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.

Environment Issues:

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.

Prayer Issues:

Muslims need to pray five times a day and the prayer times are as follows:

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.

In Conclusion:

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.

This article is copyrighted by Rukhsana Khan and cannot be transmitted or produced without her express written permission.