What the Quran says
In Surah Al-Furqan, verse 25-29, it says:
And ˹beware of˺ the Day the wrongdoer will bite his nails ˹in regret˺ and say, “Oh! I wish I had followed the Way along with the Messenger!
Woe to me! I wish I had never taken so-and-so as a close friend.
It was he who truly made me stray from the Reminder after it had reached me.” And Satan has always betrayed humanity.
The company we keep says a lot about us. Friends have a tremendous influence over how we behave, think and even feel. This verse comes to us as a warning to be careful of the type of people we choose to be our friends.
At the time of the Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wasallam there were two friends among the polytheists named ‘Uqbah and ‘Ubay. Whenever ‘Uqbah returned from a journey he used to prepare food and invite people to share in the meal. Though he had not accepted Islam, he still liked to go to the Prophet (s) and be with him.
One day as usual when he prepared the meal to share, he invited the Prophet (s) as well. When the food was ready to be served, the Prophet (s) told ‘Uqbah, I will not eat your food unless you testify to the unity of Allah and my mission. ‘Uqbah agreed.
Upon hearing this news, his friend ‘Ubay expressed his anger and disappointment and convinced him to stand against the Prophet (s) and insult him. ‘Uqbah listened to him and apostatized. ‘Uqbah was killed in the battle of Badr, and ‘Ubay was killed in the battle of ‘Uhud. This verse was one of three verses that were revealed to explain the destiny of a man who had a friend who influenced him and caused him to go astray.
Parable on friendship
In the Hadith, Abu Musa reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The likeness of a righteous friend and an evil friend, is the likeness of a (musk) perfume seller and a blacksmith. As for the perfume seller, he may either bestow something on you, or you may purchase something from him, or you may benefit from his sweet smell. And as for the blacksmith, he may either burn your clothes, or you may be exposed to his awful smell.”
The above hadith meant that if we are in the company of good people or friends, we’ll tend to follow his/her good character and are influenced by their good habits. If you’re hanging out with a good companion, it is equivalent to being friends with a perfume seller, you’ll smell good, pleasant and naturally feel good. The righteous person will bound to influence you to do good deeds and Insya Allah you’ll benefit from it.
During the days of the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam), blacksmiths laboured for hours in a choking, smoky environment of extreme heat in order to design their desired object. In the company of the blacksmith one is permanently harmed by the heat or even the sparks resulting from the labour. This means one has adopted an evil habit from the one he keeps company. If not, then the very company of the blacksmith gives no relief to the conscience.
Guiding our children
When I selected this topic for tadabbur, it actually stemmed from what I have been pondering about since late last year. The backstory is my daughter is turning six this year, and if there are moms out there listening, you know this is THE Primary One registration year. Our education ministry says every school is a good school but in our minds I’m sure we also have some schools that we blacklist because they are notorious for being bad.
So while researching, I read a piece of writing by Ayatollah Ibrahim Amini who was a high ranking Iranian Islamic scholar. He wrote many books on issues including marital life, and bringing up children. Let me share a summarised version with you.
As grown ups we need friends, and we can know what kind of friends we want. Children also want friends, and at their young age they typically only choose a friend from their fellow classmates or the children they play with in the neighbourhood. Sometimes they may have acquaintances but no friends. Why they decide to choose a particular person as a friend we do not know but perhaps there is an affinity between them.
We cannot force them or stop them from being friends with anyone. The child must be free to make his own choice of friends. But this freedom will be with some conditions and restrictions:
The character and conduct of the friends will have to be observed by the parents before they permit the child to pick a friend. If a child selects a courteous and polite friend, he will definitely benefit by picking up his good habits. To the contrary, if the friend has undesirable habits then, naturally, the child will take to some of his bad habits. There are plenty of children and youths fallen into the morass of sin because of indiscreetly selecting bad friends.
Responsible and thoughtful parents will not be totally unconcerned with the type of friends their children cultivate. While the parents must know the type of friends a child has, they should not appear to be interfering in their personal matters.
If the parents can provide a good friend to their child, they have made a great contribution to his virtuous future. But this is not such an easy task. The best way is to acquaint the child with what is good, and what is not, when he comes to the age of understanding. They should explain to the child the defects that might be there in undesirable friends.
The parents must keep a subtle watch over the activities of the child and his friends from a distance. If they find that the friends are good, they must appreciate them. They should create opportunities for the child to meet such friends. But if they notice that the child has picked up an undesirable acquaintance, then they should discreetly try to cut this friendship short. If the child persists in such friendship, deal with the matter strictly.
The parents can help the child in making good friends by another method. They should pick children in their neighborhood with good behaviour, character and background. Create opportunities for the children to meet and react with one another. If they become friends, encourage them to cement the friendship. This way, even if there are some minor defects in their own child, they can be warded off in the company of good children.
For example, if a child is timid, he might overcome his timidity by being friends with a bold and courageous child.
The parents should not be totally oblivious of the type of friends their child has. Particularly when the child is on the threshold of youth. This will be the period in his life when habits take root. Any negligence on the part of the parents might result in irreparable harm to the character and conduct of the child, if he persists to be in bad company. They should remember the phrase: Prevention is better than cure!
You are the average of your friends
Have you heard the famous quote “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. Apparently it’s not true. According to a Framingham heart study, if a friend of your friend becomes obese, your likelihood of gaining weight increases by about 20 percent — even if you don’t know that friend of a friend. The effect continues one more person out. If a friend of the friend of your friend develops obesity, you are still 10 percent more likely than a random chance to gain weight as well. Your friends make you fat, but so do their friends, and so do their friends of friends.
While the researchers looked for a variety of explanations, the most likely one appears to be norms. If your friend is obese or a friend of a friend is obese, that changes your perception of what is an acceptable body size and your behavior changes accordingly. This is the same when they did a study on happiness. People who are surrounded by many happy people and those who are central in the network are more likely to become happy in the future.
So actually you’re not the average of the FIVE people you surround yourself with. It’s way bigger than that. You’re the average of all the people who surround you.
So this made me think that having good influence doesn’t just stop with friends, but also our surroundings. When we buy a house, do we intentionally choose to live in a good neighbourhood? As parents are we improving our own circle of friends to improve our child’s?
It’s a reminder for parents to make decisions wisely and purposefully.