Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Friendship and Forgiveness in the Qur’an

Clio Schwartz

RELG 272 Intro to the Qur’an

Professor M. Jafar Mahallati



Friendship takes several forms in the Qur’an, two of which are between humans and between the individual and God. Friendship is held in high regard and is seen as a virtuous endeavor. The Sufi poet Rumi ruminates upon this in the following poem.

“At every instant and from every side, resounds the call of Love:

We are going to sky, who wants to come with us?

We have gone to heaven, we have been the friends of the angels,

And now we will go back there, for there is our country.

We are higher than heaven, more noble than the angels:

Why not go beyond them? Our goal is the Supreme Majesty.

What has the fine pearl to do with the world of dust?

Why have you come down here? Take your baggage back. What is this place?

Luck is with us, to us is the sacrifice!…

Like the birds of the sea, men come from the ocean–the ocean of the soul.

Like the birds of the sea, men come from the ocean–the ocean of the soul.

How could this bird, born from that sea, make his dwelling here?

No, we are the pearls from the bosom of the sea, it is there that we dwell:

Otherwise how could the wave succeed to the wave that comes from the soul?

The wave named ‘Am I not your Lord’ has come, it has broken the vessel of the body;

And when the vessel is broken, the vision comes back, and the union with Him.”

Rumi mentions friendship explicitly in line three. This is a reference to divine friendship: “we have been the friends of the angels.” However, other lines in the poem reference friendship implicitly. The use of the plural first person implies the presence of several people embarking on this journey together, as friends would. “Luck is with us, to us is the sacrifice!…” Rumi also references friendship between God and humans in the last two lines: “The wave named ‘Am I not your Lord’ has come, it has broken the vessel of the body;/And when the vessel is broken, the vision comes back, and the union with Him.” The aforementioned union could be interpreted as a reference to the friendship with God each individual human is exhorted to nurture. Rumi’s poem is a reflection of the esteemed position friendship holds within Islam and Islamic communities.

One of the most prominent examples of friendship in the Qur’an and in Islam is the names given to the prophets. Abraham, who is referred to in the Qur’an as the first Muslim, is also called “al-Khalil,” or the friend of God. Abraham was the first to establish a covenant with God and so this title is significant in that friendship is clearly important enough to merit the distinction. “And who is better in religion than one who submits himself to Allah while being a doer of good and follows the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth? And Allah took Abraham as an intimate friend.” (Q 4:125) The Qur’an depicts Abraham’s relationship with God as cherished and mutual as that of an intimate friendship. This reflects upon friendship as a highly esteemed relation in the context of Islam as a whole.

Forgiveness and its role in the exacting of justice are also nothing less than integral to the Qur’an’s descriptions of ideal human behavior and community. Abraham, al-Khalil, asks God to forgive humanity in this excerpt. “My Lord! Indeed they have misled many people. So whoever follows me indeed belongs to me, and as for someone who disobeys me, well, You are indeed All-Forgiving, All-Merciful.” (Q 14:36) In the relationship between the divine and humans, forgiveness is a essential attribute. In many ways, the friendship between God and humanity is one to be emulated between humans. Thus, forgiveness is as integral to individual friendships as to individual relationships with God. Forgiveness also plays a role in the ideals of faith set forth by the Qur’an. One of the five pillars of Islam is hajj, which is to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, the religious center of Islam. The entire practice of hajj encourages believers to ask both forgiveness from the divine and from other humans. It also creates a bond of friendship between pilgrims, who may come from every social class and every nation in the world.

Friendship and forgiveness are invaluable aspects of Islam and Islamic communities. The Qur’an makes this very clear in how frequently and explicitly these two values are referenced. The relationship between humans and God is established as mutually loving and forgiving, as that of a friendship. And the ideal relationship between humans and God is a template for human friendships, encouraging forgiveness and compassion amongst all humanity.

Works Cited

  1. Rumi, “At every instant…”
  2. Mahallati, M. Jafar, “Beyond Cold Peace.”
  3. Qur’anic verses

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