Good-neighborliness in Islam is highly essential to the healthy growth of society. In Islamic society, every individual is crucial, and the community is responsible for ensuring no one suffers alone. Good-neighborliness is foundational for such a community. The Prophet stressed the importance of neighborly kindness repeatedly, highlighting its divine endorsement through Angel Jibreel’s persistent recommendations. This repetition indicates a divine directive, emphasizing the duty to treat neighbors with utmost respect and care.

`A’ishah and `Abdullah ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Jibreel has continued to strongly recommend me to be kind to my neighbor until I thought that he would make him among my heirs.” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Malik, and others).

Islam aims at creating a society that not only implements Allah’s laws, but also adopts certain values that ensure its strength as a coherent, caring society, where everyone feels their importance to the community. None are left to waste or suffer on their own. An Islamic society is one where every individual is important and everyone enjoys the protection of the community. It is needless to say that all members of society have a duty and a responsibility towards their community. In return, they enjoy the care and protection of that community.

Good-neighborliness in Islam and its benefit

In order to create a solid basis for its closely knit community, Islam begins with encouraging good-neighborliness. One of the worst social acts someone can commit is to be unkind to their neighbors. The reasons for this insistence on good-neighborliness are crystal-clear. In a neighborhood where people quarrel and one set of neighbors try to harm another, there is no chance of harmony prevailing there. Indeed, people try to move out from such an area, peace being the basic condition for development. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Prophet should emphasize on many occasions the importance of good-neighborly relations. This hadith, which has been widely reported with different chains of reporting, is highly significant.

Moreover, it is phrased in a way that leaves no doubt where the order to be kind to neighbors comes from. It is Angel Jibreel who is recommending the Prophet to take such an attitude to his neighbors. Jibreel, as an angel, does not initiate anything from himself. He simply carries a message from Allah to His Prophet and conveys it in its entirety. In the Qur’an, Allah describes angels as creatures who do not disobey Allah whatever He bids them: {and they do what they are bid} (At-Tahrim 66:6).

So, when Jibreel makes a recommendation to the Prophet, he simply conveys to him what Allah wants him to convey. That recommendation is, then, an order given by Allah.

We also note that the recommendation has been repeated again and again in order to create a certain impression in the mind of the Prophet. Again, Jibreel was acting on Allah’s order. It is Allah Who wants him to repeat this recommendation time after time.

How did the Prophet Muhammad emphasize kindness to neighbors?

The Prophet was the best man to understand what Allah wants of him. A simple order or recommendation would have been adequate for the Prophet to understand that he should be kind to his neighbors. This hadith suggests something more. It implies a certain duty that should not be neglected for any reason whatsoever. This is understood from the fact that the recommendation was frequently repeated by Jibreel, who was acting on Allah’s order.

We can also try to visualize what that recommendation was like. It must have emphasized the fact that a neighbor has a very strong claim on those who live in the same area with him or her for the Prophet to have the sort of impression that he specified. In other words, when we treat our neighbors kindly, we are only giving them what they are entitled to by right. The kindness should be mutual since we, as their neighbors, are entitled to the same right. When people in any neighborhood act on this recommendation — or actually, this order —, then that neighborhood is bound to be happy and strong. Everyone will enjoy the feeling of belonging to a good community that cares for them and for their interests and provides them with protection.

How does Islam view the relationship between neighbors and family?

The Prophet tells us that Jibreel continued to urge him to be kind to his neighbors so much so that he thought that next he would be told that neighbors were entitled to inherit from their neighbors like their own relatives. That gives neighbors a degree very close to that of one’s own relations. It makes them almost of the same family. Had that been ordered, every neighbor would have had such a share of inheritance, be they righteous or wrongdoer, friend or foe, a local person or a stranger who has moved in recently, a good member of the locality or a bad one.

This is what applies to those entitled to a share of inheritance, according to the Islamic system. When someone dies, the heirs receive their shares of the inheritance without regard to any of the aforementioned factors. Their entitlement to their shares is derived from their relation to the deceased, not from their character. The same would have applied to neighbors had they been made heirs to their neighbors.

This hadith, however, remains highly significant in the sense that it describes how close a relationship between neighbors in a Muslim society should be. When people understand this fully, they are bound to value their ties with their neighbors very highly.

How does good-neighborliness relate to belief in Allah and the Day of Judgment?

In another hadith, the Prophet links certain attitudes to belief in Allah and the Day of Judgment. Among these is good-neighborliness. Abu Shuraih Al-Khuza`i quoted the Prophet as saying, “Anyone who believes in Allah and the Last Day let him be kind to his neighbor. 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” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, and others).

Again, the mode of expression here is highly significant. The Prophet relates each of the three habitual attitudes he recommends to belief in Allah and the Day of Judgment. He uses this mode of expression in order to highlight the importance of each of these three attitudes.

The Prophet mentions the Day of Judgment because it is the day of reward or punishment. Non-believers on the Day of Judgment are unlikely to give it any importance in shaping their social behavior. From this we understand that kindness to neighbors will be rewarded highly by Allah.

It is needless to say that those who act on the Prophet’s recommendation will have the immediate reward of their kindness being returned by their neighbors. But they should not make that their motive. It is not the reward from the neighbors that they hope for; the reward from Allah is much more important. It is that to which we aspire. It gives us the appropriate motive. Hence, we will be keen to merit that reward.

By Adil Salahi