In 2004, I was working in Washington, D.C. with the largest Muslim civil rights organization in America when I received a telephone call from a distressed American Muslim woman. She reported standing outside her home in Maryland when a car filled with teenage boys sped by but not before throwing a ham sandwich at her. She was calling to report this as a bias incident.
Like Jews, Muslims are religiously prohibited from voluntarily consuming any pork related products unless required by necessity. The fact that the perpetrators chose ham as their projectile of hate struck me as somewhat peculiar. There is nothing inherently offensive about pork; practicing Muslims merely refrain from eating it.
That’s about it.
In my view, the American Muslim woman from Maryland would not have felt any less intimidated by the act if the boys had chosen to hurl a carton of eggs or package of tomatoes in her direction. Rather, their selection of ham only supported the general belief that she had been targeted as a result of her Muslim faith.
More recently, I found myself sitting outside a local police academy where I was scheduled to give a presentation on American Muslim and Arab American culture, respectively, to a local county board. I had arrived early and the event was not going to start for another 40 minutes.
Deciding to catch up on some reading, I pulled out the current issue of the Intelligence Report, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and was immediately drawn to an article titled, “Mystery Company Markets Pig Fat Gun Oil To Deny Paradise to Muslims.”
Incredibly, this company boasts of bullets for automatic weapons which are made of 13 percent liquefied pig fat. It brags that Muslims killed with their products will not be permitted to enter heaven as a result of the fat.
The pig fat gun oil merchant’s website contains a quote allegedly taken from the Quran, the Islamic holy book, which Muslims regard as the literal word of God. The supposed company falsely claims: “According to the Koran, Allah states, ‘any of my followers contaminated by swine at the time of his death will be denied entry to my paradise forever, I HATE THE STENCH OF SWINE.’
The Quran, in reality, contains no such verse. Yet, plug that fabricated quote into Google and it pops up on countless more blogs.
On the subject of pork, the Quran states: “He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine…” (Chapter 16, Verse 115). Pork is described as “unclean” and therefore unfit for human consumption along with other types of meat, such as carrion, the carcass of dead animals (Chapter 6, Verse 145).
Notably, a similar description and injunction can be found in the Old Testament: “And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he [is] unclean to you. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcass shall ye not touch; they [are] unclean to you” (Leviticus 11:7-8).
While the Quran renders pork impure for consumption, some Islamic scholars have opined that if changed into another form, then it can be allowed. For example, a replacement heart valve or medication derived from swine would be permitted even if other non-porcine options were available.
Claims made that any hint of swine will prohibit you from entering heaven must seem ironic to a Muslim living with a porcine heart valve.
But the aspect of the anti-Muslim, pig fat gun oil bullets scam that strikes me as most shameful is that it is being pitched to U.S. soldiers and Marines being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Even more than other Americans, military families are confronting increased financial pressures, including mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures, defaults on auto loans and mounting debts. Yet, this pseudo-patriotic snake oil salesperson seems to have no qualms preying upon our troops with such outlandish claims.
Since that phone call from 2004, I have often read media accounts about similar incidents such as individuals smearing pork on the Quran or spelling out hateful messages with bacon in front of a mosque. Muslim students have had pork products shoved in their face at school and a pig’s head was thrown into a mosque in Maine.
This apparent use of pork as a weapon of sorts is not entirely a new phenomenon, however. For example, following the Reconquista in Spain when Muslims (and Jews) were forcibly converted or expelled, they were required to consume pork as proof of their conversion. Today, American Muslims are victims of the intolerance with which they are often associated.
While on that subject, and in the interest of full disclosure, I have a friend who savors pork. Practically every time we dine out — lunch or dinner — she orders the “other white meat”: pork chops, a ham sandwich, a burger with bacon. If it’s pork, she’s on it. And that’s perfectly fine with me.
Why wouldn’t it be?
The Quran provides in relevant part: “For you is your religion, and for me is my religion” (Chapter 109, Verse 6). In other words, you do your thing and I’ll do mine, in peace.
We live at a time when one in six Americans is battling poverty and a whopping 17.2 million American households is experiencing food insecurity, which is difficulty providing enough food for your family due to a lack of resources.
Perhaps anti-Muslim haters should consider giving their ham sandwich to someone who will appreciate it.
Engy Abdelkader is a Legal Fellow with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and a human rights attorney based in the New York/New Jersey area. This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.