Cultivating Relations with Neighbours

Commentary by Adil Salahi

A report that Abdullah ibn Amr, a companion who was well versed in Hadith had a sheep slaughtered. He repeatedly asked his servant: “Have you sent some meat as a present to our Jewish neighbour?” When he said that several times, he added: “I have heard Allah’s messenger (Pbuh) saying: “Gabriel has repeatedly recommended me to be good to my neighbour until I have thought that he would include him among my heirs.”

The companions of the Prophet who were addressed directly by the message of Islam used to ask the Prophet (Pbuh) about every detail. They realized that he was among them to provide guidance. The more they learnt from him, the better they were able to understand the message of Islam and to act on it. They realized that if they did not ask the Prophet about something which they needed to know, there was no other authority to explain to them what they needed. Their attitude was of great benefit to all future generations of the Muslim nation. Without such an attitude on the part of the companions of the Prophet, we would have been left with no guidance on many details of different aspects of our religion. We should be grateful to them for this attitude which has ensured that we have the information we need in order to approach everything we want to do in a way which earns us reward from Allah.

Some people may suggest that seeking guidance on every detail may restrict us to a certain pattern of behaviour and deprive life of what they term its rich variety. This is a totally mistaken idea. The Prophet provides us with certain principles and opens for us certain doors. It is we who act on these principles and decide how to approach those doors and what to do after we have entered. His guidance tells us how not to slip. Moreover, much of what he teaches us is voluntary. It provides a certain approach to the implementation of a principle he has laid down. His recommendations provide the perfect approach. If we act on them, we achieve a very high standard. If we seek to implement that principle in a different way, we will soon find out that it lacks something or another in its details. It is for this reason that we should always try to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet. By doing so, we are not only certain of our footsteps, but we also earn reward from Allah.

Among the neighbours those whose door is nearer to us deserves our kindness and hospitality more than those whose doors are at a distance.

Moreover, the companions of the Prophet were able to understand his guidance fully. When they hear a particular statement by the Prophet, they knew to which area it applied. Let us consider the Hadith with which we started this series of articles, which quotes the Prophet as saying: “Gabriel has continued to recommend me to be good to my neighbour until I thought that he would include him among my heirs.” This sets a general principle. It is important to know which of our neighbours are entitled to our kindness. The practice of the Prophet’s companions provides very important guidance in this regard. We have, for example, a report that Abdullah ibn Amr, a companion who was well versed in Hadith had a sheep slaughtered. He repeatedly asked his servant: “Have you sent some meat as a present to our Jewish neighbour?” When he said that several times, he added: “I have heard Allah’s messenger (Pbuh) saying: “Gabriel has repeatedly recommended me to be good to my neighbour until I have thought that he would include him among my heirs.”

Another version of this story quotes a person called Mujahid as saying that he and others used to visit Abdullah ibn Amr frequently. He had flocks of sheep and they used to drink warm fresh milk when they visited him. One day he gave them cold milk to drink, and he explained that he had to change the area where his sheep grazed. Mujahid mentions that Abdullah’s servant was skinning a sheep he had just slaughtered. Abdullah said to him: “When you have finished, take a portion to our Jewish neighbour.” He repeated that three times. One of his guests said to him: “May Allah guide you, you do mention this Jew frequently.” Abdullah then mentioned the Hadith he heard from the Prophet.

From this report, we learn that the companions of the Prophet were certain that every neighbour, regardless of his religion, is entitled to our kindness. Everyone knows that the Jews have always been hostile to Muslims, throughout the history of Islam, although they enjoyed good and kindly treatment by Muslims, the like of which they rarely experienced elsewhere. We note in this report that Abdullah ibn Amr considers his Jewish neighbour as entitled to his kind treatment as any other neighbour he may have had. When he is questioned about mentioning him too often, he does not reply that the Jew is a good neighbour or that he has been very hospitable to him, but his only reason for his kindness to that Jewish neighbour is the Hadith he heard from the Prophet. That tells us that the application of this Hadith is general, and that every neighbour is entitled to be treated well by a Muslim, regardless of his religion.

The Holy Prophet is said to have defined the “neighbour” in these words: Your neighbour is 40 houses ahead of you and 40 houses at your back, 40 houses to your left and 40 houses to your right.

One may have many neighbours and if he is expected to give a present to each, he may find that very difficult. It is, therefore, important to know who is a neighbour and who of our neighbours should be given priority. In answer to the first question we have a Hadith which is classified as “Mursal,” reported on the authority of Al-Hassan Al-Basri. A “Mursal” Hadith is one which in its chain of reporting does not go as far back as the Prophet, but ends with someone like Al-Hassan, who belonged to the generation following that of the companions of the Prophet. He was asked” “Who is a neighbour?” He answered: “Your neighbours are forty houses ahead of you and forty houses to your back, and forty houses to your right and forty houses to your left.” When we consider that all these people are our neighbours, and we note how strongly the Prophet recommends us to be kind to our neighbours, we can realize what sort of community Islam creates in every locality. This, however, is bound to raise the second question of whether there is any degree of priority which makes certain neighbours more entitled to our kindness than others.

Aisha, the Prophet’s wife, asked him: “Messenger of Allah, I have two neighbours. To whom shall I direct my present?” He answered: “To the one whose door is closer to yours.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Abu Dawood). Abu Hurairah, a companion of the Prophet, is quoted as saying: “Do not begin with your distant neighbour before the one who is closer to you. Rather, give priority to your nearer neighbour ahead of your more distant one.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in “Al-Adab Al-Mufrad”)

These two Hadiths are self-explanatory. They hardly need any comment. But we note, however, that kindness to neighbours is taken for granted. There must be something which tells us what is the minimum degree of kindness to neighbours. This is explained in the following Hadith in which Abdullah ibn Abbas, the Prophet’s cousin, states that he heard the Prophet saying: “A believer is not the one who eats his fill when his neighbour is hungry.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Al-Hakim and Al-Baihaqi). This is a very significant statement. It speaks of mutual care by neighbours. They must know how their neighbours live, and if they are poor, then they must send them food. Indeed, this has been a tradition of Muslim societies which has survived for centuries. The Prophet even gives us a hint of how we can share our food with our neighbours without increasing our expenses a great deal. He tells his companion, Abu Tharr: “If you cook something with gravy, increase the gravy and send some of it to your neighbours.” (Related by Muslim, Ahmad and Al-Bukhari). The Prophet is telling us here not to think too little of anything which we can give to our neighbours. Even a person who is not rich can give his neighbours some food which may not be the best they can have, but would be more than useful in a neighbourhood where poverty is common.


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