No Pigs in Heaven

Posted by sepoy on August 04, 2004 · 8 mins read

Over at Defeasible Fee, my friend Marlowe has thrown down a gauntlet of sorts in his discussion of Irshad Manji's The Trouble with Islam:

The discussion she invites us to is clearly a family argument, one I'm not entitled to weigh in on, at least not in a public space like this blog. So I won't. Yet, it begs the question, and its one I've asked a dozen hundred million times to blank stares. What taboos remain that we might discuss and therefore rob of power? What underlying problems might we then identify and fix?

Taboos in Islam? Let's see: Apostasy. Idolatry. Representing the Prophet or any other human or animal form. Muslim Woman marrying a non-Muslim. & c.

In today's NYT, Kristof talks about another taboo. Source Critical Interpretation of the Qur'an:

Islam has a tradition of vigorous interpretation and adjustment, called ijtihad, but Koranic interpretation remains frozen in the model of classical commentaries written nearly two centuries after the prophet's death. The history of the rise and fall of great powers over the last 3,000 years underscores that only when people are able to debate issues freely - when religious taboos fade - can intellectual inquiry lead to scientific discovery, economic revolution and powerful new civilizations. "The taboos are still great" on such Koranic scholarship, notes Gabriel Said Reynolds, an Islam expert at the University of Notre Dame. He called the new scholarship on early Islam "a first step" to an intellectual awakening.

But Muslim fundamentalists regard the Koran - every word of it - as God's own language, and they have violently attacked freethinking scholars as heretics. So Muslim intellectuals have been intimidated, and Islam has often been transmitted by narrow-minded extremists.

The key fact, of course, is that taboos are put in place to protect social structures (usually familial but also religious). Some fail over time, some do not. The taboo on depicting human and animal form fell away - the one against representation of the Prophet remains. Muslim taboos get explained in purely religious terms even if they have economic or cultural pasts available to us. For example, the taboo on eating pig-flesh in Talmudic and Islamic traditions can be partially explained by the ecological demands of pastoral nomads. Or through the mercantile demands of Muslim traders who depended on olive oil over lard. Whatever the case may be, the reality is that the taboo is presented in purely religious terms wherein the animal becomes the source of impurity and filth (physical and spiritual).

The taboo against pigs comes in the Torah in Leviticus where numerous "unclean" animals are prohibited as food. The New Testament revised those restrictions and freed the pig to be consumed in 1000 delicious ways. The Qur'an prohibts swine flesh in couple of places (The Table & The Cattle):

005.003: Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah; that which hath been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death; that which hath been (partly) eaten by a wild animal; unless ye are able to slaughter it (in due form); that which is sacrificed on stone (altars); (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows: that is impiety. This day have those who reject faith given up all hope of your religion: yet fear them not but fear Me. This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. But if any is forced by hunger, with no inclination to transgression, Allah is indeed Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.


006.145: Say: "I find not in the message received by me by inspiration any (meat) forbidden to be eaten by one who wishes to eat it, unless it be dead meat, or blood poured forth, or the flesh of swine,- for it is an abomination - or, what is impious, (meat) on which a name has been invoked, other than Allah's". But (even so), if a person is forced by necessity, without wilful disobedience, nor transgressing due limits,- thy Lord is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

So while the first one categorically prohibits it, the second verse has some wiggle room. In the interest of source-critical interpretation, I might add that the first verse is Medinan and the second Makkan. That is, the second was revealed first before the Hejira. Which would indicate economic or ecological necessities playing some role in the latter harder stance.

Similiar case with dogs. The Prophet was a cat person and dogs have gotten the short end of that stick for 1400 years. My best friends are Muslims who fornicate, read Salman Rushdie and drink alcohol (mostly at the same time) but, they will not eat pork. When asked why not break that last taboo...they offer no explanations. I get my own line of defense from Jules:

Vincent: Want some bacon?

Jules: No man, I don't eat pork.

Vincent: Are you Jewish?

Jules: Nah, I ain't Jewish, I just don't dig on swine, that's all.

Vincent: Why not?

Jules: Pigs are filthy animals. I don't eat filthy animals.

Vincent: Bacon tastes gooood. Pork chops taste gooood.

Jules: Hey, sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I'd never know 'cause I wouldn't eat the filthy motherfucker. Pigs sleep and root in shit. That's a filthy animal. I ain't eat nothin' that ain't got enough sense enough to disregard its own faeces.

Vincent: How about a dog? Dogs eats its own feces.

Jules: I don't eat dog either.

Vincent: Yeah, but do you consider a dog to be a filthy animal?

Jules: I wouldn't go so far as to call a dog filthy but they're definitely dirty. But, a dog's got personality. Personality goes a long way.

Vincent: Ah, so by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he would cease to be a filthy animal. Is that true?

Jules: Well we'd have to be talkin' about one charmin' motherfuckin' pig. I mean he'd have to be ten times more charmin' than that Arnold on Green Acres, you know what I'm sayin'?

So, who here wants to address Mr. Marlowe and his call to bust some taboos and do some good? Also, if anyone has read Ms. Manji's book, we would be delighted to hear about that.


Sin | January 04, 2005

I liked Irshad's book, although I was hoping for a shall we say, emphatic discussion of her sexual identity. Openly gay men are hard enough to find, I'd actually be very interested in finding out more about an out-of-the-closet lesbian. And as pretty much the greatest transgressor EVER (gay, smoke, drink, occasionally pop drugs, sleep with men, that whole shebang, all the while perusing Rushdie), I have to admit that even I had occasional issues with pork/ham/derivatives thereof. I got over them pretty fast though.

Avowed Atheist | January 31, 2006

I have a growing suspicion that God banning pig products for Jews and Muslims is actually an indication that he is taking the piss out of them, and they are not in fact his chosen at all. As I tuck into a crisp bacon sarnie, the pious expressions of fervour and denial seem more like making the most of a bad job than real conviction. Christians weren't left out in the humour stakes though, God gave them the Pope, and the whole can of worms that gies with that.

rev | May 01, 2006

The New Testament never revised those restrictions (the dietary restriction) and freed the pig to be consumed in 1000 delicious ways. Sorry

Testament | June 08, 2006

Jus because its a filthy animal dosent mean u cant eat it?... we eat many things that are filthy eg. like chickens, their filthy arent they? so u cant eat pigs .... but u can eat chicken....

Heather | December 10, 2006

you can't compare a chicken to a pig.period.people can say what they want but a pig is a VERY filthy animal.dont argue what others abide by.

natasha | December 20, 2006

i think you can compare a pig and chicken. 1) pigs are actually v.clean. they are in mud to get rid of parasites , just like elephants and birds do... 2) i had a pet pig and it left its feaces in a corner and never went near it again 3) rabbits eat their own feaces , but its for digestion reasons.. 4) chickens often peck up their own mess by accident...i had them too 5) all in all, i am becoming a vegetarian :P

Hi | December 12, 2007

You are all nuts! What a waste of time.

Thorfinn | August 18, 2008

People don't take into account that we eat feces and rat everyday in virtually every processed food on the shelf! There is actually a USDA acceptable level of rodent in processed foods!

Gray | October 29, 2010

rev said "The New Testament never revised those restrictions (the dietary restriction) and freed the pig ...." I respectfully disagree. See Acts 10:9-16 and Acts 15 with empasis on verses 1-20 Jewish tradition and the Jewish religion have not changed but the dietary restrictions no longer apply to the New Testament Church.

omar | October 31, 2010

It is always interesting to see how these things work. If there were no religious animus against the pig, then a subset of liberals would have no more problem with the pig than they do with any other animal. But since the religious element is there, a definite pressure exists to take a "secular" stand against pig meat (based on so-called science rather than superstition...allowing the good liberal to have his cake and eat it too, or in this case, not eat it). One can see this same phenomenon in operation in regard to Salman Rushdie and taslima nasrin. Most liberals dont want to condemn them on religious grounds, but a subset is very eager to bash them on "literary" grounds (or condemn them as "native informants" or some other similar secular term of abuse). What sets that criticism apart is the harshness of the attack.....other mediocre writers get ignored, but X or Y writer gets very harsh abuse, thus allowing the liberal to stay "secular" and bash the blasphemer......the whole thing is worthy of at least one research essay.

Daniella | December 13, 2010

well comparing a pig and chickenn? pig sometimes eats poo :S