“0h you who believe, Become God-conscious and be with those that are the Sadiqin (those truthful ones).” [9:119]
Spending time in the company of the pious people of Allah- those that are on the Straight path- plays a vital role in the spiritual development of any individual. Islam has placed great emphasis such companionship. If we look at the Arabs prior to the advent of Islam, and what they became afterwards, the main factor that transformed them was that they spent time in the companionship of Allah's blessed Messenger Muhammad (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him).
Allah speaks about His blessed Prophet Muhammad (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him) as follows: "It is He who sent among the unlettered people a Messenger from among themselves, who recites to them his signs and purifies them and bestows them the knowledge of the book of Wisdom, although they had been necessarily in Manifest error before that!" [62:2]
Allah's blessed Messenger (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him) was the one that took these people out of the ignorance (Jahiliyyah) that they were drenched in, and made them into stars of guidance. The Prophet (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him) says in a hadith: “My companions are like stars: whichever one of them you follow, you will be rightly guided."
It was none other than the blessed company and madrasah of the Prophet (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him) himself that made them into stars. So spiritual companionship is not a concept
initiated by the Awliya-Allah [Friends of Allah] but is inherited directly from the Prophets of Allah.
Companionship plays a very important role in the life of a Muslim.
Allah's Messenger (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him) says: "Man is on the Religion of his friends, so let each of you look at who he chooses to befriend!”
In Arabian literature it is stated that you can tell the character of a person by looking at the company he keeps. A poet aptly says: "If you are accompanying a group of people, then choose the best from amongst them to keep company with. Do not accompany the dirt of their society or you may be mistaken for dirt. For when people look, they do not look at individuals, but they look at those he accompanies. For every person follows the group he accompanies."
Every person has physical and spiritual ailments that surface from time to time. The physical ailments are relatively simple to see. The spiritual ailments like hypocrisy, pride, envy, jealousy and selfishness are the ones that are difficult to notice. No man can see his own faults, not because he does not want to, but because he does not examine himself deeply enough. Allah speaks about this category of people in the Holy Quran:, "Say Muhammad : Shall we inform them of the one whose actions are the worst, those whose struggles were lost in the life of the world, while they thought they were doing wonderful deeds!' [18:103-104]
That is why we as Muslims are encouraged to seek good, pious company who will examine and correct us when we err. Allah's Messenger (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him) says, "The Believer is a mirror of another believer.” [Abu Dawud]
The word “mirror” chosen by the blessed Prophet can be taken in its literal sense, or we can look for deeper meanings. We know that mirrors come in all sizes and shapes, some are clear and reflect a true image, whilst other provide a distorted one; some make things look bigger while others make things seem smaller. Companionship is similar to a mirror: some never let you see your true self and encourage you in your evil and wicked ways. Others may belittle you, while others again may give you undeserved praise. A true friend is he who shows you who you really are and guides you to the straight path- such are the Awliya.
Allah's Messenger (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him) has said: "Indeed the difference between two gatherings! The [difference between] a gathering that encourages piety and good, and one that promotes wickedness is like [the difference between] one who works with musk and one who works with burning coal. The bearer of the perfume might just give you the perfume or sell it to you, or at the least you will get to enjoy that sweet scent from him. The one working with coal will either burn your clothing, or leave you with an ugly stench!" Similarly, if you stay in the company of the Awliya then you may be given guidance, or shown where to attain guidance. At the very least you will be able to leave them knowing that you have enjoyed their company and thus earned reward from Allah.
Sayyidina Umar Ibn Khattab (RA), the second Caliph of Islam, relates that he heard Allah's Messenger, the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him, saying, "Indeed from the servants of Allah, there is a group that are neither Prophets nor Martyrs, but even the Prophets and the Martyrs are envious of them, their position on the day of Qiyamah and their nearness to Allah. The Companions asked: Who are they, Messenger of Allah? He replied: “They are a group of servants that loved Allah, without any benefit [that they wished for thereby] nor for any wealth they could attain because of it. I swear by Allah that indeed their faces are filled with Nur, and indeed everything about them is Nur. They do not fear when people fear, nor do they grieve when people grieve. The Messenger of Allah (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him) then recited the verse, "Beware, indeed the Awliya-Allah do not fear, nor do they grieve!” [Abu Dawud].
So it is this blessed category of Awliya-Allah that Allah's Messenger himself has praised, and it is this category of Awliya that are the Inheritors of Muhammad (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him), and his blessed companions. The blessed Messenger of Allah (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him) has also made reference to this group in another hadith where it is said: "There will always be a group of my Ummah on the path of Haqq and truth. They cannot be harmed by anybody and they will remain on this path until the Day of Qiyamah.” [Sahih Muslim].
We as individual are always in need of those that can guide us. The sahaba spent their time with Muhammad (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him) and he guided them in every aspect of their life. Thus it is following the Sunnah of the Companions to sit with those can guide us and show us the truth. The Awliya are those that have been chosen by Allah to guide us, and show us the way to Him.
Spiritual guidance is not something that evaporates in time. The spiritual guidance the Sahaba received, even for a short duration, was sufficient to carry them through their entire lives. Similarly, we continue to reap the spiritual benefits from the friends of Allah even after they have passed on. It is stated in Shawahidul Haqq that when a wali of Allah passes on, then his attention is even more focused on his murids and those that need spiritual guidance. When he was in the physical realm he had to complete his obligations to Allah, as well as further his spiritual enlightenment. But after he has passed on there remains no obligation to Allah nor is there the need to further his own spiritual development and thus his complete focus is turned to those that he can assist and guide and who need his attention.
The Friends of Allah achieved their great status, not just because Allah chose them, but also because of the manner they strived in Allah's path. They followed strict codes and practices and imbued themselves with the Sunnah of Muhammad (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him). It is stated by Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi R.A in his Mathnavi that a piece of iron does not become a sword until it is sent to a blacksmith, beaten and put through fire. Similarly a Friend of Allah does not become a Wali until he strives and has been guided by another friend of Allah.
In conclusion, Allah’s beloved Messenger Muhammad (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him) says, "Fear the foresight of a Believer, for indeed when he looks, he sees with the Nur of Allah." These Awliya-Allah do not look at our physical appearances but they look at our hearts. They change our hearts and fill it with the love of Allah and His beloved Messenger (the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him). May Allah guide us to benefit from this group of deeply spiritual personalities and allow us to follow their great examples. Amin.
Moulana Goolam Muhammad Soofie, Soofie Darbaar, Riverside, Durban