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Muslim houseguest - kitchen/dining room etiquette and rules? - [moved from Home Cooking board]

Later this summer, I will be hosting an African Sunni Muslim at my home for a week on a work-exchange program. I've familiarized myself with the Halal guidelines, but I'm unsure how to make my guest feel most comfortable.

I've already planned to rid the kitchen of pork products while he's here. However, I do have a liquor cabinet, which I don't intend to empty or hide (and I'm sure he'll be fine with that -- he is on a long trip to the U.S., and is by all accounts a very open-minded guy).

Of course I won't be offering any non-Halal foods. I have easy access to a Halal butcher for meat, so I'll just take that concern off the table from the get-go. However, is there anything else I need to be aware of so that I won't put him in an uncomfortable situation? I haven't seen anything in my research about requiring serving and cookware to be Halal-only, but am I simply missing something? I have close friends who keep kosher, but only at home, so I don't really know how careful I need to be.

Many thanks for any and all advice.

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  1. How thoughtful of you! Especially the sacrifice of pork products. :)

    The only detail that you might want to be aware of is the avoidance of eating with the left hand. As a person raised as a Muslim, I'm completely backwards when it comes to holding knife and fork in hand (I keep the fork in my right hand and cut with my left, because I want my right hand guiding food to my mouth). You may find this to be the case with him as well.....

    I'm not sure if you should be concerned about having pork-free cookware. Maybe avoid using any cast iron cookware that's absorbed pork essence....but honestly, you could ask simply to get a sense of how strict his guidelines are. If he eats in any restaurants outside of a predominantly Muslim country, he is most likely OK with cookware, china and flatware that has been in contact with pork before.

    Will you be hosting him during the month of Ramadan, which will be starting mid-August of this year? If so, further discussion may be warranted about the practices surrounding the customs of fasting. (and breaking fast!)

    1. May I ask from where in Africa you guest is from? Also, do you happen to know that this person is a religious, practicing Muslim or just kind of a 'cultural Muslim'? I know plenty of Muslims who have liquour cabinets themselves, and though they strongly identify as Muslim, aren't particular about rules and all. All of the fingers on one hand are not alike, as they say. Maybe the guy has an easy going personality anyway, and wouldn't have cared as long as you took care not to serve him pork, but I think you are doing a considerate and welcoming thing by removing the pork. That's very nice of you.

      Before spending money on halaal meat, do you know that he only eats halaal butchered meat (zabihah halaal)? Not all Muslims are zabiha-halaal only, and are perfectly fine with eating from the local grocery store. I am a religious Muslim, pray, don't drink, and all that jazz, but I eat meat from the local grocery store and do not specifically buy halaal meat. Just fyi. It could be worthwhile to inquire.

      There are no extra rules...some Muslims do not eat the same types of seafood that are considered unkosher, but nothing more than that.

      1. We have had many Sunni Muslim house guests (from Egypt) over the years, and although they are all practicing Muslims who don't eat pork or drink alcohol, we never changed a thing. We ate our regular meals with meat from our regular sources, and if we wanted to have a cocktail before and wine with dinner, no one seemed particularly fussed by it. Of course, we didn't serve those things to them. One thing they absolutely loved was bagels. One guest had bagels and smoked salmon every single day for breakfast, and dreams of it still. Another guest, a teenager, ate 3 bagels every morning - one with tuna, one with butter and jam, and one plain. They still talk about it. Another thing they really loved was steak. In Egypt, everyone eats meat cooked to death, and restaurants are surprised when you ask for meat medium rare. Well, that's all my husband will do with his prime beef, and they talk about how flavorful and juicy the meat is in the US. Funnily, we served lamb one night, and one of our guests wouldn't eat it because, as he said, "I don't like sheep." So, like anyone else, there are likes and dislikes that can be surprising, a matter of taste, and non-cultural. Have plenty of juice on hand -- Egypt is the only place I've ever been where even the adults drink from juice boxes! One thing all our guests loved was sparkling cider, which we wound up buying by the case from Costco. As luckyfatima says, many muslims do drink alcohol, a point that was hammered home for me by the bottles and bottles of Chivas Regal being purchased at Duty Free in Cairo by the natives. Though many Muslims will drink alcohol it seems, almost none are as "open-minded" about pork.

        8 Replies
        1. re: roxlet

          I don't have anything near the knowledge that others replying do, but just to mention on the steak issue, I do have friends, who are American and Muslim, who will only eat beef cooked well-done. It took me a while to make the connection that it might have something to do with their Muslim background -- it didn't come up as a religious restriction (like pork) but I have a feeling there's a connection there, maybe there's a halal thing about not eating blood or something about the way it's prepared that explains the tendency to "cook to death"? Just thought I'd mention it in response to roxlet's experience that their Egyptian visitors did appreciate steak cooked medium, as my friends seem to be grossed out by that -- I actually have a friend who was less disturbed by the chance of ingesting some bacon than by a medium rare steak. Another data point for you, if it's helpful.

          And, enjoying this thread -- I'm sure your visitor will appreciate your thoughtfulness and hospitality and that you'll enjoy him as well.

          1. re: mselectra

            No, I do not think that this is a dietary restriction at all. It is simply the way that things are cooked here, always have been and probably always will. The reason I think this is because they will ask you in restaurants how you want your meat cooked. We actually had a chef in a French restaurant come out of the kitchen to meet us when we ordered our steak medium rare. He was French, and kept on saying that the problem with the Egyptians is that they refuse to try anything new. If it was a religious restriction, I don't think the waiters would be asking. BTW, this is in any restaurant where they serve beef, not just in this French one...

            1. re: roxlet

              I understand -- I was guessing that the halal blood prohibition might lead, in some cases/places, to a cultural tendency towards finding less than well-cooked meat distasteful, not that it would be a clearly stated restriction. I have actually run across this idea elsewhere -- which is how I made what might be a nebulous connection -- that is, cooking well-done to get rid of the blood which you're not supposed to eat if halal -- but nothing really authoritative and not sure it's helpful to the OP anyway, since there's so much variety, and I'm obviously not very knowledgeable -- and of course there are lots of people (or cultures?) that don't like bloody meat... (Irish relatives, eg, ;) Didn't mean to get things off on an unhelpful tangent, anyway.

              1. re: roxlet

                It is cultural actually, not religious. It depends on whether raw meat is acceptable in the culture. Generally, most Pakistani Muslims would never dream of eating raw/rare red meat unless they just happened to like it as an individual, for example. But in the Levantine countries a well known dish is 'kibbeh nayyeh" or raw kibbeh made of pounded raw lamb flesh. There is nothing in Islamic exegis that forbids the consumption of raw meat.

                1. re: luckyfatima

                  As I thought. Thanks, luckyfatima for clearing that up!

              2. re: mselectra

                You'll find the same thing all over Ireland so whatever the "connection" is, let me know. Last weekend I was at the home of an Irish relative (he's been in the states for 15 years). He put two London Broils on the grill and 40 minutes later...dinner was served! Yum.

                  1. re: southernitalian

                    Ha! My sister is moving back to the US from Dublin in two days after seven years there. I think this and other food matters (i.e., spicy=a little black pepper) are one upside to leaving.

              3. So far, you've had a lot of great and very sound advice. There are two things I would add. First, if you have any sort of contact with him prior to his arrival, why not ask if he prefers halal? And second, no one else has mentioned it, but there is a sura in the Qu'uran (don't ask me which one, I forget!) that says that if a believer UNKNOWINGLY eats unclean food, he is guilty of no sin." I know this because a young Moslem friend who was teaching me his language adored eating lunch at my house if I was serving "those wonderful baked beans." He was FURIOUS with me and explained this "clause" to me after I told him it was PORK and beans. So I would check with your guest on what will work best for him. If he's a "don't ask, don't tell" kind of guy, you have nothing to worry about. But you ARE very gracious! Good on you...!

                1. My daughter is an observant Muslim, so I deal with similar questions a lot. Yes, she and her family do sometimes follow the 'don't ask, don't tell' approach to some extent, but they aren't really comfortable doing so, and I don't recommend assuming it is an acceptable approach, even as a last resort or 'fallback' position.

                  The best advice for anything you aren't sure about is to ask. Your guest will feel welcomed that you want him to be comfortable, and will probably be happy to have the opportunity to discuss his customs and preferences. If at all possible, I'd email him with a welcome, stating you look forward to meeting him, and asking your questions in advance; if not, bring it up soon after he arrives.

                  If it turns out he does follow halal guidelines for meat, when cooking food, don't forget that any stocks or broths you use in a dish should also be halal (or vegetarian), and don't cook with alcohol (or pork), ever. Btw, in my daughter's case, kosher meats and meat products are also perfectly fine, and that is true for a number of Muslims who consider kosher meats to be halal, but you would have to ask him to be sure (depending on where he is from, it is possible that he may not be familiar enough with kosher meats to answer the question for himself anyway).

                  One bit of research that might make you feel more comfortable, particularly if you can't contact him via email in advance, would be to find a few places near you that offer halal meals, so you can always take him out to eat until you have a chance to ask about how strict his guidelines are. A vegetarian place would also work.

                  Here is a good reference if you haven't seen it yet:

                  http://www.zabihah.com/

                  The reminder about Ramadan is a very good one this year given that it comes in August. Again, you can ask.

                  All that said, I suspect that if he was extremely strict in his observances, he wouldn't agree to stay at a home not known to be Muslim. I am sure he will appreciate your thoughtful desire to make him feel welcome and comfortable.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: susancinsf

                    It was not my intention to suggest the "don't ask, don't tell" clause be exploited in any way. Obviously dmd_kc is going to considerable lengths to ensure accomodating his guest to the very best of his ability. But it can be comforting to know that if you inadvertently don't meet the requirements of halal (or Islam, for that matter) the believer one is befriending will not be held accountable for a host's goof. My intention was to help the host relax.

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      I realize that, but from the sounds of it, he'd be much more relaxed if he knew he was on the right track, hence my advice. It is my experience that some people are shy or otherwise reluctant to ask about cultural or religious concerns, even in situations where asking is clearly the best way to handle an uncertain situation. So, I wanted to reinforce the idea that asking is a better alternative to keeping quiet and hoping for the best.

                    2. re: susancinsf

                      "All that said, I suspect that if he was extremely strict in his observances, he wouldn't agree to stay at a home not known to be Muslim. I am sure he will appreciate your thoughtful desire to make him feel welcome and comfortable."

                      That, I think, is the gist of the matter. If you are Muslim, and travel and are therefore somewhat worldly, I believe you tend to be more flexible in your approach. He knows he is not coming to a Muslim home, as our guests did, and a lot of these issues never came up. BTW, in case you'd think that their thoughts were in the neighborhood of , "Well, never going back to stay with those people," we've also had return visitors who never asked us to change a thing...