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Muslim food & gifts

Updated July 19, 2017

The laws and traditions of Islam dictate a certain diet be consumed by observant Muslims. When entertaining Muslim friends it is important to know what kinds of food to serve and which to avoid. Additionally, knowing cultural traditions when it comes to gift-giving etiquette is helpful when exchanging presents with Muslim friends or colleagues. Although not all Muslims follow all of the traditions exactly, it is best to err on the side of caution when entertaining and giving gifts.

Halal

Observant Muslims eat only food that is considered "halal," that is, allowed by Islamic dietary laws. Some examples of halal meats include fish, poultry, all kinds of grazing animals and rabbits. Vegetarian foods are also halal. To be considered halal, dairy products like cheese must be "vegetarian," that is, made with vegetable, rather than animal-based rennet.

For meat to be halal, it must be slaughtered by a Muslim according to Islamic slaughtering traditions. Halal meats and other products can often be found at grocery stores with "halal" stamped on the label. This tells the buyer that the food has passed a Muslim cleric's requirements.

Haraam

"Haraam" is the term for things that are forbidden to practicing Muslims. Haraam foods include shellfish, pork of any kind or the meat of any carnivorous animal. Alcohol is also haraam. It is important to check the ingredient labels on prepackaged foods to be certain that forbidden ingredients are not included. Strict Muslims should also be given their own utensils for a meal; a utensil that has touched haraam food is also haraam.

Gift-giving

When choosing a gift for a Muslim friend or business associate, keep in mind those things that are halal and haraam. Food is not a good idea for a gift if you are not certain it is permitted in a Muslim diet. Alcohol is haraam, and a strict Muslim might be insulted if offered this as a gift. Consider that perfume contains alcohol and is also be a poor choice.

Other gifts to avoid include any depiction of the human body--especially one with nudity--or dogs, which are considered unclean in Islamic tradition. Personal modesty and privacy is important to Muslims so clothing and other personal items are inappropriate as gifts.

A good choice for a strict Muslim is a compass to show the way to Mecca during daily prayers. Always present gifts with both hands or with the right hand. A gift presented with the left hand is considered insulting.

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About the Author

Based in Chicago, Shannon Cate has been writing on family, parenting, politics and religions since 2000. Her work has appeared on Babble, BlogHer, Literary Mama, Gay Chicago Magazine and elsewhere. Cate holds a Doctor of Philosophy in American literature from the George Washington University.