The Peers that Pressure to Misery
Today, I am going to speak about peers and the way they influence us. As humans, we are social by nature. Allah has created us such that we have the need to mix with others, get acquainted and get to know one another. It is a well-known form of punishment to put a person in solitary confinement. Now, when we talk about peer pressure, we find that, as we see in many other things, it includes both positive things as well as negative things. Is peer pressure always bad? Our Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam was the first to draw the line and to explain this topic to us 15 centuries ago, when he said:
“The likeness of a righteous companion is that of the seller of musk; either he will give you a gift, or you will buy something from him, or you will smell a pleasant fragrance from him. And the likeness of an evil companion is that of a man who works the bellows; either he will burn your garment or you will smell an unpleasant odor from him.”
[Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim]
In this Hadeeth, the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam is telling us that peer pressure can be positive and it can be negative. As for the positive aspect, a good companion has to influence you. He either teaches you directly: “Do this and don’t do that.” This is positive because he is leading you to Jannah. Why are we here, on Earth? Making money, getting married, having a good time…no! You are striving to reach Jannah. A good companion, by pressuring you to do well, is taking you to Jannah. Hence, he would either teach you something good directly, or you would learn from him without him directly teaching you, or the least that you could benefit from him is that people will relate you to him: “Do you know so-and-so?” “Yeah, he is a friend of Sheikh So-and-so.” Or: “He is a friend of this Imam.” Or: “He is a friend of this pious person.” This would make people think that that person has to be as good as his pious friend. The Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam said that the likeness of such a good companion is that of the seller of musk who either gives you some perfume as a gift, or you buy from him, or at the very least, you leave his shop with your clothes smelling good. This is positive peer pressure. And this is exactly how the people used to benefit from Imam Ahmed. Around 5000 people used to attend his lessons but only 500 of them used to write the Ahadeeth that he would be quoting. The remaining 4500 would just sit there and look at Imam Ahmed: the way he speaks, his manners, the way he teaches and so on in order to learn these things from him. Another example of positive peer pressure is when a righteous person takes you to ‘Umrah. How many times someone would just be sitting idle, not doing anything beneficial, and one of his friends’ says, “Brother, by Allah, my heart has hardened. How about we go to ‘Umrah next week?” His other friends agree that it’s a good idea and this person ends up finding himself in Makkah, raising his hands in front of the Ka’bah, seeking Allah’s forgiveness for his sins. This is positive peer pressure.
Good companions always have an impact on us. They keep reminding us and admonishing us, in a good way: “Brother, don’t smoke. Its Haraam”, “Brother, you didn’t pray Fajr. Allah doesn’t like this”, “Brother, let’s go and give charity”, and so on and so forth. And this is why we might sometimes feel annoyed by them or feel dislike towards them! Because they are always deterring us from doing evil. If we feel like going to a concert, they would pull us away and take us to an Islamic gathering. We might not like this but they put pressure on us and drag us away from such things. This is a positive impact. And this is why when we have this positive peer pressure, we benefit a great deal in this Duniya. For example, many people have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), or what we say in Arabic as ‘Wiswas’. They keep getting bad thoughts and ideas. Allah ‘azza wa jall cures them when they are in the company of righteous people. These ‘wiswas’ might increase if they are in the company of the people of the Duniya, who are obsessed with fancy cars, fancy wives, fancy houses, fancy jobs, etc. and might be walking on a path leading to Hell because of becoming busy with the Duniya and forgetting the Hereafter. Being in the company of such people might increase a person’s ‘wiswas’ and depression. And this is why our Prophet salla Allau ‘alaihi wa sallam told us that Allah’s Hand is with the Jama’ah; with the Muslim majority. And he salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam told us that Shaitan, like the wolf, would only attack a stray sheep; he would not attack the whole herd. He waits until a sheep strays away from the herd and then he attacks it. If we have no positive peer pressure, we become an easy prey for Shaitan to attack us.
“A friend in need is a friend indeed!” He is the one whom we immediately think of when we have a problem or we want to invite him to a wedding or to a blessed gathering. He is the friend, the one we turn to when we are in need and the one we depend upon. Even in Hell, a friend in need is a friend indeed! We might think, “We don’t want to see our friends in Hell! What would we do with each other in Hell? What kind of friendship is this?!” Allah ‘azza wa jall says in the Qur’an that the people of Hell will say on the Day of Judgement:
“Now, we have no intercessors,” (100)
“Nor a close friend (to help us).” (101)
[Surat ash-Shu’araa (26): 100-101]
This is what they will say, that they don’t have any close friend to help them in Hell. On that day, when people will be standing barefooted, naked and uncircumcised, feeling intimidated and scared because of the horrors of the Day of Judgement, best friends let go of and disown each other, except the righteous ones. Allah ‘azza wa jall says:
“Friends on that Day will be foes (enemies) one to another, except Al-Muttaqoon.”
[Surat az-Zukhruf (43): 67]
May Allah ‘azza wa jall make us all from among those who are His righteous slaves who fear Him. And may He make our friendship for His Sake ‘azza wa jall.
Yesterday, I arrived from Jeddah and I went to a mall to get a bite to eat. I never go to malls. In Saudi Arabia, I never set foot in a mall because it hardens my heart and wastes my time. So I went to this mall and I was shocked that I wasted half an hour of my time just looking for a cheeseburger. Then I thought: how can people waste hours and hours trying to decide which dress to buy, or which pair of shoes to buy, or what watch to buy. Some of them put in so much study and research in selecting a car or the like. Yet when selecting a friend, who is much more valuable, we hardly give it any thought or time; good or bad, it doesn’t matter! We do not try to invest in them properly as we do in material things.
This brings us to the negative side of peer pressure. The Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam gave us the example of the man working the bellows. The bellows is a device that is used by a blacksmith to blow air into a fire to always keep it ignited and hot. The smell and smoke that comes from a blacksmith’s shop tends to stick to your beard, your clothes and your body, just like the smell and smoke from the coal and the cooking while barbequing sticks to you and to the things around you. The Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam tells us that if the blacksmith doesn’t burn your clothes directly with the sparks and the fire, the least you will get is the bad smell. The meaning is that even if a bad companion doesn’t influence the person directly, the least effect will be that people will associate him with his bad friends: “Do you know So-and so?” “Yeah, he is a friend of that singer” or “actor” or “fornicator” or “drug addict” or “that person who doesn’t pray”. This is the sort of reputation he will get if he befriends such companions.
Is there a negative aspect of peer pressure? Yes, definitely. Look around and ask yourself: who taught that person and encouraged him to, for example, consume intoxicants, whether it is alcohol or drugs? Was he born with these bad and evil habits? Or was it friends, who pressured him by saying: “Aren’t you a man? Come on, try it! It will make you happy! It will make you feel good! It’s on me, it’s free.” It might be free the first couple of days, but later it will consume all of your money! This is from their negative peer pressure.
I get hundreds of questions from teenagers complaining of their weakness in pornography and masturbation. What led them to this? Peer pressure: “You haven’t seen this?! Wallahi, you’re not a man! ” And this leads to prohibited and forbidden sexual relationships. A girl might have friends who pressure her into getting a boyfriend by saying: “You don’t have a boyfriend?! Why are you so complicated? You have an issue. You have a deficiency.” And to the boy: “You don’t have a girlfriend?! You’re not a man! Are you gay? Why don’t you have a girlfriend? ” SubhanAllah! This is the normal type of dialogue to pressure you, and to bring you down to their swamp of filth and sins!
Who taught this nice, young, innocent girl how to lie to her parents: “We have a school project, mom, so I have to stay late at my friend’s.” And she actually is you know where. I have so many stories about incidents arising from peer pressure on young girls that would make you cry. 13 year old girls go out with men, and later write to me, heart-broken, saying that they have done something horrible because they didn’t know any better! Who made her do this? You know who. We also see, unfortunately, so many women who were formerly on the Straight Path as committed Muslims, wearing the Hijab and the Niqab, but because the agents of Shaitan kept on whispering to them, they ended up taking off their Niqab, and their Hijab as well, and became like “everyone else”.
The Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam said, “Man will be on the religion of his close friends, so pay attention to whom you make friends with.” You will take things from your friend whether you like it or not. This is why Allah the Almighty Himself ordered His Messenger salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam to select his friends carefully. Allah says, and we read this Surah every Friday:
“And keep yourself (O Muhammad ﷺ) patiently with those who call on their Lord morning and afternoon, seeking His Face, and let not your eyes overlook them…”
[Surat al-Kahaf (18): 28]
Allah is saying this to His Messenger salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam! That he should always surround himself with righteous people who call Allah in the morning and the evening. And that he should not overlook them. We, unfortunately, tend to do the opposite.
The Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam also said, in an authentic Hadeeth, “Do not befriend except a Believer.” Your friends must be Believers. Why is that? Because they have a positive impact on you. And this is why, when the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam came to Madinah, the first thing he did was to make the Brotherhood Bond between the Ansaar and the Muhajireen, by assigning someone from the Ansaar to each person of the Migrants to be his brother. And they used to inherit from one another, just like real siblings! So he paired 40 of the Migrants with 40 of the people of Ansaar. From them are Hamzah and Zaid (this is an exception), Abu ‘Ubaidah and Sa’d bin Mu’aaz, Salman and Abu ad-Darda, ‘Abd ar-Rahman bin ‘Awf and Sa’d bin ar-Rabee’, etc. May Allah be pleased with them all.
The peer influence is huge. Let us take Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, as an example. The minute he embraced Islam, what did he do? Six of the 10 Heaven-bound Companions embraced Islam on his hands! This is why he is the highest in Imaan and reward from the ‘Ummah of Prophet Muhammad salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam. These six include ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan, Abu ‘Ubaidah ‘Amr bin Jarrah, ‘Abd ar-Rahman bin ‘Awf, Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas, and so on. All of them accepted Islam because of positive peer pressure from Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him. At the same time, look at the amount of people who deviated from and rejected Islam because of Abu Jahl, the most famous one being the uncle of the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, Abu Talib. The Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam beseeched him, while he was on his death bed, saying: “Oh my Uncle! Say: ‘There is none worthy of worship besides Allah’, a sentence with which I can intercede for you before Allah (on the Day of Judgement).” And Abu Jahl is on the other side of the bed, asking him: “Would you leave the religion of your father, ‘Abdul Muttalib?” And he kept on influencing him until he died on Kufr.
Your peers will definitely have an influence on you. If you sit with righteous, practicing Muslims for a while every day, after a few days, you begin to be influenced by them even if you don’t feel it. You might start saying to anyone who does something good for you, “Jazak Allahu khairan”, even if you don’t know what it means. You start picking such things up because you’ve heard it so many times from them. On the other side of the coin, what will the people who always watch movies say, if they are about to be run over by a truck? They will curse and swear. Why? Because they have watched so many movies and these are the words that they always hear on everybody’s tongues.
If you sit with people who always backbite others, what will you do? You will contribute. You will see that everybody is talking and you will feel that you also have to contribute, so you start backbiting as well. Somebody mentioned a person in Ibn Mubarak’s presence, backbiting him. So Ibn Mubarak told him to fear Allah, and asked him if he had done Jihad against the Persians or the Byzantines or the Romans or any of the enemies of Islam. The person answered that he had not. So he exclaimed to him saying that the Romans, the Persians, and the disbelievers are all safe and in security from his attacks, while his Muslim brother is not?! Wallahi, it is not permissible for you to harm a dog or a pig. How dare you, then, harm a Muslim brother of yours like this?!
Now, we have an issue to discuss, and that is: what is the worst peer pressure that one can find? The worst peer pressure that I consider to be available at the moment is the media. Whether it is television, the radio, printed material like newspapers and magazines, or what is known as the “Social Media”. This is the worst thing that has an influence on you. It changes your mind, you heart, and it also changes the people in your home, your children, your spouse! It plays with our minds. Wives notice a change in their husbands and complain that their husbands weren’t like this before. Now they have become picky and complain, “Why do you wear size 34 or 38? Why aren’t you size 26 or 24? Why do you do this? Why don’t you do that?” The start saying weird things like this! This is happening because of negative peer pressure, because of what they see in the media. When your son wants to get married, and you give him a list of nice girls, he refuses them saying, “No, she has to have blond hair, blue eyes, and she has to be 5”1’, and weigh less than 60 kg. And she has to know how to ski and play the violin.” And if he is practicing, “She should have memorized the whole Qur’an with the 7 types of recitations, and should know Bukhari and Muslim and the four books of Sunnah.” If I knew such a girl, I would have married her myself! Where are they getting all this from? It’s from the media. Wherever you go, people are always on their ‘idols’; their smart phones, tablets and so on, which may have a negative influence on us if not used properly. Whatever they are giving to us, we are soaking it up like a sponge. The media’s negative influence is something we have to be very careful of.
Now, how can we protect our children if we have already bought for them smart phones or other such devices? Give up and just go to Hell? No! We have to fight, we have to take the measures. Briefly (because this is not the time to give solutions): you have to remove the passwords from their phones so that it is accessible to anyone. If possible, go back to Nokia (there is a very good one for about 150 Dirhams that comes with a flashlight). If they want to use the Internet, you should make them sit in the living room with the monitor displayed to everyone.
Let us conclude by saying that souls are weak. And our hearts change and fluctuate rapidly. In Arabic, we have a saying, which translates to: “A companion pulls you.” So your friend pulls you, and he has to have an impact on you. And this is a social experience: if someone next to you laughs, you laugh. If he is depressed or crying, you get influenced by that and feel sad yourself. If someone yawns, several people around him start yawning as well. If we put a corpse of a dead animal next to a fresh rose, after some time the rose will become rotten as well. Therefore, you as a Muslim, have to be an Imam. You have to be a leader, calling people to goodness and have good influence over them. If you are unable to be such a person, at least be a follower in goodness. Always accompany those who are righteous so that they can have positive pressure and a positive impact on you. And be careful that you are not an imam that leads people to Hell. Nor be someone who follows others to Hell. Do not be an ‘Imma’ah’. What is that? It means someone who goes with the flow: if people do good, he does good, and if they do evil, he does evil. Always have your identity as a Muslim, be proud of it and always try your best to call people to Islam.
May Allah ‘azza wa jall give us the best of companions and make us the best of leaders to the Muslims in Taqwa!