In the last couple of weeks, the importance of hospitality has been emphasised for me in different settings. The focus has been on the attention that the Abrahamic faiths place on welcoming strangers; showing compassion and embracing the ‘other’.
The opening conversation in this year’s JUST Festival was focussed on an exhibition of paintings related to Abraham which was arranged by CARAVAN which is a peacebuilding NGO with the objective of building bridges through the arts between the creeds and cultures of the Middle East and the West. The discussion was stimulating, and the paintings thought provoking as they illustrated pilgrimage; welcoming a stranger, sacrificial love and compassion. It raised questions for discussion and reflection. It made us think about the importance of relationship and love and not seeking difference but commonality. The artists came from Christian, Jewish and Muslim heritages.
I just wanted to share some of the thoughts that emerged:
‘A pilgrim is someone on the move, journeying, always exploring and discovering. Having a pilgrim’s mindset requires meeting new people and learning from others who are different from ourselves. Living as a pilgrim requires an attitude of openness to receiving from the ‘other’. (Caravan)
“Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place”. (Henri Nouwen)
“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met”. (W.B. Yeats)
“Love alone is the only reasonable activity or pursuit of humankind. For love not only annihilates our fear of meaninglessness but empowers us to seek the happiness of others. And this indeed is our greatest happiness” (Leo Tolstoy)
“The highest form of wisdom is kindness”. (Talmud)
I would like to thank Caravan and the artists for stimulating reflection on how we each, whether of faith or not, view the importance of hospitality.
In addition, I would like to draw your attention to an article written by Professor Mona Siddiqui – Divine Welcome: The Ethics of Hospitality in Islam and Christianity – in which she considers this theme of hospitality and throws out this challenge:
“It seems to me hospitality needs rethinking as a social and political imperative. It is a concept which requires action. We are in danger of hollowing out the language of God; faith cannot be idle; it has to be active for a faith which does nothing means nothing. Rather than settle idly in our religious smugness we should be prepared to unsettle ourselves and to see that justice, however elusive, is demanding and requires commitment to making society better for all, not just for those in power.”
Mona Siddiqui is Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at the University of Edinburgh
Much food for thought in a time when there is much stress on difference and ‘other’. Time to think of ‘friends we haven’t yet met’.
5 August 2019