We, the human race, are social creatures. Almost all of us desire the company of others on a regular basis. We like to be surrounded by family and friends, and share our personal experiences with them. The recent appearance of various social networking tools, and people’s adoption of them at a virtually explosive rate, illustrates the fundamental human desire for social belonging and exchange. This is what is meant when the scholars say, الإنسان مدني بطبعه “Man, by his nature, is a social being”.
Islām, being the divine and most practical way of life in existence, acknowledges this and has thus offered guidelines for these social gatherings, regardless of their platform, for the outcome of each and every gathering will vary immensely from group to group depending on where they stand in relation to these guidelines. Some will walk away from these gatherings having ascended one level higher in Allāh’s Eyes having made paradise for themselves more and more probable, whilst others will walk away having dropped yet another level, making the hellfire more and more probable.
Considering that these gatherings are places (1) where the name of Allah is remembered or forgotten, (3) where the honour of people is defended or abused, (4) where talents are discovered or ignored, (5) where advice is issued or withheld, (5) where sins may be gained or erased, (6) where paradise or hell may be earned, and, on top of this, (7) such gatherings are engaged in tens of times a day, in fact, our entire lives are made up of gatherings, for we are now sat within a gathering, and, at work, we will be sat in another, and at home this evening, we will be sat in a third, and when we log onto our social media, we will be sat in yet a fourth, this topic – the Islamic guidelines for such gatherings – is absolutely indispensable in the life of a Muslim.
With this said, I offer a few of these guidelines, so as to ensure that none of our gatherings are wasted, let alone cost us our place in Jannah, for we wish to see each and every gathering of ours today arguing a case for us in Allāh’s court on the Day of Reckoning.
The first: Arrive and depart with ‘Salām’
There are countless ways of introducing your arrival to any conversation or gathering, but there is none greater than a greeting of Salām. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,
«إِذَا انْتَهى أَحَدُكُمْ إِلَى المَجْلِسِ فَلْيُسَلِّمْ، فَإذَا أَرَادَ أَنْ يَقُومَ فَلْيُسَلِّمْ، فَلَيْسَتِ الأُولَى بِأحَقّ مِنَ الآخِرَةِ»
“When one of you comes to gathering, he should give Salām, and if he wishes to leave, he should give Salām, as the first is not more of a duty than the last.” 
Thus you make it clear right from the outset of your arrival that “I enter this gathering with a duʿā’ of peace for everyone here. None of those who are present or absent will be harmed by me and, when I depart, I will leave you in a similar state of peace.”
The second: To fill those moments with Allāh’s remembrance
Since you will not be speaking for every second of such a gathering nor is it necessarily praiseworthy for you to do so, use those brief pauses to invest in your Hereafter by engaging your tongue in Allāh’s remembrance. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
ما من قومٍ جلسوا مجلسًا لم يذكروا اللهَ فيه إلا رأوْهُ حسرةً يومَ القيامةِ
“Any group who sit in a gathering where they do not remember the name of Allāh except will regret doing so on the day of Judgement.” 
The mind and heart of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) were in a permanent state of contact with Allāh and this was noticeable to all those who sat with him, moving his mouth in Allāh’s remembrance during every pause, as Ibnu ʿUmar (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) said:
كُنَّا نَعُدُّ لرسولِ اللهِ – صلى الله عليه وسلم – في المَجْلِسِ الواحِدِ مئَةَ مَرَّةٍ: «رَبِّ اغْفِرْ لِي وَتُبْ عَلَيَّ إنَّكَ أَنْتَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ
“We counted that the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would say a hundred times during a single gathering: “My Lord, forgive me and pardon me; You are the Pardoning and forgiving One”.
Such busyness in Allāh’s remembrance however does not mean that one is to withdraw himself from those who sit with him, which takes us to our third guideline.
The third: Give them their due attention
Ibnu ʿAbbās narrated that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) took for himself a ring and wore it. Later on he said to his companions,
شَغَلَنِي هَذَا عَنْكُمْ مُنْذُ الْيَوْمِ، إِلَيْهِ نَظْرَةٌ، وَإِلَيْكُمْ نَظْرَةٌ
“This ring has distracted me today from you, as I now find myself sharing my glances between you and it.” And so the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) threw it away.
Put down your phone, close your laptop, cast aside your iPad and put down the fidget spinner, particularly when you are sat with those who appreciate your companionship and, specifically, your mother and father.
The fourth: To confidently correct the evil statements or actions of such a gathering
What may start off as a gathering of innocent conversation and neutral discussion may slowly start taking a completely different course, a sinful one. Such a course could be the backstabbing of another, or mockery of an aspect of Dīn, or the use of obscene language, or gossiping over unverified information, or gazes that are not lowered, or an intoxicant that is consumed, or Salāh that is delayed, or their likes, in which case your duty before Allāh is to gently advise. Should your advice be accepted, then Alḥamdulillāh, otherwise the priority is to leave such a gathering. Should you voluntarily choose to remain however, then you are – in Allāh’s Eyes – just as guilty of their doings as they are, regardless of its nature. Allāh said:
وَإِذَا رَأَيْتَ الَّذِينَ يَخُوضُونَ فِي آَيَاتِنَا فَأَعْرِضْ عَنْهُمْ حَتَّى يَخُوضُوا فِي حَدِيثٍ غَيْرِهِ
“And when you see those who engage in false conversation concerning Our verses, then turn away from them until they enter into another conversation.”
In yet another āyah, the warning is even severer. Allāh said:
وَقَدْ نَزَّلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الْكِتَابِ أَنْ إِذَا سَمِعْتُمْ آَيَاتِ اللَّهِ يُكْفَرُ بِهَا وَيُسْتَهْزَأُ بِهَا فَلَا تَقْعُدُوا مَعَهُمْ حَتَّى يَخُوضُوا فِي حَدِيثٍ غَيْرِهِ إِنَّكُمْ إِذًا مِثْلُهُمْ
“And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allāh being denied and ridiculed; so do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation. Indeed, you would then be like them.”
Merely being in the presence of sin where one remains quiet is equivalent to the doing of that very sin, thus Imām Al-Qurtubi said in his commentary of this āyah:
فكل من جلس في مجلس معصية، ولم ينكر عليهم، يكون معهم في الوزر سواء
“Therefore anyone who sits in a gathering of sin and fails to speak out against it will be identical to them in terms of sin.” 
Ibrāhām An-Nakha’i said:
إنّ الرجل ليجلس فيتكلم بالكلمة، فيرضي الله بها، فتصيبُه الرحمة فتعمُّ من حوله، وإِن الرجل ليجلس في المجلس، فيتكلم بالكلمة، فيسخط الله بها، فيصيبه السّخط، فيعمّ من حوله
“A person may utter a statement that please Allāh so much that Allāh’s mercy descends upon him and affects all those who are sat with him, whilst another may utter a statement that angers Allāh so much that Allāh’s wrath descends upon him and affects all those who are sat with him.”
The fifth: Not everything that is discussed needs to be disclosed
Some of us have a habit of reporting back to, for example, our husbands or wives the ins and outs of every gathering, whilst those whom we were sat with had entrusted us with this information. One should not feel in need of requesting his friend to “not share this with anyone”, for it should be the default. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“The gatherings are to be considered as trusts.” 
What you may consider as innocent transfer of information may be in the eyes of someone else very problematic. Not everything that is discussed in gatherings is to be disclosed, and secrets are only to be revealed when there is a true benefit in doing so.
The sixth: Choose the best companionship
Only Allāh knows of just how many people will walk into Paradise because of a friend, and only Allāh knows of just how many people will fall into the pits of the fire because of a friend. So significant is this guideline that some will in fact blame their misery on the Day of Reckoning on friends. Allāh said:
وَيَوْمَ يَعَضُّ الظَّالِمُ عَلَى يَدَيْهِ يَقُولُ يَا لَيْتَنِي اتَّخَذْتُ مَعَ الرَّسُولِ سَبِيلًا (27) يَا وَيْلَتَى لَيْتَنِي لَمْ أَتَّخِذْ فُلَانًا خَلِيلًا
“And on the Day when the wrong-doer will bite at his hands, he will say: “Oh! I wish that I had taken a path with the Messenger! Ah! Woe to me! I wish that I had not taken so and so as a friend!”
Your priorities and obsessions in life will change immensely, alternating from food to weightlifting to appearances to gaming to sports to Da’wah, knowledge and ʿibāda, to other things, depending on those whom you sit with. Whether you realise it or not but with the passage of time, what interests them will end up interesting you. Thus those who came before us were very keen to pinpoint the greatest of companionship, particularly upon their arrival to a new city.
قدمت الشأم فصليت ركعتين ثم قلت : اللهم يسر لي جليسا صالحا فأتيت قوما فجلست إليهم فإذا شيخ قد جاء حتى جلس إلى جنبي قلت : من هذا ؟ قالوا أبو الدرداء
“I arrived at Ash-Shām (greater Syria) and I prayed two units of Salāh then I said, ‘O Allāh, bless me with a righteous friend’ I arrived at a gathering and sat down when an old man came and sat next to me. I said, ‘Who are you?’ He replied, ‘Abū AdDardā’ (the companion of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)).”
Similarly, Huraith b. Qabīsa said:
قدمت المدينة فقلت : اللهم يسر لي جليسا صالحا ، قال فجلست إلى أبي هريرة
“I arrived at the city of Madina and I said, ‘O Allāh, bless me with a righteous friend’ and so I found myself sitting next to Abū Huraira (again, the companion of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam))” 
They were a people who realised the ḥadīth that states,
الْمَرْءُ عَلَى دِينِ خَلِيلِهِ فَلْيَنْظُرْ أَحَدُكُمْ مَنْ يُخَالِلْ
“You will follow the way of your friend, so be careful as per whom you befriend.” 
It is no excuse to say they no longer exist, for those God-conscious and Hereafter-centric people are around. Simply show Allāh sincerity in wanting to be close to them and He will send them your way, inshāAllāh.
The seventh: To only speak when certain of its benefit
Time and time again you will find yourself in a situation where the outcome depends on what you say and how you say it. Since your speech shapes your life and afterlife, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
مَنْ كَانَ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ فَلْيَقُلْ خَيْرًا أَوْ لِيَصْمُتْ
“Whoever believes in Allāh and the Last Day, then let him say what is best or remain quiet.” 
Reacting by speaking is the natural and immediate reaction. Preventing yourself from doing so means that you are breaking the pattern or habit and taking control. You are giving yourself time to consciously choose what you want to say based upon your belief in paradise, hell and a Lord who is watching.
The eighth: Joking and mockery are not the same thing
The purpose of a Mizāh/joke is to lighten the atmosphere and bring joy to those involved. If, however, it ends up causing friction or sadness, then by definition, this is not a ‘joke’, but Sukhriya/an insult which Allāh has prohibited when He said:
لَا يَسْخَرْ قَوْمٌ مِنْ قَوْمٍ عَسَى أَنْ يَكُونُوا خَيْرًا مِنْهُمْ وَلَا نِسَاءٌ مِنْ نِسَاءٍ عَسَى أَنْ يَكُنَّ خَيْرًا مِنْهُنَّ وَلَا تَلْمِزُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ وَلَا تَنَابَزُوا بِالْأَلْقَاب
“…let not a people ridicule another people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule other women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by offensive nicknames..”
Whilst it is true that our offensive jokes may bring about smiles, even from the face of the victim himself, this is certainly not evidence that it was well received or appreciated, for those smiles of his may be hiding an enormous amount of pain, as one poet said:
ولربما ختزن الكريم لسانه … حذر الجواب وإنه لمفوه
ولربما ابتسم الكريم من الأذى … وفؤادُه من حره يتأوه
“It may be that the honourable one may restrain his tongue, fearing its response despite him being well spoken, and it may be that the honourable one may smile at the harm he hears, whilst his heart is in fact screaming in pain.” 
The companions said to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam),
يا رسولَ اللَّهِ ! إنَّكَ تداعِبُنا ؟
“O messenger of Allāh, you joke with us”
He responded, إنِّي لا أقولُ إلَّا حقًّا
“But I only speak the truth.”
His joking was not confused with mockery, nor did contain any harmful physical elements, nor lying or backstabbing, nor was it excessive.
The ninth: Identify the talents
Even if we were very young at the time, those moments where we had been humiliated or made to feel insignificant never really leave us. By the same token, those moments of inspiration and words of encouragement are also never forgotten. Therefore when you find yourself sat in a gathering, identify the talents of those in your presence, offer encouragement and direct their talents to the Home of the Hereafter. In the lives of many greats, it was nothing but a single statement that turned their lives around for ever. Consider these two examples:
It was a simply a passing comment within a gathering that inspired the great Imām Adh-Dhahabi to pursue the path of knowledge, when his Shaykh, Al-Birzaali, said to him:
إن خطك يشبه خط المحدثين
“Your hand writing resembles the handwriting of the scholars of ḥadīth” Adh-Dhahabi said,
فحبب الله إليّ علم الحديث
“From that day onwards, Allāh placed the love of ḥadīth within my heart” and he would later excel in many of the Islamic sciences and author texts that are indispensable to our library.
Similarly, it was nothing but a passing comment within a gathering which launched Imām Al-Bukhārī into skies of fame, having collected a book of ḥadīth which is now considered, by the Muslims, as the most authentic reference in existence after the Qur’ān. Al-Bukhārī said, speaking about where it all began:
كنّا عند إسحاق بن راهويه فقال: لو جمعتم كتاباً مختصراً لصحيح سنة النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم. قال: فوقع ذلك في قلبي فأخذت في جمع الجامع الصحيح
“We were sat with Isḥāq b. Rāhāwayh who said, ‘Why don’t you gather a summarised book of the authentic narrations of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)?’ Instantly, the love of doing so fell into my heart and I began to compile the book.”
Bear in mind that Al-Bukhārī was 16 years of age when he started and dedicated the next 16 years of his life in preparation of the book.
It may be a passing comment of encouragement that you offer someone in a gathering, but to him, those words made him or her feel like they had been born on that very day, having changed the course of their lives and purpose for which they live for, and every bit of good that later comes through them is documented on your scales as well.
The tenth: The closing duʿā’
We have all sat in gatherings before where the nature of that sitting was not ideal. Perhaps it was a gathering of gossip, or one where voices were being excessively raised, or bad language was being used, or where worldly discussions stole the limelight, or when too many jokes were cracked, or where the precious gift of time was abused. I am sure you remember just how rough and grimy your heart felt upon the leaving of such a gathering. With this tenth guideline, such grimes can be removed and softness of heart can be restored. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,
مَنْ جَلَسَ في مَجْلِسٍ، فَكَثُرَ فِيهِ لَغَطُهُ فَقَالَ قَبْلَ أَنْ يَقُومَ مِنْ مَجْلِسِهِ ذَلِكَ: سُبْحَانَكَ اللَّهُمَّ وَبِحَمْدِكَ، أشْهَدُ أَنْ لاَّ إِلهَ إِلاَّ أَنْتَ، أَسْتَغْفِرُكَ وَأَتُوبُ إلَيْكَ، إِلاَّ غُفِرَ لَهُ مَا كَانَ في مَجْلِسِهِ ذَلِكَ
“There is not a person who sits in a gathering where much idle speech was engaged in, but then says before leaving the gathering: “My Lord, glory be to You, I praise You. I bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped except You. I ask You to forgive me and I repent You” except that Allāh will pardon *all* that was engaged in within that gathering.”
It is thus very understandable why this duʿā’ was always at the tip of the Prophet’s (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) tongue. In fact, our mother ʿĀ’isha (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) even said:
” مَا جَلَسَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مَجْلِسًا قَطُّ ، وَلَا تَلَا قُرْآنًا، وَلَا صَلَّى صَلَاةً ، إِلَّا خَتَمَ ذَلِكَ بِكَلِمَاتٍ”
“Never did the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) ever sit in a gathering, or recited Qur’ān, or engaged in a prayer except that he would conclude that act with these words.” 
If these were the words of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) at the end of his gatherings, those that were in pure remembrance and praise of Allāh, how eager should you and I be in concluding our sittings with them? Therefore, whether it is the table of a restaurant that you are leaving, or an evening with family that has come to a close, or your daily portion of Salāh and Qur’ān that has reached its end, or even a chat on social media that you’re wrapping up, make sure that you revive this Sunnah and remind others to do so as well.
There are many other mannerisms pertaining to gatherings that have not been mentioned above which I hope you will make an independent study of yourself, however what the likes of these topics illustrate beyond doubt is just how magnificent the Dīn of Islām is, for it has not left us in the dark with regards to any matter, having offered us perfect guidance in every avenue of life for those who hope for Allāh and the Home of the Hereafter.
Today’s discussion was not merely about the ‘etiquettes of gatherings’, but one that includes the subjects of guarding the tongue, e lowering of the gaze, the remembrance of Allāh, the defending of people’s honour, dūʿā’, the keeping of secrets, enjoining good, forbidding evil, and many others. All of these matters are part of our gatherings, and our lives are nothing but a collection of gatherings. May Allāh make each and every one of them a means of our entering Jannah.
 This statement was used by Ibnu Taymiyya, Ibnul Qayyim, Ibnu Khaldun and others
 Abu Daawood, on the authority of Abu Huraira
 Ahmad, on the authority of ‘Abdullahi Ibnu ‘Amr
 Abu Daawood, on the authority of Ibnu ‘Umar
 Al-Qur’an, Surah 6, Ayah 68
 Al-Qur’an, Surah 4, Ayah 140
 Tafsir Al-Qurtubi
 Zaadul Maseer
 Abu Daawood, on the authority of Jaabir
 Al-Qur’an, Surah 25, Aayaat 27-28
 AnNasaai and AtTirmidhi
 Abu Daawood, on the authority of Abu Huraira
 Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Abu Huraira
 Al-Qur’an, Surah 49, Ayah 11
 Shu’abul iman
 AtTirmidh, on the authority of Abu Huraira
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