The Open-House Culture and Islam

There is a lot of ambiguity about honoring one’s guests arising from a mixture of culture and Deen. The fake and fabricated ahadeeth making a round on social media are confusing the matter further. We need to understand that culture, even if it is good, is not part of Deen, and one is free to obey or disobey a cultural norm as opposed to a regulation of Deen, that is, if the culture is not in direct collision with Deen.

This mixing of cultural rites inside a Deeni regulation is most apparent when it comes to social issues. On one hand it has resulted in an exaggeration in the definition of things like parents’ rights, husband’s rights and on the other hand it has undermined the value of things like privacy and importance of time.

Let’s take the issue of entertaining and honoring one’s guests. As we know it is a highly recommended act. We can see so in a number of authentic ahadeeth.

Abu Shurayh al-‘Adawi said: “I heard with my own two ears and I saw with my own two eyes when the Prophet [صلى الله عليه و سلم] spoke and said: “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him honor his neighbor; whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him honor his guest as he is entitled.”

It was said, “What is his entitlement, O Messenger of Allah?”

He said, “[The best treatmentfor one day and one night; and hospitality is for three days, and anything after that is charity bestowed upon him. And whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him speak good words, or else remain silent.”

[Narrated by Al-Bukhari, 5560 and Muslim, 69]

In the life of Rasulullah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) himself and in the lives of his sahaabah much importance was placed upon honoring a guest. But what does entertaining/honoring a guest entails in Shariah?

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When we think of hosting/entertaining a guest, for most of us it means preparing special food, leaving aside your own work (be it study, house chores etc.) to sit with the guest, and letting the guest intrude upon our privacy. These things are all cultural practices and have nothing to do with Islam. In fact some of these practices are not acceptable at all in Islam. For example the invading of private spaces. Privacy is a very important issue in Islam as much of our hijaab rules depend upon it. (and by hijaab I don’t mean the head scarf). So much so that according to one sahee hadeeth if you find a person peeping inside your private quarters and you hurt him for that, there is no sin upon you.

In the two sahih’s (Bukhari and Muslim), it is recorded that the Messenger of Allah [صلى الله عليه و سلم] said:

  لَوْ أَنَّ امْرَءًا اطَّلَعَ عَلَيْكَ  بِغَيْرِ إِذْنٍ فَخَذَفْتَهُ بِحَصَاةٍ فَفَقَأْتَ عَيْنَهُ، مَا كَانَ عَلَيْكَ مِنْ جُنَاحٍ

“If a person looks into your house without your permission, and you throw a stone at him and it puts his eye out, there will be no blame on you.

So if all these practices are not part of Islam, then what are the rights of the guest as given by Islam? And remember whenever we speak of rights we must speak of duties, as one’s duty is the right of other. A lot of the problems in our society arise from only remembering one’s rights and forgetting one’s duties. (Ironically, it is the duties we are supposed to remember as those are the things we will be questioned about)

Some rights of a guest:

  1.  If a guest comes, it should please us.
  2.  We should welcome him/her and make them feel comfortable.
  3.  Serving them some food or drink is recommended but not mandatory. You can serve whatever you want, serving better portions of food to guests is also a sunnah of sahabah, but preparing lavish food for showing off, or which may strain our budget, or increase workload to such an extent that we don’t feel happy about that guest, or makes us neglect our other duties is not permissible.
  4.  If the guests include members of both sexes separate quarters should be provided for them to relax, eat etc.

Please note that all these obligations to welcome a guest are waived in case of proven gossip mongers, troublemakers, and people lacking religious commitment. In such a scenario, it is advised to first take necessary steps to protect oneself and one’s family. For example reducing contact with gossipy troublemakers, limiting them to phone calls etc. but never cut off completely, if they are kith and kin, or close neighbors.

Some duties of a guest:

  1. We shouldn’t go unannounced to someone’s home. Asking permission before entering upon your own mother is compulsory so how much more important it must be before entering upon anyone else?

Ibn Jurayj narrated that Az-Zuhri said, “I heard Huzayl bin Shurahbil Al-Awdi Al-A`ma (say that) he heard Ibn Mas`ud say, “You have to seek permission to enter upon your mothers.”’

Ibn Jurayj said, “I said to `Ata’: “Does a man have to seek permission to enter upon his wife?

He said, “No, it can be understood that this is not obligatory, but it is better for him to let her know that he is coming in so as not to startle her, because she may be in a state where she does not want him to see her.””

  1. We should let them know beforehand if we intend to stay for meals.
  2. We should let them know of how many people will come.
  3. We should ask permission before entering their house, if after knocking three times a person doesn’t reply (even if we know they are at home) we should go back without having any hard feelings.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَدْخُلُوا بُيُوتًا غَيْرَ بُيُوتِكُمْ حَتَّى تَسْتَأْنِسُوا وَتُسَلِّمُوا عَلَى أَهْلِهَا ذَلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ

O you who believe! Enter not houses other than your own without first announcing your presence and invoking peace upon the folk thereof. That is better for you, that you may take heed.” [24:27]

فَإِن لَّمْ تَجِدُوا فِيهَا أَحَدًا فَلَا تَدْخُلُوهَا حَتَّى يُؤْذَنَ لَكُمْ وَإِن قِيلَ لَكُمُ ارْجِعُوا فَارْجِعُوا هُوَ أَزْكَى لَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ عَلِيمٌ

And if you find no one therein, still enter not until permission has been given. And if it is said to you: “Go away”, then go away, for it is purer for you. Allah knows what you all do.” [24:28]

This is because Allah has given Muslims the right to not answer a visitor; to not respond to someone who knocks on their door. And they are not obliged to provide an explanation as justification for their choice. (Same applies to calling someone on phone. Everyone has a choice if they want to answer the phone or no)

  1. We should respect their privacy and should not roam the whole house especially bedrooms etc. and lower the gaze if passing in front of an open door.
  2. We should not peek into cupboards/bags/wallets  or any other personal belonging/spaces.
  3. If we’re invited for a meal, leave soon after the meal (except if our host insists otherwise).
  4. We shouldn’t make any inconvenience for our host.
  5. If we are just dropping by (after first asking/telling over phone etc.) we should not expect our host to sit with us all the time and leaving his/her work. (Or have any hard feelings if they carried on working while we were there).

 

Things to consider for both host and guest:

There should be no unIslamic activity, no intermingling of sexes, no disregard for the hijaab laws, no back-biting, no music, no lies, no gossip/mocking etc.

Finally I would encourage you to go and read this article which has inspired the title of this post and from which I have taken some of the material. It goes even deeper about these social issues than the few things I have jotted down here.

May Allah grant us the true understanding, ameen.

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