Religion and friends are two very precious jewels in most of our lives. We believe that with all our heart. But it doesn't take a genius to realize that Allah comes first, and our friends, second. Unfortunately, the majority of us wrongly reverse that equation. La Hukam ill'Allah – Allah is the only judge in all matters. Or is he?
I'm not talking about the not-so-religious people who don't really care about their faith anyway. I'm talking about the somewhat devout Muslims who attempt to live their lives in an Islamic manner but who also possess the magic power of being capable of abandoning their religion at their friends' convenience and, regrettably, at their own expense.
Remember the time when the friends were over and the time for Maghrib prayers was setting in? We checked our watch once or twice but were too absorbed by whatever it was that we were doing. We secretly wished the Adhan wouldn't go off, and when it did, we rushed to turn it off just as our friends remarked, "What on earth was THAT?" That killed the part of our heart which was nagging us to go pray, and out the window went thanking Allah for that day.
What about that one time when we were having McDonald's (which we should be boycotting anyway) with the non-Shia brother, and he ordered those fish filet burgers? Sure, he ate them without hesitation as he doesn't eat Halal fish anyway, but what was our excuse? Did we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt because we couldn't recall if the fish in our burger had scales or not?
We also have the common scenario where our best friend's wedding is one full of un-Islamic festivities, including mixed gatherings, music, and dancing. But we wish to be "considerate" by avoiding any possibility of ruining the most important day of our friend's life by telling her we won't be able to make it. Plus, learning a few dance steps can't hurt, can it?
And what in this world happened to those Muslim brothers and sisters who once tried their best to avoid hand shaking and photo huddles with the opposite gender, but since everyone else is doing it, they don't object? Or the time when it was our non-Muslim friend's 21st birthday party, and despite the fact that we knew alcohol was going to be served there, we still decided to go "only for a little while"? Let's not forget the hundreds if not thousands of times that our friends have been badmouthing others and we just sit there twiddling our thumbs thinking, "Ok, well, as long as I'm not saying anything, it's not so bad", when in fact we know that listening to backbiting is just as horrible as taking part of it.
Then there are the brothers who shave their beards simply because "the rest of the gang is beardless". Of course, there is a legitimate reason behind shaving, and that is, "nobody in their right mind could possibly want to look like Osama bin Laden." And what about the sisters who have been hanging around their I've-been-forced-to-wear-Hijab friends for a while too long, and now prance around in the much more fashionable "convertible" Hijab?
The list is infinite. But that's not the sad part. The sad part is that we are insecure about our faith and willingness to become closer to Allah. We feel embarrassed, ashamed, and nervous when it comes to practicing Islam around both our Muslim and non-Muslim friends alike. Some call it peer-pressure, while others call it a lack of faith. One thing for sure is that we're putting Allah second in life. Surprisingly, this dilemma is not just found amongst the younger generation. Muslims of all ages are falling victim to decreasing piety levels as a result of having bad company.
If you feel like the ugly duckling while practicing Islam around your friends, then something is extremely wrong with your friendship. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) once said that our friends should be the kind of people who always remind us of Allah. Sorry to break it to you (if you haven't already figured), but you either need new friends who are able to remind you of your Lord, or you need to build up a bit of that long awaited courage and be proud of your faith and teach your friends how to be receptive towards you and your religion.
"I never saw a thing but I saw Allah before it, after it, and along with it." For those of us who are "thankful" towards Allah but simply don't see the necessity of being reminded of our Lord so often as our religion requires us to be, then perhaps a quick reflection on these words of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) and how often he was thinking of his Master can provide as a minor source of motivation.
To help paint the bigger picture, Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) once said, "The least you can do to thank Allah for a blessing is by not using that blessing against him." If we are among those Muslims who are challenged when it comes to deciding who is more dearer to us, our friends or our Lord, then perhaps valuing our friends as a blessing and avoiding using our friends against Allah by being un-Islamically influenced by them will be a win-win situation for both parties. Worrying about how others will judge us is in this world is superficial. Worrying about how our Master will judge us on Judgment Day is all that should be on a believer's mind.