March 27, 2014

Muslimah Musings: Best Friends Forever

When I was three, I had a best friend, Becky.  We started at the same preschool and were both fairly shy and quiet.  She would follow me around aimlessly while I walked around aimlessly until we eventually learned that playing together was more fun.  When we started the same local school, Becky’s mum requested that she be put in the same class as me as she hadn’t made many other friends yet.  We were joined at the hips. Wherever there was Becky, there was me and vice versa. This continued for the next 6-7 years until at the age of 12, we started attending different high schools.

We were still in touch at this point, occasionally hung out after school, chatted on the phone but a couple more years down the line and we started to drift apart.  Her circle of friends were all about hanging out with guys, parties, drinking and the usual teenage stuff.  I attended an all girls school, wore hijab, didn’t drink and didn’t even see the point of boys.  By the time I turned 17 and started university, I didn’t even have her number and had no idea what she was doing in life.  

We went from playing in the woods together, birthday parties, slumber parties, bike rides, shopping trips, break ups and make ups and all the rest of it.  We even had one of those fake silver ‘best friend’ broken love heart necklaces, you all know the ones!  And now, we barely even existed to one another.  It seemed a little sad to say the least.

However, day one at university, having just been dropped off in my dorms by my parents, waiting to find out who my roommate would be and trying to create a mental map in my head of how on earth to get to my first sign up meeting, I bumped into a sister in the hallway.  She wore hijab and abaya like me and we both gave salaams to one another, chatted a bit about where we were from and what we studying and made a plan to hang out later that evening.  I felt immediate comfort in having found a muslim when I was far from home and knew no one.

We soon realised that we had loads in common, from the food we ate (probably the only students that ate rice cakes with peanut butter), the way we dressed, our favourite tv shows, our sense of humour… practically everything.  It was like the grown up, muslim version of having a childhood Becky!  

As the weeks and months went on, our conversations moved away from studies and day to day stuff and almost exclusively became about deen.  Whether we talked about hijab, family or marriage, we spoke about what Islam had to say on the topic.  This became the basis of our interactions and the basis of our friendship.  I hadn’t until that point, realised what it was to have a ‘friend.’  We sat next to each other on our wedding days, had children around the same time and even today, its unusual for us to not talk at least once a week, mashaAllah.

I don’t mean to belittle other friendships and acquaintances I’ve built over the years.  Nor do I mean to make this about non muslim vs muslim or hijab vs no hijab.  I am still in touch with girls who are atheist, Christian and agnostic and hang out with them whenever I can.  Many of my muslim sisters are learning the deen for the first time so perhaps don’t pray or wear hijab but I still enjoy their company and would never distance myself from them.

My realisation was more to do with how I had defined that idea of ‘friend.’  Becky had been a childhood playmate, which is completely natural for children to seek out but as we grow older, we have to consider the purpose behind the relationship.  With Becky, it had been about mutual benefit.  Not in a malicious way at all but it suddenly made sense why we drifted apart.  Hanging out, playing, shopping etc benefitted us both and we enjoyed it but as soon as the activity was no longer mutually beneficial, we spent less and less time together.  If I hung out with her at parties with boys, it would have damaged my deen.  If she hung out with me instead of going to the parties and meeting boys, it would have damaged her goals.  And so we parted ways.

Now I’m describing a childhood friendship that ended naturally, without bad feelings or any drama.  Had I added those all too common ingredients of jealousy, loyalty, backbiting, gossip, betrayal etc, I can’t imagine the collateral damage and emotional upset!

Islam saves us from having to navigate confusing, unpredictable and damaging friendship minefields and moreover, protects us from the painful blow-ups.  Islam defines a friend for us, what it is to be a brother or sister in the deen, ‘awliyah’ to one another.

As much as we are permitted to have common interests and hang out doing whatever we enjoy doing as leisure, be it shopping, rock climbing or movies, we are not permitted to make that the be all and end all of a friendship, which is sadly all too common today, even amongst muslims.

A friend is the one whom you love for the sake of Allah, who you need in your journey to seek jannah, who you aid in doing the same, who you make secret dua for, who you trust - not only with your secrets, but with your deen - who you will support and aid even when it would be easier to part ways, who you want as a companion for an eternity in jannah, inshaAllah.  A true friend is an amanah upon us and a relationship which will account us or vouch for us on yawm al Qiyamah.

After realising all of the above over the years, I now have very few friends, let alone a ‘best friend forever,’ because ‘best’ implies the one who best fulfils that beautiful, sincere role of islamic friendship and ‘forever’ implies the one who does it so well, that it gets you jannah, subhanAllah.  Those rare gems are to be cherished and protected and before we cast off everyone that remains, we should work on forging true friendships with them by embodying the idea ourselves.  

The following hadith should serve as inspiration to us all.  Al-Haakim reported the following on authority of Ibn ‘Umar in a sound narration:

“Allah has servants who are neither Prophets nor martyrs, yet the martyrs and Prophets acknowledge their ranks and their nearness to Allah on the day of Judgment. Then a Bedouin bent on his knees and said: “O Messenger of Allah! Describe them and explain them for us.” He said: “They are of different peoples that do not belong to their tribes. They befriended each other and loved each other for the sake of Allah. On the Day of Judgment, Allah will make for them platforms of Light on which they will sit. People will fear, but they will not fear. They are Allah’s friends (awliyaa’) azza wa jall, on whom there is no fear, nor shall they grieve”

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