And now, equal time for Muslim chickens …

Here’s the gist of a recent Los Angeles Times story: An Islamic butcher shop finds surprising success in a predominantly Latino neighborhood of east L.A.

Anybody see the potential for any, shall we say, religion angles in such a story?

(That’s what we at GetReligion call ghost foreshadowing.)

Let’s start at the top:

To the little girl, going to work with her father felt like visiting a petting zoo, with chickens, ducks, doves and rabbits in cages in the back of the shop. Even as she fed the animals, she knew about the other part of Al Salam Polleria. The part with things like the boiler, the de-featherer and the cutting station.

“But I guess, yeah, if you think of it as a butcher shop then that might be weird,” said Iman Elrabat-Gabr, now 37. “But the memories I have of it are not a butcher shop, more of a farm.”

Al Salam Polleria’s success, as well as its distinction, can be found in its East L.A. location and in its name — al salaam is Arabic for peace, polleria is Spanish for poultry shop.

It was never their intention to end up in East L.A. But as they would find, it was quite fortunate.

Elrabat-Gabr’s father, Safwat Elrabat, emigrated from Egypt, figuring he could fill a niche in Los Angeles by selling fresh poultry killed according to Islamic law, called halal.

How he arrived on this stretch of Whittier Boulevard, a heavily Latino neighborhood, came down to zoning laws that allow the storage and slaughter of live animals. Still, when Elrabat and his brother-in-law opened the shop in 1984, they expected a line of fellow Muslims trailing out the door.

“Yeah, it didn’t happen that way,” Elrabat-Gabr said.

Keep reading, and the Times describes how the Latinos came to love the Muslim chickens (hey, haven’t we had enough talk about Christian chickens for one week?). The story notes:

Elrabat-Gabr sees strong similarities between the Egyptian and Latin cultures. Both place great importance on family and on respect, she said, and because the Moors controlled parts of Spain for hundreds of years, the languages share similar words.

The Times (which apparently got this story idea from a smaller L.A.-area publication) reports that Islamic prayers hang behind the register and explains how the shop goes about killing the chickens:

Al Salam Polleria only kills chickens according to halal a few times each week — on an order-by-order basis: a Muslim person cuts the throat with a sharp knife, out of sight of the other animals, facing Mecca while saying in Arabic, “In the name of God, the greatest,” Elrabat-Gabr said.

But the Latino customers don’t ask for halal meat so nearly all of the 100 or so birds the shops sells each day are killed in the same expert fashion, minus the prayer. Once the dead birds are plucked, Josefina Martinez, 43, takes over. She has worked here for almost 20 years. For her last two pregnancies, Martinez said, she worked until the day she went into labor.

But mainly, the Times story fails to get religion. The story fails to delve into the shop owners’ faith and beliefs. Even more strikingly, it fails to delve into the Latino customers’ religion. Am I missing something, or isn’t that the whole crux of why it’s surprising that the shop would enjoy success with that demographic?

It would be fascinating to know if the Latino customers are Catholics or evangelicals or religious at all. It would be fascinating to know whether buying poultry at this Islamic shop has changed their perception of, or appreciation for, their Muslim neighbors and, if so, how.

I, for one, would love to know if the shop owners and Latino customers ever talk about religion and, if so, what they say. Do they respect each other’s beliefs? Do they share any common ground? Or is the relationship all about fresh poultry?

Chickens image via Shutterstock

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jerry

    It would be fascinating to know if the Latino customers are Catholics or evangelicals or religious at all. It would be fascinating to know whether buying poultry at this Islamic shop has changed their perception of, or appreciation for, their Muslim neighbors and, if so, how.

    That’s a very interesting question. I too would love to know the answer.

  • MJBubba

    Thanks for the post. This is an interesting story, and also a missed opportunity. You are correct in your assessment; the religious difference between owner and customers is the hook that gets a reader into the story, but the article does not deliver.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    I loved this story! For me, it seems more a happy matter of mixing cultures than mixing religions, so I wasn’t looking for religion, which might have inserted conflict.

    But here’s my real question: are the hip, slick, and cool 20-somethings in the area calling it “Mohammed Chicken”?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Ha! Good question, Passing By.

  • sari

    In the 1980s, there was a lack of halal butchers in Los Angeles. So when the family opened for business, they were expecting Muslims from other parts of the city to make the trek to East LA to buy halal poultry.

    The large number of Muslim customers they were expecting never came.

    Here’s an avenue that should have been explored. Did the Muslims buy halal meat elsewhere, eliminate meat from their diets, or eat non-halal? Is the current emphasis on halal recent, and, if so, why?

    Are rabbits halal or haram? Halah has many parallels to kashrut, which forbids rabbit.

  • Bro AJK

    Dear Jerry and Mr. Ross,

    I’d additionally like to know about the reverse, namely, how have the Muslims impression of Latinos changed.


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