We are all born as individuals from a man and woman, a father and a mother: bare and dependent on adults for our survival. Our departure from the world is shrouded in uncertainty and when the time comes we leave this world alone and empty-handed. Our life is a mystery; death is the living reality that will visit us one day. In between our birth and death, life is a test and trial – according to Islam. We are linked with people and the world around us. We do not have any control over our birth; neither do we have any choice on our death. We work for our own destiny.
We rely on one another; babies on their parents and carers, the elderly and weak on their children or other adults. We need certain people more than others – parents, close family members, friends and spouses. For young people growing up these individuals play a vital role; amongst which are friends – who are indeed irreplaceable. This is what the topic of this paper will be.
In my experience of working with young people in schools and communities, I have found that children today are massively influenced by their peers, some electronic gadgets (mobile, computer, TV, etc), and role models. In the commercialised world that we live in today, electronic gadgets and role models are marketed with targeted messages to arouse young people’s crave to buy the newest models and follow their role models. A lack of proper regulation within the advertisement industry makes young people ever more indulgent in their cravings. ‘Compulsive consumerism’ dominates our world.

But friendship or companionship is something that is chosen from one’s surroundings – their own neighbourhood and school from the beginning. Some early peers remain friends for the rest of our life. Others join over years; some are replaced and others are retained, depending on one’s sociability and real life situation, such as their job and proximity to oneself.

Importance of friendship

Everyone needs friends, good companions. Two ancient proverbs are mentioned here,

“We can live without a brother, but not without a friend.”
“A life without a friend is a life without a sun”

Islam teaches us that friendship with one whose religion or lifestyle you trust and who is trustworthy, both inwardly and outwardly, can contribute towards one’s spirituality. Allah says,
“You will not find anyone who believes in Allah and the Last Day, making friendship with those who oppose Allah and His Messenger, even though they were their fathers, sons, brothers or their relatives. … They are the Party of Allah, indeed it is the Party of Allah that will be successful.’’ (Al-Qur’an 58:22)
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who has the most noble character and dealings with fellow humans gave us a clear message in regard to friendship.

“A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look whom you befriend.” Abu Dawud and at-Tirmidi

Good friendship versus bad friendship

Allah says in the Qur’an:

“And (remember) the Day when the wrong-doer will bite his hands and say: Woe to me! Would that I had taken a path with the Messenger. Woe to me! If only I had not taken so- and-so as a friend! He has led me astray from this Reminder (the Qur’an) after it had come to me. And Satan is ever a deserter to man in the hour of need.” (Al-Qur’an 25:27-29)
“Friends on that Day will be enemies one to another, except the righteous.” (Al-Qur’an 43:67)

In a hadith Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“Mix with the noble people, you become one of them; and keep away from evil people to protect yourself from their evils.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

In another tradition, he used a metaphor to distinguish between a good friendship and a bad friendship:

“The example of a good companion and a bad companion 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 and Muslim)

Ibn Hazm quoted from a hadith:

“Anyone who criticises you cares about your friendship. Anyone who makes light of your faults cares nothing about you.” Abu Dawud, Hasan Hadith

Best example of a true friend

The best example of friendship can be found in the one between Prophet (peace be upon him) and Abu Bakr Siddiq (may Allah be pleased with him). When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was migrating (hijrah) from Makkah to Madinah he would not leave until he had chosen a companion to accompany him on his way. Abu Bakr offered himself to accompany him, but the Prophet (peace be upon him) was waiting until Allah approved it.

“Allah did indeed help him (Muhammad) when the disbelievers drove him out. The second of the two, when they (Muhammad and Abu Bakr) were in the cave, and he (saws) said to his companion, ‘Be not sad (or afraid), surely Allah is with us’.” (Al-Qur’an 9:40)

Abu Bakr, the most trusted friend and companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), sacrificed everything for the sake of Allah and to the service of the Prophet. He was given the title As-Siddiq or trustworthy.

How to choose friends?

Choosing a friend looks simple and some are better than others if they are sociable in nature. But finding true friends needs some intuition and simple testing. Ancient proverbs say:

“An untried friend is like an uncracked nut.”
“Prove a friend before you seek him.”

It may not be easy for young children, as they may have a tendency to hang around with someone they can get along with and build a friendship with. Parents and guardians need to play a positive role in directing their children to choose true friends through taking a loving interest in their children’s life.

Maintaining friendliness to all human beings is vital for all. A Muslim should be a good friend of others in humanity and with the nature. However, we should choose close friends (Qur’anic term awliya) on the basis of their personal integrity, trustworthiness, and other good human traits. We should keep away from making those our close friends who are not well mannered and who do not give attention to what pleases or displeases Allah. A close friend will always behave like a mirror who gives an honest undistorted image of a friend. They forgive mistakes, but do not hide or exaggerate strengths and weaknesses. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said,

“The believer is like a mirror to other believers (in truthfulness).”

Once the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was asked, “What person can be the best friend?” The Prophet (peace be upon him) counselled, “He who helps you remember Allah (SWT), and reminds you when you forget Him.” He was further asked, “Who is the best among people?” He replied, “He who, when you look at him, you remember Allah (SWT)”. Such a friend reflects qualities of love, mercy, honesty, patience, optimism, professionalism, and the entire lifestyle taught by Islam.
There is other beautiful advice from the wise and sages of the past, e.g.,

“Be not friend with a fool, for he will harm you while meaning to do good to you.”
“It is better to listen to a wise enemy than to seek counsel from a foolish friend.”
“If a friend envies you, then he is not a true friend.”

Ali (may Allah be pleased with him), the fourth and wise caliph of Islam, says “Verily, there are three (types of) friends for a Muslim,

The friend who says: ‘I am with you whether you are alive or dead’, and this is his deed.
• The friend who says: ‘I am with you unto the threshold of your grave and then I will leave you’, and this is his children.
• The friend who says: ‘I will be with you until when you die’, and this is his wealth which will belong to the inheritors when he dies’.”

Friendship based upon belief and God-consciousness is the true and lasting one. On the other hand, friendship based on materialistic reasons is transient and a losing concern for this world and the Hereafter. Kindness to and love for one another are the pillars of a long lasting friendship. A good friend is someone whose company brings blessings, reminds practice of Islam, increases knowledge, enhances spirituality, and encourages dutifulness to the Muslim community and motivates to work for all.
True friendship inspires one’s devotion to Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him) and loyalty to one’s parents and family, as they are aware that their own children would inherit their qualities. Abdullah ibn ‘Umar related that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“Obey your parents and treat them kindly, for if you do so then your own children will be obedient and kind to you.” (Tabari)

Features of a true friend

Friendship is about reciprocating good manners, good advice and being a role model to one another overlooking small mistakes but not abdicating the task of reminding each other of goodness. It is about cheerfulness of the face, softness of the tongue and largeness of the heart. Agreement on everything is not the condition of friendship, but dignified disagreement is essential. Maintaining and spreading of modesty (haya) and practising of cleanliness and purity (taharah) are vital.
Being happy with a friend’s success, and not being envious, is essential. Allah censures the envious one,

‘‘Or do they envy men for what Allah has given them from His bounty.’’ (Al-Qur’an 4:94).
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
‘‘Do not envy one another.’’ (Muslim).
Keeping promise of one another is vital. Sufyan ath-Thawri (d.164H) said,
‘‘Do not make a promise to your companion and then break it, so that love turns to hate.’

Characteristics of good friendship are as follows:
• They leave each other’s company with a higher level of faith (in Allah).
• They always meet each other or start talk with the Islamic greeting ‘Assalamu Alaykum’ with reciprocal response.
• They exchange useful and mature ideas and thoughts.
• They do not shun in reforming each other’s mistakes or bad habits, but do this with politeness and humility.
• The do not waste each other’s time in vain talk or useless activities.
• They never encourage each other to do wrong and invite to a place or gathering of sin.
• They stand firm on each other’s side when needed – ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed.’

Features of a bad friend

One should be wise enough to know who their true friends are and who are bogus. Anyone who tries to pull towards falsehood or wrong deeds is a false friend. One should keep away from him. Here are a few characteristics of a bad friend:
• They backbite and make fun of people; laugh at others or call each other with demeaning names for fun; they laugh at each other’s cruel jokes about someone else.
• They get involved in activities that delay or do away with compulsory prayer.
• They entice each other in fulfilling desire and end up spending money on things you do not really need.
• They raise and discuss unimportant or vain things, such as a films or latest gadgets.
• They shun from pointing out each other’s mistakes or weaknesses, even if they are serious.
• They are ‘fair weather friend.’

How to overcome bad friendship

More often than not we make friendships that are not beneficial to our life. However, if this is a friendship made from a young age or a new friendship, it is difficult to tell early on what kind on individual the friend is, unless one is vigilant from the beginning. With time and experience we can determine if the friend is a good or bad influence in our lives. Leaving a friendship can sometimes be heartbreaking, especially if that person has been present for a long time, but it is important to acknowledge the fact that not all friendships last forever.
Helping a friend through difficult times is admirable. Advising and listening to a friend can do a world of good, but if the friend still decides to go on the wrong path in spite of all efforts, there is only so much one can do. Sometimes distancing oneself is the only option. Making dua that the person is guided is always necessary, however it is detrimental to one’s own wellbeing if they are continually placed in a toxic environment. Explaining the situation to the friend will allow you to part on good terms; keeping the ties of communication is important.

Friendship is crucial in our life and can be more powerful than one’s relationship with parents, siblings and spouse. It helps determine and shape a person when they are younger and can provide a strong emotional support when they are older. In this day and age finding good friends that will truly look out for you and help in the remembrance of Allah is a gift and should not be taken for granted.
It is better to have just a handful of good friends rather than many bad ones. Young people nowadays have hundreds of friends on their Facebook profile. Out of all these friends, which of them will truly stand up for a friend when things get tough? Which of them will help better for this life and the hereafter?
It is important we always have true friends for the best of this world and the Hereafter. It is vital we learn to choose true friends from among many we may have in our life. Caring parents and elders in the family should be able to help youngsters in choosing good friends that help them not only in their education but also in manners, etiquettes and Islamic practices that include good neighbourliness and citizenship for the good of all. True friendship needs nurturing, as a proverb says:

Friendship is a plant we must often water.