fowler & Christakis, 2008). Here, we see the impact that our friends and we can have on one another- even feelings of loneliness are contagious. Basically, the message that comes from these studies is: Friendship can have a positive or negative effect on you, depending on who you choose to be friends with. Ultimately the choice is up to you: the musk seller or the blacksmith’s bellows.
The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam) said, “A person is upon the way of his friend. So let one of you look to whom he keeps as a friend.” (Sahih al-Jami) Who your friends are can tell you a lot about yourself. Look at that list you made again. Your friends impact who you are. The Prophet (sala Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam) also said, “The believer is a mirror for the believer.” (al-Bukhari) This is really profound if you think about it. Your friend is the image of yourself. If she behaves badly, it is as if you are the one who has behaved badly; if she behaves well, it is as if you have done the same. This shows the incredible impact of friendship: What your friend does is what you do. Isn’t that true? If your best friend, the one you love to spend time with most, is going to a halaqa, wouldn’t you be more inclined to go? If she is going to a dance at school, wouldn’t you beg your parents for permission to go?
Don’t you love those flattering mirrors at the mall? The ones that make you look slim and the lighting makes your skin look flawless? If your friend is your mirror, you want to look good. Look at your closest friends and ask yourself: Do I want to be exactly like that? Because you’re her mirror and she’s yours so you’re going to end up just like her. In surah al-Furqaan, Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) says about the one who has wronged himself, “Ah! Woe to me! If only I had never taken so-and-so as a friend! He indeed led me astray from the reminder after it had come to me!” (25:28-29) If we are truly concerned about our fate, we must come to this realization: those who take us away from remembering Allah, from obeying Him and His Prophet, are not truly our friends.
Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) also says, “Friends on that Day will be enemies to one another, except al-Muttaqoon (those who have Taqwa).” (43:67) Ibn Kathir comments on this verse telling the story (on the authority of ‘Ali) that shows that any friendship for other than Allah is turned into enmity but friendships for Allah reap beautiful bounties: Two who are friends for Allah’s sake; one of them dies and is given good news that he will be granted al-Jannah, so he remembered his friend and he supplicated for him, saying: O Allah, my friend used to command me to obey You and to obey Your Prophet (s.a.w.) and used to command me to do good and to forbid me from doing evil. And he told me that I will meet You. O Allah, do not let him go astray after me, until you show him what you have just shown me, until You are satisfied with him, just like You are satisfied with me.” So he is told: “Had you known what is (written) for you friend, would you have laughed a lot and cried a little.” Then his friend dies and their souls are gathered, and both are asked to express their opinions about each other. So each one of them says to his friend: you were the best brother, the best companion and the best friend.” And when on of the two disbelieving friends dies, and he is given tidings of Hellfire, he remembered his friend and he said: O Allah, my friend used to order me to disobey You and disobey Your Prophet, and commanded me to do evil, and forbade me from doing good, and told me that I would not meet You. O Allah, do not guide him after me, until you show him what you have just shown me and until you are dissatisfied with him just like You are dissatisfied with me.” Then the other disbelieving friend dies, and their souls are gathered, and both are asked to give their opinions about each other. So each one says to his friend: you were the worst brother, the worst companion and the worst friend.”
So you must be asking yourself, how do I know if my friend is someone that will be beneficial to me? My personal rule of thumb is: When deciding whether you should take someone as a close friend and devote spending time with her, ask yourself two simple questions:
- Can she be of benefit to me and impact me in a positive way?
- Yes: Great!
- No: Next question
2) Can I benefit her or impact her in a positive way?
- Yes: Great!
- No: This means that if you can’t benefit her, she will impact you negatively. For example, if she backbites, and you find yourself getting swept into this pattern, it is best not to take her as a friend.
When making the choice not to take someone as a friend, this does not mean shunning, ignoring or being cruel to her. Continue to be nice to her, make du’aa for her and show her kindness. Help her in any way that you can as long as you are also being cautious for your own wellbeing. May Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) grant us all righteous companions and allow us to encourage one another toward goodness. Ameen.