I put my head covering on thanks to a girl I befriended on the bus in high school and took it off under the influence of my MSA friends in college (long story). The miscellaneous hijab tightenings and relaxings in between also correlate to the people I hung out with, whether at school, on the job or in the community.
As impressionable as I was, I should have heeded the advice of Prophet Muhammad (S): “Man is influenced by the faith of his friends. Therefore, be careful of whom you associate with.”
But it's not too late. Even as adults we need to make sure we are surrounding ourselves with people who bring us closer to God before it is too late:
"On the Day when the unjust will bite their hands (regretfully) saying, would that we had taken a way with the Messenger. Would that we had not been friends with so and so. He led us away from the true guidance after it had come to us...." (25:28-29)
As Zara Syed says on islamicinsights.org: "Muslims of all ages are falling victim to decreasing piety levels as a result of having bad company. If you feel like an ugly duckling while practicing Islam around your friends, there is something extremely wrong with your friendship."
There are clear instructions on keeping away from those people who are openly flouting God's orders. According to hadith qudsi, God addresses the Prophet (S) and says: "Oh Ahmed, it is not the case that everyone who says he loves Me loves Me until he runs away from the sinner in a thorough running away."
In fact, many Muslims tell Allah daily in Arabic that they "alienate and forsake him who disobeys You" during dua qunoot in Isha prayer. Unfortunately, they don't understand what they are saying and end up lying to Allah over and over again.
Some of the negative affects of unnecessarily associating with those heedless of God include: hypocricy, hard-heartedness, lack of humility before God and forgetting our own faults, according to scholar Usama Abdul-Ghani.
"We want to associate with others who remind us of Allah. People who are strong enough so that even if they see us committing sin or making a mistake, these people will come to us and remind us of our duties," Abdul-Ghani advises.
Once we make good friends, we need to keep them. Here are some friendship rights that need to be observed according to Imam Zain-ul-Abideen, the great grandson of Prophet Muhammad (S):
"The right of the companion is that you act as his companion with bounty and in fairness. You honor him as he honors you, and you do not let him be the first to act with generosity. If he is first, you repay him. You wish for him as he wishes for you, and you restrain him from any act of disobedience he might attempt. Be a mercy for him and not a chastisement. And there is no strength save in God."
We can learn from Fatima, daughter of Muhammad (S), how to be a good friend. Her son Hasan said he observed his mother praying from night to dawn and never heard her supplicate for herself. When he asked her why, here was her reply:
"My dear son! First come your neighbors and friends, then your home, then yourself!"
Those of us committed to emulating women like Fatima must strive to move our friendships beyond the usual phone gabbing/texting, power shopping or elaborate Saturday night dinnering. We must develop our friendships into vehicles for collectively getting closer to God, God willing, whether it is through education, charity work or political action.
As Imam Khomeini says: "Strive to purify your character and to make your friends do likewise. Strive so that you react to the outrages committed against you." (March 12, 1985)