DUE to our social nature, we do not want to live a life of loneliness. Every person — male or female, young or old, rich or poor — develops friendships with others. Some people develop friendships with books, while others keep pet animals as friends. Nowadays some people have online Facebook friends and they remain busy chatting with them. Some others keep mobile phones, iPads or electronic gadgets as their friends and remain engaged with them.
However, one must keep in mind that friends are not only just a way to pass time or entertain oneself. True friends are more than this. That is why Islam has emphasised the importance of friendship and has described the qualities that a true friend should possess such as goodness, reliability, honesty and above all piety. If a friend does not possess these essential qualities, he might turn into an enemy on the Day of Judgement. The Quran says “Friends on that Day will be foes one to another except the pious” (43:67).
We also find examples of true friendship in the history of Islam. When the Holy Prophet (PBUH) received his first revelation, he shared his experience with his family and his close friends such as Hazrat Abu Bakr who wholeheartedly supported him throughout his mission.
Among the essential qualities of a true friend includes the ever-readiness to help a friend; that is why it is aptly said that a friend in need is a friend indeed. Helping friends makes mutual bonds stronger, stauncher and unshakeable. True friends never forget to help, support and guide each other under all circumstances. They share joy and sorrow and also influence each other’s destiny and course of life. Thus friends have a symbiotic relationship between them — it is obvious that when one succeeds, so does the other.
Islam has described the qualities that a true friend should possess.
Once, a person was in urgent need of money. He approached his friend, requesting him to loan him some money. The friend immediately lent him the required amount but once the person left, he became sad. His wife was surprised. She asked: why are you sad? The husband told her that “he is my close friend but, unfortunately, I was unaware of his needs. If I had a sense of his needs, I should have helped him much before his approaching me”. Thus a friend is someone who knows all about you and is ready to help whatever the circumstances may be.
Contrary to this picture, some so-called friends are self-seeking. They behave like a chameleon; they change their colours all too frequently without remorse and talk of themselves all the time but remain uninterested in the viewpoint of the other and have only their own interests at heart. They try to get maximum benefits out of friendship and when their needs are fulfilled, they turn their backs on those who they claimed as their friend.
Indeed, there is wisdom in the advice to avoid such people who say something that they do not do (61:2). Ours is a materialistic age and this is common in many societies. Therefore, one should be extremely cautious in forming friendships. It is said that friends are like money; easier to make but difficult to keep.
Loyalty is also one of the essential qualities of true friendship. This means to provide a shield at the time of danger. There is an old parable that discusses who can be a friend.
Two teenage boys were playing outside their village. All of a sudden, a lion appeared from nearby bushes in search of food. Both the boys got scared and immediately tried to climb a tree. One of the boys succeeded in climbing the tree while the other failed. He lay on the ground, held his breath and became motionless for a moment. The lion came near, smelled his body and thought he was dead. So he left the boy unhurt. When the lion left, the boy who had succeeded in climbing the tree asked the other what words the lion whispered in his ear. He said that the lion told him not to make a friend who is not loyal.
Besides, one of the beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and be understood. A true friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out, even at a time of great danger.
In the present age, one is extremely lucky and fortunate if one finds a true, sincere and loyal friend in life. Though in our working life we meet hundreds of people, not all can be called friends. They may be co-workers and share some team responsibilities but they do not take the place of a true friend in our hearts and minds. An exemplary friend is one who is not only a well-wisher, but restrains us from evil and encourages the performance of good deeds. Thus a friend becomes an asset for success in the hereafter.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2020