Table etiquette from the Sunnah for Ramadan

Table etiquette from the Sunnah for Ramadan

Ramadan is ironically a month in which we are more eager to dine with others than usual. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Whoever gives iftaar to one who is fasting will have a reward like his, without that detracting from the reward of the fasting person in the slightest.” [1]. Undoubtedly, many of us will be hosting an iftaar party and sharing food with others. Whether you are the guest or the host, being aware of certain table-manners can help to make that iftaar an productive one and avoid offending anyone by upholding the following Islamic values:

General Rules:
• Remember Allah before and after eating.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “When any one of you eats, let him mention the name of Allah. If he forgets to mention the name of Allah at the beginning, then let him say “Bismillahi awwalahu wa aakhirahu (In the name of Allah at the beginning and at the end).” [2]. He (peace and blessings be upon him) also said: _“Allah is pleased with His slave when he eats something and praises Him for it, or drinks something and praises Him for it.” [3]

• Make du’aa.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) used to say when breaking his fast: “Dhahaba al-zama’ wa abtalat al-‘urooq wa thabata al-ajr inshaAllah .” [4]. It is this time before you break your fast when the opportunity to make dua should be seized as narrated in many ahadith since it is guaranteed the fasting person’s dua will be accepted.

• Eat with the right hand.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said to ‘Umar ibn Abi Salamah, “O young boy, say Bismillah, eat with your right hand, and eat from what is directly in front of you.” [5].

• Take whatever is closest to you.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said to ‘Umar ibn Abi Salamah, “O young boy, say Bismillah, eat with your right hand, and eat from what is directly in front of you.” [6]. If something you want is far away, do not lean over others to take it. Instead, ask someone to pass it to you. Furthermore, avoid picking up the best (or even the worst) bits of food by digging into the bowl. The Prophet himself said: “The blessing descends in the middle of the food, so eat from the edges and do not eat from the middle.” [7].

• Have patience and wait your turn for taking food.
The party is meant to be a social gathering, not a race although you should hasten to break your fast as soon as its time! Furthermore, do not stare at the food as it doesn’t remind you to appreciate the experience of fasting.

• Take only as much as you can eat.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “A man does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat enough to keep him alive. But if he must do that, then one-third for his food, one-third for his drink and one-third for his air.” [8]. If you are uncertain about how much you can eat, it is still wiser to take small helpings of food so that if you want, you can take some more later – this hadith does not also mean that one must literally fill their stomach up!

• Do not eat greedily
which entails smacking the lips, tearing apart bits of food ravenously, wrestling with food, etc and whilst it seems like an silly thing to do – it does happen!

• Interact with others
The gathering is for making du’aa together, bonding with others, and exchanging noble ideas. Therefore, do not focus on only eating. In Saheeh Muslim (2052), it is narrated from Jabir ibn ‘Abd-Allah (may Allah be pleased with him) said that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked his family for condiments and they said: “We do not have anything but vinegar.” He called for it and he started eating it, saying: “What a good condiment vinegar is, what a good condiment vinegar is.” Al-Nawawi said: “This shows that it is mustahabb to talk whilst eating, so as to put the diners at ease.” [9].

• Avoid talking while you have food in your mouth
Doing so provides an unpleasant sight for others however this does not negate the point made about complimenting the hosts dishes or hospitality.

• Look after the people sitting next to you
Inquire if they need anything and always offer food to others before taking it yourself. You can also help them take the food by serving it yourself or at least, holding the bowl while they take it.

• Maintain hygiene
Wash your hands before and after handling food, and rinse your mouth after eating. Apart from that, take a regular shower to prevent body odour, wear clean and ironed garments, maintain proper oral hygiene, and have a pure mind and heart.

• Avoid doing anything peculiar at the table
such as touching your nose, flossing the teeth, yawning (as it suggests boredom, but if you are overcome by it, put a hand over your mouth), spitting, burping (if you have to do this, at least make it inaudible by doing so with your mouth closed!), reclining while eating, reading books or doing anything which suggests boredom/seclusion, etc. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “I do not eat whilst I am reclining.” [10]

• Don’t commit your sins/bad habits
Whether you consider smoking as haraam or makrooh, it should not be done in the presence of those who do not want to be passive smokers (people inhaling second-hand harmful smoke) or even in the presence of kids and companions who will pick up your unhealthy and harmful habits.

• Avoid extravagance/wastage
of all forms, related to food, decorations, eating-utensils, etc. “And eat and drink but waste not by extravagance, certainly He (Allah) likes not Al Musrifoon (those who waste by extravagance).” [11]. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: _“Do not drink from vessels of gold and silver, or eat from plates thereof.” [12].
So far we have looked at the important etiquettes often forgotten at the table when attending or hosting an iftaar party during ramadan, below are tips for both the host and guests to consider:

Rules for Guests:
• Well ahead of the party, notify the host of any food allergy that you have. It is also wise to inquire about the dishes during the party so that you do not end up eating anything which you do not prefer. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) used not to eat food until he had been told about it or told what it was called, so that he would know what it was. [13].
• Except for genuine reasons, do not decline any invitation or cancel your attendance at the last minute. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The rights of a Muslim over his fellow Muslim are five: returning greetings, visiting the sick, attending funerals, accepting invitations, and saying Yarhamuk Allah (may Allah have mercy on you) when he sneezes.” [14].
• Inform the host whether you will be attending or not to prevent wastage of food and to prevent others from waiting for you. Also, inform the host if you think you will be late.
• Always allow the host to take charge. Therefore, start eating only after the host has done so (however, finish before him/her). If you need anything, inform the host. Ask if the host has pre-planned the seating (decided who is to sit next to whom) and if that is the case, sit accordingly. That way, the host feels appreciated for his/her endeavour.
• Finish whatever food you take. Not doing so suggests that you have not really enjoyed the meal, not to mention you will be wasting food.
• Avoid criticizing the meal. If you feel that one dish has not been prepared well, put that aside, and try another one – it is unlikely that all the dishes will fail to cater to your taste-buds! Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) did not criticize food. If he liked it he would eat it and if he did not like it he would leave it. [15]. In addition, if a dish is lacking salt (or any other condiment) according to your preference, then take a spoon of salt (or any other condiment) at the edge of your plate.
• Before leaving the table, seek permission of the host. Try not to leave the table too early. If there is an urgent need for leaving the table, inform everyone and apologize.
• If you feel sick all of a sudden, inform the host and take necessary actions. However, do not panic – imagine the feeling of worry the host may face if you become unwell after their iftaar!
• Before leaving the party, thank the host, praise the food (or anything about the gathering), and make du’aa for the host. Anas narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) came to Sa’d ibn ‘Ubaadah who brought him some bread and oil, and he ate. Then the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “May fasting people break their fast with you, may the righteous eat your food, and may the angels send blessings upon you.” [16].

Rules for Hosts:
• It is your duty to ensure that your guest is not bored or uncomfortable. Therefore, try to arrange a seating-plan where you put one shy person next to someone who has a good sense of humour or good communication skills. Furthermore, observe the guests and cater to their needs. Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated about the story of drinking milk where Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) repeatedly said to him, “Drink!” and he kept telling him to drink until he (the guest) said,“By the One Who sent you with the truth, I have no more room for it!” [17].
• Inquire about food-allergy. Also, try to serve favourites. This can be easily done if you keep a log of people’s likes and dislikes.
• Avoid cooking too much or too little by preparing a list and estimating the number of guests so you don’t waste a great deal once the party is over.
• Well ahead of the adhaan, keep everything (sufficient napkins/tissues, glasses, plates, etc.) ready at the table. That way you will not be rushing to-and-fro during the iftaar and can sit to make dua peacefully before breaking fast, and the guests will not feel deserted.
• At the table, you should place bone-plates (to prevent the guests from stacking bones at the edge of the plate, which might be an unpleasant sight for others) and condiment-mills (guests may have different preferences for salt and pepper).
• If you have invited the poor, treat them well. “Kind speech and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury.” [18]. Many people make them sit on the floor or in a separate room, or serve them different food in cheap utensils. Make the poor dine at the same table. If you are not comfortable about their table manners, then at least make them sit in the same room with proper seating arrangement.
If done with the right intentions and actions, an iftaar party will not only be a social gathering with impressive manners, but also an opportunity for achieving immense rewards insha’Allah.

[1] Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 807; Ibn Maajah, 1746; Ibn Hibaan, 8/216 and Saheeh al-Jaami, 6415.
[2] Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 1858; Abu Dawood, 3767; Ibn Maajah, 3264; Saheeh Sunan Abi Dawood, 3202.
[3] Narrated by Muslim, 2734.
[4] Narrated by Abu Dawood, 2357; al-Daaraqutni, 25.
[5] Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 3576; Muslim, 2022.
[6] Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 3576; Muslim, 2022.
[7] Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 1805; Ibn Maajah, 3277; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 829.
[8] Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 2380; Ibn Maajah, 3349; Saheeh al-Tirmidhi, 1939.
[10] Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5399.
[11] Qur’an 7:31
[12] Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5426; Muslim, 2067.
[13] Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5391; Muslim, 1946.
[14] Narrated by Saheeh al-Bukhaari, 1164 and Saheeh Muslim, 4022.
[15] Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 3370; Muslim, 2046.
[16] Narrated by Abu Dawood, 3854; Saheeh Sunan Abi Dawood, 3263.
[17] Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 6087.
[18] Qur’an 2:263


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