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Islam, Pluralism and Good-Neighbourliness: Do Muslims Follow Islamic Teachings?



By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam

26 July, 2014

Every year, the holy month of Ramazan comes with a heavenly serenity and winds down to the end leaving us in a state of regret and disappointment. As the departure of the holy month of Ramazan is approaching, we are again feeling the same sense of regret.

However, this occasion is a reminder for us to do introspection and take an account of ourselves. The end of Ramazan is a precious opportunity for us Muslims to re-examine the way we have lived our lives over the past days. We need to do an evaluation of where we stand now after remaining hungry and thirsty for so long. We should ask ourselves where we were before the commencement of Ramazan and where we are moving now after passing the thirty long days of fasting. This is the best way we can resolve to lead a better life in the months ahead. Let this self-criticism lead us to feel truly sorry and remorse for the bad ideas and habits which we have not yet changed, even at the end of Ramazan.

One of the distressing attitudes that we Muslims don’t seem to have changed yet is our negligence towards the rights of our neighbours, especially non-Muslims, over us. We enjoyed the blissful sacred days of Ramazan keeping fasts, sharing joys of Iftar (fast-breaking) within our community, donating to the poor Muslims and distributing dates, fruits and foods to our friends and relatives. But while we did all these good and virtuous things, we rarely tended to do the same to our neighbours from other religious communities such as Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs etc. Shouldn’t we have practically acquainted our non-Muslim neighbours with the beautiful doctrine and essence of fasting in Islam? Although they don’t keep fast in the same way as Muslims do by strictly abstaining from food and intimate relations from sunrise to sunset, they greatly admire it and sometimes they also do it to maintain health, humility and self–restraint.

Ramazan is more opportune time for Muslims to realise and demonstrate good-neighbourliness, which is an integral part of Ramazan and essential message of Islam. The holy Quran clearly says: “And treat the parents with moral excellence and (do good to) relatives, orphans, the needy, the close as well as unacquainted neighbours.” (Surah an-Nisa: 4:36).

Since the Quran was revealed in the holy month of Ramazan, it is the most appropriate time to rejuvenate the Islamic spirit of good-neighbourliness. At a time when Muslim societies are living in an atmosphere of hatred, disdain and tensions, we need to stress the core Islamic values of spirituality, generosity and kindness to others, as essential messages of the holy month of Ramazan. Caring for, sharing with and doing good to neighbours is an integral part of fasting in Islam.

Therefore, we need to be considerate, kind and compassionate to our neighbours, especially if they are from other faiths. We should even forgive them if they have done any wrong to us. Let us not forget that our fasting would be of no avail if our harsh conduct and improper behaviour with the people around us remain unchanged. This is what the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught us: "If a person does not avoid false talk and improper conduct during the fast, Allah does not care if he abstains from his food and drink." (Narrated by Bukhari)

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) linked good-neighbourliness to perfect belief in Allah and the Day of Judgment. He is quoted as having said in very clear and spirited words: “Anyone who believes in Allah and the last day let him be kind to his neighbour. Anyone who believes in Allah and the last day, let him be hospitable to his guest. Anyone who believes in Allah and the last day, let him say something good or be silent.” The Prophet’s beloved wife, Hazrat Aisha (Radiallahu-Anha), narrates that the Prophet said: “Gabriel has continued to strongly recommend me to be kind to my neighbour until I thought that he would make him among my heirs.” The Prophet not only exhorted love for neighbours but also epitomised and practically taught wonderful manners to deal with them. He said that “if you were cooking and your neighbour smells the food then send him a part (a dish)”. The Prophet would become more generous to his neighbours during Ramazan.

The exhortations of kindness, compassion and hospitality in the above Hadith traditions are not restricted to Muslims only. They encompass both Muslims and non-Muslims, be they kind or harsh, friends or foes, relatives or strangers. Once, Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (r.a), an early Islamic mystic, was asked the definition of a neighbour in Islam. He 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.”

Going by this definition, Muslim tradition of exchanging dates, fruits and special foods during Ramazan should be extended to the neighbours, both Muslims and non-Muslims. So, Muslim families should invite their neighbours to the Iftar (fast-breaking dinner), no matter what their faith, creed or philosophy of life is. Similarly, Muslims who are engaged with different jobs and businesses at common work places should contribute to good-neighbourliness by opening their table to everyone, without discriminating on the basis of faith or religious philosophy. It will surely enhance the spirit of good neighbourliness among Muslims and non-Muslims spreading the pluralistic message of Ramazan to adherents of all faiths.

More importantly, on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, which is just around the corner, we should invite our non-Muslim neighbours to our homes and serve them sweets and foods with generosity of spirit with an aim to create a neighbour-friendly environment in our homes and Muslim societies.

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is an Alim and Fazil (classical Islamic scholar) with a Sufi background. He has graduated from a leading Sufi Islamic seminary of India, Jamia Amjadia Rizvia (Mau, U.P.), acquired Diploma in Qur'anic Arabic from Al-Jamiat ul Islamia, Faizabad, U.P., and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies, Badaun, U.P. He has also graduated in Arabic (Hons) and is pursuing his M. A. in Comparative Religion from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.