“None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother (or neighbour), what he loves for himself”, 
a narration from Prophet Muhammad also ingrained in almost every faith on earth.

How many fond (or otherwise!) memories do you recall of your neighbours?

I remember walking up the street delivering Mama’s homemade butter cake or a plate of briyani to Aunty Sherry, Mrs. Goh or Aunty Aisha. And often returning carrying some other plate of yummy food in exchange. Then there were times we would pass a bag of mangos or bananas fresh from our garden over the fence to Elly on our left or Aunty Umarani behind us. In fact, my first official job was babysitting our neighbours Nick and Emma while their Mom went out running errands. RM 5 per hour was not bad for a high-school teen back then! And I gained critical lifesaving skills of playing endless rounds of checkers, staging finger-puppet shows, and tying misbehaving kids to a papaya tree (just kidding… maybe).

We are reminded to give and receive however little – with grace – through the following two Hadith which complement each other:

Abu Hurairah r.a. reported that Prophet Muhammadﷺ said:“None of you should consider even a sheep’s trotter (hoof) too insignificant to give to her neighbour” (Muslim), and in another narration, “A woman should not disdain her neighbour’s gift, even if it is only a sheep’s hoof” (Bukhari).

A sheep’s hoof isn’t something that is ever in our kitchen, but you get the message – just give, even if it’s only half a pie, or a few fresh chilis from the garden, or a bit of soup you’ve just made.

Abu Dharr r.a. reported that Prophet Muhammadﷺ said: “Abu Dharr! If you cook some stew, add more water to it (to make extra) and fulfill your duty to your neighbours (or share it among your neighbours).” (Bukhari).

“A man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbour is hungry” (Bukhari). That’s a pretty weighty statement. Sadly, in this day and age, our priorities seem a bit different. We spend more time absorbed in our own lives or the lives of someone else miles away on Facebook, than we do with the family next door. How about we also focus on who is actually within our circle of influence, and what we are actually accountable for. This Hadith really brings it back home. How familiar are we with the situation of those around us? Do we know that money may be tight for that young family down the street since the school term just began, and all they’ve had to eat is plain rice and ketchup for a week? Or that old lady on the 12th floor whose grown children haven’t visited in a while and she’s feeling too weak to drive out to get groceries? Imagine the kind of relationship we should be having with those around us to be in a position to even be aware of these things.

A friend argued that this “detachment” happens more when you live in a condo-type building versus a landed home. I say it’s irrelevant where you live. We can see the same happening even when traveling by plane, train or bus. We may sit just inches away from someone for hours, and yet barely go beyond “Hello”, if even that.

So who is considered a neighbour? There are a number of opinions from the scholars on this issue. The most common opinion is from Al-Hasan Al-Basri who said, “The term ‘neighbour‘ includes the forty houses in front of a person, the forty houses behind him, the forty houses on his right and the forty houses on his left” (Bukhari – hasan/sound). Another opinion states seven houses in each direction, and yet another specifies homes that hear the same adzan (call to prayer) you hear from the nearby mosque. In any case, don’t feel overwhelmed, we should strive to do the best we can with as many of our neighbours as possible – the best of deeds are those that are consistent after all, even if small. It goes without saying that this is regardless of the neighbours’ religion, race, or social status.

Furthermore, Abu Hurairah r.a. reported that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “A person whose neighbours are not safe from his evil/wrongful conduct will not enter the Garden (Heaven)”, (Bukhari). If we knew this, and truly tried to live to its spirit, I doubt we’d be having the common issues of neighbours putting their garbage bins messily blocking our gate, or unresolved plumbing matters leaking through the neighbour’s wall, much less backbiting or slandering one neighbour with the other!

My parents’ relationship with neighbours has gone beyond giving and exchanging spoonfuls of spices as well as the occasional electric drill and powerjet spray. It has even extended to lending and borrowing business loans when times were tough, and providing a wife shelter from an angry husband who decided to use her as a punching bag. My parents have moved homes seven times, and they continue this tradition in the best of ways. Our neighbours in turn, are warm and helpful – even perfect caretakers of our home when we travel, ever willing to feed and clean up after our 11 cats and 4 chickens. ‘Aishah r.a. reported that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Jibreel (Angel Gabriel) kept on recommending that I treat neighbours well until I thought that he would order me to treat them as my heirs” (Bukhari). As heirs, mind you!

Abu Shurayh Al-Khuza’i r.a. reported that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Anyone who believes in Allah and the Last Day should be good to his neighbours. Anyone who believes in Allah and the Last Day should be generous to his guest. Anyone who believes in Allah and the Last Day should say what is good or be silent.” (Bukhari & Muslim).