By Ustaz Abubakr Siddeeq Mohammed (Published today in Leadership)
If Allah willed He could have made all of us of one faith; but He left us as we are, professing different religions. Are we to express dissent of the others by killing them and expelling them from their homes because they are not indigenes or believers? Or, are we to despise and treat them wrongly for being unbelievers? If we are to exhibit any of the above traits, would we then not be repelling people from our creed by tyrannous and abhorrent behaviour? Why don't we instead invite people to our way of life with good conduct, handsome neighbourliness and beautiful exhortation with wisdom and pleasing evangelism?
I did not know what was on the mind of my Christian neighbour when he first saw me and my family in a compound of seven flats before he finally moved in as a new tenant. With all the misrepresentations about Islam floating freely via the airwaves and satellite television worldwide, of terrorism and killing in the name of God, seeing a Muslim televangelist living amidst your new place of abode will stir aversion in many non-Muslims. They were not apparent the goings on in the mind of my new neighbour and his family. Well, as for me I was not disturbed a bit. I only hoped that he be among those Christians described in the Qur'an as “Among them are good people..." (Ali Imraan 3:110); those who are knowledgeable about the texts of the Holy Bible as regards the rights of their neighbours; those who shall not avenge or bear any grudge against the children of their neighbour (Leviticus 19:18); those who shall love God with all their heart, and with all their souls, and with all their minds; and their neighbour as themselves (Luke 10:27); those who shall not covet, debauch the wife of or bear false witness against their neighbours (Romans 13:9); and those who shall love their neighbour as themselves (Galatians 5:14, James 2:8 ).
Why should I be uncomfortable for seeing a Christian coming to be my neighbour when the Qur'an teaches me that: "And nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say, 'We are Christians;' because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant." (Al-Maa'idah 5:82) That is the description I found of the Christians in my Glorious Qur'an. So, should I be afraid of such a person being my neighbour?
Moreover, many traditions of the Prophet, blessing and peace be upon him, teach me his way of dealings with Christian and Jewish neighbours as well as a Muslim neighbour who is not related, and one who is of kin. I learn from these sources that: "Let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day either speak good or keep silent, and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his neighbour..." And my faith is not complete until I like for my neighbour what I love for myself. Why will I not be kind to my neighbour when my religion tells me that unless my neighbour is immune and secure from my wrong conduct I may not enter Paradise? Arc Angel Gabriel impressed upon the Messenger of Allah, blessing and peace be upon him, that he should treat his neighbour kindly until the Messenger of Allah started thinking that one day Gabriel may bring a pronouncement from Allah instructing that a neighbour should share in the inheritance of a deceased neighbour!
Interestingly, it was not long before I and my family made a startling discovery in the relationship between us and our Christian neighbour. We were not only neighbours but actually regard ourselves as a family. When did the chemistry between the two families, the one Christian, the other Muslim, develop and mature to this interesting state? Nobody can say. Doubtless, the two have shown the teachings of Islam and Christianity by their words and actions, recognising the rights and privileges of a neighbour. None will park their cars where the path of the other would be blocked. Our quarters were devoid of rancour or the slightest of sound from electrical appliances that would constitute public nuisance and disturb the peace of any flat.
If anything should befall my household, my wife would contact my Christian neighbour before other Muslim tenants in the compound. Is this because his flat is the closest to mine; or is it due to the fact that this Christian respects the principles of good neighbourliness more than others who profess the same faith as me in the estate? Few weeks ago my wife was struck by an ailment that made her so infirm that she could not drive. I had travelled out of the country at the time. It was my neighbour's wife, a Christian also, who took her to the hospital. It did not end there. At the hospital there was a long queue of patients; nobody paid attention to the critical condition in which my wife was. My neighbour's wife knows the owner of the private hospital so she called him. Her tone smacked of a very close familiarity or command; or was it because she works with a government parastatal that oversees private hospitals in Nigeria? "Mr. Lovett," she began, "what are you people doing in this hospital? I've an emergency case here and nobody seems to care...; my sister is dying!"
Whatever was the response from the other end nobody overhead; my wife's case was treated with military dispatch after the intervention of my Christian neighbour! What would have happened if she was not there? Allah knows best.
Whenever his relatives come visiting Abuja, my Christian neighbour will bring them to my house for 'formal introduction of another member of the family'. He will always say "Ustaz Siddeeq is more than a neighbour. His family is part of our family." Yes, he is right. I accept entirely what he said. I've never met somebody like him. I'm proud to have such a Christian as my neighbour!
My neighbour’s wife brings fresh bread to my family daily. For about five years now, my family takes breakfast with bread that our Christian neighbour brings after office hours every day. Not only that; we exchange delicacies peculiar to our different geo-political zones. They bring us moi-moi, ogbono soup, etc; and whenever we have miyar kuka on our menu we take to them. My neighbour's wife likes miyar kuka so much that she can make a request for it at any time whether it is part of what we will eat on that day or not. Her request is always granted.
During Christmas my neighbour would ask me: "Shall I kill a ram or a goat?"
A strange question indeed; but I understood that he desires that I partake in eating the Christmas feast. Therefore, he does not want to offer me what I may not like to eat. So, I said: "Why don't you slaughter a ram?"
"Okay; a ram we shall kill" was the response
“Why kill when you can slaughter?”
"Ustaz," my neighbour will say, "kill or slaughter the animal will eventually die. When I bring the ram you will come and do the killing, sorry, slaughtering...." and we all laughed...
But the question is will I and my family eat of the meat if he were to slaughter it? Our scholars taught us that what is not allowed is a situation where a non-Muslim slaughters animals for Muslims to eat; but if a non-Muslim of the People of the Book (a Jew of a Christian) slaughters an animal (that is lawful to Muslims) for his own use according to the instruction of their religion, a Muslim is free to eat such meat. So, most assuredly, I and my family would eat of whatever halaal food my Christian neighbour offers. The Qur'an says: "This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them..." (Al-Maa'idah 5:5)
And so it is; every year he brings food to my house and I to his on our various religious ceremonies. Before I travel to Saudi Arabia for Umrah in Ramadan or Hajj I leave my children to the supervision of my Christian neighbour; and if any of these religious journeys falls during school holidays and I travel with the entire family the custody of the keys to my house and vehicles is left with my Christian neighbour! Whoever will clean the house before our return or warm the cars would have to liaise with him for the keys.
One day his sister in-law approached my wife on the issue of a Muslim suitor. She said she wanted to become a Muslim before their marriage. I told her that it was not necessary to embrace Islam before marrying a Muslim; that she can remain a Christian and marry a Muslim if that is what she prefers. I also mentioned to her that Islam should come out of conviction as there is no compulsion in religion. She said: “Sir; if the Islam I see in you and your family is what obtains in his house I have no objection to becoming a Muslim!”
My brother has another shining example of a Christian neighbour. In the compound where he lives, he has eight neighbours. Only two of these eight are Muslims. Of the six non-Muslims, two are Igbo by tribe and one is Yoruba, he could not determine the exact tribes of the remaining. The Muslims are from Edo and Adamawa respectively.
The Igbos are comprised of a family of six and a single lady who has recently completed her youth service and is currently without a job. It is this single lady that interests me.
Ada (not her real name) is quite young and amiable. She works hard to eke a living even as she has no particular job. She would often seek the advice of my brother’s wife on many issues ranging from the latest job proposition, which involves her sleeping with the boss to her latest worries over her fiancé. The fact that this woman (my brother's wife) wears a face veil does not in any way hinder this lady.
As Allah would have it, my brother's children took ill and he was about to take them to hospital in company of his wife. Ada saw them and inquired "Hajiya, lafiya?" This means "Hajiya is everything alright?" When she realised what was happening, she volunteered to follow them to hospital. What the couple did not know was that she was billed to supervise a building project and to pay the labourers. She remained with the couple in hospital and actually missed that day's work. Only after the event did she mention this to my brother's wife.
On a second occasion, one of the same children was ill and the family spent the greater part of the night in hospital. Ada was there again helping without the slightest hint that she was tired and hungry. Had it not been that she had been with my brother's wife all day, she would have assumed that her repeated refusal to take food was because she had eaten some food. It turned out she was hungry but she worried that she would further deplete the funds my brother had if she decided to order food! In contrast, his Muslim neighbours looked on and hardly asked after the child's health.
He told me countless random acts of kindness this person demonstrated to his family including at one point loaning my brother's wife money meant for her house rent to meet up with an urgent expense!
This is what good neighbourliness should be. We are able to achieve this understanding through mutual respect and appreciation of our differences. Yes, my neighbour is a Christian; I am a Muslim. I do not share the faith he professes; I am a non-believer in his religion, and he, a non-believer, in mine. It actually stops there. My household does not use the Hausa word arne to describe a Christian because it is derogatory and unIslamic. Arne refers to idol worshipers and the agnostics. My neighbour has a religion, worships God and the Glorious Qur'an calls him a Christian. I will therefore have no better description to my Christian neighbour than that used by Allah, the creator of all in His Book.
If anyone wants to harm me they can as well harm my neighbour. If anyone tries to injure or kill my neighbour then they would have to kill me first because it is a religious duty on me not to allow evil reach my Christian neighbour!