Best Friends Forever

October 26, 2023
7 min

“And Pooh said to Piglet: ‘Life is so much friendlier with two.’ – courtesy of 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.

“And Pooh said to Piglet: ‘Life is so much friendlier with two.’ – courtesy of 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 wasn’t 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 Quran 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;” (Surah Al-Furqan, 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 aren’t usually content with simply having friends – they want to have someone who is their BFF – their ‘best friend forever’. And 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, they both helped him remember God.

Abu Bakr was lenient, tender-hearted and compassionate. For example, after the Battle of Badr, he persuaded Muhammad to accept a ransom on behalf of the captives and then set them free.  Abu Bakr was unwavering both in his religious belief and in his sense of justice. Later, as the caliph, he told his people: ‘As long as I obey God and His Prophet, you have to obey me. But if I become disobedient, then you can disobey me.”  Umar was initially passionate in his anger against those who accepted Islam – and then subsequently became passionate in his devotion to Islam. He became renowned for his sound judgment, his outspokenness and uprightness, and his sincerity of friendship with the prophet.

Prophet Muhammad surrounded himself with people who were known for their moral qualities or human abilities, regardless of their faith. When he was escaping from Makkah in the middle of the night, pursued by some of the Quraysh tribe, he entrusted his safety to a polytheistic Bedouin, Abdullah Ibn Urayqat, who was known for being both trustworthy and an expert guide.

But Muhammad’s friends did not always offer the best advice. One day he was sitting in a square in Medina with His friends. A Jewish funeral cortege passed in front of them.  He stood up and waited till the funeral had gone. His friends were surprised and told him that it was the funeral procession of a Jew. He replied ‘Is it not a soul?’ – and then his friends stood up too.  (Bukhari)

Of course friends can let us down. But they – like us – are only human. Perhaps we were expecting too much of our friend in the first place. And so we need to decide: either our friend is not worth it, and we can move on, or the friendship is worth striving for and we need to make amends regardless of blame. The person who is humble enough to do that is a person who has grown spiritually. With forgiveness, comes peace of mind.

Friends also move on, changing circumstances, or changing cities, or – not unusually in this era of global movement – changing country. It is tempting and comforting to think things will never change. But things, and people, always do. Thanks to harnessing the positive benefits of technology, however, with effort we can maintain those key friendships which we spent time mutually developing face-to-face. And my children now classify their friends into British best friends, South African best friends, and their global BFF.

Ultimately, all personal friendships are transient. Our lives in this world are short. The closest and most important relationship remains between ourselves and God. There is only one person described – both in the Quran and in the Bible – as the Friend of God – and that is Prophet Abraham. It says in the Quran: ‘For God did take Abraham for a friend’ (4.125) and in the Bible:  “You, Israel, my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend” (lsaiah 41.8). Abraham consistently showed unprecedented sacrifice, commitment, patience and faith. These are all qualities we would value in a true friend – and qualities that friends will value in us.