Asalaamu alaykum, brother,
Thank you for sending your question to Ask About Islam.
Your situation is a common one. We all experience the natural distancing of friendship from time to time.
It is painful, I know, when someone you felt previously close to is now distancing themselves from you.
However, there are ways to cope, and here are a few tips, from my personal experience and from Islam.
It’s (Probably) Not About You
You have described a wonderful, kind friend who has been very helpful to you.
It is safe to assume he cares about you immensely, and if that’s the case, the best way forward is to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Rather than taking his absence personally, or assuming it’s about him trying to distance himself from you because of a fault in you, think about how things may be going for him in his own life.
Maybe he has just gotten seriously busy and didn’t think you’d notice the lack of response. Maybe it’s not a deep, emotional thing at all.
However, he may be struggling, too.
For example, maybe he has had a death in the family, is struggling in his home life, is having problems at work or with colleagues, or is struggling emotionally.
Maybe he needs to take a step away from everyone for a while. Don’t immediately assume it’s about you.
Before anything, perhaps send him a message noting the lack of communication and extending him your support and an offer of help if he needs it.
If it’s nothing personal, he will likely just tell you, “Hey, sorry. I’ve been busy!” or “Hey, sorry, I am not doing so well lately.”
A good rule of thumb: ASK, don’t assume.
But, It May Be…
That being said, there is always the chance that your friend really and truly does need a bit of distance from you, personally.
Imam Ali (as) said:
Live amongst people in such a manner that if you die they weep over you and if you are alive they crave for your company (friendship).
Can you honestly say this is true of your friendship with this friend of yours?
Ask yourself: have you relied on him too heavily over the years?
You mention that he helped you a ton during a very hard time. It seems like your relationship has perhaps been mostly one-sided, with him giving wisdom and guidance and you taking it.
Maybe he is tired and needs a break.
Is there some way you could help him, some way you could perhaps work to relieve a burden in his life?
I have personally had the experience of someone putting distance between themselves and me, purely because the pain and the trauma I was experiencing at that time were too much for them to handle.
Ask yourself if you are able to give him as much as he has given you, or more, or if all he really needs from you is a break.
Quality Over Quantity of Connection
Most things in life can be resolved given ample space and time to breathe.
Maybe he just needs a break from interacting with people, or with you personally, for a time. This isn’t a bad thing!
The fact is that our society is bent in a strange way in the past years, with the rise of social media, on an obsession with instant communication.
But true, authentic, human communication takes time and energy, and maybe your friend is lacking in either of those things at the moment.
Things and People Change
There is a real chance that as your life situations change, you will lose friendships with some people. This is just a part of growing up, and it’s nothing to be worried about.
Maybe you will just lose the level of closeness you had before. Maybe you will lose touch. This is OK, and healthy, even.
We have layers of friendship: the inner-most layer, made up of our best friend(s), closest family members, and spouse. Then, our other close friends, our children, our other close family members.
There is a further layer of our more distant family members and work colleagues and other various friends. Beyond that, there is a layer of acquaintances we like but wouldn’t call “friends”, and beyond that are strangers, or the rest of the world.
Sometimes, our closest friends drift out to a further layer for a time, and then drift closer. Other times, for their reasons or ours, or for external reasons, they drift out and we don’t get the chance to bring them closer.
The point is: this is a normal part of life. People come, people go, people drift, people draw near. Let it happen. It’s healthy.
Don’t Forget #1 and #2
At the end of the day, we need to be sure that we are not relying too heavily on our friends for our emotional and mental well-being. No one can be responsible for the happiness of another.
Be sure you are maintaining a healthy relationship with God (#1) above all else. Be sure you are maintaining your prayers—and you mentioned that you are praying them in the masjid now, which is good.
Also, be sure you are maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself (#2).
If you are not a good, kind, helpful friend to your own self, you cannot expect to be such a friend to anyone else, and you can’t then expect others to be such to you.
Friendship makes life sweet, and there’s no doubt there. But when are are not being good friends to ourselves, it can make being a good friend to others that much harder.
Maybe your friend needs some distance from you—or from everyone—because he needs time to work on himself.
I hope this helps, inshaAllah.
Satisfy your curiosity and check out these other helpful links: