Whether it's your uncle in the Middle East, your aunt in the Midwest, your friend in Malaysia, or your nephew in Pakistan, invitations from relatives to visit for most Muslims are not scarce, Alhamdu lillah.
And why not? 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.
1. Don't overstay
Khalid ibn Amr relates that he heard the Messenger of God, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) saying: He who believes in God and the Last Day should honor his guest as he deserves.
He was asked: ‘And what does he deserve, O Messenger of God?' and he answered:
‘A day and a night of what he deserves, and hospitality for three days. More than this is charity.' (Bukhari, Muslim).
As the above-mentioned Hadith indicates, guests are to be welcomed. But this openness and generosity should not be abused so as to be a burden on the hosts.
This factor should be taken into consideration for those of us who come from families back home who may not be well off financially. We should act wisely and judge for ourselves how long is too long for our hosts.
2. Give gifts
It is narrated by Aisha that the Messenger of God said: ‘Exchange presents with one another, for they remove ill feelings from the hearts.' (Tirmidhi).
What better way to bridge the gap between relatives hundreds or thousands of miles away than to give a gift? In particular, encourage kids to give gifts to relatives of the same age and gender. This may be the springboard to developing a deep, meaningful friendship, not just a blood relationship. But these gifts should not become an excuse for extravagance or showing off, both of which are condemned by Islam.
3. Receive gifts graciously
Giving gifts is only one part of the equation. Receiving gifts is the other. Adults and young people coming from North America may have become used to the idea of exchanging gifts they may have too many of or may not like.
This is not acceptable when visiting friends and relatives, especially those in a Muslim country or from one. Such behavior could be considered obnoxious and ungrateful.
Accept all gifts graciously. Even if it's the 100th leather wallet you've received, don't make a fuss about it.
4. Respect your elders
Abu Musa Ashari related that the Messenger of God said: ‘It is part of glorifying God to show respect to a grey-haired Muslim, and to a person who can teach the Quran.' (Abu Dawud).
Respecting your elders is a requirement of Islam, whether you're in North America or in the Muslim world. Certain behaviors need to be avoided in this regard: speaking with disrespect, even if you disagree with an older person; stretching your legs or putting your feet up on the table in front of everyone present when there are elders there, for example.
5. Know the local customs
For example: no does not always mean no amongst some relatives and friends in Muslim countries. In other words, if you're 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.
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.
6. Know the customs of the house
This means for example, sleeping and waking up earlier than normal if your host family is used to getting up and going to bed early. Maintaining the same schedule as you normally do at home in this case, may disrupt your host's home life and cause problems.
7. Respect the family's Islamicity
If you try your best to practice Islam, Alhamdu lillah. 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's 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 Haram (forbidden) in their home or how they are not practicing.
So if you wake up for Fajr, and not all members of the host family do, make Wudu and 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.
That said though, this does not mean you give up Islamic duties to please guests. Prayer, wearing appropriate Islamic attire in front of the opposite sex, for instance, must be maintained, regardless of the level of Islamicity of the host family.
Photo Attribution: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Breaking_bread,_juice,_dinner_party,_Broadview_townhouse,_Seattle,_Washington,_USA.jpg