Ok so I admit it: I was a nerd growing up. The sciencey type you know; I had my own little microscope and I knew the periodic table by heart and competed for high grades like the best of them. I was a hit with my parent’s friends and especially old ladies; they just loved how well-behaved and well-spoken I was. I loved it too, until I woke up one day and realized that being nerdy does not equate with being cool.
You see, the elusive ‘cool’ concept that no one really knows how to define, but everyone knows what it is, is a very universal one. What is considered cool might be different from one country to another, but being cool is something that every teenager aspires to be. So my social survival instinct kicked in – I needed to be perceived as cool. I, and every other nerd, wanted to be like those “men” who were perceived to be the epitome of defiance and rebellion against the social norm. Their nonchalant attitude towards school, their careless disregard to a curfew, the way they dressed, and how they played soccer, were all mysteriously intriguing and I wanted to be just like them.
One day, I found my way into the impenetrable fort of ‘cool’: my ticket in was through my friend and neighbor, who shared a ride to school with me, but did not share the same pool of friends. He was a smoker and so was everyone else in the cool crowd. With minimal convincing, I started smoking my first cigarette, and before long I was in. From that day on, I lived my high school years as a nerd incognito, hiding behind a cigarette.
This desire to be cool is not specific to one’s teen years. Human beings are social by nature. We look for a group that we can identify with; we seek to fit in. From high school to college I transitioned through phases and groups, and have done things I am not proud of. Every time I look back and reflect on those years I find that my mistake was always in the company I kept. The Prophet ﷺ said:
“The example of a good companion and that of a bad one is like the one who [sells] musk and [an iron smith]. The one who sells the musk will either give you some or you will at least get some of his good smell on you. As for the [iron smith], he will either burn your clothes or you will get some of his stench.” (Bukhari)
Subhan’Allah, I remembered that hadith as a kid, but I never paid attention to the advice that lies within it. It is crucial whose company we choose. Peer pressure, although often painted in a negative light, can work both ways. Just as surrounding myself with those “cool” kids led me to smoking, surrounding myself now with people who frequent the masjid has helped me quit. Alhamdulillah, I have learned from my past experiences and I have made, and continue to make, a conscientious effort of whom to befriend. Now when I am not at the masjid for a couple of days, there is a phone call or an email wondering where I’ve been. When I am at the masjid, and one person gets up to pray sunnah, everyone else follows suit.
Allah (swt), who knows His creation best, says
“And keep yourself patient [by being] with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His countenance. And let not your eyes pass beyond them, desiring adornments of the worldly life, and do not obey one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance and who follows his desire and whose affair is ever [in] neglect.” (Qur’an, 18:28)
That advice was given to the Prophet ﷺ whom Allah has described as having the most virtuous of manners:
“And indeed, you are of a great moral character.” (Qur’an, 68:4)
He was masoom (protected from committing sins) and absolutely resolute and steadfast with his religion yet Allah advises him here to surround himself by “those who call upon their Lord.” Why? Because the company we keep is vital in achieving our ultimate goal of pleasing Allah (subhana wa ta`ala – glory be unto Him) and entering His Jannah.
If we are selective in whom we befriend and choose to be in the company of those who love Allah (swt) then our love for Allah (swt) will strengthen. We rely on our peers and they rely on us, and together we build upon each other to elevate ourselves to the best of rewards and the highest of honors – Allah’s love.
“Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds – the Most Merciful will appoint for them affection.” (Qur’an, 19:96)
This verse is further explained in Tafsir al-Jalalayn, “Truly those who believe and perform righteous deeds — for them the Compassionate One shall appoint love, between them, so that they have mutual love and affection, and God, exalted be He, will love them.”
When Allah (swt) loves you, everyone else loves you:
The Prophet ﷺ has said: “If Allah loves a person He calls upon Gabriel and says to him that I love this person so love him. Gabriel in turn loves that person and then calls in the skies that Allah loves this person so love him and the people of the skies (the angels) will love him.”
Imagine that! Allah, Gabriel and all the angels will love you. Now that is cool!