Recently the sex bloggers of “Sumptous Erotica”, the infamous Alvin and Vivian, posted a picture encouraging Malays to “buka puasa” with bakuteh – a non halal dish. As you can guess, Muslims were not too happy, and unleashed a torrent of condemnations, death threats, and even the Attorney General wants to lock them up under Sedition Act. The Sedition Act – which Malaysians are strongly pushing to repeal – due to its “archaicness, irrelevancy, and tendency to be abused to lock up opposition politicians”.
But apparently, Sedition Act is a A-OK against pictures of a couple partaking a delicious dish. Even the freedom-loving Lim Guan Eng joined the chorus of condemnations, saying the duo deserve “full punishment”.
The original facebook page of the picture was shut down by Facebook, and so was the “apology” – actually the same image, but with badly photoshopped ketupat covering the pork.
It looks like, as lightning rods for controversy, Alvin and Vivian decided to “poke the beehive.” And the hive is responding with singular madness.
Thought provoking, or violence provoking?
We can establish that the picture was provoking, but it was thought provoking, rather than violence provoking. The message, as given by Alvin & Vivian, was not given “in anger, nor in incitement”, but was delivered genially. If summarized in one sentence, it could be,
“Hey muslims, why don’t you eat pork? If it’s delicious, why can’t it be halal?”
Hence, it is my opinion, that Muslims can peacefully say, “We do not eat pork because our religion teaches us not to, so we will not break fast using bakuteh”. Or they can react like this, “How dare you question our religion, you infidel motherfucker, you son of a devil, we will burn and cook you, and lock you up in prison, and then, you will know not to mess with us power Muslims.”
Eating pork is a theological issue, and deserves to be debated. Christians performed such a debate themselves, in the time of Peter, who finally concluded that God “made all things clean” and every dish was holy. But when it comes to intellectual arguments to banning certain foods, Buddhists definitely make the best case. To ban consumption of meat because “animals can feel pain”, and “man should not inflict pain.” I am not a Buddhist, but I think this reasoning is perfectly valid.
Hence, the correct response is to answer with logic, and Muslims can find logical reasons not to eat pork. The wrong response is to answer with defensiveness, death threats, jail threats. Such responses are not compatible with “religion of peace”.
Now, the over-reaction is not just by Muslims alone, but also by non-Muslims (i.e. Lim Guan Eng). Some reacted with fear:
“Anyone knows better than to mess with that beehive. Muslims are damn violent wei.”
Some reacted with disdain:
“It was a distasteful, vile, and horrible act. I will not defend the stupidity of the two bloggers”.
Some reacted with carefully measured centrism:
“I condemn the insulting act, but I oppose jailing or fining them. They should just be ignored.”
Some reacted with ‘wrong strategy, dude’:
“The correct way to bring it up is through rational discussion. Not through a tasteless joke.”
But only a few people pointed out the obvious. That there was no attack whatsoever. Except if deliberately seen in that light. So, if there was no attack, what was there? There was…a question. You don’t eat pork, why not?
Debate, not Condemn
I appeal to the right-thinking Muslim community to reject tendency towards defensiveness. When the Da Vinci Code books came out, Christians did not threaten Dan Brown with prison or death either, although we disagreed with his contention that “the Church covered up the truth about Jesus Christ.” In my local church at least, there was a thought provoking period. And the pastor called a special prayer meeting to address the issue.
In his address, without consigning any blame or anger, he laid out the historical underpinnings of the Four Gospels describing the life of Jesus Christ, and the historical underpinnings of the Alternative Gospels. Due to various authenticity reasons, the Church rejected the alternative gospels, for example being written centuries after Jesus’ death, and not being written by the author claimed. The Four Gospels were written by persons alive during the time of Jesus. And so, the contention of Dan Brown was laid to rest, in a wholly peaceful manner.
No person called for Dan Brown to be locked up or investigated for incitement crimes. The general approach was, “We wish to know if there is any truth to what Dan Brown said.”
Might I add, to the ‘wrong strategy, dude’ camp, that biting comedy is sometimes a good method for bringing up an issue, and not everything needs to be “carefully measured rational discussions”. The KKK was finally exposed by Superman comics, not by stuffy professorial forums, and Dan Brown wrote a novel, instead of writing theology papers. There is value in alternative approaches, sometimes, they sink in faster.
Should Muslims eat pork? Why do Muslims ban pork?
Although I am not a Muslim, Christians do share some history with it. The original pork prohibition did not arise from Nabi Muhammad, the founder of Islam. It arose from Moses, who wrote the “kosher laws”. Let’s hear it from a Jew:
In the book of Leviticus, God told the Israelites that they may eat any animal that has a cleft hoof and chews the cud: this includes ox, sheep, goats, deer and cows. However, God prohibits Jews from eating pork since it is an animal that has a split hoof but does not chew the cud. As with many of the laws of the Torah, there is no real reason given for why Jews cannot eat pork. The Bible only states that the pig is unclean. Here God tells us what we cannot do, and the reason seems to be: “Because I told you so!”
Jewish commentators throughout the ages have tried to understand why God would prohibit the consumption of pork. Some scholars believe that the pig simply became taboo in Israelite culture early on and we have upheld that tradition until today. Other commentators suggest that even before there were doctors, Jews realized that the pig could be dangerous to eat as it spends most of the day in its own refuse. Or maybe we cannot eat pork because as the old joke goes: “It is hard to be Jew!” Whatever the reason for the prohibition of pork, it was a powerful practice that Jews have upheld for millennia.
Nabi Muhammad borrowed the practice from the Jews. They have since adapted their own reasons, which are summarized here.
Is prohibition arbitrary?
One of the biggest problems with the pork prohibition is that reasons given, are mostly arbitrary. This is what happens when a practice is invented first, and the reasoning is invented afterwards. You end up creating arguments to support a predetermined stand, instead of arriving at a stand after considering all arguments.
- Arbitrary: “I already have a stand, now I am finding reasons to make this choice sound reasonable.”
- Rational: “After considering all the different reasons, I now make my stand.”
It is also why, as I have remarked earlier, that Buddhists make a very good case for vegetarianism. The founder of Buddhism did not start vegetarian, and he did not receive any command to “abstain from meat”. But as he reflected under the Bodhi tree, he decided pain should not be inflicted, and formulated vegetarianism.
When Christians faced the “clean/unclean” debate, the religious leaders Peter and Paul held a council on the issue. It was decided that, “no obstruction should be made to prevent non-believers from accepting religion”, and that “onerous regulations prevent new believers from embracing Christianity.” Thus was all foods declared holy, and a millenia of Jewish exemption was repealed.
I mention this incident, because it proves that religious practices can indeed be changed, if no good reason is found for keeping them. Not only they can be changed, but they should be changed if deemed harmful for believers or the religion.
Since I am not Muslim, I will not say whether Muslims should eat pork, or if they shouldn’t eat pork. But I think they should consider this issue among themselves and come to their own conclusions. Also, they should not silence the voices calling for a debate, even if the voices come from a reputation-tarnished sex blogger. It is the message, not the messenger, that is important.