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Etiquette of Eating

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

The host should offer water to wash the hands of his guests from the right to the left, washing his own last. When a man has guests with him, he should eat joyfully with them; he should be the last to begin to eat, and he should be the last to lave his hands before, and last to do so after, a meal (Kitab Majmu'at al-Hawashi, p. 59). When the host's relation are present at a meal, the host should wash his hands last, apart from the members of his own family (Daim al-Islam, p. 414)

The basmala (bismi'l-lah al-rahman al-rahim) should be recited at the commencement of a meal, and the hamdala (al-hamdu li'l-lah) at the end of it (Daim al-Islam, p. 390). One who gives thanks to God after taking a meal is compared to the man who fasts and is patient in suffering (Bukhari, 70:57).

According to Mukhtasar al-Athar by Qadi Noman, "Eating and drinking with the left hand was forbidden by the Prophet, who approved of the practice that all actions should be performed with the right hand."

It is not desirable to eat from the top or the centre of a plate (tharid); therefore, the proper code of manners is to eat from the side nearest to a man. And similarly, dates and fresh fruits and vegetables should be consumed from the sides of a dish (Daim al-Islam, p. 402). A man should not rise (qama'an) from a meal until it is over, that is until all have eaten their fill (Ibid., p. 407). There are no fixed prayers, short or long, prescribed at the end of a meal. But every man must necessarily praise the Lord, saying al-hamdu li'l-lah, and then pray, if he so wishes (Ibid., p. 408). The fingers should be washed at the end of a meal, for, this will complete the blessing of God (Ibid., p. 392).

The Prophet forbade the eating of food which was very hot (Ibid., p. 387). There is also nothing to show that taking food while sitting on a chair is forbidden, or that helping oneself with a spoon or a knife is disapproved of. On the contrary, the Prophet is spoken of as helping himself with a knife to cut cooked meat (Bukhari, 10:43).

According to Bihar al-Anwar, Imam Jafar Sadik said, "Do not eat food while it is too hot. Wash the fruit before eating it. Do not smell bread and do not rub your hands on it. Eat what is in front of you on the dinning table, and not from what is in front of others. Take small morsels and chew them well."

Eating and drinking in vessels of silver and gold was prohibited (Bukhari, 70:30), because it is a luxury, which can be enjoyed by the rich at the expense of the poor, and is against the democratic spirit of Islam.

Entertainment of guests is also emphasized (Abu Daud, 26:5). When the Prophet came to Medina, he sacrificed a camel or a cow to feast his friends (Ibid., 26:4). Inviting the followers of other religions, and accepting their invitation, is expressly spoken of in the Koran: "And the food of those who have been given the Book is lawful for you, and your food is lawful for them" (5:5). The Koran also speaks of eating together or separately as one likes: "It is no sin that you eat together or separately" (24:61). Hadith recommends social functions in which people should eat together: "Gather together at your meals, you will be blessed therein" (Ibid., 26:14).

The Prophet is also reported to have said: "Man has filled no worse vessel than the stomach. A few morsels are enough for the son of Adam. Nonetheless, if it required to eat more than it, one third he should fill one third of it with food, one third he should keep for water and one third for breathing" (Tirmizi, 2:50).

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