The Manners of Companionship for Disciples in Sufism
It is well known that a man is known by the company he keeps. Companionship is the strongest and most powerful thing that affects human nature. Sometimes it is so powerful that it changes nature. The person adopts the companionship according to his desire. This companionship further enhances the abilities required to fulfil that particular desire.
For example, if a physician associates with other physicians, his knowledge and experience of medicine will increase. He will be at peace with people like himself. The same applies to other aspects of life. It is up to the individual’s will and authority to choose the good or bad, beneficial or harmful companionship.
No one can compel to make any special companionship. The admonition to make good companionship through advice is also found in the Quran and the hadiths. Moreover, the sayings of the Sufi saints and even wise people in everyday conversation stress on good companionship. The elders always advise to adopt good companionship. Their advice is not meaningless.
The person working in the coal mine will be black even if he does not want to. Similarly, the fragrance will become part of the person in the perfume shop even if he does not use perfume.
In Quran, Allah commands all Muslims to adopt the company of the righteous.
کُونُوْا مَعَ الصّٰـدِقِیْن
Meaning: Adopt the (company) of those who uphold truth. (at-Tawbah: 119)
Hadith of the Holy Prophet
Undoubtedly, the companionship of the righteous will create honesty in a Muslim. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) said, “Adopt the company of a friend who reminds you of Allah.”
He further said: “Everyone follows the religion of his friend, so each of you should think about who he is befriending.”
“Malik bin Dinar advised his son-in-law Mogheera: “O Mogheera! Avoid the company of your brother and friend from whom you have no good advantage in your religion so that you are at peace.”
Therefore, the good is in company of people who are beneficial to his faith in this world and hereafter.
“The sweetness (enlightenment) of faith from your heart will be eliminated for forty days by having a sight at the face of a transgressor,” said the Holy Prophet (pbuh). A sight here means the gaze of friendship and love. Hence, it became clear that even for a moment the companionship of transgressor is harmful.
Faqr is a pure and holy path of gnosis of Allah. The importance of companionship in the Faqr is many times more than other common matters.
The companionship of good people helps a man to progress in Faqr. Good people here refers to those who have gained Ma’rifa (gnosis) of Allah or at least are seekers of Allah. The fellowship of the wicked, transgressor and the worldly people diverts the attention of the seeker from Allah to the world. This is a deadly poison especially for the true seeker because illusions of this world could attract him.
Importance of Good Company for Beginners on the Path of Faqr
A newbie in Faqr should take good care of his company until he becomes perfect. He must avoid and take no interest in frivolous gatherings. For example, gatherings of people with full of greed for money and lust, and who make women the subject of conversation, etc. If he finds courage and wisdom in himself, he must advise and stop them from such undesirable acts. Otherwise the attitude of greeting the ignorant from afar is the best.
Once the Prophet (pbuh) was passing by a gathering of laughter. The Prophet (pbuh) said to the people, “If you come to know what I know very well, you will laugh less and cry more.”
The seeker of Allah will loss all the gained blessings from the company of perfect spiritual guide if he does not avoid the gatherings of the worldly people and is not yet perfect in the gnosis of Allah. If he continues like this, he will progress very slowly in Faqr. He will reach perfection in Faqr when he avoids these useless companies and joins the company of perfect spiritual guide. He will be completely deprived of worldly people and their useless conversation at this stage. Hence, the company of worldly people will not affect him.
Faqr is like Scent
Faqr is a scent, a Divine light. The seeker who stays in the company of this scent and Divine light, will be as fragrant and luminous. He will also be able to convey this fragrance and Divine light to others. Like, sandal wood also makes other ordinary wood fragrant. The perfect Sufi saint is also like the sandal wood. A person who stays in the company of perfect Sufi saint gains the Divine scent. The perfect spiritual guide is also like the philosopher’s stone, whoever stays in his company becomes gold. Hence the companionship of the Sufi saints is a blessing of Allah Almighty which is itself beatitude to adopt.
Allah, through His Beloved Prophet, has commanded the entire Ummah to join the company of Sufi saints.
اَلَّذِیْنَ یَدْعُوْنَ رَبَّھُمْ بِالْغَدٰوۃِ وَالْعَشِیِّ یُرِیْدُوْنَ وَجْھَہٗ
Meaning: “And do not turn away these (run-down and broken-hearted) people (from your company and close circle) who call upon their Lord persistently, seeking only His pleasure morning and evening. Al-An‘ām 
And forbade the company of those who are heedless of remembrance of Allah.
فَاَعْرِضْ عَنْ مَّنْ تَوَلّٰی ۵لا عَنْ ذِکْرِنَا وَلَمْ یُرِدْ اِلَّا الْحَیٰوۃَ الدُّنْیَا
Meaning: “So divert your attention from him who turns away from Our remembrance and desires nothing but the life of this world.” Al-Najm 
Imam Ghazali says:
Hence, the same rule applies to all seekers of Allah. Imam Ghazali says, “You should know the purpose of companionship. If only love and affection is your goal, then seek good morals. Seek knowledge and deeds, if religion is your goal. And if the world is your goal, then seek generosity and courtesy. Hence, everything is conditional. O dear! Know that there are three kinds of people. Some people are like food without which man has no choice. There are some like medicine that is sometimes needed. Some people are like disease that they are never needed but if people suffer, they should try to get rid of. With that in mind, you should keep company of a person that you both gain religious benefits from each other. (Keemya e Sa’adat)
Allah says in Hadith e Qudsi:
اَلْمُؤْمِنُ مِرْاٰۃُ الْمُؤْمِنِ
Meaning: A believer is a mirror (reflection) of another believer.
No transgressor, immoral or worldly person can be a reflection of a believer. If a believer wants to see and transform his true nature, he must be accompanied by believers whose transparent inner self will be like a mirror for him. In this way, all his strengths and weaknesses will be clear to him. The high spiritual ranks, experiences and knowledge of the believers will create interest and help him progress further. If he ever regresses from his spiritual rank, his brothers will make him aware of his weaknesses. This will also help him overcome them. In the same way, when a brother is going through a test, this becomes an experience for everyone. It also guides others to adopt specific strategy in similar situation.
Company of Righteous is a source of spiritual elevation
The conversation of Divine knowledge of Ma’rifa is always under discussion in the company of believers. Their companionship always leads to an increase in Divine knowledge for everyone. If one learns something new about the divine knowledge of Allah Almighty, he passes it onto others. In this way everyone becomes a benefactor of each other. Only through conversation and discussion without reading books, Maximum knowledge can be gained. Therefore, the companionship of the believers is a source of immense and innumerable blessings for the progress of faith.
Once a man was circumambulating the Kaaba and praying like this,
اللھم اصلح اخوانی
Meaning: “O Allah! Reform my brothers.” People asked him the reason of not praying for himself at this holy place. He replied, “I have some brothers to whom I will return. If they are right, I will be right with them. This is why I pray for my brothers as my improvement depends on their company.”
Ali ibn Uthman al-Hujwiri says:
The innerself finds solace in the habits of its friends. A man adopts the habits and actions of the group among which he lives. Because all matters and intentions which are true and false are the affairs of others. It depends on one’s intentions, and they in turn depend on intentions of others.
The companionship of others has a great effect, and in this way habits prevail. That’s why the parrot begins to speak at the instruction of man. The horse also gets out of the habit of animals through exercise and practice and adopts the habit of man. In the same way, there is the effect of companionship in all things that it changes the entire personality.
The sheikhs and Sufi saints always ask for the good companionship first. They also encourage their disciples to do so until the companionship of the righteous people has become a duty. (Kashf al-Mahjoob)
The below mentioned hadith of the Holy Prophet highlights the importance of the companionship of the believers.
الشیطان مع الواحد و ھو من الاثنین الا بعد
“Satan is with the one who is alone and he is far away from the two.”
A Satan can attack a person very quickly and easily who adopts loneliness. This is because he does not have a companion. A believer can make him aware of the growing faults of his innerself.
In Kashf al-Mahjoob, Ali Hajveri (may Allah have mercy on him) narrates an incident. One of the disciples of Junayd of Baghdad had an illusion that he had reached the level of perfection. So, it is better for him to be alone than companionship. He became a recluse and withdrew his heart from the company of the Sufi saints.
Incident of a disciple of Junayd of Baghdad
At night, some people would come to him with camels and say you should have been in paradise. He would sit on the camel for a journey until a place appeared where beautiful food and streams flowed. They would keep him there until morning. He would fall asleep near dawn and when he woke up he would find himself at the door of solitude. The imperiousness and arrogance of humanity developed in him and the pride showed its effect in his heart. Hence, he claimed to be in such a condition.
When the people conveyed this news to Junayd of Baghdad, he got up and visited door of his place of worship. He found him intoxicated with desires and arrogant. Junayd of Baghdad inquired about him and the man narrated everything to him. He advised the man to remember and recite this three times, if he reaches that place tonight.
لاحول ولا قوۃ اِلَّا باللّٰہ العلی العظیم
Meaning: There is no power other than Allah Almighty.
At night they took him away as usual. The man was denying Junayd of Baghdad in his heart. However, after some time, he recited the advised verse three times as an experiment. Those people cried in pain and ran away. The man found himself sitting on a pile of rubbish with the bones of a few dead animals lying around him. He realised his mistake and turned to repentance and reunite with Shaikh. There is no greater calamity for the disciple than loneliness. (Kashf ul Mahjoob)
Companionship of believers is like a seige
Therefore, the companionship of the believers is like a strong siege which does not allow the devils to reach the believer and break this siege. This is the reason that our Master Prophet Mohammad never adopted loneliness for a long time, nor did he allow His Companions for a long time, despite going through the highest ranks of Ma’rifa of Allah.
A Hadith narrates that believers are brothers. This also indicates that the believers should never withdraw from each other’s company. They should benefit each other from their companionship in times of sorrow and hardship.
Like all other matters in life, there are certain etiquettes of the companionship of Sufis and Fakirs. And it is important to observe these rules and requisites to truly benefit from their company.
Ghaus al-Azam, while describing the etiquettes of companionship for the seekers of Allah, says:
Treat your brothers (believers) with self-sacrifice and manliness. Be ready to serve them. Do not assert your rights over anyone. Do not ask for rights from anyone and don’t be negligent in fulfilling the rights of others. The right to companionship means to be in harmony with all their words and deeds. It means to always be with them even if they have to suffer personal loss. Explain on their behalf and apologise. Do not oppose them, hate them, quarrel and fight. Instead overlook their flaws.
If any of them disagrees with him, then he should apparently give in to what they said. Stay away from those things that they dislike even those that may be in their favour. Don’t be envy of any of them. If any of them is burdened by a bad deed, he should remove it with good manners. He should show more kindness and good manners for good results until it is removed. If he his hurt due to backbiting, he should keep it to himself and should not think of taking revenge.
Treating the Strangers
Dealing with others and socialising requires that you hide your secrets from them, treat them with compassion and kindness, entrust their wealth to them if you have it as a trust, and hide the rules of Ma’rifa from them. Be patient over their immorality, do not even think of one’s own superiority over them, but say, “Allah will forgive them. O my al-nafas! You will be questioned about every small and big thing and you will be held accountable for everything. Allah Almighty will forgive the ignorant (common ones) that they are not the ones who know these things, but the people with knowledge will be held accountable.”
The Companionship of Wealthy People
If he chooses a company of rich, he should show his power over them, do not be greedy for them, do not hope for what they have and make no importance for them. Protect your religion from such things as humiliation and disgrace in order to receive their donations, as stated in the Holy Hadith.
The Holy Prophet (pbuh) said: “Whosoever adopts disgrace to gain wealth from rich, he losses two-thirds of his faith.”
So we seek refuge in Allah from such deeds that harm the religion. We also seek refuge from the gathering of such people that may hold us back from progressing on the path of Faqr. We should avoid attraction of wealth and other illusions of world that harm our faith as stated in the hadith. However, if at any time you have to go for a walk, a trip with them or gather in a mosque with them, it is necessary to behave with good manners. This rule applies whether in the company of the rich or the poor.
Treat others with respect
It is not good for you to believe in your superiority over them, but to believe that all creatures are better than you so that you may stay safe from arrogance. Do not seek the virtue of Faqr for yourself, do not believe in honour and dignity in this world and in the hereafter, and do not consider any value for it. As it is said that a man who wants his own value has no value and he who considers himself very valuable has no value.
So the virtue of the rich is that he should treat the poor well. He should spend his wealth and get rid of it, because the wealth he owns is as a vicegerent and not as the owner. And the virtue of the poor is that he should empty his heart from the rich and his wealth, but from this world and the hereafter. Clean his heart from everything and then hope to be filled with the Divine light of the Lord. Don’t value the existence of others and don’t ever consider of any power for himself. Allah Almighty will grace the person and he will gain wealth from Allah Almighty without any fatigue and sorrow.
The Company of Sufi Saints
The requirement of companionship with the Sufi saints is that one should give priority to them over himself in every good thing in terms of what you eat, drink and clothing etc. He should consider his life less than them and should never think of superiority over the saints in any situation.
Abu Saeed bin Ahmad bin Isa (may Allah have mercy on him) says: “He lived with the Sufi saints for over thirty years, but there was never anything between us that hurt them, nor was there any hateful behaviour from me which they would be horrified about.” When people discovered the nature of this behaviour, they said, “I have always remained with them by opposing my an-nafas (innerself).” (Ghunyat tut Talibeen)
The conversation of divine knowledge and gnosis of Allah always exist in the company of believers.
The Holy Prophet (pbuh) said, “The example of two brothers is like two hands that one (hand) washes the other (hand).” Washing here means to bring all kinds of benefits, to correct your brother by making him aware of his faults, to help him in difficult times, to strengthen him inwardly and spiritually through his knowledge, action and prayers. Means, it involves all kinds of outward (physical) and inward (spiritual) accompaniment. The following are some of the principles of the companionship of the brothers (bayat to same Sufi saint):
- The Holy Prophet (pbuh) said:
ان من کمال التقویٰ تعلم من لا یعلم
“Perfection of piety is that you teach him the knowledge of religion which he is unaware of.”
Therefore, the transfer of knowledge of religion and gnosis of Allah is of the utmost importance in the fellowship. It is incumbent upon the senior seekers of Allah to guide junior seekers about the etiquettes in a very strategic manner and pass on the gained Divine knowledge so that the newcomers can also progress quickly in Faqr and be able to benefit others. There should not be a bit of arrogance while transferring knowledge, that this newbie is less knowledgeable and inferior. The newcomer will definitely benefit from your knowledge to some extent, but your arrogance will be hindrance in gaining piety for you.
Every person is beneficial to other person in good company. Whom you are teaching something selflessly today, it will surely become a cause for you to learn something tomorrow.
2. Allah says in Quran,
Meaning: “They prefer others over themselves, even though they themselves are in need” (Al-Hashr, 9).
Therefore, self-sacrifice is the cause of happiness and prosperity in the company of the Sufi saints. It is also the cause of increasing love among them, and above all it is the greatest means of elevation in their ranks of piety in the Holy court of Allah. If every seeker makes this his rule, “I have no right over anyone except Allah, while I am responsible for fulfilling rights of everyone.” Then surely he will not need anyone except Allah and he will never be in distress. As he will benefit the creatures of Allah eventually he will be loved by Allah.
- Morality is the root of all honours and is the right of every companion. Without good morals, no company, no matter how worldly, can flourish. The need for moral values increases even more in the company of Sufi Saint.
The Holy Prophet (pbuh) said: “None of you can become a Muslim unless others are safe from his hands and tongue.”
Prophet (pbuh) has termed the one best among believers who possesses good moral values. Good moral values can lead to the removal of many weaknesses and shortcomings, for example, if one cannot sacrifice one’s wealth, cannot transfer knowledge due to lack of knowledge, or cannot help in any other way, can bring happiness and peace to others through morality.
- Forgiveness is very important in maintaining a good relationship. While living together, as human beings, everyone makes some mistakes. If resentment is kept in their hearts or bitter words are uttered against them with their tongues, it becomes very harmful for the companionship in Faqr. It is not possible for the seeker to set out on the Divine journey to Allah with resentment or anger in their hearts. One cannot gain the pleasure of Allah by polluting his tongue.
Therefore, forgiveness is the best tool for the inner (spiritual) success. The elders say that if a brother is guilty of you, then make seventy excuses to yourself and avoid blaming your brother. If the inner self does not accept it, then say to yourself that you are very wicked to accept seventy excuses of your brother.
Allah says in Quran:
اِنَّ الشَّیْطَانَ یَنْزَغُ بَیْنَھُمْ
Meaning: “Indeed, Satan is man’s declared enemy.” (Al-Isra-53)
Yusuf (as) also said (as stated in Quran):
مِنْ بَعْدِ اَنْ نَّزَغَ الشَّیْطَانُ بَیْنِیْ وَبَیْنَ اِخْوَتِیْ
Meaning: “Satan had stirred up discord between me and my brothers.” (Yusuf-100)
It is the devil (satan) who causes resentment in the hearts of two brothers. Allah Almighty always puts love in the hearts of two brothers.
اِنَّ الَّذِیْنَ اٰمَنُوْا وَعَمِلُوا الصّٰلِحٰتِ سَیَجْعَلُ لَھُمُ الرَّحْمٰنُ وُدَّا
Meaning: “Surely, those who believed and did pious deeds, the Most Kind (Lord) will create love for them in the hearts (of the people).” Maryam 
Means inciting hatred and resentment is a ploy of satan and avoiding it is essential for spiritual elevation.
5. Allah says in Quran:
اِنَّمَا الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ اِخۡوَۃٌ فَاَصۡلِحُوۡا بَیۡنَ اَخَوَیۡکُمۡ وَ اتَّقُوا اللّٰہَ لَعَلَّکُمۡ تُرۡحَمُوۡنَ
Meaning: “The truth is that (all) believers are brothers (to one another). So make peace between your two brothers and always fear Allah, so that you may be shown mercy.” Al-Ḥujurāt 
If there is a disagreement between two brothers and neither of them is able to move forward and resolve the resentment, then the other brothers must resolve the dispute between them.
Inviting others towards good
- It is very important to invite towards Ma’arifah (gnosis) of Allah as well as forbidding evil in companionship. If goodness is intended with sincerity, for one’s brother, then it is necessary to forbid evil before inviting towards Ma’arifah. Make him aware of his mistakes and stop him.
Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) said, “The one who is silent about the truth is the dumb devil.”
If he does not reprimand his brother’s mistakes, believing that he will think bad or be angry, then it is because of the weakness of his own inner self and the domination of the devil. It is very important to make your brother aware of his mistakes, even if he is temporarily angry. If one brother is silent on mistakes of another one, he is making an even greater error because the former one is helpless and unaware of his error, so he is innocent. He is not stopping him deliberately from his mistake. Any kind of idleness here can be detrimental. The mistake should be removed from oneself and one’s brother as soon as possible.
Informing others of their faults for their betterment
- If anyone informs us of our error, we should be grateful instead of blaming him and consider him a better believer than ourselves. We should believe that his inner reflection is clearer than ours because he is reflecting our image and that we really have this flaw or maybe there are more, so we should ask for forgiveness.
Umar ibn Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) used to say, “May God have mercy on him who brings my faults before me as a gift.”
Because if he did not inform us of our defect, this defect would be an obstacle to our spiritual progress and it would become a part of our nature and on the Day of Resurrection it would be a cause of shame before Allah and the Holy Prophet. This is the kindness of a brother who showed us this defect and made us improve it.
Imam Ghazali (may Allah have mercy on him) says, “Let your faults and losses be known to each other and when your brother kindly tells you your faults in solitude, be kind and do not be angry with him. An example of this is when someone informs you that there is a snake or scorpion inside your clothes, then you will not be angry with him but will be kind. All evil deeds are like scorpions and snakes in man, but their wounds appear in the grave and their wounds are on the soul. They are more insidious than the snakes and scorpions of this world. ” (Keemya e Sa’adat)
- Hiding others’ (personal) faults is the basis of Faqr and Sufism and the highest attribute of Allah and His Messenger and all saints and Sufis.
The Holy Prophet granted Faqr to Ali ibn Abi Talib
It is narrated that one day while the four Companions of the Holy Prophet were in company of the Holy Prophet, he asked Abu Bakr Siddiq ٔ How will you fulfil the right if I grant you the Faqr which Allah Almighty blessed me with at night of Miraj? Abu Bakr Siddiq replied, “O Prophet! I will be honest. “
Then the Holy Prophet (pbuh) asked Omar ibn Al-Khattab the same question. He replied, “I will do justice”. Then the Prophet asked the same question to Uthman ibn Affan and he replied, “I will be modest and tolerant.”
At last, the Holy Prophet asked Ali ibn Abi Talib the same question and he replied, “If I am blessed with Faqr, I will be thankful and will adopt secrecy. I will cover the faults of the people and will forgive them.” The Holy Prophet (pbuh) was very happy and said, “O Ali, you have responded according to the will of Allah Almighty and His Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). Therefore, you deserve this cloak (of Faqr).”
Mian Mohammad Bakhsh said:
پردہ پوشی کم فقر دا میں طالب فقراواں
عیب کسے دے پھول نہ سکاں ہر ہک تھیں شرماواں
Meaning: As important as it is to make a brother aware of his faults, it is just as important to cover his faults from others. It is important to make sure that he is aware of his faults in private and that his faults are not exposed to anyone else.
A sincere companion always seeks well for fellow companions
- Yahya ibn Mu’adh (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “The person is not a good friend whom you have to ask to pray. A person is also not a good friend with whom you have to live in moderation you have to apologise for any of your mistakes. The right of one moment of companionship is that he always prays for you himself and you live in happiness and not for the sake of moderation, and apologising is the work of strangers while alienation in true love and companionship is a torment. ”
So the best way to pay for companionship is to pray for guidance and mercy for one’s brother, whether it is hidden or public.
The Holy Prophet (pbuh) said: “Whoever prays for his brother behind his back, the angel says, ‘May you have this too.’” And it has been narrated that the Almighty says, “I will accept your case (will).”
The Prophet (pbuh) also said, “Allah Almighty never rejects the supplication of friends which is made in their absence.”
Abu Darda said, “I take the names of seventy friends in prostration and pray for each one.”
Prayer is a response to evil as well the cause of progress and is best for both the one who prays and the one for whom it is prayed. Praying sincerely for a friend is the best gift for him and the blessing of this world and the hereafter and also the best way to pay for the right of companionship.
Constructive advice is a trust
- Companions also have the responsibility to help each other and to give appropriate advice in difficult situations and trials. Constructive advice is a trust that one must convey to a seeker in case needed. If someone doesn’t advise another person or betrays the trust by giving wrong advice, then the work of the tempted partner will be fixed by Allah Himself. However, those who deliberately do not give the right advice will not only be severely questioned he should be subjected to even more severe trials. Therefore, whenever a brother seeks help or advice in a difficult situation, one should try to give as much help as possible and give the best advice as much as one can. If he is not able to do it, he should gently apologise.
May Allah Almighty grant us the ability to have good companionship and give us the courage to reform ourselves at every moment. Ameen
This blog is an English translation of the Urdu article آداب صحبت مریدین which appeared in the December 2020 issue of the Mahnama Sultan ul Faqr Magazine, Lahore.
Waseem Akram Sarwari Qadri has translated it in English.