What You Might Want to Consider When Hosting Muslims
By Rukhsana Khan
I received a lot of positive feedback on my
Islamic Etiquette & the Shaking of Hands article. I've even had
officials from Australia and around the world ask to reproduce it with
permission. Then one of my hosts suggested I write an article on how to
make Muslims comfortable when they visit. These are the basic ideas to
keep in mind. I found it really touching when this lady suggested I
write this article. Once more it brought home to me how hospitable and
accommodating people try to be.
First of all, Muslims are not at all a homogenous entity. It is
difficult to create a one-size fits all list of needs and wants. Muslims
practice their faith to various and even inconsistent degrees. But these
concerns are things I have dealt with when visiting places, so I mention
them here as a guide. You may wish to consult your guest to see if any
or all of these concerns apply to them.
There are certain standards Muslims have to adhere to in order to pray.
One is remaining pure. So the environment needs to be free of major
impurities. This is probably not difficult as most venues are clean. The
problem arises if there are dogs present. The saliva of dogs is
considered extremely unclean, and if it touches a Muslim's person they
are required to wash themselves or their garment, a lot! So having a dog
at a venue can be problematic.
Also, serving alcohol is problematic. The prohibitions with regards to
alcohol are quite numerous. Of course Muslims are not supposed to
consume it, but they are also not supposed to sit at a table where it is
being consumed, they are not supposed to serve it, they are not supposed
to sell it, basically they are not supposed to have anything to do with
alcohol or its consumption. That said, completely avoiding alcohol is
often very difficult and Muslims are well aware of that. Normally, at
such functions, if I need to be there, I just ignore the alcohol and
hope God forgives me. Increasingly I limit my participation to daytime
events where alcohol is usually not an issue.
And as mentioned in my article about shaking hands, there should be no
physical contact between a Muslim and the opposite sex (or sometimes the
same sex if the person is gay). In addition to not having physical
contact, there are restrictions in Islam regarding being alone with the
opposite sex, so if that can be avoided, that would be very helpful.
I've sometimes had issues, mostly when I've been invited to participate
in adult programs, where some of the other artists who are presenting
have made me feel uncomfortable. I try to minimize all profanity and
risque material in my storytelling. I don't tell erotic stories at all,
but sometimes I've been on a program where other artists are telling
those kind of stories. This can lead to a lot of problems. One time, not
realizing this would be the case, I had sat in the first row, so that
when my turn at the podium came it would be easily accessible. But when
the other artists began their colourful pieces, I felt very awkward
sitting so exposed. It's inconsistent with my principles to be sitting
there while such profanity and erotic material is going on. And worst of
all, I felt like my presence was condoning their performances. Of course
it isn't, but still, appearances are important.
As a result, I try to stand at the back of a room, and leave the area if
the performance becomes too colourful.
Muslims need to pray five times a day and the prayer times are as
Fajr: from dawn to sunrise
Zuhr: from just after high noon to mid-afternoon
Asr: from mid-afternoon to before the sun begins to set
Maghrib: from sunset to before full dark
Isha: after full dark to before bedtime.
Prayer times vary according to time zone and season.
Prayer can take from five to twenty minutes and can be prayed any time
during these times. As you can see the prayer times are quite flexible.
A Muslim can often work around prayer times, but sometimes they're at a
venue for an extended period of time and prayer becomes necessary. They
may need to perform ablutions (wudu). Before a Muslim prays they have to
perform a ritual washing. A normal washroom facility suffices.
If you can provide a clean private or even semi-private area where a
Muslim can pray it will make things much easier for them. In the winter
time, in Northern climes, the days are shorter and the prayer times are
often squashed together. You may want to take that into consideration
when scheduling an event.
There was one time when I was conducting a workshop and it began in one
prayer time and ended in another and I had to take a break in the middle
of the workshop to go and catch my prayer. Of course people were very
understanding, and being a workshop I was able to give the participants
a task to complete while I was busy, but this is not always possible and
it can pose a problem.
When a Muslim is traveling the rules regarding prayer change quite a bit
and things are a lot easier. When traveling a Muslim shortens and
combines the Zuhr and Asr prayers and the Maghrib and Isha prayers and
can pray the combined, shortened prayers anytime within their combined
time periods. So essentially a Muslim would pray three times a day and
each of the times the prayer would take about five minutes.
One thing to keep in mind is that menstruation is considered impure and
during this time Muslim women are excused from prayer. One time I was
traveling and the folks had read Muslim Child and knew that
theoretically I would need to pray, so they asked me about it in front
of the group, but I was mensing. It was quite funny but of course
embarrassing when I had to explain why I was not praying.
Food issues: Muslims are not allowed to eat pork or any form of pig meat
including lard, bacon, ham and sausages, etc. They cannot eat blood, or
consume meat which has had the name of a deity other than God, invoked
on it during its slaughter. Any food that is served to your Muslim guest
should be free of all these things.
Like many Muslims, my family makes it a rule to only eat meat that is
'zabiha' or 'halal'. That means it has been slaughtered according to
Muslim custom. Kosher meat is also considered permissible in Islam
because Jews slaughter in the same way we do, they invoke God's name on
it as well, and they also abstain from pork.
Since zabiha/halal or kosher meat can be difficult to obtain, when
you're hosting a Muslim you can always go vegetarian: humus or other
bean dishes, cheese and fish and most seafood is fine. Please note, some
cheeses contain hidden pork ingredients such as rennet or pepsin, which
is an enzyme that can be derived from a pig's stomach. Cheeses that
contain microbial enzyme are fine. Some Muslims take issue with certain
seafood especially shark or other carnivorous sea-dwellers, so it's a
good idea to ask in that case.
Many of these requirements may seem complex and discouraging but
basically remember to avoid three things: dogs, alcohol and pork/meats.
Schedules are usually flexible enough for any Muslim to find time to
pray. And Muslims will often take care of other issues like physical
contact and being alone with the opposite gender etc. on their own.
article is copyrighted by Rukhsana Khan and cannot be transmitted or
produced without her express written permission.