Friday, October 29, 2010

Have you met my neighbor Bob?

The story below is true. It happened to a Muslim family in Central Ohio. I wanted to share it because I found it funny, while it reminds us of the value of our Islamic obligations toward our neighbors. I did some editing to conceal the identity of the people. It is narrated by the Muslim character.

Once I came home back in 2000 to find my porch lights being covered with thick pieces of green drapery! It reminded me of black out efforts in cities I saw during war time 40 years earlier in the Middle East. All the light bulbs were changed to green or blue.

"Why did you do that" I calmly asked Bob, my next door neighbor to the east. "Your lights are coming inside my bedroom," Bob angrily replied and he added, "Besides, you did not consult with me when you chose to change your front door from north to east, facing my bedroom!"

Some months earlier, we had purchased this house, which needed major renovation before it could be livable. We drew up plans, had them approved by the city, and started the project, which included tearing down a deteriorated carport and building a new addition and garage. One detail of the work was a change in the position of the front door from the north side of the house to the east, to accommodate an entry area separate from the living room and make the long narrow house seem less long.

Bob was the neighbor to the east. His main job was to care for his elderly ailing mother and his beautiful yard. He was inquisitive about what we were doing. He wanted to make sure that no damage would happen to his lawn and particularly to make sure that the excavator did not cut the overhead electric cable feeding his house. I assured him that no harm would happen to his property.

When Bob found out that the entrance to the house would be facing the west side of his house he was not happy, even though there was a good 30 feet distance and several trees and shrubs between the houses. Later, porch lights were installed for the new entrance door and I started leaving them lit at night for safety reasons. We had noticed pop cans and paper from fast food littering the yard several times and were worried that someone might be loitering around after dark.

It was one evening soon after that, as I was coming to check on some work that had been done during the day, that the scene with the covered porch lights occurred. I caught Bob just finishing covering my porch lights with dark green drapery as I drove up. During our calm exchange, part of which is mentioned above, I told him that covering these lights was an infringement on my rights and a potential fire hazard, for which he would be liable. In the mild atmosphere, he backtracked and calmed down. He remove his draperies and took them away. We did change the light bulbs to 25 watt strength to try not to inconvenience Bob.

A few days later I saw the same drapery, this time not on my porch lights, but covering Bob's bedroom window on the outside, facing my house. So I talked to him again and asked for his window measurements, which he gave me. The next day I bought a room darkening mini blind, gave it to Bob and even offered to install it for him.

Moving In

Finally, in May of 2001, the remodeling job was done and we moved to our new home. I was particularly happy since we had remodeled it to our tastes and needs. Unfortunately, this happiness did not last long. As you know when you move to a new house, friends and family members will come to visit and congratulate you. Every time I had visitors, even though they left well before 10 pm, (we are not late or loud partiers), Bob would sneak around in the shrubbery with his flash light wanted to see who was coming and who was leaving. It was very embarrassing and I just had to ignore him. After a few times I started warning my visitors about what to expect going out of my house to their cars, so they wouldn't be scared by him.

Bob and His Mother

Every time I saw Bob in his backyard I asked him about his ailing elderly mother. I often commended him for the sacrifice and the extraordinary work he was doing to care for her. He would bring her out to the terrace in her wheel chair, prepare her meals, make sure she was warm and comfortable and many many other good things. Bob was not married, in his fifties. He lived frugally off of money from doing odd jobs for the neighbors. Otherwise he was totally involved in caring for his mom and his garden. Every time I saw him with his old mother, this verse from the Quran came to my mind:

"Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: "My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood." (Al-Isra':17-23:24)

And of course the well known hadith:

A man once asked Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) "Who is the most worthy of my good companionship, oh Messenger of Allah?" The Prophet replied "Your mother." "Then who?" the man asked. "Your mother" the Prophet repeated. "Then who?" the man asked again. "Your mother," the Prophet repeated for the third time. "Then who?" the man asked for the fourth time. Then the Messenger said, "Your father." (Bukhari)

Bob, The Squirrels, and My Cat

On a Sunday morning, while enjoying my breakfast with my family, I heard somebody knocking loudly at the front door. I opened the door and there was Bob. "Good morning Bob, how is your mother doing? What can I do for you?" I greeted him. "Mooohammad!” he said and then paused a bit. Then he said, “Your cat is chasing the squirrels that my mother and I are trying to enjoy watching!" Surprised by this new complaint, I told him I would see what I could do to stop my cat from chasing those wild rodents. I went back to my breakfast thinking it would be more interesting watching a cat chasing, (unsuccessfully of course), the squirrels than just watching the squirrels alone, from my perspective. (Without Tom there would be no Jerry). At his suggestion, we bought a leash and cat harness. He observed from his backyard as we put the harness on the cat and attached the lead outside on the deck. If I'm to rate this ‘cat leash system’ on a scale from 1 to 10, I would give it zero. It did not work. We stopped the experiment after half an hour of fussing with the cat and let her go on her own in the yard as before. Bob never said a word about the cat again.

Then 9/11 happened

We condemned the act of a few deranged men on 9/11/2001 that caused the death of thousands of innocent men and women including many Muslims. Islam forbids the killing of innocent men and women. Islam even forbids the killing of birds except for the necessity of food. As a result of 9/11 many Muslims in the U.S. were badly treated, some assaulted, some places of worship were attacked. In my neighborhood, as in most places, we were safe. A neighbor brought us fruits and vegetables from her garden in sign of empathy, and another sent us flowers. One neighbor told me "Be patient and let me tell you. What is happening to you now happened to my parents here in the U.S., back in the forties." She then added, "If you check the old city maps you can see how they even had to change the German name of this street to an English name." Generally neighbors made us feel supported.

Bob, on the other hand, escalated his harassment. Every time I had visitors he would get out, point his flash light at them as they were leaving and shout, "Keep it low, I'm trying to sleep!" One time I confronted him, "It is not yet 10:00 p.m. If you have a problem, go to the police and stop harassing us." And then I asked him, "What's your problem?" He said, " After 9/11 I'm very nervous having you as my neighbor." I told him, "Calm down and be assured that we are good people and we will never hurt anybody, let alone our neighbors."

How could any Muslim hurt his neighbor? Allah S.W.T said in the Quran:

"Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet), and what your right hands possess: For Allah loves not the arrogant, the vainglorious;- (An-Nisa' 4:36)

The Prophet (PBUH) said, "Jibril kept recommending treating neighbors with kindness until I thought he would assign a share of inheritance to them(make them heirs)." (Bukhari & Muslim)

"By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer." It was asked, "Who is that, O Messenger of Allah?" He said, "One whose neighbor does not feel safe from his evil". (Bukhari and Muslim).

My mother, may Allah have mercy on her soul, taught me to always escort my visitors to their cars and wave goodbye to them as they leave. With what was happening with Bob, I had to say good bye to them inside my house, apologize to them, and ask them to leave quietly as if they were walking on eggs. Having visitors made me always nervous and embarrassed

A Positive Change

Abu Dharr (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) commanded me thus, "O Abu Dharr! Whenever you prepare a broth, put plenty of water in it, and give some of it to your neighbors". (Muslim).

In 2002 I celebrated the marriage of one of my sons at my house. I invited friends and family and all of my surrounding neighbors including Bob and his mother. It was a very nice party. People were inside the house and out on the deck. All of my neighbors came except Bob and his mother. I was disappointed, but the next day I received a very nice card from Bob apologizing for not being able to come. I prepared a plate of sweets from the party and offered it to Bob. He graciously took it.

A few days later I heard a loud pounding at the front door. I knew it was Bob as that was his way of knocking. I opened the door to see him with a basket of tomatoes from his garden. He asked me if I would accept it from him. Of course I took it from him, thanked him, asked him about his mother, as I did every time I spoke to him, and again commended him for the outstanding job he is doing to his mother.

The relationship continued to dramatically improve. Many times when we had a barbeque we sent a full plate over to them. He stopped bothering our guests. He started bringing us some fruit and vegetables from his garden on a somewhat regular basis. One time we had power outage and I offered Bob to a connection to my generator to keep his freezer working. The next day he brought me another basket of his delicious tomatoes.

The relationship became so improved that one time he called me to tell me that a strange trailer was parked on my lawn. Another time we left town for few days and when we came back he informed me that he had to chase away some kids from my backyard. We continue to be careful not to make too much noise outside after 9:00 pm, but we don't have to worry about our guests. Alhamdulillah, we found good in him and he seems to have found good in us.

The Prophet (PBUH) said, "He who believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him be kind to his neighbor; and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him show hospitality to his guest; and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him either speak good or remain silent".(Muslim).

This story was a little long but I hope you enjoyed it and it made us think about how we can be good neighbors with so many people when we seek inspiration from our religion.

" Verily in this is a Message for any that has a heart and understanding or who gives ear and earnestly witnesses (the truth)." (Qaf 50:37)


  1. Salaamu alaikum. Good story - on many levels. I hope I can learn to be more patient from this example. May Allah reward you and your family.

  2. Salam Br. Tarazi,

    That was a good, inspirational story. I hope many people follow your example in dealing with their neighbors.

    Ilhamdullilah, in the 28 years that I lived in our neighborhood we had a friendly relationship with all our 10 or so close neighbors and with a few we had a close relationship. They knew we could count on them in case of need and they counted on us.

    Neither race, color or difference in religions played a role in our relationship. It was simply one good neighbor to another.