Growing up in the Middle East doesn’t mean that all your friends are Muslims. From school days, most interactions I can remember are with those who weren’t.
They were my best friends, my companions, people I would laugh or cry with. These were the people I shared memories with..
This was something my mother wasn’t too happy about. She would tell me that I shouldn’t have such close non-Muslim friends, but I would tell her that she just didn’t understand. They respected my religion: when we’d go out, they’d let me take the time to pray; if I was doing my hijab in class and a boy walked in, I’d have a wall of people covering me in an instant; they asked me for explanations if they didn’t understand why I had to do something. As far as I was concerned, they were excellent friends!
Time went on, however, and I left school. We would meet but not as often and everyone got busy with their lives. I started going for Islamic classes and Alhamdulillah, Allah guided me to knowledge and deen. I remember my teacher once talking about non-Muslims having a disease in their hearts and how it grieves them when good befalls us and only want to lead us astray, and where before I would have dismissed it, at that time I remember thinking “This is Allah Who is telling us this! Allah Who has created everything and everyone. If the All-Knower is informing us of this, how can we ignore it?”
And SubhanAllah, this is what we did in class the other day: “Let not the believers take the disbelievers as ‘Auliyaa (supporters, helpers, close friends, etc.) instead of the believers. and whoever does that will never be helped by Allah in any way except if you indeed fear a danger from them. And Allah warns you against Himself (His Punishment), and to Allah is the final return.” (3:28)
We learnt there are levels of interaction that we are allowed, with non-Muslims:
1) to be kind to every living creation of Allah
2) to interact with kindness if we have to: with a smile, help them out, etc.
3) to be truthful and honest and just in business dealings
4) and to never take them as close friends
Over the years, I had Muslim friends who I was very close to, and studying more Qur’an and Islam meant that it was so easy to talk to them, so beautiful to share stories with them or experiences and what we learnt from it, and I had less and less to talk to my school friends about. We just didn’t have that much in common anymore. Either we wouldn’t share much common ground, or my way of thinking had changed and I would feel awkward in a conversation because I didn’t agree with it but didn’t want to spark a controversy – especially one I might not have all the answers to.
I found I wasn’t telling them the important things in my life, because I could imagine the confused expressions they would have when they wouldn’t understand the situation, or I knew the advice they would give me would be one I would not heed.
On the other hand, my Muslim friends helped build my character, helped me when I was struggling with deen, and would share a story that they had no idea the impact it would have on me – in a good way.
They help build my trust in Allah, strengthen my faith, and keep me going when I feel down, with advice that I need.
If people argue that they can be strong Muslims in a group of disbelievers – and to each his own, maybe their eman is superb – I would disagree. I was brought out of relationships, by the Grace of Allah, that did not benefit me – being with a certain kind of people means that you get used to doing certain things, and after a while, sins don’t even feel like sins anymore.. – and I can feel the difference when surrounded by people of faith.
I know who I’ll be calling when I have a problem that I need help with.
I have not cut all relations with my friends cold turkey, by the way. I do still meet them occasionally, and I pray that the right sort of interaction will let them know what kind of religion Islam is, and how amazing it teaches us to be.
“A man will follow the way of his close friends, so let one of you look to whom he takes as a close friend.” [Tirmidhi]