Imam Ahmad az-Zarruq (q.s.): Our Companions in Spiritual Journeys Matter

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

On companionship, Imam Ahmad az-Zarruq (q.s.) said, “There are a number of prescriptions for the wayfarer that will help him or her on the journey towards the Higher.  The most important is the companionship of like-minded people and singing the praise of the Creator.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) said, ‘To sit with the righteous is better than sitting alone.  Sitting alone is better than sitting with evil men.  The good companion is like a perfume seller, even if you do not have some of his perfume you smell of it, while the bad companion is like a blacksmith, even if his fire does not touch you, some of his stinking smell will attach to you.’

According to this tradition, companionship, swuhbah, is necessary for the beginner in order to take good example from those who have preceded on the Path, and to encourage us whilst on the Path with the feeling that there is someone who shares our aspirations and interests.  Without a companion the traveller is liable to miss the way or feel depressed and thus likely to be led astray.  So, we must be selective of our companions and know where they will lead us.  According to Imam Sahl at-Tustari, we must avoid three types of people: heedless tyrants, fawning jurists and ignorant Sufis.

The first are so proud of themselves that they consider all other men below their standard.  The second are hypercritical and cruel with regard to others’ mistakes, paying no attention to their own.  The third claim what they have not, in their eagerness to elevate themselves in the eyes of others, without any right, being fond of exhibiting themselves.  All these are the qualities of bad companions who must be shunned at all costs.

To select a companion, it is essential to choose three types of people, or all of them if possible; one for the Hereafter, and this person must be pious, religious and acquainted with the faith.  One for this world, and they must be of good manners.  And one to be taken as a friend whose big advantage is to be safe from his bad behaviour.  The gain, all the gain, is in finding the good companion and realising where to go with him, as Imam Abu Hasan ash-Shadzili said, ‘My Beloved bade me and said, ‘Do not move your feet except in the direction where you expect Allah’s Reward.  Do not sit except where you are safe from disobedience.  Do not associate except with him who aids you in obeying Allah.  Do not incline towards any except with him who affirms your certitude.’

In addition to these kinds of men the traveller has to avoid any sort of association with the immature since this is dangerous both to their reputation and manners.  This is applicable not only to the young, but also to every immature person whether in mind or spirit, even if they are seventy years old.  The definition of the immature is he who does not agree with you in the Path that you have chosen, as Allah (s.w.t.) Said to Moses, ‘Pay attention and select your companions.  Any who does not agree with you to please Me is your enemy, since he hardens your heart and separates you from Me.’

The companion, in fact, is a part of man like a patch on a garment.  Just as it would be odd if the patch was not the same colour as the material of the garment, so it is to accompany those who are not our type in mind and conduct.”


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