The companions of the Prophet who were addressed directly by the message of Islam used to ask the Prophet Muhammad (saws) 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. 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.
Moreover, the companions of the Prophet (saws) were able to understand his guidance fully. When they heard a particular statement by the Prophet (saws), they knew to which area it applied. For example the Prophet (saws) said: “Gabriel continued to recommend me to be good to my neighbour until I thought that he would include him among my heirs.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
This Hadith 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 Umar (ra), 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 (saws) saying: “Gabriel has repeatedly recommended me to be good to my neighbour until I have thought that he would include him among my heirs.”(Al-Adab Al-Mufrad)
Another version of this story quotes Imam Mujahid (ra) as saying that he and others used to visit Abdullah ibn Umar (ra) 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. We note in this Hadith that Abdullah ibn Umar (ra) 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 (saws). That tells us that the application of this Hadith is general, and that all neighbour are entitled to be treated well by a Muslim, regardless of the religion they follow.
The companion of the Prophet (saws), Al-Hasan, has been reported 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. (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Chapter ‘Neighbours’)
When we consider that all these people are our neighbours, and we note how strongly the Prophet (saws) 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.
Hadhrat Aisha (ra), the Mother of the Believers, 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.” (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.” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad by Al- Bukhari)
These 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 (ra) states that he heard the Prophet (saws) saying: “A believer is not the one who eats his fill when his neighbour is hungry.” (Bukhari). 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 for centuries. The Prophet (saws) even gives us a hint of how we can share our food with our neighbours without increasing our expenses. He tells his companion, Abu Dharr (ra): “If you cook something with gravy, increase the gravy and send some of it to your neighbours.” (Muslim, Bukhari). The Prophet (saws) 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 poverty-stricken neighbourhood.
Muslims are encouraged to not only treat their neighbours 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. If your neighbours are Muslim and relatives, then they have three rights on you: the right of the neighbour, 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 neighbour and kin. And if they are non-Muslims outside of the family, you owe them the right of the neighbour 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 neighbour who is of kin (unto you) and the neighbour who is not of kin and the fellow traveler…” (4:34)
Being good to neighbours is not restricted to those who share the same building with you. Your roommate at the dorm is your neighbour; the person sitting behind you or next to you in a bus or at a bus stop is your neighbour; the one sharing your office at work is your neighbour; the person enjoying fresh air next to you in a public garden is also a neighbour. You ought to treat all of those people kindly and socialize with them within the permitted scope of Shari’ah.
* The writer is the Director of American Institute of Modern Studies at Tanda Badli Rampur and the former Imam at Al-Farooq Masjid of Atlanta, USA. He may be reached at [email protected]