Every religion and culture, besides a number of other things, have their own distinct set of customs, traditions and etiquettes. In fact, one of the important distinguishing features between one nation and one tribe and another has generally been its distinct set of customs, traditions and etiquettes. The nation or tribe formed by the followers of the prophets and messengers of Allah is no exception. In the formation of this group, the prophets of Allah, may Allah exalt their mention, directed their followers to conform to a particular set of etiquettes, which would distinguish them as a nation of the followers of Allah's prophets.
However, because the basic objective of all prophetic teachings is to cleanse the human mind, body and soul from all that has the potential of defiling it, the customs and etiquettes for this group of people have also been fixed and promoted with the same target in perspective.
In this article we will focus on the etiquette in Islam that is related to gatherings.
Etiquettes related to gatherings
Ibn `Umar reported: “The Messenger of Allah said: "Do not ask someone to give up his seat in order to take it, but make accommodation wide and sit at ease.''” It was Ibn `Umar's habit that if a person left his seat for him, he would not take it. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Herein, we are told that the space of meeting should be wide enough to accommodate every participant. None should feel the space problem. Good manners disallow a newcomer to get a seat vacated for himself by force, no matter if the occupant is an inferior. Yet, there is nothing undesirable if the latter willingly vacates the seat for a superior. Ibn `Umar would never agree to availing even a willing offer in this respect. Obviously fear of Allah and moral scruples lay behind his reluctance to take the place of somebody else. Yet, there are a few exceptions in this regard. For example, if somebody sits in the chair of his teacher, he may be asked to leave it. Also if a man has fixed place in the market to sell his goods, another person will not be justified in occupying it forcibly.
Abu Hurayrah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: "If someone leaves his seat (for one reason or another) and returns to it, he is better entitled to it.'' (Muslim)
Jabir Ibn Samurah reported: "Whenever we came to the gathering of the Prophet we would sit down at the end (of the assembly)." (Abu Dawood).
This narration throws light on social etiquette. Suppose, if somebody comes to participate in a meeting or was invited to a gathering, he should not behave in a rustic manner by crossing over the heads of the sitting people. Nor should he attempt to forcibly put himself in the place of another person, rather he should sit in any open spot even if it was at the end rows or the back of the room.
Salman Al-Farisi reported that the Messenger of Allah said: "If a man takes a bath on Friday, purifies himself thoroughly wears any perfume which is available in the house, sets forth for the mosque, does not (forcibly) sit between two persons, offers the prayer that is prescribed for him and listens to the Imam silently, his sins between this Friday and the previous Friday will be forgiven.'' (Al-Bukhari).
This hadeeth highlights the following important points:
1. To take a bath on Friday is a matter of commendation. Some scholars (rightfully) adopt that it is a mandatory act.
2. One is recommended to take it in the morning or before going to the mosque to offer prayer.
3. On this occasion the use of perfume is preferable.
4. There is a mention of good manners. Instead of crossing over the heads of worshippers, one should try to locate an open space and sit there. To thrust oneself between two sitting persons looks awkward.
5. Entry into the mosque should be followed by the performance of a two Rak`ah prayer, even if the Imam is delivering Khutbah (speech).
6. An attempt should be made to offer voluntary prayer before the Khutbah, if time permits.
7. Complete silence should be observed during the Khutbah to the point that one is not allowed to say to request another person to be silent, if one does not want to loose reward.
8. If a man offers his Friday prayer by observing the said conditions and prerequisites, his week-long sins will be forgiven by Allah. But these are exclusively minor sins. As regards major grave sins, the sinner will not be forgiven by Allah unless he sincerely repents from the sins. Similarly, a man's failure to do his duties towards his fellow-Muslim brothers or sisters, in case he has wronged them in anyway, will not be pardoned unless he is forgiven by them.
Some will ask: ‘What should I do if I want to sit between two people?’ `Amr Ibn Shu`ayb on the authority of his father and grandfather reported: ''The messenger of Allah said: "It is not permissible for a person to sit between two people without their permission.'' (At-Tirmithi).
This Hadeeth tells us that a man is forbidden to push himself between two sitting persons unless they themselves allow him to do that.
Huthayfah Ibn Al-Yamaan reported: “Whosoever takes seat in the midst of an assembly has been cursed by the messenger of Allah . The Messenger of Allah curses the one who sits in the middle of people's circle.” (Abu Dawood).
Herein, we are also told that a man must not push himself into the circles of some sitting people as this shows no consideration for their feelings. A Muslim should not intrude on other people's personal affairs.
Abu Sa`eed Al-Khudri reported: “I heard Messenger of Allah saying: "The best assemblies are those in which people make room for one another.'' (Abu Dawood).
This Hadeeth urges us to spread out in assemblies and make room for one another to the comfort of everyone.
Supplication after the gathering
Abu Hurayrah reported that the messenger of Allah said: "Whoever sits in a gathering and indulges in useless talk and before getting up supplicates: `Subhanaka Allahumma wa bihamdika, ash-hadu alla ilaha illa Anta, astaghfiruka wa atoobu ilayka (O Allah, You are free from every imperfection; praise be to You. I testify that there is no true god except You; I ask Your Pardon and turn to You in repentance),' he will be forgiven for (the sins he may have intentionally or unintentionally committed) in that assembly.'' (At-Tirmithi).
A senseless, boisterous talk, not related to the life to come, is unprofitable and warrants deprecation. But since it is a small sin, it may be pardoned if one sincerely repents of it. Yet, it cannot be classified under the head of major grave sins and human-right violations which are unpardonable. Scholars unanimously agree that those sins which can be forgiven upon sincerely reciting the above-mentioned supplication are minor sins which relate to the violation of Allah's Rights, as evidenced by other narrations.
Abu Barzah reported: “Towards the end of his life, the messenger of Allah would supplicate before leaving an assembly thus: "Subhanaka Allahumma wa bihamdika, ash-hadu alla ilaha illa Anta, astaghfiruka wa atoobu ilayka (O Allah, You are free from every imperfection; all praise is for You. I testify that there is no true god except You, I ask Your forgiveness and turn to You in repentance).'' A man once said to him: "O Messenger of Allah! You have spoken such words as you have never uttered before.'' He said: "It is an expiation of that which goes on in the assembly.'' (Abu Dawood).
The messenger of Allah would recite this supplication at the end of every assembly to teach Muslims how to gain more rewards and to beseech Allah to forgive the lapses which they might have inadvertently committed during the course of a general conversation. There is no indication in the Hadeeth that he himself used to engage in idle talk while he was with his Companions.
Ibn `Umar reported: "The messenger of Allah seldom left a gathering without supplicating in these terms: "Allahumma-qsim lanaa min khashyatika maa tahoolu bihi baynanaa wa bayna ma`aaseek, wa min taa`atika maa tuballighuna bihi jannataka, wa minal-yaqeeni maa tuhawwinu `alayna masaa'ibad-dunyaa. Allahumma matti`naa biasmaa`inaa, wa absaarinaa, wa quwwatinaa maa ahyaytanaa, waj`alhul-waaritha minnaa, waj`al tha’ranaa `alaa man zalamanaa, wansurnaa `alaa man `aadaanaa, wa laa taj`al museebatanaa fi deeninaa, wa laa taj`alid-dunyaa akbara hamminaa, wa laa mablagha `ilminaa, wa laa tusallit `alainaa man-laa yarhamunaa, (O Allah, apportion to us such fear as should serve as a barrier between us and acts of disobedience; and such obedience as will take us to Your Paradise; and such as will make easy for us to bear in the calamities of this world. O Allah! Let us enjoy our hearing, our sight and our power as long as You keep us alive and let them remain until the end of our lives, and make our revenge restricted to those who oppress us, and support us against those who are hostile to us let no misfortune afflict our religion; let not worldly affairs be our principal concern, or the ultimate limit of our knowledge, and let not those rule over us who do not show mercy to us).'' (At-Tirmithi).
This Hadeeth reveals a supplication through which we may be able to reach all that which is good in this world as well as in the Hereafter.
Abu Hurayrah reported that the messenger of Allah said: "Those people who leave a gathering in which they have not mentioned Allah, will conclude it as if it has foul odour similar to that of a rotten carcass of a donkey. And it will be a cause of grief to them (e.i. in the Hereafter).'' (Abu Dawood).
The messenger of Allah has warned us against refraining from the remembrance of Allah because most of the heart diseases are caused by this indifference, and because most of the sins are committed as a result of this indifference.
Abu Hurayrah reported: “The Prophet said: "Whenever a group of people sit in a gathering in which they do not mention Allah The Exalted, nor supplicate to exalt the mention (and status) of their Prophet, such a gathering will be a cause of grief to them. If Allah wills, He will punish them, and if He wills He will forgive them.'' (At-Tirmithi).
Any meeting where Allah is not glorified and praised and His blessings are not invoked to exalt the mention of His Prophet will cause grief and punishment to the participants in the Hereafter.
Abu Hurayrah reported: The messenger of Allah said: "If anyone sits in a gathering where he does not mention Allah, he will bring grief upon himself (on the Day of Resurrection), and he who lies down in a place where he does not mention Allah, will bring grief upon himself (on the Day of Resurrection).'' (Abu Dawood).
To sum up what has gone in these mentioned prophetic narrations of this issue, man should mention Allah on all occasions. This will establish and cement his bond with Allah, keeping heedlessness away from his heart and mind. It is heedlessness which prompts man to transgress Divine rules and limits, whereas the remembrance of Allah prevents him from indulging in backbiting and passing slanderous remarks against people in their absence or reproaching and belittling someone at a meeting. Unfortunately, such petty and negative out-pourings are relished at chat sessions in our society. This generates grudge, illwill and hostility in hearts and splits up social cohesion and Islamic solidarity. Every Muslim should, therefore, take care to avoid such gatherings, and if it so happened that he attended any such gathering, then he must fulfill his duty of forbidding people from evil when they indulge in it.