To Muslims, generosity ("sakhawat" in Arabic) is both a cardinal virtue and a religious obligation. In that spirit, feast days and celebrations are invariably occasions of lavish hospitality and guests customarily bring gifts. No Muslim would fault a non-Muslim for any well-intended gift: the Prophet, after all, taught that actions are judged according to intentions. Nonetheless, people of other faiths who present Muslim friends with gifts that reveal sensitivity to Islamic culture are also conveying a message of respect certain to be received with special appreciation.
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What Not to Give
Religiously observant Muslims don't drink alcohol, so gifts of liquor are inappropriate, as are perfumes, colognes and aftershaves containing alcohol. Pork and anything made of pigskin are "haraam" (forbidden). The dog is controversial in Islam, so dog images should be avoided as well. Clothing may be given by an adult to a child but beyond that, personal gifts are unwise unless the giver and recipient are close friends of the same sex.
Islam was born in the arid deserts of Saudi Arabia, so it's not surprising that in the Koran, Paradise is a garden. Floral arrangements are always appropriate gifts, and while all flowers symbolise the creative power of God, the rose has special status as the "Queen of Flowers." Its heart signifies the teachings of the Prophet guiding the hearts of Muslims, its thorns the difficulties Muslims must overcome on the path to God and its scent the fragrance of heaven. Tulips, carnations, jasmine, lilies and irises are also revered in Islamic horticulture and are common as artistic motifs.
As for colours, let beauty and harmony be your guide when choosing a floral gift, but include plenty of green, the signature colour of Islam, and yellow, which stands for friendship and joy. White is fine as an accent but should never dominate, since it is also associated with death.
Poetry and Coffee Table Books
All cultures throughout the Islamic world have their own eminent poets, often as much household names as Shakespeare, yet they are little-known in the West. Many editions published today are bilingual, containing poetry both in the original language and English translation. Major languages include (but are not limited to) Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu.
To discover which bards are most revered by your friends' culture and the books available, you can go to a book seller's database, either within a physical store or online, and do a keyword search on language and/or nationality, "books" and "poetry." Coffee table books on Islamic architecture, art and culture also make thoughtful gifts.
Fabric Arts, Metalwork and Ceramics
Carpets hand-loomed in the Muslim world have been prized in the West for centuries, but traditional fabric arts also include other kinds of weaving as well as intricate needlework. Calligraphy, the creation of sacred art from Arabic letters, words and verses ("suras") from the Koran appears in Islamic art and crafts made from all materials. Decorative ceramics, including tile work, tea sets, coffee urns and serving platters, are both used and displayed in Muslim homes. The art of engraving on copper, brass and silver, often using metal layering for colour variation, achieved its highest refinement in the Islamic world.
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