I have always been warned of malicious friendships. Growing up, I was constantly told to “choose friends wisely,” and to avoid those who are “misguided” in order to steer clear of negative influence.
But how was I to know who to choose? How was I supposed to know that I wasn’t the one who needed guiding? It seemed that though I was continuously reminded of harmful companionship, I was never truly taught how to avoid them. This concept is one of the major difficulties faced by today’s Muslim youth, for we are surrounded by deceit.
Ultimately, Allah guides whom he wills and misguides whom he wills, and only through His words, will we find the truth. There are countless ayat and ahadith which explicitly mention the notion of friendship, confirming that it can either be a means of enlightenment, or a path to destruction.
Perhaps one of the most eloquent of examples is a hadith which states that a friend can either be like the seller of Musk, or like a blacksmith. Moreover, the one who sells musk will either sell you the product, buy some for you, or will at least allow you to enjoy a pleasant fragrance from him/her. The blacksmith however, has the ability to burn your clothes or surround you with their horrid scent. In other words, a good friend will shower you with knowledge and faith, while the bad possesses the potential to engulf you in an eternal flame.
Still, how can we be sure that we entered the shop of a perfume seller and not the tavern of an iron molder? Though we do not know what resides in one’s hearts, we may look to their actions. If one openly fulfills the desires of their nafs it is perhaps best to stay away from such a person. It is not however, wrong to approach them and guide them to what is correct. This itself, is another of our religion’s great teachings: to command good and end evil.
Those who wish to follow a path of righteousness and seek betterment by any means possible are best to remain close to, as the Prophet once mentioned that a person is likely to follow the actions of their companions. With our mundane capabilities, perfection simply does not exist, but as believers, we still must strive for it in order to reach the desired destination.