Malay Home Visits: The Dos and Donts
Visiting a Malay Family
The majority of Malays in Singapore are Muslims. Many Malay families enjoy hosting and the idea of entertaining guests is very much aligned with their Muslim faith, as reflected in the Quran and the Sunnah, a collection of the sayings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad.
One such saying, as recorded in the Sunnah, states: “Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, ‘Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him speak goodness or remain silent. Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him honour his neighbour. Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him honour his guest.’” (Ṣaḥīḥal-Bukhārī6136, ṢaḥīḥMuslim47)
The art of gift-giving
When visiting a Muslim family, guests can consider bringing a gift along.
Food is nice as a gift, but do make sure that the item is halal, which means “permitted as indicated in the Quran, and in accordance with Islamic teachings of slaughtering”.It is good to keep in mind that alcohol and pork are haram, or forbidden in Islam.
Saying hello (image source: https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/malay-children-greeting-to-the-family-guest-during-hari-raya-festival-gm1221157601-357835006)
When greeting the host family, guests should be aware that traditionally, a Muslim does not have physical contact with someone of the opposite gender.
It is best to follow the lead of the host, who may initiate a no-contact salaam, meaning “greeting of respect”, which involves placing the right hand on the heart.
The host may also lean towards the handshake, which has gained much popularity and acceptance among the Malay Muslim community today.
Whichever style of greeting the host adopts, guests can reciprocate likewise.
The table manners to know (image source: https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/family-ready-for-iftar-meal-in-ramadan-gm956134334-261060052)
It is a blessing to be invited to a meal at the home of a Malay host. Malay cuisine is full of flavours, rich in spices, and offers a gastronomical experience.
Some Muslims use their hands to eat –the fingers, to be exact. While they make it look effortless, eating this way takes a bit of practice for the uninitiated.
The trick is to use the fingertips to take a small amount of food and form it into a mound. Then, with the fingertips facing upwards, use the thumb to push the food into the mouth.
When eating, Muslims always use the right hand, following what is written in the Sunnah, where many sayings about this practice can be found. One of them goes like this: “Ibn Umar reported the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, assaying: ‘When any of you eats, he should eat with his right hand, and when he drinks, he should drink with his right hand, for the devil eats with his left hand and drinks with his left hand.’” (Sunan Abi Dawud 3776)
Guests are welcome to learn the technique from the host family and try eating the traditional way. However, if it is too difficult to get the hang of it, it is alright to ask for utensils. At the end of the meal, it is always good to thank the host for the delicious spread.