Recently some people in Australia have attracted attention by objecting to Halal certification of foods eaten by Australians. I thought that this idea was worth exploring.
The first thing to say is that the words ‘Halal’ are the closest thing in Arabic to the Hebrew and English words “Halleluiah” The “Hallel” part means “Praise”. In Hebrew the name for God is represented by the “Jah” part, but in Hebrew, and in the Bible another name for God is “El”, which is the same word as “Allah”. In fact Christians who speak Arabic as their first language all use “Allah” as their name for God.
So calling food “Hallal” means that god has been thanked for the contents of the food that is for our use. It is exactly like saying a grace before a meal.
I think that this is a sweet idea. To say a prayer of thanks for the life of an animal which is about to give its life for our food is an act of humility, which recognises that human beings are part of a food chain (at the top!) and so to be humble enough to recognise that the source of everything is God, and we, as much as anything else are part of God’s creation is a good thing.
But then some people object to food that has been offered to ‘another god’. Now I do not think that the God whom Muslims pray to is a different God than the ones Christians and Jews pray to. But say I did. Would that make a difference?
The New Testament deals with exactly this issue. Christians who were invited to the homes of pagans to eat, were often offered food that had been offered to the pagan gods beforehand, either as a kind of ‘grace’ or as part of the sharing out of the sacrifices that had been offered at a pagan temple.
St Paul says (more or less) “Look. These so called ‘gods’ are in fact no gods at all. They have no reality. To have scruples about eating something that is not real, is to give far too much weight and attention to something that does not deserve it. Christianity is a religion of freedom. We are free to eat whatever we want, provided we give thanks for it to the ‘real’ God.
So if a person thinks that food has been prayed over, to Allah, which is not a God, then to worry about it, is to be bound up in something that limits your freedom.
But on the other hand, the bible is clear about the primacy of love in all situations.
I remember the death of Cardinal Jean Danielu in Paris. He died in the house of a prostitute. He was delivering cash to help her husband who was in prison. But the salacious minds wanted to say “He is there to use her sexually”. Now should Cardinal Danielu have limited his freedom to love, because some people are going to think the worst? The epistle to Titus (1:15) tells us “To those who are pure, all things are pure, but to those who are impure, and lack faith, nothing is pure.”
Christians can exercise their freedom to love, or to eat anything even when it may cause offence to some.
But on the other hand, sometimes love asks us to accommodate ourselves to others. When we have a vegan or a vegetarian to dinner, we do not impose our meat eating habits on them. If its easy enough to be accommodating, then why not?
But behind the comments about Halal food, is also fear. People are frightened that the money raised by Halal foods will go toward terrorism. People are frightened of being swamped by Muslim customs and people are worried that they will have something ‘imposed’ upon them, that they have not freely chosen.
My argument about this is that without proper reasons, it shifts onto Islam and its practices a generalised ‘oceanic’ anxiety about the state of the world.
People are right to be anxious about the state of the world. But it is important to direct our actions toward the real causes of the anxiety, rather than the nearest, or most convenient target. I have lived through people’s fear o ‘godless Communism’ where in Queensland, corrupt governments were supported, just because the premier went to church and was opposed to communism. I have seen Pauline Hanson shift her free floating anxiety from the ‘asianisation’ of Australia, to the ‘muslimisatin’ of Australia. I have seen China be our worst enemy, then to become our new best friend. I have seen the cold war end only to have the place of the enemy, the ‘them’ shift from the communists to the Muslims.
To be clear, terrorism is not worse now that it was in the 1960s or 1970s. To talk about Halal fees going toward terrorism is a very long bow indeed.
Halal food is not going to damage anyone. No one will be forced into obeying sharia law.
But rampant, uncontrolled greed will increase people’s job insecurity. Wages will be driven down to the benefit of managers and CEO’s, Governments will punish the poor for being poor, and being on the receiving end of global shifts of capital.
I am more worried by the increasing ‘Mamonisation’ (worship of money) in our society than I am by Isalm. It is for my money the truer source of our ills.
I think that we should be looking for ways of truth telling, and ways of love to deal with our situation. Scapegoating Muslims and Halal food is not going to achieve anything real. Having Muslims to dinner, and pestering governments to stop punishing the poor, while pandering to the rich might.
To do otherwise is to be captive to the scapegoating mentality that looks for a cause of our troubles, be it true or not: another name for a ‘witch-hunt”.