Hospitality and Islam

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HOSPITALITY AND ISLAM

Generous hospitality extended to family, friends, and strangers is one of the best-known feature of Muslim societies, whether pastoral, rural, or urban. This tradition of hospitality goes back to ancient times in the Middle East, an arid region where trade early became more important than in other regions and where the need for travelers to rely on the kindness of strangers was correspondingly greater. In Arabia, the pre-Islamic chieftain Hatim al-Ta˒i represents the ideal generous host, and has remained a symbol of exhuberant hospitality to this day.

For Muslims, the ideal of hospitality derives first from the Qur˒an itself, which requires that hospitality or charity be offered to travelers: "It is righteous to believe in God; [and] to spend of your substance, out of love for Him. For your kin, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask," (2:177; 2:215; 4:36; 8:41; 9:60; 17:26; 30:38; 59:7) and to the poor (5:89; 22:28, 36; 58:4; 74:44; 76:8–9; 90:14–18, 93:10; 107:3). The Qur˒an also mentions rules relating to the hospitality of relatives and friends (24:61), and portrays the Prophet Abraham as offering hospitality to the visiting angels by slaughtering a calf (11:69–70; 51:24–27). Refusing to offer hospitality is reproved (18:77), as is treating guests insultingly or threatening them (11:77; 15:68). Indeed, such behavior is considered a great shame.

The prophet Muhammad's own well-attested hospitality included reluctance to ask guests who had stayed too long to leave, even though he was the head of state at Medina (33:53), and he let multitudes of envoys, guests, and the poor there enjoy hospitality in the mosque, which was also the courtyard of his house. More directly, in many extra-Qur˒anic traditions the Prophet insisted that generosity be shown to guests, travelers, and strangers. As a result, Muslim law recognized offering guests three days' hospitality as the Prophet's way (sunna).

Khalid Yahya Blankinship