THE TRUTH OF FRIENDSHIP

Love is like a stream which flows between two hearts. Those who love always remember their beloved with both their hearts and minds. They offer whatever they have to their beloved and having made these sacrifices, they live with peace of mind.

Friendship, in general, is about being together and sharing things, both good and bad. Real friendship, on the other hand, can only be found in the sincere souls of elevated personalities.

Living friendship at its peak means that two people have the same feelings for all events; it is as if they have a unified heart that resides in two separate bodies.

A person adores and admires the person whom they love. Every state of the beloved is passed onto the lover because of a flow of love. The sea of love in the heart begins to swirl and the sun of ecstasy starts to shine. In the end, the lover relinquishes his own will and preferences and starts to imitate the beloved. In this sense a believer should know how to benefit from this elixir of love at every step in life.

True love turns burdens into blessings; likewise the sorrows that the beloved puts the lover through are welcomed as if they were favours. To understand the genuineness and depth of one’s love, we need only to examine to what degree the lover can bear the sorrows of love. Mawlânâ Rûmî relates the following story that shows true love and friendship are only possible if both the sorrows and torment that come from the beloved are welcomed and only if the beloved is submitted to willingly.

A master received a melon as a gift from his visitors. He called upon Luqmân, the sensitive, perceptive servant, whom he loved dearly and with whom he was able to share his feelings.

When Luqmân came, his master cut a slice of the melon and offered it to him. Luqmân ate that slice as if it was honey or sugar. He ate it with such delight and pleasure that the appetite of those who watched him was stimulated; in fact, they envied him. His master gave him another slice. Luqmân seemed to achieve peace and happiness through eating the melon. The master carried on giving him the melon until there was only one slice left.

His master then said: “Let me eat this one and see how sweet it is.”

The moment he bit the melon, the inside of his mouth burnt with its bitterness. His tongue was blistered and his throat became sore. He nearly fainted due to bad taste. He turned to Luqmân and said:

“My dearest servant! How could you eat such poison with great delight? How could you take this difficulty as if it was a favour? What sort of patience is yours? Only Allah knows how much pain you have had to endure. Or are you an enemy of your own sweet life? Why did you not say anything? Why didn’t you simply say «Excuse me but I cannot eat anything now”?

Luqmân replied: “I have eaten many delicious meals from your hand, dear master; you have nourished me both spiritually and physically with such rare things that I have to bow my head in embarrassment because I cannot return the gifts. How could[1] I possibly say «This is bitter, I can’t eat it» for something you offered me with your hands? Moreover, however bitter, anything you offer is only sweet for me, because every particle in my body has been nourished by your blessings.”

Luqmân continued to share his excitement and love: “Dear master! If I resent a sorrow that comes from you, may my head be buried beneath the ground. How could a taste from your generous hand leave any trace of bitterness in this melon? Love makes sorrow sweet, love turns copper into gold. Love washes away the residue and purifies. Love heals unbearable pains. Love raises the dead. Love turns kings into subjects. Love makes rose gardens out of dungeons. Love illuminates dark rooms and makes them shine. It is because of love that fire becomes Divine light. Love brings beauty to the ugly. With love, sorrow and grief become happiness and joy. With love the bandits and seducers turn into guides to happiness. Because of love sickness turns into health and well-being. Love makes sorrow a blessing.”

Love is an instinct of the heart. However, the depth of love in the heart should be in accordance with the divinity of the Beloved. In this respect, Allah should be the ultimate recipient of this tendency of the heart to love. For the heart to attain the capability to experience the greatest love in every sense of the word, which is the love of Allah, it first needs to go through the levels of metaphorical love.

Forgetting the ultimate goal, which is to attain the love of Allah, by remaining at one of the temporary stations of love, such as the love for wealth, rank, commodities, family or children, means to drain the heart from one’s world, and wasting that love. To overcome this obstacle one needs to remember that love of this kind is only «transient» and the value it deserves can only be to the extent of what it really is: a means to Divine love.

In truth, this love comprises stations that must be experienced by the heart in order to be able to carry the love of Allah. Turning transient love into a step toward Divine love leads one to take a great delight in faith. A heedful person who is able to overcome worries and obsessions and contemplate the end of their life can easily see that they have been created for a purpose; therefore, it is necessary that a limit be put to worldly pleasures and transient loves, with our love being channelled towards a Divine goal.

Ridding one’s temporary existence of egotistical desires and devoting it to the Divine Being takes one to immortality. Thus, life continues after the material body dies. The most typical example of this is Majnûn, who perfected the love he had for Laylâ in his heart, in the end attaining the love of the Lord. Had he not been able to transcend this love, Majnûn would only have been one of the millions of examples of transient love.

His name would not have been worthy of being remembered for centuries, rather it would have been forgotten in history.

What is just and what is true can be known and understood not by reading but by the love that resides in the hearts. If the heart transcends through the stations of transient love to become immersed in the love of Allah, then all secrets, truths and beauties are manifested in it.

Therefore, the true friendship that has the power to take one to felicity is ‘friendship with the Lord’.

The following story of a conversation between a master and his slave is a good example which testifies to the truth of friendship with Allah:

A man bought a slave. The slave was a religious, praying believer who protected himself from what Allah forbade. When his master took the slave to his home, they had the following conversation: “What would you like to eat in my house?» the master asked.

The slave replied: «Whatever you give me.»

The master asked: «How would you like to be dressed?»

The slave replied: «Whatever you give me, I will wear it.»

The master asked: «In which room of my house would you like to stay?»

The slave replied: «In whichever room you want me to stay.»

The master asked: «What sort of work do you want to do in my house?»

The slave replied: «Whatever you want me to do, I will do it.»

After this last response, the master thought for a while and then spoke while trying to dry his tears: «I wish I was a friend like this to my Lord. That would be the greatest happiness.»

Upon this, the slave said: «O my master! How could a slave have any other preference or will than his master’s?»

Then the master said: «I give you your freedom. You are free for Allah’s sake. But I would like you to stay with me so I can serve you with my power and my money.»

Whoever knows Allah truthfully, and turns to Him with love, relinquishes their will and preferences to Him voluntarily; rather simply saying: «Why should I ask for anything from Allah?»

A believer who loves their Lord needs to be aware of the fact that nothing really belongs to them, for they are to submit everything in their possession to their Beloved. This is because love requires sacrifice and there are no ‘possessions’ in its nature. Love brings a tendency to offer things both spiritual and material to the heart.

This can be realized to the extent of the depth of one’s love. For this reason, the greatest sacrifices are those that are made for love. One can even go so far for love as to give up one’s life for the sake of the Beloved; the sacrifice depends on the depth of one’s love.

Allah Almighty confirms this fact in the following verse of the Qur’ân:

«By no means shall you attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which ye love….” (Qur’ân, 3:92)

In this sense, the person who loves their Lord and remains faithful to the truth of this love submits to Him his self, his opportunities and his fate. It is not easy for a believer to claim to possess the love and friendship of Allah and His Messenger.

The requirement for true love and friendship is to have no will but that of the Beloved. The state of the Prophet Ibrâhîm (upon him be peace) is exemplary as the pinnacle of being a friend of Allah.

When Nimrod was about to throw the Prophet Ibrâhîm into the fire, the angels came to help him. The Prophet Ibrâhîm said:

“Who is the one that lights the fire? He is the one that knows every state of mine. I ask nothing from you. Do not come between two friends.”

As a result of his submission to Allah, the great fire into which Ibrâhîm was thrown turned into a rose garden.

Afterwards, Ibrâhîm (pbuh) prayed for a prophet to be among his descendants. Allah Almighty blessed him with a child in his old age and the Prophet Ibrâhîm loved this child very much.

The innocent child conquered his heart. Yet in a dream he was instructed to sacrifice Ismâ‘îl as a sign of this friendship and as part of his trial. However, the profound love that he had for his child made Ibrâhîm doubt the dream. It was only after the third time he had the same dream that Ibrâhîm was satisfied. He even threw stones at the Devil who tried to come between him and his Lord by introducing doubts and misgivings.

Ibrâhîm was willing to sacrifice his transient love for the sake of his love of the Friend Who is Eternal, Allah. And after seeing his determination, and as a sign of friendship, his Eternal Friend returned his son to him and sent him a ram to sacrifice. Allah says in the Qur’ân:

«We called out to him, ‘O Ibrâhîm! Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!’ – thus indeed do We reward those who do right; for this was obviously a trial – and we ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice. And We left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times: “Peace and salutation to Ibrâhîm!” (Qur’ân, 37: 104-109)

And with this, the Prophet Ibrâhîm’s friendship with Allah was announced to humanity. Those who become friends with Allah are also friends with what He has created. They acquire the capability to see things through the lens of the Lord. Our master, our Prophet, the Honour of the Worlds, who is at the pinnacle of friendship with Allah, prayed to His Lord for the people of Ta’if while they were throwing stones at him, asking for them to be brought to the straight path rather than be destroyed.

Hallâj al-Mansûr, another friend of Allah who went through one of the toughest trials of friendship, was so overcome by manifestations of miracles that in the end he could not contain his ecstasy and revealed secrets that were meant to be private.

While those who were unaware of the spiritual state he was in were throwing stones at him, he was praying to Allah:

“Dear Lord! Forgive those who are throwing stones at me even before I forgive them, for they do not know what I am experiencing. It is only because of my religious zeal that they are attacking me.”

This prayer is an example of the true nature of compassion and forgiveness towards people. It also brings to us an exemplary moment of looking at the creation through the lens of our Lord.

It is only after one overcomes the obstacle of the egotistical self that one is able to gain the strength to be patient in the face of trials and difficulties for the sake of Allah. After all, it is Allah who has lovingly sent them our way. Such situations are only natural in the spiritual path. The biggest rewards and the greatest friendships are earned only after the display of tremendous persistence, patience, determination and endurance.

In the eyes of believers who attain this level, happiness and sorrow are the same; this is because their hearts are no longer attached to the world, and therefore pain and pleasure are all equal. They know that whatever happens, be it good or bad, is a result of Divine providence and they are content with it. The following lines express this beautifully:

Whatever comes from You (Oh Allah) is pleasant to me; Be it rosebuds or thorns! A shroud or a robe of honour; I enjoy both your wrath and your favour!

To apply the sentiment of this quatrain to life takes great courage and endurance; it is not easy to do. One needs to be careful not to utter words like these prematurely and heedlessly out of self-pride or in imitation, for these words can only be said at the level of radiyyah (the pleased self).

Otherwise, if Allah Almighty were to put His servant through a trial to test the genuineness of such a claim, it is feared that the servant may fail.

In short, the felicity of the heart lies in being happy with what Allah has sent our way. Nothing else can yield any true benefit. Mawlânâ Rûmî says it most beautifully:

“So long as you are not happy with what Allah has given you, you will find tragedy waiting for you wherever you search for comfort or salvation; disaster will come and you will be stricken. May you know that there is not a single corner of this world that is free of calamities. Only by finding Allah in your heart, by seeking refuge in Him and by living in His presence can you attain comfort and salvation. Look at those who live in the safest places in this world and who are deemed to be the most powerful; do they not fall prey to death in the end too? Seek refuge in Allah instead of trying to keep yourself safe from these transient pitfalls! If He so wishes, He can turn poison into an antidote for you and if He so wishes He can make water poison for you!”

Dear Lord! Enable us helpless servants to benefit from the world of the heart of Your friends in the best possible way. Allow us to have a share of the manifestation of this noble verse from the Qur’ân:

“Behold! Verily on the friends of God there is no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (Qur’ân, 10:62)

Âmîn!