The mystics of Islam have a lovely way of referring to God not only as Lord, but also as a Beloved, even as a Friend.
These seekers state that in public they refer to God as Lord, but in their intimate whispers they call on God as “the Friend” (doost).
What does it mean to befriend God?
What does it mean to look at God not merely as a Lord (with us humans as subjects) but instead look at our relationship with God through a lens of love, one of friendship?
How would it change our prayer if we approached God as a loving friend?
This is precisely one of the great gifts of the Islamic tradition. It is never an either/or approach, but always a both/and, a cosmic and exuberant yes! to all the possibilities. God is both The Lord, the Creator of all creation, the transcendent King and, simultaneously, the intimate friend, the beloved who mingles with us closer than the beating of our own heart.
The luminous souls of the saintly path are referred to as God’s friends (awliya’), a lovely description of their rank. They have attained God’s friendship, and God is revealed as their friend. Friendship is face-to-face, heart-to-heart, eye-to-heart. Friendship is intimate, enduring, and faithful.
I wanted to share some insights on what befriending God looks like by sharing a few pearls from the lovely friend of God, Abu‘l-Hasan Kharaqani, who passed on to the eternal realm in 1033. The names of Hafez and Rumi are well known to many seekers, but lesser known are these giants on whose shoulders Rumi and Hafez stood. It’s worth remembering that we don’t get Everest without the Himalayas, and we don’t get towering giants like Rumi without a whole community, a whole tradition of lovers who called on God as a friend.
Kharaqani was a simple and humble man who came from a very modest background. He was not a scholar, nor did he possess perfect command of Arabic. He called on to God in his mother tongue, Persian. It was his friendship with God that sustained him. Kharaqani said:
“Sustenance of the friends of God is through friendship with God.”
He experienced much sorrow in his life, including having his children pass away, but it was the friendship with God that brought him joy. He described this joy as one that was more precious than any and all acts of ritual worship.
Many have tried to describe the spiritual path through a thousand and one metaphors. These friends of God simply said that the path is to be “at ease with God.”
For Kharaqani, this friendship was a mutual seeking. God is seeking us as we are seeking us. God yearns to befriend us as we seek God. Kharaqani talks about a dream he had one night:
One night I saw God Almighty in a dream.
I said to God:
“It’s been sixty years that I have spent
in the hope of being your friend,
of desiring you.”
God Almighty answered me:
“You’ve been seeking me for sixty years?
I’ve spent an eternity
One of the stories from Kharaqani gives an indication of the loving, tender, even humorous friendship that he shared with God. This is possible for all of us, if we walk on the path of befriending God. Kharaqani tells us that one night, in the middle of his late-night prayers being whispered to God, he heard the voice of God coming at him in a stern fashion: “Do you want Me to reveal to people all of your shortcomings, so that they stone you?” Kharaqani, undaunted, talked back to God: “My friend, my beloved Lord, do you want me to tell the same people that you love them so much that you could never put a single one of them in hellfire? If I do that, they are going to stop all this prayer and fasting.”
There was a pregnant pause, and the voice of God said — more softly — to Kharaqani:
“You say nothing;
I say nothing.”
This friendship, this tenderness, this befriending was not just for Kharaqani. It was and is for all of us who tell these tales again and again through the last millennia. We, too, yearn for a friendship with the Lord of the Cosmos, who becomes our intimate beloved.
It was Kharaqani who said:
“Whoever falls in love passionately, a radical love that spills over, finds God.”
This befriending of God did not stop with God, but had to change the way that we interact with God’s creation. For Kharaqani, and for all of us who yearn to befriend God, to be a friend of God meant to befriend humanity, regardless of their faith or status. On the entrance to his shrine is inscribed this beautiful simple poem.
Whoever comes here
Do not ask them
They deserve a daily bread
in my house
Since they were worthy of a soul
in God’s court
What a joy to be a friend of God.
What a joy to become a friend of God.
What a joy to discover God having waited an eternity to befriend us.