Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Connecting Culture’s Considerations of Friendship

There can be found similarities in considerations that Confucian, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Roman, Christian and Muslim cultures address when they discuss the role of friendship. I will discuss how each of the cultures ties in the considerations of love, trust, order, justice and virtue into their analysis of friendship. While each culture may have different outcomes from this analysis it is undeniable that they all recognize the essential implications friendship have on a society through these considerations.

The ultimate one being that friendship is a sign of virtue. The type of virtue in this sense varies between cultures as sometimes friendship is seen as a means to an ends and at others an ends to a means. For Zoroastrian’s that value knowledge and wisdom above all else, friendship was seen as a means of attaining these traits. Similarly, Confusion thought viewed friendship as a means to practice our roles which in itself is virtuous. For Romans, particularly Cicero, friendship was a result of striving together for virtue. Christian thought on friendship spilt between being seen as harmful to virtues (Saint Augustine) or as an act of charity towards which one experiences a ‘gift from God’[i].  In Islam Miskawayh views friendship as the ‘most stable friendships is virtuous friendship because virtue does not change.’[ii] Regardless of the differences in cultures perceived role in friendships it is apparent that there is a moral power found within friendships identified and interpreted by each culture in their own way.

Confucian thought does not prioritize friendship as an ends to a means. Inhabiting an in-between space of society and family, friendship is described as having ‘mediating roles, meaning that they serve as a bridge between the role- relations found in the family and more public roles founds within broader society .’[iii] While it is viewed as necessary, like all the cultures but Christianity, it is not central to the morality of Confucian ethics. Here friendship, like all of Confucian ethics, is highly structures and role-driven. In valuing being dependent and dependable there is a virtue of trust inherent in Confucian thought that cuts across all perspectives mentioned. Confucian phrase the essential role of friendships being ‘faithfulness’ which can be seen as a type of trust, one that is in a persons support. Muslim culture seems to view friendship as more of an essential virtue than other cultures. through Oliver Leaman’s explanation of ‘paradigm of disinterestedness’[iv] Islam views friendship as a ends to a means. Truthfulness is seen as a central virtue within friendship. This highlights the centrality in Islam for friendship as without friendship there would be no truthfulness and thus no trust.

This lack of trust that is inherent in friendships would lead to no order and thus no good ruling. Each culture seems to also back up the assertion that without friendship there would be no order. Each culture has its own way of defining which ruling structure best maximizes friendship, but each perceives maximizing friendship as essential to order. In Islam political leader’s role is to maintain institutions of friendship. St. Aquinas asserted the kingship model of flock and herder as the best in which the ruler(herder) is the best friend or benefactor to their subjects(flock). However, Confucians assert that through the mutual dependence of the 5-cardinal role-relations, one of which being friendship, the ruling order can maintain justice and order.

Justice throughout these religions seems inherent and in fact unnecessary when friendship is involved. Many cultures see friendship as transcending justice as the friendship itself governs behaviors between friends to be just and right. Indeed, for St. Aquinas the degree to which there is friendship equates to the degree in which there is justice. Nasir ad-Din Tusi a Muslim scholar calls friendship as transcending law and justice as both are artificial unions while love is a natural union[v]. Again Confucian thought places justice to be the role of ruler/ministers, yet as we know the interdependence of all five role-relations friendship is still essential to ensuring this.

All of these cultures also identify a sense of love within friendships. Whether it is St. Augustine arguing for self-love to be replaced with self-renunciation or Cicero arguing for friendship being a manifestation of self-love; there is a relationship between love and friendship addressed by all these cultures. In the Koran there is the assertion that ‘…those who believe and perform righteous deeds, for them shall the Compassionate ordain love.’[vi] Which can be interpreted as friendship being the highest form of love.  It is as if when talking about relationship of friendship between people one cannot help but factor in love and its role towards virtue. It seems to only be St. Augustine who declares that for the love of God one must avoid friendship (however St. Aquinas in a way says that out of love and appreciation for God’s grace one should have friends).  However, the ideal place to center love is always the focus point around which the importance of friendships is negotiated.

Comprehensively there seem to be more variances between these cultures view on religion than there are similarities. Yet there are core strands that all of these cultures consider as they relate their view of friendship.  Love, trust, order, justice and virtue cut cross all of these cultures considerations of friendship. It is clear that each culture recognizes the essential role friendships play in the world. What that role is may vary, but the impact of friendship is clearly undeniable as exemplified by the thorough analysis of friendship by past thinkers from these various cultures.


[i] Mahallati, Jafar “Friendship in Christianity” Lecture.

[ii] Leaman, Oliver. “Friendship in Aristotle, Miskawayh and al-Ghazali.” In Friendship East and West, pp. 174-201. Routledge, 2014. [ii]pg 251

[iii]Cottine, Cheryl “That’s What Friends Are For: A Confucian Perspective on the Moral Significance of Friendship,” Unpublished. Pg _____

[iv] Leaman, Oliver. “Secular friendship and religious devotion.” In Friendship East and West, pp. 261-272. Routledge, 2014.

[v] Mahallati, Jafar “Friendship in Islam” Lecture.

[vi] Maryam, Koran 19:96



“Friendship:Perspectives from Religion, Politics, Economics and Arts” Lectures , Jafar Mahallati

“That’s What Friends Are For: A Confucian Perspective on the Moral Significance of Friendship,” Cheryl Cottine

“Friendship in Indian Philosophy,” Indira Mahalingam, in Friendship East and West

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

“Cicero’s Stoic Friend as Resolution to the Paradoxes of Platonic Love: The Amicitia alongside the Symposium,” Robin Weiss, in Ancient and Medieval Concepts of Friendship.

“Adiutrix Virtutum?: Augustine on Friendship and Virtue,” Tamer Nawar, in Ancient and Medieval Concepts of Friendship.

“Thomas Aquinas: Charity as Friendship,” Fergus Kerr, OP, in Ancient and Medieval Concepts of Friendship.

“Friendship in Aristotle, Miskawayh and al-Ghazali,” Lenn Goodman, in Friendship East and West

“Secular Friendship and Religious Devotion,” Oliver Leaman, in Friendship East and West

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