The 58th Call: Prohibition of Entering People’s Houses without Permission
Almighty Allah says (what can be translated as): ”O you who have believed, do not enter houses other than your own houses until you ascertain welcome and greet their inhabitants. That is best for you; perhaps you will be reminded. And if you do not find anyone therein, do not enter them until permission has been given you. And if it is said to you, ‘Go back,’ then go back; it is purer for you. And Allah is Knowing of what you do. There is no blame upon you for entering houses not inhabited in which there is convenience for you. And Allah knows what you reveal and what you conceal.” (An-Nur: 27-29)
Almighty Allah disciplines His believing servants by commanding them not to enter houses other than their own without asking the permission their inhabitants and then to greet them after they are granted the permission to enter. They have to ask permission up to three times, if they are given permission to enter they can or else they have to leave. Asking permission to enter is for the best interest of the visitor and the people of the house. Houses are dwellings where people rest and relax. They feel secure and safe about their private affairs and honors. In their houses, they put down the burdens of caution and alertness that exhaust the spirits and feelings. Houses would not be that comfortable unless they are safe and secure places against any violation. They should not be entered except after a permission granted by their tenants at the time they want. (At the time of Jahilyah they used to enter without asking for permission, and then they used to say we entered).
If they do not find anyone at the house that would permit them to enter, then they should not get in. If the inhabitants are in the house and do not grant permission to the visitor to enter, then he should leave as he does not have the right to enter. He should not feel angry or offended by the people of the house, because people might have secrets or excuses and they alone can assess whether they can receive visitors at a certain time or not according to their conditions. Almighty Allah is Knowing of what hearts conceal and He is Fully-Aware of the motives of people.
There is no blame upon you for entering houses that are not built for people to live in like public places such as public restrooms, hotels and governmental departments prepared to receive the general public. Granting permission to the visitor to enter is enough. Almighty Allah is Knowing and Supervisor of your secret and public affairs. Such supervision is a guaranty for the obedience of hearts and conformity with ethics and manners set by Allah for them to follow.
Allah has made homes places of comfort where people may relax and enjoy privacy and reassurance. At home, they do not feel the need to be cautious or on the alert. Thus, they may relax and take things easy. But homes cannot be so unless their privacy is strictly respected. No one may enter a home without its occupier’s knowledge and permission, at the time they choose, and in the manner they prefer.
Should we be able to go into other people’s homes without first seeking permission, we may see them in situations they want to keep private, or we may see what arouses desire and opens the way to error. This could come about through a chance meeting, or a casual glance. When these are repeated, they become deliberate, motivated by the desires aroused by the casual glance in the first place. It may even develop into a sinful relation or cause a suppressed desire leading to a psychological problem.
In pre-Islamic days in Arabia, visitors used to enter a home and then announce themselves. It could be that inside a man may be with his wife in a position they did not want anyone to see; or that the man or woman were undressed. All this used to hurt people, and deprived them of a sense of security at home. Furthermore, when visitors saw charm and beauty, temptation might be strong or even irresistible.
For all such reasons, Allah laid down the requirement to observe fine manners, making it necessary for a Muslim to announce himself and greet the people inside before entering. This establishes a friendly atmosphere right from the first moment.
“O you who have believed, do not enter houses other than your own houses until you ascertain welcome and greet their inhabitants.” (Verse 27) Seeking permission is expressed in the Arabic original in an unusual way, tasta’nisu, which implies friendliness. Thus we may say that we should not enter other people’s houses until we have obtained friendly and cordial permission. This implies that the visitor should be gentle in his approach so as to be welcomed by the people inside. Such refinement is characteristic of Islamic manners.
When permission is sought, it follows that the house is either empty or people are inside. If there is no one in, then the caller cannot enter, because entry follows permission. “And if you do not find anyone therein, do not enter them until permission has been given you.” (Verse 28) But if there is someone in, seeking permission is not enough for entry. It is merely a request, and if the request is not granted, entry is prohibited. It is better to leave without delay: “And if it is said to you, ‘Go back,’ then go back; it is purer for you.” (Verse 28)
The person who is told to go back should do so without feeling upset or offended. People have their secrets and they may have good reason for not receiving a visitor at a particular time. It is up to them to determine their own situation. “And Allah is Knowing of what you do.” (Verse 28) He knows people’s secrets and motives.
Places that are more or less public, like hotels, guest houses and reception halls which are separate from the main house are treated differently. We may enter such places without first seeking permission, because the very reason for seeking permission before entry does not apply to them. Requiring permission first may be inconvenient in such places.
“There is no blame upon you for entering houses not inhabited in which there is convenience for you. And Allah knows what you reveal and what you conceal.” (Verse 29) The point here is that of Allah’s knowledge of all our situations and what we do in public or private. The feeling that Allah watches us in all situations should make people more obedient and willing to observe the refined manners which He has outlined in His book that lays down a code of living for all humanity.
As a complete code for human life, the Qur’an emphasizes this point of detail in social life because it aims to regulate life in all its aspects, bringing its details in line with its fundamental issues. Thus, seeking permission before entering other people’s homes respects the sanctity which makes the home a place of relaxation. It spares its people the embarrassment of being taken by surprise, or being seen in a situation that they prefer not to be seen in. We are not talking here only about the parts of the human body which should be covered. At home people may be in a situation which they simply do not like others to see. It could relate to their personal appearance, the way they dress or lay their furniture, or anything else. It could also relate to feelings and emotions. Who of us would like to be seen in a situation of weakness, crying or angry or in pain or distress?
The Qur’anic code of manners attends to all these details through the requirement of seeking permission before entering someone else’s home. It also seeks to reduce chances of casual meetings or sightings that could arouse desire and develop into unacceptable relations that Satan may stealthily encourage. The first Muslim community to be addressed by the Qur’an clearly understood such directives and their purpose. The Prophet (PBUH) himself was the first to implement them.
The Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) visited Saad ibn Ubadah, the chief of the Anşar, at home and sought permission, saying: “Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah”, meaning, peace and Allah’s mercy be bestowed on you. Saad replied in a low voice. His son, Qays, asked him: “Are you not letting Allah’s Messenger in?” Saad said: “Let him wish us peace more.”
Again the Prophet (PBUH) repeated his greeting and Saad replied in a low voice twice more. Therefore, the Prophet departed, but Saad ran after him and explained what happened, saying: “Messenger of Allah, I certainly heard your greetings and replied quietly hoping that you would wish us peace more and more.” The Prophet (PBUH) went in with him. Saad ordered water to be brought for the Prophet to wash. Then he gave him a small blanket dyed with saffron to cover himself. The Prophet (PBUH) then raised his hands, praying: “My Lord, shower Your blessings and grace on Saad ibn Ubādah’s family.” [Related by Abu Dawud and al-Nasa’i]
The Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) taught his Companions how to approach someone else’s home, saying: “If you come towards a home, do not face the door straight, but stand to the right or to the left, and say: Assalamu alaykum! Assalamu alaykum!” At that time, there were no screens on doors. [Related by Abu Dawud] Saad ibn Abi Waqqaş came to the Prophet (PBUH) and stood facing the door, seeking permission. The Prophet said to him: “Move this way or that way, because permission is sought before a person looks in.” [Related by Abu Dawud]
An authentic hadith quotes the Prophet as saying: “If a person overlooks you without having obtained permission, and you hit him with a small stone, and cause him a severe injury in his eye, you have nothing to answer for.” [Related by al- Bukhari and Muslim]
Rib’i, a Companion of the Prophet (PBUH), reports: “A man from the Amir clan sought permission to enter the Prophet’s home, saying: ‘Can I enter?’ The Prophet said to his servant: ‘Go to this man and teach him how to seek permission. Tell him to say: ‘Assalamu alaykum. May I come in?’ The man overheard the Prophet and said exactly that. The Prophet gave him permission and he entered.” [Related by Abu Dawud]
Abdullah ibn Umar was walking, troubled by the heat, and he urgently needed to relieve himself. He approached a Qurayshi woman’s place, and said: “Assalamu alaykum. May I come in?” She said: “Enter with peace.” He repeated what he said, and she repeated her reply. He was unable to stand still. He told her to say: “Come in”, if she wanted to give him permission and she did so. He then entered.
Aţa’ ibn Rabah, a scholar who studied under Abdullāh ibn Abbas, the Prophet’s cousin whose scholarly knowledge was recognized as highly authoritative, reported: “I asked Ibn Abbas: ‘Should I seek permission before entering when only my orphan sisters are at home considering that I look after them and they live with me in the same home?’ He said: ‘Yes.’ I asked him again so that he might give me a concession, but he refused. Instead, he asked me: ‘Do you like to see your sister undressed?’ I answered in the negative. He said: ‘Then seek permission before entry.’ I repeated the question once more, but he asked me: ‘Do you love to obey Allah?’ I said: ‘Yes.’ He said: ‘Then seek permission.’”
An authentic hadith makes it clear that the Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) prohibited a man from entering his own home unannounced to surprise his wife. In another version the prohibition is attached to such a surprise being made at night, implying that his family might be doing something unacceptable.
Another hadith mentions that the Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) arrived with his Companions at Madinah during the day. So, he encamped at the outskirts, explaining his purpose: “Wait until the end of the day, so that a woman has a chance to attend to her uncombed hair, or remove unwanted hair on her body.”
Such refined manners were characteristic of the Prophet (PBUH) and his Companions after Allah had taught them the Islamic way. Today, however, we find that such fine considerations are largely meaningless despite our being Muslims. A man may just turn up at his brother’s door at any time of the day or night, knocking hard and caring little for disturbing the people inside, until the door is opened. The people may have a telephone which provides an excellent way of seeking permission to visit before coming. He could thus easily find out a time suitable to his hosts. Nevertheless, people simply do not take such steps. A man may arrive at someone’s home without a prior appointment or permission. What is worse, our social tradition makes it imperative that a visitor who has come unannounced be received, even though his visit might be extremely inconvenient.
We are certainly Muslims, but we surprise our friends at any moment, even at meal times. If we are not invited to a meal, we may feel aggrieved. We may even surprise them late at night, and if they do not invite us to stay the night, we are offended. We allow our hosts no excuses either way. All this takes place simply because we neglect Islamic manners. We do not bring our own preferences in line with what has been taught by Allah’s Messenger (Peace Be upon Him). We insist on following a mistaken social tradition that has no divine authority.
We look at other, non-Muslim communities and find that their social traditions are closer to the values and manners Islam wants us to adopt. Sometimes we admire these, but at other times we may even ridicule them, without even trying to look into what Islam wants us to do.