Hospitality as absolute responsibility

Today, hospitality primarily provides refuge. It is no longer an act of spirituality.
"The importance of listening to one another is one of the foundational concepts of hospitality." [Representational Graphic]
"The importance of listening to one another is one of the foundational concepts of hospitality." [Representational Graphic]creazilla [Creative Commons]


Communities have consistently extended hospitality to outsiders throughout human history. Until the advent of widespread travel and commercialism, showing guests hospitality was a moral imperative in all human contexts.

However, these developments somehow corrupted the idea of hospitality as a non-reciprocal responsibility. There is no longer the same moral imperative in these communities to extend hospitality to the foreigner.

However, the commercial hospitality offered within them could benefit much from these old social obligations and settings in order to comprehend and meet client expectations and create a welcoming environment.

The primary indicator of hospitality, aside from the provision of food, beverages, or other resources, is the sharing of one’s own space, or dwelling, with the other.

However, this sharing of one’s space and resources with the other should not involve any kind of totalisation of the other. The host has always taken seriously the job of ensuring the guest’s safety.

Hospitality is a form of harbour, and hosts ensure that their guests experience no harm or loss while they are staying at their place. The traditional or monastic hospitality of premodern eras is even the primary precursor to the modern commercial hospitality or hotels.

It is comparable to bogus and false hospitality when hospitality is of a nature that is controlled by the host. The other must be unrecognisable and unpredictable, and the host must lack all control and power when confronted by the visitor.

The ability to foresee one’s guests and to envision and try to conjure about them eventually culminates in a type of hospitality that puts power narratives into play and is therefore not what is meant by “true hospitality.” The instant the other is classified as a refugee, an asylum seeker, a migrant, a pilgrim, a monk, or a traveller, the hospitality is immediately conditioned.

The importance of listening to one another is one of the foundational concepts of hospitality. The first manifestations of hospitality in the entire act are through touch and taste. The foundation of hospitality is the exilic state of humanity.

Anyone who has known the absence of home can extend hospitality. After experiencing some antagonism with a group of individuals, hospitality takes on greater value. It is a spiritual gesture that includes both giving and receiving.

Today, hospitality primarily provides refuge. It is no longer an act of spirituality. Being hospitable is more of an experience than a simple idea.  Conditions for visitors, however, raise the question of whether such behaviour counts as genuine hospitality or not.

Treanor believes that providing hospitality to a guest beyond what is necessary to them, or the overstaying of a guest, is a violation of the laws and regulations of hospitality.

It cannot last for a very long time since interactions throughout that time may turn strangers into friends, and friends cannot just disappear and hospitality would no longer be in place.

The primary goal of the entire act of hospitality is to acknowledge and give attention to a stranger. Attending to a guest primarily involves listening. The doors are fully opened when one listens with heart and shows the visitor through the phenomenon of listening that they are being carefully listened to.

The act of recognising a guest is to openly greet them without making any inquiries or requests. A proper acceptance of the guest is only feasible if there are no signs of dismissal, rejection, or irritation and the host is polite and friendly enough to make the visitor feel welcome.

If at any point during the entire act of hospitality, the stranger’s strangeness or the other’s otherness is compromised or totalised, the hospitality may lose its meaning.

The act of hospitality assumes a special significance in Muslim communities throughout the world as we celebrated Eid ul Fitr just days back. It was time when loved ones get together with friends and neighbours to enjoy a meal, give and receive presents, and give thanks for the benefits of the previous month of Ramadan.

However, this is more than simply a social custom; it is an essential manifestation of Islamic beliefs, which are founded on the virtues of charity, kindness, and social justice.

On such occasions, hospitality can take many different forms, such as hosting a feast for family, friends, and neighbours or giving presents and sweets to others. This act of kindness and giving not only serves to show thanks but also to fortify social bonds and promote intergroup harmony.

Furthermore, such occasion as Eid urge people to share their benefits with others and to be conscious of those who may be less fortunate, which embodies the Islamic tenet of social justice. This is how IT serves as a reminder of the value of kindness and empathy towards others, especially those who are in need.

The practice of generosity and compassion towards others without any specific purpose or reward in mind is one method to be hospitable without expecting reciprocity. Small gestures like giving someone in need a smile, a kind word, or a helping hand can accomplish this. Even small deeds of kindness may make a big difference in the lives of others and foster a sense of connection and community.

Create an environment that is friendly and inclusive for others as another way to be hospitable without asking anything in return. This may be accomplished by fostering an environment of openness and acceptance and by showing respect for and consideration for the needs and preferences of others. This may entail being aware of the religious and cultural origins of people and making an attempt to respect their needs and preferences.

It is critical to address situations when hospitality is extended out of a sense of obligation with empathy and compassion. This may entail being considerate of other people’s wants and worries and trying to create a welcoming environment for them. This can be especially crucial in cases when people may be facing problems or obstacles, such as with refugees or those who are homeless.

The idea of hospitality was emphasised by Emmanuel Levinas, a French philosopher well-known for his writings on ethics and responsibility, as a basic ethical responsibility towards the Other.

According to Levinas, there is a stark imbalance in the ethical connection between the self and the Other. The self has a basic obligation to the Other, which results from the Other’s mere being. On the notion that the Other is a special and irreplaceable person whose existence necessitates an ethical response from the self, this ethical obligation, which he refers to as "the face-to-face encounter," is predicated.

According to Levinas, hospitality is a tangible example of this ethical obligation to the Other. It entails opening one’s house to the Other, providing them with food and shelter, and treating them with dignity. However, it also extends beyond these traditional definitions of hospitality to encompass a wider sense of openness and responsiveness to the needs and presence of the Other.

According to Levinas, showing hospitality is a responsibility that stems from the basic nature of human being rather than just being a question of manners or social practise. We embrace the basic interconnectivity of all humans by embracing the Other into our lives and respecting their distinctive character.

In addition to celebrating occasions like Eid with our family and friends, it is important to remember our responsibility to extend our hospitality beyond our immediate circle. We should make an effort to reach out to our neighbors and acquaintances, and share our blessings with those who may be outsiders staying in isolation near our village or area, without access to basic necessities except through begging.

Moreover,  it is essential to keep in mind the value of humility and moderation in all aspects of our lives. Let us wear clothes that are simple and modest, rather than extravagant and ostentatious, to show solidarity with all those who are suffering in the world.

Hospitality during such occasion as Eid is not only a social custom, but also a crucial expression of Islamic principles. It fosters a sense of community and promotes harmony among individuals. By sharing our blessings with others and keeping in mind those who may be less fortunate, we exemplify the Islamic tenet of social justice.

Performing small acts of kindness, welcoming others with open arms, and empathetically addressing their problems are all ways to practice hospitality without expecting anything in return. As philosopher Emmanuel Levinas reminds us, showing hospitality to others is a fundamental ethical duty that recognizes the individuality and interconnectivity of every person.

The occasion like Eid provide an opportunity for moral reflection and a reminder of the value of gratitude, generosity, and compassion towards all people. Let us use this occasion to work towards making the world a more welcoming and kinder place.

Peerzada Muneer, Senior Research Fellow, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi and can be reached at:

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Greater Kashmir