One’s etiquette in social situations is the key foundation to having strong relationships with others. This article is the sixth in a series taken from the On Demand Course: Discussion on Sulami’s Adab of Keeping Company.
إِنَّمَا ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ إِخۡوَة
“Believers are plainly but each other’s own brothers.” [Quran, 49:10; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld 49:10]
Brethren are people who are connected. If you look at the description of the companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) you find that they were close to one another. Caring for one another. They preferred each other to themselves.
Honor Your Brothers and Sisters
Honor them as befits them. There are different categories of people. Respect due to each. One of the great early Muslims, Imam Abdullah Ibn al-Mubarak said, “Whoever disrespects the scholars loses their hereafter and whoever disrespects the leaders, they lose out on their worldly life and whoever disrespects their brethren loses their dignity.”
People need respect. Allah has created them with respect.
وَلَقَدۡ كَرَّمۡنَا بَنِیۤ ءَادَمَ
“Verily We have loftily honored the offspring of Adam.” [Quran, 17:70; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]
Each has respect and an honor that is due to them.
Notice the Good
Firstly, do not look at people critically. Rather, notice their good qualities. Secondly, be expressive of your honoring them. Many traditional societies (even now) will be very expressive of their respect. One way of honoring someone is to ask questions about the things they care about.
Another way of respecting them is to use titles. It is one of the sunnas to refer to people by a kunya, i.e., calling someone Abu Umar or Umm Fatima.
Use terms of endearment with them such as saying, “My brother.” Notice good things such as if someone is wearing a new pair of shoes.One of the things you see in the sunna is that part of honoring them is to be expressive of honoring them.
Respect and honor breed trust in that relationship.
True Friendship is Rare
It is one of the great gifts of Allah. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) reportedly said, “The group is mercy, and being alone is torment.” Your companions are on the journey of the hereafter with you. You have to be careful about these relationships.
You should hold yourself to be a true friend. Demand excellence from yourself. Do not expect excellence from others. Do not have the attitude that, “They do not contact me.” You should be the one reaching out to others. God-willing, you have the reward of that.
If you need to reach out to someone and you think, “Well, they do not reach out to me,” that is a misgiving from the devil. The sunna is that you should be the first one to reach out, the first one to greet.
Stay Away from Arrogance
If you speak in a condescending tone it puts people off. This arises from thinking one is better than the other. Sometimes a person may believe he is better than the other. This is the worst. At times, unconsciously, a person may feel as though he is better than the other.
When some of the tribes used to come to Medina (and they didn’t have the sophistication necessarily of some of the other people) they could not tell who the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was in the gathering. When he sat with his companions, he used to sit with them.
It was only when the companions insisted that he agreed for them to build him a mound so that when he sat with them, he could be slightly higher so that those who were at the back of the gathering could see him. However, they had to insist and because there was an interest in it, he agreed to it.
Virtue is to have humility with people. Be of service.
There is a danger of making our relationships transactional. That is a very materialistic way of looking at things. Rather, we view things from the perspective of faith, which entails, “She is my sister,” “he is my brother,” “he is my friend,” “they have rights over me,” and “I seek the pleasure of Allah by striving to stay in touch with them.”
Having a sense of loyalty is from faith. You may have a circle of friends at present so you stay in touch with them. You may meet them on the weekends or a monthly basis. you But what about the old friends? The overseas one, or the one you do not see as much?
Have a plan to stay in touch with them. There are three levels of friendship and there are three levels of family. You have immediate family, then you have close family, and then you have wider family.
Levels of Closeness
Immediate family would include parents and siblings. Close family includes uncles, aunts, etc. (depending on people’s circumstances”. Then there is a wider family.
You should have some level of plan to be in touch with each of these circles. Make a periodic habit of reaching out to them. Send a text message or call them once in a while. This is especially the case for older people. They could be quite lonely.
Likewise with friends. You may have close friends whom you are actively in touch with. You may also have others that have been in your circle of friends. Either you are in touch with them once in a while, or you used to be close with them. Maintain some level of ties with them.
For the Sake of Allah
Others were never close friends, yet you have had ties with them. Periodically send them messages. People get very happy with that. One of the great early Imams reportedly remarked, ‘The key to this is to be giving to others and do not expect to be given to. Be fair to others, but do not demand fairness from them.” Do this for Allah.
You are not giving them out of this sense of reciprocity. Give for the sake of Allah. Be fair for the sake of Allah. Consider anything (even if little) from them to be great. Consider anything from you (even if great) to be small. They deserved better.
Be proactive in visiting people. You should be the one visiting others. right? If you go to an area, arrange to drop by a few people. You can keep it brief. It is an innovation to think that visiting someone is a burden on them, Thinking that if you visit someone, you have to take something is an innovation, a social innovation. it is disliked.
They say, if you feel you have to take something when you visit somebody, it is better not to take something. Allah tells the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) to say:
وَمَاۤ أَنَا۠ مِنَ ٱلۡمُتَكَلِّفِینَ
“Nor am I remotely of those who pretend.” [Quran, 38:86; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]
Have concern. If you are going to a certain place, are there people that you know of family? You may not necessarily have dinner with them but just meet up for tea. A quick visit. Old friendships should not be lost.
With older relatives, one may be afraid of getting told off, “Now you are contacting me after several months, where were you?” They may feel put off from calling. There are some things you just have to accept for the sake of Allah. As our parents get older, they will get annoyed and they will be annoyed with you. That is a given.
Likewise, when people get older, they tend to get more cantankerous. You are not going for the approval. You are going for the sake of Allah. It may require a little bit of patience. To live is to be hurt.
Some relationships can be rebuilt gradually. This does require reflecting and considering having a plan.