Last year, one of my college friends suddenly got in touch with me. “I want to see your children! Let’s get together with the whole gang!” she suggested. I agreed, thinking that it would be good to have a reunion with everyone after so many years, and especially following the births of several babies. Despite distinctly feeling that I no longer have much in common with these ‘friends’ due to my reversion to Islam since graduation, I did look forward to meeting up with them again, nevertheless.
The gathering took place and there were several awkward moments following the initial excited exchange of greetings, kisses-in-the-air and exclamations of delight at beholding each other’s children. The conversation soon began drifting around careers, domestic life and babies; with each person giving a detailed account of what she’d been up to all these years. With everyone pointedly ignoring my deep involvement with the Quran, and my da’wah-based teaching occupation since graduation; I nevertheless, playing the polite hostess, made sure everyone was well-served and comfortable. When I went into the kitchen to bring food to the table, I heard slivers of conversation filtering in through the door. Despite having progressed to managerial-level career positions boasting hefty paychecks in multinational companies, or having garnered several years of experience living with and adjusting to in-laws, it was disappointing to realize that my guests’ conversation still centered around exchange of gossip, catching up on rumors (mainly about others’ flings/engagements/marriages/divorce), backbiting, and demeaning others by referring to them with derogatory, college-era nicknames.
The moment of truth, however, came for me while one of my friends was introducing us to her sister-in-law; she mentioned everyone’s occupation as part of their introduction (e.g preschool teacher, Manager at XYZ etc.), but when it was my turn, not a word was said about what I do, and she moved on after just mentioning my name. To me, the message conveyed was clear: ‘we do not want to discuss your association with Islamic religiosity’. They were interested only in the past person under the superficial cloth hijab whom they had known in college – they were not interested in what that person had morphed into, since then. The entire gathering went by without any mention of Allah, His Prophet [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم], or His Deen Islam.
The ‘party’ left a bad taste in the mouth. I did not particularly feel insulted, but I had the distinct realization that whatever my relationship was with these people now, who once used to be such good “friends”, it was definitely not one for the sake of Allah. I had secretly hoped to be able to invite them towards Deen by meeting them, but what can one really say to a person when they literally become stiff and aloof, break off eye contact, and turn their head away, as soon as the conversation starts to drift towards the Quran, Sunnah or other aspects of Deen?
A few weeks later, I came across a hadith that opened my eyes and shook me to reality:
It was narrated from Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri [رضی اللّٰہُ عنہ] that the Messenger of Allah [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] said:
“Do not keep company with anyone but a believer, and do not let anyone eat your food except the one who is pious.”
[Tirmidhi: 2395, Abu Dawood: 4832]
Whatever excuse we might present to ourselves when we invite people over for a meal to our house, the fact remains that our Prophet Muhammad’s [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] words reign supreme; they could not be truer or wiser. He has strongly advised us Muslims to mingle only with believers and invite only those “friends” over for a meal who are pious and Allah-fearing. This, of course, applies to personal or family friends, not to people with whom we have ties of blood or familial kinship. It also leaves no doubt about eating with those of our ‘friends’ who never pray salah, or who openly mock the teachings of Islam, both in word and deed.
When is it that people invite someone over to their house for a meal? It is when they want to further ties with them, or become closer to them for some reason. Usually, business owners regularly invite their loyal clients over for dinner parties; or families negotiating a possible marriage invite each other to elaborate banquets at their homes in order to get to know each other and hence, facilitate an eventual acceptance of the proposal. Having a meal together strengthens an already existing bond; or in the case of strangers, helps in breaking the ice to get better acquainted.
Our Deen has thus stipulated that when Muslims invite guests over for a meal, the latter should be pious, i.e. those who fulfill Islam’s obligations and perhaps practice da’wah in some form or other. However, accepting invitations to meals from other Muslims comes with no such restrictions. This system is therefore, intended to work in such a way that pious people are invited more often to other Muslims’ houses, and in this way, these role models of Islam move around among the masses, eating with them and inspiring them to act upon Islam as well.
As Muslims, we should meet and be polite with everyone in general, without judging his or her actions as right or wrong. However, our close friendships that result in frequent company, especially over meals, should involve only those who are at least religiously-inclined enough to fulfill the faraid (obligations) of Islam. This is an effective way of ensuring that we do not slip down the slope of piety, but rather, keep climbing to higher ranks of righteousness. This is also good for our children, because they get to make friends with other children from like-minded families.
This year, I followed Prophet Muhammad’s advice. I invited only those sisters whom I know for the sake of Allah for a party, i.e. my colleagues at the organization where Islamic education is imparted, and some friends with whom I studied the Quran together under a teacher. These are sisters who at least follow the obligations of Islam, and hold Allah and His Prophet close to their hearts. Consequently, during every discussion at the gathering – be it related to motherhood, our husbands’ jobs, or our relationships with in-laws – Allah, the Quran or Prophet Muhammad’s ahadith were consistently referred to and remembered. The guests left giving me dua’s and blessings. After the party, I basked in an all-enveloping feeling of love and warmth, and felt my imaan level at a new high.
I was reminded of a beautiful hadith at that moment:
Abu Musa [رضی اللّٰہُ عنہ] reported Allah’s Messenger [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] as saying:
“The similitude of good company and that of bad company is that of the owner of musk and that of the one (iron-smith) blowing bellows; the owner of musk would either offer you some free of charge, or you would buy it from him, or (at least) you would smell its pleasant fragrance; and as for the one who blows the bellows, he would either burn your clothes or you shall have to smell its repugnant smell.”
[Sahih Muslim: Book 32, Number 6361]
Alhamdulillah for our beautiful Deen: one that guides us in every aspect of life!