Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Friendship, Justice and Forgiveness in the Qur’an

One could look at the Qur’an as a religious text, brimming over with words of God while their neighbor looks at it as a manual on how to develop community, and they would both be correct. In fact, through its divine revelations, the Qur’an gives readers an idea of how to institutionalize a religious moral order in their communities. This morality is based around inextricable three ideas: justice, forgiveness and friendship.

First and foremost, Islam is a religion of mutual obligation. Every prescribed ritual is to be done in groups. All five pillars of the religion are impossible to do alone. Sahada: one cannot profess faith without others to hear it; Salat: one cannot pray alone; Zakat: one cannot perform almsgiving unless there are other people to whom you give; Sawn: it is forbidden to fast alone; and Hajj: one cannot arrive at Mecca without entering into a mass of prayer. These five practices make a Muslim and a Muslim, and they are impossible to do without a community. It is said that there is no ascetic monasticism in Islam because it is impossible to be moral without being in a society. (Class Notes 4/10) In short, one cannot be a believer in Allah without being around other believers: faith is a group activity. The most extreme example of this mentality is found when one looks to eschatology. The biggest differences between the Garden of Paradise and the fires of Hell are the presence- or lack thereof- of friendly companionship. In hellfire, “no intimate friend shall ask about his intimate,” (Q70:10) while in Paradise, there is good company.

The Prophets are role models to all Muslims and the theme of friendship is not lost in their lives. Each prophet has an honorific title, and these names bestowed by God largely refer to friendship and love. Abraham is called al Khalil which means “the friend,” and he got this name since he refused to eat alone, and bestowed all his wealth, body and son upon his people and god, neglecting to keep anything for himself. (Mahallati, 10-11) Expanding on Abraham’s faith in tangent with his moral actions, the Qur’an asks:  

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)

Moving from the first to last prophet, we land on Muhammad. Muhammad put the seal on the Prophetic Line under both the honorific title of hahib, or “the beloved” (Class Notes 4/10) and of sahib, which means “companion of believers” (Mahallati, 12) This name denotes not only his vertical relationship with God, but his horizontal relationships with other Arabs. Muhammad is not only great and worthy of imitation because of his loving relationship with God, but because of his willingness to spread that love to other people. Muhammad showed through his experience that it was possible to love God, and taught that through communal faith others could experience that love, too.

Having spoken of friendship in the context of eschatology and in the lives of the prophets, it is now important to discuss friendship as it has to do with justice. While living the terrestrial life, humans deem it necessary to have a retributive form of justice. This is to say one is justified in exacting revenge on their wrongdoers. The Qur’an dislikes this model. Followers of Islam should ideally see these moments as opportunities to practice forgiveness. Having said that, it is understood that this is not always the case. In these situations, retributive or penal justice must be exacted to show the wrongdoer the problem in their actions. (Sachedina, 112) Although humans are incapable of this forgiveness, God will punish crimes equally, but dole out inflated rewards up to ten times more than the good action. (Class Notes 3/15)

This is the ideal functioning of justice according to the Qur’an, not only on the Divine level but on the human realm as well. If someone is your friend, you should do as God does and forgive their sins and embrace their good. If this divine form of morality permeated the earthly realm there would be no need for punitive justice. One might question why God would not just deal His own  justice, to which the Qur’an responds that if God dealt true justice, there would not be one creature left on earth. (Q 35:45) This shows how inextricable forgiveness is from justice. Forgiveness in dealing justice to this Godly level is impossible for humans. Although able to forgive, there is always an ulterior motive, while God gains absolutely nothing from forgiving and does it out of pure benevolence. (Class Notes 4/10) This dream is not only Islamic, but is found in classic Western philosophy as well. Aristotle would have agreed with this Qur’anic sentiment, saying that “in a society of friends, there is no need for justice but in a society of justice, there is still need for friends.” (Class Notes 4/10)

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