Chapter 39: The Beautiful Character of the People of Halab

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Did Zul go to visit any of his Arab friends in Syria? I’m curious as to the custom of people there. You told me about Zul’s visit to Syeikh Sadiq Habannakah’s house during Eid. It was so much fun. It was as if I could see the various scrumptious types of food served!” Sarah exclaimed excitedly remembering the story her Grandpa Aki told her regarding the Eid celebration Zul attended.

Yes, he actually did so. Today, I’ll be telling you all about his experience there, where Zul spent time with his friends Hassoun Shaqrouq and Ahmad Bish. The way Syrian treat the visitors especially their guests is truly extraordinary.” Grandpa Aki began as he slowly sips his black coffee…

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Zulkifli, you should come to my house in Halab. Me and Ahmad Bish will wait for you there. You should invite Hazman too.” Hassoun Shaqrouq invited Zul. He is Zul’s friend who works at Aleppo University. He is a man in his forties and loves nasyeed. He would always entertain his friends by singing nasyeed songs as every time he was requested. Among the nasyeed that he sang was Jina al-Madinah which was popular and sung by Imad Rami, a famous nasyeed singer in Syria.

جينا المدينة ، لنزور نبينا

زرنا وصلينا ، وسلمنا عليه

بالحضرة وبالباب ، قبلنا الأعتاب

وغمرنا النور ، من رب غفور

لدی أغلی النور ، رب الأرباب

الله  الله  الله  ،  الله  الله  الله

He would sing passionately, moving his hands as though he is beating the drums, moving his head following the rhythm of the music, lost in the lyrics of the song. Zul sniggered at Hassoun Shaqrouq actions. Ahmad Bish who was sitting beside Zul smiled widely at his friend who was acting as though he is performing at his own nasyeed concert. He then continued singing, accompanied by the claps of Hassoun Shaqrouq according to the tempo. Ahmad Bish is an imam in one of the mosques in the Salqin district. He is warak and a large and tall built man. His usual attire is the jubah, appropriate with his image of an imam.

The distance between Damascus and Halab is approximately the same as the distance between Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur. From Damascus, Zul and Hazman board the Zaituni bus passing through Ruknuddin, the Baghdad Bridge and the dry desserts. Across the Damascus – Halab highway, there is nothing much of interest on their journey except for several historical landmarks. Among them is the Maloula that is famous with the St. Techla Church, a Christian complex housing ancient architecture made from clay, where the pastors, nuns and the Christian community lived. “Hassoun Shaqroud said, if I see the Hama, Saraqib signboard, then I’m near Halab.” Zul said to himself as he looked out his window.

Although it was quite a long journey, Zul didn’t feel tired, for the Zaituni bus is very comfortable. It is maybe at the same level as popular express buses in Malaysia in the 90s era such as Jelita, Mayang Sari and Super Coach. As we arrived in the city of Halab, we tried to find a van to go to the village. A man suddenly approaches us and introduced himself to us as Ahmad. “Where are both of you headed? You look like you are not from around here.” Ahmad asked cordially.

We want to go to the village of Hassoun Shaqrouq in Mir Hussein. Do you Hassoun Shaqrouq?” Zul asked Ahmad. “Oh…I know him. Let me bring you there.” He replied and promptly went to a van.

Since you are not from here and are our guests, you don’t have to worry. I’m not going to charge you anything. I’ll drive you straight to Hassoun Shaqrouq house.” Ahmad said as he drove his van. Zul asked him twice about the fare just to be absolutely certain. His answer remains the same. He’s not going to take any payment. Subhanallah!

Zul and Hazman’s arrival at dusk was greeted amicably by both Hassoun Shaqrouq and Ahmad Bish. “Ahlan…Ahlan. Welcome to our village. Wallahi, we are so happy to have you here as guests from Malaysia!” Hassoun Shaqrouq greets them as he sings a nasyeed welcoming them. “This is the first time I felt as though I’m being treated as a VIP!” Hazman whispered to Zul. They were led and given a guest house known as manzul for them for their stay.

We are definitely being given the special treatment. I thought we are going to stay and be given a room in one of the villager’s houses. I can’t believe they gave us a whole house just for ourselves. Subhanallah…” Zul said to Hazman after they lay down on their beds respectively. 10 minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Zul who was nearer to the door opened it.

Man, there’s a boy standing in front of the door. At first, I thought he’s here wanting to invite us to play, but he actually brought us a plate full of kibbeh!” Zul called his friend Hazman from the front door. Both of them were surprised. The little boy said that his mother gave it to us as a gift since we are their guests. Still bewildered by the sudden gift, Hazman took the plate and thanked the boy. Kibbeh is a traditional Syrian delicacy with a similar shape to Cek Mek Molek (a traditional kueh in Malaysia), however, its filling is made from minced lamb wrapped in burghul wheat all mixed with lamb meat and onions as well as several Syrian herbs and spices.

In about 45 minutes after that, another knock was heard. “What could the Arabs want now…” Zul sighs. It’s not that he’s angry, but he’s completely stuffed and bewildered at the time! Lo and behold, when he opened the door a tray of Arab rice is served at his door. This time, a young girl was standing there bringing them the food. Zul gave the girl some sweets and thanked her. “Man, this time it’s a girl. You won’t believe what she brought for us. It’s a tray full of Arab rice. Even the lamb’s head is served together…” Zul glances at Hazman as he shakes his head. Hazman slapped his forehead in disbelief. That night, Zul and Hazman were fully stuffed and slumped on their beds.

The next morning, Hassoun SHaqrouq and Ahmad Bish brought them both together on a walk around the village. The village was just full of greeneries and the refreshing air are calm and comforting. It reminded Zul of his own village in Terengganu. They stopped by a cow barn to see for themselves how the cows are milked and sold around Halab.

Man, just look at that. If we could get a taste of the fresh milk, I bet it tastes heavenly…” Zul said to Hazman while pointing at the milk that has just been milked in a container in front of them. Hassoun Shaqrouq didn’t understand what the two friends are talking about but he just smiled and whispered something to Ahmad Bish. Zul and Hazman were taught the methodology used to milk the cows by a villager. They were very excited as that was their first ever experience milking cows. After the village visit is done, they return to the manzul and start to pack their belongings before heading home. Zul searched around the house for his missing socks. “Did you see my socks? I haven’t washed them for 3 weeks. It will be awful if I leave them here. Hehe…” Zul asked as he laughed at himself. Hazman just shook his head and continue with his packing.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.

Zul and Hazman looked at each other. Hazman signalled to Zul, asking him to open the door. Zul quickly got up and opened the door. Hassoun Shaqrouq was standing there, smiling, holding two large bottles of fresh milk. Hazman sneaks a peek from behind the door. Both are astonished. “I know you must want to have a taste of the fresh milk of the cows in Halab. So, I specially brought some of them for you. You must also be surprised and as to why the villagers kept on bringing food and drinks for you. This is our custom. The villagers will take turns providing for the guests. Our guests are treated in the best way possible. Making our guests happy is our enjoyment.” Hassoun Shqrouq declared jovially.

Oh, another thing I forgot to mention earlier Zul, my mom has washed your socks and they are hung at my house. She took it while cleaning the manzul earlier this morning.” He added. Zul just giggled and shakes his head. He is greatly impressed by how the people of Halab treat them. It was a perfect and special treatment.

Before returning home, Zul and Hazman gathered with his two friends. “Hassoun, Ahmad Bish. I want to tell you something. Maulana Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi, a great Indian scholar once said, ‘If Rasullullah didn’t migrate to Medina, surely, he would have migrated to Halab for the beautiful character of its people…’” Zul said, smiling and hugged both of his friends as their goodbye.

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Through the whole journey home, it was as if Zul could hear the sermon of Syeikh Muhammad ‘Ali Thani, Zul’s teacher at the Nabawi Mosque regarding the sunnah of honouring one’s guests.

In the Quran, how did the prophets honour, greet and welcome their guests? Among the examples stated is the story of Prophet Abraham ‘alaihissalam. Allah SWT recorded this matter in the Quran. Allah SWT states:

هَلْ أَتَىٰكَ حَدِيثُ ضَيْفِ إِبْرَٰهِيمَ ٱلْمُكْرَمِينَ ﴿٢٤﴾ إِذْ دَخَلُوا۟ عَلَيْهِ فَقَالُوا۟ سَلَـٰمًا ۖ قَالَ سَلَـٰمٌ قَوْمٌ مُّنكَرُونَ ﴿٢٥﴾ فَرَاغَ إِلَىٰٓ أَهْلِهِۦ فَجَآءَ بِعِجْلٍ سَمِينٍ ﴿٢٦﴾ فَقَرَّبَهُۥٓ إِلَيْهِمْ قَالَ أَلَا تَأْكُلُونَ

“Has there reached you the story of the honoured guests of Abraham? – When they entered upon him and said, “[We greet you with] peace.” He answered, “[And upon you] peace, [you are] a people unknown. Then he went to his family and came with a fat [roasted] calf.” [1]

This verse narrates the actions of Prophet Abraham AS when he welcomed and treat guests who came to his house. Although he didn’t know who the guests were. He didn’t know that the guests are actually angels but he still treat them with care. Ibnu Kathir states in his commentary: “Imam Ahmad and most scholars ruled it obligatory to treat any guests who came to our house.” [2]

Syeikh Muhammad al-Amin al-Syanqiti said that there are several lessons from the above story of Prophet Abraham which are; one should hasten in serving food and drink to one’s guests, serve the best food available in the house, place the food near the guests and speak politely with one’s guests. [3]

In conclusion, honouring one’s guests is encouraged by the Prophet PBUH. This is in accordance with the statement of the Prophet PBUH:

مَنْ كَانَ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ فَلَا يُؤْذِ جَارَهُ وَمَنْ كَانَ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ فَلْيُكْرِمْ ضَيْفَهُ وَمَنْ كَانَ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ فَلْيَقُلْ خَيْرًا أَوْ لِيَصْمُتْ

“He who believes in God and the last day should honour his guest; he who believes in God and the last day should not annoy his neighbour, and he who believes in God and the last day should say what is good, or keep silent.” [4]

According to the above hadith, among the perfection of faith is for a person to honour his guests. Al-Munawi said: “He should honour his guests regardless of whether he is wealthy or poor. Welcome one’s guests with a smile, gifts and return their visit by visiting the guests’ house.” [5]

Imam al-Nawawi said: Treating one’s guests with care is sunnah. If a person comes to visit one’s house and it does not harm him, then it is sunnah for him to honour the guest. [6]

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[1] Surah Al-Zariyat: 24-27

[2] Tafsir Al-Quran Al-‘Azim, 4/300

[3] Adhwa’ Al-Bayan Fi Idhah Al-Quran bi Al-Quran, 2/297

[4] Sahih Al-Bukhari, no. 6136

[5] Faidh Al-Qadir, 6/209

[6] Al-Majmu’ Syarh Al-Muhazzab, 9/57

Artikel sebelum iniChapter 38: Tea at Marjeh Square
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Berkelulusan PhD dengan pengkhususan dalam bidang fatwa di USM, beliau juga merupakan Ahli Dewan Negara, Anggota The Muslim Council of Elders (UAE), Anggota The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (USA), mantan Menteri di JPM (Hal Ehwal Agama) dan mantan Mufti Wilayah Persekutuan. Antara guru beliau sepanjang pengajian di peringkat BA (Madinah) dan MA (Syria) adalah Syeikh Dr. Muhammad Sa'id Ramadhan al-Buti, Syeikh Muhammad 'Ali Thani, Syeikh Rushdi Qalam, Syeikh Dr. Muhammad Abdullatif Soleh al-Farfour, Syeikh Dr. Muhammad bin Muhammad al-Mukhtar al-Syinqiti, Syeikh Dr. Muhsin al-'Abbad dan ramai lagi.

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