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Hospitality in Islam: The Joy of Honoring Guests

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Understanding Islamic Ethics
"Let the believer in Allah and Day of Judgment either speak good or keep silent. Let the believer in Allah and Day of Judgment honor his neighbor. Let the believer in Allah and the Day of Judgment honor his guest." (Prophet Muhammad)
-hospitality
Hospitality can be applied to the greater community and Muslims must strive to help out whenever there is a time of need.

The true concept of hospitality is not something that is widely practiced in most non-Muslim countries.

For many non-Muslims, the entertainment of guests is of primary importance in many cases for worldly reasons only, not rooted in real hospitality for the sake of God.

In Islam, however, hospitality is a great virtue that holds a significant purpose. Being hospitable to neighbors and guests can increase societal ties as well as unite an entire community. Most importantly, God commands Muslims to be hospitable to neighbors and guests. There is a great reward in doing so. Hospitality in Islam is multi-faceted and covers many different areas in addition to the hospitality that we show guests who visit our homes.

Hospitality at Home

In Islam, guests who visit our homes must be treated with kindness and respect. The same principle applies whether the guest is a family member, a stranger, Muslim or non-Muslim.

Muslims should provide an abundance of food and drink to their guests to the best of their abilities.

The Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) was most hospitable to his guests. Abraham disliked eating unless he had a guest to eat with him and would often look for guests that he could invite to dinner. When he received three of God’s angels as guests, he immediately served them a roasted calf as he mistook them for travelers and did not yet know their Divine mission.

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was always generous to his guests and instructed his companions to do the same. There is even a Quranic verse that was revealed highlighting the hospitality shown to a guest by Abu Talha and his wife Umm Sulaim. Abu Talha welcomed a hungry traveler into his home even though there was very little to eat. So he instructed his wife Umm Sulaim to bring whatever provisions they had and give it to the guest. As the guest ate his fill, these two devout Muslims pretended to eat in the dim candlelight. The following day the Prophet Muhammad gave them the news about the verse God revealed:  

{…but give them preference over themselves, even though poverty was their (own lot). And those saved from the covetousness of their own souls- they are the ones that achieve prosperity.} (Al-Hashr 59: 9)

Islam places great importance on the treatment and hospitality of neighbors.

In addition to food and drink, a Muslim should greet his guest with a pleasing attitude and take interest in his conversation. However, if the guest should speak about something unlawful or engage in an unlawful activity, the Muslim has every right to ask him to refrain from doing so. Hospitality of guests does not go beyond what God has decreed in the Islamic faith.

Hospitality in Times of Need

In Islam, hospitality extends well beyond the walls of the home. Being hospitable also means having good manners and treating others with dignity and respect. Hospitality can be applied to the greater community and Muslims must strive to help out whenever there is a time of need. Natural disasters, for example, often result in community turmoil as residents grapple with the aftermath. This provides Muslims with an excellent opportunity to pitch in, whether delivering hot meals to those affected or donating gently used items to someone who has lost everything. The Prophet Muhammad said:

"He is not a believer who lets himself be satiated while his neighbor goes hungry." (Al-Hakim)

Helping out in times of need also helps to shed a positive light on the Muslim community, which is often depicted in a negative light by the media. Images of Muslims volunteering after the attacks on September 11, 2001, went a long way in changing the hearts and minds of many non-Muslims who had previously had a negative viewpoint of Islam. In times of community need, a Muslim should be the first to volunteer and show a living example of what hospitality means in Islam.

Hospitality Towards Neighbors

There is an old adage in the Arab culture that says: “Choose your neighbor before choosing your residence.” This means that the number of rooms or baths a dwelling has is not as important as the neighbors living beside you. Islam places great importance on the treatment and hospitality of neighbors. Prophet Muhammad said:

"Jibril kept recommending treating neighbors with kindness until I thought he would assign a share of inheritance." (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

When it comes to hospitality, there are countless opportunities a Muslim can find to engage in this most noble deed.

Being hospitable to a neighbor can mean offering food or gifts that are beneficial to him. The Muslim should give to his neighbor with an open hand and not expect, or request, anything in return. To hold the neighbor accountable for the good deed or remind him of it at a later date is despicable and certainly not in the light of Islam.

Another means of hospitality towards a neighbor is living in peace and tranquility. It’s unfortunate that in many communities, neighbors become enemies and engage in battles over things like property infringement and the like. A Muslim must try his utmost to get along with his neighbor even if some of his own needs are compromised. Prophet Muhammad said:

"None of you should prevent his neighbor from placing his rafter in his wall." (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

However, it is important to note that some neighbors may not be receptive to a Muslim’s hospitality for whatever reason. In this case, a Muslim should not force the issue and should always speak well of his neighbor. He must also avoid harming his neighbor with his hand or tongue.

When it comes to hospitality, there are countless opportunities a Muslim can find to engage in this most noble deed. However, it is only by the bounty and blessing of God Almighty that it is possible for us to tend to the needs of others. And for this we should always be grateful to our Lord, who has provided us with all the tools we need to succeed in this life and the next.

 

First published in November 2012
Related Links:
God's Generosity: Al-Kareem (The All-Generous)
Muhammad’s Mercy Upon Orphans
Shura: Teaching Children the Art of Consultation
Comparative Religion Led Jewish Man to Islam
Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf (A Symbol of Generosity)
Sumayyah Meehan reverted to Islam almost 16 years ago. She is a Waynesburg College graduate with a BA in Criminal Justice. Sumayyah is currently working on two Islamic book projects. She is a regular contributor to Al Jumuah Magazine and The Muslim Observer Newspaper. Sumayyah resides in Kuwait with her husband and four children.

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