Dear Ali: Why is it haram to eat pork? YM, Dubai
Dear YM: Your question brings up a very important issue. Well, in every culture you can find food that is taboo. In western societies, there are certain foods that are taboo, such as meat from horses, cats and dogs. However, in some parts of east Asia these aren't considered taboo. To some Indians, cow meat is a taboo due to their belief that the cow is a holy animal. And for us in the UAE, pork is taboo based on Islamic laws like in many other Arab nations.
The main reason pork is forbidden for Muslims is because it says in the Holy Quran that some food is allowed, while others are explicitly declared haram, which means forbidden. And pork is one of those forbidden foods. However, there is an exception that is written in the Holy Quran as well where it states that you can eat it if you are starving and there is nothing else to eat but pork. This is also in accordance with the Jewish faith, according to their laws and traditions of eating kosher meat.
Pork is not dirty but rather regarded as impure, unhealthy and harmful for humans due to the fats, toxins and bacteria it contains and the way the pig spends its life rolling around in mud and its own excrement. The specific aspect that pork is unhealthy has even been proven by scientists, such as Hans-Heinrich Reckeweg, who argued that western populations who eat pork carry more diseases than other populations who do not eat pork.
Processed pork can also be found in many other foods in the form of gelatin. And treatments such as radiation, which supposedly kills bacteria, might seem to make pork "cleaner" but the fact remains that the meat still comes from an animal Muslims are forbidden to eat.
Muslims living in western societies often face a challenge with this issue because they have a harder time finding halal meat and determining if animals have been slaughtered in an Islamic way, or if the food they buy contains any processed pork.
We live in a Muslim country that holds on to its religious laws but at the same time wants to offer a variety of international products and foods to attract our culturally diverse population. Therefore, while it's not easy to find pork, most hotels serve it. So, if you decide to eat pork, that is up to you.
Dear Ali: What is the best way to avoid misunderstandings between me and my Emirati co-workers when it comes to bringing a cultural project further? TA, Al Ain
Dear TA: Misunderstandings can happen no matter whom you work with. Whenever misunderstandings happen, there are always two sides of the story and the way you react to it can easily make matters worse. Cultural projects, in particular, should be about cultural exchange between everyone involved.
I recommend you to be honest and directly approach your Emirati co-workers, explain to them the concerns you have and I am sure they will take them seriously. At the same time, give them a chance to explain their side of the story. Such a respectful dialogue would be a good start to avoid these things happening in the future.
Now, if you still feel misunderstood, then maybe try to focus on your common goals for this particular project instead of letting such misunderstandings interfere. That should help the project to continue successfully, because recognising the "common ground" is the basis for any relationship - be it with your employer, your co-worker, your spouse or your friend - to develop in a positive way. At the end, remember it's not just about what you say, but how you say it.
Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.