THE ESSENTIALS OF FRIENDSHIP IN THE MATHNAWI

The Mathnawi:Man is almost consisted of eye-vision, that is spiritual perception; the rest is (worthless) skin. The real eye on the other hand is the one that can see the Beloved. If the eye cannot see the Beloved do not consider it as an eye.” (v.1: 1406)

The eye is a window that opens to the world of thought and feeling. In reality, everything one sees, whether good or bad, generates reflections and associations in the heart and mind.

The first step in contemplation and deep reflection is to look around with an eye of consideration. Allah Almighty invites His servants to acquire a perception that is the means for grasping the meanings of these considerations; in various verses He says: “Do they not look … at the camel… at the clouds… at the rain… at the mountains… at the herbage that dies in the winter and returns to life in the spring or at the works of the people who lived aforetime?”

In the Qur’ân, after mention of Allah Almighty’s blessings, humans are addressed several times as “those with comprehension and vision” and are expected to contemplate the universe with perception. Many similar verses decree that humans look at the universe not with empty or hollow eyes, but with a perceptive eye in order to comprehend the wisdom of it. In such a manner, many verses ask: “Do they not contemplate? Do they not think? Do they not comprehend?” Those who observe the universe with such perception apprehend its Creator and His art, which, in proportion to human potency, leaves the mind helpless.

The universe is a source of Divine joy. This work of art, which is called the human being, is the manifestation of Divine joy. The eyes that see and the hearts that perceive do not perceive or see anything but Divine joy.

Human beings should raise their heads at dawn and look at the rising sun, observing the colourful scenes of the horizon. How can we, who are filled with admiration at the sight of a painting by an artist, stay apathetic and impassive before the exquisite pictures that are continuously drawn by the Divine artist, which are observed wherever we turn? Look at the tulip or violet. Where did they find these colours in the black earth? What about the red mulberry? Look at the blue and the pink of the flower that trembles under the sunlight and all the other beautiful things that we cannot even begin to count. There is a wonderful exhibition all around for a heart that has emotional depth. Look at the grace of the flower, the dance of the bee and the butterfly, look at the moth that throws itself at the fire, the laments of a nightingale and then turn and look at yourself. All of this, all the beauty, consists of a spark that comes from the reflection that seeps from the beauty of Lord Almighty.

The sun that illuminates at dawn brings us the tidings of a new day, as if saying: “Wake up!” and brings us into an atmosphere of reckoning: “Once again this morning you have been presented with a new page from the book of life. How will you fill this page which will be brought in front of you on the Day of Judgment? What are you planning to prepare for the fearful day when you will hear the order: “Read your book! Today your nafs is a sufficient reckoner against you.”

When the evening closes, the skies turn red and then with every wave they are painted black; the night talks to humans with poise and says: “Another day has passed. You are a step closer to death. There is no need for useless lamentation. You cannot bring back the passing day, however much you strive. Now you will surrender yourself to the arms of sleep, a sibling of death. What did you do? What should you have done? Put whatever you have and have not done in front of you and think! Maybe you will never see the lights of the morning again.”

The souls who turn towards the universe with contemplation and reverence will finally find Allah Almighty as the truly beloved and the genuine companion. The greatest helper of a human in regards to admonition and wisdom is submission to the revelation which directs contemplation and reverence, and establishing a true friendship with the pious ones who have become companions of Allah Almighty! Calling these pious people “companions” is a metaphor. Although true companionship means orienting towards Allah with devotion, it is a requirement of human weakness to befriend those who are close to Him and to metaphorically actualize the absolute love and friendship as a first stage of reaching Allah Almighty. This is because spiritual elevation can only be achieved in stages; it cannot be sudden. Therefore, on this journey, it is imperative to have human friendships, which are an indispensable phase of reaching Allah’s companionship.

In the following verses Rûmî explains this matter further:

“If you fall into despair because of loneliness and the lack of a mind to consult, seek the shade of a friend who belongs to the sun of truth.”

“Go, quickly find yourself one of His friends; if you do so, Allah will become your companion and helper.”

“Seclusion and solitude can only be towards strangers but not towards the friend. The fur is for the winter not for the spring.”

“When a healthy mind unites with another healthy mind trained with revelation, it strengthens, the light from it increases and it will see the way clearly.”

“The nafs likes to be with another nafs just for its selfish desire of fulfilment, and so the darkness on that path increases, the truth becomes invisible.”

The Mathnawi: O heart! Go where they shine towards you, and where there are mature people close to you so that they can act as armour for you against afflictions.”

“They will pardon your wrong deeds and give you a place within their souls.” (v.2: 2576-2577)

Punishing incorrect actions in order to prevent them from happening again is a standard rule of law in all judicial systems. The Sharî‘ah also prefers this route of prevention. The Sufis, while not welcoming or rationalizing such behaviour, use a method to compensate for corrupt behaviour, evaluating the perpetrator of such actions as a person being unable to protect himself from falling into erroneous behaviour. They see the person as a bird with a broken wing. Instead of punishing them immediately they turn to treatment options, just as in medicine. No doctor would scold a patient and ask: “Why didn’t you protect yourself from having a car accident” or “…from getting a cold?” On the contrary, the doctor will accept his responsibility to treat the patient. Sufis treat flawed people in the same way that doctors treat their patients. Broken objects are taken to a repairman. The skill of the repairman is relative to the perfection of the object that was broken.

Mawlânâ Rûmî states this truth as follows: “They will pardon your ill-doings and give you a place within their souls.”

Mathnawi: The penetrating intellect, through separation from its friends, (becomes) like an archer whose bow is broken.” (v.3: 3693)

In Islam the intellect is called ‘aql al-nâqis (the deficient intellect). It means that the intellect on its own is not sufficient to arrive at what is good or to discover Allah. This truth is confirmed by the fact that Allah Almighty sent Prophets to human beings, creatures that He has endowed with intellect. The intellect is the prerequisite for man to be held responsible. In all judicial systems a person who commits murder without any intellectual capacity is pardoned. Such people are not punished. Offenders who are punished receive such treatment because their intellect and conscience are deemed to be intact. Even this shows that the intellect does not have the perfection needed to protect a human from wrongdoings.

Because of this deficiency, one intellect should be buttressed by other intellects. The rule that “two minds are better than one” demonstrates the necessity of consultation with those who are competent and qualified. Consultation is ordered in many verses of the Qur’ân so that self-improvement as well as societal may be facilitated: “…and consult them in affairs (of the moment)!..” (Âl ‘Imrân, 3: 159)“…those who (conduct) their affairs by mutual Consultation…”(Shûrâ 42: 38)

The Mathnawi: Whoever you see engaged in search of Allah, O son, become his friend and submit yourself to him.”

…through being a neighbour of the seekers of Allah you yourself will become a seeker, and through them you yourself will become a conqueror.” (v.3: 1446-1447)

In Turkish there is a saying: “The grape will ripen when together with other grapes.” Sufis say “The (emotional, intellectual, spiritual) state is contagious” which means “a condition or a state passes from one person to another”. Your state will change according to the person you love and with whom you spend your time. For this reason Allah Almighty says in the Qur’ân: “…be with those who are true (in word and deed) (Tawba, 9: 119). A person receives a share of the fate of those whom they love and to whom they have mutual inclinations and feelings. Being together with the pious brings about a positive effect on the improvement of a person.

The Mathnawi: Know this for sure: in the end all of the mortal and dishonest companions and false lovers will become adversaries against you. They will become the foes that slay.”

“…whereas you will be left in the tomb, lamenting and beseeching Allah and (crying), ‘Do not leave me (here) alone’” (v.5: 1523-1524)

Humans have a closeness and heartfelt affection for many things in this world. But when the time comes for the eternal journey, they will have to abandon all these things and all of those who once were loved or relied upon in this world will have to be left behind being no longer be of any use. The things one loves most in this world are one’s children and possessions. Lord Almighty explains in the following verses that even these cannot bring any benefit in the hereafter: “The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, but only he (will prosper) that brings to Allah a sound heart” (Shu‘arâ, 26: 88-89).

The Mathnawi: Whoever has a passion for that which is mortal does so only in the hope to reach the One that is truly alive and living. Thus, loving a mortal becomes a bridge to deep affection and takes one to Divine love.” (v.3: 545)

O the one whose journey is to Allah! Exert yourself in the hope of the Living One, so that after some time the soul that you give does not become lifeless or get buried in the ground.”

Do not follow your desires and choose a piece of straw, i.e. a mortal beauty, as your friend. The affection and friendship in him are borrowed. Search for the permanent friend.”

If those to whom you gave your heart possessed any fidelity or constancy, then what has happened to your friendship with your mother and your father, who were your most faithful friends?” (v.3: 547-549)

When the gold nature of that which you love turns to its original ugliness, when only the copper remains, your nature is surfeited and is separated from it.” (v.3: 555)

The beauty in mortals is only but a temporal reflection of Divine beauty. The reflecting light will return to its origin one day. O disciple, does not gaze on mortal or temporal beauty, but rather search for the One who gave them!

The light falling onto the wall from the sun returns to the sun. Do not look at the light on the wall, go to the one that sends the light, go to the sun; this is what you deserve.”

Henceforth take your water from heaven, as you have not found any faithfulness in the aqueduct.” (v.3: 558-560)

The human disposition to affection is an invaluable treasure. It is a great loss for this love to be wasted in useless places. All friends in this world other than Allah who receive our love are absolute mortals. For this reason the main target of love and friendship should be the Lord Almighty. On the one hand, the Lord Almighty is beyond comprehension and distant from perception (muta‘âl), but on the other, He is a friend and helper of His servant, He is closer than the jugular vein. If the servant arduously tries to get close to His Lord in his heart, then Allah Almighty announces that He will become “His eyes with which he sees, his ears with which he hears, his hands with which he holds…” (Zubdat ’l-Bukhârî, 1107). About this state it is said: «For us Allah sufficeth, and He is the best disposer of affairs.» (Âl ‘Imrân, 3: 173)

When all is said, profane love, which is a heartfelt closeness and bonding with other than Allah, is only permissible when it is experienced as a temporary phase. In this case, that love becomes a phase on the path to Divine love. But, if that mortal being captivates the heart, it will become idolized and hinder Divine reunion. If one can become like Majnûn and say, “I found Mawlâ (my Lord) through Laylâ” and turn the profane love into a phase of reaching Divine love, what a blessing this is! “The love for Absolute Beauty” is the real love. To become its seeker is the greatest and noblest goal in this life.

The Mathnawi: I swear by the Holy Being of Allah, to Whom everything and everyone is in need but Who is not in need of anything or anyone, that a malignant snake is better than a malignant friend The malignant snake takes the life of a man. But a malignant friend leads him into the everlasting fire.”

The heart secretly steals the disposition from the disposition of the companion, without speech and talk his morals become yours.”

When he casts his shadow over you, that unprincipled friend steals away your capitals.” (v.5: 2634-2637)

As we have stated before, “states are contagious”, that is, being with a good person will produce a positive influence and being with a malignant person will produce a negative influence. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) explained this with the following illustration: “The friendship of a good or a bad person is like the state of the perfume vendor and the blacksmith. The perfume vendor will either give you some perfume for free or you will buy it. You will (at least) have inhaled the beautiful scents (while you are with him). The blacksmit   h will either burn your clothes or you will be uncomfortable with the disagreeable smell of his shop” (Bukhârî, Dhabâ’ih, 31).

Imam Rabbânî gave the following example of the perils that befalls one with corrupt friends.

“The person who is very close to gamblers might not be gambling. Thus, he will not feel tarnished. However, during the time he accompanies them he will start condoning gambling. And this is a spiritual disaster.”

Consciously or not, abandoning such a shield, which is a necessary protection from any kind of sin, introduces the danger of falling into that sin at any moment. Companionship with crude or ignorant people will bring about a psychological proximity with them. In time, this proximity will turn into a heartfelt closeness and, little by little, one will be dragged into destruction.

The Mathnawi: The turpitude of befriending the hypocrites makes the believer wicked and rebellious like them.” (v.2: 2892)

The worst kind of wickedness is hypocrisy. The state of a hypocrite in Islam is worse than that of a “harmless heathen”. A hypocrite’s harm in misleading is far greater than that of a heathen who does not insinuate their ideas to people with blasphemy. For this reason, those who come to the greatest harm are those who befriend the hypocrites. Mental connection turns into a heartfelt relationship. This causes the ruin and disappointment of the believer. Mawlânâ indicated this reality in the previous verse.

The Mathnawi: Since in our eyes (foresight) there is much defect, go, let your own sight pass away in the sight of the friend.”

His sight for ours – what a goodly recompense! In His sight you will find the whole object of your desire.” (v.1: 921-922)

Although it may be bitter, friends always try to tell the truth. A friend will not shy away from telling the truth and will prefer to temporarily hurt a friend rather than see them endure a lasting harm. In some other verses, Mawlânâ Rûmî explains this with the story of a man who tells another man who has come to him for advice that he cannot help him.

“A man wanted advice on a matter for he could not arrive at a decision in order to get rid of his doubts. The person he wanted to consult said: “I appreciate the fact that you trusted me and came to me for advice. But I am not your friend. Go and find someone else and consult him. I am not your friend, so do not consult with me. One cannot succeed with the advice of one who is not a friend. Go and search for a friend. Surely a friend will want his friend’s well being. I am not a friend; someone like me is of no use to you. I walk crookedly; I will tell you erroneous things. A man who befriends good people and spends time with them thinks he is in a rose garden, even if he is in a furnace. But the person sitting in a garden with the foe that he thinks is a friend will be sitting in a furnace. Come to your senses and do not belittle that genuine friend by giving into your ego, do not hurt him.”

The Mathnawi: The heart takes nourishment from every friend. The heart receives spiritual joy, pleasure and purification from every piece of knowledge.” (v.2: 1089)

You receive some spiritual nourishment from every person you meet. You also will receive something from every good friend.” (v.2: 1091)

As we have mentioned above, we have to choose our friends very carefully. These verses of Mawlâna points to the benefits of befriending good people. Like we have said before, people’s states are contagious. Love is the course through which the spiritual states transact. A human acquires the state of the person with whom they spend time in proportion to the affection felt for that person. Affection, according to its strength, will cause this relationship to increase. On the other hand, hate prevents this spiritual interaction between people, hence it should be turned towards the evil people.

The Mathnawi: Though you be a rock or marble, you will become a jewel when you reach a man who possesses a heart.”

Plant the love of the holy ones within your heart, do not give your heart to anything save to the love of them whose hearts know (Allah).”

Do not go to the neighborhood of despair, there are gates of hope. Do not go in the direction of darkness, the suns are shining.”

The heart leads you into the neighborhood of the men who possess hearts; the body leads you into the prison of water and mud.”

Take heed! Give your heart nourishment from conversations with the one who is a friend of the heart.” (v.1: 722-726)

The nafs guides humans in wretched directions. So, like an owner who tames a wild horse, we have to tame our nafs and make it righteous with knowledge and worship within the company of those who are on the path of Allah. Knowledge is essential for this, but it is not enough. People of knowledge should turn their knowledge into wisdom and reach maturity in their states and behaviour. Thus, the functions of heart and mind will move together in harmony. Otherwise, dry knowledge can drag a human into vanity, selfishness and destruction. The nafs has many degrees. A nafs that has never been trained is ammâra. Such a nafs will always desire wickedness, but with constant training it can be raised to the degrees of lawwâma, mulhima and mutmai’nna. When it reaches these stages, the fierce nafs has become like a tame horse and takes its owner to the Allah Almighty. True servanthood to Allah is seen at this stage. Only with the grace of Allah Almighty can one mature and reach the higher degrees of radiyya, mardiyyah and kâmila. One of the main conditions of reaching this state is togetherness and heartfelt affection with those who are close to Allah. An untamed nafs does not desire this. It will force you to be with worldly people. Yet, as there is ease with every hardship, there is ease with this too. It is enough that one should undertake this path. Reaching a stage higher than the angels can only be achieved through a trained nafs. When Adam was first created, the Divine imperative requiring the angels to prostrate to him was the result of this ability to take control of the nafs. The angels turn towards their Lord without any obstacles in their way, but for a human being, achieving this is only possible through rising above the obstacle of the nafs. The victory a human being achieves through spiritually reaching their Lord requires greater recognition and reward than that of the angels.

The Mathnawi: How can a friend turn aside from the pain inflicted by his friend? Pain is the kernel, and friendship is (only) as the husk. Has not joy in tribulation and calamity and suffering become the sign of (true) friendship? A friend is like gold, tribulation is like fire: gold becomes pure in the heart of the fire.” (v.2: 1459-1461)

There is an old saying: “A noble person is recognized in tribulations and a noble metal is recognized in fire.” Indeed, in the same way that blessings are for us, remorse is also for us. However, there is a great danger of erring for those who object to either of these manifestations. In the face of ordeals, patience through the pursuit of genuine reasons results in Divine consent, while rebelling against ordeals can result in destruction. In a way, the blessings are the same. Knowing that a blessing is from Allah Almighty and being thankful to Him brings great prosperity and abundance, but to think that this blessing is from one’s own power and to fall into arrogance and vanity will also result in destruction. Saints, those great souls, benefit from both blessings and ordeals and do not encounter harm due to these because they have strictly trained their understanding and perception in accord with revelation. So, they can say, “Your ordeals are as sweet as your blessings”. With the grace of our Lord, we should strive to be like them. True benefit from ordeals and blessings does not stem from apparent causes that are self-evident, but rather from being content with the Real Cause behind all causes that is Allah Almighty (being content with whatever He gives) and comprehending the real reason, called musabbibu’l asbâb (the Causer of the causes). Those who achieve this, reach the state of rizâ (acceptance) and this is what Mawlânâ talks about in the verses mentioned above.

The Mathnawi: The wind of our maladies is strong and the candle of our life is almost out. Make haste; let us light another candle from the candle of our lives, so that we may continue our journey with one of the candles, if one of them be put out by the wind.” (v.4: 3108-3109)

Mawlânâ conveys this truth in his verses and teaches us never to fall into despair. One should especially be aware of those states and actions that make one slip into wretchedness. The Lord Almighty has promised all His servants a chance to attain His mercy before their last breath, provided that there is true repentance.

Mathnawi: Oh, alas, alas for the sorrow and grief caused by a base friend! Oh sirs, seek you a good and a suitable companion!” (v.6: 2950)

Take heed, do not become a worshipper of form and do not say this. Do not seek (to discover) the secret of congeniality in the outward form.” (v.6: 2953)

Friendship is formed from mutuality be it in positive or negative attributes. But true friendship can only be harboured in sincere souls. This characteristic is found in the highest states of the human being. Friendship stays alive when both parties have the same emotions and share the same worldview. True friendship is a current between two hearts. With this current, with the flow of love, every state of the beloved radiates to the one who loves. The oceans of love in the soul start to rise and the suns of devotion start to burn. Therefore, the closeness felt by those who do not share mutual feelings and only have an external or coincidental affinity, for example, relations or casual friends, has no connection with true friendship. Thus, Abû Lahab was the Prophet’s uncle, but he was amongst the unfortunate who were farthest from the Prophet.