يا وَيْلَتى لَيْتَنِي لَمْ أَتَّخِذْ فُلاناً خَلِيلًا
Yā waylatā laytanī lam attakhidh fulānan khalīlā
Woe to me! I wish I had not taken so and so as a friend!
(Sūrat al-Furqan, No.25, Āyat 28)
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 wa-ālhi 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.
Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī in his book Al-Akhlāq fi- Qur’ān (v. 1, p. 141) discusses some critical points regarding how our friends affect our characters and our choices. He explains that the ‘Ulamā of Nafs say that within each of us there exists a spirit which is attracted to a similar spirit. Imam Ali ‘alayhis salām says: Souls resemble other souls and those that resemble each other are in harmony, that is why people are attracted towards those they resemble (Bihār Al-Anwār, v.78, p.92, H.100).
Furthermore, the ‘Ulamā of Nafs say that as human beings we have a strong tendency to be easily influenced and are very susceptible to imitation. Thus, the company we keep will influence us with positive or negative characteristics. Imam Ali (a) describes this beautifully when he says: Association with the wicked leads one to become evil, just like the wind – when it passes by a foul smell it carries the stench. Companionship with the righteous leads one to acquire righteousness just like the wind – when it passes by perfume it carries the fragrance (Ghurar al-Hikam H.217/H.276).
Additionally, when a human being is exposed to wrongdoing time and time again, eventually that act will not seem so evil anymore. Even though we may not act upon this evil deed, it will not seem as reprehensible as it really is. Our guard will be let down. Slowly we will accept it and start seeing it as normal.
It is for these reasons that Allah ‘azza wajall wants us to be cautious of who we associate with and (more importantly) those whom we call our friends. Our friends define who we become, and the reality of their friendship will be seen and felt in the hereafter as described in these verses: And on the day when the unjust one shall bite his hands, saying: ‘Oh! Would that I had taken a way alone with the Messenger’! “Oh, woe is me! Would that I had not taken such a one for a friend! (Q 25: 27-28).
Take a moment and evaluate the company you keep. Ask yourself these questions:
· Do my friends remind me of Allah (swt) and take me towards the path of the Prophet (s)?
· Am I my best self with my friends? (Kind, Healthy, Positive)
· Do I feel energized and full of good thoughts or do I feel deflated and down after being with them?
· Do they support me and my values or always criticize them?
Use this verse to remind yourself that the company you keep has a great impact on the quality of your life both in this world and the next.
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī, Al-Amthal fí Tafsīr Kitāb Allāh al- Munzal, ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān, Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī, Al-Akhlāq fil-Qur’ān.