Islamic Text Study on Hospitality – Riad Galil
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For believers who follow the Qur’an’s morality, respecting one’s guest is a way to observe one of Allah’s commands as well as an opportunity to display high morality. Therefore, believers welcome their guests cordially.
Having a guest is an opportunity to earn Allah’s pleasure and display moral excellence. Treating a guest cordially becomes a social obligation. Only the expectation of an ensuing benefit makes Muslims eager to show hospitality.
The Qur’an especially draws attention to the moral excellence shown to guests. Before all else, believers offer respect, love, peace, and cordiality to each guest. A welcome merely based on catering, without showing any love, respect, or peace, would not be pleasing. In the verse given below, Allah states that He favors spiritual beauty over anything else:
“When you are greeted with a greeting, return the greeting or improve upon it. Allah takes account of everything.” [An-Nisa’- 86]
Qur’anic morality encourages believers to compete with one another in doing good. A common act as greeting a guest is an example of this attitude.
The Qur’an also urges Muslims to make the guest feel comfortable by identifying his or her possible needs so that they can be met before the guest mentions them. The way in which the Prophet Abraham (as) treated his guests is a good example of this and displays an important feature of hospitality:
The Qur’an portrays this incident in the following manner:
“Has the story reached you of the honoured guests of Abraham? Behold, they entered his presence and said: “Peace!” He said: “Peace!” (and thought: “They seem) unusual people.” Then he turned quickly to his household, brought out a roasted fattened calf, and placed it before them. He said: “Will you not eat?” [Surat adh-Dhariyat: 24-27]
One important point in these verses would attract our attention: It is better to offer a guest something before he or she has the chance to ask for it. This is because a courteous guest may hesitate to mention any need. Out of his or her thoughtfulness, such a guest would even try to prevent the host from offering anything.. For this reason, the Qur’anic morality entails thinking about the guest’s possible needs in advance.
Another favourable conduct indicated here is offering something without delay. Before all, such conduct reveals the host’s pleasure at making the guest comfortable. As the verse mentioned, offering something “quickly” (without delay) reveals the host’s eagerness to serve his guest.
Another good behaviour implied by these verses is that although Prophet Abraham (as) had never met his guests before, he tried to serve them in the best possible manner and thus quickly brought a “fattened calf,” a type of meat known to be the most delicious, healthy, and nutritious. Thus we can deduce that while catering to a guest, one should do his or her best to prepare and then offer high-quality, fresh, and delicious food.
Apart from this, Allah also draws attention to meat as a favourable offering that can be served to guests.
Prophet Mohamed teaches us how best to deal with guests. In one of his traditions he says:
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: “He, who believes in Allah and the Last Day, should accommodate his guest according to his right.” A man asked: “What is the guest’s right?” He replied: “It is to accommodate his guest for a day and a night, and hospitality extends for three days. What is beyond that is charity.”
In another saying the Prophet sAaw said:
“It is not permissible for a Muslim to stay so long with his brother till he makes him sinful.”
He was asked: “How can he make his host sinful?” He replied: “The guest prolongs his stay till nothing is left for the host to offer him.”
The Prophet’s traditions show that the guests have to be honoured by:
â€¢ welcoming them cheerfully,
â€¢ Entertaining them happily according to our capacity and
â€¢ Having full regard for their comfort and rest.
These sayings present the protocol of the duration of hospitality.
A guest should be given the best entertainment on the first day and night. For the next two days, hospitality should be moderate.
On the fourth day, the guest should leave for his destination.
Yet if he chooses to stay, hospitality will be in a sense a form of charity.
Sufis have a tradition of eating their meals in groups. Some of them would seek out strangers to share with them their meals. They talk about Baraka, an Arabic word which loosely means that when you go out of your way and do something that Allah likes, your fortune would be increased and the little you may have would be more than sufficient for the multitude. Perhaps the example of Jesus feeding the masses from a few crumbs would serve as a parallel. The extension of hospitality and sharing of meals offer opportunities to embody remembrance of God within traditions shared by generations of Sufis.
The Shadhiliyya Sheikh ‘Abd al-Wahhab ash-Sharani ran a thriving zawiya (Sufi centre) in Cairo during the 16th century. He took a great pleasure in inviting strangers to his centre to enjoy good food during Ramadan, Eids and other festivals.
The 18th century Shadhiliya sheikhs of the Sudan were renowned for their generosity and graciousness, and regarded these qualities as the epitome of spiritual aspiration. Their schools, called khalwas, were centres of hospitality to visitors, travellers and traders. The khalwa of Shadhiliya Sheikhs Idris al-Arbab and his son Hamad served a total of one hundred and eighty meals every day of the year. When a scholar visited the khalwa and asked Sheikh Idris about the ultimate goal of the Sufi’s quest, the Sheikh brought him into the kitchen. As they watched the cooks, servants and dervishes preparing sorghum pancakes for the guests, the Sheikh answered,
“By God and by His Messenger, I have no name other than this dough!”
Another sheikh, Hasan wad Hasuna, was also known for the feasts he would offer; he himself, however, ate bitter acacia pods with water as his guests enjoyed the more substantial food.
Are there limitations to hospitality in Islamic traditions?
Two I can think of:
1. Hospitality is for three days and within one’s means.
2. Offering hospitality in the form of food and/or drinks which Allah, the Almighty has forbidden is not permissible. Pork and liquor can not be offered by the Muslim to his guests.