CHOOSING A SEAT
Sit where asked to by your host. Do not argue with your hosts about the place where they wish you to sit. If you sit where you want, you may overlook a private area of the house, or you may cause inconvenience to the house residents. Ibn Kathir narrated in Al-Bidayah wa Al-Nihayah that the honoured companion ‘Adi bin Hatam Al-Tay converted to Islam and came to Madina to see the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم). The Prophet honoured Hatam by seating him on a cushion, while he himself sat on the floor. ‘Adi said: ‘…then the Prophet took me along and upon reaching his house, he took a leather cushion filled with palm fiber and threw it on the floor. ‘Sit on this,’ he said. ‘No, you sit on it,’ I answered. The Prophet insisted, ‘No you.’ So I sat on it while the Prophet sat on the floor.’ ‘
Kharija bin Ziada visited Ibn Sireen. He found Ibn Sireen sitting on a cushion on the floor and wanted to also sit on a cushion, saying, ‘I am content as you are.’ Ibn Sireen replied: ‘In my home, I will not be content until I provide you with what I am usually comfortable with. Sit where you are asked to sit.’ Do not sit in the patron’s seat unless he invites you to it.
In this regard, the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: ‘No person shall lead another in prayer while the first is at the latter’s house. No person shall sit, uninvited, at the favourite seat of the patron of the house.’
If it happened that you arrived early and your host, out of kindness, directed you to sit at the most prominent seat, be prepared to stand up and give this seat to the elder, the notable, or the scholar when they arrive after you since they are more deserving of this seat.
Do not be insensitive and tactless. If you refuse to give your seat to those who are considered more deserving of it by those around you, this will only indicate your lack of manners and common sense. You will become one of those referred to by the Prophet, when he said, ‘Those who do not respect our elders do not belong to us.’
To remain entrenched in your seat will not elevate your status, and it will certainly surprise those present. You will be considered a snob since you are insisting upon an undeserved honour. This rule applies equally to men and women. Insensibility does not enhance social standing. On the contrary, it will be a terrible mistake that will only tarnish your reputation. To honour an honourable person can only improve your standing and stir admiration for your manners and humbleness.
If you happened to sit in the second best place and a notable person entered the room, you should give up your seat to that person. To be respectful of our elders is evidence of your good manners and social sense. Imam Muslim reported that the Prophet said, when organizing prayers, ‘The wisest of you and the elders should stand next to me, then those below them, then those below them.’
In the gathering, a prominent person may call upon you to discuss a matter, or to answer a query, or to give you an advice. If you sat beside him or near him, it is desirable that you return to your previous seat once the matter is concluded unless that person or other notables insist that you remain at your new seat. This is provided that by doing so, the space does not become so tight as to cause discomfort to those already sitting there. Manners are based on common sense. They could be developed by socializing with prominent and tactful individuals. By observing how they act and behave, you will be able to enhance your common sense, good manners and graceful behaviour.
You could be called to a gathering where you are the youngest. In such cases, do not sit before you are invited to do so. Do not sit if you will be crowding out others, or forcing others to leave their seats for you. If you are invited to sit, do not proceed to the best place when there are others more deserving of it. Be prepared to give up your seat to such individual. Doing this on your own, before being requested to do so, will enhance admiration and respect for you.
A VISITOR IS NOT AN INSPECTOR
When you enter a home, whether as a visitor or an overnight guest, do not closely examine its contents as an inspector would. Limit your
observation to what you need to see. Do not open closed closets, or boxes. Do not inspect a wallet, a package, or a covered object. This is against Islamic manners and an impolite betrayal of the trust your host has accorded to you. Uphold these manners during your visit and seek to cultivate your host’s love and respect, and may Allah bless and protect you.
Imam Muhasibi in Risalat Al-Mustershidin said: ‘The duty of sight is to preclude forbidden sights and not to try to see what has been hidden or covered. Dawood Al-Ta’i said ‘I was told we will be accountable for our minor gazes as we are accountable for minor deeds.’
The Arabic poet Miskin Al-Darimi said:
‘My neighbor should not worry if
his door is not closed.’
TIMING YOUR VISIT
Choose an appropriate time for your visit. Do not visit at inconvenient times such as mealtime, or when people are sleeping, resting, or relaxing. The length of the visit should be in accord with how well you know the hosts, as well as their circumstances and conditions. Do not overstay your welcome by making your visit too long or burdensome.
Imam Al-Nawawi said in the book of Al-Azkar: ‘It is strongly recommended for Muslims to visit the pious people, the brethren, the neighbours, friends and relatives, and to be generous, kind, and obliging to them. However, the extent of the visit varies according to the host’scircumstances. The visit ought to be conducted in a pleasant manner and at convenient times. There are numerous sayings and traditions in this regard.’
If you enter a room, greet everyone inside. If you want to shake hands with those present, start with the most eminent, the most knowledgeable, the most pious, the oldest or those who have similar Islamic distinctions. Do not overlook the most distinguished or most eminent and start with the first person on your right. If you cannot decide who is the most reputable, or if those present happen to be of comparable status, then start with the elderly, for they are easier to recognize.
Al-Bukhari explained that the Prophet said, ‘The elder! The elder!’ In another version he said, ‘The elderly come first.’ ‘Abu Yalla and Al-Tabarany in Al-Awsat reported that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: ‘Start with the elderly, or , he said, ‘with the notables.’ ‘
SITTING BETWEEN TWO PERSONS
If you enter a room do not sit between two persons. Instead, sit on their left or right side. Abu Dawood reported that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: ‘No one is to sit between two people without their permission.’
Sometimes two persons will be kind enough to favour you by making room for you to sit between them. Acknowledge this kind gesture by accepting their offer. Do not sit crossed-legged to crowd them out. A sage said: ‘Two persons are considered immoderate: a person to whom you give advice and he arrogantly holds it in contempt against you, and a person who is favoured with a seat in a room and he sits crossed-legged.’
If you are seated between two people, do not eavesdrop and listen to what they say, lest their conversation be a confidential or private matter. Eavesdropping is a bad habit and a sin. Al-Bukhari reported that the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: ‘Whoever listens to people’s
conversation against their wishes, will be punished by liquid lead being poured down their ears on the day of Judgment.’
You should seek to benefit from the company and wisdom of the elders who are described as ‘ a fruit at the end of the season.’ I would add, ‘a sun wearing the veil’ since it will leave us and disappear at night. Be keen to attend the gatherings of the elders whether scholars, pious persons, nobles, or relatives. Soon you may lament their departure and your loss.
It is an inappropriate Muslim manner to whisper to someone sitting next to you if you are in a group of three people. The third person will feel deserted and isolated and will think the worst of thoughts. The Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) hated this. Imam Malik and Abu Dawood reported that he said: ‘No two shall exchange whispers in the presence of a third person.’ That the Prophet used ‘No two…’ in an assertive negative form, indicates that such a mistake is not only inappropriate but an unimaginable and instinctively despicable. ‘Abdullah Bin Omar was asked, ‘What if they were four?’ ‘Then it does not matter,’ he answered, meaning it is not irritating then to whisper or to mutter. If a friend entrusted you with a secret, do not betray him or her. Do not tell it even to your best friend or closest relative.
THE HOST’S DUTIES AND THE GUESTS’ RIGHTS
If you are having a guest overnight, be hospitable and generous. But do not exaggerate when providing food and drink to your guest. Moderation without excess is the Sunnah. You should try your best to make your guest’s stay pleasant and comfortable during wake and sleep. Inform your guest of the direction of Qibla and show them the way to the bath.
Your guest will need to use towels after showers, ablution or washing hands before and after meals. Make sure that they are fresh and clean. Do not offer towels that you or your family members have used. It is also a nice idea to offer guests some perfume and a mirror. Make sure that the toiletries and bath accessories they will be using are clean and sanitized. Before leading your guest to the bathroom, inspect it and remove anything that you don’t want your guest to see.
Your guests will need rest and a quiet sleep. Spare them the noise of the children and the house as much as possible. Remove intimate clothing from their view. If the guest is a man, remove all women’s clothing and belongings. This is a desirable, decent practice that will leave you both feeling comfortable. When meeting your guests, serve them with tact and respect. Dress properly and look your best but do not overdo it. The close relationship between you is no excuse for negligence or indecency in your manner or look. Imam Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad reported that our forefathers used to look their best when visiting each other. Be kind and generous to your guests. As a rule do not ask them to help you with house chores. Imam Shafie’ said ‘Gentlemen do not employ their visiting guests.’
If you visit a relative or a friend, you should be considerate of your host’s circumstances and work commitments. Shorten, as much as possible, the length of your visit, since every person has various duties, obligations and responsibilities. Be considerate of your hosts and help them with their business , house chores and obligations. While at your hosts’ house, do not inspect and examine every corner, especially when you are invited beyond the guest room, lest you see something you’re not supposed to notice. In addition, do not bother your hosts by asking too many questions.