Entertaining, Muslim-style

I saw on the Religious Policeman’s blog an entry on the entertaining style in Saudi Muslim homes. From my own personal experience, a lot of his description is either hyperbole for entertainment value, or is the way he is familiar with things based on his own family’s way of doing things. There is plenty of variety in the Muslim world so that such descriptions, the prototypical men vs. women/slaves scenario, should not be seen as the standard. I am not Saudi, but I do come from a very traditional, conservative, Islamically observant family and this is how our family handles entertaining men and women at the same time in the same house. (Other times we entertain only men or only women–you know, girl’s night ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) And while our way of entertaining may not be the standard either, it certainly is more common in my community, from what I have seen.

We have a house with just one living room, and a family room, unlike back home, where most houses have a women’s living room and a men’s living room. So, here in the States, while the regular living room is for the men only, our family room adjacent to the kitchen is our women’s living room–while guests are over, this area is designated as No Man’s Land! We set the tables in both rooms, either on the table, or for more conservative guests who we know like to eat on the floor, we spread a rug on top of the existing rug, lay out a lacy table-cover, and sit on the floor. No plastic tablecovers for either men or women, unless I guess its a super-casual occasion. Brothers set the table on the men’s side, sister and me handle our side, and of course go and fix up the men’s side, coz boys can never get everything just right. Or our standards are too high. Or we didn’t give them clear enough directions ๐Ÿ™„ You pick the excuse you like best ๐Ÿ˜‰

We always seem to prepare three times the quantity of food, because in eastern cultures, skimping on food for guests is kind of like telling them they should not have accepted an invitation that was merely made for the sake of politeness! Whenever we see pictures in western entertainment mags with platters of hor’dourves neatly placed and spaced out, rather than piled way up high, we say to ourselves, How nice to be able to prepare 25 kebabs for 10 guests and be done, rather than 100 for 10 guests! ๐Ÿ˜€ Then, we try doing that–and succumb to our roots and cook enough for an army…in the east, and even for those from the east but living in the west, when it comes to food, less is certainly not more! This is true of jewellery and clothing as well, by the way.

Our guests arrive, daddy opens the door and leads the men into the living room and either directs the women thru to us in No Man’s Land, or the men that are with the women ask them to wait, and then us women go out to the front door to welcome our female guests…lead them to No Man’s Land, hugs, air kisses, they proceed to remove their abayas (long loose coat typically worn by more observant women) if they have them on, and some remove their hijabs as well! Chit chat for a little while with the women, then start filling our platters for the men and women–platters for the men’s dining table and women’s table are identical; serving the men on china and with silver means doing the same for the ladies. Tis more expensive, buying two sets of everything, but what is the bounties of Allah to be spent on anyway?

While everyone is eating and talking and laughing and eating and talking etc. you in the men’s side will definitely hear the women making a racket. Can’t be helped–women are sociable creatures, and our homes in the west, unless custom built, are not designed so that sound does not travel across small open floor-plans. Back home, they put proper SOLID doors on the rooms–here, our floor plan just has arches separating rooms, and for a more physical barrier we put up curtains and folding screens, thru which noise travels. Oh well, we don’t like entertaining men guests with our sultry voices and sexy laughter, but we certainly are not going to go mute thru lack of decent architecture. As if the men are listening to us anyway ๐Ÿ˜† (Do men ever listen? Even when they are NOT supposed to?)

We send the platters to the men’s table via the brothers again–the boys come to the family room, and we pass them the food thru a curtain. So boys serve the boys, and the girls serve the girls. Make sure guests eat well, stuff them as much as possible. If there are a lot of leftovers (which there always seems to be!), mom frets and wonders what we did wrong, maybe it all tasted bad, etc. ๐Ÿ˜ฏ When dinner is finished, boys clear up the dishes, send them to us in the kitchen, and then tea, cookies, cakes are served. Boys pour the tea for the guests, so there is no way you could say there is an unequal division of labor in the entertaining of guests in conservative Muslim homes. Ok, girls make the tea, but two people can’t do the same task at the same time anyway–and the kitchen IS conquered territory–No Man’s Land!

Tea time lasts until the guests are ready to leave (or until we decide to kick them out ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), men get up and go outside, us women start saying our good-byes. This takes a while, you understand. Sometimes the men have to call the women on their cell phones and tell them, come on now, khalas!!! ๐Ÿ˜† Ok, not just sometimes.

One hour after the good-byes start, the guests are gone. Then the real entertaining begins, coz daddy tells us how loud we were, and we say, but thats because you men are not even talking to one another, if you made noise of your own, you would not have heard us. He tells us to be more quiet next time. We “assure” him that we will be quieter…and everyone does the mountains of dishes together…well, the girls do the dishes, while the boys clean up, sweep, vaccuum, that sort of thing. Boys can only do so much, you know. Limited in their capabilities. ๐Ÿ˜€

Well, that is how we entertain in our home–men clean house, buy tons of food, and serve the men, women cook the tons of food and serve the women. Don’t worry, Muslim women are not really enslaved–although that does make for a more dramatic story-line. Cinderella I am not! ๐Ÿ˜€


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4 Responses to Entertaining, Muslim-style

  1. Niqabified says:

    Awww…sounds so cute! I wish we could have that system too ๐Ÿ˜ฆ In our homes (and I live back home, lol), all the dishes and laying down of dasterkhwans(floor mats) are done by the maids. There is no clear division between men and women’s eating areas because it is very likely that 80% of your extended family does not observe niqab or hijab. So while you’re trying to maintain your purdah by staying in another room, these women will conveniently walk into the men’s quarter and you’d be bound to serve them the tea n tid bits there. Its very uncomfortable for us, because more than half of my family isn’t very religious.

    Plus, there’s the matter of backwardness associated with someone practising deen. People dont ever say it explicitly but thats how they feel. Their condescending expressions and glances convey quite a bit. I’m not complaining because it gets all the more rewarding but sometimes its annoying. Practising Islam ‘back home’ is very hard. Contrary to what people generally say; its not the traditions or customs that bug us so much. Because, people in cities have moved on, its no longer a case of ‘khandaan ki rasam’. Its the interpretation of Islam that is frustrating. Each person here has his/her own version of Islam. They’ve conveniently condemned all moulvis and mullahs, branching them as ‘extremists’. They all believe that Islam is VERY easy to practise and its just narrow minded people like us, who’re still sticking to the past strict rules. They think that we should change according to the demands of The Age. But unfortunetly, they go over the line in giving concessions. ‘I dont need to wear Hijab because its all a matter of niyat’. ‘I know many hijabis who’re drug addicts and this n that and I’m a much better muslim than them even without my Hijab’. And other nonsensical arguments like these are a recurrent theme in our drawing room discussions.

    I hope…these people change, insha’Allah. Ameen.

  2. DigiN says:

    I totally know where you are coming from! Thanks for that insight, coz I think people have a very one-dimensional view of the Muslim home, and you bring to light another issue–those who are observant, but are caught between family members who are not: what to do, how to maneuver, how much concession to give, and so on…its definitely not as cut and dried as men’s quarters/roles and women’s quarters/roles. The complexities are endless! And don’t tell me about the maids–after one of these get-togethers, a maid would be absolutely divine to have–just for the dishes alone!
    There is always hope for change–I come from a family where my parents were the only observant ones; today, my aunts and uncles and cousins who were “super-modern” have all gone under wraps! ๐Ÿ˜† Makes me feel downright exposed! ๐Ÿ˜€ All I asked for was tolerance, but alhamdulillah…

  3. Uzer says:

    Just so you know, men ONLY listen when they’re NOT supposed to.

    And the best solution to condescending attitudes etc etc. is sarcasm. You can try dawah all you want but it’ll eventually boil down to…

    “Why do you have a beard?”
    “To get chicks.”

    In fact, I’ve realized that answer works well for just about any question. Might even work better when girls use it…

    But seriously, our society is just in such bad shape, if you can find a muslim practicing just the five pillars, honestly you’d have to be very, very thankful.

    Something as simple as smiling to someone else on the road will do absolutely nothing but liven up that other person’s day and make you feel better about yourself. If I tell someone that you should smile to other people because it’s sadaqah and indicative of good character and makes the other person feel great (Just as you would want yourself to feel) it would be nowhere near as effective as if I said that you should smile because civilized people do it, or the Americans do it all the time, or it has been shown to decrease cancer or some crap like that.



    Wassalamu Alaikum

  4. DigiN says:

    All too true, Uzer. ๐Ÿ™‚ Uh, I won’t be using that line though, “to get chicks” anytime soon ๐Ÿ™„ ๐Ÿ˜€ If one is compelled to give da’wah, then for me the best da’wah is to let your actions speak for your deen. Besides, I need to give da’wah to myself first!

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