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 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.