What are our duties toward our neighbors?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Neighbor is the name given to those that are near to one another in terms of houses, workplaces, land, villages, cities and countries.

Our neighbors form our closest social environment after our family. The conditions necessitate contacting our closest environment in both good and bad days. Solidarity in times of hardship, visiting one another in normal times and even having the right of preemption form the source of certain rights and responsibilities related to being neighbors. The Quran mentions the relationship among neighbors as follows:

"Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess." (an-Nisa, 4/36)

Hz. Ali holds the view that the term neighbor includes “those whose voices are heard” in the neighborhood. Hz. Aisha states that forty houses from every direction are neighbors and that they have the right of neighbors. In addition, the term neighbor includes all neighbors whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, good or bad, near or distant. (Tajrid Sarih Translation, XII, 130)

The Prophet (pbuh) states the following:

"Gabriel (Jibril) recommended me about treating the neighbors kindly and politely so much so that I thought he would make neighbors heirs." (Bukhari, Adab, 28; Muslim, Birr wa Sila, 140: 141; Tirmidhi, Birr, 28; Ibn Majah, Adab, 4)

It is one of the most important ethical duties of a Muslim not to harm others and to do people favors. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) states the following regarding the issue:

"A Muslim is a person who avoids harming the Muslims with his tongue and hands." (Bukhari Iman, 3-4; Muslim, Iman, 64-66)

The neighbor has priority in terms of trust and security due to constant relationships. As a matter of fact, the Messenger of Allah states the following in hadith:

"He from whose evil his neighbor does not feel safe is not a real believer." (Bukhari, Adab, 29; Muslim Iman, 73; Tirmidhi, Qiyama, 60; Ahmad b. Hanbal, I, 387, II, 288, 336, 373, III, 154).

It is essential for a believer to want his neighbor to attain the boons that he has and not want for his neighbor what he does not want for himself. (Bukhari, Iman, 5) Acting upon this principle, a person must not disturb his neighbor. There is an objective criterion that can be applied to everybody here. If a person who harms his neighbor by making noise or by transgressing his neighbor’s land through his balcony or canopy does not like it when the same thing is done against him, he will find the truth by consulting his heart. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) explains this criterion by addressing Wabisa as follows:  

"O Wabisa! Consult your heart even if people give you their legal opinion (fatwa).  Righteousness (Birr) is whatever your heart feels ease at doing, and sin is whatever brings discomfort to the heart." (Darimi, Buyu’, 2; Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, IV, 228)

When a Companion asked the Prophet (pbuh) what rights his neighbor had on him, he gave the following answer:

"If he gets ill, visit him; if he dies, help to arrange his funeral. If he asks money from you, lend him. If he is in hardship, help him. If a misfortune hits him, console him. Do not make your roof higher than his so that you will not prevent his wind. Do not make him understand what you cook at home; if you do, give some to him from what you cook." (Y. Kandahlawi, Hayatus-Sahaba, III, 1068)

Our duties toward our neighbors in the light of this hadith:

1) We should speak softly to our neighbors and smile to them; we should not forget to greet them, to ask how they are when we meet them and to share their joy and sorrow.

2) Visiting them when they are healthy and ill, when they are sad and joyful, in their weddings and festivals, offering condolences if one of them dies, supporting them, helping them in the funeral, accepting their invitations, loving their children as if they are our own children, protecting and guarding them are among our duties as neighbors.  

3) The Prophet (pbuh) states the following:

"He who believes in Allah and the hereafter should do favors to his neighbor." (Bukhari, Adab, 31; Muslim Iman, 74, 76, 77; Ibn Majah, Adab, 4; Darimi, At’ima, 11).

"The best friend in the eye of Allah is the one that treats his friend in the best way and the best neighbor is the one that treats his neighbor in the best way." (Bukhari, Iman, 31; Tirmidhi, Birr, 28)

4) It is one of our duties to treat to our neighbors. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) states the following:

"He who believes in Allah and the hereafter should treat to his neighbor." (Bukhari, Adab, 31; Muslim, Iman 74, 76, 77; Ibn Majah, Adab, 4)

The Prophet (pbuh) gave the following advice:

"O Aba Dharr! When you cook soup, add some more water and do not forget your neighbors." He also said,

"He who sleeps on full stomach while his neighbor is hungry is not one of us." Muslim, Iman, 74, Birr wa Sila, 142; Ahmad b. Hanbal, 1,55)

5) It is the duty of a Muslim to help his poor and needy neighbors, to support them financially if necessary, to lend them and to find jobs for them if they can work. It is also a good deed to act as the deputy of the lonely and old neighbors. (see Abu Dawud, Zakah, 25; Malik, Muwatta, Zakah, 29; Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, III, 31, 40).

6) It is also among the duties of a Muslim not to spy on what happens in the neighboring houses, not to reveal their sins and mistakes, to forgive them when they say or do something bad to us, to guide them related to worldly and otherworldly affairs. It is forbidden by the Quran to seek others’ faults and reveal their secret issues. (al-Hujurat, 49/12).

7) It is necessary not to do harm to and wrong our neighbors. The Prophet (pbuh) expresses its importance as follows:   

"He from whose evil his neighbor does not feel safe is not a real believer." (Bukhari, Adab, 29; Muslim, Iman, 73; Tirmidhi, Qiyama, 60)

"He who believes in Allah and the hereafter should not oppress his neighbor." (Muslim, Iman, 73, 75)

Thus, he stated the importance of the rights of neighbors.

It is possible to oppress the neighbor materially or spiritually. Material oppression is to transgress his house, garden and property, to harm demolish, pollute and confiscate them, and to beat the neighbor himself. Spiritual oppression is to defile the honor of his neighbors and to reveal their family secrets. If a person defiles the honor of his neighbors, his sins will be multiplied. Upon a question, the Prophet (pbuh) said that the biggest sins were to associate partners with Allah, to kill one’s own child due to the fear of hunger and “to have a sexual intercourse with the wife of one’s neighbor”.  Miqdad b. Aswad reports the following from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) regarding the issue:

"The sin of a person who has a sexual intercourse with the wife of his neighbor is more than the sin of a person who has a sexual intercourse with ten women." (Bukhari, Tafsiru Sura 2/3, 25/2, Adab, 20, Diyat, 1; Hudud, 30; Tawhid, 40; Muslim, Iman, 141, 142; Abu Dawud, Talaq 50; Tirmidhi, Tafsiru Sura, 25/1,2)

According to what Abdullah b. Umar narrates, the Prophet (pbuh) set off for an expedition. On the way, he said,

"He who oppressed his neighbor should not join us today." Somebody said,

"I urinated against the wall of my neighbor." The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,

"Do not join us today." (Y. Kandahlawi, Hadislerle Müslümanlık, III/1068)

As it is understood from all of the verses and hadiths above, it is the duty of every Muslim to establish good relationships with the neighbors. There are always some people who do not fulfil this duty and who disturb their neighbors. The Prophet (pbuh) advised us to show patience in the face of the bad deeds of our neighbors.

8) A bad neighbor harms the people around; similarly, a good neighbor will help his neighbors in the world and the hereafter. The following is stated in a hadith:  

"Doubtlessly, Allah keeps misfortunes away from a hundred houses due to a righteous neighbor." (al-Asqalani, Selâmet Yolları, III, 298)

According to the Islamic law, being a next-door neighbor gives a person some financial rights. Rights of preemption and easement are among them. The Prophet (pbuh) states the following:

"A next-door neighbor has more rights to buy his neighbor’s house than others." (Tirmidhi, Ahkam, 31, 33; Abu Dawud, Buyu’, 73; Ahmad b. Hanbal, IV, 388-390, V, 8,12, 13,18)

"A neighbor has more preemptive rights than others." (Abu Dawud, Buyu’, 73; Tirmidhi, Ahkam, 32; Ibn Majah, Shuf’a, I, p. 2)

Preemption means to have the right to buy some property that has been sold by giving the person who has bought it the same amount of money based on the right of priority. The right of easement includes the rights related to the property of the neighbor like passing, getting water or making water flow.

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