Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Common Friendship Is Simple

RP #2

What elements in ethics of friendship in the Iranian, Christian, Islamic and Secular traditions may establish a linchpin between them? In other words What are the common conceptual grounds of friendship in the above perspectives?

I specifically chose to take this course because often religious differences seem like the great barrier that prevent peace and friendship in the world. Attempting to bridge that gap seems daunting and at times, impossible, but the readings done this week gave me some clarity about where to begin. Understanding what friendship means to people who follow different religious paths may not be the answer to solving these issues. However, it is a great place to start paving the road to mutual understanding and eventually, a friendship.

No matter your faith, friendship is seen generally at a universally high level of importance. We understand that friendship is important because in any religion or secular life you need friendship. As said in class, “salvation is not a solo venture”. Through out many religions friendship seems important because of what it can do for you and growth and development within said religion but also as a human being. This idea becomes clear in both Zoroastrian religion and the later Islam.

In Zoroastrianism, as we discussed in class, holds knowledge above most anything and believe that making friends and keeping friends is one of the key ways to grow mentally. According to the Yazata, “An Iranian who promotes friendship deserves to receive God’s charismatic power” (class slides). Zoroastrians also viewed friendly love as something perhaps more powerful than many other people, they saw it as the foundation for romantic love. In zoroastrian text the idea is put forth that you cannot have true, honest romantic love without a foundation of friendship because “A good woman has good nature and is friends with her husband” (class slides). This sentiment does not align with those explicitly said in other religions, but I think it is important to think about because it shows the emphasis of love put on friendship by Zoroastrians.

In Islam, knowledge and wisdom from friendship is valued at a similar level as in Zoroastrianism. In one of the class slides on friendship in the muslim faith a question was posed that said: “Can we know ourselves without going through the practice of friendship?” (class slides). To this, I would argue no and I think Zoroastrianism and Islam and even secularism support this response. As Miskawayh explains, “through interacting with others we change and create ourselves” (Miskawayh 261).

When we turn over to Christianity, friendship is still the same at its roots, with a few complications. Augustine believed the path to friendship “begins with a perception of ordo, experienced as the trinity of memory, understanding and love in the soul….that then, unrolls in a common life of loving, learning, and recollecting.” (Heyking 132). This means the recognition of the order and the trinity comes first, and the common life benefits of friendship come second according to Augustine’s philosophy. This is a little backwards from the Zoroastrian and Islam approach to friendship where a common life of loving or friendship is practiced first and the trinity comes to those who practice a common life of loving. Even though this is different, the common life of loving is uniform all through out. Everyone is trying to be loved and “friendship is an appropriate human response to cope with our fragility” (Heyking 133).

As I was trying to understand how religions that have tumultuous histories could define this one word in a similar way at its core, I found an article that I think brings this discussion back into the contemporary view, and allows us to check in where were actually at with all of this discussion. There was a study done at University of Wisconsin-Madison by sociology professor Chaeyoon Lim, that found that the reason we feel happy when practicing and choose to continue pursuing faith has more to do with the friendly connections built through faith rather than the actual principles of said faith. After interviewing people across a few different faiths, he found that the percentage of people who had friends within their faith and at their place of worship was higher if you self reported being happier with your life. He commented on his findings that “To me, the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons or praying that makes people happier, but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there” (Park). This study proves to me that if people aren’t reaching out to bridge the friendship gap between religions, they are only hurting themselves. Most religions are based in friendship, unity across multiple could only result in deeper, stronger friendship.

All of this is to say that the way that friendship is initiated in these different religions does not exactly match up but, every single definition of friendship in each religion is based on becoming virtuous and gaining knowledge and happiness. These basic principles cannot be bent even by the strong influence and possible manipulation of different religions for specific religious vendettas. Ultimately, the conceptual grounds of friendship may differ in wording but are all the same. Seeking out differences among definitions of friendship is not the way to build friendship. All that matters is the common ground of love and knowledge and mutual benefit. Although he was speaking in terms of politics, the way Miskawayh puts it as “each of us is necessary to someone else’s perfection” (Miskawayh 177) is the most beautiful sentiment for friendship.

I have adhered to the honor code on this assignment.


Von Heyking, John and Avramenko, Richard, eds. 2008. Friendship and Politics, Essays in Political Philosophy. Norte Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Chosky, Jamsheed K. “Friends and Friendship in Iranian Society: Human and Immortal.” Iranica Antiqua XLVI (2011)

“Religion’s Secret to Happiness: It’s Friends, Not Faith.” Time, Time, 12 Dec. 2010,

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