Customs and Behavior | Tips on how to behave in Muslim countries

Tips on how to act in a Muslim home or country

WHAT TO DO OR NOT TO DO :: Whether you are meeting at a Muslims home or doing business in a Muslim country, there are certain social graces, customs and behavior which, when understood, can help avoid unnecessary complications or hurts.

General Behavior, Attitudes and Demenour – The Golden Rule

Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”. (Matthew 7:12)

The so called ‘Golden Rule’ of Jesus best sums up how to be prepared for going to any foreign country or to a neighbors house – despite customs and cultural differences. With regards to Muslims, it is intertesting to note that in an imitation of the golden rule, a hadith says: “A Muslim should treat others as he would wish them to treat him…Like for others what he would like for himself.”

Here are some important customs to watch when you visit Muslims anywhere:

Practice Humility: Have a demeanor which models kindness and forbids being harsh, rude, or even speaking loudly to others.

Seek Moderation: Many Muslims value deliberation, a careful consideration which focuses on the outcome of a matter. Moderation in speech, and avoidance of being nervous, highly strung or liable to sudden anger, characterizes many of those who “submit to God.”

Sincerity is Key: A kind, honest, humble approach–free of an arrogant and overbearing attitude–naturally opens the way for agreeable exchanges (Understanding Arabs, p. 112.)

Greetings and Contact

* Handshakes, though regarded as important, usually do not possess the same firmness as handclasps of many Europeans or Americans. We usually shake hands only the first time we are introduced to someone. Most Arabs shake hands every time they meet you and every time they leave you. This applies whether they meet you on the street, in an office, at a conference, restaurant, or at home. The customs and behavior in Saudi Arabia is to shake hands on meeting, chat a bit, and shake hands again on leaving–even if you meet ten times a day. If sitting, rise when shaking hands as well as when an esteemed person enters a room.

* Touching, long handshakes, grasped elbows, even walking hand in hand by two males is common place in the Arab world. A considerable number of Arabs touch more between the same sex, to show liking–not sex. They hold hands, hug each other, kiss if close friends. As Arab customs and behavior condones the outward display of affection between male friends, one may see Arab men, even officials and military officers, holding hands as they walk together or otherwise converse with one another. If an individual Arab does not touch you, he does not like you–or he may be trying to restrain himself because you are not used to being touched. A full body embrace, accompanied with hugging, should not be initiated until you are sure that the Arab is a close friend. If the Arab initiates it, participate and consider yourself honored and/or accepted. Contact between the opposite sex in public is considered close to obscene.

* Use the right hand to eat, touch and present gifts. The left is generally regarded as unclean.

Greetings and Conversations

* Small talk and ritual greetings is normal. Middle Easterners often greet each other with a number of ritual phrases and fixed responses. Ancient custom governs these interactions. To Western eyes, profuse greetings, inquiries about health and well-being, often take up inordinate amounts of time but it is important in establishing friendly relations. Remember, however, it is insulting to ask about a Muslim’s wife or another female family member.

* Eye contact during discussions–often long and direct–is important. Staring is not necessarily rude (except gazing at women).

* Be aware of appearing to be in a hurry when you are among Arabs. For example, during a business appointment or social visit with an Arab, do not look at your watch or otherwise act as if you have little time to talk. Arabs can be very offended by this. Time is much less rigidly scheduled in Arab countries than in western countries.

* Pointing your finger or a pen at anyone while speaking, or beckon anyone with your finger. It is considered a threat, and only animals are treated in this manner.

* Distance in talking with one another (body space) may be much closer with Middle East peoples than with Westerners.

Hospitality and Visits / Meals

* Hospitality and giving a warm reception to strangers goes back to the culture of the desert. Developed over centuries, where the desert environment bound traveling nomads to depend on the graciousness and generosity of others, hospitality enabled inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula to survive thirst, hunger and sudden raids/attacks. Many Middle Eastern peoples continue this custom of showing courtesy and consideration to strangers. Demonstrating friendliness, generosity and hospitableness become expressions of personal honor, even sacred duties.

* Take off your shoes at the entrance and leave them there before going in. Sometimes oversize slippers are provided for you to put on.

* Men should not wear shorts, and women should not go there wearing short sleeves or sleeveless dresses.

* Take care when sitting. Avoid stretching legs in front of or sitting up higher than others, sitting with the left hand behind the back, or positioning oneself so the shadows fall upon half of one’s body.

* Avoid putting feet on tables or furniture. Show respect. Refrain from leaning against walls, slouching in chairs, and keeping hands in pockets. Keep from pointing with the feet. Do not show the soles of the feet, as they are the lowest and dirtiest part of the body.

* Allowing your host to initiate discussion topics is a good policy. Expect handshakes from all personnel in a party. Sometimes Arabs use double meanings in conversation, which allows for all parties to feel good and not lose face. Such use shows the practitioner to be a person of culture.

* Do not talk loudly.

* Use the right hand to eat. The left is generally regarded as unclean.

* Expect the actual eating of a meal to come at the conclusion to an evening’s festivities. Touch food and pass it with your right hand only. In some areas, Middle Easterners consider it impolite to eat everything on one’s plate. Leaving food becomes a symbol of abundance and serves to compliment the host.

Outward Affection and Gestures

* Take off your shoes at the entrance and leave them there before going in. Sometimes oversize slippers are provided for you to put on.
* Men should not go into a mosque wearing shorts, and women should not go there wearing short sleeves or sleeveless dresses.
* Do not talk loudly.
* Do not walk directly in front of people praying.
* Do not take pictures of people in a mosque, particularly women.
* Mosques are considered to be shelters for homeless people.
* Do not be surprised to find mosques without furniture, except for the carpet. The “Islamic religion advocates a simple way of life for its followers.”


  1. Is it impolite when greeting a professional Muslim man, to shake hands.I am a professional female of equal standing and he recoiled when I tried to shake hands.

    • I’m pretty sure that is because physical contact with a woman, regardless of how simple a handshake may seem, is still forbidden unless married and in the confines of one’s home. I’m sure extenuating circumstances such as serious injury are exempted, but a handshake with a woman is considered sinful. Perhaps you should have bowed your head in greeting? I am not sure, but it most likely would have been better than trying for a handshake. Maybe someone else will have some better insight than me, for this is just my personal inference.

  2. i know its been a long time since your post but ill reply
    -we worship “allah” which literally means god and our god is your god except we have different understandings of the concept of god.Ours is one indivisible god eternal and omnipotent doesn’t have a son(figurative or otherwise) and we worship and pray to him and only him.We worship him via 5 daily prayers (u can easily see how prayer is preformed) and through dua(supplication) and fasting in Ramadan…
    -as for the fact that our prophet married aisha it might sound outrageous now but ill have u know she was already engaged to another man u can say it was the norm at the time and many historians point this out and truth is thats all there is to the matter and the marriage was consummated after she had her period by a while
    -we expect Jesus to return because our prophet prophesied as much and because we believe he never died but instead was saved by god and was taken to heaven till the time he returns to rid the world of evil and become its ruler till judgement day
    -Jesus being our judge is impossible because we believe he was a great prophet, the word of god but not anything more he was not divine so no our judge is god himself
    -this is a misunderstanding we wont kill the followers of Jesus the fight is between those Christians and even muslims who were fooled by the Antichrist and believed due to his miracles…

  3. هل يسوع هو الطريق الوحيد للسماء؟


    السؤال: هل يسوع هو الطريق الوحيد للسماء؟

    الجواب: “أنا ببساطة شخص صالح، لذلك فأنا ذاهب للسماء.”. “أنا ارتكب بعض الأعمال السيئة البسيطة، ولكني أقوم بأعمال خيرة أكثر، لذلك سأذهب للسماء”. “الله لن يرسلني للجحيم لأني لا أتبع تعاليم الكتاب المقدس. ولكن الزمن مختلف”. “فقط الأناس الأشرار جدا مثل المجرمين والقتلة هم الذين سيذهبون للجحيم.”

    هذه كلها أمثلة لطريقة تفكير كثير من الناس، ولكن الحقيقة أنها كلها أكاذيب. ابليس سيد هذا العالم يزرع هذه الأفكار في رؤسنا. هو وكل من يتبع طرقه يعتبر خصم لله (بطرس الأولي 8:5). دائما يزيف ابليس مظهره ليظهر كشيء جيد (كورنثوس الثانية 14:11) ولكنه قادر أن يتحكم فقط في العقول التي لا تتبع الله. “الذين فيهم اله هذا الدهر قد اعمي أذهان غير المؤمنين لئلا تضيء لهم انارة انجيل مجد المسيح الذي هو صورة الله” (كورنثوس الثانية 4:4).

    أنها ليست الحقيقة أن الله لا يهمه الخطايا الصغيرة، وعليه فأن الجحيم معد فقط للأشرار. كل خطيئة تفصلنا عن الله حتي و ان كانت “كذبة بيضاء صغيرة “. كل منا قد أخطأنا ولا يوجد أحد مستحق للسماء (روميه 23:3). الذهاب الي السماء لا يعتمد علي مقدار الأعمال الجيدة و مقدارها بالنسبة للأعمال السيئة. قطعا سنخسر الفرصة ان كانت هذه الحقيقة. “فان كان بالنعمة فليس بعد بالأعمال. والا فليست النعمة بعد نعمة” (روميه 6:11) . لا يمكننا أن نفعل الصلاح للحصول علي طريق مجاني للسماء (تيطس 5:3).

    “ادخلوا من الباب الضيق،…

  4. This helped a lot I just got here and now understand im also doing a project for hospitality.THANKS

  5. Reagan Deleaney says:

    Patty your comment is troubling to me. Why would you want to touch the opposite sex if you are not related to him or married to him? What kind of interest could you possible have in him that is not of an immoral nature that makes your mind or animalistic low life nature desire something that is unlawful to you? I think keeping your hands and low desires to yourself is in fact beautiful and good for society and families. What relationship between yourself and a man should you have? I would never want to see you or any woman not related touching, hugging or engaged in lengthy conversation with my sons or my husband. THAT to me can lead to sex and is vulgar. Take a look around you. Has our society of touching everybody really helped us live better respectful lives? [Edited for brevity, Admin.]

    • I lived in a Muslim country for eight years. I have never seen a group of people whose minds were so focused on “sex.” I found it deplorable. Touches lead to sex? Really!! It’s what’s in a person’s mind that leads to sex.

  6. Assalamu alaykum,
    I just wanted to know your opinion about the following small issue:
    Is it ok if a young man, who is grown-up and living alone, living as best as he can according to Islam, does not allow his father, when he comes over to visit him, to smoke or if yes, under strict conditions? The father was sad about this reaction not because of not being able to smoke but of not being treated as a special person, i.e. as father. The young man is actually a person with good manners. I would be very grateful if you could send me your opinion as soon as you can to my personal e-mail address (see above). Thank you. Salam

  7. i just want to know from a muslim freinds out there,we all serve God ,Allah according to you my freind{muslims} and to us christians is Jehovah.when i die i will go and meet my God who sent Jesus{isa}to be a propistiation.I have hope that i will live becouse Isa died and ressurected,when that happend i also died from the sins of Adam and eve our fast parents and when he resurected I also resurected with him in the spirit.[JOHN 14]If u can read that one,romans Question is when you die ,where will u be,will you be God all not,do you have hope for evalasting life?did the prophet Muhamad live you any thing about where you will be after death?

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