The Rights of Neighbors in Islam

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(part 1 of 2):  The Kind Treatment of Neighbours Description:  A look at how Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon ...

(part 1 of 2):  The Kind Treatment of Neighbours

Description: A look at how Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of Allah be upon him, and the sahabah treated their neighbours.
Objectives
·       To see and understand how neighbourly relations reflect on the wider community.
·       To understand that good neighbours and neighbourly concern is a blessing from Allah and should be maintained and nurtured.
·       To realise that concern for neighbours means for all neighbours not just those of the same race, ethnicity or religion.
Arabic Terms
·       Hadith  -  (plural – ahadith) is a piece of information or a story.  In Islam it is a narrative record of the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad and his companions.
·       Sunnah - The word Sunnah has several meanings depending on the area of study however the meaning is generally accepted to be, whatever was reported that the Prophet said, did, or approved.
·       Sahabah - the plural form of “Sahabi,” which translates to Companions.   A sahabi, as the word is commonly used today, is someone who saw Prophet Muhammad, believed in him and died as a Muslim.
The Rights of Neighbours in Islam 1.jpgIn an authentic hadith, the good and kind treatment of neighbours is linked to belief in Allah and the tenants of Islam.  Prophet Muhammad said that, “For whoever believes in Allah and the Day of Judgement it is essential that he does not harm his neighbours…” [1] Thus we are able to understand that the rights of neighbours hold a high status in Islam, in fact Prophet Muhammad’s beloved wife Aisha narrated in another hadith that the angel Gabriel was so insistent that the rights of neighbours be upheld that he, Prophet Muhammad, wondered if inheritance rights would be bestowed upon close neighbours.
The sahabah were constantly reminded by both word and deed that Allah and His messenger placed great importance on the consideration and kind treatment of neighbours.   Prophet Muhammad once had a neighbour that harmed and insulted him at every opportunity.  When a few days had gone past and the Prophet did not encounter the man, he visited him because he was concerned that his neighbour might have been ill or be in need of help.  That is how Prophet Muhammad treated his neighbours, even those who were not his brothers and sisters in Islam.   A good neighbour is one who guarantees comfort, security and safety.  This is true regardless of the ethnicity or religion of the neighbours.  Community relations are very important and should be able to transcend perceived barriers such as race, religion or political affiliation. 
The Muslim society, particularly the society that was set up in the city of Medina, placed great emphasis on community cohesion.  If one member of the community suffers then the whole community is at risk.  In the past, neighbours and wider community members depended on each other in times of strife or calamity.  This is not so far from the situations we find ourselves in today; old people die alone and are forgotten and neighbours go hungry huddled behind closed doors.  Many community problems such as these could be solved by neighbourly concern.
Recently a group of high school boys in Sydney Australia began mowing lawns and cleaning the yards of their elderly and disadvantaged neighbours.[2]  The boys are Muslims; however most of their neighbours are not.  What a noble way for these youth to follow in the footsteps of their beloved Prophet.  The people of the neighbourhood  talked of their surprise and initial wariness of the boys’ intentions but with time they became comfortable.   Good neighbourly relations is exactly what Prophet Muhammad said it was; a joy in one’s life.
As we can see from the Sydney example, Muslims are in a unique position to give communities something that is often missing as the world drifts into the future: community unity and a safe environment.  As Muslims we know that part of obeying Allah and his Messenger is ensuring a safe community for all.  We do not have to guess at ways to make that a reality but are able to follow the guidance of the Quran and the authentic Sunnah.
Because of the importance of having good neighbours, people often make inquiries before they move into a certain area.  This is because a wrong type of neighbour can make life miserable.  Just as a bad relationship with a neighbour can make life wretched, a good neighbour can do just the opposite.  Prophet Muhammad said, “Among the things that bring happiness to a believer in this life are a righteous neighbour, a spacious house and a comfortable means of transport”.[3]  If we are unsure about how to treat our neighbours then we can look to the sahabah and try to emulate their behaviour in a way that is suited to our time and place.
Abu Dhar, was told by Prophet Muhammad to add extra water to his broth in order to be able to offer some to his neighbours.[4]  Abdullah ibn Amr once asked his servant after slaughtering a sheep, “Did you give some to our Jewish neighbour?”[5]  A believer is encouraged to give gifts even if they are of little monetary value.   The true value of the gift is the spirit with which it is given.   The giving of gifts encourages friendship and good neighbourly relations.   When the Prophet’s wife Aisha asked him which neighbours she should send her gifts to, he replied, “To the one whose door is closest to yours”.[6]  Although the closest neighbours are the ones we should be mindful of in the first instance, Islam urges us to take care of all our neighbours and to be mindful of the wider community. 
There are many ahadith that stress the importance of kind treatment to neighbours.   “The best of companions with Allah is the one who is best to his companion, and the best of neighbours with Him is the one who is best to his neighbour.” But what about those neighbours that disrupt the fair enjoyment a person is entitled to in his or her own home? Prophet Muhammad was asked about a certain woman who prayed and fasted more than was obligatory upon her, and gave generously in charity, but unfortunately, she did not refrain from speaking harshly to her neighbours.   He described her as being among the people of Hell.  Another woman was described to him who worshipped no more than was obligatory upon her and he said she was a person from Paradise simply because she was a good neighbour.[7]


Footnotes:
[1] Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim.
[2] http://mobile.news.com.au/national/nsw-act/whipper-snipper-boys-will-do-your-lawn-for-free/story-fnii5s3x-1226908304459
[3] Saheeh Al-Bukhari
[4] Saheeh Muslim
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid
[7] Saheeh Al-Bukhari

The Rights of Neighbours in Islam (part 2 of 2): Neighbours - Good and Bad

Description: Tips and hints for treating neighbours well and how to deal with unruly or bad neighbours.
Objectives
·       To learn how to fulfil the rights of neighbours in an easy and Islamically correct way.
·       To understand that dealing with a bad neighbour should never include backbiting or other bad behaviour.
Arabic Terms
·       Sahabah - the plural form of “Sahabi,” which translates to Companions.   A sahabi, as the word is commonly used today, is someone who saw Prophet Muhammad, believed in him and died as a Muslim.
The Rights of Neighbours in Islam2.jpgProphet Muhammad said that, “The best of companions with Allah is the one who is best to his companion, and the best of neighbours with Him is the one who is best to his neighbour.”[1]  He also said, “The one who harms his neighbor will not enter Paradise.”[2]
Thus we can see that treating neighbours well and with respect, is a very important concept in Islam.  It makes life more enjoyable for all concerned; when you are surrounded by people you can rely upon, trials and tribulations can be faced more easily with their support and encouragement.  If your neighbours are Muslim being a good neighbour is easy because the rights of neighbours are enshrined within the tenants of Islam.   Among the rights of one Muslim over another are the following:
·       Greet him with the Islamic greeting of Assalam alaikum[3]
·       Visit when he is unwell.
·       Offer condolences and help in times of calamity.
·       Offer congratulations at times of joy and happiness
·       As much as possible overlook mistakes, bare annoyances and conceal faults.
·       Give gifts. 
·       Help financially.
·       Do not look at his possessions with envy. 
·       Guide him to things that will benefit him in both his religious and worldly affairs.
If your neighbours are not Muslim it does not mean that they should be treated any differently.   In fact treating them with the respect Islam insists upon can only be a good thing.  At best it may lead them to Islam and at the very least everyone in the neighbourhood lives a peaceful and cooperative existence.
The following are some practical tips for those who live in communities populated by people of various ethnicities and faiths:
·       Introduce yourself to the neighbours when you move into a new home or when new neighbours move in.
·       Show care and consideration by inquiring about the health of the elderly or chronically ill. A Muslim should not eat if his neighbour is hungry thus you could help by sending food as well as taking care of chores such as mowing the lawn or taking out the rubbish bins.  Prophet Muhammad advised a sahabi to foster good neighbourly relations when he said, “…Whenever you prepare a broth, put plenty of water in it, and give some of it to your neighbours”.[4]
·       Give gifts.  The giving of gifts softens even the hardest hearts.
·       Invite neighbours for meals or barbeques or even a simple cup of tea.  In your invitation be sure to mention the restrictions Islam has on alcohol and dietary requirements so there are no embarrassing moments.  This is also a chance to show that alcohol is not a necessary ingredient to happy social life.
·       Accept invitations.  Unless there is a good reason not to such as alcohol or dancing.
·       While socialising present Islam in the best way.  Do not enter into futile arguments about religion or politics.
·       If your neighbours show an interest in Islam don’t be pushy.  Perhaps you could give uplifting books or invite them to events that showcase Islam.
·       Be the first to help in times of calamity.  Your neighbours may need money, transportation or a shoulder to cry on.
Having established that good neighbours are a blessing and behaving in a good manner towards your neighbours is a requirement in Islam, what should a person do when faced with bad behaviour by neighbours? In a Muslim society or neighbourhood a good way to stop your Muslim neighbour from behaving in an unneighbourly manner is to publicise his behaviour.
One of the sahabah mentions that a man asked the Prophet how to deal with a neighbour that caused him harm.  The Prophet suggested taking his things and standing in the road.  When the man did what was suggested the people gathered around asking what was happening.  The mistreated man explained what he was doing and that it was the suggestion of Prophet Muhammad.  The people were astounded  and the man was disgraced.  It was with shame and remorse that the bad neighbour went to the maligned man and said, “Go back to your house.  By Allah, I will cause you no harm whatsoever.”[5]
It is important however that if one publicises the fact that he has a bad neighbour he must not indulge in backbiting or exaggerate the bad treatment.   What the Prophet advised was to show that his neighbour’s attitude towards him had caused him to leave his home.  He did not say more than this.  That was sufficient for people to recognize that the matter was serious.   It is important to remember that when dealing with both Muslims and non-Muslims using the high standard of manners and morals that Islam insists upon will often work wonders.
Renowned Islamic scholar Al-Qurtubi (1214 -1273 CE) said, “I say kind treatment of neighbours is enjoined and is recommended, whether they are Muslim or not.  And this is the right thing to do.  Kind treatment may be in the sense of helping or it may be in the sense of being kind, refraining from annoyance and standing by them.”


Footnotes:
[1] Saheeh Al-Bukhari
[2] Saheeh Muslim
[3] The Islamic greeting is ’Assalam Alaikum’ (May God grant you protection and security).   The response to this is ‘Wa Alaikum Assalam’ (And may He grant the same to you).  These brief Arabic words let Muslims know that they are among friends, not strangers.
[4] Saheeh Muslim
[5] Abu Dawood.

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