I was delighted to read a citation from the Qur’an in Wednesday's Chronicle editorial “Thou shalt not take thy neighbor as a lesson.”
The citation, excerpted from Qur-an 4:36, reads: “Show kindness to…the near neighbor and the neighbor far away.” It is a moral directive about treating well all those whom one knows, however close or distant are the bonds of friendship and intimacy. It extends not just to the non-Muslim “neighbor far away” but also to orphans, the poor and slaves. The full import of the Qur’anic requirement begins where almost every exhortation begins in the Noble Book: to worship God and God alone. A full translation of the entire verse might read: “Worship God and do not associate any partners with Him. And be good to parents and relatives, to orphans and the poor, to the neighbor, both kindred and stranger, to your partner, to the traveler and to those you own. Surely, God does not love those who are proud and boastful.” I italicized the "neighbor" target group to indicate that the near neighbor is usually a kin or relative, while the distant neighbor could be someone next door but, if not related, a "stranger" unless or until one crosses the line of separation and demonstrates empathy/kindness/goodness to that person.
My intent is to applaud your larger point and also to amplify the meaning of this critical verse. It has parallels elsewhere in the Qur’an, (e.g. Q 2:215, Q 17:26 and Q 30:38), but is most broadly declared here in Surat an-Nisa (the Chapter on Women) (Q 4:36). Islam 101 offered by MSA will undoubtedly be able to amplify this directive even more than have I, but the crucial lesson is to apply it wherever, whenever and to whomever possible. As another Qur’anic verse declares: “What is the reward for doing good except [the chance for doing] more good?” (Q 55:60).
Bruce B. Lawrence is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies and Inaugural Director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center.
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