Hospitality and Islam: Welcoming in God’s name
Yale £20 (978-0-300-21186-3)
Church Times Bookshop £18
HOSPITALITY is something we can all enjoy, either as recipients or providers. But what exactly is hospitality, especially in a theological and spiritual sense?
In this book, Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies at Edinburgh University, comparing Christian themes with Islamic (for example, the story of Abraham accepting guests in his tent, as found in Genesis 18 and Qur’an 51), considers hospitality in the Muslim (mainly Sunni) faith.
Siddiqui reminds us that hospitality is a “moral imperative and ethical command”, and that the Qur’an “often aligns hospitality with charity”, “welcoming and offering space”, and the idea of “reaching out with one’s wealth”.
Presenting hospitality as “a multi-layered concept [and] a combination of virtues”, she rightly affirms that hospitality goes beyond giving, but involves valuing the other and welcoming the stranger — which can often mean taking risks, and becoming vulnerable.
But hospitality is also a form of worship. Looking in detail at both Christian and Muslim teaching, Siddiqui explains how, in providing hospitality, we participate in the actual life of God, because, just as God is al-Razzaq (the provider), we manifest God by providing for others.
Drawing on the Sufi, mystical idea of God as the host waiting to provide for those who approach him, Siddiqui makes the interesting point that, in both Islam and Christianity, in looking forward to the heavenly banquet, “we anticipate God’s forgiveness” and “the heavenly welcome”.
The book, far-reaching in scope, considers gender issues and feminism, and presents marriage as “a form of hospitality . . . a form of welcoming another both physically and emotionally, letting otherness in”.
Although this is interesting, some readers may find it difficult to reconcile the Islamic image of respecting the stranger with the harsh treatment of Christians and other minority groups in Muslim-majority States (particularly Saudi Arabia), where the “other” is often condemned under blasphemy laws simply for practising another faith.
This book, however, is both informative and relevant, particularly in its emphasis on the need for inter-religious hospitality as “a primary task of our time”.
Dr Simon Ross Valentine is a specialist in Islamic Studies presently living and researching in Iraq.