There are many fascinating and inspiring stories from the life of Abdullah Ibn Mubarak. Amongst them is one which is particularly charming and illustrates the life of a man who reached a reality in his level of ‘amal (action) – actually living and embodying the deen. We spend our lives seeking to attain levels of sincerity in our actions such that our actions bear real blessings, real results– the results of which are profound. This anecdote of Ibn Mubarak and his neighbour is a simple success story, benevolent in the lessons it gives and a worthy illustration of the effect of living the deen:
Abdullah Ibn Mubarak’s neighbour was a Jew, but he cared for him greatly. He would send him food before he fed his own children. He would give him clothes before making sure his own children were clothed. One day some people came to his neighbour and enquired about the price he’d sell his house at. “2000 dinars!” came the reply. The people were surprised. “But it’s only worth 1000 dinars!” they insisted. “Yes, 1000 for the house, and 1000 for having Ibn Mubarak as a neighbour!”
Muslims and Jews as harmonious neighbours?! Yes indeed, but this article seeks to focus your attention beyond emerging political narratives. Rather, one must read the story again from the personal eye. This narration shows harmony between faith divide, the bond of neighbours, the rights of neighbours, the responsibility towards one’s neighbours and that character and dealings do not go unnoticed by others, rather that they are very much paid an eye on!
How well, then, do you know yours? Challenge yourself to name some of your neighbours! Sure, the house on the right and the house on the left might be easy hits. But again, the beauty of the deen is that it is a complete way of life, such that even the definition of ‘neighbourhood’ has been discussed. While some narrations have said neighbourhoods consist of 40 houses in each direction, Ali Ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) is reported to have said, “Whoever hears the call for prayer (from the same mosque) is a neighbour,” and some have even attributed the title to one’s travelling companions, as Al Halimi said, “As for the travelling companion, he is a neighbour because he share’s one’s physical space, and travelling companions have much to offer each other as is the case with neighbours in the same market or village.” Imagine then, the number of neighbours who have some rights due to them. In fact, neighbours hold such a status in our deen, that ῾Ai’shah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated that due to the emphasis on this relationship she thought Angel Jibra῾il would come with the order granting inheritance rights to one’s neighbours! Imagine the lofty status then, of someone who until now you thought you were only sharing a driveway with!
The reality is that for many of us, our nine to five, on the go lifestyles mean that we hardly get enough time to spend with our families, let alone our neighbours. And yet, what often goes amiss is the appreciation that a righteous neighbour contributes to happiness. Who wouldn’t want a generous neighbour like Ibn Mubarak?! S῾ad Ibn Abi Waqqas narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “Four things contribute to happiness: a righteous wife, a spacious home, a righteous neighbour and comfortable means of transport. And four things contribute to misery: A bad neighbour, a bad wife, a cramped home and a bad means of transport.” (Ibn Hibban). We all seek good spouses to marry, spend elongated hours searching the market for our dream home and most definitely know the difference between riding in economy class and cruising in first class! Yet, in our very insular, often nuclear, self-satisfying lives, the crucial place of a good neighbour is easily overlooked, the importance of giving them their due rights easily forgotten, the understanding of what it means to be one definitely underappreciated. Why? Because we live in times where the outside appearance is what matters.
With such focus on the exterior, it can come of no surprise when the internal is found to be hollow. There are those neighbourhoods you will find that are occupied with large houses, pristine gardens and expensive cars, yet they are filled with loneliness and isolation. Cold air drifts through the walls, between the driveways and inevitably within the hearts. The worth of such estates thus becomes questionable. Then there are communities not built through luxurious mansions with all the trimmings, yet are truly wealthy. These neighbourhoods flourish because of the worth in the hearts of the people that live within them, the value they place on their relationships with each other. They flourish because the knowledge that each resident has learnt has been transferred to action, a community spirit, basic care and concern. While these may be idealised etiquettes for some, they are actually realities for others. Neighbours greet each other, share their bread, time and lives with each other, are generous, caring, supportive: these are the rich neighbourhoods.
But whole communities do not change overnight. It takes one person to change their family and one family to make the effort first and change the neighbourhood. Do not expect someone else to do it, take the initiative, take the action! And the beauty of giving is that it will often be reciprocated. Just as Ibn Mubarak’s neighbour appreciated him with such honour, so too will others for you. A real example comes to mind from a personal experience. I was still a child when I met this neighbour, or rather tried to run away from her, down the road. Why? Because, like most Muslim children, I was afraid of dogs, and like most good natured English people, she loved animals and was on her way home from walking her two dogs in the park. I remember the exchange as I hid behind my mother. I also remember her warm and welcoming tone, as she told me not to be scared as they wouldn’t bite. She encouraged me to be confident around the creatures, and to go home and do some research on dogs. I recall very clearly thinking that if this neighbour of mine was so friendly then surely her dogs would be too! Gentleness in a matter beautifies it after all, as our Master Muhammad (peace be upon him) informed us, and so it did! As the years passed and she walked with her two dogs, then one, and then alone, it was hard to ignore her friendly and caring character, not just with myself, but every neighbour she encountered on the road. A few years ago this generous soul, my elderly neighbour became ill– what at the time everyone thought would be terminal. However, through good faith and a fighting spirit she survived. On visiting her now, as I do and recalling those tough years of her illness, she tells me, “It really surprises me how much everyone in the neighbourhood cared for me when I was ill.” To be honest it doesn’t surprise me one bit! “You are one of the best neighbours everyone has had on this road! It’s testament to your goodness that your neighbours now show you the care as you have showed us for so many years!” Tears fall and it touches the heart of someone who has always been a giver.
After our homes, our neighbourhoods are the next foundation towards healthy, thriving communities. Who doesn’t desire their community to be the best it can be? Towards this aim, and equipped with the knowledge of how important neighbours are, it’s time to bridge the gap between talk and action. Look towards a bridge for us, as British Muslims, between deen and social cohesion. It’s time to reclaim the morals and values we are very good at saying we have. Time to act: one smile, one good-morning wave, one homemade cake at a time.
By Anjum Kasmani of 1st Ethical Trust
Anjum Kasmani writes on behalf of the 1st Ethical Charitable Trust, which encourages British Muslims to benefit wider society, thereby fostering improved social and religious cohesion.