Welcoming guests is a part of our way of life as Muslims. But being a good guest is the other side of this coin. Below are some tips to keep your hosts happy and your visit virtually problem-free.
Do not overstay
Sheikh Haruna Jaafer, Imam at Masjid Lubowa in Kibuli, relates that Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him) said: “He who believes in God and the Last Day should honour his guest as he deserves.”
The sheikh adds that when the prophet was asked, “And what does he (the visitor) deserve?” The prophet replied, “A day and a night of what he deserves, and hospitality for three days, more than this, is charity.”
Sheikh Jaafer says as the above Hadith (traditional narrations of Prophet Muhammad), narrated indicates that guests are to be welcomed. “But this openness and generosity should not be abused so as to be a burden on the hosts,” he says.
Sheikh Jaafer says it was a custom of Prophet Muhammad to exchange presents with the people he lived with. Sheikh adds: “For they remove ill feelings from the hearts.”
Saying that what better way to bridge the gap between relatives hundreds miles away than to give a gift. In particular, he says, encouraging kids to give gifts to relatives of the same age and gender, is considered as good upbringing. This may be the springboard to developing a deep, meaningful friendship, not just a blood relationship. But he advises, these gifts should not become an excuse for extravagance or showing off, both of which are condemned by Islam.
Receive gifts graciously
Giving gifts is only one part of the equation. Receiving gifts is the other. Exchanging gifts could be a norm especially to middle and high income- earning people to the extent of exchanging what they may have too much of or may not like.
But Sheikh Jaafer says this is not acceptable when visiting friends and relatives. Such behaviour could be considered obnoxious and ungrateful.
He advises that, accept all gifts graciously. Even if it is the 100th leather wallet you have received, does not make it a matter of concern.
Respect your elders
An Islamic scholar, Abu Musa Ashari, relates that the prophet Muhammad once said: “It is part of glorifying God to show respect to a grey-haired Muslim, and to a person who can teach the Quran.”
Sheikh Nuhu Muzaata says respecting your elders is a requirement of Islam. He says certain behaviour needs to be avoided in this regard: “Speaking with disrespect, even if you disagree with an older person; stretching your legs under the table in front of everyone present when there are elders is considered as disrespectful.”
Know the local customs
Sheikh Muzaata teaches that “no” does not always mean no amongst some relatives and friends in in different regions. In other words, he adds, if you were no longer hungry after a fantastic meal at your aunt’s and she asks you to take more dessert, your answer may be no, but that may translate as yes. For every one of your “no”s, she may spoon more dessert into your bowl.
He advises, find appropriate ways to respond to this, whether it’s by using a truthful excuse (i.e. I really will get very, very sick if I eat any more), or even better, tell her the hadith about eating in a way that you have one-third water, one-third food and one-third air in your stomach.
“The ideal guest will be polite, discreet, grateful and respectful. He or she will also make sure not to hurt the host’s feelings or be hostile,” Sheikh Muzaata advises.
Know the customs of the house
The Lubowa Mosque Imam says sleeping and waking up earlier than the rest could be abominable. If your host family is used to getting up and going to bed early. Because, he says, “Maintaining the same schedule as you normally do at home in this case may disrupt your host’s home life and cause problems.”
Respect their privacy
If you try your best to practice Islam, its good, says Imam Jaafer. But this may not be the case with your host and their family. While your visit may be a great way to increase their Islamic awareness, it is important to respect their privacy and not to humiliate them.
“That means not hitting them over the head with incessant lectures about how this and that are forbidden in their home or how they are not practicing,” he says.
“If you wake up for Fajr (morning prayers), and not all members of the host family do, pray without disturbing others. Perhaps later in the day, you can talk about how much you enjoyed going to pray Fajr at the local mosque, or the peace and tranquility you felt praying in the silence before sunrise,”Sheikh Jaafer advised.