Leaving One Person Out

Abdullah ibn Massoud quotes the Prophet (Pbuh) as saying: “Should there be three of you, then let not two of them be in conversation to the exclusion of the third, because this will hurt him.”
(Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

Commentary by Adil Salahi

Islamic manners are the most refined. They take care of the feelings of even the weakest, humblest or youngest in any group or community.
The Prophet (Pbuh) was sent to a people whose standard of civilization was limited to a form of urban life that was often in contact with the Bedouins. Makkah, where he was born and grew up, was situated in the middle of a mountainous area, surrounded by a desert, with very hot climate. It is natural in such conditions that manners would be rough. Traditions like vengeance and killing increased such roughness. Islam changed all this and taught those Arabs very refined, civilized manners. Before Islam, care for the feelings of another person was, if at all, practised on a very limited scale.
To appreciate the change brought by Islam, let us look at the following Hadith: Abdullah ibn Massoud quotes the Prophet as saying: “Should there be three of you, then let not two of them be in conversation to the exclusion of the third, because this will hurt him.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
This Hadith enjoys a high degree of authenticity, and it comes in several versions. Another similarly authentic version uses the third person and drops the cause at the end. Thus, the Hadith runs as follows: “If there is a group of three, then let not two of them be in conversation to the exclusion of the third.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim). A third version adds some qualification. “Let not two people talk to each other to the exclusion of a third, because their action hurts him.
It seems that the Prophet gave this advice on different occasions and in different wordings, so that it would be known and people will act on it. The Prophet is concerned here for the third person who is left out of the conversation between the other two. We do not have any qualification to limit this instruction to any situation, which means that whoever the third person happens to be, he or she must not be so obviously excluded. The Prophet clarifies that such an action is bound to hurt the excluded person. Hence, it must not be done, and the order he gives represents a very clear prohibition.
Thus, if there are three brothers, or three classmates, or colleagues, or indeed any three, the restriction applies. The Prophet mentions the figure three because it is the least number where exclusion may occur. But it applies to any larger number of people where such exclusion takes place. When there is a group of people, they must not leave any one of them feeling excluded.
Another version of this Hadith adds a clarification. When the Prophet stated this prohibition, his companions asked: “What if there are four?” He said: “That is all right.” This applies when two of the four have some private conversation. The restriction does not apply here because the other two could talk to each other. The feeling of exclusion does not apply. However, if three of them talk together and exclude the fourth, the same prohibition applies.
The Prophet also taught his companions to seek permission from their guest if they wish to leave. Abdullah ibn Sallam was a companion of the Prophet. Abu Burdah, a man from the following generation, one day sat with him. After a while, Abdullah said to him: “You are sitting with us and it is time for us to leave.” Abu Burdah reports: “I said, ‘as you wish.’ He rose and I walked with him to the door.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad). This means that there is nothing wrong if one should wish to leave, provided he explains to his guest, or host, before he departs.
The Prophet was very easy in his manners. He cared for everyone and never despised any form of hospitality given to him, or showed that he expected something better. If he visited a poor person, he would sit wherever was suitable and showed no dissatisfaction. People welcomed him and gave him the best they had. He would pay no attention to poor conditions. He was concerned more with the people themselves, and every one of them was important to him.
We learn from his manners described in numerous Hadiths, related by a large number of his companions that it was very easy to get along with him, and he respected everyone. Abdullah ibn Bisr reports that the Prophet dropped in at his father’s place. “His father gave him a velvet mat, and he sat on it.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad). This Hadith does not tell us anything about what went on between the Prophet and his host. The reporter merely mentions how the Prophet was received. Apparently, there is nothing special on this occasion to comment on. It shows that the Prophet’s companions reported every movement and action he did, and every word he said. In this instance, nothing of importance took place. Therefore, the reporter merely mentions the sort of mat the Prophet was offered and how he reacted.

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