Thursday, 10 January 2008

Table Etiquettes, Falafels and Boundaries

BBC Radio Scotland, Thought for the Day by Amanullah De Sondy
Thursday 10th January 2008

We all know the etiquettes of eating? Don’t we? Well, that’s what I thought, until I read that an independent school in Brighton was teaching its pupil’s which cutlery to use and whether to remove their jackets at dinner. The headmaster said exams are not the only part of preparation for adult life.

This has set me thinking about the practicalities of knowledge. In the Islamic tradition there are many teachings on the issue of eating and drinking. Eat small mouthfuls, drink slowly, try to finish all the food on the plate, give thanks before and after the meal, are just some of the traditions that I, as a Muslim, have grown up with. These were traditions that I never really read about in any textbook but I learnt just by sitting with family and friends.

In one prophetic tradition it’s stated that there are three ways to truly know someone, by living with them, eating with them or having any kind of financial transaction with them. These three activities have the ability to bring out the best or the worst in some body. Isn’t it true to say, that when we eat with someone, we can quickly determine a lot about their character?

Food for thought I hear you say, food for me brings many a culture together. It is one thing that crosses boundaries between us. Food is a way of understanding and learning about differences. On a recent visit to Israel, I sat between a Palestinian and an Israeli, who argued that the chickpeas based fried balls we were eating, better known as the 'Falafel', belonged exclusively to their community. A hesitant smile came to their faces when I asked if it was possible to share the ‘falafel’, in the same way that the holy land could be shared.

In the words of Voltair, ‘Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity’. And so I am left wondering, if the simple act of eating together, can accomplish, more than just empty stomachs.

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