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Arab hospitality: A conduit for coexistence

‘Hospitality is like a genetic trait for Arabs. Most of us experience it, learn it, and apply it’

Leen Hajjar

Published: Updated:

On The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart discussed his movie Rosewater, filmed in Jordan last summer. “The Middle East is incredibly hospitable... You’d meet people on the streets and they’d invite you to their house,” said Stewart.

One of the most salient features of Arab culture is its hospitality. If someone says “come over for a cup of coffee this afternoon,” what they mean is “come for coffee, fruit, dinner, dessert, and more coffee.” Such generosity is part of the fabric of Arab society, irrespective of class, religion or sect.

This past summer, I witnessed a young man’s car break down in the middle of a crowded highway in Amman, Jordan. In less than a minute, many drivers parked their cars on the roadside to help him. Pedestrians also offered their assistance, echoing each other with the word “salamtak,” which praises someone after persevering through hardship.

The situation was quickly resolved as locals called traffic officers and car companies, offering to remain with the man until the necessary people arrived. This kindness allows Middle East societies to weather any storm that comes their way.

Hospitality part of Arab DNA

Layla Jameel, a 22-year-old American-Jordanian who was born in Palo Alto, California, left her hometown at the age of 15 and moved to Amman, hoping to discover her Middle Eastern roots, traditions and culture. “Hospitality is like a genetic trait for Arabs. Most of us experience it, learn about it, and apply it from a very young age,” she said.

Carol Ann, from Scotland, spent several years living in Muscat, where she quickly developed great admiration for the kindness of the Omani people. “When my mum died, I was very moved that so many friends came to her wake,” she said.

“There were both Christian and Muslim prayers for her all together. My close Omani friends came to my home, sat and mourned with me, as they would’ve if one of their mothers had died. I never forgot that, and it touched me deeply. This is just one example of the many kindnesses I experienced in Oman.”

Jordanian Farah Issa said: “We’re known for our hospitality. We should be proud of this trait and continue to represent it, especially to people in the West who might be unfamiliar with our culture.”

These experiences will continue to resonate across the Middle East in good and bad times, underpinned by the power of hospitality to act as a conduit for coexistence.