The essence of Islam is tawheed (pure Islamic monotheism), and one’s firm belief in tawheed is represented in the shahadah, the declaration of faith, that “there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” However, belief and faith are hollow if not coupled with good actions, as Allah mentions in the Qur’an, “…except those who believe and do righteous deeds, for them is a reward never-ending” (Qur’an, 84:25). And, similarly, in another verse, we are told: “Verily, those who believe and do righteous deeds, for them will be Gardens under which rivers flow. That is the great success” (Qur’an, 85:11). In these two verses, and many others similar to them, Allah connects good deeds and actions to faith. Eman, or faith, is deficient without good actions, and this includes good manners. Indeed, the Messenger of Allah said in an authentic hadith reported by Al-Bukhari and in the Musnad of Imam Ahmed, “I have only been sent to perfect good manners.”
Good and proper manners apply to a broad spectrum of relationships and situations starting, first and foremost, with the proper manners toward Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, and toward His deen of Islam. This is followed by manners toward the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) and his sunnah, as well as manners toward others such as parents and family, co-workers, neighbors, Muslims and non-Muslims, etc. Therefore, the subject of manners is a subject that cannot be taken lightly. Regarding proper manners toward the neighbor, Allah mentions in the Qur’an, “Worship Allah and join none with Him; and do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the needy, the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is farther away, the companion by your side, the wayfarer, and those [slaves] whom your right hands possess. Verily, Allah does not love the one who is proud and boastful” (Qur’an, 4:36).
We can look at some detail as to the importance of good relationship with one’s neighbor in light of the Book of Allah and the authentic ahadith (narrations) of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him). This helps us to establish a better understanding of the significance and value of good manners toward the neighbor, and how this aids us in coming closer to Allah through knowledge and implementation of this wisdom.
Being a Great Neighbor is Part of Eman
Islam places a great emphasis on the relationship with one’s neighbors. This is naturally so, since the neighbor is one of the people you will most frequently see, run into, or interact with on a daily basis. The neighbor, regardless of his or her religious affiliation, holds a special status in Islam. A Muslim’s good relationship with his neighbor will increase him in virtue and ultimately bring him closer to Allah. This relationship is to be full of kindness, concern, sensitivity, trust, and patience. Strictly forbidden is any harm or malice toward the neighbor. Abu Hurairah narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt his neighbor; and whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should serve his guest generously; and whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quiet” (Saheeh al-Bukhari).
In another hadith, narrated by Abu Shuraih, the Prophet said, “By Allah, he does not believe! By Allah, he does not believe! By Allah, he does not believe!” It was said, “Who is that, O Allah’s Apostle?” He said, “That person whose neighbor does not feel safe from his evil” (Sahih Al-Bukhari). These ahadith emphasize that a good relationship with one’s neighbor is tied to faith. A Muslim who harms his neighbor by any fashion is deficient in his faith because he is neglecting his duty towards Allah and his final meeting with Him.
The Status of the Neighbor
There many examples from the teachings of the Messenger of Allah regarding the neighbor. However, one that sums up what a neighbor’s status is in the life of a Muslim is the hadith narrated by Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) who reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Jibreel continued to advise me (to be good to my) neighbor until I thought that he was going to make him my heir” (Bukhari). Islam gives such a lofty status to the neighbor that Jibreel reiterated the importance of treating them with good manners time and time again; so much so that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) thought that they would reach the status similar to one’s own family and ultimately be given rights of inheritance.
How to Be a Good Neighbor in Light of the Prophetic Traditions
Honoring and respecting one’s neighbors is manifested through the actions toward them, through acts of kindness and compassion. It is narrated from Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) that she once asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “O Messenger of Allah, I have two neighbors, so to whom shall I send a gift?” He replied, “To the one whose door is closer to yours” (Saheeh al-Bukhari). It is clear that Islam encourages not only to be kind to our neighbors, but also to give them gifts as a means of showing one’s caring and maintaining a good relationship or friendship. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) mentioned in another hadith reported in the Saheeh of Imam Muslim, “If you cook some broth, add extra water and send some to your neighbor.”
A Muslim does not neglect his neighbor and we are taught, in fact, that a Muslim who goes to sleep with his belly full while his neighbor is suffering from hunger is deficient in his eman. Imam al-Bukhari and Imam at-Tabarani reported that the Messenger of Allah said, “He is not a believer, who eats his fill while his neighbor is hungry.” In another narration reported by at-Tabarani and Al-Bazzar, the Prophet said, “He does not believe in me, who eats his fill while his neighbor beside him is hungry and he knows about it.” Muslims are keen to lend a helping hand and show kindness and caring in whatever way they can.
Smiling at our neighbors is a form of charity for which Allah rewards a Muslim. Shaykh Muhammad bin Salah al-Uthaymeen mentioned in his book, Makaarim al-Akhlaaq (Upright Moral Character), “The third kind (of upright moral character) is to greet the people with a pleasant smile, as oppose to frowning at them. The Prophet (may Allah raise his ranks and grant him peace) said, ‘Do not look down on any act of kindness, even if it is just meeting your brother with a pleasant smile on your face.’” He continues, “A pleasant smile causes people to become happy, wins over their love and affection, and leads to both parties having good thoughts of each other. Just try it and you will see!” This simple action has a tremendous effect on the hearts of people.
Muslims are to be a source of comfort, security, and safety for the neighbor. One’s neighbor should feel safe in his presence and be secure that a Muslim will honor his rights and protect his home. One story from among our pious predecessors is the story of Sa’eed ibn al-‘Aas and his neighbor. Sa’eed’s neighbor wished to sell his home for 100,000 dirhams, out of necessity. A man was interested in the house and the seller said to him, “This (100,000 dirhams) is the price of the house, but what would you pay to have Sa’eed ibn al-‘Aaas as your neighbor?” When Sa’eed heard about this, he sent his neighbor 100,000 dirhams and told him to keep his home (Muhammad Al-Hashimi, The Ideal Muslim). This story is an example of what it means to be a good Muslim neighbor. The neighbor valued his relationship with Sa’eed ibn al-‘Aas and knew that anyone would want to live next to him. And there is another layer of meaning in that Sa’eed, once aware that his neighbor was selling his house out of necessity, paid the neighbor the price of the house so that he could remain in his home!
The goal of each and every Muslim is to please his Creator by any means possible. A Muslim’s worship and obedience to Allah, through His Mercy, will ultimately lead him to reside in Paradise with the best of creation. Salah or fasting are profound acts of worship and obedience. Having good manners and maintaining good relations with neighbors are also acts of worship and obedience. The beauty of Islam is that even one’s everyday interactions with other people, if done with the intention to please Allah, are considered worship and obedience.
A Muslim who adheres to the sources of Islam, the Qur’an and the Sunnah, is knowledgeable about the teachings of Islam as well as being dedicated to implementing those teachings in his or her everyday life. Among the many relationships a Muslim has in his lifetime is his relationship with his neighbors. Honoring the neighbor through good manners and actions is a source of joy and happiness for both parties involved. Demonstrating just how profound is the relationship with one’s neighbor, the Messenger of Allah said, “None has faith until he loves for his brother or his neighbor what he loves for himself” (Sahih Muslim).