Hearts and Homes

 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 hearing this Hadith, I realized that the one thing our Ummah is losing and needs to hold on to is the act of feeding people. I see this Hadith in clear light as I notice how few people open their hearts and homes to feed friends. After another month of fasting when the act of feeding people is an even bigger Ibadah, it was saddening to see even masajids charge money to feed 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? Are we afraid of critical comments by our guests? Are we afraid the food will not be enough or good enough? 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 a generation. When did feeding our families and guests go from being worship to being a chore?

Growing up, I remember the front door of my grandmother’s house 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 everyone who entered did not leave without being fed. In my parents’ home on the other side of the continent, every Friday after prayers a big pot of biryani was served to all those single, lonely 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 serving the community were seen by others as merely a way to fulfill a deficiency in her own 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 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 tried to make them comfortable, despite their refusal to impose on her. She was beaming with excitement at the honor of hosting them, but said disappointedly, “My duck has not laid an egg today, so how shall I feed you?” Before they could respond she said, “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, while we in a world of endless comfort can’t seem to bring a “main dish” to a potluck dinner with friends?

Historically, feeding has been seen as 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 refuses to own more than a place setting for her family so she cannot be expected to entertain! 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. While hospitality is moving away from the compassionate treatment of people into a money making industry, let us teach our children to live by the sunnah of sharing a smile and a meal. 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?

 Shaheen Rasheed

Shaheen is teacher turned home educator of four residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a homeschool consultant for Kinza Academy and runs a blog on educating our children holistically. Please visit it at www.soulfulstudies.wordpress.com.

  • mahaezz

    Shaheen, this is a very thoughtful, discussion-provoking post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!!!

    I’m one of those people who does not make entertaining guests a priority. Maybe it is because I am so overwhelmed with just the responsibilities I have that I have decided to make that act of service, as beautiful and rewarding as it is, a second priority. We all have to make choices and set priorities, and I think in this stage of my life, when many days I can’t even find the time to muster a healthy, homecooked meal for my own family, it is relegated to the less urgent. I try to give in other ways, and practice generosity however else I can. I wish it could be otherwise–maybe Allah swt will help me in another stage of my life to be able to open my home and kitchen to others more often.

  • Dalal

    This post really hit home for me too. I agree that the generosity and openness of our parents’ generations is in stark contrast to our own. I loved how you brought it back to feeding as being a form of worship and the numerous ahadith that support that. Otherwise there can be little gratification, especially when such gestures aren’t reciprocated. You’ve brought it back to the true motivation for me. On a practical note, I wonder how others balance the desire to be generous and avoiding wastefulness. Sometimes I want to be generous, but don’t want to have to throw out food either.

  • Hagar

    I really appreciated this post. You’ve also motivated me and reminded me that serving people in my home is a blessing.

  • Marwa

    Salaam Shaheen,

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. In regards to Dalal’s concern, I too have found myself in the same predicament. I think my mom is a superwoman for the amount of food she is able to whip up in such a short amount of time. Like Maha, I love having people over but I feel like I stress out my husband when it’s getting down to crunch time. “Have you changed the baby’s diaper? Are there clean towels in the bathroom? Can you dust underneath the couch?? etc. etc.” lol. On a different note though, one day I was over a friend’s place for the very first time and she had made three things (couscous with veggies, leg of lamb and a salad). I was so impressed because I had never seen this before- usually we expect to see a cornucopia of food, but it was so simple, delicious and filling that I have started to incorporate it into my hosting (whenever in the blue moon it happens). So, I think we need a new narrative. It’s great to feed people, but we don’t need to cook everything we know how to make (!) and it’s also okay for people to share in the hasanat potluck style :D

  • http://Www.soulfulstudies.wordpress.com Shaheen Rasheed

    Salam alaykum sisters Dalal and Marwa,

    On the note of wastefulness, I’d like to add two thoughts: one came from my husband and the other from Imam Zaid Shakir.

    My husband, the minimalist, believes in less is more. His advice to me has always been to make smaller portions or fewer dishes. Know that there is Barakah and it will be enough. Also, logistically, he says, you will always have a 20% drop out rate, so making less is better.

    Imam Zaid Shakir has always encouraged us to get outside and feed the needy in the larger community. He suggests making boxes of leftover food and dropping it to the homeless on the street. You get the blessings of sharing and of dawah, inshaAllah.

    Tawfiq, inshaAllah.