The Holy Month of Ramadan: A Month When Allah’s Servants are Invited to be His Special Guests.
The Holy Prophet (s) is reported to have said: “…It is a month in which you have been called to the banquet of Allah…” (al-Iqbal, vol. 1, pg. 26). Diyafah in the Arabic context as translated in the above narration refers to the invitation commonly known and highly encouraged in Islam. Islam traditions are replete with emphasis on inviting the believers and feeding them in the way of Allah (swt). In fact a guest is also commonly known as ‘the beloved of God’. So much emphasis has Islam laid upon such invitation, that there is a prophetic tradition that says: “A guest is a guide to Paradise” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 75, p460-461).
In other words, serving a guest is so rewarding that it leads one to Paradise. This dictum also informs us that our hospitality should be such that it should qualify for such a reward. In other words, our invitation should not involve things that instead of making us closer to Allah (swt), separate us from His neighborhood.
In another tradition narrated from the Holy Prophet (s), ‘disliking a guest’ is equated to disliking Allah (swt): “…surely whosoever hates a guest, hates Allah, and whosoever hates Allah, Allah (likewise) hates him…” (al-Mahajjat al-Bayda’, vol. 3, p32). Those who assume a Divine spirit always love guests. One of the most outstanding prophets of Allah well-known for his great fondness of serving guests is Prophet Ibrahim (a). History tells us that he would not eat any of his meals until he found a guest to eat with. At times he would have to travel one or two miles away just for this purpose. Due to his great fondness for guests, he was called Abu Adyaf.
Imam al-Sadiq (a) is reported to have said: ‘Indeed Ibrahim (a) was Aba Adyaf (lit. father of guests); and whenever he had no guest, he would go out searching for them (Tafsir Nur al-Thaqalayn, vol. 1, p555). He is also known to be the first Prophet of Allah [It should be noted that ‘first’ here is in terms of time. Otherwise, it is the Muhammadan light in terms of the existential hierarchy, who by Divine permission, is the first host. This again is in terms of the world of ‘contingent existence’] to have served a guest. Imam Ali (a) is reported to have said: “Prophet Ibrahim (a) was the first to host a guest…” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 12, p4).
Perhaps the reason why the Holy Prophet (s) and the Imams (a) highly encouraged the believers to invite each other for iftar in the Holy month of Ramadan was to adopt a Divine Attitude in themselves: In the same way as He has invited His believers to His Banquet and venerated them as well, His followers should adopt the same attitude. A very important point to bear in mind is that every invitation should accompany veneration (ikram). In several traditions the phrase ‘ikram al-dayf’ has often been mentioned. This means that no ordinary entertainment is encouraged.
One must struggle to observe ‘ikram’ (lit. veneration). The Holy Qur’an alluding to this trait of Prophet Ibrahim (a) says: “Did you receive the story of Abraham’s honored guests?”(Qur’an 15:24). Some exegetes of Qur’an allude to the fact that the adjective al-mukramin’ in the above verse possibly signifies that the guests of Ibrahim were honored by him and hence are qualified as ‘honored’ (Tafsir Majma‘ al-Bayan, vol. 9, pg. 23).
Veneration should be manifested in all the levels of the invitation. We should therefore identify ‘the etiquette of the intention of our invitation’, ‘the method of invitation’, ‘the banquet served in the invitation’, ‘the method of serving the banquet’, ‘where should the meal be served’, etc. Islam has the answers to all these queries.
Veneration in the phases of every invitation, however, does not mean that one should overspend to ensure that the best meal is served. It rather means to serve within the bounds of the shari’ah according to one’s capacity. It is noteworthy that when some of the poor companions of the Holy
Prophet (s) asked him whether they would be deprived of the reward of invitation if they cannot bear the expenses of hosting a mu’min brother in the holy month, the Holy Prophet (s) said: ‘Protect yourself from Hell Fire even with a piece of date or a glass of water’, thus indicating that it is not necessary for one to serve what is beyond one’s capacity.
This however should not lead one who can afford to serve a decent meal to decide that he can be the host of so many believers by distributing dates in the mosque, and thereby earn much more reward than if he were to call one mu’min brother and serve a decent meal at home. In short, one should serve according to his financial capacity.
One of the most significant attitudes we must adopt is to create a meaningful environment in our
invitations. Not only should physical food be served, intellectual and spiritual food should also be served. Able speakers on significant issues that deal with self-reform or reforming the society can be invited to serve such spiritual meals. It is then that we may be able to claim to have adopted a Divine attitude in this holy month. In fact, the great scholars of gnosis have clearly stated that ‘the Divine Banquet’ to which the believers have been called in the Holy month of Ramadan is a ‘spiritual’ repast.
Authored By: Muhammad M. Khalfan