Rahmatullah Khan Shakir (1901-2000), Former Assistant Editor and Manager of Al Fazl
Hospitality is one of the greatest morals of human beings and Islam has stressed it greatly; so much so that the Holy Prophetsa is reported to have said that the arrival of a guest is a sign of divine favour for that household. That is why hospitality was one of the special traits of the Companionsra.
Though a number of Companionsra were seemingly poor, their poverty and indigence could not deprive them of the merit of hospitality. Only a few examples of many from the history of Islam are cited below.
Sacrificing food at home for a guest and God’s pleasure
Once, a guest came to visit the Holy Prophetsa. Since hospitality of even a single person was not easy in that age, the Holy Prophetsa urged the Companionsra that Allah would have mercy on the one who entertained that guest. At the hope of mercy from God Almighty, without evaluating the food at home, Hazrat Abu Talhahra undertook to take the guest home.
When he reached home accompanied by the guest, he learned from his wife that there was nothing for the guest to eat at home. Only a little food was available, which was to suffice for their children only.
Despite this disappointing news from his wife, he was not worried at all and his strong desire for hospitality was not affected at all. To his wife, he said, “It is our children we are worried about most, but you can put them to sleep with some love and affection while they are still hungry.”
But still, there remained one difficulty that as it was customary, the guest would insist the hosts to dine with him because until that time – the injunction about purdah had not yet been revealed. The solution to this problem was thought out in that when the husband and wife would sit to dine with the guest, the wife was to get up to set the lamp and extinguish it. Then both the hosts would move their mouths as if they were eating, but in reality, they would be eating nothing. In this manner, the guest would be able to eat to his fill.
This selfless family followed the plan. They made their children go to sleep on an empty stomach. The wife put out the lamp and the husband and wife sat down with the guest and showed that they also ate. Thus, the family remained hungry and the guest had his fill.
The Almighty Allah loved this action of theirs so much that he revealed it to the Holy Prophetsa.
The next morning, the Holy Prophetsa called for Hazrat Talhahra and laughingly asked him how he had accommodated the guest. Upon receiving the reply, the Holy Prophetsa said, “Allah laughed at your treatment to the guest and that is why I am also laughing.” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Ashribah, Bab Ikram al-Zaif wa Fazli Isarihi)
Our friends should reflect upon this incident and see how difficult hospitality is with sacrifices. Though remaining hungry and skipping one meal can either be seen as not easy or not a huge challenge for those given to fasting, but everyone will admit that to keep young children hungry voluntarily is something which proves how important hospitality was for our noble elders.
The Companions’ hospitality was not confined to guests only; it was extended to foes as well, so much so that even prisoners of war were treated in the like manner.
Hospitality for prisoners of war
Abu Uzair bin Umair, who became a prisoner of war in the Battle of Badr, says that the Ansar would give him baked bread to eat whereas they would survive on dates. Many a time it so happened that even if they got a small piece of bread, they would offer it to him instead of taking it themselves. He says, “They would insist if I resisted.” (Sirat Ibn Hisham, Zikr Ghazwah Badr Maqtal al-Nazr wa ‘Aqbah, Vol. 1, p. 645)
If the prisoners of war had no clothes to wear, Muslims would provide them with clothes. This character of the Muslims is something which has been appreciated by the bitterest foes of Islam.
Sir William Muir writes to the effect:
“As Muhammad had directed, the Ansar and Muhajireen would treat the prisoners of war with love and kindness. Some prisoners of war themselves testified that God might have mercy on the Medinites who would mount them and themselves walk; feed them cooked bread of wheat and themselves subsist on dates.” (Sirat Khatamun-Nabiyyin, p. 155) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Jihad, Bab Alkiswatu lil-Asari)
Those who treated their prisoners of war in such a manner, their treatment of their guests cannot be questioned.
Once, three guests from Bani ‘Azrah came to Medina. The Holy Prophetsa enquired as to who would entertain them. Hazrat Talhahra stood up and undertook to entertain them. He took them to his house, and the guests stayed with him as long as he lived. And never he considered them a burden on himself and tried to shed it off. He treated them so well that they never realised that they were at an unfamiliar place. (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Vol. 3, p. 19, Hadith No. 1401, Musnad Abi Muhammad Talhah bin Ubaidullah)
Enjoyment in hosting guests
Hazrat Abdullah bin Mas‘udra loved to entertain guests and enjoyed hosting them. He had specified a grand house in Kufa for his guests. (Tarikh al-Tabari, Vol. 4, p. 273)
The Holy Prophetsa would assign to the Companionsra the hospitality of delegations that came to visit him.
Once, a Muslim delegation of Banu Abdul-Qais came to visit the Holy Prophetsa and he assigned their hospitality to the Ansar. The Ansar took their guests along with them.
The next morning, when they came to the Holy Prophetsa, he asked them about the hospitality they received from their hosts. They replied, “O Prophetsa of God, they are very nice people. They gave us soft beddings, provided us delicious food and then the whole night, they instructed us in the Book and the sunnah.” (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Vol. 3, p. 432)
Very regrettably, in the presence of such remarkable characters of our noble elders, the Muslims of today are bereft of this noble trait. Though there are hospitable people among them, but being of only a small number, they are almost non-existent.
An understandable reason for this is that our Islamic culture has lost its simplicity. The non-ostentation and modesty demonstrated in the lives of the past lovers of faith is missing from our lives. Pretention and showing off has so terribly entangled us that we have made the most expensive goods and the best foods an integral part of hospitality. We consider it a slight and indignity of ours to provide the guest with the routine food that is cooked at our homes normally.
Such thoughts have so firmly ingrained in our minds that we do not mind the deprivation from the bliss of hospitality and do not regret over it at all and never present to the guest whatever meal is available and thus be able to earn the merit of hospitality without any burden. Of course, better arrangements for hospitality for a man of means are meritorious and such a person should respect their guest in this way as well. But it never means that one should forsake hospitality in the absence of better provisions.
If our friends remember it well and freeing themselves of formalities and showing off, practice modesty and unpretentiousness, then definitely, on the one hand, will they earn the merit of hospitality, but on the other, they will not have to bear extraordinary burden to earn it.
(Translated by Shahid Mahmood Ahmad, Missionary in Ghana, from the original Urdu, Muslim Nau-jawanon kay Sunehri Karnamey)