A Reflection from Imam Yahya Pallavicini
To witness the divine uniqueness to our contemporary humanity is equivalent to freeing people from slavery and idolatry, and from the crisis of having forgotten God. It is necessary to lift up grace and the spiritual presence of God, and to learn to discover or rediscover the very nature and function of man on the earth. As we were taught by our master, shaykh Ahmad Ibn Idris al Hasani al Fasi: “we are in transit in this world.”
In this context, dialogue between believers and religious authorities takes on a new responsibility, a mission to safeguard the essence and the reason of the sacredness of the lives of both men and women with regards to the noble handling of God’s creation.
One of these common and shared actions is represented by the tradition of sacred hospitality. Who is the subject of hospitality and who is the object? Can being welcoming be synonymous with spiritual brotherhood without falling into ceremonies or sentimentalisms or opportunisms?
Our Guests brought to Abraham the good news. They said, “Peace.” “Peace,” he answered, and was not slow in bringing a roasted calf. But when he saw that they did not touch it, he became suspicious and fearful. They said: “do not be afraid, we have been sent to the people of Lot.” His wife was standing near him, and laughed, and so we gave her the good news of Isaac, and of Jacob after Isaac. “Woe to me,” she said. “Will I have a son when I am old and barren and my lord is old? A strange thing, indeed” – “Are you astonished by God’s command?” they asked her. “May God’s mercy and benediction be with you, people of this house, He is worthy of praise, worthy of glory”. (Coran: XI, 69-73)
In this annunciation that the angels address to Sarah, first wife of Abraham, which is revealed to us in the Islamic tradition, we can rediscover common roots with Jews and Christians. First, there is the root of prophecy and of the family of the patriarch of monotheism, Abraham, from whom all our religious families derive. Then there is a reference to the presence and visits of angelic spirits which is an integral part of our doctrine, lives and rituals.
We find the traditional greeting of Peace, the amazement of the faithful facing the miracle of God, the offspring and retransmission of the prophets, the benediction of the house. And all of this is part of the hospitality that the prophet Abraham offers to his unknown visitors, to some travelers of whom he ignores the place of provenance and of destination and the reason for their coming, to these creatures he extends hospitality. Abraham treats three angelic figures like guests.
According to the interpretation of the Islamic teachers, the prophet Abraham, who is entitled khalil Allah (friend of God) receives in this very circumstance the state of intimate friendship which is symbolically synthesized by the exchange of Peace between angels and prophets.
This peace is not as “the world can give” but is the manifestation of the presence of the Peacemaker even on the earth and among the believers who dispose themselves to become guests and hosts of the peace of the Spirit. The symbol of the calf offered in sacrifice by Abraham to his guests has a deep correspondence with the sacrifice that every faithful person can find and honor in his own religious tradition, and it means offering that which is most precious in order to welcome a guest or to love the Beloved.
Hospitality (al-diyafa) in the Islamic tradition has assumed a duty for those who offer it and a right for those who receive it, and it is part of the noble aspects of the believer who follows the example of prophets, saints and teachers. Some of these teachers, like the Coran-commentator al-Qushayri, or the shaykh al-akbar Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi find in Abraham the model of perfect hospitality, as a consequence of his privileged friendship with God.
God’s friend, Abraham, knew how to teach Hebrews, Christians and Muslims how to extend hospitality to angels, to the family of prophets, to religious communities and to all creatures, living, transmitting and vouchsafing the secret of God’s hospitality for him and for all of us. This secret reveals itself in the extreme abnegation of the faithful and in the plenteous generosity of the Creator when He distributes His favors (al-Razzaq) to the people who welcome Him.
Abraham himself did not recognize at once the spiritual nature of his guests, but only when he saw that they did not take his food – declining his hospitality – and felt fear. In the same way, his wife Sarah could not see her future maternity while she saw herself only according to the natural perception.
It is for us as well, like Abraham and Sarah, to see ourselves and our brothers for what we truly are, according to divine nature, and not only according to the temporary and physical semblance. To see how Abraham and Sarah were able to witness God’s friendship and the angels who blessed the house and the family signifies to us Muslims rediscovering the traditional hospitality in the spiritual brotherhood with other teachers and believers in the One God. Inter-religious dialogue is not a conventional exchange of good intentions or working programs, but represents the precious fraternal verification of the internal and external conversation of the believer with his Lord. On the outside solidarity, hospitality and cooperation can be seen. On the inside it is charity, prayer and God’s remembrance that come into being.
- What is the role of religious figures in this emerging refugee crisis?
- In the Old Testament and in the Curan, what lessons about welcoming and hospitality are shown?
- Does it make a difference whether one is Christian or Muslim for them to receive a warm welcome?
About the Author
Yahya Sergio Yahe Pallavicini was born in 1965. He is the imam of the al-Wahid mosque in Milan and vice-president of the Italian Co.re.is (Comunità religiosa islamica). He is among the founders of the committee of imam, rabbis and christians for peace established by UNESCO, as well as counselor for the relations with the Vatican and Italy of the 138 Muslim international sages who signed the document “A Common Word.” He is an advisor of the Italian Ministry of Interior in the Italian Advisory Committee on Islam, and Chair of the ISESCO Council for Education and Culture in the West. He gives lectures and organizes seminars on Islam at Italian and foreign universities, and he bears witness to a spiritual, orthodox and ecumenical Islam.