In the same way that it is important to understand each others’ words, beliefs, and practices, interreligious dialogue also involves navigating various interpersonal and intercultural dynamics and expectations. Some of these expectations vary not only in connection with religious customs but also cultural ones. There is not single Christian nor Muslim culture, and therefore every community may have different elements to be aware of. It is almost inevitable that we are going to make mistakes. This should not dissuade us from trying, and is itself part of the dialogue process. What is most important is not getting everything right, but rather showing humility and a willingness to learn.
- Some Muslims refrain from exchanging handshakes or other forms of physical greeting with members of the opposite gender. This may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable for some Christians, but is not in any way intended to be rude or unwelcoming. Placing a hand over your heart and offering a friendly bow of the head to the other is a common substitute gesture.
- Muslim clerics will most commonly go by the titles of “Sheikh” or “Imam”. There is no expected honorific address by which a non-Muslim should address a Sheikh or Imam. However, they can be respectfully greeted with these titles, followed by first name, either in written or spoken speech. Christian clergy may be referred to variously by the titles of “Reverend” or “Pastor,” or, more frequently in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions (where clergy are only men), “Father.” People of both traditions will generally introduce themselves as they wish to be addressed, with first name being typical in social settings. When in doubt about how to address someone, feel free to politely ask.
- It is always wise to check a religious holiday calendar to learn which Muslim and Christian holidays should be avoided for your meeting or event.
- Try to schedule gatherings in a way that does not interfere with the required daily times of prayer for Muslim participants. If there is overlap with one of the set times of prayer, be sure to speak to your Muslim friends about how best to accommodate their needs in this regard. It may be necessary to allow for a break, and to set aside appropriate space so that the Muslims can fulfill these duties of prayer.
- It is appropriate to take off your shoes as you enter into a Muslim home or a mosque. Typically, there will be a place set aside near the door for you to place them for the duration of your visit. This is done both out of respect for the space, and for general cleanliness. It is fine to enter wearing socks.
- Clothing is always an important consideration, and it is best to dress conservatively in religious institutions. For all genders, try to avoid anything that is tight-fitting or revealing, and covered arms and legs is a good general guideline. Some mosques or masjids will ask female guests to wear a head-covering, and will likely have extras on hand for this purpose.
- Be sure to ask about any dietary restrictions on bringing food to a home or place of worship. Avoid bringing a bottle or wine or other alcohol to a Muslim home. Ensure that no food products are made with alcohol, lard, gelatin or any other pork product.
- Check with your guests regarding animals and pets. Some Muslims regard the saliva of dogs unclean, especially near prayer areas or clothing. In addition, some people may be frightened or allergic to animals.
- Bringing a small thank you card and/or gift to your Muslim or Christian host is a generous expression that will undoubtedly be appreciated.