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Etiquettes of Conversation and Sitting in Sessions

By: Ayatullah Shaheed Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim
The third step towards courtesy and indulgence is commitment to good manners during sessions and conversations. Islamic legislation has taken special interest in this topic, revealed through the following points:

Etiquettes of Participation in Sessions
Islam has specified certain etiquettes for sitting in public sessions as well as certain manners of behavior in public assemblies and meetings. Some of these etiquettes are as follows:

Making room for new comers
One of these etiquettes is to make room and place in sessions and to leave these sessions once they are terminated. In this respect, the Holy Qur'an says, O you who believe! When it is said to you, “Make room in (your) assemblies,” then make ample room, Allah will give you ample; and when it is said, “Rise up,” then rise up; Allah will exalt those of you who believe, and those who are given knowledge in high degrees. (58:11)
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have quoted the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: Persons sitting in one place in summer are required to leave a space that is as long as the arm bone between each couple of them so that none of them will make narrow the place of the others.¯1
About the exegesis of the holy verse, Surely, we see you to be of the doers of good. (12:36)
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: Prophet Joseph (‘a) used to make room in sessions, ask for loans for the needy, and help the weak.¯2
In addition to the above, there are other etiquettes decided by the Holy Legislator in this regard.¯3

Receiving and Bidding Farewell
Another behavior to be practiced in general sessions is to receive and bid farewell those who join and leave these sessions.
Through a familiar way of narration, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have quoted the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: One of the duties that are incumbent upon a host towards the visitor is to walk with him for a short distance when he comes in or leaves the house.¯4

Following the Instructions of the Host
It is mannerly to sit where the owner of the house orders you to sit, because he knows better the most suitable places in his house to sit in, be it for the sake of honoring the guest or for the sake of the internal affairs of his house. In this regard, the Holy Prophet (S) is reported to have said: When you enter the house of one of your brothers-in-faith, you should be obedient to his orders until you leave.¯5
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have quoted his father (‘a) as saying: When you enter the house of one of your brethren-in-faith, you should sit where the owner of the house orders you to sit, because he knows the gaps in his house more than the guest does.¯6

Manner of Sitting
Sayyid ‘Abd al-’Azim al-Hasani has reported that the Holy Prophet (S) used to sit in one of three positions. (1) He used to squat; i.e. to sit with the hams resting on the backs of the heels, (2) he used to rest on the knees, or (3) he used to twist one leg and stretch the other on it. He never sat cross-legged.¯7
However, some traditions reported from the Ahl al-Bayt (S) hold that it is acceptable to sit cross-legged for purpose of timely rest. Imam ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn (‘a) is reported to have said: I have sat in this way because of fatigue.¯8
Apparently, the abovementioned three ways of sitting represented the utmost of courtesy on the one hand and the saving of place on the other, which suited the social and life situations of that time.

Modest Posture
%To behave modestly in sitting is to choose the nearest space to sit in. In this regard, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported through a valid chain of authority to have said: He who accepts to sit in a less suitable place for his prestige, Almighty Allah and His angels will keep on blessing him until he leaves.¯9
This modesty is also reported to have been one of the Holy Prophet’s manners. Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: The Messenger of Allah (S) used to sit in the narrowest space he found in houses he visited.¯10
In this connection, it is worth mentioning that it is recommended to sit facing the kiblah direction and to avoid sitting opposite to sunlight so as to avoid the moral and material consequences stemming from it.¯11

Blessing the Sneezing
One of the prophetic traditions is to bless the person who sneezes. This means to address the sneezing person with the statement of ‘yarhamukallahu (Allah may have mercy upon you)’. The sneezer may then answer with the statement of ‘yahdikumullahu wa yuslihu balakum (May Allah guide you and improve your condition)’ or similar statements like ‘yaghfirullahu lakum wa yarhamukum (May Allah forgive you and have mercy upon you)’ or ‘yaghfirullahu lana walakum (May Allah forgive you and us)’. Following the example of the Holy Prophet (S), the Holy Imams (‘a) laid stress on this social manner.
In this regard, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: Some duties of a Muslim towards his brother-in-faith are: to greet him when they meet, to visit him when he is ailed, to act sincerely towards him while he is absent, to bless him when he sneezes. After one sneezes, he says immediately, ‘alhamdu lillahi rabbi’l-’alamina la sharika lahu (All praise is due to Allah the Lord of the Worlds; there is no partner -in Lordship- with Him)’. His brother-in-faith may address him with the statement of ‘yarhamukallahu (Allah may have mercy upon you)’, and the sneezer then replies with the statement of ‘yahdikumullahu wa yuslihu balakum (May Allah guide you and improve your condition)’. Also, to accept his invitations, and to participate in his funeral ceremony.¯12
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is also reported to have quoted the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: If one sneezes, then you must bless him even if he is on the other side of an island.¯13
In this connection, a set of manners and instructions have been shown up. For instance, one is required to say ‘alhamdu lillahi (All praise is due to Allah) immediately after sneezing. It is also instructed to repeat the invocation of blessings upon the Holy Prophet and his Household three times immediately after sneezing and to repeat the same invocation three times when sneezing is repeated. It is also acceptable to bless the Dhimmi (a non-Muslim enjoying protection of the Islamic state) when sneezing. Other manners have also been mentioned in this connection.¯14

Manners of Conversation
The Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) practiced a set of manners during conversations. The following manners are some more examples:
1. It is obligatory to conceal whatever is said in private sessions because “meetings must be based on trust. It is therefore, disallowed to reveal an issue concealed by the person involved in it before obtaining his permission, unless the addressee is trustworthy or the issue entails the good reputation of that person.”¯15
2. If there are three persons sitting together, two of them must not talk confidentially to one another and leave their third mate to wonder what they need to hide from him.
3. It is discommended to interrupt the discourse of somebody, because, it is reported from the Holy Prophet (S), “Whoever interrupts the discourse of one’s brother-in-faith, is as if he has scratched his face.”

Limits of Laughter and Joking
As mentioned earlier, laughter must always be controlled. It has also been mentioned that the source of guffawing is Satan. In view of this, the Holy Imams (‘a) have called for being moderate in joking, because overdoing it begets rancor, reflects on spite, and brings up malice.
On the other hand, joking that is neither excessive nor borders on indecency is something approved of by the Holy Legislator, because it expresses a sort of amicability and endearment of oneself to others, as well as consistency with the spiritual and psychological situations of dialogue and conversation within the frame of the public social manners.
Through a valid chain of authority, Mu’ammar ibn Khallad is reported to have asked Imam al-Ridha (‘a) whether it is acceptable or not to joke together and laugh in sessions.
The Imam (‘a) answered, There is no objection to this unless there is indecency. A Bedouin used to come to the Holy Prophet (S) and offer him a present. When the Holy Prophet (S) would accept it, the Bedouin would say jokingly, “Well, give me the price of my present!” The Holy Prophet (S) would laugh for that. Then, when the Holy Prophet (S) would be distressed, he would say, “Where is that Bedouin? I wish he were present now!”¯16
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: Verily, Almighty Allah does love the one who jokes in assemblies, yet without indecency.¯17
Yunus al-Shaybani is reported to have said that Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) asked him, “Do you exchange pleasantries with each other?”
“Very little,” al-Shaybani answered.
The Imam (‘a) remarked, Do not abandon them, because pleasantry is part of good nature. Through pleasantry, you give delight to your brother-in-faith. The Messenger of Allah (S) used to exchange pleasantries with men in the intention of pleasing them.¯18
Al-Fadhl ibn Abi-Qurrah reported Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) as saying: There is no (true) faithful believer except that he enjoys good-natured remarks; that is joking.¯1¯9

Acceptance of Favors and Kind Acts
It is recommended to accept favors and kind acts when they are offered, because acceptance of such acts are considered amicability, endearment to people, and good manners. Many traditions encourage accepting such acts, maintaining that none except a “donkey” may refuse. Such kind acts can take many forms, such as making room in a session and offering a cushion to sit on, a perfume, or any other thing, which carries an indication of honoring one in public sessions and assemblies.
Through a valid way of narration, ‘Abdullah ibn Ja’far reports in the book of Qurb al-Isnad that Imam al-Sadiq (‘a), on the authority of his fathers, quoted the Holy Prophet (S) to have said: If a kind act is offered to you, you must not refuse it, because only donkeys refuse acts of kindness.¯20
When he was asked about the meaning of acts of kindness, Imam al-Ridha (‘a) answered, Acts of kindness are such as perfumes that are offered to somebody and rooms that are made in sessions. He who refuses such acts is as exactly as what has been said about him.¯21
According to other narrations, cushions that are offered to a new comer in a session as well as any other such acts are added to acts of kindness.¯22
1. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:405, S. 4, H. 2.
2. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:405, S. 4, H. 1.
3. - Refer to Wasa'il al-Shi’ah.
4. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:471, S. 70.
5. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:471, S. 70.
6. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah, 8:476, S. 78, H. 1.
7. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah, 8:472, S. 74, H. 1.
8. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah, 8:473, H. 2.
9. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah, 8:474, H. 1.
10. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah, 8:474, H. 2.
11. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah, 8:475, S. 77-78.
12. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah, 8:459, H. 1.
13. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah, 8:459, H. 2. More narrations of the same purport have been mentioned in the same section of this reference book.
14. - Refer to Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah, Vol. 8 Etiquettes of Association, Sections 57-66.
15. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:471, S. 71, H. 3.
16. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:477, S. 80, H. 1.
17. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:478, S. 80, H. 5.
18. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:478, S. 80, H. 4.
19. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:477, H. 3.
20. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:470, H. 7.
21. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:470, H. 5.
22. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:477, H. 3 & 4.

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