Being Neighborly

I don’t get along with my next-door neighbor. Let me rephrase that: I don’t like my next-door neighbor. Oh, he always acts friendly, but then he does passive-aggressive stuff like taking over part of our yard for his garden without asking and throwing a bush that he dug up in our compost bin. I don’t know how to take his actions or what to do about them. I don’t feel comfortable making an issue about them, but not saying anything at all makes me feel like I’m just setting myself up to be used and disrespected.

I’m well aware of what the Qur’an and the ahadith say about how we should treat others. In fact, it’s one of the things I love most about Islam. I think many non-Muslims would be surprised at the emphasis that Islam puts on loving our neighbors. Christians, for instance, tend to think that they have the monopoly on that. But in reality, there are far more verses and sayings about being kind and gentle to others in Islam than there are in the Christian Bible.

This is one of the dilemmas of being religious. We are taught to treat others the way we would like to be treated. But what are we supposed to do when we aren’t treated fairly? Are we just supposed to suck it up or grin and bear it? Are we supposed to act like push-overs?  Or should we say something in our defense?

The situation is even more complicated by the fact that I now identify myself as a Muslim by wearing the hijab. My neighbor has never asked me about it—we don’t have that kind of relationship—and it’s not that I think he does these things because I’m a Muslim. (He did most of the things before my conversion.) But since I choose to “announce” to the world that I am a Muslim, don’t I have a standard to uphold? Isn’t it a form of da’wa to be kind to our neighbors?

Years ago, before I was a Muslim, I left a sign in my neighbor’s garden telling him that I didn’t appreciate his taking over part of our yard. That year he was careful to stay off our property. But the next year when he asked if we were going to use that patch of land, what could we say? We don’t use it; we just don’t like him using it. So we said that we weren’t using it that year. He promptly put a fence around the entire area (ours and his) and has left it there ever since.

I wouldn’t mind planting some tomato plants this year, but now our part of the garden is behind his fence. It just doesn’t seem worth the hassle to tell him to move his fence so that it’s only around his property. Besides, I don’t like confrontation. And I know how uncomfortable things can get if you don’t get along with the person who lives next door to you. So I keep my mouth shut and seethe inside. And I complain to my husband, who shares my feelings anyway.

I know this seems like a small thing compared to world issues like conflicts in other countries or even the way Muslims are treated by some Americans. But life is made up of these small things. And how we treat our neighbor says a lot about how well we are submitted to Allah and His will.

For now, I guess I’ll continue to treat my neighbor respectfully and hope that he won’t do anything more aggressive. My ego keeps telling me that I should stick up for myself. But somehow I think that would only make things worse. But is it better to have this eating away at me?

I know I need to pray about this. But do you have any other suggestions?