The Rights of Neighbours

Musa Kâzım GÜLÇÜR

In Islam neighbourliness is very important. God commands us to treat all our neighbours well, whether or not we feel close to them:

And (as the essential basis of contentment in individual, family and social life,) worship God and do not associate anything as a partner with Him; and do good to your parents in the best way possible, and to the relatives, orphans, the destitute, the neighbour who is near (in kinship, location, faith), the neighbour who is distant (in kinship and faith), the companion by your side (on the way, in the family, in the workplace, etc.), the wayfarer, and those who are in your service. (Treat them well and bring yourself up to this end, for) God does not love those who are conceited and boastful.” (Nisa 4:36)

After our family, the people whose rights we should consider most are our neighbours; in Islam the rights of neighbours are strongly emphasized. We must get along well with our neighbours, as if they were part of our family circle, and help them when they are in need. After all, they are the people whose faces we see day after day, morning and night.

In a hadith recounted by Abu Hurayra, the Prophet said, “By God, that is not a believer!” and repeated these three times. They asked him, “Who do you mean, O Messenger?” and he answered, “He whose neighbour is not safe from him (is not a believer)!” [Bukhari, Adab, 29]

In this hadith the phrase “is not a believer” means a person who is not a perfect, righteous believer. In other words, the Prophet was not categorically talking about a person who was not a Muslim. Therefore, in order to become a mature believer, one must treat one’s neighbours well. Another tradition related by Muslim says, “One whose neighbours cannot be sure that he will not harm them cannot enter Heaven.” [Muslim, Iman, 73]

The expression “cannot enter Heaven” probably is referring to people who do not go directly to Heaven. Thus, people who are not good neighbours will suffer the consequences of their actions, and only after that might they be admitted to Heaven.

God’s Messenger said in another hadith, “Before buying a house look for a neighbour, and before setting out on a journey look for a friend.” [Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa, 1/178]

A proverb expresses this in another way: “Don’t look at the house, look at the neighbour.” The neighbour is far more important than the house. If one has bad neighbours, one cannot be comfortable or live in peace, even in the most beautiful house. For this reason, the Prophet advised us to pray to God to save us from bad neighbours: “Always pray to God to protect you from bad neighbours where you dwell. (And remember that) your bad neighbours are temporary while moving from place to place.” [Nasai, Istiadha, 44; Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 2/344]

The religion of Islam teaches that neighbours do have rights over each other, and these are known, naturally enough, as “neighbour’s rights.” The following hadith from Aisha, the wife of the Prophet, demonstrates their great importance: “God’s Messenger said, ‘Gabriel emphasized the rights of neighbours to me so much that I thought he would give them inheritance rights.” [Bukhari, Adab, 28; Muslim, Birr wa Sila wa Adab, 140/2624–5]

There is a meaningful example of this in Islamic history. Caliph Umar sent Muhammad ibn Maslama to Kufa to carry out an inspection for a construction site for Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, who was then the governor of Kufa, but he did not give him any provisions. After a nineteen-day journey Muhammad ibn Maslama returned to Medina; he then asked Umar why he had sent him without provisions. Umar said, “The Muslims in Medina were on the verge of starving to death, so I did not want to be responsible for giving their provisions to you. I was there when God’s Messenger said to us, “It is not fitting for a believer to have eaten his full when his neighbour is hungry.” [Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 1/55]

Thus, we see that a person who knows that their neighbour is going to bed hungry but, despite this, does not help them cannot be a good Muslim. [Tabarani, Al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, 1/232; Haysami, Majma al-Zawaid, 8/167] At best, one who knowingly neglects to take care of their neighbours when they are in such a situation can be said to have a superficial faith. It must not be forgotten that the Prophet said, “Wherever someone goes hungry, that neighbourhood will be far from God’s protection.” [Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 2/33]

Helping neighbours is not a cause, but a result. The feeling and emotion of wanting to be helpful is the first step. Thus, it is essential to develop this desire in one’s heart. Those who do not attempt to be as helpful as they can to those around them have not yet developed these sincere feelings. They cannot benefit from the pleasure of affection between neighbours.

Abu Dharr narrates, “God’s Messenger recommended, ‘When you prepare a broth, add extra water, and keep in mind the members of the household of your neighbours. Take some soup to those who need it; share your blessings.” [Muslim, Birr wa Sila wa al-Adab, 143, 2625]

To offer food to one’s neighbours is Sunna. A true Muslim will carefully honour the rights of their neighbours, show them a smiling face, lend to them if they need it, be there for them in trying times, and attempt to console them when they are in sorrow or grief. They will also avoid doing anything to annoy them, such as disturbing them with their waste. If a Muslim upset their neighbours by making loud noise, like music or radios blaring from a window, without taking into consideration that their neighbour may be ill or trying to read, then they have neglected their neighbour’s rights and ignored the duty that is owed to the community.

Abu Hurayra tells how the Prophet once addressed this matter to his Companions: “(One of the Companions) asked him, ‘O Messenger of God! There is a woman who performs many supererogatory prayers, does extra fasting, and gives much in charity; but she offends her neighbours with her words.’ The Prophet said, ‘This woman is headed for Hell.’ The Companion went on, ‘O Messenger of God! There is a woman who does not do many supererogatory prayers or extra fasting, nor does she give much in charity; but she does not offend her neighbours with her words.’ He said, ‘This woman is headed for Heaven.”

This clearly shows that people should work to gain the love and appreciation of their neighbours. Another hadith is also relevant:

One of the Companions came to God’s Messenger and said, “O God’s Messenger! Tell me, what shall I do to get into Heaven?’ Our Prophet considered the man’s situation and gave him advice accordingly. According to Abu Hurayra another Companion came to ask a similar question, and the Prophet answered, “Be good.” The Companion asked, “O Messenger! How shall I know if I am good?” He replied, “Ask your neighbours. If they think you are good, you are good; if they think you are bad, you are not a good person.” [Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa, 1/72]

This means that our neighbours —those closest to us, in one sense— know our good sides and bad sides. So, if neighbours believe a person to be good, it is very likely that person is good in God’s eyes too. But if neighbours believe someone to be bad, more than likely, they are bad in God’s eyes.

Doubtless, there are also some applications of neighbourliness that our children need to practice with neighbours. First of all, children should not take something they are about to eat, like a piece of fruit, outside. If there is a neighbour who cannot afford to buy such food, seeing it will make that person sad, because it will make their children sad. Children should accustom themselves to eating in the house, not out in the street, and remember that it is important to pay attention to this. In addition, this behaviour will contribute to our children’s development and understanding of general etiquette.

In his book Marifetname, Ibrahim Hakki of Erzurum writes a list of “guidelines necessary for good neighbourliness” that have been taken from Islamic teachings. Some of these are quoted here:

1. One’s neighbours are not only those in adjoining houses, but everyone living nearby, up to forty doors away—including non-Muslims. Treat them well, as if they were truly relatives.

2. Never go to bed full when a neighbour is hungry.

3. When cooking something that immediate neighbours can smell, take them some of it as a gift.

4. When a neighbour asks for a loan, give it.

5. On holidays, visit all neighbours.

6. Do not pry into the faults or secrets of neighbours.

7. Cover the faults of your neighbours.

8. Comfort your neighbours in hard times.

9. Visit your neighbour when they are unwell.

10. If a neighbour die, try to go to his funeral.

11. If a neighbour child is orphaned, take the child in. [Ibrahim Hakki, Marifetname, 4/173]

Translated by Jessica ÖZALP

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