On Monday 10 October 2016 at the Novotel Parramatta, Professor Mona Siddiqui, an internationally renowned public intellectual and speaker on issues around religion, ethics and public life, delivered a public lecture, titled: Hospitality & Inter-Religious Witness. Professor Mona is a regular commentator in the media, known especially for her appearances on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Ought for the Day’. She chairs the BBC’s Religious Advisory Committee in Scotland and during 2016 was chair of the Scotland `Stronger In’ pro-Europe campaign.
On this night, her speech had a strong, enriching effect on the audience as she shared her thoughts and personal experiences on the dynamics of hospitality. Key ‘hospitality’ moments in her life transformed her, she expressed, in particular a touching story in Egypt, where an act of hospitality moved her deeply and still today has left its marks. ‘The act and attitude of generosity of the spirit of hospitality is what defines humanity’.
Recent world events and the refugee crisis has made everyone rethink what is hospitality, she explained, adding that hospitality is about crossing boundaries and taking risks in a global world. Many ethical questions about the right to hospitality remain for deep introspection and discussion.
Professor Mona believes, at the simplest level, hospitality is a virtue in all monotheistic religions. Who can forget the powerful story of Abraham’s hospitality, who hosted three visitors (angels). The theology of hospitality has also found its way in interfaith, she went on to explore.
In Islam, she discussed how hospitality lies at the basis of the faith and is rooted deeply in Islamic traditions. The Prophet (pbuh) taught there is no good in someone who has no hospitality.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, the Bedouins knew that hospitality was the most noble character trait, something that was fundamental to the desert environment, and to refuse someone was to let them die. Interestingly, she also noted there is no word for stranger in the Quran.
Hospitality is the duty towards others, Professor Mona explained, adding there are many commandments about it. ‘We must be generous as God is generous. The goal of hospitality is not pleasure, it’s an act that demands transformation of the self towards goodness and grace and this is how God wants us to be. Hospitality is a sign of God’s grace, a sacred duty, we are all guest of Allah’s hospitality, so our hospitality is a sign of our love towards Allah’, she expressed.
In today’s world there is a hospitality deficit driven by self-interest – we know the life story of a homeless person in a third world country, but know nothing about the elderly lady two doors down, she stated. Moreover, the idea that a stranger is due hospitality is often neglected in modern times, yet hospitality develops our social conscious, expands our wealth and cultivates relationships, she believes. Forgiveness, in her view, is the most important part of hospitality today, to nurture reconciliation and healing in the world.