Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Ashley George: Community Through Qur’anic Values

Islam is such a world-changing religion not only because it has over a billion followers, but because it brought immense new concepts of equality and justice to jahiliyya of pre-Islamic Arabia. The concepts of justice, forgiveness and friendship became increasingly vital to Arabian traditions and way of life, which is why Islam became a religion so popular amongst people historically excluded from society like the poor, orphans, women, etc. Prayer, Ramadan, Zakat and Hajj all institute elements of justice, forgiveness and friendship with guidance from the Qur’an.

Almost every pillar of Islam includes some element of togetherness and community amongst the umma. Prayer incentivizes Muslims to pray in groups, as praying with others is thought to increase your blessings and goodness in God’s eyes. Zakat encourages community and togetherness because the whole point is to give to charity, to remind you to think of people other than just yourself and to share. The Qur’an asserts that this charity is not optional, for instance when it says, “Worship none but God; be virtuous towards parents, kinsfolk, orphans, and the indigent; speak to people in a goodly way; and perform the prayer and give the alms.”[1] While justice and equality are mandatory, it is understood that no one is perfect, because if God applied pure and equal justice to all on Judgment Day, not a single living creature would be spared. With this in mind, it is expected that all people will do the best of their ability to cherish their friendships and live as virtuously as possible.

Ramadan, the time of fasting, is a communal time as well, since the end of Ramadan is closed with a large celebration, Eid al-Fitr, where Muslims come together to eat, bond and celebrate the end of the holy month. Time magazine featured a piece on togetherness during Ramadan, and in its description of typical events it includes, “The act of sitting together over a meal or praying shoulder-to-shoulder or exchanging stories in an intimate setting is what breaks the cycle of mistrust and misunderstandings.”[2] This captures the bonding and closeness that develops between people of the community specifically because of this celebration and time of fasting that fosters friendship and togetherness.

The last pillar, Hajj, is probably the most visible example of the institution of community and friendship in Islam. Hajj is once a year, and every Muslim is obligated to make the journey at least once in their lives if they are financially and physically capable of the endeavor. Malcolm X, or as he was known in the few years before his death, “El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz,” recalls his own pilgrimage to Mecca, and the unity he saw there, “true brotherhood existed among all colors, where no one felt segregated, where there was no ‘superiority’ complex, no ‘inferiority’ complex–then voluntarily, naturally, people of the same kind felt drawn together by that which they had in common.”[3] Hajj also encourages justice and forgiveness because before one begins their journey to Mecca, they are supposed to resolve any conflicts that are left without closure, and ask for forgiveness from those they have harmed.[4] Hajj is a journey meant for those wishing to bring peace to the world and others around them, so before they can make this journey official, they must uphold the expectations of justice, forgiveness and friendship in their own life.

The Qur’an too transfers these expectations to friendship as well as forgiveness. The sura al-Zumar says, “…God may absolve them of the worst of that which they have done and render unto them their reward for the best of that which they used to do.”[5] This can be applied to both vertical relationships and horizontal ones as well. While God will weigh your good deeds more greatly than your bad deeds, friends too are expected to recall the fond memories they have with a friend more so than minor arguments or problems they may have had. Love and friendship is a crucial part of the human experience and the loss of this love and friendship is not worth small bad deeds committed by either party.

Professor Jafar Mahallati also highlights instances in the Qur’an in which friendship and forgiveness can be seen as constant virtues, often as honorable traits of biblical role models like Abraham. Mahallati uses the example of Abraham by showing how he says, “Our Lord! Forgive me and my parents, and all the faithful, on the day when the reckoning is held,” because Abraham asks for forgiveness and not just for himself but for his family and friends.[6] Mahallati also invokes the title of Abraham as al-Khalil or “the Friend” of God.[7] In this light, Abraham stands as a beacon of friendship in Islamic philosophy, using a significant biblical figure to represent a core theme of the Qur’an.

The Department of Justice is a secular example of how our society attempts to institutionalize justice. In many ways, this institutionalization of justice ignores other important concepts like friendship and forgiveness. Not every situation or sin is the same, and sometimes good people make mistakes. Traditions of Islam like Hajj, Ramadan, Zakat and others aim to give Muslims a chance to right their inevitable flaws, encouraging people to cherish their friendships, seek forgiveness and redemption and to live generously and virtuously.

[1] Q.2.83

[2] “Ramadan, Day 23: Togetherness”

[3] Haley, 350

[4] Mahallati, 4-17-18

[5] Q.39:35

[6] Q.14:41

[7] “Beyond Cold Peace: A Theory for Applied Friendship in Society and Politics”


Works cited:

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Study Qur’an: A New Translation and Commentary. HarperOne, 2016.

Sultan, Sohaib N. “Ramadan, Day 23: Togetherness.” TIME, July 20, 2014.

Haley, Alex, and Attallah Shabazz. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine Books, 2015.

Mahallati, Jafar. Class lecture. April 17, 2018.

Mahallati, Mohammad Jafar Amir. “Beyond Cold Peace: A Theory for Applied Friendship in Society and Politics.”

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