SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 – THE Muslim Story and A strategy for Coping – Part Two

Nov 5, 2001

ISLAM: A SYSTEM OF NEIGHBORLY RELATIONS

The Qur’an clearly highlights the obligation of neighbours to each other, irrespective of their belief, behaviour, denominational affiliation, party loyalty, colour, class or gender.

And in doing this, the Qur’an comes up with a scheme for categorizing and classifying neighbours that is nothing less than revolutionary.

Instead of inquiring into the race or religion of the neighbour, the Qur’an simply tells people to look at the blood relationship that binds them with their neighbours.

In this Qur’anic scheme of classifying neighbors, ties of blood come first. That means, you are obligated most to that neighbor who also happens to be your relative.

Then come sheer spatial considerations, as the Qur’an asks us to see who is the closest neighbour to us. That means, the closer a neighbour’s door is to ours, the more “neighbourly” must we feel and act toward him.

No matter what the religion or the race of that neighbour.

And then, the Qur’an completely closes and boards up the door of any likely ill-treatment of one’s fellow-humans – at any place or time.

The Qur’an now highlights the rights, not only of next-door neighbours, but also of those who are merely passers by. Not only of permanent neighbours of some kind, but also of pure transients of all kinds.

“And then the person next to you,” says the Qur’an, making it virtually impossible for a Muslim to be rude, mean or indifferent to the “next” person. That is, to the person who happens to be sharing space and time with you, whether in a bus, train or plane; or whether in a classroom or workplace.

Or just about anywhere else on the face of this earth, in just about any context or situation.

In other words, this is what the Qur’an is telling the Muslims: if you happen to sit or stand next to another human being, no matter where and no matter for how long, then you’d better know how to behave in the most neighbourly, gracious, kind, charitable, respectful, honest, caring and helpful manner toward that person.

What a revolutionary recipe this is for the creation and nurturing of a civilized society!

In such a society, every individual pushes the limits of care, concern and respect for the other, no matter who that other person is, so long as that person happens to share with you, no matter for how short a time, contiguous or proximate space-time coordinates.

NEIGHBORLINESS: A CONCEPT THAT GOES BEYOND INDIVIDUALS

The concept of neighbourly obligations in Islam transcends individuals and persons and provides the basis for defining mutual relationships between all kinds of entities based on physical juxtaposition.

In Islam, it does not matter if the neighbour is a global corporation, a local grocery store, a house, a school, a government office or a place of worship.

All these are entities that occupy physical space and they all must shoulder their obligations toward those that populate the space next to them, no matter what their shape, colour or form.

In this sense, the mosque — the Muslim place of worship — has its own neighbours. And, inevitably, these neighbours would come in all shades of colour, creed, character and commitment.

Some of these neighbouring entities would be places of worship; others should be places of business; and some others would be places dedicated to fun and entertainment. Yet others would be dwellings for human beings, who, in a society like the United States or Canada, would reflect a mosaic of faiths and ethnicities.

The position of Islam is that to each one of them, the Muslim places of worship, through the members of the Muslim congregation, must pay their neighbourly dues.

Mosques are houses dedicated to the worship of God, yet they are buildings constructed with lifeless material. As a result, Muslims, both as individuals and as a group, become responsible for making sure that the mosque’s neighbourhood dues are paid.

And if a congregation does not do this, individual Muslim members of that congregation would become liable from both sides before Allah.

One, they will be answerable before Allah for the mosque neighbours, who, on Judgment Day, will complain to Allah for being neglected or abused by the Muslim congregation or Jama’at.

Two, they will be answerable before Allah for the mosques themselves that will complain to Allah on the Day of Judgment how the Muslim worshipers did not fulfil their obligations on their behalf.

So, the Muslims in every congregation or Jama’at have an obligation to reach out to their neighbours in behalf of both themselves and their mosques.

That means, they need to reach out to their neighbours with any act, gesture or word of kindness or concern that they can. But above all, they need to reach out to them with Qur’an, with hadith and with the message of Islam.

For, no kindness can be greater than introducing Islam and its wonderful teachings to non-Muslims.

And there is no better way to fight the anti-Muslim prejudice that is breaking out everywhere in the wake of the terrible events of the recent past.

It goes without saying, however, that the best and most powerful introduction to Islam is the way Muslims live and act, and not just the words that Muslims speak praising the virtues of Islam.

This includes the way Muslims maintain their mosques and mosque premises and neighbourhoods.

In the ultimate analysis, it is not Muslims’ high-minded utterances that would provide the most convincing testimony in the minds of non-Muslims but Muslims’ actual deeds.

What would make a difference is also the condition in which the Muslims keep their mosques and mosque premises.

If the Muslims give to the non-Muslims the appearance of being a civilized, organized, successful, responsible and caring community, then in most instances the non-Muslims would attribute that to the effect of Islam on them.

If, on the other hand, the Muslims fall short on this score, the non-Muslims would, with considerable glee and with a knowing air, lay the blame for all this at the feet of Islam.

So also, if the mosques and mosque premises are kept clean, peaceful and free from trouble, noise and traffic congestion, then that would make the neighbours more open to the Muslim community as well as to Islam and its teachings.

If, on the other hand, the mosques and their premises are not kept clean, or if they are allowed to become a source of noise or traffic problems, then this would turn the neighbours not only against Muslims but also against Islam itself.

So Muslims must realize that their driving and parking habits in and around mosque premises would have a profound impact on the way non-Muslims view not just the offending Muslims but also Muslims and Islam in general.

What can the Muslims then do to reach out to those that live in the neighbourhood of their mosques?

Here is an idea, and an action plan, which if followed with interest, tact, imagination and enthusiasm would bring great advantages to the Muslim as well as non-Muslim communities in any North American city, town, village or neighbourhood.

The Muslims must hold an Open House for non-Muslims in their neighbourhood mosques.

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