The etiquettes of visiting – how to be a good guest
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to teach his companions the etiquettes of everything: eating, drinking, sleeping, walking, talking, transactions, the list is endless, even the salah has etiquettes. One of the eitquettes he taught, are the etiquettes of visiting, or adab az-ziyarah in Arabic.
What is your intention when you visit someone? Before you visit anyone, consider why are you visiting them, as intention is the most important component of any action. As per the very famous hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) actions are rewarded based on the intention behind them. Therefore, we have to correct our intention before going to visit someone if we want that action to be rewarded. Otherwise it is a mundane act, which will not necessarily be rewarded. With the right intention, however, we can reap huge rewards for visiting people.
Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said:
وعنه قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم :”أن رجلاً زار أخًا له في قريةٍ أخرى، فأرصد الله له على مدرجته ملكاً” وذكر الحديث إلى قوله: ”إن الله قد أحبك كما أحببته فيه” ((رواه مسلم، وقد سبق بالباب قبله)).
“A man set out to visit a brother (in Faith) in another town and Allah sent an angel on his way. When the man met the angel, the latter asked him, “Where do you intend to go?” He said, “I intend to visit my brother in this town”. The angel said, “Have you done any favour to him?” He said, “No, I have no desire except to visit him because I love him for the sake of Allah, the Exalted, and Glorious.” Thereupon the angel said, “I am a messenger to you from Allah (to inform you) that Allah loves you as you love him (for His sake)”. [Muslim]
It’s a very beautiful hadith narrated in Sahih Muslim and other books of the sunnah, authentic hadith. It shows the importance of intention, as Allah sent an angel to tell this man that Allah loved him for doing this for His sake. It is a pure act of charity for Allah’s sake to visit someone to bring pleasure to them. It could be a sick person, a friend, a relative, a teacher, or anyone whom you know. Before paying anyone a visit train yourself to have the right intention. It is mentioned that some students were asking their teacher why he did not visit one of friends or colleagues and he replied that he was lacking the right intention. Once he set his intention, he would go.
Fix a time
If you want to visit someone, do not just turn up at his door, without an appointment especially in this day and age when it is easy to arrange a meeting over the phone or by messaging. Make an appointment that suits you and them, but more importantly which is convenient for them, as they are hosting you. Once you have fixed a date, be sure to keep your appointment. Some people say they will visit you at a certain time, when they never had the intention of coming. It is rude especially as the other person will be waiting for you. This is sinful as you made a commitment to visit them, but your intention was to break your word. Anyone who breaks their the promise is sinful.
How to knock on the door
When you arrive, you need to find a parking space – find somewhere where you don’t get a ticket or block anyone’s drive. It is not good to park badly or obstruct people. Then you need to knock on the door. Do not know loudly or repeatedly, as it can scare those who are at home. I used to have a postman who regularly delivered mail to us but he would keep knocking on the door as though it was an emergency and someone was dying. The correct etiquette is to knock gently on the door. The Companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to knock on his door with the tips of their nails. The scholars commented on this is fine if this knocking can be heard, for instance if they are near the door and can hear it easily, but if the sitting room is far from the door, there is nothing wrong in knocking a bit louder. However the knock should not be heavy. Of course, if there is a bell you can ring it. However some people ring the doorbell repeatedly.
Once you have rung the bell or knocked, the Sunnah is to wait. You should leave a gap between the first ring and the second ring. You’re allowed to knock three times. If you knocked 3 times and no one answered, the Sunnah is to leave without being angry or upset.
How long to wait for an answer
How long should you leave been rings? Scholars said it should be the length of time it takes to perform 4 rakahs, as it might be that the moment you knocked on the door they started praying their salah. So do not rush them, wait the space of 4 rakahs. Or it might be that they are doing wudu. Imagine how long it would take to finish wudu, or come out of the bathroom.
What if there is no answer?
If they don’t open the door after three attempts, then leave, even if you had an appointment. This is the Sunnah, because you cannot see what is going one, and they might have some unforeseen circumstances or emergency, so they couldn’t receive you.
“O you who believe! enter not houses other than your own, until you have asked permission and saluted those in them: that is best for you, in order that you may heed (what is seemly). If you find no one in the house, enter not until permission is given to you: if you are asked to go back, go back: that makes for greater purity for yourselves: and Allah knows well all that ye do.” [24:27-28]
Do not be upset, but make allowances for them. Rather than feeling insulted, the default position of a believer is never to assume the worst case scenario – that they deliberately wanted to humiliate you. This are shaytanic thoughts. It is better to think that something urgent has come up and they couldn’t receive you because of that. Always make the right excuse for your brother and sister.
Sometimes people won’t be able to tell you why they could not receive you, it may be a private matter that they do not want to divulge to friends or family. Be careful not to think badly about them. If you had an emergency and you couldn’t receive someone, your intention would be to welcome them with kindness and generosity, but if you have some emergency your guest has to appreciate that you have a good reason. If they did not, they will bear the sin of breaking their promise. You did your end, by being punctual, and turning up as arranged.
How to stand at the door
Don’t face the door. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to stand on the side of the door. He did not stand with his back to the door, as people do citing that it is the Sunnah. This is not the Sunnah. If I can see that someone is standing with their back in my doorway, I will not open the door. I want to see who is outside. When you stand to one side, it allows the host to see who’s knocking without them looking straight into their home. This protects their privacy. They may have family members who are not dressed to receive you – ladies who are no wearing their hijab. Do not look through the letterbox and shout ‘Hello!’ This is sneaking into people’s houses, which is haram. Looking at people’s houses is like invading their privacy.
Knock, knock. Who’s there?
After knocking, your host came may ask who is there. The Sunnah is to say your name fully, so that it is well known to them. Don’t say, ‘It’s me.’ This is not the Sunnah. Once Jabir knocked on the door of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) asked him who it was. Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him) said “It’s me”. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) disliked that. He said “Me, me?!” Instead of that, say your full name. Once another Companion, Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) was walking under the shade of the moonlight and he saw Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), but he didn’t want to disturb him so he walked behind him. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) felt that someone was behind him, so he called out, “Who’s there?” Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) responded “Abu Dharr”. He didn’t say “It’s a surprise!’ Or ‘It’s me!’ etc” Some people are pranksters but pranks do not always make people happy, they can be painful. Don’t assume that they will recognise your voice, as many people have similar voices and may be hard to identify from a distance or behind a door. They may think you are someone else and then get a shock. It ca be problematic, so better to say who you really are.
Unfortunately it’s a very common practice in the Muslim community to disregard time. People state a time, when they have no intention of reaching at that time. Yet the sunnah is to fulfil your promise, and be punctual. In reality, our events, weddings, celebrations always run late – start late and finish late. You tell people to arrive at 6pm but they turn up at 9pm. The time-keeping is so bad, that the hosts invite people hours before they want them to arrive, assuming that they will be late. Yet the very same people will be bang on time when it concerns money or other appointments. If someone does not respect their appointments, I do not respect them, as they have wasted my time. Being punctual is part of fulfilling promises.
When you are arranging a time to visit, do not give a slot, give a specific time. Rather than saying, you will arrive between 5pm and 6pm, say 6pm and then be there for 6pm, as Allah Almighty has taught us to fulfil our promises in many verses of the Quran.
For instance, in Surat Muminoon, Allah Almighty praises those who keep their promises and fulfilling their trusts:
وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ عَلَى صَلَوتِهِمْ يُحَـفِظُونَ- أُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الْورِثُونَ- الَّذِينَ يَرِثُونَ الْفِرْدَوْسَ هُمْ فِيهَا خَـلِدُونَ-
Those who are faithfully true to their Amanat and to their covenants are Raun. [23:8]
Lower your gaze
When the door has been opened for you what do you do next? Don’t enter and start scanning the house, staring at all the contents, craning your neck to see what’s in the corners, instead lower your gaze and follow your host to where he would like you to go. If he asks you to move to a different room or chair, don’t object and say “No, I’m comfortable here” or “Why don’t we sit in that room?” It’s not your place to say this. He will have his reasons for putting you where he chooses – there may be parts of the house he does not want you to see, or he may want to protect the privacy of other family members in the house. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to instruct the companions not to sneak or peek into people’s houses.
Taking off your shoes
When you enter the house, it is from the etiquettes of Muslims that we remove our shoes. Unless the host tells us not to. It is from the sunnah to take off your shoes: left foot first, then the right. When you put them on, put on the right shoe, then the left. This is from the Sunnah.
Entering the house
When you enter, greet your host with the salam. Your host should reply to the salam with a smile on his face, as these are the etiquettes of receiving or greeting. Do it with a smile on your face, and with love from your heart as this will foster good relationships and warmth. Check your shoes before you enter. If there’s some filth or dirt, etc. make sure to clean before you enter. You don’t want to bring filth into their home, and Islam teaches us cleanliness.
From the Sunnah we see that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) received a guest and gave him a cushion to sit on, seating his own self on the floor. The man refused and insisted he would take the floor but Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) insisted that he take the cushion. In this situation, do what your host says, do not argue. He is the host and he wants to be kind and generous, so take what he is offering you. Moreover, do not sit in the host’s place. For instance, he might have a favourite chair – it’s his chair, and he always sits in it, so don’t sit there without his permission. This is what Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) says in the hadith – do not sit in the dedicated place of the host unless he has given you permission.
Also, do not lead the prayer in his house, unless he wants you to. Even if you are the most knowledgeable person, without his permission you should not lead the salah. These are the etiquettes from the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Bringing a gift
A common etiquette is to bring a gift for your host. Whether it is a box of chocolates or something else. Be careful to check the ingredients and not bring chocolates which contain alcohol. I was once given a box of chocolates by a very practicing and knowledgeable person, but when I popped one in my mouth, I instantly tasted bitterness and spat it out and rinsed my mouth. I checked the ingredients and discovered they had alcohol in them!
Take a small gift, just something symbolic, it does not have to be very expensive, as it’s just a gesture. I used to take to my hosts books, as a book is much more valuable than flowers which will whither away in a few days, or chocolates which will get eaten and disappear. Even for the sick, books make a special gift – especially when they are books of hadith, or tafsir. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“Exchange gifts it fosters love among you.”
Don’t be nosy
When you are in your host’s home, and especially if you are spending the night and have been given a room, don’t rifle through their drawers and poke your nose in their cupboards. These are his/her private things. Lower your gaze and do not go through their things. It is an amanah (trust), so don’t breach their trust. Imagine if they opened the door and found you searching through their things and trying to open locked cabinets.
How long should you stay?
We used to have a friend, bless him, who had no concept of time. He would arrive and then not leave for hours and hours. We would have things to do but we would be too polite to ask him to leave. Make your visit a light visit – don’t overstay your welcome. Of course it’s useful to use techniques with burdensome visitors. You might give them a hint that it is time to go by saying, ‘Mashallah your visit was nice, we hope to see you next time’. Of course, you would not do this soon after they arrive, but after it has been a few hours, you may wish to get reclaim your time and space. It may even be the case that your family is couped up do, and you might have a very small house.
It is not polite for the host to boot out their guest, but a person of understanding would not stay for hours, especially if they are visiting a sick person. For a sick person, keep your visit short – even 5-10min is enough, then take your leave. They may want to sleep, or have things to do. Unless it is a very dear friend and they asked you stay. If you are being visited and your guest’s visit is making you tired, it is perfectly reasonable to politely let them know that you are tired and need to rest.
Do not visit at lunch or dinner time as this will be a burden for them, unless they deliberately invited you for a meal. Be sensible and do not choose a time when they should be resting, for instance if it is their time of rest or past isha.
How to sit
Do we have etiquette of sitting? Yes. Some people might come and sit in a way which is inappropriate. No, you shouldn’t sit like this, you should sit with adab. For instance, instead of sitting on the chair with your feet on the floor, people put their feet on the chair. But this is disrespectful. Unless you’re sitting on the floor that’s a different story.
Do we have etiquettes of conversation? Yes, of course. Say something that will bring joy to their hearts. Don’t be rude or make comments that will upset them. I have some guests who start criticising me and my home from the moment they walk through the door. Allah Almighty says in this Quran:
Say what is best to the people.
This means we have been commanded to choose the right thing to say as Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) says:
A good word is a charity.
You may not like the décor, but it’s not your choice. Some people can make stingingly harsh comments even though they don’t have hard feelings, because they express whatever comes into their head without considering other people’s feelings. However, this is against the Sunnah, so be careful what you say and how you say it.
A conversation is not a monologue
Don’t make yourself the centre of the attention. Some people monopolise the conversation, they don’t give others the chance to speak because they speak non-stop. I have some friends like this. They are nice people, but from the first minute to the last minute, you’ll be lucky if they allow you say more than a couple of words. This is disrespectful. You should give people the opportunity to speak, to ask, to comment.
A conversation is an exchange of thoughts not a monologue or a lecture. You should recognise if you are speaking too much, not allowing others to speak, always interjecting and interrupting others. If you do not, people will hate your company, because you make the whole conversation about you. However it is not about you, it’s about the group of people you’re meeting. If only you speak, everyone knows everything about you, but nothing about anyone else.
By contrast, do not make people uncomfortable by prying and probing into their affairs. They should not feel they are being interrogated. And if you are on the receiving end of an inquisition, then do not feel pressurised to say more than you want to.
It is a cultural practice that people, having taken their leave, do not actually leave! When it is time to go, wrap up the conversation, gather your belongings and go!
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Al Manaar New Muslim Group 18th October 2022
Based on the book “The Etiquettes of Islam” by Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah.
Transcribed by S Jawaid
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