Almas Assar rises at 3 a.m. on Ashura, the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram, to soak rice. Her best friend is visiting from DC to help with the giant task that lies ahead. Together, these ladies will cook rice and Gheimeh, a popular persian stew, for 400 people over the course of the day. “I do this for the love of Imam Husayn. My back, my knees usually hurt. But when there is this kind of love in your heart, your forget your pain.” Ms. Yazdi’s eyes are soft and a sweet smile is spread across her face. She quietly recites poetry and prayers as she crushes threads of saffron with a large mortar and pestle.
At a time when fear of the stranger is encouraged by our current administration and neighbors are cast as “others”, Be My Guest is a growing collection of images that seeks to counter this sentiment by shedding light on the sacred practice of honoring and taking care of those in our company. Why is there such an emphasis in the Qur’an on hosting travelers, orphans and kin? Why are we urged to put the needs of others before ourselves? In her article, “Divine Welcome: The Ethics of Hospitality in Islam and Christianity,” Mona Siddiqui says,
it’s important to recognise that hospitality is fundamental to the spiritual life. It is not only expressed in acts we perform and gifts we give - it is, more importantly, a state of mind. A generosity of spirit lies at the core of human hospitality, making hospitality the virtue which defines humanity itself.
Where is this teaching manifested in the everyday lives of Muslims? How is it uniquely expressed? In what spaces and situations does this practice defy admonitions to “aggressively vet” and cast suspicion on newcomers and people of different cultures and faiths?