For a majority of us, who are over-committed, life moves in the fast lane, and guests are no less than a red light or worse – an interminable traffic-jam. The news of imminent visitors is frequently met with frowns or frenzied bickering.

The best guest is one, who does not burden the host. Failing to give a prior notice, visiting at inappropriate times, prolonging ones stay and burdening the host with expectations, on how one should be treated, disgruntles a host in our eastern civilization. A host is expected to be at the beck and call of his guests, stow away personal life and entertain the guest usually for an extended period of time.

The western world is tilted towards the other extreme. A guest must be prepared to depend as much as possible on himself, and might, occasionally, meet his host at breakfast, or may be dinner or any other time, when their schedules coordinate. For the visitor this may mean cooking for himself, doing his own laundry, taking the bus for errands or sightseeing, etc. The bottom-line is that the guest seeks his own comfort and thanks the host profusely for all the boarding facilities that would otherwise have cost a fortune.

These two extremes mar the spirit of hospitality meant to bring people together. The cultural baggage associated with each instance is far from the reasonable and pragmatic approach Islam takes to balance the guest’s and host’s needs.

Abu Hurairah (rta) reported the Prophet (sa) saying: “He, who believes in Allah (swt) and the Last Day, let him show hospitality to his guest…” (Bukhari, Muslim) Hafiz Salahuddin Yusuf in his commentary in Riyad-us-Saliheen states: “To honour a guest means to welcome him cheerfully, entertain him happily, according to our capacity, and have full regard of his comfort and rest.”

Abu Shuraih Khuwailid Bin Amr Al-Khuzai (rta) reported that he heard the Messenger of Allah (swt) (sa) saying: “He, who believes in Allah (swt) and the Last Day, should accommodate his guest according to his right.” He was asked: “What is his right, O Messenger of Allah (swt)?” He replied: “It is to accommodate him for a day and a night and extend hospitality for three days, and what is beyond that is considered charity.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

This Hadeeth deals more with the etiquette and scope of hospitality. On the first day and night, a guest should be offered the best entertainment. In the next two days, hospitality should be moderate. On the fourth day, the guest should leave for his destination. Yet, if the guest chooses to stay, he should not expect formal hospitality but rather seek to be as dependent on himself as possible. If the host willingly entertains the guest after three days, it will be considered charity on his part.

Allah (swt), the Exalted, says: “Has the story reached you, of the honoured guests (three angels; Jibril along with another two) of Ibrahim? When they came in to him and said: ‘Salam, (peace be upon you)!’ He answered: ‘Salam, (peace be upon you),’ and said: ‘You are a people unknown to me.’ Then he turned to his household, and brought out a roasted calf (as the property of Ibrahim (as) was mainly cows). And placed it before them, (saying): ‘Will you not eat?'” (AdhDhariyat 51:24-27)

The above Ayah from the Quran is an example of how the friend of Allah (swt), Ibrahim (as), entertained his visitors. He reciprocated their greeting, despite the fact that they were strangers to him. Furthermore, Ibrahim (as) quickly and discretely arranged for a meal without asking, if they would care for anything. The meal consisted of the best he could offer. Once the meal was ready, he placed it close to them and refrained from ordering them to eat; instead, subtly invited them to partake in the meal.

Jabir Bin Abdullah (rta) said: “Abu Al-Haitham Bin Al-Taihan prepared food for Allah (swt)’s Apostle (sa), and he invited the Prophet (sa) and the companions (rta). When they finished eating He (sa) said: ‘If some people enter the house of a man, eat his food, drink his drink and they supplicate (to Allah (swt)) for him, this is his reward.'” (Abu Dawood) It is, thus, commendable to utter a supplication for those, who provide hospitality or provide food for others.

Abdullah Bin Umar (rta) reported Allah (swt)’s Messenger (sa) as saying: “He, who does not accept an invitation, has disobeyed Allah (swt) and His Apostle (sa), and he, who enters without invitation, enters as a thief and goes out as a raider.” (Abu Dawood)

In another Hadeeth, narrated by Abu Hurairah (rta), the Prophet (sa) said: “A Muslim has six duties towards another Muslim: to salute him, when he meets him; when invited, to accept his invitation; when asked for advice, to give it to him; when he sneezes, to praise Allah (swt) and say: ‘May Allah (swt) have mercy on you;’ when he is ill, to visit him; and when he dies, follow his funeral.” (Muslim) Carrying out of these obligations is compulsory.

There are some instances, where it is recommended to decline hospitality offered.

Ibn Abbas (rta) said: “The Prophet (sa) forbade that the food of two rivals be eaten.” (Abu Dawood) This refers to those rivaling over hospitality to a guest. It is forbidden, because it involves the show and ostentation of one’s richness. Such an invitation should not be accepted.

Similarly, Safina Abu Abdul-Rahman said: “Once a man prepared food for Ali Bin Abi Talib (rta) and Fatima (rta) said: ‘I wish we had invited the Apostle of Allah (sa) and he had eaten with us.’ So they did. But when he came and put his hands on the side-ports of the door, and saw the figured curtain that had been put up at the end of the house, he left. So Fatima (rta) told Ali (rta): ‘Follow him and see what turned him back.’ So, Ali (rta) did and asked him (sa): ‘What turned you back, Apostle of Allah?’ He replied: ‘It is not fitting for me or any Prophet to enter a house, which is decorated.'” (Abu Dawood)

The Prophet (sa) left, because he disliked luxury and unnecessary decoration in the house. Thus, if an unlawful action is done in a house, where a guest is being entertained, he may leave or refuse the invitation altogether.

A Muslim should only invite the pious and avoid the evildoers. Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “Do not be a companion except to a believer and let only the pious eat your food.” (Abu Dawood)

Also, a Muslim should not invite only the rich and exclude the poor. The Prophet (sa) said: “The worst food is that of a feast, to which the rich are invited and the poor excluded.” (Bukhari and Muslim) Likewise, a poor person’s invitation should be accepted.

The Prophet (sa) also clarified, which of the two invitations are more worthy of being accepted, when received simultaneously. Humaid Ibn Abdul-Rahman Al-Himyari said that a companion of the Prophet (sa) reported him as saying: “When two people come together to issue an invitation, accept that of the one, whose door is nearer to yours, but if one of them comes before the other, accept the invitation of the one, who came first.” (Abu Dawood)

Conclusively, just like every other aspect of Islam, rules of hospitality are also driven by wisdom and courtesy. Extending and accepting hospitality with grace gives believers reasons to rejoice. Lets not make it cumbersome for anyone and keep it simple and gratifying by Allah (swt) and His Apostle’s (sa) ways.

Hostility or hospitality?

If you are a guest…

  1. Do not disturb your host at odd hours; rather, visit at their convenience.
  2. Do not visit empty-handed. Gifts enhance love among people, even if it is only a single rose or a bar of candy.
  3. If your stay is an extended one, do not remain aloof. Mingle with the hosts and help them as much as possible in their household chores.
  4. Do not place unreasonable demands that burden your host.
  5. Do not use the host’s belongings irresponsibly. In other words, use them, as if they were your own.
  6. Do not backbite or ridicule your host, after you leave.

If you are a host…

  1. Do not lie deliberately to turn away visitors.
  2. Do not serve unwanted or stale food to your guests to make room in your refrigerator.
  3. Do not place expensive decorative pieces in your house, especially, if you expect young kids to accompany your guest.
  4. Do not embarrass the guest if he accidentally happens to break or misuse any of your belongings.
  5. Do not give your mood swings expression or ignore your guests altogether and make them feel unwelcome.

Do not backbite or ridicule your guests, after they have left.