By Dr. Colin Edwards
Famously, hospitality is considered a key guide to moral behaviour in cultures where Islam is the dominant religion. From Morocco to south China and from the Kazakhstan to Nigeria, the mores of hospitality are important dynamics in shaping how individuals, families and communities behave towards each other. High on the list of necessary social conventions are those which deal with hosting and visiting.
Visits between relatives are frequent. They are often made unannounced, at any time of day and they can last a considerable amount of time. Some visits are obligatory, such as celebrations of rites of passage, the return of a person from a trip, the arrival of new neighbours, or when someone is ill. A refusal to receive visitors is unthinkable, while failure to make an obligatory visit can threaten the fabric of an extended family.
Religious impulse to hospitality
There is a strong theological and religious impulse within Muslim cultures in this dynamic of host and guest. The Qur’an encourages hospitality. The verse most often cited as an injunction to hospitality is Sura 24.61:
There is no blame on the blind man, nor is there blame on the lame, nor is there blame on the sick, nor on yourselves that you eat from your houses, or your fathers’ houses or your mothers’ houses, or your brothers’ houses, or your sisters’ houses, or your paternal uncles’ houses, or your paternal aunts’ houses, or your maternal uncles’ houses, or your maternal aunts’ houses, or what you possess the keys of, or your friends’ (houses). It is no sin in you that you eat together or separately. So when you enter houses, greet your people with a salutation from Allah, blessed (and) goodly; thus does Allah make clear to you the communications that you may understand.
Whilst this says, “there is no blame,” the trajectory of the verse is that it is a positive thing to host family and those in need. It is a positive thing to eat together and share blessing of peace and goodness. It is understood to be almost mandating the need for sharing hospitality.
The Qur’an also highlights the example of the Prophet Muhammad as the highest model to emulate, and therefore his actions of hospitality are to be copied. The prophet demonstrated the high status of one who treats his guest well when he said, “…Let the believer in God and the Day of Judgment honour his guest.” Here, honouring, or treating a guest well is coupled with two of the most important beliefs in Islam, belief in God and belief in the Day of Judgment. For Muslims, this vital hospitality relationship is therefore triangular; it consists of host, guest, and God.
The Qur’an draws attention to the morals of treating guests well. Believers are to offer respect, love, peace, and cordiality to each guest. In sura 4, it is viewed that God favours such spiritual virtue:
When you are greeted with a greeting, return the greeting or improve upon it. Allah takes account of everything. (Sura An-Nisa’4.86)
Qur’anic morality encourages believers to compete with one another in doing good.
A common act as greeting a guest is called for and Sura 51 gives the example of Abraham of this in action:
Has the story reached thee, of the honoured guests of Abraham? Behold, they entered his presence, and said: “Peace!” He said, “Peace!” (and thought, “These seem) unusual people.” Then he turned quickly to his household, brought out a fatted calf, And placed it before them… he said, “Will ye not eat?” (Sura adh-Dhariyat Sura 51: 24-27)
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