Quranic Reflection No 578. Āyat 4:36 – Rights of Neighbors in Islam

وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا وَبِذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَالْجَارِ ذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَالْجَارِ الْجُنُبِ

Wabil-wālidayni ihsānā wabidhil-qurbā walyatāmā walmasākīni waljāri dhil-qurbā waljāril-junub

And be good to the parents, the relatives, the orphans, the needy, the near neighbour and the distant neighbour.

(Sūrat al-Nisā, No 4, Āyat 36)

Allah ‘azza wajall has created man in such a way that he has no option but to engage with others and establish social relationships in his life. For example, he must interact with his family members, he must have friends, he must have colleagues, neighbours, and so on. Without establishing such relationships, he will not succeed in his material goals. Nor will certain emotional and psychological needs of his be met. But Islam teaches us that beyond these material and emotional benefits, such relationships are an opportunity and a test from Allah. They allow man to manifest his servitude and grow spiritually. For example, when interacting with others, we may be offended when someone speaks rudely to us. This gives us the opportunity to manifest patience and forbearance. At other times we must come to the aid of someone, thereby inculcating bravery, generosity, and love in the heart. In this manner life is an endless opportunity for growth and attaining proximity to Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā, so long as we traverse the path set out by the sharīʿah and the intellect.

One of these groups of people who we naturally must interact with, and whose rights have been highly emphasized in Islam, are neighbours. In the above verse from Sūrat al-Nisā, after commanding the human being to worship Allah and not ascribe partners to Him, man is commanded to be good to different groups of people, including neighbours. In a famous and significant narration from Amīrul Mu’minīn, he enjoins his children as such:

وَ اللَّهَ اللَّهَ فِي جِيرَانِكُمْ فَإِنَّهُمْ وَصِيَّةُ نَبِيِّكُمْ مَا زَالَ يُوصِي بِهِمْ حَتَّى ظَنَنَّا أَنَّهُ سَيُوَرِّثُهُم‏

Allah, Allah with regards to your neighbours! For verily they were the subject of the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) advice. He went on advising in their favour till we thought he would designate for them a share in the inheritance.

(Al-Radī, Nahj al-Balāgha, Document 47)

The closest of man’s relatives are his heirs, such as his children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, and siblings. Having a close and intimate relationship with one’s heirs is expected and highly advised in Islam. From this narration of Imam Ali (a) we can understand that Islam expects Muslims to establish a close and intimate relationship with their neighbours, just as they would with their closest relatives.

Some of the rights of neighbours that have been mentioned in traditions from the Ahlul Bayt ‘alayhimus-salām are:

·       Not to trouble them and show patience in the face of their trouble. A narration from Imam al-Kāzim (a) says: Being a good neighbour is not just refraining from troubling [one’s neighbours], rather being a good neighbour is to patiently bear [their] trouble.  (Al-Harrānī, Tuhafal-‘Uqūl, 409)

·       Guarding and protecting them, for example taking care of their house and property in their absence. Or even protecting their dignity in front of others as is indicated in the next point.

·       Not disclosing their defects. We can easily come to realize the defects of a neighbour, since we can hear and maybe even see them at a time that others cannot. In normal circumstances such defects must be hidden from others. In a narration from Imam al-Sajjād (a), he says: You must be like a firm fort and a thick curtain that protects what you came to know” about your neighbours. (Ibid, 266) Moreover, one must not intentionally try to discover their neighbour’s wrongdoing and spy on him!

·       Assisting them in the time of their difficulty.

·       Staying far from harbouring envy towards them. Envy is a dangerous trait that can easily destroy friendship and social relationships. We will naturally see the blessings that the neighbour is endowed with, and this can bring about jealousy in the heart. When man sees that shaytān has planted the seeds of envy in his mind, he must be vigilant and not dwell upon such thoughts. He must recognize that these blessings were given to his neighbour by Allah (swt), and if Allah wants, He will also give such blessings to him.

When living in societies that are pre-dominantly non-Muslim, we must try to convey a correct and positive impression of Islam. This can be done by being a good neighbour and reaching out on important occasions. Following Islamic principles is a lifestyle that is respected by those who come to know it closely. As can be the case through neighbourly relationships.

We beseech Allah the Exalted to allow us to benefit from our interactions with others, in particular our neighbours, to attain proximity to Him. We implore him to give us the patience and perseverance to cleanse our soul from the vices that have overwhelmed it and inculcate the loftiest of moral traits in it such that we return to Him in that manner.

Sources: Āyatullāh Muhmmad Bāqir Tahrīrī, Insān va gustaray-i huqūq-i bandegī (A Commentary on the Risālat al-Huqūq).