What is appropriate behavior at a Ramadan dinner?
October 18, 2005 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Male and female couple attending a Ramadan dinner this Thursday, wife actually was the invitee (spouse was included.) What protocols, behaviors, manners are appropriate for us? (We are not muslim.)
posted by leafwoman to Society & Culture (19 answers total)
Reach with your right hand only. Likewise with anything handed to you.

posted by Pollomacho at 11:11 AM on October 18, 2005

What sort of dinner is this, by the way? At a home or restaurant? Persians or Arabs or Malays or others? First generation immigrants? Natural born Americans (or Canadians or Brits or Aussies or whatever)?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:20 AM on October 18, 2005

Response by poster: Muslim students (mixed?) at a very nice hotel (banquet room most likely.)
posted by leafwoman at 11:23 AM on October 18, 2005

Dress nicely - semi-formal with long sleeves/skirt. Honestly, they'll know that you are not exactly familiar with the customs and they'll probably let you know what to do. Have fun! Ask lots of questions! They will be overjoyed at your interest and your respectfulness.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:32 AM on October 18, 2005

OK, then I'd go with my first basic answer. Other than that, do what you would do if this was a student sater supper or shrove Tuesday meal. Remember, first of all, they are students, so they are probably pretty laid back and not uptight about manners, besides they are going to be accustomed to being around non-muslims. Sure you want to be respectful, but its not like you are meeting Abdullah al-Saud for a state dinner here.

Also remember they aren't going to bite. These are probably VERY nice people that want you around or they wouldn't have invited you all!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:33 AM on October 18, 2005

Don't bring a sixpack?
posted by fixedgear at 11:56 AM on October 18, 2005

Learn the Muslim handshake. Don't eat or drink anything unless it's the right time to do so. Don't be pushy about politics.
posted by dydecker at 12:03 PM on October 18, 2005

Best answer: There's a book that deals with this sort of situation. How to Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook. Your library might have a copy?
posted by Alt F4 at 12:05 PM on October 18, 2005

If you meet a Muslim couple, it might be considered rude for you (the male) to shake hands with the wife. If she holds out her hand, then go ahead.
posted by skjønn at 12:16 PM on October 18, 2005

Best answer: When you arrive, people will be sitting around socializing, possibly in several languages so before you sit down, stick out your ear to find an English table. Since these are students English might be the dominant language, though. When the sun has set someone will call Azhan, then people will eat something small to break their fasts. It could be as simple as dates or a whole mountain of appetizers. Then the Muslims will pray, then it will be time for the main course. And it's going to be big. These people won't have eaten all day. What I'm trying to say is, go hungry, because it will be good food and there will be a lot of it!

Don't be surprised if there are separate seating areas for women and men. Don't shake hands or otherwise touch people of the opposite sex, or look at them intensely or for extended periods of time, or generally do anything that could be considered flirting. Don't be afraid to ask questions; they'll expect you to and will be happy about it.
posted by leapingsheep at 12:54 PM on October 18, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you almost all of you, especially Pollo for jumping in so quickly. We won't have any problem observing general manners, no politics, dogs, or six packs I assure you.

Our muslim community has been shaken recently. A student committed suicide with a bomb strapped around his body having just tried to gain admission to a large sports gathering. The student was American but he had a Pakistani roomate so of course some are jumping to conclusions.

We are looking forward to our experience and count ourselves lucky to have been invited, your tips will help us.
posted by leafwoman at 1:29 PM on October 18, 2005

the food is going to be delicious, by the way.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:39 PM on October 18, 2005

Oh, and Muslim ladies from the Subcontinent pften wear the most beautiful silk flowing things with matching pants for dressy events.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:44 PM on October 18, 2005

talking by personal experience (a not entirely pleasant scene I've witnessed): as mr Cleese said, "Don't mention the war."
posted by matteo at 1:56 PM on October 18, 2005

My only experience is with Eid (the last day, Nov. 4 this year). Everywhere we went, we'd sit around talking and munching in a group for half an hour, then the group would split into men in one room and women in the other. The men talked politics (a little tricky; it mostly concerned their regretting voting for Bush) and the women apparently talked about cooking. Anyway, expect the split and follow along if it happens.
posted by Aknaton at 3:36 PM on October 18, 2005

leapingsheep's advice is right on. Aim to:
*Dress modestly
*Behave as modestly as possible overall (think Quaker family values circa 1800s)

(Feel free to skip this background info on male-female relations - but might help you start up a conversation:

Lustful thoughts towards the opposite sex - a non-spouse - are frowned upon, just as in Christianity. Maybe this is along the lines of not coveting thy neighbor's wife. Islam doesn't stop at the individual, and has rules that aim to make it easier for the population by creating a particular atmosphere of what is and isn't proper. Does that mean women ought to cover from head to toe? Most Muslim scholars say no. But the rules are still seen as extreme by the West, since any contact between the sexes, even shaking hands, is frowned upon by most Muslim scholars.)

As for using the right hand, that's unlikely to be an an issue for anyone IMHO. As for the war, chances are most, except for Shi'ite/Kurdish Iraqi Muslims, were against it. If you're pro, naturally as a guest you might want to avoid a heated debate on the issue.
posted by parma at 6:51 PM on October 18, 2005

If the subject comes up -- I wouldn't bring it up nor force this -- simply listening politely and asking Socratic questions will probably go over well. If someone tries to make it an argument with you just smile and move on.

I would not hesitate to join them in prayer; it's the same God. This will also go over well, better than polite silence. In Islam prayer is a personal thing between you and God, rather than a communal hand-holding thing.

Have fun and enjoy the food!
posted by dhartung at 11:47 PM on October 18, 2005

Also, warn your spouse that groups tend to form along gender lines, so perhaps make sure the invited partner introduces him/her to somone they know.
I have never broken fast in a hotel, just in private houses where the women gather in the kitchen area and the men in the living room, but I imagine that even in a large room this will happen.
Excellent advice above, especially about the right hand.
Food will be excellent. Enjoy!
posted by Wilder at 1:47 AM on October 19, 2005

If you meet a Muslim couple, it might be considered rude for you (the male) to shake hands with the wife. If she holds out her hand, then go ahead.

A general rule of etiquette is that when a man and woman greet, it is the woman who defines the level of familarity. If she does that miniwave, if she pulls out a hand, leans in for a kiss, whatever, the man needs to follow along.

I could be, of course, totally talking out my behind, but it's what I was taught.
posted by jedrek at 3:57 AM on October 19, 2005

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