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Several of the Companions had gathered and waited for the arrival of the Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, and during this time they spoke to one another about the ranks of the prophets. Ibn Abbas' (May Allah be pleased with Him) reported that when the Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, came out he overheard their conversation, one of whom was saying, "How astounding, Allah took Abraham Alaihis Salam from His creation as His close friend," Another said, "It is even more astounding that He spoke directly to Moses Alaihis Salam!" Whereupon another said, "Jesus Alaihis Salam is the word of Allah and His created spirit." And another said, "Allah chose Adam Alaihis Salam!" Having heard their comments, the Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, greeted them and told them that he had heard what they were saying and noticed that they were astounded that Allah had chosen Abraham Alaihis Salam as a close friend, and confirmed that this was so. He said, "You also expressed your amazement that Allah took Moses Alaihis Salam as a close friend, and this too is so. You also spoke of Jesus Alaihis Salam as being the created spirit of Allah, and this is so, and that Adam Alaihis Salam was chosen and this is so. I am the beloved of Allah, and I am not boasting. I will be the Bearer of the Banner of Praise on the Day of Resurrection, and this is not a boast. I will be the first to intercede and the first whose intercession is accepted, and this is not a boast. I will be the first to knock at the Gate of the Garden and Allah will cause it to be opened for me and let me enter together with the poor believers, and this is not a boast. From the first to the last I am the most honored or all, and this is not a boast."
In addition to the preceding Prophetic quotation, Abu Hurayrah (May Allah be pleased with Him) reported that Allah said to His Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, "I have taken you for a close friend, and written in the Torah is 'the Beloved of the Merciful.'"
There are differences in opinion regarding the terminology "close friend" and the root word from which it is derived. There are those who say the Arabic word "khalil", meaning 'close friend', also bears the definition of "devoted to Allah." This is because people who attain such a rank of devotion or love of Allah are not detached from one another. Another opinion is that the word "khalil" can be taken as meaning "chosen", and that Allah selected this word in preference to others. It has also been said that the root of the word is derived from "taking a matter to be pure".
Prophet Abraham Alaihis Salam was called the close friend of Allah "khalilu'llah" on account of the ultimate intensity of his devotion to Allah. The friendship of Allah to Abraham was that He made him victorious and a role model. On the other hand, there are those who define the root of "khalil", which is "khulla" meaning "in need" as being "a poor person in need". Abraham Alaihis Salam was known by this title because his need was only in his Lord and he was devotedly dependent upon Him for his needs and did not depend upon others. We recall how when Abraham was about to be cast into the fire, Gabriel Alaihis Salam came to him and asked, "Are you in need of anything?" whereupon he replied, "No, I am not in need of anything from you."
Ibn Abu Bakr Furack (May Allah be pleased with Him) defined the word "khulla" with the meaning of "pure love that necessitates a person being singled out for being infused by secrets."
It has also been said that the root of the word "khulla" is love, and incorporates kindness, help, raising and intercession. This is founded in the verse that reads, "The Jews and the Christians said, “We are the sons of Allah and His beloved ones”; say, “Why does He then punish you for your sins?' [5:18]. It is inconceivable that if a person is beloved, that he should be punished for his sins!
The Prophet-hood has perspectives between people and the prophet, whereas the friendship has a perspective between Allah and Prophet Muhammad, praise and peace be upon him, which makes it very special.
Because of their devotion to Allah, both Prophets Abraham and Muhammad, peace be upon them, were titled "close friends." They looked to Him for all their needs and severed themselves from needing anyone else. And, it was either because of the greatness of the concealed kindness of Allah to them, and the disclosed knowledge of the Divine secrets they received, as well as the matters of the Unseen worlds and faith with which they were infused in their inner self that they forsook other means and causes. Or, because their hearts had been purified from anything other than Him, so that love for anything else was prevented from reaching them. For this reason a scholar said, "A person who is 'khalil' is one whose heart has no room for anyone other than Him." Accordingly he is of the opinion that this is what the Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, referred to when he said, "If I were to have taken a close friend other than my Lord, I would have taken Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with Him, however, in Islam there is brotherhood."
Opinions vary among the knowledgeable masters of the matters relating to the heart as to which is the higher degree and the question arises is it the degree of close friendship, or the degree of love the higher? On the other hand there are those who consider both degrees as being equal to one another saying that the beloved is a close friend and a close friend is also the beloved. But then, Prophet Abraham was given the degree of close friendship and Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them both, was given love.
In support of the opinion that the degree of friendship is higher, one of the scholars quotes the saying of the Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, that says, "If I were to have taken a close friend other than my Lord …" but he did not do so and we find him using the word 'love' to his daughter Sayyida Fatima, her sons, as well as Osama and others.
The consensus of most scholars is that "love" is higher than "friendship". To sustain this opinion they use as their proof that Prophet Muhammad, praise and peace be upon him, was given the title of the "Beloved" whereas Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him, was titled "Close Friend" .
One must examine the human basis of love and know that it is the inclination of what the beloved finds pleasing. The love of Allah is not connected to unessential matters. His love for His worshipers is comprised of happiness, protection, success, and affairs that bring him/her closer and His Mercy that overflows upon the recipient. The highest degree is reached when the veils of the heart are removed so that the worshiper sees Him with his heart and looks at Him with his inner eye. This is supported by the Divine quotation that tells us, "When I (Allah) love him I am his hearing by which he hears, the sight by which he sees, and his tongue by which he speaks." One should understand by this that there is nothing better for a worshiper other than seclusion for the sake of Allah, devotion to Him, the turning away from anything other than Allah, the purity of heart and sincerity of actions for the sake of Allah.
Sayyida Ayesha, may Allah be pleased with her, was asked about the Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, and said, "His character was the Qur’an, and his pleasure was its pleasure and his anger was its anger."
It is an undoubted fact that Prophet Muhammad, praise and peace be upon him, was blessed to be the receiver of not only the quality of close friendship but also the very special quality of love.
When the unbelievers said, "Muhammad means we should love him just as the Christians love Jesus, the son of Mary", Allah sent down the verse that reads "Proclaim, (O dear Prophet Mohammed - peace and blessings be upon him), “O mankind! If you love Allah, follow me - Allah will love you and forgive you your sins”; and Allah is Oft Forgiving, Most Merciful." [3:31]. And His anger towards them becomes apparent in the following verse that tells us, "Proclaim, “Obey Allah and the Noble Messenger”; so if they turn away - then Allah is not pleased with the disbelievers." [3:32]. In this verse Allah increased the honor the Prophet, praise and peace be upon him. Note how He issued the command to obey His Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, in connection with obedience to Himself – this is followed by the warning if they choose to turn away, "then truly, Allah does not love the unbelievers."
A theologian explained the difference between love and close friendship. He said that the close friend reaches Allah through an intermediary. To support his explanation he quoted the verses "And likewise We showed Ibrahim the entire kingdom of the heavens and the earth and so that he be of those who believe as eyewitnesses." [6:75] whereas He indicated that the beloved, Prophet Muhammad, reaches Him by Him in the verse "So the distance between the Spectacle and the beloved was only two arms’ length, or even less." [53:9].
It has also been said that the limit of the close friend is the desire for forgiveness. Allah quotes the saying of Abraham, "And the One Who, upon Whom I pin my hopes, will forgive me my mistakes on the Day of Judgement." [26:82]. Whereas the one who is the beloved is absolutely certain that he will be forgiven, and this is supported in the verse that reads, "So that Allah may forgive, for your sake, the sins of those before you and those after you, and complete His favours upon you, and to show you the Straight Path. " [48:2].
We refer back to Prophet Abraham whose rank is that of the close friend and the verse in which he said, "And the One Who, upon Whom I pin my hopes, will forgive me my mistakes on the Day of Judgement." [26:82] and now to the verse "on the day when Allah will not humble the Prophet and the believers along with him; their light will be running ahead of them and on their right;" [66:8].
The "close friend" Abraham said, "And give me proper fame among the succeeding generations." [26:84]. Whereas Prophet Muhammad, "the beloved", was told, in the verse "And We have exalted your remembrance for you (O dear Prophet Mohammed - peace and blessings be upon him)." [94:4]. Note how the glad tiding was given to the Prophet, praise and peace be upon him, before the questioning.
In times of affliction note how the close friend says, "Allah is sufficient for us" [3:173]. Whereas it was said to Prophet Muhammad, the Beloved, praise and peace be upon him, "O Herald of the Hidden! Allah is Sufficient for you and for all these Muslims who follow you." [8:64]
And Abraham, the close friend of Allah is quoted in the Qur’an saying, "And give me proper fame among the succeeding generations." [26:84], while Allah said to Prophet Muhammad, praise and peace be upon him, "And indeed the latter is better for you than the former." [93:4]
Khalil said: "and safeguard me and my sons from worshipping idols." [14:35] while Allah said to HIS Habib. "Allah only wills to remove all impurity from you, O the People of the Household, and by cleansing you make you utterly pure. (*The Holy Prophet’s household.)" [33:33]
The preceding information is sufficient to give one a glimpse into the superiority of the rank, degrees and status of Prophet Muhammad, praise and peace be upon him, and to the inform you of the opinions of the scholars of Islam. Allah says, "Proclaim, Each one works according to his own pattern; and your Lord well knows him who is more upon guidance." [17:84]