A sister on the path asked the Professor: “What is the spiritual significance of the prohibition of pork in the Islam?”
The Professor replied thus:
It must be significant that the Religion becomes perfected with the verse regarding food and dietary laws:
Forbidden to you are: Al-Maytatah (the dead animals – cattle-beast not slaughtered), blood, the flesh of swine, and the meat of that which has been slaughtered as a sacrifice for others than Allah, or has been slaughtered for idols, etc., or on which Allah’s Name has not been mentioned while slaughtering, and that which has been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by the goring of horns – and that which has been (partly) eaten by a wild animal – unless you are able to slaughter it and that which is sacrificed (slaughtered) on An Nusub (stone altars). (Forbidden) also is to use arrows seeking luck or decision, that is Fisqun (disobedience of Allâh and sin). This day, those who disbelieved have given up all hope of your religion, so fear them not, but fear Me. This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. But as for him who is forced by severe hunger, with no inclination to sin, then surely, Allah is Oft Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Quran 5:3)
What is pork? What is hunger? And why such a verse to perfect the entire religion?
Simply, I would say that the spiritual reason is precisely this: the flesh of swine is bad meat. So we are forbidden from eating bad meat, unless we are afflicted by severe hunger.
But here’s a longer answer.
About 10 years ago now, I was still working at the Southern University and had to travel from Australia to Siberia to meet my fiancee (who was studying logic at Novosibirsk University at the time). While in transit at Singapore, I met an extraordinary brother called Malik. We met at the airport masjid. After offering our prayers, we got to talking in the lounge. He was half Russian, half Arab (and I am half Russian, half Indonesian, so that was immediately a point of bonding). He was doctor but was going to undertake further training in London (interestingly at the same College I teach at now). He’d been studying English in Australia in preparation for this (it was cheaper and his Arab father was paying).
Anyway, we hit it off and became quite chummy quickly. But then he surprised me, lowering his voice and, suddenly all conspiratorial, began to regale me with any number of sexual exploits he had got up to the past 7 months in Sydney. I’m quite a prude, but he obviously took me for a compadre in the field of feminine conquest. Some of the stories were pretty wild: I can’t repeat them to this group — there are sisters listening after all.
Anyway, I was quite judgmental, for good and bad reasons: 1) I was immersed in a sea of devotion my beloved fiancee (which I might add — in case she catches the transcript of this (!) — has not ebbed once but has become the foundation for my married life) and 2) I had been reading Qur’an and attending tafsir sessions at the local salafi mosque, so was very much in that headspace. I was even more irritated when I found out he was married with a little baby.
I was quite shocked that this fellow Muslim — who had just prayed with me at the masjid — could be so brazen about his promiscuity and see no obvious contradiction. I am usually pretty diplomatic, so listened without criticism. But I raised the issue of religion at last: was he particularly strict about his practice?
He replied, cheerfully: “The way I see it, Islam is very simple, brother! We pray, we don’t drink alcohol, we don’t eat pork. It is not like the religions of the Christians or Jews or Hindus, with all their complex unknowables. It doesn’t want us to think about who God is or what the meaning of life is: us Muslims don’t need to worry about it. The Qur’an tells us what to do and what not to do. It’s the simplest religion!”
Okay, he was a medical doctor, not a sheikh, clearly, my brother Malik. But you can see he was giving a rather naive summary of that verse.
I left him, feeling very angry and self-righteous. Subhanallah, I said to myself. God preserve me from such an ignorant, miserable state of sin.
I relate this story to you as a tafsir for the verse above that completes our Religion.
For Malik was eating pork: his understanding of this verse is swine flesh itself. But Malik was a hungry man. I hope he had no inclination to sin, but I cannot tell what is recorded in his book of deeds — he related to me some of his theorems, but not their proof. So I hope he has no problems, because he was a really lovely guy, honestly, and, in my view today, deserves the houris he desired to physically manifest within that Antipodean plane of existence.
My salafi self, judging him thus, those years ago: my judgment was also swine flesh. But I was a hungry man then, I know it: my hunger
was terrible and terrific.
Anyone who says the verse that completes the religion is only about the physical meat of pigs, is in danger of eating swine flesh. But if they are hungry, let them say it and believe it, and forgiveness will — by the Grace — be granted to them, to myself and to Malik. And if they are full, satiated, rich and speak it, then know that nothing will avail them of the final judgment.
The professor today, who is dictating these words to you at the podium, audacious enough to address the verse of completion itself. What am I doing? I am trying to keep the diet halal, but it’s not black and white. There are many purportedly halal butchers in London, but no proper centralized standards agency: it is simply an impossible task in such a large city. If a dodgy place is shut down, the owners just up shop and establish down the street. And swine flu is a real danger in the underground of London, as I make my way to College.
But know that I have sacrificed myself, that younger version of me and his judgment – in Central Asian korban — and invoked God’s name before preparing this dish for you. I’ve tried my best to avoid employing arrows of divination to decide what to write, what to think, what to do: instead of playing games with dice, I will just say that I’ve tried to speak without arrows and embrace the Uncertainty Principle of our Quantum State.
This dish attempts to follow the recipe laid out: a recipe whose main ingredient is its own product. A dependent product. A taste sweeter than manna: the Food of the New. What the saints and teachers have called the Real. We might call it Understanding.
And if what I have prepared is still swine flesh, then it is because I am still hungry.
May God forgive me.