Faith has a lot to do with the fact that there are many wonderful and trustworthy people around us. We call them Auliya-Allah or the ‘friends of God’, those close to him, people who have dedicated themselves to God’s service, completely and utterly in submission. They are serious about God, they live and die for his sake, they love and hate for this sake; people whose motto is “my prayers, my sacrifices, life and death are all for the Lord of the universe.” These people are hujjat-ullah, living proof of God, evidence of Him. They are Ayat-ullah, signs of God, who display his generosity and make his compassion tangible in the world.
The Quran praises them “surely the friends of God have nothing to fear nor to grieve” (Yunus: 62). They are people who have taken God seriously, His prophet (peace be upon him) and His religion seriously in contrast to those “who consider their religion a thing of play and amusement” (Al-Araf: 51). Muslims trust these auliya, friends of God, they love them and for most Muslims love of God starts here. By being impressed by them one develops a trust in these men of God. This trust and love of auliya leads to the Divine love. As our relationship with them develops we want to initiate them and live like they live, we want to follow them. These people live Holy lives, one of prayer, obedience, submission, ever remembering the lord with love and devoted wholesome.
Why are the auliya-Allah important for us?
These people live simple yet effective and impressive lives. Their contribution to Islam is that they have taken on the responsibility for making Islam credible in the world, and for making God credible in the world. Their whole life becomes a testimony to the love, mercy and greatness of God. They are ‘shaheed’ witnesses of divine truth. They not only live like the Prophets and resist the evils of society, they possess outstanding characteristics such as being dedicated to the service of others.
We are often cynical of others, mistrusting, why should we believe in someone? why should we trust someone? Since we believe people have hidden agendas! As we cannot uncover others hidden motives, we remain mistrusting of others. However, with auliya-Allah it’s not like that, there is no hidden agenda, there are no self-interests, they do not seek personal glory and praise nor recognition. Their pure and selfless life is transparent as clean water. You can see through them! They have nothing to hide, all is revealed, so much so that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said “when you see them they remind you of God”.
Through the lives of the Auliya-Allah God is no longer an abstract thing. He becomes real, the hidden (Batin) is revealed (Zahir) the one who was far becomes near (Qarib). In Islamic cosmos the Prophet of Islam occupies the highest station of divine friendship, this is closely followed by the four ullul-azm Prophets (Ibrahim, Nuh, Musa, Esa) then other Prophets followed by Abu Bakr (the best man after Prophets), then the companions of the Prophets. This is a galaxy of illustrious friends of God, shining stars of humanity and perfect human beings. They are unique, special and peerless.
However, there are other auliya-Allah who are from the masses, yet they have acquired Divine proximity, nearness to God so much so they are absorbed in the Divine. They are our guides, they point to God, their lives appeal to us. These people have built personal relationship with God, it’s not a formal relationship like that of the employer and the employee but one of an intimate friend. God too in the Quran reveals his personal relationship with the auliya and in particular with the Prophets. Take the relationship of God with the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The life of the Prophets is seen as the key to understanding the nature and intentions of God. The Prophet (peace be upon him) embodied, lived, practised the beautiful attributes of God, the complete beauty and grandeur of God shone from his character, similarly the friends of God are representatives of God on earth.
Quranic description of the friends of God
Allah says: “Beware! The friends of God are fearless and they shall not grieve, they are strong in faith and ever God conscious. For them is good news of happiness in this life and hereafter. Nothing can alter the Divine promise this is supreme success” (Yunus: 62-64).
This short passage reveals the affection and love that God has for a special group of people, the Auliya-Allah (the friends of God). A friend is a person with whom one enjoys mutual affection and regard exclusive of sexual or family relationships. The Arabic noun “Waliyun” is derived from the verb “Waliya” which means nearness, beloved, friend, helper and patron. So calling man “God’s friend” or “God’s beloved” or “near to God” does not offend the reverence due to God.
There are two types of “nearness” (or friendship):
1) Universal nearness, this is the nearness that every man in fact every atom in the universe has with its creator. If this weren’t there then there would be nothing in the universe. Allah says “we are nearer to you than your jugular vein” (Qaf: 16).
2) The second is “special nearness”, this nearness is granted to selected people. This is nearness of love. There are many degrees of nearness, one after the other. The two basic conditions for this are: Faith and Piety (Tafsir Mazhari).
What does it mean to be near to God?
Imam Razi says, “Nearness to God in terms of space of direction is impossible, the nearness to God is when the heart is engrossed in Divine rays. When he observes, he sees the signs of God’s power, when he hears, he hears the Divine verses, when he speaks, he sings the Divine praises, when he moves, he moves in worship, when he struggles and strives, he does so in obeying Allah” (Tafsir Al Kabeer).
The prophet (peace be upon him) said: God said “I declare a war on anyone who has enmity against my friend. My servant draws near to me by carrying out obligatory duties and then continues to draw nearer through voluntary activities until I love him. And when I love him I become his ear by which he hears, his eyes by which he sees, hands by which he grasps and feet by which he walks. If he ask I will give him and if he seeks protection I will protect him” (Bukhari).
This passage raises the morale of the “friends of God” by giving them “good news”. The good news is that they will be free from fear and grief. Fear is the expectation of pain, danger and harm. It is a state of being alarmed and dreading the terrible consequences of ones actions or lifestyle. Whilst “grief” is “deep sorrow” of a loss, one grieves over death of a loved one. Some commentators think that this means the friends of God will not fear the terrible torture of hell nor will they grieve about loss of the world (Ibn Katheer). However, others think it is more general. They are neither fearful of dangers here and in the hereafter. Neither do they grieve over the loss of a valuable. They are not fearful of their enemies nor grieving over worldly loss. Since they trust Allah. They believe in Divine wisdom is being the best, because of this understanding of the creation and reliance on Allah they are free from fear and grief.
This does not mean “friends of God” will not face difficulties; on the contrary “they will be tried”. However they will embrace these trials, tribulations and severe tests as challenges, they will stand-up and be patient, steadfast and cope bravely. The Quran commends them for that and says, “for them is the good news”.
How do they receive this good news?
Imam Razi suggests four ways in which they get the good news:
1. Pleasant and righteous dreams.
2. People love them by praising them. Abu Dharr says “I asked the prophet (peace be upon him) a man does good work for Allah and people like him, he said that is the instant good news for the believer”.
3. He receives good news at the time of death, “the Angels come to them saying don’t fear nor grieve and receive the good news of Paradise” (Fussilat: 30).
4. This consists of all those good news that Allah has given to the pious people through the Prophets and the book. “For them is the good news here and in the hereafter”.
The signs of the friends of God
Here is a beautiful hadith that gives some insight into the lives of these wonderful people, someone asked the Prophet (peace be upon him): “Who are friends of God?” He said, “Upon seeing them you are reminded of Allah”. Since their hearts are polished they reflect the Divine beauty and goodness, just like a mirror reflects the rays of light. Their humility, devoutness, absorption in worship reminds one of the hereafter.