"I love that we live in a multicultural society, and that my daughter interacts daily with kids from a variety of cultures. But one thing I discovered, too late on one occasion, is that while we welcome kids from all backgrounds into our home, I don't always know how best to cater to their different needs.
This was brought into sharp focus one day when I handed a small girl a piece of droëwors. She was standing in a group of kids all eagerly clamouring for a snack, so I didn't think twice about it.
Her eagle-eyed mom was close by, and quickly took the little stick from her. At first I was confused, I didn't know they were vegetarian.
Turns out, they're not: they're Muslim. And the droëwors wasn't halaal."
– Elizabeth, mom of two and first-time halaal playdate offender (Issa joke)
Before a playdate, you’re probably going to do a thorough background check on the family your kid’s going to be spending most of the afternoon with.
And while we aren’t talking about bugging their house beforehand while their criminal record pends, there are a set of rules you’ll probably go over.
Oddly enough, food and snacks rarely come up, and for children with particular dietary and other requirements, there are a few more things to consider and ask their mom or dad before they drop them off.
When organising for a rather big group of children to come over to your house, it may slip your mind that the snacks you feed your kids aren’t necessarily the snacks someone else would give theirs.
Muslim kids, for one, have a completely different set of dietary requirements, and chances are little Aisha isn’t going to be climbing trees with a scarf on her head as a constant reminder that she can’t eat any old droëwors – an honest mistake on Elizabeth's part.
But that’s exactly why it’s important to know and go over the following before playdates. With the help of our community of Muslim moms, here are a few things to be aware of:
Food and snacks
Meat, chicken and droëwors
Muslim kids aren’t allowed to have pork in any shape or form. That’s probably the most obvious of rules. But they’re also only allowed to have halaal meat.
To answer your next question and a common misconception – no, all the chicken in South Africa isn’t from the same supplier and therefore, not halaal.
According the Muslim Judicial Council, the word halaal stands for everything that is “pure, hygienically-clean, healthy, good, wholesome (tay-yib) and morally-correct", or in short, “permissible/lawful”. As it pertains to meat, in order for it to be halaal, the chicken or sheep must be slaughtered in a particular way.
We won’t get into it, but the reason it’s done the way it is is to adhere to what God says in the Quran, while ensuring the slaughter is not violent or cruel.
Browse the halaal section of your local grocer
But you don’t have to go to a halaal butcher just to buy your meat for one playdate. Pick ‘n Pay and Woolworths actually have halaal sections where you can find chicken, meat – even biltong. So of course, all the above applies to biltong too.
It’d be best to avoid biltong altogether though. When we spoke to Naseema, mom to two-year-old Isra, she said she often requests that there isn’t two types of meat (halaal and unhalaal) and absolutely no pork.
“So basically if my child is going to someone’s house for a play date, I won’t mind that they feed my child, provided that their kid isn’t eating pork/bacon snacks while my child is there. Because they’re small, they don’t fully understand the concept of halaal or unhalaal. So naturally they would want to eat the same things.”
Cross contamination is also a concern. Nawaal pointed out that “cross contamination of the food due to non-halaal food being previously prepared in appliances,” is also something to be aware of.
On snacks, like many moms, Naseema says she tries to limit sweet treats. That’s probably best too, not only for the sugary aspect, but because many sweets aren’t halaal.
You wouldn’t think twice about giving the kids marshmallows, for example, but the ingredients may include “animal rennet” or gelatin made from animal rennet. You don’t have to avoid all marshmallows and treats with the above in it though. Just make sure, like your meat, the packaging includes a halaal sticker.
Similarly, other unexpected treats or foods to avoid with gelatin in it includes pesto, parmesan and yogurt.
And finally, it goes without saying, but anything that includes alcohol, even the tiniest bit, is a no-go too. Brandy tart, black forest cake, even soy sauce - check the ingredients if you're not sure, and avoid fermented foods.
Muslims perform fard (compulsory) salaah (prayers) 5 times a day: in the morning, twice in the afternoon and twice in the evening. Chances are, your play dates may run through those times, and Muslim children may want to perform their prayers.
You may want to ask their parents about making provisions for them to do so.
Mother of three, Nawaal, mentioned that she’s never brought the five daily prayers up though, sharing "I've never really spoken about prayer times because at that age it's not compulsory for the child."
"However, when it comes to Friday prayers non-Muslims are aware that we take our kids with us to mosque. So in that instance they generally arrange a time after Friday prayer," she says.
Headscarves and turbans
While most little girls in Fordsburg aren’t running around with scarves on their heads, their moms may be. And whether they’re in full niqab or a turban when they drop their kids off, your little one may not understand why that is.
Don’t be embarrassed by them asking – make it a teaching moment. Muslim moms are more than happy to explain why they wear a scarf.
If you’re looking for the answer, the long and short of it is that God tells us, in the Quran, to dress modestly. So whether they see their friend’s mom covering her hair with a headscarf, or wearing loose-fitted clothing, it’s a means of honouring and abiding by their faith – submitting to God.
Nawaal commented, “We are fortunate living in a country where society is more accepting of Islam. The non-Muslim parents of kids that have befriended our kids are willing to accommodate the needs of our children and are very much aware of certain needs and aren't shy to ask if they don't quite understand.”
Also read: 10 rules for play dates
Both Aleena and Nishaat said they’d rather offer to host play dates, particularly for their younger kids.
"Play dates will be under my supervision. This just makes it easier," said Aleena.
Nishaat commented, "I preferred having them at my place until my kids were about 8 years old."
They explained that although their kids are aware of food, particularly, having to be halaal, at such a young age they can easily get confused, simply forget, or not know how deep it really goes.
Kids aren’t necessarily going to stop and say, 'Hey, I need to have separate kitchen utensils before I scoff my face with this mac and cheese.'
So Nawaal admitted to even packing in her own snacks for her kids to avoid the latter.
She suggests an alternative that’s worked for her in the past though: "Muslim moms could also arrange that the first play date is at your home and ask the mom to stay for tea/coffee. That way you can chat and get to know one another a lot better."
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