I’ve personally never been to the Middle East but I have always heard about their hospitality and how welcoming they are to everyone in their home, even if it’s a stranger. It seems that America has recently gotten a bad reputation for our hospitality and I wanted to see what the comparison would be like. I’m not saying that we’re rude to our guests here in the U.S. but we definitely, for the most part, do not make a huge attempt to invite new faces and strangers into our homes. Amal Barkouki-Winter, of Santa Clara University wrote an interesting article that examines why Middle Eastern hospitality is so well known and held at a high regard.
Barkouki begins by describing how a traditional meal with guests is set up in a Middle Eastern home. He talks about the varieties of food and the preparation of two meals to ensure that every guest is satisfied. After describing the plethora of food provided, Barkouki begins to analyze the source of Middle Eastern hospitality, which can be traced to writings from the Quran and the Torah. This didn’t surprise me seeing as religion plays a huge part in their culture; however, the direct references from the Quran and Torah are very explanatory of the psychological reasoning behind the hospitality. His beginning references are to (Genesis 18:3–5) when Abraham welcomes three strangers in danger of being raped by Sodomites into his home for a bath and food. He prepares a huge meal for them and after showing his kindness; the strangers reveal that they are in fact angels with the message that Sarah, Abraham’s wife, will bear him a child. This story relates the significance of welcoming strangers into your home. Abraham offered food to people he had never met and was willing to wash their feet; that alone shows a great deal of humility. The Quran and Torah emphasize the importance of welcoming strangers as guests into your home many times and is evident in this quote by Barkouki: “The hospitality relationship is triangular, including host, stranger, and God. Sustenance is a right rather than a gift, and the duty to supply it is a duty to God, not to the stranger.” Some scholars even believe that hospitality is held to be more important than prayer. This is believed from what Abraham says upon welcoming his guests: “My Lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, pass not away from your servant,” which suggests that Abraham was more focused on pleasing his guests as apposed to focusing on god himself. Others also believe that this quote does not suggest this and that Abraham was not talking to god, though it is interesting nonetheless.
Barkouki also talks about social implications for hospitality. While a host must be gracious, the guest must return the favor. If a person of “higher rank” agrees to break bread with a person below them, they are implying that they respect that person on at least a basic enough level to share the same food with them. Rejection of an invitation to a meal is generally regarded as a lack of acknowledgement that the host is of equal or worthy status to socialize with. Barkouki closes the article with an analysis of American hospitality. His main points are that we as a society happily entertain family and friends with the aspirations to strengthen relationships with those people; however, we tend to be more monetary in our approach to strangers instead of personal. I would agree with that opinion and I think that we are definitely more focused on maintaining our circle of trusted people, for reasons I’m not sure of. Why do you think we behave in this manner? Would you want to change it?
A writer by the name of John Koenig, has a moving take on the issue that is captured in this quote from his book New Testament Hospitality: “According to this tradition, which has virtually disappeared from contemporary Western culture, hospitality is seen as one of the pillars of morality upon which the universe stands. When guests or hosts violate the obligations to each other, the whole world shakes and retribution follows.”