I recently visited parts of North Africa and the Middle East and had to attend several social events. I found the people extremely friendly, hospitable and generous. However I was invited time-and-time-again to eat out of the same large plate as a bunch of others - who were all eating with their fingers. I come from a culture were we frown upon folks double dipping into a cup of salsa, so I found this custom extremely disconcerting and uncomfortable - I therefore politely declined to participate. I however felt very bad and had a feeling that I had insulted my very friendly hosts. Could someone with familiarity of these cultures comment please? Will I be looked upon as a rude foreigner or just an uncultured bumpkin.
Refusing to eat totally is indeed very rude. In fact, it might be taken as an insult if you were the main guest.
However, you can always ask for a plate and a spoon, fill the plate and eat the way you are used to. This will totally save the situation and will be understood positively since people know how foreigners eat, but not eating at all is something you should avoid.
By the way, asking for a spoon or fork is totally normal even if you weren't a foreigner.