A few months ago Cathy wrote about hospitality on this blog (https://whenwomenspeak.net/blog/loving-my-neighbour-hospitality/). All of us who have lived and worked among Muslims can tell many stories of the rich and often sacrificial hospitality we have received from them. In this post I want to explore hospitality further -in Islam, in the Bible, and as a redemptive analogy.
A Cultural and Religious Imperative
Nomadic cultures throughout the world emphasise the importance of costly hospitality to the unexpected guest: and this has been taken up into Islam, and Muslim cultures. Proverbs expressing the importance of hospitality abound, such as:
Our home is your home.
The guest is a guest of God
God comes to us in the person of a guest.
Christine Mallouhi writes on how some of these proverbs are lived out:
“The traditional Arab greeting for a guest entering the home is ‘Welcome to the guest of God’ and ‘The Prophet has visited us.’ How we receive guests is very important. An Arabic proverb places importance on honouring the guest: ‘Greet us and don’t feed us’ (laqiina wa la ta’meena). The meaning is that the warmth with which you receive guests is even more important than what you feed them. Traditionally, a stranger could arrive at your door and expect three days’ hospitality before being asked any questions. My in-laws had a menzul, a guest house for this purpose.”[i] Bill Musk agrees with the significance of how we welcome people: “The importance of hosting /visiting lies not just in the requirement that it occur, but in the manner in which it is carried out.”[ii]
Azban reflects on how hospitality can be expressed between women: “Often (women) will visit each other during the morning hours when their husbands are at work and the children are in school. A custom has developed that a woman will invite friends to her house one week, with another extending the invitation another week. The hostess prepares special dishes of food and drink and the invited women might bring a dish to share. They relax and talk over many things for hours.”[iii]
In the Qur’an, Surah Al-Nur 24:61 encourages sharing meals together:[iv] and the imperative of generous hospitality is supported in the hadith:
Narrated Abu Shuraih Al-Adawi: My ears heard and my eyes saw the Prophet when he spoke, “Anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day, should serve his neighbor generously, and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should serve his guest generously by giving him his reward.” It was asked. “What is his reward, O Allah’s Apostle?” He said, “(To be entertained generously) for a day and a night with high quality of food and the guest has the right to be entertained for three days (with ordinary food) and if he stays longer, what he will be provided with will be regarded as Sadaqa (a charitable gift). And anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quite (i.e. abstain from all kinds of dirty and evil talks).” (al-Bukhari, Book #73, Hadith #48)
Then he (Muhammad) went to Khadija bint Khuwailid and said, “Cover me! Cover me!” They covered him till his fear was over and after that he told her everything that had happened and said, “I fear that something may happen to me.” Khadija replied, “Never! By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your Kith and kin, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guests generously and assist the deserving calamity-afflicted ones.” (al-Bukhari, Book #1, Hadith #3)[v]
A South Asian writer is representative of Muslims who see the imperative to generosity and hospitality as grounded in Islam:
“Our great Prophet [s] teaches us to be generous and how to entertain guests. He wants a Muslim to show gratitude…
The Messenger of Allah [s] further guides us by saying:
“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should be hospitable with his or her guests.”
Our great Prophet [s] teaches us to be generous and how to entertain guests. He wants a Muslim to show gratitude and be kind and happy when receiving guests. One should respect and welcome his guests, in particular when they are strangers, or have no family or friends in that country.
It may even happen that a guest comes while relatives or friends are being entertained, or other travellers are staying and there is lack of space; or you are unprepared and have few provisions or are even short of money. In any eventuality, guests who come to your home should be made welcome, shown respect and be provided with whatever food and drink are available. One should sit with them in order to make them feel comfortable and happy, and take care to pay great attention to them.
Surely, Allah will increase our provision if we welcome our guests and give them food and drink, and will reward us on the Resurrection Day.
Allah is All-Generous, who loves the generous ones and dislikes those who are mean.”[vi]
To be in relationship with people is to give and receive hospitality (and so receive and give honour). Bill Musk comments: “In the working out of community life, some visits are obligatory. The celebrations at the various rites of passage call for visiting / hosting, but so also do occasions such as the return of a person from a trip or the arrival of new neighbours, or the knowledge that someone has been taken ill. The serving of food and drink is central to such visiting/hosting. … A refusal to receive visitors is unthinkable, while to fail to make an obligatory visit threatens the fabric of life in an extended family.”[vii]
This reciprocity is expressed well in an Arabic translation of Matthew 9:9-13 (from The meaning of the Gospel and Acts in Arabic):
‘Jesus called Matthew and said, “Come and be among those who follow me.” …Then Matthew called Jesus and he followed him to his house to receive food and eat with him.’
The Bible and hospitality
The Bible richly abounds in examples of hospitality: any class will quickly cover a board with when I ask them for Biblical references on the subject. For instance, the parallel passages in Genesis 18:1-8 and 19:1-12, on how Abraham and Lot welcome the heavenly visitors. Bill Musk writes: “It is significant that in Genesis 18, the meal which Abraham prepared for his otherworldly visitors is described in greater detail than the conversation which ensued between the patriarch and the Lord!”[viii] And Christine Mallouhi reflects on how: “Lot was caught between the highest values of his culture, personal honour (in his daughters), and hospitality. He put others before himself and chose the sacred duty of hospitality.”[ix] (For the Qur’anic references to these incidents, see from Surah 15:51 and 51:24 [Abraham], and 11:78, 15:68, 54:37 [Lot].)
Jesus Messiah uses theme of hospitality constantly in his teaching about God, including Luke 11:5-8 (a neighbour who needed bread), Luke 14:7-14 (places of honour): and in his actions, such as Luke 7:36-50 (true hospitality and honour, with the Pharisee and the woman), and Matthew 14:13-31, 15:32-39 (feeding both Jewish and Gentile crowds who were hungry for His Word).
Hospitality as a Redemptive Analogy
These teachings and actions of Jesus point forward to his description of our salvation in terms of a great banquet, God’s hospitality (Matthew 22:1-14, Luke 14:15-25). Thus we see the Gospel through John bookended with descriptions of Jesus offering hospitality, in 2:1-11, where at the Cana wedding the new wine references Jewish (and Islamic) teaching of heaven as flowing with good wine: and 21:9-13, where the resurrected Lord has prepared food for his followers. What other Bible stories, with these, might help us tell of the hospitality God offers to everyone in Jesus Messiah?
Jesus Messiah consistently seeks and receives hospitality from others, in order to offer them God’s hospitality. So he asks Zacchaeus for hospitality (Luke 19:1-10), a Samaritan woman for a drink (John 4:1-42). In Revelation 3:20 he asks the same of us: “I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” The story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-32) reminds us that offering hospitality to Jesus Messiah is to listen to his teaching.
Understanding hospitality as a picture of the redemption offered to us in Jesus Messiah implicates both how we teach the Bible, and how we live. Mallouhi reminds us that:
“For Muslims to feel comfortable with our spirituality they need to feel comfortable with our hospitality. This is more comprehensive than plates of food. Hospitality is not only a custom in our home, but a key into the kingdom of God. The Gospel is the story of God’s hospitality in Christ. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament it is a matter of honour. … Hospitality is not just serving food; it is a lifestyle. It means offering each person we meet a generous heart.” …“It is about making people feel like they are in their own home when they receive our hospitality. … ‘Our house is your house’. This proverb reminds me that I am not just inviting Muslims into my house, but inviting them to enjoy the blessing of my home in Christ in the Father’s house. True hospitality is reciprocal.”[x] In understanding costly hospitality as a redemptive analogy within Islam, we note that:
In offering hospitality, women are centrally involved.
In accepting hospitality, the guest both honours the host, and invites the host reciprocally to come in to God’s hospitality.
[i] Mallouhi, Christine A. Miniskirts, Mothers and Muslims. A Christian Woman in a Muslim Land. 2nd ed. Oxford: Monarch Books, 2004, 154.
[ii] Musk, Bill. Touching the Soul of Islam. Sharing the Gospel in Muslim Cultures. Oxford: Monarch Books, 2004/1995, 117. Hence the Egptian proverb, “An onion between friends tastes like a roast lamb.”
[iii] Azban, Ahmad Kamal. Diwan Baladna. Arab Culture from an Arab’s Perspective. Jordan 2010, 55
[iv] There is not upon the blind [any] constraint nor upon the lame constraint nor upon the ill constraint nor upon yourselves when you eat from your [own] houses or the houses of your fathers or the houses of your mothers or the houses of your brothers or the houses of your sisters or the houses of your father’s brothers or the houses of your father’s sisters or the houses of your mother’s brothers or the houses of your mother’s sisters or [from houses] whose keys you possess or [from the house] of your friend. There is no blame upon you whether you eat together or separately. But when you enter houses, give greetings of peace upon each other – a greeting from Allah , blessed and good. Thus does Allah make clear to you the verses [of ordinance] that you may understand. https://quran.com/24/61
[vi] Shaikh Abbas Qummi, Safinat al-Bihar, Bab Dhaif, Sunan ibn Maja, vol. 2, Haq al Jiwar (The rights of neighbours), Ikram al-Dhaif (Respecting the Guest). http://ipaki.com/content/html/29/1097.html
[vii] Musk, ibid, 117.
[viii] Musk, ibid, 118.
[ix] Mallouhi, ibid, 155.
[x] Mallouhi, ibid, 153-4.
Moyra Dale spent over two decades in the Middle East (particularly Egypt, Jordan, and Syria) with her family working in education, specializing in Adult Literacy (Arabic) and teacher training. She is an ethnographer whose research has included exploring adult literacy in Egypt and the women’s mosque movement in Syria through women’s accounts and understanding of their own lives and realities. Currently based in Melbourne, Australia, she writes, teaches, trains, and supervises students in Islam and cross-cultural understanding, with a focus on Muslim women. Moyra holds a PhD in Education (La Trobe University) and DTh (Melbourne School of Theology).