Hospitality and Islam

Welcoming in God's Name

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Mona Siddiqui
  • New Haven, CT: 
    Yale University Press
    , December
     2015.
     288 pages.
     $38.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780300211863.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

While modern Muslim theological literature is relatively limited, it is without question growing. Mona Siddiqui’s book Hospitality and Islam: Welcoming in God’s Name is a welcome addition to this important body of scholarship on two counts. First, it addresses a significant lacuna in Islamic theology. The concept of hospitality, best equated with ḍiyāfa in Arabic, is a virtue or principle that is often overlooked in surveys of the intellectual and religious traditions of Islam. Admirably, this book provides this much needed study and does so in a thorough and wide-ranging manner. Second, the book is indeed a theological work. A study of hospitality within Islam could easily be approached from any number of methodological or analytical approaches, but Siddiqui’s contribution is concerned first and foremost with “the theological underpinnings of this concept” (7). Perhaps the greatest strength of the book, however, is that it is not only a study of hospitality within the Islamic tradition, but is rather decidedly comparative. Throughout the book, Siddiqui is keen to situate Muslim conceptions of hospitality alongside readings offered by Christian theologians, classical thinkers, and modern Western philosophers and ethicists. The reader is as much exposed to Christian notions of hospitality as Islamic ones.

Hospitality and Islam consists of an introduction and five chapters, each of which is aimed at exploring how a different dimension of the Islamic tradition engages with conceptions of hospitality. Accordingly, the introduction sets the stage for the rest of the book through its immediate engagement with a range of intellectual and religious traditions. Nonetheless, the author clarifies her focus on Islam, stating that the book “look[s] at the Qurʾān and other areas of Islamic thought to trace signs and words of hospitality which are both actions and exhortations to establishing more generous and giving relationship” (12). Then, with chapter one, “Scriptural Reflections on Hospitality,” Siddiqui turns to the source texts of Islam. The chapter opens with the centrally-important narrative of Abraham and his honored guests, the angelic visitors, as conveyed by Q. 51:24-30 and Genesis 18:1-10, before moving to other scriptural attestations. Admirably, the chapter also spends time examining the hadith literature, which is too often overlooked in scholarly treatments given the field’s general privileging of the Qur’an.

The following chapters move beyond scripture to consider the broader Islamic tradition. In chapter two, “Ghazālī and Others on Hospitality,” Siddiqui opens with an engrossing meditation on food and the pleasures associated with it as they relate to hosting and hospitality. She effortlessly guides the reader from an early nineteenth-century French gourmand to a thirteenth-century Arab cookbook to ancient Greek customs and Christian attitudes to eating and food to the Qur’anic worldview, all in order to introduce the contribution of the medieval Muslim theologian al-Ghazālī and his text “Manners Relating to Eating,” found in his magnum opus Revival of the Religious Sciences. Siddiqui provides a wealth of information that is thoughtfully arranged to bring out important concepts such as the relationship of food to fasting, and the ethics of hosting and the rights of the guest. In chapter three, “Divine Hospitality,” the focus shifts to the example of hospitality evinced by God and conveyed by visions of the Islamic afterworld. While the thread of analysis remains scripturally anchored, Siddiqui also brings into consideration how the Sufi sages of the Islamic mystical tradition interpreted the divine model.

In chapter four, “Men, Women and Relationships of Hospitality,” Siddiqui begins with the primordial relationship of Adam and Eve as a means of examining the theme delineated by the chapter title. The analysis benefits from a critical discussion of the work of several prominent Muslim feminists such as Riffat Hassan and Amina Wadud. Hospitality becomes the lens through which Muslim feminist frameworks are examined alongside their Western analogues, both Christian and otherwise. The concluding fifth chapter, “Personal Reflections on Hospitality,” marks an important shift in the book. While the voice of the author is expressed in every chapter, the first-person voice takes center stage as Siddiqui offers her personal theological ruminations on hospitality as it relates to notions of the stranger, the fellow citizen, the neighbor, and so forth. From beginning to end, the book hangs together remarkably well on both a thematic and narrative level. Moreover, to the credit of the author, the text is incredibly accessible for readers new to Islamic theology. Despite the wide range of complex ideas and subtle thinkers that are covered within, the reader is guided with deftness and aplomb. Siddiqui’s work on hospitality will remain a central and definitive starting point on the subject for years to come.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Martin Nguyen is Associate Professor of Islamic Religious Traditions at Fairfield University.

Date of Review: 
June 30, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Mona Siddiqui, OBE, is professor of Islamic and interreligious studies at the University of Edinburgh's Divinity School.

Keywords: 

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