Growing up, my family was fortunate enough to live across the street from a prayer space, or musalla. In Islam, men are encouraged to offer the five daily prayers in congregation, and the space in the building across the street allowed my brother and father to do that comfortably. As a result of this space, my dad easily made friends with the congregants and often invited them over our house to chat and have a cup of tea.
This paired with the fact that I had an uncle living next door as well as across the street meant we always had one person or another dropping into our home. In our household, it was a must to offer some kind of snacks and drinks to guests even if they dropped in for just a few minutes. Cookies, crackers, water, and definitely chai were the regular items on the quick-fix menu—whether the guests consumed the goodies on the table or not. In addition to the snacks, we were always taught to greet our guests. Studying or lounging, no matter what, we had to pop in and give our salaams, greeting of peace. These were acts of good etiquette and politeness, a hospitality that had been ingrained in me since I was young.
More recently, my last couple of months were spent settling into a new apartment and calling a different place my own home. That meant furniture shopping, figuring out a smart floor plan, researching energy efficient lightbulbs, and of course, unpacking everything we had from before. With the help of God, we finally can say, yes, we are settled in our place to the next person who asks “What’s new?” To celebrate this chapter of our lives, we decided to invite some close family members to our place a couple weeks ago.
It is at this late lunch gathering that I saw my hosting skills come out once again. Having guests over requires a lot of preparation: you need to clean, cook, and mingle. Each of those three things has its own list of tasks and subset of to-dos. While it did take us a lot of energy and time, having fed and spent time with our families in our new space left us feeling quite satisfied. It wrapped up our weekend activities very nicely, and most definitely was worth it.
By simply inviting people over and treating them with hospitality, we realized we took part in something the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) encouraged during his lifetime. He said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, should serve his guest generously” (Bukhari). Whether that means a formal invitation with a planned menu or an impromptu drop-in and whipping up something quickly, Muslims believe guests have rights. There cannot come a time when someone walks into a Muslim household and is not offered a plate or glass of something! It is simply not in our nature.
I thought this kind of behavior was normal my entire life. If someone visits, of course you should feed them something! I have even experienced guests insist over and over, “Please, we just ate, you do not need to serve us!” and physically remove a tea kettle from my hands before I can boil the water. More recently though, I have learned this is not the way of all people. Some have no expectation upon visiting another’s home and are even taken aback when met with such warm hospitality.
But this is simply the way the Muslims I know are. We love to host our guests, share our food, and make people feel right at home in our own spaces. It is a beloved tradition that has been ongoing for over 1400 years.