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.’

How Can Muslims Become More Effective Community Members?

How can Muslims be effective community members? Is it possible to step outside the framework and associated pitfalls of identity politics? How can Muslims be more grounded in communities where they live? These are some of the questions Dr. Ingrid Mattson asks and then answers by providing an alternative framework with five key areas that Muslims can focus on to be purposeful contributors in their localities.

Muslim Communal Obligation: Stories That Will Have You In Tears

Imagine spending years saving up for hajj. And then imagine, not being able to go because you gave all your money away, but Allah accepts your hajj anyway. This is the story of Ali, a humble cobbler from Damascus whose random act of sacrifice fulfilled the Muslim communal obligation – fard kifayah – of hundreds of thousands of others.
Imagine facing Allah on the Day of Judgement, while standing next to a man, woman or child from your community who suffered neglect, abuse, injustice hunger and deprivation. What will our excuse be? “I thought someone else would take care of it” might not cut it.

Every single Muslim needs to hear this khutbah by Imam Khalid Latif.

Imam Khalid Latif - Muslim Communal ObligationImam Khalid Latif is a University Chaplain for New York University, Executive Director of the Islamic Center at NYU, and a Chaplain for the NYPD. He is also the co-founder of Honest Chops, the first-ever all-natural/organic halal butcher in NYC, the Muslim Wedding Service, an agency specializing in providing charismatic and inspirational marriage officiants for wedding ceremonies. Sincere thanks to ICNYU for the recording of his Friday prayer sermon on Muslim communal obligation, or fard kifayah.

Resources on Muslim communal obligation:

On Fences and Our Neighbours. Dr Ingrid Mattson reflects.

Religions for Peace USA’s Our Muslim Neighbor Initiative  is a national effort to end Islamophobia. Since the Paris attacks the U.S. has seen an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric that isolates our Muslim neighbors and feeds into a culture of fear. What can you do to counteract this trend?
Ingrid-MattsonFor the last three years the Our Muslim Neighbor Initiative has been on the ground in Tennessee buidling communities of trust across racial and religious lines. Over the years, they have developed strategies and resources to help people reach out and relate to their neighbors, to understand Islam and Muslims better, and to build communities of trust that break down stereotypes eating away at the goodwill that is so necessary for strong communities to thrive. To that end, they invited Dr. Ingrid Mattson to address the issue. Dr Mattson is a professor of Islamic Studies and the London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College, at the University of Western Ontario. She is also the former president of the Islamic Society of North America.
Watch Dr Mattson’s lecture below and read her article on the same topic.

Resources for seekers: