Comparing Gift-Giving Practices between American and Arabian Cultures

America’s gift-giving culture is not as restricted by traditions and customs when compared to practices observed by those who belong to the Araban race.

In America, giving presents to family members, business associates and close friends is generally expected only during Christmas and special occasions like birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Fathers’ Day graduations and occasional social visits. Arabian culture, on the other hand, recognizes giving gifts as an important practice to observe when looking to forge good business and social relationships. This stems from the fact that the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of the islamic relgion encourages people to give gifts to one another as a way of maintaining harmony in relationships.

Still, there are etiquettes to observe when giving gifts to Muslims and it’s important to know some of the most vital traditions to observe

How and Whom to Give Gifts in Accordance with Muslim Traditions

First off, be in the know that when in the Middle East, the respectful way of giving a present is by using the right hand or both hands. Muslim culture considers the left hand unclean as it is largely associated with bathing and cleaning rituals.

Reciprocation is also considered ethical in Arabic culture, which denotes that when someone gives a person a gift, the recipient has to give something in return that is more or less of equal value even if symbolically and not immediately.

Giving presents to members of the opposite sex outside of the family circle is taboo because the act is regarded as too intimate. When a male has to give gift to a female business associate or vice versa, the proper way to do is to say that the present is from wife or husband, as the case may be.

Socially, when giving a family man or woman a present, it is a good practice to also give small gifts for the children. Such practice is a way of conveying genuine interest in keeping a friendship for long term or permanently.

Most Amercans make it a practice to always choose age-appropriate gifts, especially for children. To make choosing easier, they use search phrases like “fun gifts for age 6 boys” or something similar, However, when buying presents for a Muslim friend and his or her children, Americans must do so with care. Mainly because there are traditional do’s and don’ts to observe when giving gifts in the Middle East.

Important Gift-Giving Do’s and Don’ts in the Middle East

While the safest and most popular gifts to give are food items, make sure they do not contain pork and pork by-products like cured pork meat (ham, bacon, sausage and gelatin) because pigs or hogs are considered as unclean animals in Islam. Dates, pastries, cookies, chocolates and sweet treats are the most recommended food items to give as gifts in the Middle East.

Native crafts and art works are acceptable but they should not depict images of the human body because the human anatomy is regarded as a sacred gift from Allah. Items with dog depictions are also improper because Islamic religion, likewise considers dogs as unclean animals.

Wines, spirits or any form of alcoholic beverages are no-nos since the Islamic law prohibits alcohol drinking as a habit.

When choosing a garment or accessories as gift for a Muslim male, avoid those made of silk materials or constructed out of gold metals. The Prophet Muhammad’s teachings specifically stated that such objects are haram or forbidden for male Muslims.