In many respects, a religion can be a complete way of life. For someone like me who practices a faith tradition that is 1,400 years old, I often find that its words of wisdom can still ring true today. For example, let me quote the following maxim: “Four things bring about happiness to a person: a righteous spouse, a spacious abode, a good neighbor, and a comfortable ride. On the other hand, four things contribute to a person’s misery: a bad spouse, a wicked neighbor, a difficult or disinclined ride, and a narrow and constricted home.”
When you think about it, it is still true today that most people desire a home of their own. They often work a lifetime to own a home. They need a home where they can feel safe, raise a family, or simply relax after a hard day’s work. A young married couple may not be able to immediately afford the house of their dreams. Therefore, it is not uncommon for young couples to buy a small starter home until they can afford to move to a bigger house after their family size increases.
Another necessity of life is a vehicle as a means of locomotion. In ancient days, travelers used horses and camels to traverse long distances in harsh desert environments. Nowadays, people need a vehicle as a means of transportation to and from work and for running various errands. Vehicles can be the second most expensive asset an average person owns after a home. Sadly, we sometimes witness homeless people living and sleeping in their cars. You will agree that a car is a narrow and constricted home that is hardly conducive to a person’s happiness.
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The above maxim also speaks of a righteous spouse as bringing happiness in a person’s life. We often say that a person is influenced by the company he or she keeps. The Prophet said: “A man will follow the way of his close friend, so let each of you look at whom he takes as a close friend.” Choosing a righteous spouse is therefore an important aspect of married life.
Marriage is viewed in Islam as a partnership sealed by a contract agreement before God. As in other major traditions, a strong family unit is an important foundation of a healthy society. In his farewell sermon, the Prophet told his companions that “the best among you are those who are best to their wives.” In other words, love begins at home and must be demonstrated through steady and consistent actions of kindness toward one’s partner. Those acts of learned kindness can then be spread in concentric circles to children, relatives, neighbors and even strangers.
Finally, the fourth thing in the maxim above speaks of a good neighbor as being a true blessing in a person’s life. There is in fact a saying in my faith tradition that we should “look for a good neighbor before looking for a house.”
Good neighborliness in Islam requires four general duties or responsibilities toward neighbors: to support them with whatever you have; to not desire what they possess; to not harm them; and to be patient with them if they harm you or your family. Indeed, and according to my faith tradition, the rights of neighbors were defined 1,400 years ago as follows:
Help them if they ask for your help.
Give them relief if they seek your relief.
Lend them money if they need a loan.
Show them concern if they are distressed.
Nurse them when they are ill.
Attend their funeral when they die.
Congratulate them if something good happens to them.
Empathize with them if a calamity befalls them.
Do not block their air by raising your building high without their permission.
Do not harass them.
Give them a share when you buy provisions.
For me personally, I do not consider my faith tradition to be a vestigial collection of wisdom from a time long ago. I am comfortable following this way of life because it challenges me every day to become a better person.
Dr. Said Ahmed-Zaid is a Boise State University engineering professor and the 2004 recipient of the annual HP Award for Distinguished Leadership in Human Rights.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.