Excerpt from the book ‘The Manners of the Knowledge Seeker’ (آداب طالب العلم)
People have always been greatly divided over the issue of mixing and seclusion. So, some went with the opinion that one should always mix with the people, and some went with the opinion that one should always seclude himself from the people, and everyone is satisfied with his point of view.
And Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah have Mercy on him) touched upon this issue and clarified the dispute, saying: “This issue – even though the people have differed over it, either partially or completely – the reality of it is that mixing with the people is sometimes obligatory or recommended. The same individual can sometimes be obligated to mix with others, and can at other times be obligated to separate from them.
The way to properly reconcile between these two stands is to realize that mixing, if it involves cooperation upon good and piety, is obligatory, and if it involves cooperation upon sin and transgression, is forbidden. Mixing with the Muslims for the purpose of congregational acts of worship, such as the five prayers, the Friday prayer, the ‘Id prayer, the eclipse prayer, the prayer for rain (istisqa’), etc., is from what Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) commanded. Such is also the case when mixing with the people during the Hajj, to fight the disbelievers, Khawarij, and rebels, even if the leaders of and participants in such activities are corrupt. This is also the case with a gathering in which the worshipper can increase his faith – either because of it benefiting him, or he benefiting it.
And a person must have time alone to engage in supplication, remembrance, prayer, reflection, take himself to account, and rectify his heart. These are issues that nobody else can participate with him in, and these are affairs that need to be seen to on an individual basis, whether at home or otherwise, as Tawus said: “How excellent of a refuge is the home! In it, one can restrain his gaze and his tongue.” So, it is incorrect to mix with people unrestrictedly, and it is incorrect to seclude yourself from people unrestrictedly. As for exactly how much every person needs of each, and what is best for him at all times, this is something that requires further investigation.
What is best is that one sometimes pick from the various types of worship based on their inherent virtue (prayer is in itself better than recitation of the Qur’an, and recitation is better than dhikr, and dhikr is better than supplication), and sometimes based on what time of day he is in (recitation, dhikr, and supplication after Fajr and ‘Asr are preferred over prayer), and sometimes based on the physical position he is in (dhikr and supplication in bowing and prostration are legislated instead of recitation of the Qur’an, and dhikr and supplication during tawaf is legislated by consensus, while recitation of the Qur’an during tawaf is differed over), and sometimes based on his location (what is legislated at ‘Arafah, Muzdalifah, at the Jamar, and at Safa and Marwah is dhikr and supplication instead of prayer, etc. and tawaf of the Sacred House for the visitor is better than prayer, and prayer is better for the inhabitants of Makkah), and sometimes based on the appropriateness of the worship for the person (Jihad for men is better than Hajj, while the jihad of women is Hajj, and obedience to the husband is better than obedience to the father for the married woman, as opposed to the single woman who is commanded to obey her father), and sometimes based on the capability of the servant, as the worship he is capable of is better for him than the worship he is incapable of, even if what he is incapable of is inherently better.
This is a point where many people go to extremes and follow their desires: some people who see a certain action as being better for them due to their own circumstances, or due to it being more beneficial to their heart and a better way to obey their Lord, wish to then make this the best action for everyone around them, and proceeds to command them to do the same.
And Allah sent Muhammad (peace be upon him) with the Book and Wisdom, and made him to be a mercy and guide for the servants, commanding each person with what is best for them. So, the Muslim should be a well-wisher to every person, wanting what is best for them.” (‘Majmu’ al-Fatawa’ (10/425))
And the scholars – may Allah be Pleased with them – would mix with the people and teach them while simultaneously being the most careful of people of wasting their time, and Ahmad (may Allah be Pleased with him) was the most patient of people upon being alone, despite the fact that he was the imam of the world during his time. His son, ‘Abdullah, said: “My father went out to Tarsus on foot, performed Hajj two or three times on foot, and he was the most patient of people upon being alone. Bishr, despite his status, was unable to remain by himself, and would always go out to see this person and that.” (‘Tarjamat al-Imam Ahmad’ (p. 18))
So, mixing and socialization should not be with one who has a dead heart, as he is like a highway robber. Rather, it should be with one who will increase you in faith and action.
Ibn al-Qayyim said: “The one with a dead heart will make you feel lonely. So, take advantage of his absence as much as possible, because you will not feel lonely except when he is with you. If you are put to trial with him, give him your outer attention, wander from him with your heart, separate your inner self from him, and do not let him distract you from what is more deserving of your attention.
Know that the greatest of losses is for you to be preoccupied with one who will bring you nothing but a loss in your time with Allah – the Mighty and Majestic – and being cut off from Him, wasting of your time on him, weakening of your energy, and dispersing of your attention. So, if you are tested with this – and you must be tested with this – deal with him according to how Allah would wish, and be patient with him as much as possible. Get closer to Allah and His Pleasure by way of this person, and make your getting together with him something to benefit from, not something to incur a loss from. Be with him as if you are a man who is on a road who was stopped by another man, who then asks you to take him on your journey. Make sure that you are the one who gives him a ride, and that he is not the one giving you the ride. If he refuses, and there is nothing to gain from traveling with him, do not stop for him, bid him farewell, and do not even turn back to look at him, as he is a highway robber regardless of who he really is.
So, save your heart, be wary of how you spend your days and nights, and do not let the Sun set before you arrive at your destination.” (‘al-Wabil as-Sayyib’ (p. 45))
“So, the student of knowledge should abandon socialization, as this is from the most crucial things that he can do, especially in regards to members of the opposite gender, and especially with those who spend most of their time in amusement and little of their time in thought, as the nature of others can rob you of your own. The harms of socialization include the passing of your life without any benefit, as well as the decline of your wealth and religious commitment if this socialization were to occur with the wrong people.
The student of knowledge should not mix except with those who he can benefit or can benefit from. If he is offered the friendship of one who will waste his time with him, will not benefit him, will not benefit from him, and will not assist him in reaching his objective, he should politely end the relationship from the start before it progresses to something deeper, as when something becomes established, it becomes more difficult to change it. There is a phrase that is constantly on the tongues of the scholars: ‘Repelling something is easier than removing it.’
If he requires someone to befriend, let that person be righteous, religious, pious, wary, intelligent, full of benefit, having little evil, good at complying and rarely conflicting, reminding him if he forgets, cooperating with him when he is reminded, helpful if he is in need, and comforting if he is in distress.” (‘Tadhkirat as-Sami’ wal-Mutakallim‘ (p. 83))
Ibn Qudamah (may Allah have Mercy on him) said: “Know that not everyone is suitable to be your friend. You must verify that this potential friend has the necessary characteristics that make friendship with him something to be desired. The one you seek to befriend must have five characteristics:
• He must be intelligent. There is no good in befriending an idiot, as he will only harm you when he wants to benefit you. By intelligent, we mean one he understands things as they are on his own or if they are explained to him.
• He must have good manners, and this is a must. One who is simply intelligent might be overcome by anger or desire, and obey his desire. Thus, there would be no benefit in befriending him.
• He must not be a fasiq. Such a person would not fear Allah, and whoever does not fear Allah cannot be trusted.
• He must not be an innovator, as there is a fear of being overtaken by his innovation.
• He should not be eager for the dunya.
‘Umar bin al-Khattab (may Allah be Pleased with him) said: “Stick with your true brothers. You can live in comfort with them, as they are a delight in times of ease, and you can lean on them in times of hardship. Assume the best about your brother until he comes with something that should alarm you from him. Avoid your enemy, and beware of befriending anyone but the trustworthy, and there is no trust for the one who doesn’t fear Allah. Do not befriend the corrupt, as he will teach you his corruption, and do not reveal your secrets to him, and only consult those who fear Allah, the Exalted.”
Yahya bin Mu’adh said: “A friend is the one who you don’t have to remind to remember you in his supplication, and that you don’t have to flatter and impress, and that you don’t have to apologize to.”
And Abu Ja’far said to his companions: “Can any of you put his hand in the pocket of his brother and take what he wants?” They replied: “No.” He said: “Then you are not brothers as you claim.”