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Helping the Victims of Vicious Company

One should know that if one associates with corrupt persons for the sake of rescuing em from their wretched condition, it is something very commendable and praiseworthy. Islam approves of the method of associating with persons who have violated moral norms for the purpose of helping them through beneficial guidance. However, such a task requires a sophisticated approach, since mere reproach and censure will not give the desired results. In many cases, it would not be effective. However, a careful approach will not only be effective in most cases, it might bring about a positive change. For the awareness that is created in the victim may lead him to strive towards the path of real humanity, piety, and salvation. That might lead him to discover his real worth and dignity as a human being, and the one who keeps him company for the sake of helping him would have fulfilled the rights of companionship in the worthiest manner.

Imam Sadiq, may Peace be upon him, has said in this regard:

When someone observes a friend taking a wrong and sinful course and, while possessing the capacity restrain him, does not so out of indifference, he has actually betrayed his friend. 8

It is has been said since ancient times that it is unpleasant to be told about one's faults. This is a fact. However, sympathetic advice should be given in a soft and gentle tone, and someone's weak point or moral inadequacy should be pointed out in an effective manner, suggesting in a friendly way that the path selected is one that would result in misfortune and ruin. At the same time one should try to secure the companion s confidence in one's objective attitude, while being careful to deliver one s counsels privately in a manner unnoticed others.

A friend may point out someone's shortcomings in an unwise manner and his exhortations may produce the very opposite result, whereas an advice given in a wise and skilful manner, even by someone himself suffering from some moral infirmity, can prove to be fruitful.

Imam 'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, may Peace be upon him, makes this points in the following manner:

Pointing out someone's shortcomings publicly is censure, not advice. 9

At times one is betrayed by the advice of a trusted friend, and the advice of someone of whose betrayal one is wary may prove to be effective. 10

Dale Carnegie says:

If you want to prove a point, act cleverly and skilfully so that no one guesses what you have in mind. Use the advice of the poet who said, "Preach without being anyone knowing that you are preaching." The people who have a power of clear judgement are a rarity. Most of us are stubborn and prejudiced, and envy, suspicion, fear, greed, and pride cloud our reason Study your own character; if you see that most of the time you are after picking others' faults, you must start thinking of a remedy.

When we make a mistake, we would easily admit it to ourselves. Others, too, if they have the ability and skill, can, with the sweetness of their speech, grace, and charm induce us to confess our errors. In such cases, we might even congratulate ourselves for our candour and courage in confessing to our shortcomings. But if the other person were to attempt to compel us to make this unpleasant admission, he would never succeed. 11

The Eleventh Imam, may Peace be upon him, said:

One who exhorts his brother privately in fact helps him to appear in a good light, whereas one who exhorts him publicly and indiscreetly spoils his image. 12

On the other hand, when someone suffering from an infirmity is exhorted by a far-sighted friend who seeks to rescue him from moral degeneration, it is essential for him accept the well-meaning advice of his friend and to make an effort to reform himself. Imam 'Ali, may Peace be upon him, said:

Someone who exhorts you is your well-wisher and benefactor. He foresees the consequences of your conduct, and seeks to restore what you have lost. Therefore, your welfare lies in obeying his counsel, and any disobedience or indifference to his fruitful guidance will be ruinous for you. 13

On noticing the traces of moral corruption, the sooner one can correct oneself, the better it is for him, and any kind of delay and negligence in this regard will lead to regret and, ultimately, might be ruinous for his repute and personal dignity.

Imam 'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, has said in this regard:

One who does not get rid of his infirmities while he is still held in good repute will be forced to remove them after falling into disrepute. 14

Not only the admonishment of one's associates but also the criticism of one's enemies can be effective in making one mend his ways. Imam 'Ali, may Peace be upon him, said:

At times one's enemy is more helpful than one's friends, because he makes one aware of his shortcomings, leading one to overcome them.

An American philosopher writes:

A great man is always willing to be little. Whilst he sits on the cushion of advantages, he goes to sleep. When he is pushed, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to learn something; he has been put on his wits, on his manhood; he has gained facts; learns his ignorance; is cured of the insanity of conceit; has got moderation and real skill. The wise man throws himself on the side of his assailants. It is more his interest than it is theirs to find his weak point. The wound cicatrises and falls off from him like a dead skin, and when they would triumph, Lo! he has passed on invulnerable. Blame is safer than praise. I hate to be defended in a newspaper. As long as all that is said is said against me, I feel a certain assurance of success. But as soon as honeyed words of praise are spoken for me I feel as one that lies unprotected before his enemies. In general, every evil to which we do not succumb is a benefactor. As the Sandwich Islander believes that the strength and valour of the enemy he kills passes into himself, so we gain the strength of the temptation we resist. 15

Of the most injurious is the company of stupid persons, which might bring about a setback in one's life and land one in misfortune. At times, the dangers and harms arising from a foolish friend are greater than what an enemy might inflict. That is because one is seldom on his guard against a friend on account of one's confidence and goodwill and might be easily taken by surprise, and when he wakes up there might be no way of retreat, whereas one is on his guard against the possible dangers of an enemy.

His wrong judgements which lead his friend into trouble might be due to goodwill and a desire to be useful, but often his counsels land his friends in trouble and bring loss of face.

There is an ancient tale that once an intelligent and wise person went on a journey with a fool. While travelling they reached a place where the road branched out into two directions. One way was smooth and level and the other was rough and uneven. The foolish companion insisted that they take the better road. The wise man knew that the rugged road was shorter and safer, and he suggested to his companion that they take it. However, he submitted to the insistence of the fool and both of them went along on the good road.

Shortly afterwards, they encountered a band of robbers and were taken captive. Later on, the two friends were captured along with the robbers and taken before the judge. The wise man told the judge what had happened, putting the blame on his foolish companion for misleading him and forcing him to take the dangerous road.

When it was the fool's turn to defend himself, he admitted that he was merely a fool. But, he said, his friend who was intelligent should not have yielded to a fool's suggestions and abandon a decision made wisely. After hearing them the judge condemned each of them to a similar punishment.

Hence mere attachment and loyalty in mutual relations are not sufficient grounds for the selection of a friend. Rather, the quality and degree of his wisdom should be given the foremost importance. Undoubtedly, those who refrain from cultivating the intimacy of fools should be ranked with wise men of foresight.

Imam 'Ali, may Peace be upon him, said:

Never make someone who is brainless your friend. 16

Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, may Peace be upon him, speaks in these words of the harms that result from improper associates and unworthy company:

Never associate with four kinds of persons and don't make them your friends: the fool, the niggardly, the coward, and the liar. As to the fool, he will bring you harm despite his good intentions to do something for your benefit. As to the niggardly man, he will only grab from you without giving you anything in return. As to the coward, he will flee at the smallest danger abandoning not only you but even his own parents to their fate. As to the liar, you cannot trust him even if he tells the truth. 17

Mental immaturity and inattention to consequences lead one into bad company and ultimately into a catastrophe. It is frequently observed that those who give in to the temptations of their vicious friends and compromise their honour and well-being by attending their sinful gatherings and parties fall into ruin.

They might be aware that they are treading a dangerous path, but they are afraid lest they be considered timid or prude. In order to avoid this charge they surrender without resisting to the insistence and demands of their vicious friends and ultimately bring disgrace upon themselves and fall headlong into the ravine of moral corruption and abasement. However, one day they would realise their irreparable mistake and their thoughtlessness, which was merely a product of their mimicking others and without foresight. But unfortunately this realisation comes when they have already spent a considerable part of their lives and after a precious lifetime has been ruined by vicious conduct. At times, their state of negligence and inattention continues to the end of their lives and they are left with an everlasting regret. The Noble Qur'an mentions the wails of regret as uttered by a lost and sinful person on the Day of Resurrection. He would say:

Woe to me! Had I never taken so and so for my intimate friend. (25:28)

Imam 'Ali, The Commander of Faithful, may Peace be upon him, warns in these words against associating with a certain group of people who are unfit for company and whose friendship is to be avoided:

Avoid making friends with worldly people, who will start looking down upon you once your wealth and means are diminished and who will be jealous of you if you become wealthier. 18

Do not keep company with someone who remembers your vices and forgets your merits and excellences. 19

Do not befriend someone who conceals your merits and publicises your faults. 20

Do not take a flatterer for you friend, who will make even your erroneous acts appear in a good light and who wants you to be like him. 21

Should you know it, the company of someone who is of no avail to you in acquiring spiritual and human merits is an encumbrance. 22

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8. Bihar al-anwar, xv, "kitab al-'ishrah," p. 52.

9. Al-Amidi, Ghurar al-hikam, p. 775.

10. Ibid., p. 587.

11. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends, Persian trans. A'in-e dastyabi, pp. 156,159,161.

12. Al-Harrani, Tuhaf al-'uqul, p. 489.

13. Al-Amidi, Ghurar al-hikam, p. 765.

14. Ibid., p. 641.

15. Emerson, "Compensation," cf. Commins & Linscott, The Social Philosophers New York: Modern Pocket Library 1954), p. 451.

16. Al-Amidi, Ghurar al-hikam, p. 800.

17. Bihar al-anwar, xv, ' kitab al-'ishrah," p. 52.

18. Al-Amidi, Ghurar al-hikam, p. 812.

19. Ibid., p. 827.

20. Ibid., p. 827.

21. Ibid., p. 707.

22. Ibid., p. 812.

Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"

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