On 15 January 2019, world-renowned public intellectual Professor Mona Siddiqui, OBE, delivered the annual lecture commemorating Milad-un-Nabi, to an audience of over 250 government and community leaders, academics, and members of the Jamat on the topic of “Hospitality, Global Conflicts and Migration: From Divine Imperative to Social Conscience.” 

In her welcome remarks, Ismaili Council for Ontario President Sheherazade Hirji observed that commemorating the birth of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him and his family), is a time to reflect upon the Prophet’s teachings and words in a contemporary context. She commended Professor Siddiqui’s work in highlighting “the prominent role of hospitality as a fundamental basis for human relationships” before welcoming the esteemed speaker to the stage.

Professor Siddiqui described hospitality as a universal practice with roots in pre-Islamic times. In its most basic sense, she said, hospitality represents the generous act of welcoming others into our homes. She explained that the pre-Islamic notion of generosity consisted of giving to those in need and providing food to others, and that it was regarded as a fundamental attitude towards both nomads and neighbours. She said the importance of giving in Islam was such that, when the Prophet was asked what faith was, it is said that he replied, “It is the giving of food and the exchange of greetings.” Professor Siddiqui noted that an important aspect of hospitality is that it recognizes intellectual deprivation and helplessness in others. She clarified that hospitality is neither philanthropy nor charity; rather, it is our duty. It is “recognizing that others have a stake in our wealth, and even our time,” she said.

During the lecture, Professor Siddiqui also spoke about the complexities of hospitality in today’s world. She used the example of certain countries refusing to accept refugees. Siddiqui explained that this anti-immigration sentiment and the rise of populism, nationalism, and public anxiety around welcoming strangers is problematic because we now have “fractured societies” where individuals isolate themselves from strangers and even from neighbours, despite possessing the tools to demonstrate basic hospitality. She also explained that choosing not to share physical space with others means there is less of a chance that we will share emotional space with others. Thus, rather than encouraging the widespread fear that offering hospitality to strangers opens individuals up to risk, she said, we should realize that this fear perhaps “masks a more urgent reality, which is apathy towards fellow neighbours and citizens…much of hospitality is overcoming our own fears.”

“Without shared space, we cannot have shared fellowship, and friendship needs both to grow,” she concluded. Following the lecture, Professor Siddiqui engaged in a Q&A session with the audience.

Professor Siddiqui teaches Islamic and inter-religious studies at the University of Edinburgh’s Divinity School. She is an author and a commentator in various media, including chair of the BBC’s Religious Advisory Committee. In 2017, Siddiqui was listed on the Debrett’s 500 List of the most influential people in the United Kingdom.