x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Lodging arrangements in the UAE

Can my student lodger live with me here and why does so much food go to waste?

Andrew Henderson / The National
Andrew Henderson / The National

Can my student lodger live with me here and why does so much food go to waste? Dear Ali: An exchange student from the Gulf lived with my family and me for five years. He called me Mom, and I treated him like one of my sons. He recently moved back to the Gulf and is looking to settle in the UAE. However, he has not yet found a job so staying in a hotel would be too expensive. I might be moving to the UAE and wondered if he would be allowed to stay with me? SC, Portland, USA

Dear SC: Like many Islamic countries, the UAE incorporates Sharia law into rules governing our lives to a certain level. We understand living with a member of the opposite sex in your country does not mean you are dating them, but cohabitation between non-related adults of the opposite gender is illegal in the UAE. That said, everybody in our country is welcome to host guests in their home. If you consider him your son and he thinks of you as a mother, this should not cause any trouble.

Some expats live together illegally in the UAE, and while we are aware of this, it is not to say it is OK. Some people act as if they are married, while others just keep things quiet. However, if it offended anyone, they would still get into trouble. I find it interesting how some of our families allow us to live in the home of a westerner in order to learn English overseas, and not see that as a breach of rules on cohabitation. But I guess it all has to do with the context. Problems would arise, for instance, if the family has a single daughter, or it's a single mother with no male presence in the house. But the concept of a student living with an older person is not forbidden; what is important is the boy's behaviour. He should not invite strangers back to your house, as this could draw attention to your situation.

Dear Ali: I have noticed that when eating out, many locals leave large amounts of food on their plates. This is considered wasteful in many western countries. I wonder if there is a cultural reason for this, or if there is anything about wastefulness in the Quran? YS, Dubai Dear YS: You have noted a case where there is some conflict between strict religious observance and actual practice. The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) advised us that we should eat an amount that would help us to survive, but not to eat until we are full. He also recommended waiting until everyone at the table was finished before second helpings.

Muslims are forbidden from leaving excessive amounts of food on their plates, so perhaps the families you have witnessed aren't as devoted to Islam. On the other hand, Arabs are known for our hospitality, as we know. There are many legendary stories of how Bedouins would offer their last morsel of food to strangers in the desert. Scarcity was a harsh reality for nomadic people, so wastefulness was obviously frowned upon.

In our modern world, prosperity means that most of us don't have to worry about putting food on the table, al hamdul'lilah. Coupled with our hospitality, you might see why people are leaving food. It could be that the restaurant just kept bringing out more dishes until the family had to decide whether to keep eating or explode. I would ask those Arabs: do you approve of leaving food? Do you like to see your children doing this? The answer I promise you would be "no", but unfortunately this does happen. Someone who is faithful to God should behave how He would want us to. Be respectful and thankful for God's goods.

Arabic: Shoo Ba'ed? English: What else? The word ba'ed means "next" or could also refer to "something else". If you combine it with shoo, which means "what", you would end up with shoo ba'ed, or what else. Shoo ba'ed is usually used as a transition statement between two topics to keep a conversation from dying. It is often combined with Enzain, which means OK. Example: "So Ola, how did your day go?" "OK thanks, but lots of meetings." "Enzain, shoo ba'ed" (OK, what else?) "Not much, really, but I had a nice lunch."