Islamic Etiquette of being a Guest

A few months ago, we had an article on how to be a good host. There’s also the flipside to that, however. How can you be a good guest? While Islamically, there is a strong emphasis on being a good host, that doesn’t mean that we have no guidelines for being a good guest. A lot of this will vary based on culture but the below are general tips which will be applicable for most people:

Before you arrive

1. Give your host an accurate estimate of your arrival time.

If you’re running behind, update him accordingly. People do have lives and responsibilities. These don’t halt when they’re hosting guests. If you’re running two hours late, that might be enough time for your host to go run an errand instead of looking at their watch wondering where you are.

2. Bring a gift.

This doesn’t have to be extravagant but some token of appreciation is nice. You can never go wrong with a nice box of chocolates or cookies.

3. Bring your own toiletries.

Your host probably will have extra toothpaste for you to use and probably won’t mind if you use some of his shampoo. Still, better to bring your own. If you get there and realize you’ve forgotten it, politely ask before you use any of his toiletries.

When you’re there

4. Don’t make a mess.

If your host puts you in a bedroom, make sure you make the bed and straighten up the room in the morning. If you’re sleeping on a couch, fold your bedding and put it neatly to the side in the morning. Offer to help with the dishes but don’t push the matter if he says not to worry about it. Most Muslim hosts would not want their guests helping with household chores since that is part of their own hospitality towards you.

5. Ask before you start using things.

You might have seen where the bathroom was when you came in. Still, you’re a guest and should ask permission.

6. Do not snoop.

You’re a guest, not a safety inspector. Don’t sneak looks inside rooms, open up drawers, or look inside their medicine cabinet.

7. If you didn’t come specifically to spend time with your host, let him know your schedule.

You don’t want to inconvenience him or find out that he had something planned for you in the evening while you were at an important work event. If you’re leaving his house for something, let him know. Otherwise, he’ll have to guess whether you’re inside your room with your door shut or if you went out for something.

8. Give your host some space, especially if you’re staying for more than a day.

Your host most likely doesn’t want to spend every minute of each day with you. If they’re working while you’re on vacation, find something to do in their city during the day so they don’t feel like they’re neglecting you while they’re at work.

9. Pray behind your host.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a hafidh and your host has only memorized the last three surahs of the Qur’an. In his house, he is the imam. The Prophet ﷺ said in a hadith found in Sahih Muslim “No guest should lead the host in salah while in the home of the host”. If he asks you to lead, that’s fine, but go in with the expectation to pray behind him.

10. Do not criticize his city.

In college, we had a Muslim speaker visit our college town to speak at a conference. During lunch (paid for by his hosts), he described our city as a “dump of a hillbilly town”. Not only did no Muslim guy show up to his lecture that day, he was never invited back to our community and people still remember him as “that really rude speaker”. Either compliment your host’s hometown and community or keep silent.

11. Be appreciative.

If your host has planned something for you and you don’t find it enjoyable, keep it to yourself. He put in effort to entertain you, it’s shameful to throw that back in his face.

Leaving

12. Don’t overstay.

The maximum you should stay in a person’s house as a guest is three days. Beyond that, even if they protest out of politeness, you’re placing a burden on their hospitality.

13. Leave as small a footprint as possible.

You don’t want your host to spend the next hour after you leave cleaning up your mess. Double check that you’ve packed everything, wipe down the bathroom counters for toothpaste or hair, and then strip and fold the bedsheets and leave them at the foot of the bed.

14. Express your thanks.

You should thank him three times: when you first arrive, when you’re heading out the door the last day, and after you arrive back home. For the last one, a lot of etiquette manuals will say to send a handwritten thank you note but in the modern age, cell phone communication really does suffice for this. Call them or leave a text message saying you’ve arrived back home and wanted to thank them for being a great host.

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