Dear Ali: The other day some of my local friends invited me for lunch and some of them started eating with their hands. I’m totally fine with that, but was just wondering what’s the significance of it? Is it part of the culture? And who should sit next to whom? NT, Al Ain
Dear NT: Eating with your hands is a natural thing and even considered healthier than eating with utensils.
There is a famous incident where the Prophet Mohammed was eating with a young man whom he asked to first thank God for what he has, then to eat with his right hand what is offered to his right, or near to his dish.
That’s part of the Islamic teaching on how to respect food and the gathering around it. Some Emirati families do dine on the ground, but there are families that dine at tables.
In Arabic majlises, which are usually a living room and dining room combined, the seats are close to the ground. Often the main seat is in the middle of the majlis and is offered to the head of the family, while all others will be seated to their right or left according to their age. Food is served on large trays wide enough to serve up to 12 people, so you won’t feel as if just one person is sharing the dish with you. There are no spoons or forks, so there are no complications over setting the table or which eating tool should be to the left or right of the dish.
For people of this region who are used to this culture, use of the hands is healthier and cleaner than using a spoon or fork simply because no one but yourself will be using your hands to eat!
There is etiquette for eating with your hands, so don’t just dig in.
Your hands should be washed thoroughly before you take your food from the tray. You should use only your right hand at the table or when offering any food or drink to someone. When scooping rice from the spot just in front of you, move your hand to the edge of the tray into your fist, then to your mouth. Repeat, making sure that you are scooping from the spot you started from.
Dear Ali: Why is it compulsory to change your name when converting to Islam? And what if you are a married woman and your name is attached to your husband’s name? I just converted to Islam and was shocked when I heard this from some friends. LV, Abu Dhabi
Dear LV: According to the great holy Quran: “Call them by [the names of] their fathers; it is more just in the sight of Allah. But if you do not know their fathers – then they are [still] your brothers in religion and those entrusted to you. And there is no blame upon you for that in which you have erred but [only for] what your hearts intended.”
In Islam, there is no obligation for any new convert to change their name – full stop.
In fact, all Muslims know that they are required to keep their father’s name, simply because knowing your family roots is very important in Islam.
There is no obligation to change your first name, either.
An exception to this would be if your name in Islam has a negative connotation, especially if it is associated with something forbidden in Islam. For women, name-changing is no different than it is with men. As far as adopting a husband’s name, this is really more of a western style and a trend among some Muslim couples. But generally women keep their father’s name and family name. This western trend came about when women used to be seen as the husband’s property upon marriage.
In Islam, the woman is not the property of her husband. They are equal partners in marriage. And so it is better for Muslim women to keep their father’s name, even if they also take their husband’s name.
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