“It’s our first time visiting a Muslim family,” said our Christian friends, “do you have any recommendations for us?” I hear this a lot.
When visiting a Muslim home, there is a great diversity of culture. Some Muslims will be very western and others maintain more of their traditional upbringing. If you plan your visit with the more traditional home in mind, then you will be better prepared for either type of family.
Here are 10 things you should consider when you visit a Muslims home.
1. They are real people. When we go to someone’s home whose culture is different than our own, it is easy to focus upon the differences. My encouragement is to remember that they are regular people who have many of the same concerns and hopes that you do. They are not just a religious bloc of human beings, they are people with names, a culture and a history.
2. Know the difference between “haram” and “halal.” Muslims have rules about purity (clean vs. unclean). When you visit their home, don’t bring anything that has pork or alcohol these are considered haram or prohibited. So check the ingredients. Halal meats are purchased at a special Islamic deli and in many ways are similar to kosher foods.
3. Keep an eye out for cultural cues. When you enter into a Muslim home, often they will take off their shoes at the door or before they walk on carpet (often in their living room). Don’t be bashful. Ask them if you should take off your shoes. If they do, then you should too. When it comes time to eat, it is customary for most Muslims to eat with their right hand (not with their left one). If you eat using a common plate, then eat out of your area of the dish. The best way is to observe. Also, in a lot of cultures, it is appropriate to show you are finished by leaving some food on your plate, otherwise they will keep piling up more food.
4. Praying before you eat. Muslims will typically say “bismillah” (in the name of God) before they eat. If you are in their home you can ask your friend before you sit down to eat if it is appropriate for you to quietly bless your food (close your eyes and quietly give thanks). Sometimes, they will ask you to pray aloud. If you do, focus upon your gratefulness to God for the food and your appreciation for the hospitality of your friends. Don’t make it awkward. After all, it’s not a show, but sincere gratitude.
5. Be aware of gender. When you arrive to a traditional Muslim home, generally men will not touch women (usually no handshakes or greeting with kisses). Rather saying “a-sa-laam-a-lei-kum” (peace be upon you) is sufficient. If the women of the house are present and they extend their hand, then of course Christian men can shake it. When Christian women enter a home, if the man of the house or men present extend their hand, then it is fine to shake it as well. Culturally when it comes time to eat, there are cases where the women might be separate or they may be together. Be aware of your surroundings and interactions. After all, you are their guest. Go with the flow.
6. Bring a gift. When you visit a Muslim home, it is not obligatory to always bring a gift, though it is appreciated. Muslims are generally very generous and they appreciate generosity. So when you visit, bring fruit or soda (though be aware of “haram” ingredients in baked goods that sometimes has pork fat). If you do bring food that is questionable, show them the ingredients.
7. Have fun. Whenever I visit a Muslim home, I learn so much about them. We often laugh and share stories about our families, culture and background. The Holidays and festivals are great times to share about or traditions as families. We often will watch videos from their wedding. Enjoy your time. One note of caution. In having fun, don’t joke in a way that “puts down” Muslims, their culture or their religious obligations. We don’t like it when others do it to us either. It is best to laugh about ourselves. Make it enjoyable for them too.
8. Be cautious about politics and other sensitive issues. While Muslims in general love to talk about politics and religion, be careful with these topics. For example, Israel and the Palestinian situation is a powder keg of explosive opinions. It is better to ask questions and respond based upon personal interactions. Generalizations and deeply held beliefs about political situations are usually more complex than just what one hears on the news. When the topic of religion comes up, Muslims generally appreciate people who truly follow their faith. There is usually no problem talking about Jesus and why you follow him, but getting into a heated debate over a meal may close the door to further meaningful conversations about what you believe. It also slams the door to learning about what they hold dear.
9. Tea or coffee at the end of the visit. Often in Muslim culture, when they serve coffee or tea it is the last thing before you leave. If you try to leave before that, it can be taken as offensive. Relax and enjoy. Depending upon their home culture, if they serve tea, it may be their special drink that they have back home (like very sweet green tea with mint if you are visiting Moroccans).
10. Extend an invitation. If you enjoyed your time and they did as well, then invite them to come sometime to your home. If they seem nervous or hesitant, they may be concerned if your home is really “Muslim friendly.” You may need to affirm that you will not serve anything haram and that you are willing to learn what will make them feel comfortable.
Some of our best memories as a family has been visiting our Muslim friends, whether our friends are Moroccan, Bangladeshi, Iranian, Palestinian it doesn’t matter. It is a great way to learn about them as people and appreciate them in the context of their home.
Is there anything else you would include in this list?
What do you think?
Categories: Christian-Muslim Interaction