Sometimes I stumble across comments on news articles that are written by paranoid idiots. Things along the lines of:
Aaaaaaah the Moozlums are uniting against the West and they are going to take over our countries and force our women to wear veils and kill our menfolk!
After I double facepalm, I laugh to myself and then carry on with life.
Muslims can’t even agree on what halaal food is. I don’t know how we’re supposed to be forming one cohesive front when the very basics of our religion are sources of suspicion and politics dividing us.
Case in point: I was at the local grocery store the other day. There was a woman in front of me, and I didn’t pay her any notice until she mentioned that my Tinkie (South African version of a Twinkie) in my basket wasn’t “halaal”. She didn’t greet me with salaams; she just dived right into what I was buying. And I of course didn’t greet her with salaams because 1) I didn’t know she was Muslim until she started talking to me and 2) once she started talking to me, I was caught so off guard that it slipped my mind completely.
I should have ended the entire conversation right then and there by saying, “Oh, I’m a bismillah Muslim”, but I thought I’d be more clever than that.
Bismillah Muslim, by the way, is a term for Muslims who eat “questionable” food but say the name of Allah over it before eating (bismillah in Arabic means “in the name of Allah”). It’s a rather silly term because we’re supposed to say bismillah over all the food we eat, the same way most devout Christians say a little prayer before eating as well. Yet that’s what we’re called, so I’ll use the term out of convenience.
Anyhoo, he conversation went something like this:
Aunty: Sorry? Do you know that Tinkies aren’t halaal?
Me: They aren’t?
Aunty: *Picks up said Tinkie*. See? There’s no… Oh wait. It is halaal now. They weren’t last time I checked.
Me: Oh, I don’t check those things.
Aunty: But you must! How do you know if you’re eating something that’s halaal?
Me: I’m from America. We don’t have halaal certificates, so we just look at ingredients and see if it contains pork.
Aunty: *Looks horrified* How long have you been here?
Me: Uhh…. a year and a half?
Aunty: *Raises eyebrow* Well you’ve got to learn to start looking for those halaal certificates, isn’t it?
This conversation was probably also coloured by the fact that I’m white and married to a Muslim man, which of course means that I probably converted just to marry him and I’m not a “real” Muslim*.
Regardless of assumptions and prejudices, I don’t get this overly cautious way of eating. To me, I just look and see if something contains pork. It could be as simple as looking in the pot to see if there are pieces of bacon present (a very common way to cook beans and vegetables where I’m from), or it could be a quick check of the ingredients on the back of the package.
I do make exceptions, such as tortillas and baked goods made by Mexicans, who love pork lard as a cooking ingredient. Thank God I speak enough Spanish so that I can ask about lard… but again, that’s an American situation and not a South African one.
Of course here I eat halaal meat because it’s everywhere. If I’m buying something for other Muslims to eat, I look for halaal certificates. (I once refused to buy a bag of chocolates for my daughter’s class party because I couldn’t find a halaal certificate and I didn’t want to make anyone upset.) But at the end of the day, I’m just not so picky about my food.
Some Muslims see this as a sign of a weak imaan (faith). I’ve been accused of being sinful before, and once someone even told me that I’m “not a real Muslim” because I don’t obsess over every single ingredient (this was in America). The thing is, I’m not the kind of fanatic to refuse to buy a pack of frozen mixed vegetables because they don’t have a halaal sign. (What exactly could make frozen, uncooked, mixed vegetables haraam to eat? Come on people, common sense!)
One of these days I’ll start breaking more out of my shell and explaining to people that even though I’m a Muslim, my beliefs are sometimes very different from theirs. At the same time, I don’t want people refusing to eat my biscuits because my cake flour isn’t certified halaal…. or because I’m known as a bismillah Muslim.
*The reality of the situation is that I was a Muslim for over two years when I married my husband, and I was wearing hijab for a year and a half before that as well. So to all you Muslims out there who think I and other married reverts dress this way is because our husbands are forcing us to, get a freaking life OK? I expect comments like that from evangelical Christians and Atheists, not from you. You’re supposed to know better.