Is swinophobia Islamic?

Baraka got me waxing nostalgic for my Paris days when she wrote about "Of Piglets & Love Hounds".

I’ve been an enthusiastic booster of the animated film "Babe" ever since I got dragged to see it over vigorous protestations during my student days in Paris a decade ago. (I spent a year at the Sorbonne.) When I instinctively objected  on religious grounds to the indecent proposal of a Muslim going to see a "pig movie", my friend, an Israeli art student, retorted that as a Jew she was no less strict about pork than me, but that didn’t necessitate her hating them.  Wasn’t entirely convinced, but had little else to do, so I agreed.  (For the record, my eye brow-raising friends, the situation was entirely halal/kosher.  At least to the extent that two single people sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers–i.e., seeing a movie with a friend–can be in Islam, I suppose, but that’s the morally ambiguous social life of the undergrad.)

Anyway, like Paul on the road to Damascus I saw the light, and now delight in trying to get Muslims to watch that movie to shake all these Moslem hang-ups about the beleaguered beasts. Not only is it a witty, playful and gorgeous film–I bet this is what turned Peter Jackson on to New Zealand as the setting for The Lord of the Rings–but it’s emminently Islamic in its subject matter.

Yes, I said it. What’s more "Islamic" than a movie whose central message is against eating pork?  If it’s okay for Muslim kids to watch all manner of superstitious cartoons–How else do mice and ducks talk, wear human clothes, and drive cars except by magic?–blurring the line between Humankind and the Animal Kingdom, what’s the big deal about a cute talking pig? 

Besides, is there really anything in Islam that prescribes hatred for, much less cruelty against, pigs? 

I can’t say I’ve become a fan of the squealing critters–I was, afterall, raised Muslim, and they are certainly ugly–but I do feel sorry for them sometimes.  Are they any less God’s creatures? 

The intensity of many Muslims’ reaction to the thought of eating pork is fascinating.  I must confess that, having grown up around (and occaisonally accidentally consuming) pork in Boston, I don’t have quite so intense a psychological aversion.  Baraka writes:

Non-practicing Muslims often indulge in forbidden vices one by one, but pork is usually the last taboo. [I've also noticed this phenomenon, as well.]  Somehow our parents managed to drill it so deeply into our heads that the thought of pigs makes one’s skin crawl and we could well nigh contemplate jumping off a cliff before we would bite into bacon. I myself once opened a take-out box of chow mein only to realize it had strange pinky-brown meat in it. The mere suspicion (later confirmed) that it was pork had me running to the sink to wash my mouth out vigorouosly and nearly vomiting.

I remember a case when I was in high school  at the end of the 1980s when I witnessed a Egyptian college student become so distraught and ill at the discovery that she’d eaten imitation bacon bits on her Pizza Hut salad that she hurled right on the spot. 

Baraka makes a really interesting point about the ecological consequences of Muslims’ instinctive antipathy for swine:

Truth & Beauty: Of Piglets & Love Hounds

In Islamabad one occasionally sees wild boars. And since it is widely held to be incumbent upon every Muslim to kill swine wherever they are found, they are hunted down with nary a thought of preserving native species and habitats.

Wouldn’t it be a great cosmic practical joke (and lesson for the Ummah) if Pakistan’s Muslims hunted their native boars to extinction, only to discover that their species possessed, like an exotic flower in the heart of the Amazon, some wondrous medicinal power?

As for dogs, I’m a cat lover whose aurilophilia verges on idolatry, so I don’t have strong opinions there (e.g., I may see many of Khaled Abou El Fadl’s points about with the whole negis thing, but I’m not letting no dog in my house).  But they shouldn’t be abused or neglected, of course.

  • Baraka

    Well, considering that pigs’ organs are being used for human transplants (deemed halal under various fatawa) I think a lot of Muslims have to rethink the role of the swine & the possible reasoning behind its being placed off limits.
    Imagine the reaction to a pig’s heart in a Muslim chest when imitation bacon bits can arouse such epic nausea!

  • Abu Sinan

    Yeah, I find many things unclean, as a Muslim, but I dont mind watching them of TV. I think the Muslim communitiy does itself harm and could be fighting better battles than when it tries to get school boards and the like to ban things with pigs in them, like Whinny the Poo.
    As to dogs, I love ‘em, but my wife being an Arab, had a fear of dogs having never spent any time around them.

  • ummali

    Excellent points, every one. I’ve never really understood the fear/hatred so many Muslims display for najis animals. The animal isn’t itself evil, and certainly shouldn’t be killed or in any way treated inhumanely because it’s haraam to eat, as if animals only exist for human consumption. Ya Allah! I imagine the oft repeated story about the prostitute who went to heaven for her mercy toward a dehydrated dog is as much about the dog as the prostitute, no?
    Reminds me of a story. A dear friend who taught at an Islamic school was harassed to no end by a parent who was horrified at the fact that she kept a guinea *pig* in her class. You could not convince him that it had no relation to an actual pig and that even if it did, keeping it around the classroom in it’s sad little cage was not corrupting his daughter. At least this stuff makes for funny stories sometimes, eh?

  • UmmZaid

    Salaam ‘Alaikum
    I only like animals between two pieces of bread with cheese on them, so… but is the reaction of many Muslims to things like the smell of bacon or imitation bacon bits so unlike our reaction to the thought of eating dogs and cats? Yet it’s considered perfectly acceptable fare in some cultures… the idea of doing it, even having “imitation doggie bites” would be enough to send most of us running for the toilet.