Remona Aly
Thursday 03 November 2016 Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2

The Triangle of Hospitality

Unexpected guests & the spirit of hospitality, Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2, Chris Evans Breakfast Show

They say that the best things in life happen when you least expect it, but on this particular occasion, that sentiment is well up for debate. 

Many years ago, on a quiet summer day, the house was filled with the aroma of mum’s Indian cooking as she prepared a delicious meal for an American family who were joining us for dinner.  The father, a friend of my dad’s, had called from his London hotel to say they’d just arrived in the UK, so my dad didn’t hesitate to invite them all over.

Their car rolled up our drive, as my parents smiled and waved through the window. 

“Er”, my brother piped, “Why do they have suitcases on the roof?” Code Red as Mum hit panic station. It turned out our American guests – two adults, 3 kids and 4.5 suitcases – had checked out of their hotel and were staying with us for the next 8 weeks – full board.

After a 60 second breakdown, mum managed to hold it together and both my parents went into full smiley host mode for our unexpected lodgers, feeding them and entertaining them for the entire summer without complaints – well at least none that were audible. 

Although this is an extreme example of mi casa es su casa, hospitality is a big deal in Islam, just as it is in many other cultures and faith traditions. 

Guests are a sacred blessing, and they complete a triangle between guest, host and God. Hospitality is an act of faith, an intimate experience that isn’t limited to those you know, but extended to those you don’t know. A poor traveller who seeks shelter isn’t seen as a stranger or an outsider, they are an honoured guest who brings with them a suitcase full of blessings. 

Fourteen centuries ago, a poor Muslim couple who were companions of Prophet Muhammad, welcomed a hungry traveller into their home even though they had very little to eat for themselves. While the traveller gratefully ate his fill, the couple pretended to eat, obscured by the dim candlelight. 

This account of a poor couple’s generosity strikes me to the core. In our modernised world, we are more connected technologically than ever before, but there is still a loss of signal between our hearts. Yet I have faith that the spirit of hospitality is one sure way of building the best of networks that human beings can offer each other. (Just don’t stay for 8 weeks).