The neighbor holds a special status in Islam. Islam encourages Muslims to treat their neighbors in a gentle way that reflects the true and genuine spirit of Islam as exemplified in its tolerant aspect especially with people of other faiths. It makes no difference whether the neighbors are Muslim or non-Muslim. ‘A’ishah, the Mother of the Believers, (may Allah be pleased with her) stated that she once asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “O Messenger of Allah! I have two neighbors. To whom shall I send my gifts?” He said, “To the one whose gate is nearer to you.”
It is clear from the above Prophetic Hadith that Muslims are encouraged to not only treat our neighbors kindly, but also to exchange gifts with them. The wording of the Hadith does not indicate whether the one with whom we exchange gifts is a Muslim or not.
It was even reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had a neighbor who used to harm him and insult him at every encounter. Some days elapsed without the Prophet getting his share of this man’s abuse. Thinking that there must be some reason behind the man’s absence, he (peace and blessings be upon him) paid him a visit and found him sick. The man wondered how the Prophet could meet his bad treatment with such great behavior. To him, such noble character as taught by Islam was completely new.
If your neighbors are Muslim and relatives, then they have three rights on you: the right of the neighbor, the right of kin, and the right of the co-religionist. If they are non-Muslim and relatives, then two rights are due to them: that of neighbor and kin. And if they are non-Muslims outside of the family, you owe them the right of the neighbor only. Referring to this, Allah Almighty says what means, (And serve Allah. Ascribe no thing as partner unto Him. (Show) kindness unto parents, and unto near kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and into the neighbor who is of kin (unto you) and the neighbor who is not of kin and the fellow traveler…) (An-Nisaa’ 4:34 )
Enough to say that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stated in one of his Hadiths that Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) kept exhorting him to treat neighbors kindly to the extent that the Prophet imagined that a neighbor could inherit from his neighbor.
Below are some tips on how to approach your non-Muslim neighbors in a kind way that exemplifies Islamic manners:
1. Being good to neighbors is not only restricted to those who share the same building with you. Your roommate at the dorm is your neighbor; the person sitting behind you or next to you in a bus or at a bus stop is your neighbor; the one sharing your office at work is your neighbor; the person enjoying fresh air next to you in a public garden is also a neighbor. You ought to treat all of those people kindly and socialize with them within the permitted scope of Shari ‘ah.
2. Introduce yourself and your family to your neighbors when you move into a new place or when new neighbors move in. This will also help to relieve any fears or tensions they may have about Muslims. Also, don’t forget to say good-bye when you or they move away.
3. Care for them continually, especially at times of need and distress, as “the neighbor in need is a neighbor indeed.” If a neighbor is elderly or chronically ill, offer to run errands or shop for him or her.
4. In dealing with neighbors, it is safer to deal with those of the same sex as yourself. This does not mean that you should stop socializing at work or school with your non-Muslim workmates or classmates of the opposite sex, but be aware of Satanic snares. After-hours socializing should be with your same sex.
5. While socializing with non-Muslims, be cautious of becoming too lenient at the expense of your creed and principles. For example, don’t go out drinking with them. They will respect you more for sticking to your principles than for breaking the rules.
6. In addition to sharing ideas, you can share meals with them by inviting them to dinner on the weekend or accepting their invitation to the same, provided that you let them know about your dietary restrictions as a Muslim.
7. Conduct mutual visits so that the families can interact in a constructive way. If the discussion does turn to religion, focus on areas of common ground. For example, if your neighbors are Christian, then you should not enter into a futile argument with them about whether Jesus is God incarnate or not. Rather, tell them to what extent Islam honors all God’s Prophets and Messengers as a whole, and that Jesus is granted a special status among God’s Prophets and Messengers.
8. While socializing with neighbors, present your deen (Islam) in the best way. If you are faced with a difficult question or a distortion about Islam, do not be ashamed to stop for a while and tell them that you will try to contact a more knowledgeable person to seek the guidance regarding the issue raised. Thus, common grounds should be enhanced, and areas of dissension should never be raised.
9. If your neighbors show an interest in Islam, invite them to attend Islamic events, and even to accompany you to the mosque to see what it is like. It may be that their hearts become softened to Islam, and if they remain non-Muslim, at least you have succeeded in breaking the barrier. You can also visit the church where your neighbors pray if they invite you to do that, but here you should be cautious not to perform any act that your religion prohibits. In brief, be only a watchful monitor.
10. Always keep in mind the mighty reward that is in store for you in the Hereafter when you show kindness to a neighbor.