Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The True Meaning of "Ahlan Wa Sahlan (Wa Marhaban)"

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

Arabs, when they had visitors (or even just strangers) coming to visit them, used to say to them (and they still do): أهلاَ وسَهْلاَ . In those days, people traveled by land and over long stretches of often rugged and steep terrain – over hills and down mountain passes, etc. – and with not a single soul in sight. Often when they did find people these people might prove hostile, and so on. Therefore, the two most yearned-after words that you would like hear as a traveler were: أهلاَ وسَهْلاَ which actually means: أَتَيْتَ / صَادَفْتَ أَهْلاَ ووَطِئْتَ سَهْلاَ [You came upon / found hospitable people (i.e. people that are almost if they are family to you) and are treading smooth and flat terrain]. Often they would add أهلا وسهلا ومَرْحَباً . The word "مرحبا" is often translated as “welcome” but this translation does not do justice to the word. The root form which is also used in the Qur’an, namely, رَحُبَ (rahuba) has the meaning of “being spacious and wide” as opposed to “being narrow and constricted”. The Qur’anic expression وضاقت عليهم الأرض بما رحبت (and the earth became narrow and constricted for them despite being wide and spacious) refers to how in a battle when you are surrounded by the enemy with no where to run, you are literally constrained and narrowed down to that area despite the land being so wide and stretched out. So the addition, مرحباَ which also occurs in the Qur’an (See Surah Sad verse: 59) means that not only have you found a smoothed-out stretch of terrain but also an open and spacious place so as not to feel constrained. Anyone who lives in places like the Gulf would know how much the Arabs love their space. So, the last thing they want is to be constricted and confined to a small area.

This also brings to mind the word الْفُسْحَة and التفسّح (spaciousness, width, roominess) in verse 11 of Surah al-Mujadilah or al-Mujadalah in the part which reads:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قِيلَ لَكُمْ تَفَسَّحُوا فِي الْمَجَالِسِ فَافْسَحُوا يَفْسَحِ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ، سورة المجادلة: 11

[O you who believe! When it is said to you: Make room in the assemblies, (spread out and) make room: (ample) room will Allah provide for you.]

[By the way, Surah al-Mujadilah or al-Mujadalah, which comprises 22 verses, is the only surah in the Qur'an where each of its verses contains the Name الله ]

One scholar and exegete (Fakhr al-Din al-Razi) in explaining this verse starts by saying: After Allah Almighty has ordered you to refrain from doing things that will breed hatred and animosity among you, He orders you to do things that will bring about love and compassion among you.

He then goes on to explain an alternative reading to تفسَّحوا (tafassahu) namely, تفاسحوا (tafaasahu) and quotes Ibn Jinni (d. 392 AH = 1001 AD) as saying that the latter reading is more apt since the first one only means “let there be space (tafassuh) between you” where as the second reading (tafaasahu) means that everybody must share and co-operate in the act of making space and room for each other.

He then mentions an alternative reading for المجالس (al-majaalis = assemblies) which is the singular form المجلِس (al-majlis = assembly). He says that the singular reading refers to the Majlis of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) with his companions (may Allah be pleased with them), and plural reading refers to the sum of individual places of sitting i.e. the places where individual companions might be sitting.

Al-Razi then goes into the various views as to what is meant by المجالس or المجلس in this context. The part, though, that I found most fascinating and very relevant for our times is where he says and I quote:

واعلم أن هذه الآية دلت على أن كل من وسع على عباد الله أبواب الخير والراحة، وسع الله عليه خيرات الدنيا والآخرة، ولا ينبغي للعاقل أن يقيد الآية بالتفسح في المجلس، بل المراد منه إيصال الخير إلى المسلم، وإدخال السرور في قلبه، ولذلك قال عليه السلام: "لا يزال الله في عون العبد ما زال العبد في عون أخيه المسلم".

[Know that this verse indicates that everyone and anyone who makes available for Allah’s servants in abundant and “spacious” fashion the avenues and doors of goodness and comfort, then Allah will make available for him also in abundant fashion the goodness of this World and the Next. It is not for a rationally-minded person to restrict this verse to merely “making room for someone in an assembly”, but what is really intended by this action is that one must allow and want khayr (goodness) to reach a fellow-Muslim, and have happiness and joy occupy his or her heart. It is for this reason that he (the Prophet – peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Allah continues to provide assistance to a servant for as long as the servant continues to provide assistance to his fellow-Muslim brother”]

The significance of this for me is that we are living in a world where we can ill-afford to make life difficult for one another. For me if you have not made space and room for your Muslim brother or sister IN YOUR HEART, then you will not make space and room for him or her anywhere, and in any world (whether real or virtual). The expression “Ahlan Wa Sahlan Wa Marhaban” should not only be used in the physical sense but in all senses and on all levels. Then and only then will we see an improvement in our condition. I ask Allah to forgive us our shortcomings and increase the spaciousness of our hearts for one another and to remove the ghill (malice) that is occupying our hearts. In saying this, I’m reminding myself first and foremost, since it is easy for one to see the faults in others and be blinded to his / her own.

رَبَّنَا اغْفِرْ لَنَا وَلِإِخْوَانِنَا الَّذِينَ سَبَقُونَا بِالْإِيمَانِ وَلَا تَجْعَلْ فِي قُلُوبِنَا غِلّاً لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ رَؤُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ

Ameen!

6 comments:

Humairah Irfan said...

As salamu alaikum
If I can make a request..
The Arabic font size is rather small. If I increase my screen resolution, the English and Arabic text end up overlapping. Can you increase the size of the Arabic text that you use?

Ibn Uthman said...

Wa 'alaykum as-salam warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

Yes, you're right. I've changed it and it looks much more legible than before. Shukran.

Ummu said...

assalamu'alaikum warohmatullah wabarakatuh, syukran, I've been looking for the meaning of ahlan wa sahlan wa marhaban... love it, esp with quranic explanation..

barakallahu fiik..

READ said...

I want to drop everything and come study with the author of this blog. God is great. Peace.

Feroz said...

Salaam arz.
Bro kindly explain/mention the meaning of "AHLAN WA SAHLAN" in a easy way like AHLAN means "xxxxxxx", WA means "AND", SAHLAN means "xxxxxxx" so that the peoples can easily understand/get it.
I found this one the simple method to mention/explain its meaning.
Well don't mind about this and it is just the suggestion from a believer.

MAHABOOB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.