Friendship of Souls
“Souls are like soldiers grouped in ranks: those of them which are familiar with each other will be friends, and those which are unfamiliar will be in conflict.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim and others).
Sometimes the Prophet (Pbuh) gives us a glimpse of insight into the realm of the soul, which we know very little about. The important thing to remember in this connection is that God has chosen not to give us a detailed knowledge of the soul. We should also remember that whatever He has chosen to withhold from us would not affect our role on earth and the fulfillment of the task assigned to us in this life. Therefore, we limit ourselves to what is outlined in the Qur’an and what the Prophet has given us in authentic Hadith. However, people continue to try to explore the realm of the soul and come up with all sorts of ideas to show that they have special knowledge that is denied to others. All such claims are false, because they do not rely on any confirmed knowledge imparted to us by God through His messenger.
A Hadith which gives us a glimpse of the nature of the soul is reported by Aishah, the Prophet’s wife, who quotes him as saying: “Souls are like soldiers grouped in ranks: those of them which are familiar with each other will be friends, and those which are unfamiliar will be in conflict.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim and others). This Hadith has several versions with different chains of transmission, all of which are authentic. This makes it highly authentic. One version which throws some light on its meaning mentions that a Makkan woman who was known to have a sense of humor traveled to Madinah where she was a guest of a woman of similar qualities. When Aishah heard of that, she said: “My beloved husband always told the truth… (and she quoted the Hadith).”
What this Hadith means is that God created souls and gave them their qualities. Those of similar qualities will easily be friends when they meet in this life, while those who have different natures are likely to be in conflict. This in fact accounts for endless cases of people getting along together when their apparent circumstances should have kept them well apart. Moreover, it tells us something about what brings good people together and what allows evil ones to flock together and even trust each other, when they know that they are evil at heart.
If this sounds difficult to understand, it is because we know very little about the nature of the soul. But some Hadiths tell us of things that may sound extremely strange, such as this very authentic Hadith: “A shepherd was tending his sheep, when a wolf attacked and took away one sheep. The shepherd pursued him, but the wolf turned round and said: ‘Who will protect her on the day of the lion, when I will be its only shepherd.’ The people with the Prophet said: ‘Glory be to God, or Subhan Allah.’ The Prophet rejoined, ‘I do believe in this, and so do Abu Bakr and Umar.’” (Related by Al-Bukhari).
The first thing that attracts our attention in this Hadith is the wolf speaking to the shepherd in human language. To start with, this is not difficult for God to bring about. He made infants talk in adult language, such as Jesus Christ, and the child witness testifying to Joseph’s innocence when he was falsely accused by the Egyptian minister’s wife that he tried to seduce her. God is able to do whatever He wishes, and He accomplishes His purpose, no matter how impossible it may appear to human eyes. For the wolf to talk in human language is, to God, as easy as making human beings speak. If we look into how human children learn to speak we are bound to conclude that they would have never done so of their own accord, unless God instills in them the ability to learn to speak.
When the Prophet’s audience expressed their amazement, he confirmed his belief in the truth of the story, and he also asserted that Abu Bakr and Umar also believe in it. He mentions his closest companions who showed the most profound insight into the Islamic faith. They would not hesitate to believe in the story, amazing as it may sound to us. In fact, we should have no difficulty in accepting the story, because it merely tells us about one aspect demonstrating God’s power. When we assert our belief in God, we also make it clear that we believe that God is able to do everything. Making a wolf speak in human language is very simple to Him, and He can make this happen at any time.
Apparently, this Hadith speaks about an incident that took place long before the Prophet. In fact, Al-Bukhari mentions it in the chapter he devotes for the Hadiths concerning the Children of Israel. But the same thing happened to one of the Prophet’s companions called Ahban ibn Aws.
The relevant Hadith is related in connection with his acceptance of Islam. The report says: “A wolf attacked his flock of sheep and pursued one of them. Ahban shouted at the wolf, trying to drive him away. The wolf turned to him and said: ‘Who will protect her when you are preoccupied with other things? Do you prevent me provisions that God has given me?’ Ahban clapped with his hands in amazement and said, ‘By God, I have never seen a more amazing thing!’ The wolf said, ‘But there is a more amazing thing. Here is God’s messenger sitting under these date trees, calling on people to believe in God.’ Ahban went to the Prophet and told him the story and declared that he believed in Islam.” (Related by Ibn Hajar in his commentary on Al-Bukhari’s Sahih).
I do not find it amazing that a wolf speaks to a man in his language. God is able to accomplish that at any time. What I find amazing is that the same story should happen twice, the first time with a person from the Children of Israel, and then at the Prophet’s own time, with the addition that the wolf directs the man to the place where God’s messenger was speaking to people calling on them to believe in God. Glory be to God; He is able to do whatever He wills.