Thursday, October 06, 2005

Kebab dilemmas

We (my immediate family) have a rather tenuous relationship with religion.

Like a now on-now, now-off affair between lovers who really don't see eye-to-eye and are a little mortified at the prospect of a lifelong marriage-type commitment... but since they can't see where else they could go for relief and familiar acceptance, they jsut stay.

And so, whenever confronted with the ridiculous, the mad, the incongruous, the false, the stretched-to-limits-of-incredulity in our religion, our reactions range from a shrug to a laugh.

Often, I try to examine my own, and my family's, attitudes to the religion we were born into, to study the multi-pronged fork with which we stab at it, and the social sabre it uses, in turn, to stun us into conformity.

When inviting distant relatives over for dinner, my mother spends several hours agonizing over the choice between veg/non-veg. This is as much a mehmaan-nawaazi dilemma, as it is a religious one.

It is serious stuff because, culturally, if there's no maas-machhi on the menu, our guests won't feel honoured. Mutton or chicken or both are expected, sort of, when you call people over.

On the other hand, there's this business of halaal and haraam. You have to make sure the meat-shop is a Muslim guy's shop.

This is the part where I suffer horribly because, if the butcher isn't obviously muslim - wearing a cap, a beard and a checked lungi, and a big chalk sign somewhere saying 'halaal', how am I to know?

In Delhi, with new, swankier kebab-shops opening up where the names are cosmopolitan and the shopkeepers rather suave, clean-shaven people, I have no way of knowing halaal from haraam. And I refuse to find out. Besides, I don't care. Why should I ask?

But my mom points out that it might bother our guests.

I point out - we don't need to tell them.

Mom points out - but they may not eat, if they suspect it's not halaal.

I point out - not my concern. Let them go hungry.

Mom points out - It is our concern. The food will go waste.

I am silenced, at this point.
My solution to this is simple though - let's just not call people who're so touchy about their meat.

Mom say - it's not a solution at all. You can't escape family.

But later, as we finally eat our suspect-halaal kebabs, mom muses - But what do these people do at MacDonalds? Do they ask for halaal burgers?

And I try to recall a single instance when somebody has questioned MacDonalds' burgers' halaal quotient. I can't.
I see plenty of burqa-clad, head-scarf-donning women at MacD's. I see Arab men. Nobody kicks up a fuss. Yet, these same people do kick up a huge fuss when it comes to the neighbourhood butcher-shop...

And I completely fail to understand - why?

I've heard Mohammad (the prophet) himself ate without kicking up a fuss. He ate with tribal chieftains who weren't necessarily his followers. He ate with Europeans, Greeks. I can't imagine him checking with the chefs.

But then, they say that religion is not about Mohammad alone, not anymore. Religion is never about its origins, its prophets, its holy books. I'm still trying to figure out why.


velvetgunther said...

Hi. I've often had my well-meaning offers of food refused because of the suspicion that they might not be halal. Gets my goat, really

Anonymous said...

The last line was amazing. You said it. So true.
Btw, almost all my muslim friends (u, of course are an exception) eat vegetarian food when outside.

Vijayeta said...

I've lived in Jamia for 3 yrs...I was told to ask at Pizza Hut once whether the meat they used was halal or not. I was naive or bored enough to do it too.
Confirmed Halal! So next time those relatives come...Dial-a-pizza!

david raphael israel said...

enjoyably thoughtful, as usual. Halaal/haraam I know of; mehmaan-nawaazi I had to google. And thereby expanded my hospitality -- I mean my vocabulary!

(Seeing your topic, I thought you were going to muse on Ramadan customs. Instead MacDonald's.)

"I've heard Mohammad (the prophet) himself ate without kicking up a fuss." Buddha too, if some tales are to be believed.

cheers, d.i.

R. said...

It is true that in most religions (have to most certainly include mine), the rituals seem to have more importance than the message. I suspect that IF the fist pastor in the first church had a limp and he limped his way to the pulpit those who followed him would have done it too.

Anonymous said...

that was funny but very probable:)

history_lover said...

Annie you really don't know much about religion of Islam .
I don't know from where you heard that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) dined with Europeans and Greeks ?
You really need to brush up on Islamic history and law before commenting on matters of Halaal and Haraam
May I suggest Martin Lings' excellent biography
Muhammad -His Life based on the earliest sources for a start

1conoclast said...


Loving History isn't enough. You have to understand that History is written by men who may themselves be subject to certain biases. You may be aware of what happened to History textbooks during the recent BJP regime in India. Or is that Current Affairs...? ;-)

Annie is entitled to comment on this for three reasons:
Because she is extremely well read.
Because she is well travelled & has more than one version on ever theory.
Her Grandfather was a progressive writer & Islamic scholar, whose research was exhaustive enough for him to go beyond the life & times of Muhammed and author a biography on his daughter!

Any comments?

Harneet said...

i think, and i've not confirmed this with anyone specifically, that restaurants, hotels, etc. prefer using halaal meat because it is considered more hygenic than the other variety (which we punjabis so conveniently call jhatka)...

(and hey!, been reading your blog on and off but this is the first time i've commented)

history_lover said...

Ofcourse I agree that history is written by people who may have thier own biases
I am may be wrong but I would like to know when exactly did Prophet (SAW) dine with europeans ?

Who was her grandfather btw ?
Ah! progressive ? That explains it

Lalit Singh said...

Its halal n 'jhatka' ... not haraam

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