For a faithful Muslim, eating a meal is a spiritual act. Great care should be taken to be respectful of company and to recognize Allah - meaning The God- as the source of abundance. This is done before, during and after the meal through ceremony and guidelines. Eating is considered a means of sustenance and energy, a way of maintaining health in order to best seek a spiritual relationship with Allah. Islamic eating etiquette relies on principles about how and when to eat to uphold the due respect for Allah.
Islam has rules and guidelines as to what can and cannot be eaten. Certain foods are considered impure and not fit for human consumption. Pure or permissible foods are known as halal. Impure foods, which are not allowed, are known as haram. Pork, the blood of any animal, carnivorous birds, alcohol, any part of a human, or any animal that is slaughtered in an unacceptable way, are among foods that are considered to be impure. In addition, even among accepted foods, attention to quality and health are encouraged.
Prayer is to be offered before the meal begins, by mentioning the name of Allah. If this is forgotten, it is to be done as soon as it is remembered. The hands should be washed before the meal. The eldest is served first, and food is then passed to the right. Food should always be eaten with the right hand, preferably using the first three fingers. Small bites are best, and all food should be chewed thoroughly. Food should also be eaten from the closest edge of the pate, and never from the middle of the portion. After the meal is eaten, gratitude is again given to Allah through prayer.
Muslims are supposed to practice abstention from eating and drinking on certain occasions. Fasting is considered a way to demonstrate faith in Allah and to atone for previous wrongdoings. The most notable fasting period is during Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. During this month observant Muslims fast sunrise to sunset. A light meal is eaten just before sunrise. Between dawn and sunset, no eating, drinking or sexual relations should take place. It is suggested that the fast is broken as soon after sunset as possible. If possible, the fast should be broken with water and dates. Only those over 18 and healthy must fast. Menstruating women, pregnant or lactating women, travelers, the sick and weak and those actively involved in war, are exempt from fasting.
The Islamic tradition emphasizes modesty and awareness. Food is eaten from a spread on the floor in a kneeling position. Food is not to be criticized. Food that is liked should be eaten, while food that is not desired should be left untouched. Food that is dropped should be cleaned off and eaten, and unwanted food should be saved. Food should be eaten until hunger is satisfied, but not until one is entirely full. The guest should not be meek, and should eat freely, without encouragement. Looking at dining companions during the meal is discouraged.
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