I worked in that library as a page for seven months in 1969.
I saw on my friend Lynne Jackson’s Facebook page on the Saturday morning of Albany’s annual tradition, the Tulip Festival, that there would be a booth where one could “Ask A Muslim” a question.
When the family finally got there, the family got to meet Nafisa and Fazana (pictured with that hatted Lynne). They were gracious and intelligent and wonderfully open. It was a wonderful idea, though I told them I thought it was quite brave.
Fazana wrote on her Facebook page “I talked to a non-Muslim gentleman who had just finished reading the English translation of the Quran and was pleased to report that nowhere in it did it say that Muslims should kill Christians. Needless to say, I wanted to recruit him to talk to others on behalf of Muslims because we are constantly trying to convince others to believe this fact!”
The bar in the Holiday Inn outside Fenway Park that systematically failed to serve me on Flag Day, 1991, even as others got drinks – THAT I’m sure was racism.
So here’s the scenario: a woman (white) goes into a Muslim market, where she is given the cold shoulder until she asks for some halal products. Then people are quite friendly. And the woman says later, “It seems that racism exists everywhere.” I give an understanding nod, even as I’m thinking to myself, “Is that really racist behavior?” Or is it the action of a group of people who are merely suspicious of strangers, of someone new (and, to be sure, different)?
There are plenty of times I’ve been in that situation: unfamiliar churches, different neighborhoods, stores. Sometimes I’ve gotten less than desirable outcomes, but I didn’t blame them all on racism. (The bar in the Holiday Inn outside Fenway Park that had systematically failed to serve me on Flag Day, 1991, even as others got drinks – THAT I’m sure was racism.)
Another white female friend of mine says she gets a distant vibe from a local convenience store where most of the workers and virtually all the customers are black. And she was quite angry about it. She claims not to have a racist bone in her body, and perhaps that’s true.
It occurs to me that most of us profile, in one form or another. If I were out at 1:30 a.m., a single young adult walking by would not worry me, but a group, no matter the race or gender, might make me nervous.
Back in the days of the segregated South in the United States, if a white person walked into a black establishment, one might reasonably worry that it might mean trouble. Muslims had lived peacefully in the US for years, even after 9/11, but it is only recently that many of them have said that, for the first time, they felt afraid in America; maybe it’s the same fear that made them wary of the stranger.
I was watching ABC News (US) last month, and there was a piece about Air National Guard members from Illinois putting pallets of meals onto a C-130H at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The Meals Ready to Eat would be delivered to Pakistan as part of a relief mission after the devastating floods. What I noticed is that every single box I saw was labeled, in a very large font, HALAL.
So what IS halal? The best site I’ve come across is from IFANCA, the Islamic Food and Nutritional Council of America, which defines it: “Halal is an Arabic word meaning lawful or permitted. The opposite of halal is haram, which means unlawful or prohibited.
Halal and haram are universal terms that apply to all facets of life.” So the terms are not in reference to food, though this discussion will be. “While many things are clearly halal or haram, there are some things which are not clear. Further information is needed… Such items are often referred to as mashbooh, which means doubtful or questionable. All foods are considered halal except the following (which are haram): Swine/Pork and its by-products Animals improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering Alcoholic drinks and intoxicants Carnivorous animals, birds of prey, and certain other animals Foods contaminated with any of the above products Foods containing ingredients such as gelatin, enzymes, emulsifiers, and flavors are questionable (mashbooh), because the origin of these ingredients is not known.”
There is a growing number of businesses in countries that are not predominantly Muslim producing foods that are certified as halal. This is less a function of cultural sensitivity than good business practice. A market research report from Packaged Facts suggests that food manufacturers consider kosher and halal certification for wider appeal, driven not just by religious considerations. “Companies should consider the marketing push and public perception of safety that comes with kosher certification and the far broader export opportunities that come with halal certification.
“Regarding halal foods, the market researcher said that there is ‘a dearth of reliable market data’ but cited the Malaysian Ministry of International Trade and Industry – where halal trade is of increasing importance – which estimates the market value for halal foods in the US at $11.6bn, and $548bn worldwide.
“The report also suggested that Canada presents broadening market opportunities for halal foods, with the number of Canadian Muslims set to double from 600,000 in 2000 to 1.2m in 2010, and a lack of convenient outlets for halal foods.”
So is kosher halal, or vice versa? Well, yes and no. Certainly, both sets of food laws come from Abrahamic traditions, though there are specific rituals involved in slaughtering meat, e.g.; not incidentally, the rules for both kosher and halal are exceptions to the general rule in the United States that animals should be stunned before being killed. PunkTorah asks, Can Jews Eat Halal Meat, and if so, might that be a way toward peace?