Aspects of Islamic Etiquette
By Abdur-Rahman A. Al-Sheeha
P.O. Box 59565, Riyadh 11535, Saudi Arabia
Taken from the Author’s book “The Message Of Islam”.
The Islamic Law has introduced and propagated a cluster of public ethics. At the same time, it warned of failure to strictly abide by it, as this will entail punishment in the Hereafter. Imam Muslim narrated that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “Do you know who is the bankrupt?” They answered: A bankrupt among us is the person who has neither money nor property. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “The bankrupt in my nation is the one who comes on the Day of Resurrection with prayer, zakat and fasting, yet he used to insult, slander, slay and beat others. Thus claimants are rewarded according to their good deeds. If one’s good deeds are gone, he is punished for his ill deeds until he is thrown into Hell.”
1- Dining Ethics:
1. Start eating with the name of Allah (Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem) and conclude with praising and thanking Allah (Al-Hamdu Lillahi Rabbil-Aalameen). Eat from the nearest side of the dish to you and use your right hand, because the left hand is generally used for cleaning dirt.
Bukhari and Muslim narrated on the authority of ‘Umar Ibn Abi Salamah, may Allah be pleased with them, that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said to him: “Mention the name of Allah, eat with your right hand and eat from the nearest side of the dish.”
2. Never complain or disapprove of food whatsoever.
Bukhari and Muslim narrated on the authority of Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, that; “The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, has never found fault with any food. If he liked it, he would eat it, if not he would just leave it.”
3. Avoid eating or drinking to excess in the light of the Qur’anic words:
“Eat and drink, but be not prodigal. Lo! He loves not the prodigals.” (The Qur'an, Al-Aaraf 7:31) And the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ’s words: “The son of Adam (man) has never filled a vessel worse than his stomach. If there is no way out, let there be a third for his meal, another for his drink and another for his breath.” (Narrated by Ahmad)
4. Never breath or blow into vessels. According to Ibn Abbas the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
“Forbade breathing or blowing into the dish.” (Al Tirmidhi)
5. Eat with others, not alone, since Allah’s Messenger says:
“Gather around your food so that it may be blessed.” (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi)
6. If you are invited to a meal and you take somebody with you, you should seek permission for him. According to Abu Mas’ud Al-Badri, may Allah be pleased with him, a man invited Allah’s The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) to a meal along with four other people. A man followed the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). At the door, the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said to the host:
“This man has come with us: If you’permit, he will come in; if not he will go back.” The host said: I give him my permission, O Allah’s Messenger.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
2. Ethics of Seeking Permission:
There are two kinds of ethics: a. Those relating to out-of-door formalities: “O you who believe! Enter not houses other than your own without first announcing your presence and invoking peace upon the folk thereof...” (The Qur'aan, Chapter An-Nur, 24: 27) b. Those relating to indoor formalities: “And when the children among you come to puberty then let them ask permission even as those before them used to ask it...” (Qur’an, Chapter An-Nur, 24: 59) This is all intended to keep household secrets and protect the privacy of homes, as pointed out in the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ’s saying: “Asking permission is intended for sight protection.” (Bukhari and Muslim) It is advisable not to persist in asking permission: “You have to ask permission three times. If you are not allowed in, go back.” (Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim)
3. Ethics of Greeting (Salam)
Islam has encouraged the custom of greetings among the members of Society because it leads to love and friendship. This is supported by the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ’s Hadith: “You will never enter Paradise until you become believers, and you will not become believers until you love each other. Shall I guide you to something that makes you love each other? Spread greetings with peace among you.” (Muslim) - Answering a greeting is obligatory: “When you are greeted with a greeting, reply with a better one or return it...” (The Qur’an, Chapter An-Nisa’a, 4: 86)
Islam has also explained obligations in matters of greeting priorities. According to the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “A rider should greet a pedestrian, a pedestrian should greet him who is seated, and a small number of people should greet a bigger number.” (Narrated by both Bukhari and M) In one narration by Bukhari, it is added: A little or young person should greet an older one).
4. Ethics of Sitting:
1. Greet attendants of the meeting or gathering. It is stated by Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him: “If one comes to a meeting he should say: Assalamu Alaykum! (I.e. Peace be upon you!) And on leaving he should do the same, for the first greeting is not more important than latter.” (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi)
2. It is not appropriate to ask someone to leave his sitting place for someone else: “Never should anyone of you make someone rise from his place and sit in his place; rather, make more room for others to sit.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
3. “If someone leaves his sitting place then returns to it, he will have more right to it”, as stated by the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.” (Muslim)
4. Never separate two persons sitting: “It is not permissible for a man to separate two men (by inserting himself sitting between them) unless they give permission.” (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi)
5. Never talk to a friend privately in the presence of a third person: “If there are three of you, never should two of them talk without the third until you mix with other people, for this would grieve the third.” (Bukhari)
6. Never sit in the middle of a circle or group of people: “Damned is he who sits in the middle of a sitting group.” (Abu Dawud)
7. Leave space for others to sit: “O you who believe! When it is said, make room in assemblies, then make room; Allah will make way for you (hereafter). And when it is said, come up higher! Go up higher; Allah will exalt those who believe among you, and those who have knowledge, to high ranks. Allah is Well-Aware of what you do.” (The Qur’an, Chapter Al-Mujadalah, 58: 11)
8. It is desirable to suppress yawning as far as possible as it is a sign of laziness: “Yawning is from Satan, so when one of you yawns let him try to repel it as far as possible, for if one utters ‘Ha!’ (When yawning) the devil will laugh at him.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
9. About sneezing, the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) says: “If one of you sneezes, let him say: Praise be to Allah! And his Muslim brother should say to him: May Allah have mercy on you! upon which he answers: May Allah guide you and make you well.” (Bukhari) It is also advisable for a person, as stated by Allah’s Messenger on the authority of Abu Hurairah, “on sneezing, to cover his mouth with his hand or garment and suppress his voice.” (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi)
10. Avoid belching while sitting in the presence of others. According to Ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with him and his father, one man belched in the presence of Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, upon which the Messenger said to him: “stop belching, The biggest eaters in this worldly life will be the hungriest in the Hereafter.” (Tirmidhi Bin Majah)
11. The assembly should not be busy with nonsense or void of the remembrance of Allah and useful discussions of worldly and religious affairs. Allah’s messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said in this connection: “Any people who rise from an assembly in which the name of Allah is not mentioned are like those who rise from around a donkey’s carrion, and the assembly will be a source of sorrow for them.” (Abu Dawud)
12. A person should not face those sitting with him with what they dislike.
5. Ethics of Gathering:
Islam respects the feeling of people who gather at a place to make gathering desirable and repel all that causes people to hate gathering. Therefore, Islam instructs its followers to be clean-bodied, with no bad smell, and clean-dressed, with no disgusting sights. It also instructs them to listen to the speaker without interrupting him and to sit where they find room without stepping over people’s necks or causing them any inconvenience by pressing against them. This is supported by the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ’s saying while addressing Muslims during Friday sermon: “Whoever has a bath on Friday, puts on the best of his clothes, puts some scent on if any, then attends Friday prayer without crossing over people’s necks and performs whatever rak’as he could, then keeps quiet when the Imam mounts the pulpit until he concludes prayer, his prayer will be an atonement for the whole week preceding that prayer”. (Abu Dawud).
6. Etiquette of Conversation:
1. Listen to the speaker without interrupting him until he finishes talking. In his speech during the Farewell Pilgrimage, Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said, “Ask people to keep quiet.” (Bukhari and Muslim).
2. Talk clearly so that the listener may understand you. Ayeshah, the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ’s wife, said: “The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ’s words were so clear-cut that everyone could understand them.” (Abu Dawud)
3. Cheer up and speak pleasantly. This is in accordance with the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ’s Hadith: “Do not underestimate any kind of acts, even to receive your brother cheerfully.” (Muslim), and his other Hadith: “A good word is an act of kindness.” (Bukhari and Muslim). Al-Hussain, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “I asked my Father about the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ’s behavior among his companions”, to which he answered: “He was always cheerful, easy mannered and lenient. He was not rough, noisy, vulgar, insulting, or miserly. He used to overlook what he dislikes without depriving others of hope or answering them negatively. He refrained from disputation, prattling and curiosity. He spared others from three things: He never censured, found fault with or spied on them. He spoke only what he hoped would be rewarded. When he spoke, his listeners lowered their head quietly and when he was silent they spoke. They never spoke haphazardly in front of him. If one talked in his presence they listened to him until he had finished. He used to laugh and wonder at what they laughed or wondered at. He was patient with strangers who were rude in both their talk and requests.”
7. Etiquette of Joking:
1. Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said to his companion Hanzala, who thought that life should be free from fun and entertainment and that he committed hypocrisy when he played and jested with his wife and children: “But, Hanzala, refresh your heart from time to time.” (Muslim). Here the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) explained to the man that permissible fun and self-refreshment is desirable for the human soul to regain its activity and liveliness. He, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, also taught them the rules of conduct as regards joking, when asked about his joking with them, by saying: “Yes, but I speak truthfully.” (Tirmidhi).
2. Once an old woman came to him and said: O Messenger of Allah, pray to Allah for me to be admitted into Paradise. He said: "No old woman will be admitted into Paradise. On hearing this she went away crying. He said: Tell her that she won’t be an old woman when she goes into Paradise. Allah, the Exalted, says: “Lo! We have created them a (new) creation and made them virgins, lovers, friends.” (Qur’an, Chapter Al-Qamar, 54: 35-37)
3. Allah’s Messenger’s jokes were not limited to words, they included acts as well. Anas Ibn Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “A bedouin called Zaher used to bring presents from the desert to the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) used also to supply him with provisions on leaving. He said about him: “Zaher is our ‘desert’ and we are his ‘city’. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) loved him, though he was ugly-faced. One day, the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) came to him while he was selling some goods. He hugged him from the back unawares. Zaher said: “Release me.” Then he looked behind him and recognized the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), so he pressed his back against the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ’s chest. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) called out: “Who purchases this slave?” Zaher said: “O Messenger of Allah, You will find me not sellable”. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) answered: “But to Allah, you are not unsalable, or he said: To Allah, you are so dear”. (Tirmidhi)
4. A joke should not involve any hurt or insult to any Muslim. Allah’s Messenger said: “No Muslim is allowed to scare another Muslim.” (Abu Dawud) He also said: “Nobody should take (Muslim) brother’s belongings.” (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi)
5. Joking should not drive a Muslim to lie in order to make others laugh; this is understood from the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ’s words: “Woe to him who lies when speaking to make people laugh. Woe to him! Woe to him!”
8. Etiquette of Condolence:
1. Condolence has been prescribed to console the dead person’s family, relieve their sorrows and alleviate their distress. Allah’s Messenger said: “A believer who condoles with his brother on a bereavement will be dressed by Allah in the robes of honor and glory on the Day of Resurrection”
2. There is no specific formula for condolence. However, Imam Shafi’i recommended the expression: “May Allah magnify your reward, give you solace and forgive your deceased one.”
3. It is desirable to prepare food for the family of the deceased as is clear from the following Hadith: “Make food for Ja’afar’s family as they are distracted by the event.”
9. Etiquette of Sleeping:
1. Mention the name of Allah: “Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem” and lie on your right side in accordance with the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ’s words to Al-Baraa bin Azeb: “If you want to go to bed, perform ablution as that for prayer, then lie down on your right side, and say: O Allah! I submit myself to You, and turn my face towards You, and confide my cause unto You, and take refuge in You, out of love and fear of You. There is no refuge or escape from You except in You. I believe in Your Book, which You have revealed and Your Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), whom You have sent as Messenger.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
2. “Do not sit late at night and do your best to sleep early unless there is some need or necessity. It is narrated that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) disliked sleeping before Isha’ (evening) Prayer and (sitting and) talking after it.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
3. Do not sleep on your belly, as this was prohibited by the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam): “Such manner of lying down is disliked by Allah.” (Abu Dawud)
4. Make sure there is nothing that hurts you at your bed, as recommended by the gracious The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) : “When one of you goes to bed, he should clear his bed with part of his loincloth as he does not know what is lying inside after he has left it, and let him say”: Allahumma bika wada’tu janbi, wabika arfauh. Allahumma in amsakta nafsi faghfir laha, wa in arsaltaha fahfazha bima tahfazu bihi ibadakas-Salihan. (O Allah! With Your name I have lain on my side, and with Your name I raise it. O Allah! If You hold my soul (i.e. take my life), then have mercy on it, and if You return it, then protect it with what You protect Your pious servants) (Bukhari and Muslim)
5. Take care and ward off the sources of danger. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “This fire is an enemy to you, so when you want to sleep put it off”. (Bukhari)
10. Etiquette of Marital Sexual Relations:
1. It is desirable, before cohabitation with one’s wife or husband to mention the name of Allah. “When one of you cohabits with his wife, if he says, ‘In the name of , O Allah! Keep us away from Satan, and keep Satan away from (the offspring) that you may grant us,’ and then if a child is born out of this union, Satan will have no access to hurt that child.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
2. Private relations between husband and wife must be kept secret, as stated in the following Hadith: “The worst in position of all people in the estimation of Allah on the Day of Resurrection will be the man who cohabits with his wife or the woman who cohabits with her husband, then either of them divulges the secret of his mate.” (Muslim)
3. Allah’s Messenger recommended love-play, flirtation and kissing prior to sexual intercourse as evidenced by his words to one of his companions: “Don’t make love with her unless she has had the same degree of sexual appetite as you so that you do not discharge before her.” He asked: Should I do this? The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said; “Yes, you kiss, caress and touch her until you find that she has the same degree of erotic urge and excitement as you, then make love with her”. (Imam Ahmad)
4. Husband should not pull out his penis from her vagina until she has finished.
11. Etiquette of Traveling:
1. Return trusts to their owners, settle grievances and debts, and leave for your family sufficient provisions. Never travel alone except in cases of emergency when you find no company. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “One passenger is one devil, two passengers are two devils, but three passengers make a caravan.” (Abu Dawud, Nasa’i and Tirmidhi)
2. On traveling, choose good company and select one of you as your leader. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “When three people set out on a journey they should appoint one of them as a leader.´ (Abu Dawud)
3. You should inform your family of the time of your arrival back to them. Do not return home at night as this is undesirable so that you should not see anything that you dislikes. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “If one of you is absent from home for a long time, he should not come back to his family by night”. In another version of the Hadith, the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) prohibited a man returning home by night. (Bukhari and Muslim)
4. He should say goodbye to his family, friends and companions, as the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “If one of you intends to set out on a journey, let him say goodbye to his brothers, for Allah Almighty will make in their prayers a blessing for him.”
5. He should return home quickly after he achieve the objective of his journey. The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “Travel is a piece of anguish as it deprives each traveler (of you) of the facilities of eating, drinking and sleeping. Therefore, when one of you has completed the purpose of his journey he should return home quickly.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
12. Conduct in the Market:
1. Among the rules of behavior in the market are those included in the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)’ s words when he said: “Refrain from sitting in the streets.” The Companions said: “O Messenger of Allah, we have no alternative, there is no other place where we can sit and discuss matters.” Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: “If it is so, then in that case, discharge your responsibilities due to the street.”
2. The Companions asked as to what was due to the street. He said: “Keeping your eyes down, clearing the streets of obstacles, responding to Salam greetings, enjoining virtuous deeds and forbidding evil.” (Bukhari and Muslim). In another narration he added: “Helping the aggrieved and guiding the aberrant.” (Abu Dawud)
He also said: “Beware of two cursed practices.” His Companions asked: What are the two cursed practices? He, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, answered: “A person answering the call of nature in a public thoroughfare or in a shady place (where people rest).” (Muslim)
3. A passer-by should refrain from carrying harmful weapons or devices, as enjoined by the Gracious Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) who said:. “When any one of you happens to move in our mosque or bazaar with an arrow (in his hand) he must grasp its pointed head in his palm, so that none amongst the Muslims should receive any injury from it.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
13. Etiquette of Buying and Selling
1. In principle, selling is lawful in Islam because it is based on exchange of benefits between the salesman and the purchaser. However, in case any harm occurs to either party, the dealing becomes unlawful based on the following verse: “O you who believe! Squander not your wealth among yourselves in vanity.” (The Qur'aan, Chapter An-Nisa’a, 4: 29)
2. It is also based on the Holy Messenger’s Hadith, when he happened to pass by a heap of eatables (corn). He thrust his hand in that heap and his fingers were moistened. He said to the owner of that heap: “What is this?” He replied: “Messenger of Allah, these have been drenched by rainfall”. He (the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) remarked: “Why did you not place this (the drenched part of the heap) on top so that people could see it? He who deceives is not of me (i.e. not my follower).” (Muslim)
3. Truthfulness and clear description (of defects, if any) is required in accordance with the Holy Messenger’s saying: “Both parties in a business transaction have the right to annul it as long as they have not separated. Thus, if they speak the truth and make everything clear they will be blessed in their transaction; but if they tell a lie and conceal anything, the blessing their transaction will be blotted out." (Bukhari and Muslim)
4. Benevolence and fair dealing is also recommended in business, since this is a means of strengthening seller-buyer relations as pointed out by Allah’s messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him: “May Allah have mercy on a person who is easy and courteous when he sells, buys or asks for the payment of his dues.” (Bukhari) That is because Islam wants this ease of dealing and tolerance in matters of selling and buying to save people from panting for material interests that undermine brotherly and human relations.
5. Avoid swearing oaths when selling, in compliance with the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) ’s instruction: “Avoid too much swearing while selling (your goods), for in the beginning it promotes business and then it brings all loss.” (Muslim)
The above are some of the Islamic Etiquette and ethics, and there are many others that would take a very long time to explain. Nevertheless, it would suffice here to remind that no human affair, private or public, goes without Qur’anic or the Prophetic instruction or guidance that defines or regulates it.