Best Friends Forever
Issue 94 July 2012
True friendship can transcend separation, change and mistakes, but the best friendship is one that helps you remember the Creator, and draw closer to His unceasing Mercy.
“And Pooh said to Piglet: ‘Life is so much friendlier with two.’” AA Milne.
We all need friends. I have 520 of them. Many of them write prolifically to me in Bahasa Indonesian, a language of which I don’t speak a word. Of course, these are ‘Facebook friends’, a relatively new concept in friendship where we publicly accumulate quantities of friends with the quick click of a mouse. Yet our innate desire for cultivating close quality relationships remains throughout our short individual lifespans—and has done so through time. The need for these relationships begins in childhood: anyone who has spent time with school-aged girls will have some insight into the overwhelming importance and the intricacies of negotiating friendships in those ‘tween’ years.
Ancient philosophers recognised the significance of friendship. Three hundred years BCE, Aristotle identified that true friends seek what is good for the other, rather than being friends based on what they can each get out of the friendship. A couple of hundred years later, Cicero defined friendship as “a personal accord of the will, of tastes and of thoughts, or more completely an accord on all human things accompanied by benevolence and affection.” Both thought that this kind of friendship is rare as it requires people of high integrity and loyalty. Clearly, they were thinking of a rather more intense kind of friendship than the one usually found on Facebook. Socrates (around 400 BCE) cultivated positive interactions, and refused to listen to those around him who merely wanted to spread gossip, “Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither True nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?”
The Old Testament explains “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure.” (Book of Sirach, 6:14) My English neighbour was one of my ‘treasures’—always supportive, practically and emotionally, and we were able to discuss our different spiritual lives centred on the mosque and the church. Unfortunately, once she learnt our family was leaving the country for South Africa, she felt the investment in our friendship had been wasted. Yet for me it was not wasted. The sense of community our friendship generated was invaluable as we both tried our best over the years to bring up our children to be kind and God-conscious individuals, sharing our successes—and our frustrations—along the way.
Religious texts understand our need for friends who not only share values and some of our interests, but also our desire to deepen our life in faith. Jesus had his own select group of spiritual friends—Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus; Mary Magdalene; the disciple whom Jesus loved and entrusted with the care of his mother; and Peter, whose friendship with Jesus underwent great trials and doubts.
The Qur’an urges us to be careful when choosing friends. “And (remember) the day when the unjust one shall bite his hands saying, ‘O! Would that I had taken away with the Messenger! O woe is me! Would that I had not taken such a one for a friend! Certainly he led me astray from the reminder after it had come to me.’” (25:27-29)
Prophet Muhammad taught us, “A person is likely to follow the faith of his friend, so look whom you befriend.” For me, one key benchmark of a true friend (Muslim or not) is if they feel happy to temporarily stop whatever we are doing together, to make time for me, or for us, to perform of one of the five daily prayers. Our young daughters however are not usually content with simply having friends—they want to have someone who is their BFF—their ‘Best Friend Forever.’ Muhammad advised on this too; when he was asked, “What person can be the best friend?” He counseled, “He who helps you remember God, and reminds you when you forget Him.”
Muhammad lived by example, remaining true to his teachings. Whilst his two closest friends were very different personalities, they both helped him remember God.