Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Finding Unity in Friendship

Mazie Preite

Response 2

March 1st, 2019

Finding Unity in Friendship

The readings and discussions that have been occuring in class the past two weeks have been very interesting because of the large amount of variety we are accessing. Not only have we been reading about a variety of cultures but the even greater variety of ideas that come along with them. What has surprised me most throughout our discussions on the readings is that there are many discrepancies between the cultures’ ideas on friendship but also within each culture. This differences in thought are the product of many interesting and intricate relationships among and between cultures.

One example of these intricate situations that have had an effect on the overall mindset of entire groups is the translation situation that occurred during the time of Saint Augustine that we discussed as a class on February 26th. Today, scholars believe that Saint Augustine did not know of Aristotle’s ideas of friendship because it had been originally translated from Greek into Arabic and therefore the Europeans had to wait for Muslim scholars to deliver the ideas of Aristotle. Many now believe that Saint Augustine, along with Europeans in general, had not yet received this translation and so he only knew about Cicero’s largely negative ideas of friendship. To some, this may just seem like a small detail that is not worthy of much discussion but it could also provide compelling insight into why Christianity, when it was just completely silent about friendship, seemed and often continues to seem unsupportive of it.

One example of Christianity’s lack of encouragement and enthusiasm for friendship is the famous “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” from Matt: 22 in the bible (King James version). The command or goal to “love my neighbor” erases much of what is special about friendship to so many other thinkers and cultures because it argues the importance of blind love. It does not tell us to love those that are kind, or smart, or helpful, but rather your neighbor, which could be anyone. Therefore, Christianity advocates that one’s love should be applicable to all of those around you and friends should not be selected due to some selected form of merit. This lack of appreciation for the specific selected friendship that Christians often possess can also be seen in the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis, arguably one of the single most important texts for Christianity. Some religious philosophers argue that it was because of friendship that Adam and Eve were saved by Satan and so it is believed that friendship in general is problematic and can in fact encourage people to act upon evil thoughts and desires often placed there through observation of our friends wrongdoings.

It is from this situation of Christian mistrust of friendship that Saint Thomas Aquinas comes forward as a figure that can represent some intersections of faiths. Saint Thomas Aquinas saw that both Catholics and Protestants are both fundamentally against friendship, although for different reasons, and therefore began attempting to think of ways to reestablish some respect of friendship in Christianity. He did this by borrowing ideas on friendship and love from the Quran. In general, the Quran has a much higher appreciation for these concepts and they place a higher value on the potential that can come from utilizing them more thoughtfully in our lives. For example, the Quran describes friendship and love as the most important gifts from God that, if God had not specifically chosen to give it to us, we as humans would not be able to naturally access. This is one idea found in the Quran that Aquinas also discussed and is just one example of the overlap that starts to occur between these cultures overtime.

Something that was stood out among many of the readings was the importance of the social interaction component of friendship to overall concepts of well being and religiosity among many of the cultures we discussed. Most notably, Islamic, Jewish, Russian, Confucian and Zoroastrian thinkers talk throughout these readings quite extensively about the social strength provided by friendship and religion to benefit each other. Some stress more that it is the social aspect of religion (such as attending services and participating in group prayer) that assist our friendship skills and therefore our overall quality of life, and others stress more that it is through friendship that we are able to live a more successfully religious life. There are also many thinkers, such as Miskawayh, the Islamic philosopher, that advocates for both by saying that it is only through interaction with other people that we can truly know yourself and become the person you want to be and that you can only successfully know God by knowing yourself.

Oliver Leaman points out that this idea of the importance of friendship in knowing God that Miskawayh discusses is very similar to that thought of Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher, who believes that though friendship “may look as the variety is not only the spice of life, but it is also the essence of faith” (Leaman, 262).

The importance of social interaction both to a person’s well being and their chance of religious salvation is so important to many of the cultures we have read about. In fact, there is even an institution that “ incorporated Zoroastrian, Sufi, and shi’ite rites and lore” about the importance of living a life filled with social bonds between yourself and others that responds to disobedience with “banishment from the institution, severing the bonds that linked the individuals to his peers, superiors, and the quasi-religious network that regulated his life” (260, Choksy). The Zoroastrian culture is just one of many cultures that have recognized the immense importance of social connection to the human soul. In many ways, this act of punishment sounds very similar to that of solitary confinement, an act that is practiced “almost everywhere as punishment,” with 80,000-100,000 individuals being kept in some form of isolation in just the United States (Penal Reform International). This forced breaking of all social interaction is so cruel for us as a species that the Human Rights Watch has described it as an “unnecessary, counter-productive, and devastating” act that “cannot be squared with respect for human rights” (Human Rights Watch).

Overall, there are many differences between the philosophies on friendship between the many cultures we have recently discussed in class but there are also many similarities between them. Although it is still very historically important to discuss the differences, I think, going forward, it will be more important to focus on the similarities not only for the goal of unity between peoples but also for a stronger understanding of a more universal importance of friendship. After all, even if we do not agree on the specific details of why friendship is important, we can still unite in our acknowledgement that it is important. It is only through this acknowledgement that more action will be taken on promoting friendship in our political and social realities.

Word count: 1162


Works Cited

The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Oxford UP, 1998.

Choksy, Jamsheed K., “Friends and Friendships in Iranian Society: Human and Immortal”. 2011. Iranica Antiqua.

Leaman, Oliver, “Secular Friendship and Religious Devotion.” Leaman, Oliver ed. 1996. Friendship East and West: A Philosophical Perspective. Richmond, UK: Curzon Press.

“Solitary Confinement.” Penal Reform International,

“US: Look Critically at Widespread Use of Solitary Confinement.” Human Rights Watch, 1 July 2016,


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