KHALWAH IN ISTANBUL: Neighbors

 

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Spring has come to Istanbul but the masks remind us that the virus still prevails.

 

In Turkey where 99% of the population is Muslim but neighbors are diverse, I am grateful that they accept me as a yabanci (foreigner) who is slow to learn their cultural rituals. Some have adopted me into their families like my doctors family who are also my neighbors , some would invite me for elegant coffee and cake for Eid and some would bring me a cherished plant and then there are others…….. where culture and language interfere in the understanding of each other.

Overall my Turkish neighbors reflect the compassion of sadaqa by welcoming me and looking out for me, feeding the street cats and birds.

Occasionally I am taken aback by their love of dogs when I see a young man and woman walking their dog while the adhaan is being called.

Can one ever get used to the Adhaan so much and take it for granted so much that one no longer hears it and thus does not heed its call? Coming from the west the sound of the Adhaan is sweetness in my ears, something I don’t think I will ever take for granted ( inshallah).

This morning as I am listening to Mufti Kakakhails lesson on Hadith, I am riveted as guess which hadith he is discussing?

It is the hadith on neighbors and here it is:

HADITH BUKHARI SHAREEF 6015 ON NEIGHBORS

Narrates Ibn `Umar: Allah’ Apostle said,

Gabriel kept on recommending me about treating the neighbors in a kind and polite manner, so much so that I thought that he would order (me) to make them (my) heirs.

Mufti Kakakhail explained this by first defining the types of neighbors:

Neighbors who have rights on us are three kinds

  1. The one who lives close by of any religion
  2. The neighbor who is close and also a Muslim so two rights
  3. The neighbor who is close, a Muslim and a relative, three times the rights.

WHAT IS COUNTED AS NEIGHBORHOOD?

  1. The neighborhood is as far as the adhaan sound goes (without loudspeaker)
  2. One muhadith said up to 40 houses on each side

HOW DOES ONE FULFIL THE RIGHTS OF NEIGHBORS?

  1. Make salaam to them ( greet them)
  2. Send gifts especially food gifts of something good and delicious that you have prepared.
  3. When one meets them, one should meet pleasantly and with freshness of spirit ( Urdu terms: khanda paishani & bashashat).
  4. To Ask the neighbor about his wellbeing
  5. Do not give pain to the neighbor: how is that?
    1. Don’t throw things into his house or onto his property
    2. Don’t play sounds loudly, not only music, but also loud laughter, singing or playing naats loudly or even loud tilawaat of the Quran. You may not be aware that your neighbor may need sleep, or is sick or has children who need sleep or does not like loud noises, or does not care for your choice of music or nasheeds.
    3. Don’t make sounds loud such that they reach the neighbor
    4. Water from your home should not enter their home or property

End of Discussion by Mufti Kakakhail

FLASHBACK TO MY CHILDHOOD NEIGHBORS

In listening to him talk about neighbors I remembered an anecdote about my neighbor when I lived in Karachi and I was 7 or 8 years old:

My English teacher who was from England lived in our neighborhood.

It was on one of those special days when my mother made kheer or rice pudding also called sutlac in Turkish. We : all six of us my five brothers and I loved this dessert and stood in line to lick the pot and to get a serving.

Cooking Kheer is a labor of love because as my Mom would say “ you have to be vigilant” if you look away to do something the bottom burns and the smell and taste permeates the whole dessert.

As my mother stirred the kheer laboriously and with patience, we stood waiting for the Kheer to be ready. on completion however she, instead of giving us the much-awaited dessert made a plate and said to me “take this to your teacher” She sent our servant with me as I was always chaperoned by a brother or a servant even in the neighborhood.

We walked across the brambles, me trying to balance the liquid dessert to prevent spilling and yet wanting to jump over the little hills and step in the puddles of left-over rain and finally reached my teachers home.

I went up the stairs to her door which was on the second floor “ Don’t go in” were the instructions from my mother, and her instructions usually came encased in steel, and there was no give in bending them or tampering with them.

The door opened and there was my strict, straight faced teacher in a casual dress, smiling, her hair not perfect. At school she always dressed meticulously, with not a single hair out of place . I stared at her speechless as she was looking so different and relaxed and not at all prim and proper.

“ My mother sent this dessert” I said

“ Ahh how nice, she uncovered the dish carefully “what is it?” she asked

“Kheer or rice pudding “ I said wondering why my mother had wasted this wonderful dessert on this heathen who did not even know what Kheer was, leave alone how good it was.

“would you like to come in?” she asked.

“ No thank you” I said as per my mother’s instructions.

Ok let me bring you the dish. She disappeared inside for what seemed an interminable period. She returned with a clean washed empty plate, her face beaming.

“Please thank your mother, I tasted it and it is delicious! tell your mother to please send some more” she smiled handing me the plate.

I looked at her…………..Ah she was a believer! We could induct her into the hall of the precious  “kheer lovers” or the kingdom of those who have discernment of desserts.

I paused as the last part of her sentence sank into me………….

“ … …please send some more” this to me was a shocking breach of etiquette asking for more of something that was sent as a gift? Was it greed? or just plain brashness of a foreigner with a lack of good manners?

I pondered over it as I hopped skipped and jumped on the way home and came to the conclusion that the English did not have the etiquette of receiving food because in my childish world of Pakistan everyone knew that it was impolite to ask for more……………..

Even Oliver Twist knew that, didn’t he ? though in a completely different context.

So thus, are my neighbors………. Here and everywhere I have lived, they have always been good to me and for that I am deeply grateful. I pray that I have fulfilled their rights, wherever I have lived and if I lapsed, I ask for forgiveness and ask Allah to instill in me to do so in the future.

 

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