[Explanation in the Light of Surah an-Nisa Ayah 36]
The Emphasis on Treating Relatives Well
After having mentioned parents, the ayah emphasizes the good treatment of all relatives. A comprehensive and well-known ayah of the Qur’an which the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam often used to recite at the end of his sermons, presents the same subject in this manner:
Still recited in the Khutbah during Friday prayers all over the world, the ayah means: ‘Verily, Allah orders justice and kindness, and giving (help) to the relatives’ [16:90]. This includes serving relatives to the best of one’s ability, as well as keeping the touch with them.
Salman ibn Amir radhiAllahu ‘anhu reports that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:
“Sadaqah, when given to the poor and needy, surely brings the reward reserved for such charity, but, when given to a kinsman, it brings a twofold reward – one for the charitable giving and the other for having fulfilled the rights imposed by kinship.” [Musnad Ahmad, Nasai & Tirmidhi]
Let us keep in mind that the need to fulfill the rights of parents is the first priority followed by that of relatives in general.
The Rights of the Orphans and the Needy
The third group mentioned in the ayah is that of ‘the orphans and the needy’ whose rights were already taken up in some detail earlier in the Surah. But, by recalling it under the general head of relatives, the hint given is that one should consider helping orphaned children and helpless people as necessary as one would do his or her own relatives.
The Rights of the Neighbor
Then appears ‘the close neighbor’ at number four, and ‘the distant neighbor’ at five. The Arabic word, al-jar’ means ‘the neighbor’. The ayah describes its two kinds – the close and the distant. These two kinds have been explained variously by the Companions may Allah be pleased with them all.
Generally, commentators say that a ‘close neighbor’ is one who lives next to your house, and ‘the distant neighbor’ is one who lives at some distance from it.
Abdullah ibn Abbas radhiAllahu anhu said that ‘a close relative’ means one who is a neighbor and a relative at the same time which makes him the holder of two rights; and ‘the distant neighbor’ means one who is simply a neighbor and is not a relative; he has therefore been mentioned later.
Some commentators have said that ‘a close neighbor’ is one who is part of the Muslim community and is a Muslim while ‘a distant neighbor’ refers to a non-Muslim neighbor.
The truth of the matter is that the words of the Qur’an lend to all these probable meanings. It is no doubt reasonable and lawful to have a difference in degrees between different neighbors, either on the basis of their being relative or non-relative, or on the basis of their being Muslim or non-Muslim. However, it is agreed upon that a neighbor, close or distant, related or unrelated, Muslim or non-Muslim, has the essential right that he be helped and cared for to the best of one’s ability.
A person who has some other right as well, besides his right as a neighbor, he will have a degree of precedence as compared to others.
The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam has himself explained this when he said:
“Some neighbor have one right, some others have two, still some others have three. The neighbor with one right is a non-Muslim with no bond of kinship; the neighbor with two rights is not only a neighbor but a Muslim too; the neighbor with three rights is a neighbor, a Muslim and a relative, all in one.” [ibn Katheer]
The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “Jibraeel has always been telling me to be helpful and caring with one’s neighbor, so much so that I started thinking that may be the neighbors will also be included as sharers in inheritance.” [al-Bukhari and Muslim]
According to a narration in al-Tirmidhi and the Musnad of Ahmad, the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam said:
“The best and the most superior is the best in relationship with his neighbors.”
And a hadith in the Musnad of Ahmad reports:
“It is not permissible for a neighbor to eat his fill while his next door neighbor is hungry.”
[Taken from Maarif-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani]