The biblical portion of Vayera showcases stories of the patriarch Abraham welcoming strangers. The stories of Abraham’s hospitality became incorporated into the ways that the children of Abraham think of themselves today. However, the nature of the hospitality of Arabs (descendants of Abraham’s son Ishmael) and Jews (descendants of Abraham’s son Isaac) diverge in many ways.
Man and God
Jewish perspective: Judaism prides itself in being a religion of actions, not faith. God gave the Jewish people 613 commandments to follow, some of which are active (make the Sabbath holy) and others that are passive (don’t kill). A division could also be made of laws between people (like murder) and those between man and God (like the Sabbath).
A casual observer of religions would imagine that laws about God would take precedence to laws about people. The Jewish organization Limmud, posted an article about Vayera, which argued the opposite.
During the story of Vayera there was an encounter between Abraham and God. In the middle of the conversation, Abraham asked God to wait so he could welcome three strangers that were passing his tent. The author of the Limmud article, Jeremy Rosen argued that Abraham’s action taught Jews a lesson for today, “that however primary God is, there are certain types of human crises or obligations that are so important that one can actually tell God to wait. In the end religion must enhance our relationship with other humans.”
Islamic perspective: The website “OnIslam” is dedicated to educating Muslims on a variety of subjects. An article on hospitality and the “joy of honoring others” made a clear effort to differentiate between the kind of hospitality that Muslims extend, and those of non-Muslims. “The true concept of hospitality is not something that is widely practiced in most non-Muslim countries. For many non-Muslims, the entertainment of guests is of primary importance in many cases for worldly reasons only, not rooted in real hospitality for the sake of God. In Islam, however, hospitality is a great virtue that holds a significant purpose. Being hospitable to neighbors and guests can increase societal ties as well as unite an entire community. Most importantly, God commands Muslims to be hospitable to neighbors and guests. There is a great reward in doing so. Hospitality in Islam is multi-faceted and covers many different areas in addition to the hospitality that we show guests who visit our homes.”
In Islam, hospitality is performed because it is commanded by God. The act of hospitality may have benefits of creating communal harmony, but it is a derivative of the second degree. The primary obligation is to follow God’s command, and He commands all Muslims to be hospitable. God’s command leads man to action, and such action may, in turn, lead to friendship and social cohesion.
The difference in the approach of the religions is both subtle and significant. Judaism has a value system of helping others. Welcoming a stranger takes precedence to a direct conversation with God. In contrast, Islam focuses on obedience to God’s commands. Hospitality happens to be one of those commands and is therefore performed – within the bounds of religion.
Hospitality Today on a National Level
It is interesting to look at the nature of hospitality on a national level and how the one Jewish State handles hospitality compared to various Muslim countries (note that there are many Muslim countries, like Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia, that are NOT Arab and descendants of Abraham).
Israel: Israel has an incredible record when it comes to welcoming Jews from around the world. Whether in bringing Jews that were persecuted in the Arab world in the 1950s, or Russian and Ethiopian Jews in the 1990s, Israel took in so many Jews from around the world, that they dwarf the number of European Jews who came to the country due to persecution in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s.
Those Moroccan, Yemenite, Ethiopian and Russian refugees received Israeli citizenship immediately. They got housing and job training. They had teachers to teach them a new language (Hebrew) and lessons about incorporating into a society that was completely foreign to their old way of living.
Arab/ Muslim Countries: The Middle East has witnessed a large number of wars and corresponding waves of refugees fleeing the battles. Many Arab countries did not welcome their fellow Arabs.
- When Arabs left the British Mandate of Palestine to Lebanon and Syria in 1948-9, they were forced to live in refugee camps. They were not offered citizenship nor given an opportunity to have white color jobs. Those conditions continue for their children and grandchildren almost 70 years later.
- When the PLO sided with Iraq when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991, Kuwait expelled roughly 360,000 Palestinians that were living there. Fellow Arabs that were neighbors for 75 years were evicted en masse because of the actions of people hundreds of miles away.
- Most recently, the millions of Arabs fleeing the civil war in Syria, and ISIS in Iraq have been shut out of the wealthy countries of Saudi Arabia; Qatar; Bahrain; United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Westerners may wonder how these oil rich countries are not embarrassed to refuse to welcome fellow Arabs, especially as Europe and America open its doors. Only Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey (Muslim, but not Arab) have shown these refugees Islamic hospitality.
Israel: The phrase in the bible “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18) has been interpreted by various scholars as both a model for treating fellow Jews and for interactions with all of mankind.
- When Israel declared independence in 1948, it granted 160,000 non-Jews citizenship. When Israel reunited Jerusalem after Jordanian and Palestinian Arabs attacked it in 1967, it offered citizenship to all non-Jews.
- When Menahem Begin became prime minister of Israel in 1977, he brought in and gave citizenship to roughly 300 Vietnamese people fleeing their country.
- Today the country is grappling with how to deal with Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers as many Israeli Jews believe in the principal of hospitality, even while the government considers issues of safety.
Arab/ Muslim Countries: The Arab countries do very poorly in regards to their hospitality with non-Muslims.
- When Jordan seized Judea and Samaria in 1949, it expelled all of the Jews in the area and forbade them from even visiting their holy sites in Jerusalem.
- Today, Mahmoud Abbas has laws preventing the sale of any land by Arabs to Jews and has demanded a new country to be established devoid of Jews.
- After Israel was founded, the Arab countries forced over 850,000 Jews to flee their homes where they had lived for generations.
Israel: Israel has a reputation of rushing to assist countries around the world suffering from natural disasters. Whether from earthquakes in Turkey or Haiti or tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean, Israel is on the scene with disproportionate numbers with life-saving assistance.
Arab/ Muslim Countries: The Arab world typically does not send much assistance to countries in need. That fact is surprising since it is a core tenant of Islam. OnIslam states: “In Islam, hospitality extends well beyond the walls of the home. Being hospitable also means having good manners and treating others with dignity and respect. Hospitality can be applied to the greater community and Muslims must strive to help out whenever there is a time of need. Natural disasters, for example, often result in community turmoil as residents grapple with the aftermath. This provides Muslims with an excellent opportunity to pitch in, whether delivering hot meals to those affected or donating gently used items to someone who has lost everything.”
However, the Charities Aid Foundation did rank some Islamic nations among the most generous in the world, including: Malaysia; Indonesia; and Iran in the top 20. However, none of those three countries is Arab. Israel, the Jewish State, ranked number 32.
Abraham taught Jews and Arabs about the importance of hospitality. Each group interpreted his acts of kindness through their respective prophets and teachers over the centuries, with Jews extracting a primary value of the kinship of men, while Muslims placed hospitality as just one of God’s commands to be observed. Jews learned a life-lesson from Abraham; Arabs stifled that more human example and took the message of hospitality from the Quran.
The children of Abraham – the Jewish State and the Arab states – should all be mindful of the importance of hospitality in their dealings today.
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