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by Habeeba Husain
When people say “Islam is a way of life,” they really mean it. The religion dictates so much more about one’s existence than spirituality, worship, and prayers. It advises how one should act with parents, children, animals, the home, wealth, health, and the list continues on. It follows then, that being a good Muslim requires a lot more than praying on time or fasting in Ramadan. Among other things, being a good Muslim means upholding the rights of family members, caring for the needy, and being a kind neighbor.
Recently, I moved to a new apartment, so trying to be a good neighbor has been on my mind. There are three other apartments on our level, and for almost a month after moving in, I had no idea who lived in them. I never once saw them enter or exit their front door. Knowing they likely did not look like us—a Muslim couple donning a headscarf and beard—we thought we ought to leave a friendly first impression.
We baked up some already frozen cookie dough, wrapped three plates with about a dozen cookies each, wrote a little note “From your new neighbors!” and signed our names. One evening we mustered up the courage to ring the doorbells of the three apartments that surrounded our own. Yes, we had to muster up some courage…essentially, these people were strangers to us and us them, so we were not sure how we would be received.
Each neighbor had a look of surprise on their face to see someone dropping by on a weekday evening right around dinner time. One neighbor even nervously said, “Wrong house” upon cracking open the door. We later found out she was Muslim, and she confused us for visitors coming to see the new Muslim couple (us!) who moved in down the hall. We had a laugh about it. After the initial and even slightly awkward explanation of why we were there, we exchanged names, hellos, smiles, and hand-shakes with all three neighbors. The entire event lasted maybe ten minutes—that is all it took to make a small, friendly gesture to ensure we start our neighborly relationships on the right foot.
After we got back into our own apartment, I started wondering, “What does Islam say about neighbors?” I was happy to find a number of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (may the blessings and peace of God be upon him) with wisdoms that would be quite easy to implement. For example, “When you make broth, add more water and give some to your neighbor” (Ibn Majah). My neighbor growing up did this for us all the time, and boy, was that was some stellar soup! May God give her good.
In another narration, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad (may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) narrated that he said, “Gabriel continued to recommend me about treating the neighbors kindly and politely so much so that I thought he would order me to make them as my heirs” (Bukha-ri). That is no ordinary kindness—that is a genuine, deep kindness coming from the heart that the Prophet (may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) encouraged his wife (and by extension, all the Muslims to this day!) to show to her neighbors. Similarly, Christianity also preaches that same deep kindness. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mark 12:31) and “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:2) are just two examples of verses highlighting the proper etiquette to maintain with neighbors. The message both Islam and Christianity teach about interacting with the people next door is one and the same.
From this, it is clear Muslims are supposed to be good neighbors. In addition to their prayer, outings to the mosque, and other worship, good Muslims will show the utmost kindness to their neighbors if they truly try to make Islam their way of life. May God make us among those who show generosity and hospitality to our neighbors.