By Maulana Khalid Dhorat
Our entertaining of guests, family and friends nowadays, has more to do with showing off and flaunting our taste for fine décor and exotic dishes, rather than good old genuine company, a warm and heartfelt welcome, and hearty company filled with pleasant memories and real affection. Of course, not forgetting plates full of laughter, cheer and enjoyment. Due to our selfish nature and following of western norms, we have today indeed abandoned a joyous pastime that our forefathers really savoured.
Nobody, not even close family, visits nowadays because they are starving and are in need of a plate of food. There are many restaurants for that. They can serve you the food of your choice, at the time you desire, and according to your budget. Which host will do that for you?
Nobody, not even close family, visits nowadays because they don’t have a bed to sleep in for the night. There are many hotels and motels for that. You can arrive at the time of your leisure, sleep for as little or much as you desire, and not even bother changing the linen the next day. Which host will do that for you?
Nobody, not even close family, visits because they are bored with life. There are many sporting fixtures, online activities, hobbies, outings, and shopping malls to fill that space. You can attend any activity without worrying of others, spend as much money as you want in any store, catch as many fish as you like, or chat to as many online friends as you wish. Which host will give you this blast of a time? You will also not also find people visiting you anymore to ask for a loan. Many banks and smaller financial institutions are today practically begging everyone to take a loan from them.
So, if we do not visit for food, for money, and for recreation, why do family and friends visit each other, and sometimes even stay a few nights? Well, they would so for the purpose of keeping up family ties and maintaining love and harmony in the past, but this practice seems to be dying very fast. There are many powerful Prophetic sayings about the virtues of maintaining family ties. Some are so powerful and encouraging that long life and prosperity is promised for the one who takes the trouble to do so. Who doesn’t want a long life and prosperity, so why is this practice not being upheld? Why does this generation of Muslims prefer to dine in restaurants and sleep in expensive hotels, rather than spend some time at the house of their family just down the road?
Keeping up family ties is admittedly very difficult nowadays, but the blame of not visiting each other rests squarely on both the shoulders of the guest and the host. Both do not know how to behave with one another, and their respective rights. This generally leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of both the guest and the host after the visit. Sometimes, the experience is so bitter that families refuse to see each other for many years after such a visit. Children will suddenly become nasty and pass comments such as: “Oh No, I must see my stuck-up cousin again. I will not let my aunt sleep in my room again!” Adults equally fume: “Must we go out of our way for such ungrateful people who only know how to comment on our furniture and pick on our children!” One of the most dangerous comments, butt justified is this: “Ever since my brother and his wife visited us, the whole world knows our personal affairs. They even know what shampoo we use in the bathroom!”
The guests, on their part, feel equally aggrieved. Some will say to themselves: “We made an effort to keep up ties, but they can’t seem to notice our efforts. They make such a big din at night that we couldn’t sleep for our entire stay!” Others will complain thus: “We will never go to that cursed house again. It only ends up as a competition as to whose house and clothing is better, who has more money, and whose children are more intelligent. This is simply ridiculous!”
How do we rekindle the ancient art of keeping up family ties so that we can be comfortable with each other again.
Here are a few pointers for a host:
1) Choose your guests carefully. You should only invite the decent and pious to your house. Avoid those who may corrupt your family. Once, Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) advised Sayyadina Abu Dharr: “Oh Abu Dharr! Do not be a companion except to a believer, and let only the pious eat your food.”
2) A host should place themselves in the shoes of the guest and treat them as they would like to be treated if they were the guest. Be hospitable, courteous and generous. If there are any differences or family feuds between yourselves, bury it. Choose your words carefully. It took great courage for your guest to visit you, do not make it awkward for him. This may just be a turning point in your relationship.
3) For the first three days, try to entertain your guest above average. This does not mean you should exaggerate in providing food and drink – moderation without excess is the sunnah.
4) Give your guest the utmost attention. Our most noble holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) always gave a person he spoke to full attention. If someone addressed him, he wouldn’t talk to them over his shoulder or be distracted with something else.
5) Do not embarrass your guest if they accidentally break or misuse any belongings. In numerous traditions, it is reported that a child was brought to the holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) and while on his lap, the child urinated.
6) Most importantly, do not backbite, ridicule, judge, or criticize your guests after they have left. “And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.” [ Qur’an 49:12] If they have caused harm during or after their visit, it is best and more pleasing to the Almighty to forgive and overlook the guest’s shortcomings.
Now, some pointers for guests:
1) A guest should receive an invitation from the host and not impose themselves to become a “guest” at their home. Sometimes, when we get too comfortable with others, we forget the proper etiquette and invite ourselves over, not paying attention that the host may have other arrangements or preferences of time, etc.
2) When invited, the guest should make every effort to accept the invitation and not turn it down as it may offend the host. Our most noble holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) has said, “He, who does not accept an invitation, has disobeyed Allah and His Apostle; and he, who enters without invitation, enters as a thief and goes out as a robber.”
3) Be always considerate of your host’s circumstances and work commitments. Shorten your stay as much as possible, since every person has various duties, obligations and responsibilities – some of which may not be known to you. Try not to exceed three days. In addition, be considerate of your hosts and help them with their duties, house chores and obligations.
4) While at your host’s house, do not inspect and examine every corner out of curiosity, especially when you are not invited beyond the guest room. In addition, do not bother your guest by asking too many questions.
5) Don’t be demanding and act bossy. If you desire something from the host, think twice before asking as it may be a burden on him.
6) When a host offers you a meal, accept and eat something even if you’re not hungry, for the host will be pleased to know that you have eaten from their food. Leaving the food untouched will only make the host feel that what they presented was not good enough or not up to your standards.
7) Although it is not required, it is highly recommended in the Sunnah to enter with a gift as a token of appreciation and gratitude for an invitation.
8) After leaving the host, the guest should not criticize, analyze, or condemn the host in any of their actions and should refrain from talking about them behind their back or making negative judgments about them, especially to other people.
“It is better to be alone than to feel unwelcome anywhere,” said Mark Twain.