Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Iftar | Hospitality- Reflections Ramadan 14

Subhanallah, many years ago, Ramadan used to be a month when I'd count the days to Eid, and now I'm sad with each moment that passes by. In fact, quite remorseful of all the times I wasted in the last 2 weeks. There's so much to do, and too many distractions. Starting today, I'm retiring to the masjid inshallah.

Planning and preparing iftars (or dinners) for my friends was one of my most enjoyable (and stressful Rehan would add) experiences. I'm not a food lover, but because I have such a diverse group of friends, I managed to learn some from different types of cuisine- Turkish, Morroccon, Italian, Mexican, Spanish (And of course, Pakistani) to suit all my guests. My friends were the unfortunate test subjects of my cooking, but mashallah, they'd mostly shower me with complements :D

This being my first Ramadan at home after so many years, I'm still surprised at the simplicity of what we have been eating at iftar. The credit goes to my mother, who has done away with the typical wasteful customs in our culture.

Yesterday I had iftar with my mother and sister as my father and brother had a work invitation, and we laughed at the thought of eating leftovers. It felt really good, and then I was reminded of a comment by Safdar bhai last year.


It was the second brothers iftar last Ramadan, and as the brothers were still chatting away, I called my brother into my room to let him know I'm leaving for taraweeh. As I was slipping out the door, Safdar bhai called out to me from the kitchen [Mashallah, he's a father of 4, and was my first Qur'anic Arabic teacher]

"Are you going for taraweeh?"
"salam... yes"
"Isn't it easier to make 4 dishes for 20 people than to make 20 dishes for 4 people?"

I really didn't know what to say. About a month later, someone told me they counted 17 different items at that iftar. This same person told me that he wasn't able to eat much, even though my brother kept insisting, because this was exaclty a week after the massive earthquake in Pakistan. I understood his feelings. He was involved with a relief organisation helping them with their efforts. So was I. In fact, one evening, a bunch of us packed some 300 boxes of food and other material for the surviving earthquake victims.

Perhaps there was too much food. But then, living close to campus, we'd always share food with others. I'd mostly never see my tupperware again. It would either be at 88 Lowther or 666 Spadina or somewhere else. And I'd have theirs. The environment was beautiful. Once I even got home made baked brownies from a frosh bro!

The definition of good hospitality is not having too much good food. At home, we always treat our guests with excellence, the type stemming from sunnah teachings and not from cultural practices.

This is a dilemma I've always had. I find that people are not used to good hospitality such that they find mine lavish :) My dilemma being, was I being ignorant of the global consequences of my action by providing "lavishly" for my guests when an earthquake had just happened in my home country?

"The world and its pomp has so overwhelmed society that hospitality now requires a veritable protocol" , says Hajj Gibril. "Simplicity often goes out the window together with many Islamic manners. Protracted and impromptu visits thus become a burden because they alter the normal run of the house more radically than before".

The essense of hospitality in Islam is that:

  • We are in need of Allah (swt) sending guests to our place. The Righteous of olden times would say that “the guest brings his rizq and leaves with the sins of the hosts forgiven.”
  • And Our messengers came unto Ibrahim with good news. They said: Peace! He answered: Peace! and delayed not to bring a roasted calf (Hud 11:69). Imam al-Qurtubi said: “In this verse, part of the etiquette related to guests is that they be hosted promptly, so whatever is available is presented to them on the spot."
  • Then it can be followed up with something else if one has wealth. The host should not task himself with what might overly burden him.
  • Hospitality is part of excellent manners, the etiquette of Islam, and the high character of Prophets and the Righteous.

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) guides us by saying: "Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should be hospitable with his or her guests."

The magnificent paradigm of the Muslim hospitality is the following hadith:

One time some­one visited the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, who said: Who will host this man?” One of the Ansar immediately said: “I will.” Then he rushed to his wife and told her: “Provide generously for the guest of the Messenger of Allah.” She replied: “We only have food for the chil­dren!”

He said: “Prepare the food then light the candle and put the chil­dren to bed at dinner-time.”
She did as he said [and put the children to sleep on an empty stomach] then she got up to tinker with the light and she put it out. Then she and her husband pretended to eat but remained hungry that night. The next morning they went to see the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and he said: “Last night Allah laughed or was astonished [the narrator hesitated] at what you two did!” Then Allah re­vealed the verse: They put others above their need though poverty become their lot (59:9). Narrated from Abu Hurayra by Bukhari and Muslim.

Those of us who have more than what we could have ever asked for in life, perhaps may never understand the depth of humility and reward associated with such an action. It sounds really beautiful to hear, but imagine being the mother who came to Aisha (ra) and split her own date between her two daughters. Aisha (ra) was so touched by that action.

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