Many years ago, when I was still a young newly married couple without kids, (yeah, that was a long time ago), I remember sitting in a class where Shaykh Hamza Yusuf talked about a Hadith of the Prophet peace be upon him. If I remember correctly, this was spoken when the Prophet peace be upon him entered Madina. Abu Yusuf ‘Abdullah ibn Salam said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, ‘O people! make the greeting common practice, provide food, maintain ties of kinship and pray while people are asleep and you will enter the Garden in safety.'” [at-Tirmidhi] After the shaykh elaborated, I realized, the last thing is the hardest to do while the first is the easiest, maintaing ties requires a response from another, but the one thing that our Ummah is losing and we need to hold on to is the act of feeding people. These days I see this Hadith in clear light as I notice how few people open their hearts and homes to feed friends and family! Having just come out of a month of fasting when the act of feeding people is an even bigger Ibadah, it’s saddening to see even masajids charge money to feed the community iftars!
According to another Hadith, Abdullah ibn ‘Amr reported that a man said, “Messenger of Allah, which aspect of Islam is best?” He replied, “Feeding people and greeting those you know and those you do not know.” Feeding people has been seen by all cultures as a means of getting close to God, a means of gaining blessings and a means of warding off evil from their homes. Whether we look at the traditional Indian custom of hospitality, highlighted by the Ancient Sanskrit phrase “Athithi devo Bhava“, (guest is god) or the warm and welcoming Spanish saying, “Mi casa es su casa“, or the Biblical command in Romans 12:13 “Practice hospitality, I can’t help but wonder what has happened? Why are so many people afraid of hosting a gathering? Do we scare ourselves by thinking we need to host a medieval banquet if someone comes home? Can’t we have simplicity in our food and focus on getting our hearts together? Are we afraid of critical looks and comments by our guests? Are we afraid the food will not be enough or good? What is the main reason behind turning away from this sunnah and cultural norm? Some of us descend from regions and traditions of legendary hospitality, yet we lose it in less than a generation. When did feeding our families and guests go from being an Ibadah to being a chore?
Growing up, I remember my grandmother’s house front door was never locked or even closed during the day. With the arrival of the milkman in the morning, the door would be unlocked and a mere curtain drawn for privacy. It let every passerby know that he is welcome and every one who entered did not leave without being fed. In my parents’ home on the other end of the continent, every Friday after prayers, a big pot of biryani was served to all those single, alone or impoverished souls my dad could find at the local masjid. It was understood that feeding people brought barakah into our lives and serving people was never looked down upon. It saddened me to hear a friend mention how her efforts at khidma of the community were seen as a way to fulfill a deficiency in her life! How our ideologies have changed, SubhanAllah!
Another friend shared this story of their family’s travel in a third world country and the hospitality they experienced shook me to the core. While traveling between cities by road, their car overheated and they stopped to let it cool down. While waiting, they decided to take in the sights of a village. As they walked towards a tiny hut, the woman who lived in it, came running out to greet her guests and quickly brushed off dust from her dusty floor to make them comfortable. Despite their refusal to impose on her, her efforts continued. She ran outside her hut beaming with excitement only to return disappointed. “My duck has not laid an egg today, so how shall I feed you?” said her sorrowful voice. Before they could respond that they didn’t need to be fed, her face lit up as she rushed out of the hut, “Please wait a bit and I’ll cook the duck!” I think back to this incident and often wonder, is it easier to give when you don’t have much? What causes this genuine concern for strangers whereby you can let go of your only worldly possession, when we in a world of endless comfort and indulgence can’t seem to bring a “main dish” to a potluck dinner with friends?
As far back as history can take us, feeding people has been a divinely decreed responsibility. Perhaps today’s religiously devoid culture sees hostessing as a burden or perhaps our families have lost the meaning and intimacy of a family dinner altogether with the onset of fast food and tv dinners. I heard one woman proudly tell us that she only owns four plates, cups, spoons and forks in her kitchen for her family and refuses to get any more so her husband cannot expect her to entertain guests! Westerners have seen entertaining as an establishment of relationships, whereas in the East even strangers were welcome into homes. Today, we are moving towards a society which is trying to oust our own friends and family from the dinner table! Hospitality is moving away from the compassionate treatment of people into a money making industry which necessitates a degree to serve people and care for them. If you haven’t had someone over to share food with, in over a month, don’t wait any longer. Even if it’s just for a cup of tea and dates, invite a friend to share a drink, share a smile and share this sunnah. Let’s teach our children by living the Sunnah rather than necessitating a college classroom to educate them to have friends over.
I’ve heard from Imam Zaid Shakir that the best way to make your money grow is to give it away and the same is true with food! Isn’t the Hadith of the Prophet, peace be upon him, “The best food is that in which there are many hands?” Let us remember that the fear of not enough is from shaytan as Allah has promised each person his sustenance, so why should we not be eager to become the means by which our Lord feeds his slave?
1)Al-Adab al-Mufrad Al-Bukhari
by Imam Bukhari
Translated by: Ustadha Aisha Bewley
2)Riyad as-Salihin (The Meadows of the Righteous)
by Imam Nawawi
Translated by: Ustadha Aisha Bewley
3) Koenig, John. New Testament Hospitality. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985