Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Friendship Across Faith

It is easy to spot the differences between religions. In fact, not only is it easy, but it also often something that people seek out. Humans tend to feel a strong connection to their religion, or secularism, and then try to prove that it is the best. It is harder to find connections when they are not sought out. But when we look at friendship, especially across different faiths and cultures, we can find that we are less different than we might believe.

One of the most universal understandings about friendship is simply that it is important. It is seen as having the ability to give humans higher understanding and knowledge. For those who are religious, this means a higher understanding of God; for those who are not religious, this means a higher understanding of their society and of themselves.

Friendship, then, brings knowledge. This is clearly laid out in Islam. It is stated that truth can be revealed through close friendship with others. The Sahih Muslim teaches that “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”1 True belief and faith in god comes from close relations with one’s earthly friends. Miskawayh, also, teaches that through friendship one begins to know themselves. Drawing on Buberian thought, one can then make the conclusion that by knowing ourselves, we can know more about God.

In Zoroastrianism, knowledge and wisdom are essential to life, and “nothing can be considered knowledge except that which produces love.”2 The love that is found in authentic friendship brings about this knowledge, then. Zoroastrianism also links truthfulness and friendship by using the same word for both: sadir. This shows the deep connection that wisdom and understanding have with friendship. Islam and Zoroastrianism teach that by expanding one’s world to include the lives of others, one gains a deeper vision of God.

Things seem to get more complicated with Christianity, because the Bible teaches that universal love is more valuable and important than preferential love; to have friends is to prefer some people over others. Charity is very important within the Christian faith, meaning that agape, which is an unreciprocated, asymmetrical type of friendship, is seen as greater than philia, which is a reciprocated and symmetrical type of friendship. Yet, as Heyking points out in his essay, The Luminous Path of Friendship, Christianity actually does share the same confidence in authentic friendship that Islam, Zoroastrianism, and Secularism all have. “The Confessions,” Heyking writes, “provides a reflection about providence and displays how Augustine’s friends serve as those luminous irruptions of divine love that point him toward, away from, and again toward God.”3  Heyking points out that Augustine names his friends in Book 5 because they have brought him closer to God. In this instance, Christianity teaches that “friendship is a ‘school’ for virtue, a spiritual exercise to learn the love that is open to loving all neighbors. Preferential love is thus luminous and open to all love.”4

Secularism, as well, values friendship as a source of knowledge. Heyking states that Augustine’s “insight that friendship arrives ‘by the lot’ is accessible both to the Christian with faith and the non-Christian, because both are equally open to that human truth that friendship is a gift and sparks meaningful direction to our lives.”5 Stephen Salkever sums up the basis of secular views on the importance of friendship: that life-long self-reflection and critique requires philia. Through friendship we are able to see ourselves and learn.

As I was doing additional research for this reading response, I came upon an article on the website of the University of Cambridge titled “New Models for Religion in Public: Inter-Faith Friendship and the Politics of Scriptural Reasoning” in which Dr. Jeffrey W. Bailey explains Scriptural Reasoning, which is a group gathering of members of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths to discuss the Abrahamic teachings and texts. It is an attempt to bridge the gap between the three religions in a space specifically founded on a policy of mutual respect and, of course, friendship. Bailey addresses the issue of friendship within the religions in his article, saying that “‘In fact, we found that the more we studied scripture with those outside of our faith houses, the friendships we developed opened us not only to deeper lessons from our scriptures, but also to deeper friendship with God.’ Hardy concurs. ‘This is one of the most important things to understand about Scriptural Reasoning,’ he says. ‘Mutual hospitality is more than learning to argue in courtesy and truth, although that’s part of it.’”6 This is a real-life example of how friendship, particularly friendship across multiple faiths, fostered newfound knowledge about God. Through their conversations and their friendship, these people felt closer to God. Through Scriptural Reasoning, they discovered that there was something very simple yet also very profound that was reflected in all three religions: the idea that God has “an ultimate purpose of peace among all.” Ultimately, the goal of all religions is to establish a strong relationship with and understanding of God, who brings peace to earth. The goal of secular life, as well, is to develop knowledge of oneself and the world. And religion and secularism preach that this is possible through the power of friendship.

1. Hadith 13, Sahih Muslim
2. Class slides
3. “The Luminous Path of Friendship”, Friendship and Politics, John von Heyking, p. 122
4. “The Luminous Path of Friendship”, Friendship and Politics, John von Heyking, p. 121
5. “The Luminous Path of Friendship”, Friendship and Politics, John von Heyking, p. 124
6. “New Models for Religion in Public: Inter-Faith Friendship and the Politics of Scriptural Reasoning”, Jeffrey W. Bailey, https://w


“New Models for Religion in Public: Inter-Faith Friendship and the Politics of Scriptural Reasoning.” The Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme, 25 Nov. 2014,

Schindler, Jeanne Heffernan. “A Companionship of Caritas: Friendship in St. Thomas Aquinas.” Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought, 2008.

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

I affirm that I have adhered to the Honor Code on this assignment.

Leave a Reply