Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Common Grounds of Friendship

The common conceptual grounds of friendship in the traditional perspectives of Iranian, Christian and Secular traditions is the emphasis on community as well as the concept of friendship as a method of cultivating virtue. Friendship cannot be talked about without community, perhaps that goes without saying, but community is not necessarily friendship but friendships are developed within a community. Miskawayah argues that religious rituals, of which community is required, is not about the individual venture for purification but rather being together, congregating, to connect with each other and pursue a relationship with the divine. As we’ve talked about in class, salvation is not a solo venture.

Nuha Al-Shaar’s Ethics of Islam introduces prominent Islamic philosophers and draws out their views on friendship. Al-Shaar notes that for Ibn ‘Adi, “only love for virtuous people, which is enduring, leads to self-control and thus refinement of the soul and moral qualities, while friendship for pleasure or utility does not.” Aristotle says almost the exact same thing in his discussion of the three types of friendship. Friendships of utility or pleasure are easily dissolved because they are only friends for their similarity or benefit to the individual. But virtue friendships are ones in which friends “wish goods to their friend for the friend’s own sake” because “each of them is both good without qualification and good for his friend.”[1] Additionally, from the view of Miskawayh, friendships that are the most stable are virtuous friendships because virtue does not change.[2] In living the good life and making friends, virtue must be cultivated, but it need not be cultivated alone! For Miskawayh, the essence of religious ritual is friendship; and the goal of ritual is the know God and the virtuous life. In other words, the process is just as important as the product.

From the Christian perspective, friendship is often combined with discussions of love. Friendship is particular and selfish, but God’s love is universal and selfless. In knowing our friends, we know ourselves, and in knowing ourselves better, we can know God. Heyking finds that “Augustine’s friends serve as those luminous irruptions of divine love that point him toward, away from, and again toward God” as displayed in the Confessions.[3]

Friends are a reflection of our self, and in Christianity and Islam, by knowing ourselves through our friends, we can develop a closer relationship with God and a better knowledge of the divine. In the modern day however, our self is not defined by our friends so much as our work and what we “do.” Meilaender notes that the modern world focused increasingly more on work and as a result, friendship has become part of the private sector instead of its central place in politics as it used to be. Modern people are more likely “to identity ourselves with our occupation than our circle of friends.”[4] We do not know ourselves through our jobs and spending more time with our selves, but rather being with our friends.

[1] Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, 1156b

[2] Week 4 Powerpoint

[3] Von Heyking, John and Avramenko, Richard, eds. 2008. Friendship and Politics, Essays in Political Philosophy. Norte Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 122.

[4] Heyking 140

Leave a Reply