The above hadith sherif is heard, recited and memorized all over the Muslim world. While the every day interpretation of the text is accepted by most as, “I should feed my neighbor if he is without food,” the wealth of Islamic information available makes the understanding even clearer.
Before clarifying what the treatment of the neighbor should be, one should first understand exactly who is the neighbor that is being referred to.
Al Adab Al Mufrad, a collection of hadith shareef from Imam Bukhari, quotes Al-Hasan (may Allah ta’ala be pleased with him) as having been asked who is the jaar, or neighbor. Al Hasan said, “The term ‘neighbor’ 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.”
Thus, it can be said that the term “neighbor” actually refers to a person’s entire neighborhood.
For those living in an un-Islamic society, this may seem to limit the donor to whatever Muslim neighbors may be at hand. Not so.
Also from Al Adab Al Mufrad there is a hadith reported by Mujahid who said: A sheep was slaughtered for ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr. He asked his servant, “Have you given any to our Jewish neighbor?? I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) say, ‘Angel Jibril kept on recommending that I treat my neighbors well, until I thought that he would order me to treat them as my heirs.’”
Therefore, the neighbor’s right of honor, help, and hospitality, is meant for all neighbors, regardless of their religious or cultural background.
This point was made very clear by El Sheikh Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani, in the video commentary of the book Kashful Israar, which was written by Hadrat Ali Hajweri. El Sheikh narrated an incident, during the discourse, in which Hadrat Ali Hajweri spiritually assisted the Hindus who lived near his holy tomb, by praying for the well-being of the family’s dying son, who was brought back to health by virtue of Hadrat Ali Hajweri’s presence and supplication. He said, “You are my neighbor.”
In line 36 of Sura Nisaa’ in the Holy Qur’an, Allah ta’ala (the Most High) says, “Be good to your parents and relatives and to orphans and the very poor, and to neighbors who are related to you and neighbors who are not related to you.”
Ibn Kathir related that Mujahid was reported to have said that Allah ta’ala’s statement, “the neighbors who are not related to you” also refers to one’s companion during travel.
Thus we are left with a clear definition of jaar. All the people who live in one’s neighborhood or village, be they Muslim or non-Muslim, family or not; or, a traveling companion would be understood as such.
This being the scope of the word neighbor, it then becomes necessary for Muslims to broaden their perspective in order to conform to the teaching and life pattern of the Holy Last Messenger Muhammad, (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon he and his family).
Everyone knows that the Holy Last Messenger, (peace be upon him), preferred the next life to this one, and was in no way attached to worldly wealth and charm. We hear the stories of his sleeping on a simple mat, tying a stone to the tender side of his stomach to alleviate hunger, and of his wives fasting and giving away their evening meal, which would be used to break the fast. Why all of this? The Holy Last Messenger and his blessed Ahle Bait, or members of his household, could not stand to see others suffer and go hungry, whether the afflicted persons were Muslim, Christian, Jew or polytheist.
It is not that the Honored and Beloved Messenger, (peace be upon him), was without wealth, but the Holy Last Messenger (Allah’s peace be upon him) made it a point to never keep wealth in his hands. Once, the Holy Last Messenger, peace be upon him, gave a man “so much gold that he could not carry it,” as related in Ash Shifa of Qadi ‘Iyad. The narration continues to say that in another instance, 90,000 dirhams were brought to the Holy Last Messenger, (peace be upon him), who placed them on a mat and then got up and distributed them, not turning away anyone who asked until he had given it all away. “It is mentioned that Mu’awwidh ibn ‘Afra’; said, ‘I brought the Holy Messenger, (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), a plate of fresh dates and cucumber [as a gift], and he gave me a handful of jewelry and gold.’”
In this, we see the true spirit of Islam in the overwhelming generosity of the Holy Last Messenger Muhammad, (peace be upon him), who not only honored, helped, and gave great hospitality to his neighbors, but also condemned those who were crude, disrespectful and hurtful to their own neighbors.
Muslim reported that the Holy Last Messenger Muhammad, peace be upon him, said “Taqwa is here!” pointing to his breast three times, “It is enough evil for man to scorn his Muslim brother.”
People with little understanding of the way of Islam, are quick to scorn those who are impoverished as somehow undeserving of the bounty of Allah ta’ala. Yet Allah ta’ala speaks of this very mentality in Sura YaSeen. Ibn Kathir comments, on line 47 of Sura YaSeen: “And when it is said to them, ‘Spend of that with which Allah has provided you,’’’ means that when they are told to spend of that which Allah ta’ala has provided to them on the poor and the needy, they say, “Shall we feed those whom, if Allah willed, He (Himself) would have fed)?” (Holy Quran) In ignorance, such people feel that if Allah ta’ala had wished, He would have fed the poor people. Thus they fail the test which was created to “see who amongst you performs the best deeds.” (Holy Quran)
What is more sad is that these people, while discarding the magnanimous pattern of the Holy Last Messenger (peace be upon him), think that they are united with the will of Allah ta’ala in His dispensation of provisions to the people. Allah ta’ala save us from becoming ignorant and hard-hearted, as this is a plague that is left over from the days before Islam.
How is it that in one home there is an abundance of food with every luxury and amenity of life, while just next door, or up the road, another home eats at the bottom of the food pyramid, if at all, and has no running water, nor even electricity?
In another noble tradition (hadith), Ibn ‘Umar said, “There was a time when no one was more entitled to a person’s money than his Muslim brother. Now people love their dirhams and dinars more than their Muslim brother. I heard the Holy Last Messenger, (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), say, ‘How many a neighbor will be brought together with his neighbor on the Day of Rising! He will say, ‘Lord, this man closed his door to me and refused to show me common kindness!’”
In Riyadhus Saaliheen, Abu Hurayra reported that the Holy Last Messenger, (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), said, “By Allah, he is no mu’min! By Allah, he is no mu’min! By Allah, he is no mu’min!” It was asked, “Who is that, Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Someone whose neighbor is not safe from his mischief!”
In Al Adab Al Mufrad, Thawban said, .”..There is no man who wrongs his neighbor, to the extent that he forces him until he makes him leave his home, who is not destroyed.”
In such a situation, those people whose hearts are dead as such to the needs of their neighbors, have traded their iman for their comforts and riches. For this bad neighbor, his salat and ibadah to Allah ta’ala is not accepted until he helps his neighbors, according to the commentary of El Sheikh Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani on the Arbaeen Jami hadiths. “[Helping one’s neighbor] is the very gist of ibada in Islam.”
El Sheikh has said elsewhere that the purpose of ibada, or worship, is to cultivate the true spirit of sacrifice in a human being. Therefore, if there is no spirit of sacrifice, one may clearly see that the worship of such a miser helps him not at all.