Among Our Neighbors
By: Jawad Muhaddethi
Although walls separate families and people are confined to their own properties, a society as a whole is considered a large family whose members freely interact with one another and have no problem in communicating their needs. Thus, as the Islamic teachings emphasize, each neighbor's shadow must act as a soothing veil of relaxation, which renders a sense of “security”, “comfort” and “trust,” to its vicinity.
We as Muslims have been advised to care for our neighbors through attentive visits to their homes, over seeing their troubles and showing moderation in their association. Just as you expect your neighbor to show moderation towards your actions and you too must remember not to lose your temper easily over insignificant trivialities.
The stronger the religious bonds between people, the closer and more intimate the relation between them. A shared religious belief blurs the trifling differences between people and brings their hearts closer together, so that they can feel free to express their sympathy and empathy without any restraint. People with a shared fate can relate to one another’s troubles in a responsive manner. On the other hand, the weaker the religious adherence, the weaker the social bonds which tie the hearts and unite the souls of people in a society, as such is the case in western world. In this world, the walls separating humans thickens and increases in number, so that people living in the same district, the same neighborhood or even the same apartment feel like strangers towards one another.
Is this what was originally meant as an ideal way of human life? What is our responsibility as a member of the human race in such a case? And really, where are the boarders that separate us from our neighbors?
How to be Neighborly:
Although very important in international relations, being good neighbors is not restricted to political terminology only. It is discussed in the neighborliness, or the relationships between two neighbors as well. Having an exquisite house with an annoying, disturbing or irritating neighbor is worth nothing at all. The intelligent man buys an excellent house in a friendly and cultured neighborhood, or else he is bound to spend the rest of his days in constant torture and pain.
Our first leader Imam Ali (AS) counsels his elder son Imam Hassan Mujtaba (AS) in this manner: “Ask about the companion before the voyage, and about the neighbor before the house.” 1
Having a good neighbor is a blessing in disguise from God and a sure suggestion of a great bounty. Being a good neighbor on the other hand is what makes you popular in your neighborhood, for it is a universally acknowledged truth that hearts become attracted to those with warm feelings. Imam Ali (AS) has it that: “being neighborly increases your neighbors.” 2 Also in another place we see that: “neighborliness increases lifespan, and brings vitality to cities.” 3 In the previous sayings we saw that being neighborly is considered both as a means of social escalation and also emotional or personal elevation. Of course as you have already guessed there are lots of other rewards awaiting such people in the hereafter. 4
Some Simple Recommendations:
On the threshold of martyrdom, after being hit by the hands of one of the most cruel and ignorant men of his time, Imam Ali (AS) gave the last words of fatherly advise to his sons and also to the world. “ By God, by God, beware of your neighbors, for it is the testament of your Prophet (SAW). He was so fond of them that we suspected he would even want to include them in the list of the inheritors.” 5
Being neighborly includes perseverance in the face of hardships or nuisances that sometimes our neighbors display. If you want your relations to be long lasting ones, never answer vice with vice, because this is the characteristic of the lowly and common spirits. Not only that, being evil in the face of evil is what everyone is capable of. What characterizes and distinguishes the noble men from the lowly one's is their amnesty and forgiveness. Imam Kazem (AS) has a solution, he says that: “ not merely does he abstain from hostility of character, a good neighbor is tolerant in the face of his neighbor's offenses or inconveniences.” 6
Obviously these sayings do not persuade ill behavior towards our vicinity. Although patience is highly recommended when it comes to our relationship with our neighbors, having a proper conduct is much more emphasized upon in the Islamic teachings.
Restrictions and rights of neighbors:
What we mentioned so far as our range of duties in regard to our neighbors does not limit itself to the neighbor on the right or the left, or even to mere abstention from hassling them.
Friendly visits to their homes to oversee their mental or physical troubles is a good way to know when and how they need a little extra assistance and aid. If so, small beneficial donations at times of need are what separate us from the ungrateful and the inhuman.
The leader of the faithful, Imam Ali (AS) uttered: “nurturing neighbors comes from greatness of character and chivalry.” 7
Imam Baqir (AS) also says that: “our disciples have signs, and these include tending for the neighbors in their times of need, when they are hard up, broke, under debt, or orphaned.” 8 How could the faithful have a sound sleep with a stuffed stomach when he knows that his neighbors are among the needy, hungry, orphaned or the indebted of society? How could he show indifference when he is aware that his effort could make a change? It is thus that we remember the brilliant words of the Prophet of Allah (SAW): “One who sleeps whilst his Muslim neighbor is starved, does not have a true belief in me.” 9 Yes, being Muslim is more related to religious actions than to righteous expressions.
1- Nahjul-Balagha, letter no. 31.
2- Ghorar ul-Hikam, vol. 7, p. 49.
3- Usul-e Kafi, vol. 1, p. 667, narrations nos. 7, 8, 10.
4- Usul-e Kafi, vol. 2.
5- Nahjul-Balagha, letter no. 47.
6- Usul-e Kafi, vol. 2, p. 667.
7- Nahjul-Balagha, letter no. 49.
8- Usul-e Kafi, vol. 2, p. 74.
9- Safinat ul-Bihar, vol. 1, p. 192.