On the front page of his blog “Culturewatch”, you will find a link to this article by the esteemed Bill Muehlenberg (for whom I have every respect): “Concerns about Halal foods”. In it – without a link and without directly naming me (perhaps he is trying to spare me embarrassment?) – you will find a reference to something I wrote on this blog not so long ago in reference to the “urban myth” about Cadbury’s Chocolate being “food offered to idols” (HT to Matthias):
But sadly even many Christians are quite confused about all this. Consider what one Catholic blogger (who happens to be fully involved in the interfaith movement) had to say about all this:
“There are many Christians who wish to say that the God Muslims seek and intend to worship is ‘not the same’ as our God. It is true that some of attributes Muslim’s ascribe to the Deity are different from the attributes we ascribe to Him, but then, the attributes of God in Jewish theology is different from the attributes of God in Christian theology too, and no-one is suggesting that they worship ‘an idol’.”
Sadly he is wrong in everything he says here. Allah is not Yahweh. The God of Islam is not the God of the Bible.
Before entering more deeply into Bill’s critique of my position, let me first say that I am not involved in something called “the interfaith movement”. There IS such a thing as an “interfaith movement” to which events such as the Parliament of the World’s Religions belongs, and “The Interfaith Movement” to which groups such as the Interfaith Seminary in New York belongs. What I am “fully involved in” is something called Catholic interrelgious dialogue, which is a whole different kettle of fish, though very often confused with “the” or “an” “interfaith movement”. But more of that some other time…
The first section of Bill’s article is uncontentious. He simply and correctly states what Halal food is and what the situation is in Australia.
Then in the next section headed “General Concerns” he grabs the stick at the wrong end by stating:
So what is the concern then about Halal foods in Australia (and the West)? A general concern which all Australians may well have is how this fits into the bigger picture of Islam in Australia. A major worry is that this is just another part of the process of setting up a parallel Islamic state within Australia, leading to the eventual full implementation of sharia law. Everyone concerned about the free and democratic West and how it is being undermined by various covert and overt Islamic pressures should be worried about this.
This really is too much. It is like the old English attitude that allegiance to the Pope obliged Catholics to act as a “fifth column” in Protestant England. It is simply making a mountain out of a mole hill. There are obvious tensions between Muslims allegiance to the Umma and their allegiance as citizens to the local State authorities – but these are no different from the tensions that exist between a Catholic trying to faithfully live out the law of their faith in a land whose law does not always comply with Catholic beliefs (we have a situation like that here in Victoria with our abortion laws – Bill would heartedly agree on this point, I think). But to suggest that the labelling of Halal foods for Australian Muslims is part of a “process of setting up a parallel Islamic state within Australia” is as ridiculous as suggesting that Catholic faithfulness to the teaching of the Catholic Magisterium is an attempt to set up a parallel Papal State in Australia. This is not helpful to the discussion AT ALL.
Not serving Haram food to Muslims is as much a mark of respect as not serving un-Kosher food to Jews. It is a mark of hospitality. Okay, you can raise legitimate questions of reciprocity (“why here in Australian when not there in Saudi Arabia”), but that is a different issue. Just because we are not treated hospitably elsewhere and by others is no reason for not showing hospitality here to our own citizens! Rather, we set an example, and maintain a benchmark, by which and from which we can raise these legitimate concerns with other nations that are not so hospitable to our beliefs and practices.
Also, Bill raises the following question:
Another concern is that companies pay these certification boards. So who gets the money? Where are these funds going to? Is it possible that some of it is finding its way into the hands of jihadist groups? These seem to be legitimate questions to ask.
It may be a legitimate question, but don’t assume the answer before you know it. I know some of the people directly involved in the business of Halal certification, and they aren’t Jihadists, nor are they getting rich on this. As Perry pointed out in the comments on my post on the matter, this is just a matter of the market – which will pay to make its products more acceptable to a wider public. In other words, why this attitude of suspicion without evidence?
Bill then goes on to specifically “Christian concerns”:
But more specifically, Christian concerns have to do with how Halal meats are ritually slaughtered. In this process (which can only be carried out by a Muslim), the Muslim prays to Allah while facing Mecca. Arguments can be made about how humane the process is, and groups like the RSPCA claim it is less humane than traditional slaughter methods. But what about this ritual, and the prayers to a false God?
Leaving aside the RSPCA’s concerns (and I remember well my father slaughtering sheep myself as a youngster – not something I could do myself – in ways that are not unlike the way in which Muslims slaughter their meat – minus the prayer to Allah), the hinge of this issue is that of whether or not Allah is a “false god”.
And that is where the rubber hits the road. Here the Catholic Church begs to differ from Mr Muehlenberg. We don’t regard Allah as “a false god”. No Middle Eastern Catholic regards the God of their Muslim neighbours as “a false god”. We would say that they worship the God of Abraham in a way that is not according to the Truth, and we would also say that they have beliefs about the God of Abraham which are not the same as our Christian beliefs about this God, but that doesn’t make Allah “an idol” or even “a false god”.
The rest of Bill’s argument hinges entirely on his assertion that Allah IS a “false god/idol”. He says that I am guilty (and hence the Catholic Church is guilty) of “simple heresy”, comparable to that of the Marcionites (a strange comparison, because it would seem to me that there is more of the Marcionite in Bill’s position than in mine).
Bill ends by saying:
It seems to me there are two main worries here. One is the ever encroaching inroads made by Islam in the West, along with the gradual diminutions of our freedoms. The other is the sloppy and unbiblical thinking found in so many people calling themselves Christians. Between the two of them the Islamist agenda is nicely being pushed along, while the West is slowly unravelling.
Well, it seems to me that what is driviing Bill is a fear of Islam (I don’t think fear is a good basis for the development of future relations between Christians and Muslims, though I grant there is good reason to fear – as Christians, however, we excercise that love which “casts out fear”) on the one hand, and on the other, exactly the same “sloppy and unbiblical thinking” which he ascribes to me.
For instance, we need to be clear of what we mean by “false god” and “idol”. In the account of the Golden Calf episode in Exodus, for instance, we have not so much a case of “false god” as an “idol” or “graven image” of the true God (the Israelites said to themselves that “This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” Ex. 32:4). Still a sin, but the sin of false worship (“idolatry”) rather than the sin of worshipping a “false god”. Second we need to know what the Muslim is actually doing when he prays the prayer to Allah during the slaughter process. He is NOT offering a sacrifice to Allah, but rather acknowledging Allah (God) as the Lord and Creator of this creature which he is slaughtering. It is a kind of “anticipated” grace before meals. I have yet to meet a Muslim who was not prepared to eat a meal over which we have prayed Christian grace! (Or a Jew for that matter!).
Clear thinking, clear biblical thinking, and generous charity in the place of suspicious fear are what lay behind my original comments, and I am sticking to them.