How to be a Good Neighbours?
Fasting in Muharram: The First Month of Islamic Year
In the first Hadith the Prophet says: “Gabriel has continued to recommend me to be good to my neighbour till I thought that he would include him among my heirs.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Malik and others).
In the second Hadith, the Prophet says: “Anyone who believes in Allah and the last day let him be good to his neighbour. Anyone who believes in Allah and the last day let him be hospitable to his guest. Anyone who believes in Allah and the last day let him say something good or be silent.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad and others).
Commentary by Adil Salahi
WE note that the Prophet has phrased both Hadiths in such a way that they imply that good neighbourliness is something ordered by Allah, and that it is closely related to believing in Allah and the day of judgment. In the first Hadith, the Prophet says: “Gabriel has continued to recommend me to be good to my neighbour till I thought that he would include him among my heirs.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Malik and others). In the second Hadith, the Prophet says: “Anyone who believes in Allah and the last day let him be good to his neighbour. Anyone who believes in Allah and the last day let him be hospitable to his guest. Anyone who believes in Allah and the last day let him say something good or be silent.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad and others). In both the Hadiths, kindness to neighbours is very strongly stressed. It is, however, expressed in general terms. The question arises: what constitutes good neighbourliness?
We do not need to think a great deal before we know the answer. Everything which tends to strengthen friendly ties within the local community is automatically included in good-neighbourliness, provided that it does not violate, or lead to the violation of Islamic teachings. Good-neighbourliness begins with showing pleasure when neighbours meet and includes every action which suggests that neighbours care for one another. When you meet your neighbour you should greet him and inquire after him. If he needs help, you should be ready to give it. You should speak to him kindly and invite him occasionally to have food with you. If he needs to borrow some money, then you should be willing to lend him what he needs, if you can. If he is ill, you should visit him and inquire after his health. If he suffers a loss of a relative or someone who is dear to him, you should offer your condolences to him. On happy occasions, you should congratulate him. If anyone of your neighbours or their families dies, you should attend his or her funeral. On the other hand, you should remove any cause of complaint which is in your power to remove, whether physical or not. Moreover, you should not build your house high above his to deprive him of sunlight. It is well known in all Muslim communities that neighbours frequently exchange presents. These may be as modest and informal as sending them some food on a plate, and they could be as formal as any presents people exchange on social occasions.
Islam teaches us to accept presents from our neighbours whether they are of the first, informal type, or if they are highly valuable. It also teaches us to extend a helping hand to our neighbours in whatever way we can help them, either to do what they want or to remove what causes them irritation or hardship. It is needless to say that when neighbours extend such a treatment to one another, the whole area will benefit a great deal. There will be no poor family suffering the hardships of poverty when other families in the neighbourhood are well off. There will be no widow or old age pensioner who spends days on end without having a chance to talk to someone, as happens in materialistic societies. This is indeed the sort of community Islam wants to establish in every village and in every district of every town and city. It is for this reason that the Prophet associates kind treatment of neighbours with faith in Allah and in the day of judgment.
But not all people are ready to accept such good counsel and maintain such high standards. Indeed, people are sometimes ready to be absolutely unfaithful to their neighbours. What encourages them to do so is the fact that it is easier to have access to their neighbour’s homes or their property. Neighbours overlook one another, and they are likely to learn much about their neighbours and their affairs. A person with no moral scruples may be aware that a family quarrel has erupted in his neighbour’s home, and he immediately tries to approach his neighbour’s wife offering help and good counsel which may soon become merely a means to achieve a dishonourable end. It is for this reason that the Prophet has emphasized that a crime perpetrated against one’s neighbour is far worse than the same crime committed against someone else. Al Miqdad ibn Al-Aswad is reported to have said: “Allah’s messenger (Pbuh) asked his companions about adultery. They answered: It is prohibited. Allah and His messenger have made it absolutely forbidden. The Prophet said: “For a man to commit adultery with ten women is less of a crime than to commit adultery with his neighbour’s wife.” He then asked them about stealing. They said: ‘It is forbidden. Allah and His messenger have absolutely forbidden it.’ The Prophet said: “For a man to steal from ten houses is less of a crime than stealing from his neighbour’s house.” (Related by Ahmad and Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad).
The Prophet is making it clear that a crime of immorality or dishonesty committed against one’s neighbour is worse than the same crime being committed against ten other people who are not one’s neighbours. A person is supposed to protect his neighbour against anything wrong which may happen to him. When that wrong comes from him, after deliberation and planning, it is much more serious and merits greater punishment. Other versions of this Hadith mention also the preliminaries of adultery. That refers to a determined attempt to seduce one’s neighbour’s wife by sweet words and presents and all sorts of promises. He may try to persuade her that he loves her and he cannot live without her and use similar words which lovers use to attract women. When a person does that with his neighbour’s wife, he is guilty of a very wicked crime which is even worse than adultery committed when a chance presented itself, without premeditation. This is a case which may have lasting effects on the whole family of his neighbours.
Similar is the case of stealing from one’s neighbour’s house. A person knows that valuables his neighbour has and where they are kept. Moreover, no one suspects him when he enters his neighbour’s house, because neighbours often visit and invite one another. Because of his knowledge, a person is supposed to protect his neighbour’s property. When he steals it, making use of what he has learned through social and neighbourly contact, his crime becomes much worse.
These two examples apply to others. In the first example, adultery or fornication with someone who is placed in your care is a much worse crime than adultery with someone with whom you have no such relationship. In the other case, theft by a servant, a doorkeeper, a relative or a friend is much worse than theft committed by a stranger. What the Prophet tells us in this Hadith is that when we are in a position of trust, or when we have a special relationship with someone, then to make use of that relationship in order to have an illegitimate gain from him is viewed very seriously by Allah. Its punishment is much greater than what the same crime earns in the absence of such a relationship.
The First Month of Islamic Year
FASTING in the month of Muharram is highly desired, especially on the tenth day, ‘Ashura. The Messenger of Allah (Pbuh) has been reported as saying when asked which prayer is better after obligatory prayer: “Prayer in the middle of the night.” He was asked again which fast is better after Ramadan. He said: “In the month that is called Al-Muharram.” (Ahmed, Muslim, and Abu Dawud)
This hadith clearly indicates the importance of voluntary fasting in Muharram, among all the months. The Prophet (Pbuh) however, emphasizes the fast of the tenth day, ‘Ashura. The word “`Ashura” is derived from `Ashara, which means ten. The observation of this day goes back to Prophet Musa bin ‘Emran (Pbuh). In a hadith related by Ibn Abbas when the Messenger of Allah (Pbuh) came to Madinah, he found the Jews fasting the day of ‘Ashura. He inquired why do they do so. They replied that it was a good day, the day when Allah delivered Prophet Musa (Pbuh) and the children of Israel from their enemy. As gratitude, Prophet Musa (Pbuh) fasted that day.
The Prophet (Pbuh) responded: “I have more right to Musa than you.” He fasted the day and commanded the believers to fast.” (Agreed upon.) This hadith indicates that the Prophet (Pbuh) was in complete agreement with Prophet Musa (Pbuh) as well as the other prophets. The point here is that the Messenger of Allah would always do an act of worship if it was prophecy reported from any of the prophets. Earlier, we see how he told us that the best voluntary fast is the fast of Dawud.
This is why the following hadith is of great interest to us. Ibn Abbas related when Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) observed the day of ‘Ashura and commanded his followers to observe it, they asked him: “O Messenger of Allah (Pbuh) this is the day the Jews, and Christians respect and honour...” The Prophet (Pbuh) promised them that “Next year Allah willing, we shall fast the ninth, tasuu’aa, along with the tenth.” By the next Muharram, the Prophet (Pbuh) had already passed away. Because the believers, desire to emulate Prophet Musa in fasting on ‘Ashura do so with the desire not to participate in the festivity of the People of the Book, who have reduced the day to a mere formality. The Prophet (Pbuh) decided to remove this ambiguity with the fast of the ninth day.
Our ‘Ulama, analyzing all reports from the Prophet (Pbuh) regarding Muharram, stated the fast of Muharram can be viewed in three ways:
1. Fasting three days of Muharram, the ninth, tenth and eleventh.
2. Fasting on the ninth and tenth days because of two previous Hadiths.
3. Fasting on the tenth day alone.
It is to celebrate on the day of ‘Ashura. In a hadith by Jabir Bin Abdullah, the Messenger of Allah (Pbuh) said: “Whoever spends generously on himself and his family on the day of ‘Ashura, Allah will provide for him generously the rest of his year.” (Al-Bayhaqi)