We have established from the previous sessions that our neighbours have a claim to be treated kindly by us. We also mentioned that in Muslim countries this has become a tradition. The Prophet (Pbuh) has been keen to establish kind treatment of neighbours as an intrinsic value. In this, the Prophet was so successful that good-neighbourliness continued to be characteristic of Muslim societies, even when these societies moved far away from true Islam, when illiteracy spread in the Muslim world and much of it fell under colonial rule. Indeed, Muslims always aspire to maintain this characteristic on a very high level.
At the time of the Prophet Pbuh, all such moral values were well defined, since people tried to excel one another in everything that earns reward from Allah. It was only natural that this attitude would weaken as time passed by. Abdullah Umar, a companion of the Prophet who was renowned for his scholarship, says: “There has been a time when no one was more entitled to a person’s money than his Muslim brother. Now, people love their money more than they love their Muslim brothers. I heard the Prophet (Pbuh) any a person will hold tight to his neighbour on the day of resurrection, and say: “My Lord, this person kept his door shut to me, and refused to show me common kindness.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad).
In this Hadith, we note that Abdullah ibn Umar was lamenting the fact that attitudes have changed within the Muslim community and deteriorated below the standard which was known at the time of the Prophet, when his companions would willingly give their money to their neighbours and Muslim brothers without any hesitation. Abdullah ibn Umar quotes this Hadith in support of his view that Muslims should always be ready to show kindness to their neighbours. The Hadith shows that a neighbour’s claim is very real indeed, that a person who has been denied it in this life may claim justice from Allah on the day of resurrection. He would not have been able to do so, if his claim was not a very serious one indeed.
When a person complained of harm being caused by his neighbour, the holy Prophet (Pbuh) asked him to go and take his (the complainant) things out and put them on the road. This way he was able to draw the attention of the society to the disgraceful behaviour of the neighbour.
Indeed, the Prophet viewed a bad neighbour as one of the worst things a person may have to endure in this life. He did not want any of his companions to be a bad neighbour. He has emphasized again and again that Allah views a person in the light of his treatment of his friends and neighbours. Abdullah ibn Amr quotes the Prophet as saying: “The best of companions in Allah’s view is the best among them to his companion, and the best of neighbours in Allah’s view is the best among them towards his neighbour.” (Related by Muslim, Ahmad, Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, and others). This Hadith shows that a person can enhance his standing with Allah by being kind and hospitable to his friends and neighbours. This is something every person should be keen to achieve, because it does not only earn him a better reward from Allah, but also makes him loved by his friends and neighbours. Kindness is never wasted. A person who is kind to others will at least be praised for his kindness. Hence, if he aims at pleasing Allah by being kind to his neighbours, he earns a dual reward, in this life and in the life to come.
Because of the importance of good neighbourliness, people make inquiries about their neighbours before they move into a certain area. This is only reasonable, because one has to come into contact with one’s neighbours, and if they are of the wrong type, they can make his life miserable. Indeed, the Prophet mentions a good neighbour as one of the sources of happiness for a person, Nafi’ibn Abdul Harith, a companion of the Prophet quotes him as saying: “Among the things which contribute to the happiness of a Muslim are a spacious dwelling, a good neighbour and a comfortable means of transport.” (Related by Ahmad, Al-Hakim and Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad).
Despite illiteracy and economic decline, the Muslim community has maintained a high standard of treatment of its neighbours.
On the other hand, the Prophet used to pray for shelter with Allah from bad neighbours. Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet used to say in his supplication to Allah: “My Lord, I seek refuge with you from a bad neighbour in my place of abode. For a temporary neighbour is bound to depart.”
Had it not been for the fact that a bad neighbour causes a great deal of harm and unhappiness, the Prophet would not have sought refuge with Allah from having such a neighbour. Indeed, when neighbourly ties decline so badly, good actions become of little use. Acts of worship do not earn enough reward to compensate for bad neighbourliness. Abu Hurairah mentions that people said to the Prophet (Pbuh): “Messenger of Allah, a certain woman stands up for prayer at night and fasts during the day, and does many a good thing and gives money for charity, but she offends her neighbours with what she says.” He said: “She is not a good person. She is one of the people of the fire.” They said: “A certain woman prays only obligatory prayers and gives little for charity but she does not offend anyone. The Prophet said: “she is one of the people of heaven.” (Related by Ahmad, Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad and others). What the first woman did was to offer a variety of voluntary worship, such as standing up for prayer at night and fasting during the day. Nevertheless, all of this was of no avail to her because of her offensive attitude towards her neighbours. The woman who simply offered obligatory worship, merited heaven because she did not offend anyone. That stresses beyond any doubt the importance of good-neighbourliness and good social behaviour.
In a Muslim society, nobody should be known as a bad neighbour.
Publicize Neighbours’ Bad Behaviour
The question arises, what to do with a bad neighbour. In a Muslim society, the best thing which is certain to stop anyone from behaving badly towards his neighbours is to publicize the fact that he treats his neighbours badly. Abu Hurairah, a companion of the Prophet, mentions that a man said to the Prophet: “Messenger of Allah, I have a neighbour who causes me harm.” The Prophet said: “Go and take your things out into the road.” The man did as the Prophet had suggested. People gathered around him asking him what was the matter with him. He told them that he had a neighbour who caused him harm and that he complained to the Prophet who told him to go and put his things out into the road. People cursed him and prayed Allah to visit him with disgrace. The man was informed of what happened. He came directly and said to his neighbour: “Go back to your house. By Allah, I will cause you no harm whatsoever.” (Related by Abu Dawood, Ibn Hibban, and Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad).
In a Muslim society, no one likes to be known as a bad neighbour. This is because Islam stresses the virtue of good-neighbourliness. When a person is known to be bad to his neighbours, his reputation suffers a great deal. People will have no respect for him. Indeed, they curse him because he violates an important principle of Islamic social behaviour. It is important, however, that when one publicizes the fact that his neighbour does not treat him well, he must not indulge in backbiting that neighbour or exaggerating his bad treatment. What the Prophet advised that man who complained of his neighbour was to show that his neighbour’s attitude towards him has 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 indeed with that particular person. For this reason, they were willing to lend him their support. That was enough for the neighbour to change his attitude.