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Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

MENA Culture & Etiquette for Western Professionals

If you want to understand the MENA ( Middle East & North Africa) region seek to understand Islam - the dominant religion. Islam is the common thread throughout MENA and its principles , values and tenants dictate many aspects of life. Understanding Islamic etiquette will take you far in making great impressions in your travels and business endeavors. 
MENA Culture & Etiquette for Western Professionals

by Christen Behzadi, MD

A year ago

While a detailed understanding of Islam takes time, there are some pointers we can give you to get you acclimated to the culture of the region. A culture dominated by Islamic thought.

One delightful surprise you might notice immediately in the region is the incredible hospitality and warmth of the locals. While many westerners are fearful of Islam (which means peace) the the values it promotes in the treatment of guests cannot be denied once you visit a Muslim majority country. In our course, Practical Islamic Etiquette we cover all the necessities to become fully acquainted with Islamic practices in daily life. Here, we will cover a few introductory points to get you started.

Be prepared to be welcomed into someones home while visiting Islamic majority countries. In Islam is is considered a great duty of Muslims to take in travelers and guests. Treating guests with respect and hospitality is considered an honor to Muslims. You may loose count of the times you are invited into someones home (even total strangers) for tea or a lavish feast. They will wish for you to readily accept and allow them to show you the fine foods and culture of their country.

Separation of Men & Women:
In the home you may notice that men and women sit separately. Follow your hosts lead and if they are seated opposite each other kindly follow suit. Men and women are also separated during prayer services at the mosque. In some countries men and women are even separated on public transportation. In Islam this is a practice of modesty. As such, public displays of affection between men and women are universally frowned upon in Islamic countries even between married people. This means if you are visiting with a significant other and are unmarried be even more careful about public displays of affection. This is true even in Islamic countries that cater to Western tourists. When you meet people for the first time of the opposite sex, do not touch , hug, or kiss cheeks.

In Islam cleanliness is a point of great importance. It is important that cleanliness is observed according to the Quran. Ritual cleanliness involves washing of the body, hands, feet in a particular manner. This renders Muslims suitable for prayer. Of importance to you as a visitor is how you can observe this practice and assist your Muslim friends. House pets (dogs) are considered unclean (Nejis) while cats are acceptable. If you are playing with an animal in a Muslim country don’t be alarmed if your Muslim friends do not want to touch the animal. Muslims do not eat with their left hand which is used for sanitary tasks. Don’t shake or eat with your left hand, it is considered rude and unclean. Finally, always remove your shoes when you enter a home. In Islamic countries keeping the home carpets free from outside dirt is necessary to keep carpets clean for ritual prayer and sharing meals on the floor is also very common.

When lasting impressions matter professional cultural etiquette training is key. More than having a cursory understanding of Islam we will seek to deepen your understanding of Islam and polish your cultural etiquette. No one will expect you to even know anything about a foreign religion or country from your own. By making such an effort you will ease your transition, make easy friends and thrive. Let us know in the comments what your tips are for succeeding in an Islamic country as a westerner.


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