How can I express condolences to a Muslim friend who just lost a parent?
February 3, 2014 5:01 AM   Subscribe

My dear friend's mother just passed away (in Iraq). I called her and comforted her a little by phone, but would flowers and/or food be appropriate? What else can I do for her to help?

My friend lives in Atlanta, near me.
posted by mdiskin to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think that sending some food would be nice. Our southern customs will mesh nicely with muslim customs here. Just be careful that you prepare something that your friend will eat (no pork, if she eats halal foods.)

Goldbergs Deli has some nice things, platters, entrees, etc (if your friend wouldn't be offended by deli food).

Weirdly enough, we got some wind-chimes when Husbunny's father died, and he really likes them. We've moved them quite a few times and they always have a place in our garden.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:16 AM on February 3, 2014

I would avoid all meats in case they keep halal. Otherwise, flowers and food would be fine.
posted by planetesimal at 5:20 AM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wind chimes sound so lovely -- and she and her family have a huge garden! I am definitely getting some for her. And she and I cooked together all the time, so although I see her less now, I'd love to bring her some food. Probably vegetarian since she does eat halal foods.

Are flowers or a dish garden acceptable? I've read conflicting things.
posted by mdiskin at 5:21 AM on February 3, 2014

What would you do for one of your American friends? The traditional American bring a home cooked meal is hard to beat on the appreciation scale. When my colleague's father died (also in Iraq) my wife and I brought a home cooked meal to them and they were floored.

In your case, a big plate of Southern fried chicken, with a simple explanation that it's just the American custom, could not be wrong.
posted by three blind mice at 5:51 AM on February 3, 2014

The most important thing is to do something now, then something in a few weeks.

Bring food within the next few days. Then, set an event on your calendar reminding you to check in with her in a few weeks, and again a month or two after that, and again a few months after that. Maybe bring wind chimes, or even better, a plant, to her on one of those later occasions.

These check-ins don't have to be directly about "how are you dealing with your mother?" but just a gentle call or email to say you've been thinking of her, and hope she is hanging in there after such a difficult time. Think of a few things in your own life that you can share in the same conversation - you are planning x trip, or recovering from the flu or whatever, in case the conversations stalls a bit. It's ok if she doesn't feel like talking, and you shouldn't feel like you need to talk her ear off, it's just a little chat.

Many people show up the first week after a death, but the next few weeks and months can be very lonely - you think everyone else thinks you should have moved on, but you haven't, and a very gentle chat, wherein a friend alludes that it's altogether expected to still have some feelings of sadness can go a long way. An invitation to get coffee on a specific day, or to come over for a cup of tea and some cake, might be very welcome. As the weather turns to spring, maybe invite her for a little walk around a lake or through a local garden.

Depending on your intimacy, if she is traveling for the funeral or other services, you might offer to water plants or bring in the mail.

It seems like you are fond of your friend, and that you've had some lovely times together, and I would commend you for wanting to be there within the scope of your relationship. My best to you!
posted by barnone at 6:16 AM on February 3, 2014 [11 favorites]

Just say you're very sorry to hear the news and to please let her know if you can do anything for her.
posted by discopolo at 7:44 AM on February 3, 2014

mdiskin, you seem like a kind and considerate person. It’s very nice of you to reach out to your friend at this time, but something about this question bothers me. I don’t want to offend you and I am not the best writer so please bear with me as I try to articulate my thoughts.

I’m a Muslim living in North America. Muslims come from many, many different cultures. How your friend’s Iraqi culture mourns may be markedly different from how my Indian culture mourns -- which explains why you've read conflicting things! But that doesn’t even matter, because death is a universal human experience. You are reaching out to your friend with the intent to comfort her. I'm sure whatever you decide to do will be thoughtful, and it should be received by your friend with grace. I would never expect someone offering me condolences to “customize” them to my particular culture or beliefs. ESPECIALLY if I were living in a different country, where I should expect that local practices might differ from mine. I would be touched by the act, regardless.

HOWEVER, your relationship with your friend is unique. Depending on how close you are, there are certain things you should know about her. For example, I don’t drink alcohol and my close friends know this. If a close friend decided to send me a bottle of wine (on any occasion, not just for condolences) I might be irritated…not because the gift didn’t align with my beliefs but because my good friend didn’t know ME well enough to avoid giving a gift I couldn’t use. The same would apply to you, would it not? The same would apply to anyone.

You know your friend keeps halal, so avoid meats and alcohol. Other than that, do what YOU feel is appropriate and I’m sure it will be fine.
posted by yawper at 7:48 AM on February 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Here’s I guess a more succinct way to put this: ask yourself, “What kind of gift would I NEVER buy this friend, regardless of occasion?” Avoid those items, and you’ll be fine. Don’t define your friend by her religion.
posted by yawper at 7:51 AM on February 3, 2014

I am not offended at all, and my question was so brief that it may need explanation Perhaps I should mention that we are both very religious people, but from very different traditions, and we both respect those traditions very much. (I am Christian, she is Shia Muslim, and we have prayed together and for each other many times.) So although we know each other well, death and bereavement have never come up for discussion or into our experience. I want to avoid doing something like send an unintended message that may be fine here (American South) but could strike her in the wrong way -- the way, for example, some flowers may send messages in other cultures that they would not in my particular area or tradition. She is certainly gracious enough to overlook anything -- I just want to know if there is anything that might feel a bit off to her.

I love her dearly. And I am definitely not defining her by her religion -- even though for both of us it's very deeply felt and mutually respected -- I only want to be as sensitive as possible to any message or gift (or lack) that would even subtly throw her off or make her feel bemused on top of her grief. If there is anything at all that I can do for my friend to make her feel less alone, or even a little less far from her family home, I want to do that thing, and have her know that she and her family are cherished by my family, and that we grieve for her loss.
posted by mdiskin at 11:28 AM on February 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

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