The best thing a man can teach his children is good manners. However, quite often, while raising kids, parents do not take dining etiquettes into consideration. They assume that children will learn them either naturally or simply through observation. In contrast, we find our beloved Prophet (sa) meticulously coaching and training not only kids but adult Sahabah at the dining mat. Here are the top five things he (sa) taught them:
- Begin with the right intention and Allah’s name
Umar bin Abu Salamah (rtam) reported that Muhammad (sa) said: “Mention Allah’s name (i.e. say Bismillah before starting to eat), eat with your right hand, and eat from what is near you.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
It is necessary to pronounce Allah’s name before dining in order to attain Barakah, and be mindful of not transgressing the boundaries of moderation. Overeating is highly distasteful in Islam and a sign of indulgence in Dunya, leading to a weak Iman. We especially forget to utter Bismillah when we are eating out, partying at someone’s house or away from our home or routine.
The Prophet (sa) also instructed to eat with our right hand. It is Satan who eats with his left hand. Fathers of left-handed children need to help their kids learn this from an early age; otherwise, it becomes second nature, which is cumbersome to break.
- Food picking
Abu Hurairah (rtam) narrated: “Our beloved Messenger (sa) never found fault with food. If he was inclined to eat it, he ate it; if he disliked it, he left it.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
It is deplorable to throw a tantrum over a dish that does not appeal to our taste buds. Having food preferences is natural. However, creating a scene when one is served an undesired meal is not acceptable. It hurts the feelings of the person who cooked the food, and if done by fathers, encourages a sense of ingratitude among children. Hence, kids need to be reminded that on the days when they are served something of their liking, they should offer Shukr, and when they might have to eat something not on their list of favourites, they should practice Sabr.
- Fishing for food
Umar bin Abu Salamah (rtam) reported: “I was a boy under the care of Messenger of Allah (sa), and as my hand used to wander around in the dish, he said to me once, ‘… and eat from what is in front of you.’” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Kids are generally impatient, and habitually pounce upon their favourite food item. They also like to pick the best they can, not caring much about what will be left for the others. The Prophet (sa) was Umar bin Abu Salamah’s stepfather. From the above cited examples, we can see how he taught him table manners. Highly discourage the habit of eating while standing and running around as well as reaching out for dishes placed far away and knocking over things in the process.
- Serving more to oneself
Jabalah bin Suhaim reported: We were with Abdullah bin Az-Zubiar (rtam) in a time of famine; then we were provided with dates. (Once) when we were eating, Abdullah bin Umar (rtam) passed by us and said: “Do not eat two dates together, for Messenger of Allah (sa) prohibited it, unless one seeks permission from his brother (partner).” (Bukhari and Muslim)
We as Muslims should consider the needs of our brothers and sisters in times of scarcity and while feasting. It is common to see people piling up plates and filling themselves to the brim with absolutely no regard for others. Consider the size of a date! We should not even pick two at a time in the presence of others – until they permit us – or eat one at a time. This is the sense of justice that needs to be inculcated at the earliest stage, and fathers must model this for their children.
- Eating together as a family
Wahshi bin Harb (rtam) reported: “Some of the companions of Messenger (sa) said: ‘We eat but are not satisfied.’ He (sa) said: ‘Perhaps you eat separately.’ The companions replied in affirmative. He then said: ‘Eat together and mention the name of Allah over your food. It will be blessed for you.’” (Abu Dawood)
Fathers generally eat separately due to their late arrival from their workplace. As a principle, strive to have at least one meal per day together as a family, so the above can be achieved. It is a very vital and cherished memory for children to be able to eat with their entire family. Many bonding opportunities arise during family meals and discussions.