How to deal with difficult neighbours
Being good to your neighbour. Even if he is bad to you.
Being good to someone who is good to you is easy. Being good to someone who is not good to you, is hard. This is why being good to your neighbour is a sign of imaan.
Allah Almighty says in Surah Fussilat:
The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better. (and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend. (41:34)
To repel bad in the best way in the Quranic way and the prophetic way. Never repel bad with bad. Always repel bad with good.
If someone is insulting you, there is more likelihood it that you’ll find your fist decorating their face than your saying thank you for the insult. This is human nature after all. Overcoming the instinct to retaliate takes effort.
Why be good to neighbours
The concept of neighbours is very deep in the Sunnah and unsurprisingly supported by a multitude of hadith. Even the Quran mentions the neighbour in Surah Nisa:
Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents be excellent, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbour, the neighbour farther away, the companion at your side, the traveller, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful. (4:36)
The Prophet (peace be on him) was sent so many instructions to be good to neighbours, that he felt it would not be long before he would be commanded him to leave a portion of his inheritance as well. He said:
Jibril kept recommending me to treat my neighbour well until I thought that he would tell me to make him one of my heirs. (Bukhari)
Islam is based on community not individualism
Our religion is based on togetherness, and acting as one body, not a collection of isolated individuals.
When you are good to those around you, they are good to you and this is how we create a good community. A human community that is caring, considerate and harmonious.
Your neighbour lives in very close proximity to you, so you have to live in peace with him and have a good relationship with him.
On the authority of Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him), that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
Let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day speak good, or keep silent; and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his neighbour; and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his guest. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said three times:
‘By Allah, he does not have faith!’
It was said, ‘Who is it, O Messenger of Allah?’
The Prophet said, ‘He whose neighbour is not safe from his harm’. (Bukhari)
Of course this doesn’t mean that person is a kafir but his level of imaan is low. He has a flaw in his imaan.
In another narration, on the authority of Abu Hamzah Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him), the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Again it is implied here that selfishness and self-centredness is a sign of a flawed imaan, not literal disbelief.
We all have neighbours, therefore every single one of us is being warned that they must be good to their neighbour. In theory, If everyone looks after their neighbour, then everyone is cared for.
Who is classified as your neighbour
Your whole street counts as your neighbours and the closer they live to you, the greater their rights .Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) once asked the Prophet (peace be on him) which of her two neighbours to she should give a gift to.
He replied: ‘The one that is closest to you.’ (Bukhari).
What do I need to do for my neighbour
Visit them now and then. Knock on their door and ask how they are. This does not just apply to Muslim neighbours but all neighbours.
Abu Dharr reported that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
O Abu Dharr, when you cook a stew, put more water in the broth and take care of your neighbours. (Muslim)
It was common practice in the past for people to cook in huge pots and distribute food to their neighbours. Particularly, when they made seasonal dishes, they would make them in large quantities and share them; and also the fruit from their garden when it was harvest time. This still happens in some areas, but not in London.
If you want Allah to love you, be good to your neighbour
One of the conditions of gaining Allah’s love is being a good neighbour.
If you want Allah and his messenger love you, deliver the Amanah to the one who trusted you, tell the truth when you speak, and be good to your neighbour. (Tabarani)
Having good character means being good not just to your neighbour, but your spouse, children, parents, friends, colleagues and so on.
Don’t underestimate greeting each other
Our lives are so fragmented that sometimes we don’t even talk to our parents, let alone our neighbours, which is bad. However the further north you go in the UK the friendlier people become. They smile at you and they greet you. Unlike London, which is very unfriendly – no one talks to each other on the bus or the tube, and if you were to say something to someone, they stare back at you as if you are alien. It doesn’t create a congenial atmosphere.
In his inaugural speech in Madinah, the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
O people, Spread the Salam among you. (Tirmidhi).
On another occasion Abu Hurairah reported the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
You shall not enter Paradise so long as you do not affirm belief and you will not believe as long as you do not love one another. Should I not direct you to a thing which, if you do, will foster love among you? Spread Salam greetings among you. (Muslim)
Do not underestimate greeting each other. It’s a small gesture. But its impact is huge. Just as a sunny day lifts your spirits, a smile and a greeting have the same effect.
Ultimately, we are a community of humans, not slaves or robots, who work, eat and sleep and then repeat it. We were not created for this. Eat work sleep is not the beginning and end of your existence. It is just one part.
Have you ever noticed the face of a bus driver or a cleaner or security guard light up when you greet them? It’s an alien practice here, but not in other countries. It creates a friendly atmosphere.
The poet says beautifully,:
Be like the rain. Wherever it falls it produces greenery.
Muslims should be like the rain, useful and beneficial wherever they go.
The neighbour is just one part of the bigger picture, which is the community. The whole system works in harmony together
In theory everyone should fulfil rights of others . But in practice, we all know mean and nasty people, who derive pleasure in harming others. It is their hobby. And you find such people at work too, who specialise in derailing other people’s lives.
Neighbours affect your life
There is emphasis on being good to neighbours because they can make your life better or hell.
I had a friend who renovated his house till it was exactly how he wanted it, but then his neighbour moved away, a nasty neighbour moved in next door and made his life so miserable, that he ended up selling his home and losing money just to get away from him.
Abu Hurairah said a man came to the prophet (may peace be upon him) complaining against his neighbour. The Prophet (peace be on him) said:
‘Go and have patience.’
He again came to him twice or thrice.
He then said : Go and throw your property in the way. So he threw his property in the way and the people began to ask him and he would tell them about him. The people then began to curse him; may Allah do with him so and so! Then his neighbour came to him and said: Return, you will not see from me anything which you dislike. (Abu Dawoud)
When the cuddly muddly approach fails to work, its time to defend yourself. The Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us how to do this. He didn’t advocate taking a hammer and bashing your neighbour’s front window, but he showed us how to resolve issues creatively.
When you have a difficult neighbour, you may need to change how you deal with him. (Don’t use Brexit tactics, these have ended costing us more than expected. And who knows how much it will eventually cost us and whether our grandchildren will still be paying the bill for it.)
Is it backbiting to discuss your neighbour with others?
Allah Almighty doesn’t like spreading evil unless someone is being oppressed and trying to resolve the problem. This is not classified as backbiting, because you are trying to defend yourself, your rights and reconcile. As Allah Almighty states in Surah Nisa:
God does not love public accusation unless one is truly wronged. God is All-hearing and All-knowing. (4:148)
Hence we have the example of a man who went to the Prophet (peace be on him) with the case of his nasty neighbour. His intention was not to harm his neighbour, which he could’ve done easily, but to resolve a situation that was causing him ongoing harm.
If your intention is not to resolve the dispute, you cannot discuss what he is doing to you. However if you are seeking an end to the problems, it is not possible to end them without discussing them, so you need to tell the story. Telling the story is not backbiting, unless you go beyond the crux of the issue, and add unnecessary details about him and his family.
Unnecessary details cross the boundary of wanting to resolve the situation. They become gossip. Ensure you only discuss details that are strictly relevant to the situation. There are people who can’t filter the necessary details from the unnecessary, and who have a tendency of not just telling the story, but trawl through the entire history and geography of it going back to the time of Adam!
Speaking negatively about someone constitutes spreading evil means even though it is not an action, but verbal, it is jahra bil su ‘uttering evil’.
Repel bad with good
We do not have an angelic community, we have a human community, sometimes even an evil community. This means that we will encounter problems and the Quran is teaching us how to handle this.
Do your best to do good. As Allah Almighty said:
The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better. (41:34)
You can easily repel bad with bad, but Muslims are not permitted to do this at all. It is haram.
The rule is: We do not do this ourselves and we do not accept it from others. We have to extend goodness to everyone: our family, friends and neighbours. The Prophet (peace be on him) taught us to prioritise being good – foremost to our parents, then our family and thirdly neighbours, because of their proximity to us.
And always do the right thing, whether it is through our actions or our words:
Tell my servants to say what is best. (17:53)
We all have a potential to do evil but evil doesn’t lead to jannah. If you want jannah you have to work towards it.
Be nice but be firm
It’s easy to make an enemy but not as easy to make a friend. You have to strive to make friends.
Be nice to colleagues. With limits. Don’t let yourself be exploited. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.
Be proud of who you are and keep your identity.
Don’t be nosy
Part of belief is to leave what doesn’t concern you. Curiosity kills the cat. Yet, we come into contact with those who are nosey and this is harder when they are your neighbours. I had a neighbour who was always poking his nose in my business: ‘Why did you come late last night? Where did you go on holiday?’ I wished he wouldn’t keep asking me such question, as it wasn’t any of his business. But he persisted. He would come to me and ask me, ‘Where did you buy this? How much did you pay for it? How much is your rent? Your salary?’ I didn’t want to be rude but I didn’t want to tell him. I would evade his questions and pretend not to hear them, but even when I changed the topic, he would keep insisting, ‘Tell me Tell me… how much?’ Ya akhi! I was exasperated. Some people just have no consideration for privacy. It is some kind of psychological illness that they can not recognise boundaries and they want to know everything about everyone.
As people put so much of their lives on social media, giving away so many unnecessary and intimate detail about themselves, there has been a loss of awareness of what it is appropriate or not appropriate to divulge to others about our personal lives. This sometimes gives other people the impression that they are entitled to know more about others than they are. The shariah told us that we do not accept invasions of our privacy from anyone – social media or otherwise
We are entitled to our private space. If you do not guard your own personal space, then you make yourself vulnerable to harm. And Cyber bullying.
Everyone wants to be a celebrity theses days. My shaykh used to say:
Fame breaks your back.
If you want to be famous be aware that you might crack under its pressure.
Whoever puts himself in a position too early, whether it is in a role of leadership or politics when he’s not yet capable, will struggle. For example, a trainee doctor can’t be a consultant. He’s not ready for it. He needs to finish his training. If he jumps up to that position too early, it will be a problem not just for himself, but for others whom he is responsible for. He might get away with it some of the time but at others there will be occasions that he’s not qualified to deal with. People who rise to fast, may enjoy the first moments of fame, but will themselves crushed.
May Allah protects us from evil and enables us to be good to our neighbours and all people. Ameen.
Delivered the Youth Circle on 27th Feb 2020
July 30, 2021
Ghazali’s 20 rules for dealing with people. Rules 19-20 Avoid the people of ghaflah and the rights of Muslims.
July 30, 2021