Reflect on who you surround yourself with. Who dominates your environment? Do they help us to become better people? Do they help us to refrain from bad deeds and do they encourage us to do good? Do we gain benefit from being around them? Hopefully, you are blessed with good friends and a good environment, and you can answer these questions with a resounding yes!
But sometimes we might find we are with people who don’t really benefit us. Do we feel ashamed to practice our deen around these people? Do we find ourselves being dragged into backbiting about others? Do we have to put up with casual swearing from those around us? Does the topic of conversation revolve around idle chat at best, or glamourising bad deeds, at worst?
Do the people around us have an influence on us?
If the majority of our time is spent around people who do not remind us of God, we cannot expect ourselves to not be affected by it. Our hearts are impressionable, and will be swayed by the things we expose ourselves to – feed the limbs with corrupt and negative things and the heart will inevitably get corrupted.
We may think ‘I don’t do such and such, even if my friends do – so I am fine’. But we shouldn’t be so confident, no matter how strong we think our deen is. Caution is wisdom in this case. Take a look at the Prophet (saw)’s analogy:
“The examples of good company and that of bad company is that of the owner of musk and of the one blowing the bellows (a blacksmith). The owner of musk would either offer you some free of charge, or you would buy it from him, or you smell its pleasant fragrance; and as for the one who blows the bellows (i.e., the blacksmith), he either burns your clothes or you smell a repugnant smell.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
So we may think we are not being influenced, but sometimes it is not perceptible – in fact the person who is being changed by the company they keep are the least likely to notice the impact it’s had on them. We all like to think we are in control, we all like to think we are intelligent enough to resist the influence of others – in fact we may even think by being around not-so-good company, we will eventually have a positive influence on them! This is a nice intention, but it’s very risky and could just be a case of wishful thinking. Hanging around with people who are having a detrimental impact on you and your deen, and whom you can neither help, nor advise, is a form of self-harm.
The Prophet (saw) said: “A person will be summoned [on the Day of Judgment] with the one whom he loves.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
When the companions heard this, they rejoiced. Why? Because they loved the Messenger (saw) so much, this hadith came as good news to them – they would, God willing, be raised with the Prophet (saw) on the Day of Judgment, and could there be any better company to have on that day?
But when we hear this hadith, is it a cause for joy or for alarm? Who do we love in this dunya and who do we look up to? Who do we spend the most time with? Whose good opinion do we strive for? Whose negative opinion are we ‘afraid’ of?
Choosing the right friends
Note that in Islam, not every acquaintance you simply happen to know counts as a friend, whatever ‘Facebook’ might have us believe. In Arabic, the word for friend is sadeeq (m), or sadeeqah (f). This stems from the word sidq, which means truth.
A real friendship therefore is one based on truth, and a real friend is one who would help you remain on the true path. This helps us evaluate our friendships and identify what might be missing…
But finding the right friends is no easy matter. Sometimes we might feel we don’t have a choice. Perhaps we recognise that we don’t have the best company in school or university or at work. What can we do about it? After all we don’t get to choose who’s in our class, who lives in our halls, or who is our colleague. Is the answer to just be on our own?
That might be a good option temporarily, to protect ourselves. But not really for the longterm. On one hand we need to distance ourselves from people who are having a negative influence on us; on the other hand we still need to find good, believing friends.
We shouldn’t delude ourselves and think we can be self-sufficient. No person can expect their faith to remain strong on their own. Look at the warning of the Prophet (saw) when he said:
‘The wolf devours the lonely sheep’. (Ahmed and Tirmidhi)
In this example, the lonely sheep is the person who separates him/herself from the Muslim community and mistakenly thinks their iman will be fine, even if they never attend any Islamic gatherings and are hardly around good Muslim company…and the wolf is, of course, Shaytan. Keeping away from fellow believers is a dangerous situation to be in. The dip in iman (faith) happens before you’re even aware of it.
Finding good company takes effort
It’s not easy – but even when we think we have no choice in our company, there are ways in which we can deal with this to change the situation:
- If we really can’t do anything about the people we study/ work with, we have to take responsibility to find good friends outside of school/ university/ work.
- Maybe you have old friends who are good people, but have lost touch with them because both of you are so busy – well, try to strike up that friendship again – even though you might not be able to meet often, call, Skype or text to stay in touch and give each other positive reminders. It takes effort.
- Look to your local community (whether that’s your neighbourhood, or campus) – there
are bound to be circles and gatherings where people meet for the sake of Allah, and can provide alternative and positive company. It requires searching. We have to really want good company – it won’t necessarily just come to us, and it doesn’t stay forever if we don’t value it.
- In fact in your school/ university/ workplace, there are likely to be decent people that you haven’t yet had the chance to get to know. Don’t be put off by someone who is a bit quieter/ louder or seems different in some ways – if they have good character, remember God and have decent morals, that is better for you than people who have bad character. If you reach out to someone purely for the sake of Allah, you will be rewarded for it.
- We should try to strengthen our relationship with Allah, so that we can be stronger in the face of negative influence…but we also need to make du’a to Allah to bless us with righteous company. Allah is the Provider and the One who unites people under His Shade, so ask Allah to give you good friends.
To end with, here are two beautiful ahadith to motivate us to seek and hold on to good friends who remind us of Allah, who help us to be closer to Allah, and who support us to become better people inshaAllah.
‘On the Day of Resurrection, Allah, the Exalted, will say: ‘Where are those who love one another for the sake of My Glory? Today I shall shelter them in My Shade on a day when there will be no shade except Mine.’ (sahih Muslim).
A friendship that begins with, and is upheld by, a shared love for Allah, will be filled with barakah. And there are more rewards – not just in the hereafter but also in this dunya – for those who, when they meet, remind one another of Allah:
“No people gather together in one of the houses of Allah, reciting the Book of Allah and studying it among themselves, except tranquillity descends upon them, mercy envelopes them, the angels surround them, and Allah makes mention of them amongst those who are with Him.” (Reported in Muslim).
The company we keep has such a big impact on us, and it can be a big challenge. But when you find good friends, it is one of the greatest blessings you can have. May Allah make us of those people who are under His Shade on the final day, and may Allah bless us with good friends.
(Further reading: Here is a great article on the topic by our sister Jinan Bastaki > The Best Companions)