THE MUSLIM WOMAN AND HER NEIGHBORS
By Dr. Muhammad Ali Al-Hashimi
Taken from the IDEAL MUSLIMAH
Translated by Nasiruddin Al-Khattab
Published by International Islamic Publishing House
Chapter 8: The Muslim Woman And Her Neighbours
The Muslim woman is kind and friendly towards her neighbours
One of the attributes of the Muslim woman who understands the teachings of her religion is that she treats her neighbours well and respects them.
She adheres to the Islamic teachings regarding good treatment of neighbours
The true Muslim woman understands the teachings of Islam which strongly urge good treatment of neighbours and gives the neighbour such a high status in the scale of human relationships, such as has never been equalled in any other religion or system before or since.
Allah (SWT) has clearly commanded the good treatment of neighbours in the Qur’an: ( Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the Companion by your side, the wayfarer [you meet], and what your right hands possess . . .) (Qur’an 4:36) The “neighbour who is near” is one with whom one shares ties of kinship or religion; the “neighbour who is a stranger” is one with whom one shares no such ties; and the “companion by your side” is a friend, colleague or travelling-companion. Everyone whose home neighbours yours has the rights of a neighbour over you, even if you are not connected by kinship or religion. This honouring of the neighbour is an example of the tolerance promoted by Islam.
There are many Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) which enjoin good treatment of neighbours in general, regardless of kinship or religious factors, and confirm the importance of the neighbourly relationship in Islam. For example: “Jibril kept on enjoining the good treatment of neighbours to such an extent that I thought he would include neighbours as heirs.”1 Islam gives such a high status to neighbours that when Jibril reiterated the importance of treating them well, the Prophet (PBUH) thought that he would raise neighbours to the level of kinship and give them similar rights of inheritance. The Prophet (PBUH) followed Jibril’s urging, and encouraged Muslims to honour neighbours and treat them well. In his historical khutbah during the Farewell Pilgrimage, in which he summarized the most important points of his teachings, he did not omit to mention neighbours and emphasized their rights to such an extent that the eminent Sahabi Abu Umamah also thought that the Prophet (PBUH) would make neighbours heirs: “I heard the Prophet (PBUH), when he was seated on his she-camel during the Farewell Pilgrimage, saying, `I enjoin you to treat your neighbours well,’ and urging their good treatment so much that I thought, he is going to give them the rights of inheritance.”2
The Prophet (PBUH) sometimes used to stir up the emotions of the Sahabah when he encouraged them to do good deeds, so he would start by saying, “Whoever believes in Allah (SWT) and the Last Day, let him do such-and-such . . .” He would use this emotive phrase to command or encourage some good deed or desirable characteristic. Among the Hadith that use this method of conveying a message is: “Whoever believes in Allah (SWT) and the Last Day, let him treat his neighbour well; whoever believes in Allah (SWT) and the Last Day, let him honour his guest; whoever believes in Allah (SWT) and the Last Day, let him speak good or else remain silent.”3 According to a report given by Bukhari, he (PBUH) said: “Whoever believes in Allah (SWT) and the Last Day, let him not harm or annoy his neighbour . . .”4
Good treatment of neighbours is enjoined at the beginning of the hadith, and is identified as one of the signs and most beneficial results of belief in Allah (SWT) and the Last Day.
She likes for her neighbours what she likes for herself
The Muslim woman who is truly open to the teachings of her religion is soft-hearted, easy-going and tolerant. She is loving towards her neighbours, sensitive to everything that could disturb, annoy or offend them. She wishes them well, just as she wishes herself well, and she shares their joys and sorrows, in accordance with the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH): “None of you truly believes until he likes for his brother what he likes for himself.”5 According to a report given by Muslim from Anas, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “By the One in Whose hand is my soul, no servant truly believes until he likes for his neighbour (or he said: his brother) what he likes for himself.”6
The true Muslim woman does not fail to think of her neighbours who may be faced with difficulties from time to time, so she gives them gifts occasionally. She recognizes that they may be affected by the smell of cooking or barbecues emanating from her house, and she understands their desire for delicious food which they may not be able to afford, so she sends some of it to them, thereby fulfilling the spirit of social responsibility which the Prophet (PBUH) encouraged in his words to Abu Dharr: “O Abu Dharr, if you cook some broth, add extra water to it, and take care of your neighbour.”7 According to another report, he (PBUH) said: “If you cook some broth, add extra water to it, then think of the families in your neighbourhood and send some of it to them.”8
The Muslim woman’s conscience will not let her ignore her neighbour’s poverty and difficulty without making the effort to do good and offer some generous gifts of food and other things, especially if she is well-off and living a life of ease, enjoying the bounties that Allah (SWT) has bestowed upon her. How can she do otherwise, when the words of the Prophet (PBUH) are ringing in her ears? “He does not believe in me, who eats his fill while his neighbour beside him is hungry, and he knows about it.”9 “He is not a believer, who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry.”10
She treats her neighbour in the best way that she can
The Muslim woman who truly understands the teachings of her religion never thinks that any favour is too small to be worth doing for her neighbour; she does whatever favours she can for her, no matter how insignificant they may appear. She does not let shyness or her desire to show off prevent her from doing the little that she can afford, or make her withhold it on the basis that that it is not good enough, so that she waits until she is able to offer more. Such an attitude deprives both her and her neighbour of much good, because by waiting for some hoped-for bounty that may never arrive, she wastes the opportunity to do good. The Prophet (PBUH) drew the attention of women in particular to the importance of even the smallest gifts and favours between neighbours: “O Muslim women, do not think that any gift is too insignificant to give to a neighbour, even if it is only a sheep’s foot.”11 A sheep’s foot is a thing of little value, but it is better than nothing, and no woman should feel that any gift is not worth giving to a neighbour. Allah (SWT) says: “Then shall anyone who has done an atom’s-weight of good, see it!” (Qur’an 99:7) And the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Save yourself from the Fire even by giving half a date in charity, and if you do not find (half a date), then by saying a good word.”12 But this hadith, which is general in application, may also be taken to mean that the recipient should not look down on the gift. The meaning then is: No (female) neighbour should scorn the gift given to her by another (female) neighbour, even if it is just s sheep’s foot. Rather, she should thank her for it, because gratitude engenders friendship among neighbours and encourages mutual support and help. This is in addition to the fact that thanking people for favours is a basic Islamic trait which the Prophet (PBUH) strongly encouraged: “The one who does not give thanks to people does not give thanks to Allah (SWT).”13
Islam wants to spread mutual love and affection among neighbours. The ways in which people may achieve this are many, and include the exchange of gifts. Hence the Prophet (PBUH) forbade women, in particular, to look down on any gift that she may give to or receive from her neighbour, no matter how small, because women are very sensitive in such matters this may affect her feelings towards her neighbours. Thus he drew women’s attention to the fact that what matters is the noble and worthy thought behind the gift, not the material value of the gift itself. The Muslim woman should not forget this and think any gift is too insignificant, because in Islam thoughts and intentions are more important than material values.
She treats her neighbours well even if they are not Muslim
The true Muslim woman does not restrict her good treatment only to neighbours who are related to her or who are Muslims, but she extends it to non-Muslim neighbours too, in accordance with the tolerant teachings of Islam which encourage kindness towards all people, regardless of their race of religion, so long as they do not commit any acts of hostility or aggression towards Muslims: “Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for [your] Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just.” (Qur’an 60:8) On the basis of this, the great Sahabi `Abdullah ibn `Amr asked his slave, after slaughtering a sheep, “Did you give some to our Jewish neighbour? Did you give some to our Jewish neighbour? For I heard the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) say, `Jibril kept on enjoining the good treatment of neighbours to such an extent that I thought he would include neighbours as heirs.'”14
How great is the mercy of Islam towards all people, and how kind is its concern towards those who live under its shade! History bears witness to the fact that the People of the Book have lived alongside Muslims in many regions of the Islamic world, secure in the knowledge that they, their honour and their wealth were safe, enjoying a good neighbourly relationship, good treatment and freedom of worship, Their ancient churches still exist in Muslim villages clinging to mountaintops, surrounded by thousands of Muslims who uphold the well-being of their Jewish and Christian neighbours.
She starts with the neighbour whose home is closest to her own
The true Muslim woman does not forget the precise system that Islam set out when it enjoined the good treatment of neighbours. Islam has told her to give priority to the one whose house is closest, then the one who is next closest, and so on. This takes into account the closeness of the neighbours whose homes are beside one another, the issues which may frequently arise between them, and the importance of maintaining friendship and harmony. `A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) said: “O Messenger of Allah, I have two neighbours, so to which one should I send a gift?” He said, “To the one whose door is closest to yours.”15
This system of priority in the good treatment of neighbours does not mean that the Muslim woman should ignore the neighbours who are further away from her home. Everyone around her home is considered to be a neighbour and thus enjoys the rights of a neighbour. This system is merely the matter of organization, by means of which the Prophet (PBUH) encouraged taking care of the closest neighbour because he or she is the one with whom there is usually ongoing contact and interaction.
The true Muslim woman is the best neighbour
It comes as no surprise that the Muslim woman who truly understands the teachings of her religion is the best of neighbours, because good treatment of neighbours is a basic Islamic attitude that is deeply engrained in the conscience of the Muslim woman who has been brought up with the teachings of Islam, which state that the one who is kindest to her neighbour is the best neighbour in the sight of Allah (SWT): “The best of companions in the sight of Allah (SWT) is the one who is best to his companion, and the best of neighbours in the sight of Allah (SWT) is the one who is best to his neighbour.”16
The Prophet (PBUH) stated that a good neighbour is one of the joys of a Muslim’s life, because he or she guarantees comfort, security and safety: “Among the things that bring happiness to a Muslim in this life are a righteous neighbour, a spacious house and a good steed.”17
The salaf appreciated the value of good neighbours so much that they considered having a good neighbour to be a precious blessing. One story which reflects this tells that the neighbour of Sa`id ibn al-`As wanted to sell his house for 100,000 dirhams, and told the would-be purchaser, “This is the price of the house, but what would you give for having Sa`id as a neighbour?” When Sa`id heard about this, he sent his neighbour the price of the house and told him to stay there.
This is the status of neighbours in Islam, and the attitude and behaviour of a good Muslim neighbour. But what about bad neighbours?
Having a bad neighbour is something which is so appalling that the sensitive Muslim woman cannot think of it without shuddering and being filled with a sense of fear, loathing and dread.
The bad neighbour is a person who is deprived of the blessing of faith
It is sufficient misery for a bad neighbour to know that she is deprived of the blessing of faith, which is the greatest blessing in a person’s life. The Prophet (PBUH) confirmed the fact that this blessing is stripped away from every person who persists in mistreating his or her neighbour to the extent that he or she is counted as a bad neighbour, and stated in no uncertain terms when he swore by Allah (SWT) three times that such a person would be stripped of the blessing of faith: “By Allah (SWT), he does not believe. By Allah (SWT), he does not believe. By Allah (SWT), he does not believe.” He was asked, “Who, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “The one from whose evils (or troubles) his neighbour does not feel safe.”18 According to a report given by Muslim: “He will not enter Paradise whose neighbour is not safe from his evil (or trouble).”19
How great must be the crime of the bad neighbour, if his mistreatment of his neighbour is depriving him of the blessings of faith and denying him entrance to Paradise!
The true Muslim woman who is pure of heart contemplates the meaning of these texts and the deep impression they leave in her mind concerning bad neighbours. It never occurs to her to mistreat her neighbour, no matter what the circumstances, because mistreating neighbours or becoming involved in disputes and conspiracies is not a thing to be taken lightly: it is a major sin which destroys faith and places one’s ultimate fate in jeopardy. This would be the greatest loss, and the mere thought of it makes the true Muslim woman tremble.
The bad neighbour is a person whose good deeds are not accepted
The bad neighbour is a person who has lost her faith, as stated in the hadith quoted above; she is also a person whose good deeds are all cancelled, so that from now on no act of obedience or righteousness will be of any benefit to her, so long as she persists in her mistreatment of her neighbour. Good deeds are essentially based on faith in Allah (SWT), and faith in Allah (SWT) is not the matter of mere words: what counts is the practical implementation of that which Allah (SWT) requires of His servants. If a bad neighbour has lost her faith by persisting in her mistreatment of her neighbour, then there is no hope that Allah (SWT) will accept her good deeds, no matter how great or how many they may be. They will be utterly wiped out, even if she spends her nights and days performing good deeds.
The Prophet (PBUH) was asked: “O Messenger of Allah, such-and-such a woman spends her nights in prayer, fasts during the day, and so on, and she gives in charity, but she offends her neighbours with her sharp tongue.” The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Her good deeds will be of no avail: she is among the people of Hell.” They said, “And so-and-so prays only the obligatory prayers, gives charity in the form of left-over curds, but does not offend anyone.” The Prophet (PBUH) said: “She is among the people of Paradise.”20
The Prophet (PBUH) described the bad neighbour as being one of the worst types of people: “There are three worst types of people: a ruler who, if you do well, does not appreciate it, and if do wrong, he does not forgive you for it; a bad neighbour who, if he sees something good, he conceals it, and if he sees something bad he broadcasts it; and a wife who, when you are present she annoys you and if you go away, she betrays you.”21 The Hadith paint such an ugly picture of the bad neighbour that the true Muslim woman would be so shaken that she will avoid committing the sin of mistreating a neighbour and it will be most unlikely that she will let any dispute or hostility arise between her and her neighbour, or become involved in schemes and plots. The Prophet’s warning against harming or arguing with neighbours is always echoing in her ears, and she never forgets it any time she feels the stirrings of anger or hostility towards a neighbour: “The first two disputing parties to appear before Allah (SWT) on the Day of Judgement will be two neighbours.”22
Her good treatment of her neighbour is not lacking
Not only does the Muslim woman refrain from harming or disturbing her neighbour, she also does not spare any effort to help her neighbour, opening wide the doors of care, friendship and generosity. She is careful not to fall short in her duties whenever she is called upon to take care of her neighbours, and to honour them and treat them well, lest the words of the Prophet (PBUH) concerning the miserly, unhelpful neighbour become applicable to her: “How many people will be hanging on to their neighbours on the Day of Judgement, saying: `O my Lord! He shut his door in my face and denied me his kind treatment and help!'”23
What a miserable position the miserly, uncaring neighbour will be in on the Day of Judgement!
According to Islam, the Muslim men and women are like a high wall, whose bricks are the people of this ummah. Each brick must be sound, and strongly bonded with the others, to make this wall sturdy and durable, otherwise it will become weak and prone to collapse. Thus Islam surrounds this wall with strong spiritual ties, to preserve its integrity and strength, so that it will not be shaken no matter what events befall it.
The Prophet (PBUH) gave a marvellous metaphor of the solidarity and mutual support among Muslim men and women: “Believers are like a structure, parts of which support other parts.”24 “The believers, in their mutual friendship, mercy and affection, are like one body: if any part of it complains, the rest of the body will also stay awake in pain.”25
If a religion places such an amazing emphasis on the solidarity of its followers, it is natural that it should strengthen neighbourly ties and base them on a solid foundation of friendship, kindness, mutual support and good treatment.
She puts up with her neighbour’s mistakes and bad treatment
The Muslim woman who is guided by her religion is patient with her neighbour and does not get angry or bear a grudge if she makes a mistake or has some shortcomings. She is tolerant and forgiving towards her, thus hoping to earn reward from Allah (SWT) and to attain His love and pleasure. This is proven by the hadith of Abu Dharr: when Mutarrif ibn `Abdullah met him, he said, “O Abu Dharr, I heard about what you said and wanted to meet you.” Abu Dharr said, “Your father was a great man! Now you have met me.” Mutarrif said: “I heard that you have said that the Prophet (PBUH) said: `Allah (SWT) loves three and hates three.'” Abu Dharr said, “I do not think that I would tell lies about the Messenger of Allah.” Mutarrif said, “Then who are the three whom Allah (SWT) loves?” Abu Dharr (quoting the Prophet (PBUH)) said: “`A man who fights for the sake of Allah (SWT), with perseverance and hoping for reward from Him, and fights until he is killed, and you find this in the Book of Allah (SWT).’ Then he recited: “Truly Allah loves those who fight in His cause in battle array, as if they were a solid cemented structure.” [al-Saff 61:4] Mutarrif asked, “Then who?” He said, “`A man who has a bad neighbour who annoys and disturbs him, but he bears it with patience and forbearance until Allah (SWT) ends the matter either during his lifetime or upon the death of either of them.'”26
One of the characteristics of the Muslim woman whose soul has truly been cleansed and moulded by Islam is that she patiently bears the annoyances caused by her neighbours, as much as she is able. She repels their bad treatment with something that is better, and by being patient and behaving properly she sets the highest example of good treatment of one’s neighbours and removes the roots of evil and hatred from their souls. Even more importantly, she is acting in accordance with the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH): “Whoever believes in Allah (SWT) and the Last Day, let him not harm or annoy his neighbour . . .”27
Let them hear this, those women who lose their minds when their child fights with the neighbours’ children so that they turn a blind eye to their own child’s faults and insult their neighbours with bad language and hurtful accusations, thus destroying the ties of neighbourliness and friendship in a moment of anger. Let them know that they are going against all the Islamic teachings regarding the good treatment of neighbours and that they are showing themselves to be content to be bad neighbours.
Let those women rejoice who are wise, polite and forbearing neighbours, who respond in kind to their neighbours’ good treatment, because they are among the righteous neighbours with whose wise and rightly-guided conduct Allah (SWT) is pleased.
1. Bukhari and Muslim. See Sharh al-Sunnah, 13/71, Kitab al-birr wa’l-silah, bab haqq al-jar.
2. Reported by al-Tabarani with a jayyid isnad. See Majma’ al-Zawa’id, 8/165.
3. Bukhari and Muslim. See Riyad al-Salihin, 185, Bab fi haqq al-jar wa’l-wasiyyah bihi.
4. Fath al-Bari, 10/445, Kitab al-adab, bab man kana yu’min bi-Allah wa’l-yawm al-akhir fala yu’dhi jarahu.
5. Bukhari and Muslim. See Sharh al-Sunnah, 13/60, Kitab al-birr wa’l-silah, bab haq al-jar.
6. Sahih Muslim, 2/18, Kitab al-iman, bab min khidal al-iman an tuhibb li akhika ma tuhibbu li nafsika.
7. Sahih Muslim, 2/188, Kitab al-adab, bab al-wasiyah bi’l-jar wa’l-ihsan ilayhi.
8. Sahih Muslim, 2/188, Kitab al-adab, bab al-wasiyah bi’l-jar wa’l-ihsan ilayhi.
9. Reported by al-Tabarani and al-Bazzar with a hasan isnad. See Majma’ al-Zawa’id, 8/167.
10. Reported by al-Tabarani and Abu Ya’la; its narrators are thiqat. See Majma’ al-Zawa’id, 8/167.
11. Bukhari and Muslim. See Sharh al-Sunnah, 6/141, Kitab al-zakat, bab al-tasadduq bi’l-shay’ al-yasir.
12. Bukhari and Muslim. See Sharh al-Sunnah, 6/140, Kitab al-zakat, bab al-tasadduq bi shay’ al-yasir.
13. Reported by Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad, 1/310, Bab man lam yashkur al-nas.
14. Bukhari and Muslim. See Sharh al-sunnah, 13/71, Kitab al-birr wa’l-silah, bab haqq al-jar.
15. Reported by Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad, 1/198, Bab tahdi ila aqrabihim baban.
16. Reported with a sahih isnad by Tirmidhi, 3/224, Abwab al-birr wa’l-silah, bab ma ja’a fi haqq al-jiwar.
17. Reported with a sahih isnad by al-Hakim, 4/166, in Kitab al-birr wa’l-silah.
18. Bukhari and Muslim. See Riyad al-Salihin, 185, Bab fi haq al-jar wa’l-wasiyah bihi.
19. Sahih Muslim, 2/18, Kitab al-iman, bab bayan tahrim idha’ al-jar
20. Reported by Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad, 1/210, Bab la yu’dhi jarahu.
21. Reported by al-Tabarani in al-Kabir, 18/267; its narrators are thiqat.
22. Reported with a hasan isnad by Ahmad and al-Tabarani. See Majma’ al-Zawa’id, 8/170.
23. Reported by Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad, 1/200, Bab man aghlaqa al-bab ‘ala’l-jar.
24. Bukhari and Muslim. See Sharh al-Sunnah, 13/47, Kitab al-birr wa’l-silah, bab ta’awun al-mu’minin wa tarahumuhum.
26. Reported with a sahih isnad by Ahmad and al-Tabarani. See Majma’ al-Zawa’id, 8/171.
27. Fath al-Bari, 10/445, Kitab al-adab, bab man kana yu’min bi-Allah wa’l-yawm al-akhir fala yu’dhi jarahu.