Duties of Proximity: Towards a Theology of Neighbourliness

duties of proximity
Duties of Proximity: Towards a Theology of Neighbourliness – Dr. Arif Nayed 

In this paper, Aref Nayed argues that the way to improve societal relations and promote peace within and between communities is by developing the theological concepts of “neighbourliness” and “proximity”.

Dr Aref Ali Nayed is a Libyan Islamic scholar and the Libyan Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.Nayed is the founder and director of Kalam Research & Media (KRM), based in Tripoli, Libya and Dubai. Until the outbreak of the revolution in Libya, he lectured at the restored Uthman Pasha Madrassa in Tripoli, and supervised graduate students at the Islamic Call College.

Nayed is ranked 50th among the top 500 most influential Muslims in the world.

Some of the Insights on Duties of Proximity: Towards a Theology of Neighbourliness from this article

[The Muslim world is within you]

Dr. Arif Nayed writes:
When a heart is alive and luminescent with God’s remembrance and is content to live according to His guidance, that heart is already an abode of peace—dar salam, and dar Islam. It is the faithful heart that can already, in this world, link up with and live in, longing for the eternal vision of The Peace. Such a heart is constantly drawing near towards that ultimate proximity that can only be achieved in the Hereafter.The interior abodes of peace in the hearts of the faithful are the essential seeds from which worldly peaceful environments grow, and through which the eternal abode is prepared for. Such interior abodes can live and grow within a multiplicity of worldly situations, and need not be, and cannot really be, limited to geographically delimitated zones of the world, ‘dar Islam’. The ‘Muslim World’ is the entire cosmos, and is no mere worldly empire! Every human heart, and even every creaturely sign (aya), that adores, remembers, and glorifies the One True God, is already an abode of peace, and is already a ‘Muslim world’!And:

Being alienated, estranged, unsettled, and always on-the-way is not a pathological state to be in. Rather, it is the very state of healthy Islamic living! We must stop lamenting alienation, and begin to realize that such alienation is a sign of healthy and righteous living. If we ever feel at-home and settled in any worldly abode, even if it happens to be an abode of peace, we are very likely to be in a state of temptation that distracts us from striving towards our true eternal peace.
This is why living in diaspora is often more conducive to healthy and sincere Muslim living! Empires and carved-out ‘Islamic states’ often make us complacent, and can actually become a hindrance rather than a help to sincere Muslim living.
There is a very important lesson to learn from the often forgotten 1st Hijra. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) asked his persecuted early followers to seek refuge (jiwar) in the kingdom of Axum, ruled by a Christian king from Nagash (and hence the Arabic name: Najashi). King Najashi was a wise and noble host to his early Muslim guests. As a Companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) put it: ‘When we resided in the land of Abyssinia we took refuge (jawarna) with a goodly and protective neighbour (jar), Najashi, he made us safe in our religion, and we were able to worship God without being harmed or hearing anything hurtful whatsoever.’
A liberal welcoming environment in which a Muslim can freely practice his religion in which he is neither persecuted nor humiliated is an environment that offers a sort of abode of peace, even in the very midst of, and often because of, its liberal secularism.
Muslims today must remember that not all types of secularisms are anti-religious. Anglo-American common law secularisms that define secularism as separation of state and religion, but are also open to the free practice of all religions is not anti-Islamic. For example, it is precisely because Christianity is not allowed to be the ‘established religion’ of the United States of America that there is room for Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus to thrive there.
Yes, there are still in our world today forms of French-revolution-like secularisms that are anti-religious, and because they are anti-religious are often anti-Islamic. Historically, anti-religious secularism has often matured towards wiser and more generous and accommodating liberal forms. Muslims must dialogically and compassionately engage such secularisms to help them mature towards higher forms that are open to religiosity, and to Islam.And:
For the discernment of proper conduct towards others, the traditional discourse of ‘abodes’ was indeed very helpful in the past, and may still be helpful under certain conditions and situation. However, I would like to suggest here, for scholarly reflection, discussion, correction, and expansion, the idea that a fresh discourse of ‘neighbourliness’ and ‘duties of proximity’ may be more helpful in many situations in our world of today. The rights and duties associated with neighbourliness, what can be called ‘rights and duties of proximity’, are very important, and can be very helpful to us.
No one questions that there are rights and duties of neighbourliness in Islam. The Qur’an, the Hadith, and the tradition are very rich sources of myriad gems of wisdom in this regard. However, some mistakenly think that such rights and duties are limited to neighbourliness within a Muslim community, and only amongst Muslims. This is simply not the case, and must be clarified from the very outset, if we are to make any progress.And:
There is another important hadith that speaks of an even more basic duty:… the duty not to harm one’s neighbours. Prophet Muhammad’s judgement (peace be upon him), on a Muslim who harms his neighbour, be that neighbour Muslim or non-Muslim (as we saw above), is amazingly drastic. He says (peace be upon him):
By God, he does not believe! By God, he does not believe! By God, he does not believe! [The Companions said:] ‘Who is that, Oh Messenger of God?’ He said: ‘The neighbour whose neighbour is not safe from his mischief.’ They said: ‘Oh, Messenger of God: “What is his mischief?”’ He said: ‘His evil-acts (shar)’.
Thus, the Prophet actually denies belief itself (iman) to a person who harms his neighbour! Our neighbours, then, wherever we happen to live, have a fundamental right to safety, and we have a fundamental duty not to harm them. What would happen to our world if we lived up to this fundamental normative Sunnah of the Prophet of God (peace be upon him)!
Being key to belief (iman) itself, the living-up-to-our-duties-of-proximity is actually nothing less than a ‘Categorical Imperative’. As a matter of fact that kind of righteous living is indeed expressed by the Prophet (peace be upon him) as a Categorical Imperative: ‘None of you will truly believe until he desires for his brother (or neighbour) what he desires for himself.’

The Seven Qur’anic Principles of Coexistence, by Shaykh Faid Said

What is the role of religion in preventing conflict and promoting sustainable peace? Shaykh Faid Mohammed Said made these compelling remarks at a United Nations conference on this issue.

He said:
Allah said in the Qur’an the main purpose of religion is to bring happiness to people, not to make life difficult for them.
People often speak about different types of Islam. My Islam is the example of the Prophet ﷺ. Our human nature may lean toward revenge and hate but this is not what Islam teaches me. I call on Muslims and non-Muslims to understand this religion better.
Allah said He sent the Prophet ﷺ to remind people, not to control them. What people choose is up to them.
A Jewish rabbi went to see the Prophet ﷺ, when the Prophet ﷺ left Makkah and went to Madinah. The first thing the rabbi said he heard the Prophet ﷺ say was:

“Spread peace and share food together. When it comes to religious practice, pray at night when no one can see you. Worship is for yourself but what you do for others is what will keep us together.”

All 114 chapters of the Qur’an begin with “In the name of God, The Compassionate, The Merciful”. We must reflect on the fact that of all His names, God chose these two.
I grew up in a country where I saw conflict with my own eyes. I saw people being killed in the streets. It is very unfortunate that we kill in the name of God.

The seven principles of coexistence I found in the Qur’an:

  1. Freedom of belief, in interfaith settings and within faiths too.
  2. Recognise and respect one another
  3. Good communication. God made us different, in our colours and our belief. The only way forward is to talk to one another and know each other.
  4. Mutual harmony
  5. Honour of mankind: human rights is not enough.
  6. Justice
  7. Share common values

When the Prophet ﷺ and his companions were tortured and rejected by his own people in Makkah, he sent a few of them to Abyssinia, a land ruled by a Christian king. The Prophet ﷺ did so for two reasons:

  1. There was common ground shared by Christians and Muslims: both believe in God, both are people of the book
  2. The Abyssinian king was known for being just

When the Muslims arrived in Abyssinia, the king asked one of them – the cousin of the Prophet ﷺ, Jaafar – about his religion and what he stands for. Jaafar said,

“We are bedouin people. Before the Prophet Muhammad was sent to us, we oppressed each other, we fought and we were not good to our neighbours. God sent us someone that we know. We know him for his good character, trustworthiness and compassion. His teachings are to worship God alone, be good to our neighbours, speak the truth, be just and be of service to those who need our help.”

And with this the king of Abyssinia gave them shelter.
Shaykh Faid concluded by saying, the problem is not one of too much religion but of too little religion of substance.

The Seven Principles of Coexistance, Shaykh Faid Said at the United NationsShaykh Faid Mohammed Said is a jewel in the crown of traditional Islamic scholarship in the United Kingdom and we at SeekersHub are ever grateful for his friendship, guidance and support. He was born in Asmara, Eritrea, where he studied the holy Qur’an and its sciences, Arabic grammar and fiqh under the guidance of the Grand Judge of the Islamic Court in Asmara, Shaykh Abdul Kader Hamid and also under the Grand Mufti of Eritrea. He later went to study at Madinah University, from which he graduated with a first class honours degree. In Madinah, his teachers included Shaykh Atia Salem, Shaykh Mohamed Ayub (ex-imam of the Prophet’s Mosque, peace be upon him), Professor AbdulRaheem, Professor Yaqub Turkestani, Shaykh Dr Awad Sahli, Dr Aa’edh Al Harthy and many other great scholars. Shaykh Faid has ijaza in a number of disciplines including hadith, and a British higher education teaching qualification. He is currently the scholar in residence and head of education at Harrow Central Mosque, United Kingdom.
Read his articles on the SeekersHub blog.

More resources on the principles of coexistence

Cook Food For Others (30 Days, 30 Deeds), by Ustadh Amjad Tarsin

Cook Food For Others, by Ustadh Amjad Tarsin

30 Days, 30 Deeds
Sacred Acts to Transform the Heart

Every night, our scholars in residence explore one simple deed that could have far reaching spiritual impact on our lives – and the lives of others. Every day we’ll make the intention to put that teaching into practice. Whether it’s forgiving someone who’s wronged us or share a meal with a neighbour, these powerful lessons will remind us of the great gift the Prophet ﷺ‎  gave us: the best of character.

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