The relationship of neighbours can be some of the most endearing relationships one can have in this life. They oft than not become life long friends and close acquaintances. Having well mannered neighbors can make life comfortable, whereas, the opposite can make life very difficult. Islam has recognised this beneficial relationship, as such it has certain parameters set by the Prophet (SAW). If we follow these parameters we will find our communities filled with co-operation and civility.
To mention the rights a neighbour enjoys, first, we must define who a neighbour is. This definition will be left to one of the greatest Scholars of our intellectual heritage, Hafiz Ibn Hajar (Allah have mercy upon him), he defines a neighbour in his celebrated work, Fath-ul Bari. He writes that Scholars have various opinions about the extent of neighbours. It is reported from Ali (RA) that whoever hears the same Azaan (the call to prayer) are neighbours. Some say that whoever performs Salah (congregational prayer) with one in the same Masjid becomes one’s neighbour. A narration from Aisha (RA) reports that neighbours extend to forty homes in each direction. Imam Awza’i (RH) holds the same view, and Imam Bukhari (RH) [in his Adab-ul Mufrad] and Imam Tabrani (RH) have also cited narrations similar to this.
Allah has stated in the Quran, “Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side, the traveler, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful.” (4:36)
In the above verse, Allah initially outlines man’s obligation to him, and that is to worship Him alone, without ascribing partners to Him. The essence of Islam is this acceptance of monotheism. Thereafter, Allah outlines our obligations to fellow human beings, and commences with parents, because if man is indebted to anyone after Allah, it is his parents. Allah then mentions kindness toward relatives then neighbours.
Two types of neighbours are mentioned in the verse. The near neighbour refers to the immediate neighbour, whilst the far neighbour refers to those whose homes at a distance from one. Some Scholars opine that the near neighbour refers to a neighbour who happens to be a relative as well, and the far neighbour is a normal person without any familial link. The one who is a relative and a neighbour will have more rights upon a person. Others give the explanation that the near neighbour is a person who is Muslim and the distant neighbour is the non Muslim. This does not negate the fact that a person must act in the best of manners regardless of the person’s belief system.
To understand the importance of the neighbour, the words of the Prophet (SAW) will suffice us, “Jibra’il (AS) persistently emphasised the importance of the neighbour to me, until I felt that he was going to declare him an heir in the estate.” (Bukhari) The heirs of the deceased have rights over his property, these are undeniable and in embedded in our Religion. Due to the emphasis regarding the neighbour, the Prophet (SAW) felt that Jibra’il (AS) would descend and accord the neighbour the status of an heir, was imminent. This is how much the rights of a neighbour are intrinsic in order to develop an Islamic moral code.
One of the basic rights a neighbour has over a Muslim is that he is not harmed, as the Prophet has stated, “He who believes in Allah and the last day should not harm his neighbour.” (Bukhari) Here, once more, the most important aspect of Islam is mentioned before the right of a neighbour is mentioned. The belief in Allah is mentioned coupled with the belief in an afterlife, these beliefs are the defining factor of a Muslim, if he does not have these then he cannot be called a believer. The fact that immediately after this, the Prophet (SAW) mentions the right of the neighbour, this is and indication on how profound the rights of a neighbour truly are.
This tradition does not go into detail as to what ‘Harm’ is, instead it was left to the Companions (RA) to define and the the Scholars. Due to harm having different connotations to different people, a general definition is difficult to produce. However, harm here could be best understood as harm to your neighbour’s life, direct or indirectly, harm to his property, his family, his honour or his wealth. Allah knows best.
A similar Hadith has been said by our Prophet (SAW), reported by Abu Huraira (RA), “By Allah, he is not a true Believer; by Allah, there is no faith in him; by Allah, he is not a believing man.” ‘Who?’ he was asked. “From whose mischief his neighbours do not feel secure.” (Bukhari and Muslim) From this harsh warning issued and the words chosen by our Prophet (SAW) one can imagine how vile a mischievous neighbour truly is. Here the Prophet (SAW) has again made the connection between belief in Allah and the rights of the neighbour. The crux of this Narration is that a Muslim should be so amiable with his neighbours that they have nothing to fear from him. If the neighbour lives in fear due to a person’s behaviour then he cannot be called a faithful believer.
The Prophet (SAW) has warned his nation of the bad neighbour, he has said, “The person whose neighbours are not spared from his ill-behaviour will not enter Jannah” (Muslim) This Narration is very similar to the above one, however, this one is more clear in regards to the destination of a ill-mannered neighbour. This is really the most severe warning that the Prophet (SAW) has given, this should be enough to highlight just how important a neighbour truly is.
May Allah give us the ability to act as good neighbours. May he save us from becoming bad neighbours and from having bad neighbours.