The main thing is respect.
Somehow many believe that a Muslim and a non-Muslim cannot become very close, primarily because of food or rather they cannot enjoy the same food together. As seen in our traditional Malaysian open houses, the non-Muslims have no qualms about eating the food served whereas many Muslims were careful when partaking in the food, unless they are certain that the food and cutleries were “halal”.
My experience is different from the norm. I served in the Navy for many years and in the course of my service, I got along very well with my colleagues of different races and religions. We respected each other’s religion, culture, language, beliefs and what-have-you. And I realized that food was really not the stumbling block to becoming close friends; it was actually the respect for each other.
I became a close friend with an oppo (naval slang for shipmate). Not only was late Yeop a close friend, his family was also our neighbours in the Naval base for many years. And our families became close friends over the years. We would walked over to each other’s home at any time and the kids played and ate at each other’s home like their own. I remember that I used to fry potato chips for the kids on weekends and they boasted to their relatives that I made the best potato chips. I guess that was before KFC came to town. As a respect to the many friends who visited our home, we kept our home pork-free or “halal”.
Over time, late Yeop’s wife Fatimah (Pat) and my wife Jo became bosom friends. They share several interests like gardening, house decorations, making dresses, cooking and others. After we got posted away, we continued to visit each other and sometimes slept over. Pat has no qualms about staying at our home for a week or two, and she will cook some traditional Malay dishes like assam pedas, lontong, kari ikan and beef stew which we enjoy very much and Jo will cook Chinese dishes like mehoon kuih, watan hor and others. Of course we still keep our home “halal”.
She told us that a few of her friends had asked her why she “dared” to stay and eat in our home, and she assured them that our home is as “halal” as a Muslim home.
So there you have it; food is really not the problem. The main thing is RESPECT.