Hospitality for the King
On a sunny Sunday in spring, we took the visiting preacher for a walk in Leicestershire.
We saw some women and children taking pictures of each other, so I offered to take a picture of the entire group. As we chatted, they told me that they were Kurdish from Iraq, then invited us to their picnic site. When we arrived, they offered us cold drinks and fresh kiwis to eat.
I enjoy visiting with Muslims, particularly those from the Arab world. A popular greeting is Ahlan wa sahlan, which translates as ‘My lands and my people are here for you’. A far cry from ‘nice to meet you’. Having studied Arabic in Jordan and Egypt, I revel in its richness and close proximity to biblical language and culture.
One of the highest virtues among Arab world Muslims is hospitality. Islam emerged from the Bedouin, who place great emphasis on hospitality. Bedouins will take you in, whoever you are, and offer you food and shelter. This reminds me of Abraham, who welcomed the strangers: ‘Let a little water be brought and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way’ (Genesis 18.4-5).
The blessing of giving hospitality is emphasised elsewhere in the Scriptures. In the letter to the Hebrews, we read: ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers …’ (Hebrews13.2), where Abraham’s actions are remembered. Martha ‘opened her home’ (Luke 10.38) to Jesus and was busy preparing ‘many things’ while sister Mary ‘sat at Jesus’s feet’. He taught them an important lesson that day. In the Book of Revelation, we read that Jesus invites each of us to open the door, so that he can come in and eat with us and we with him.
Shelter in a storm
When I lived in Jordan, several of us were travelling one day in the desert. Near a Crusader castle, we saw a dust storm rolling towards us. We took shelter in a Bedouin tent, at the invitation of its inhabitants. From a bowl of dusty water they scooped out two glasses, into which they poured steaming sugary tea from the blackened pot nestled in some glowing coals.
As language students we learnt much about the famous Arab hospitality. Walking home from our studies, we were invited into several homes every day. When we did go in, we were welcomed with chants of Ahlan wa sahlan and ushered to the best seats. If the tea was hot, we were offered a glassful. If not, we were plied with soft drinks or squash.
Hospitality to Muslims in the UK can be a great way of opening the door to the gospel. My husband and I had a lovely opportunity at Christmas time to read Luke’s account of the incarnation with a North African family in our home. We read the English version and then the Arab husband read out the Arabic. Perhaps through loving hospitality you can share the good news of Christ the Saviour too. After all, it is ‘good news of great joy that will be for all the people’ — so Muslims need to hear too.