May 4, 2014 By Interactive scholars

Beef Festival and Pork Festival: A World Sans Food Fascism

beef_0Recently, India witnessed a counter-cultural movement from Osmania University in Hyderabad, a southern state of the country. The Movement or protest named ‘Beef Festival’ was aimed at the restriction or total ban on beef or meat varieties in University campus. Following the movement, a similar move titled ‘JNU Beef-Pork Eating Campaign’ was decided to be held on the Jawaharlal Nehru University Campus. I think it was not held.
The attitude of some post-modernist Muslims to these movements has been positive and even laudatory. In fact, Muslims are supposed to abstain from pork, aren’t we? How can we appreciate the beef and pork eating campaign without violating the very tenet of Islam? As regards the former movement, has our support been a sane decision? Need we be part of a campaign designed to provoke the peaceful atmosphere of the country. Muslim scholars and leaders have adopted the decision in the colonial past not to eat cow and beef respecting the sentiments of Hindus. My grandfather, who was an imam at a mosque in Kerala, strictly told me that eating cow meat is makrooh (though lawful, deemed abominable). It was this mutual harmony that the beef festival tried to violate by its sloganeering. There are certain culinary values which societies consider sacred and to support campaigns against these values will amount to the breach of sanctity, which Islam strongly objects to. I would like to Quote Swapan Das Gupta’s argument in this regard:  The organisers of the Beef Festival in Osmania lost sight of the fact that accommodation is a virtue. It is not that anyone objects to them enjoying beef kebabs but that they take umbrage at their flaunting it and willfully trampling on the sensitivities of others.
I would like to substantiate my argument by citing the Quranic narrative on Prophet Salih and his community. Prophet Salih was blessed with a camel which we wanted his community to treat as sacred and not to kill. But they disobeyed his order and hamstrung it. We can also say that Salih’s community was expressing a liberal choice by violating his food fascism. But sanctity is something we can’t grasp with ready-made theories on liberty and freedom. What right do we have to oppose the filmmaker whom we accuse of having denigrated the sanctity of the Prophet, when at the same time we support the agitators who denigrate the sanctity of beef and cow? What stance does a person and organisation which claims to promote communal harmony and peace, take on this?

This is, we think, a relevant question. Firstly, we would like to present ourselves as an amorphous group which welcomes all shades of opinions on an issue based on the premises of justice, truth, harmony and does not stick to a particular viewpoint of a person or a group.

Food fascism and multi-culturalism
Firstly, going by articles and opinions of people who were behind the beef festival campaign, we realize that they were airing their anger against food fascism, which, we believe, is a condition to be strongly criticized in a multi-religious and multi-cultural context, an ideal situation that the Quran promotes: And We have sent down to you the Book in truth, confirming the Book that existed already before it and protecting it. … For each one of you [several communities]. We have appointed a Law and a Way of Conduct [while the essence of religion is identical]. If God had so willed, He would have made all of you one community, but [He has not done so] that He may test you in what He has given you; so compete in goodness. To God shall you all return and He will tell you [the Truth] about what you have been disputing. (5:48)
If we legally ban the culinary choices of a community in preference for our own choices, that would foil the social equilibrium and multi-cultural ethos. Before the campaign happened, Madhya Pradesh government in India banned beef. The same restrictions exist in Indian states such as Gujarat and Karnataka, where the Ultra-right wing BJP (who don’t have as much qualms in killing Dalits and Muslims as it has in killing buffaloes) is power. In fact, behind the culinary restrictions and banning remains the Hindu nationalist exclusiveness whose major component is vegetarianism.  So the anger and protest in Osmania University should be understood in the wider context of protest against the ultra-vegetarian nationalism. That the campaign is attacked by the student faction of BJP is a case in point.
There is no doubt that Muslims abhor pork. But to ban the same in a multi-cultural context would amount to the breach of freedom that Islam extends to all religious communities (to the breach of autonomy that the Prophet instituted in Madina). Quran does not require us to impose its tenets on others. (There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned. Right guidance has become clearly distinct from error 2:256). What we call the nationalist, cultural mainstream in a multi-cultural society is often a fascist institution against which several voices will emerge from the counter-cultural realm and tend to merge. They are unlikely to have uniformity. But despite differences, they will continue to oppose the cultural mainstream together. We have objection to the element ‘pork’ in the movement; but still we can share space with them against cultural fascism its culinary standardization. This sharing of space is contextually the jihad of this time. We believe that the campaigners respect our right to desist from pork. Beef and pork are political metaphors.
Though we acknowledge the role of Muslim nationalists in India as being significant in the history of Islam, we would like to point out an important drawback in their conceptualization of Indian Muslim: they had no truck with the Dalit community in India which kept itself away from Hinduism and Hindu worldview and instead forged alliance with leaders who espoused the vegetarian Hindu nationalism. It is pathetically a problem in the nation formation of India that a moderate form of Hindu nationalism was accepted as being patriotic, which some ulemas and Muslim leaders tried to interpret favourably dictating fatwas against buffalo slaughter. That is one reason why Dalit-Muslim fraternity does not have as much acceptance and glitter in the mainstream Muslim circles as Hindu-Muslim harmony does have. Going by the arguments in some textual sources including Kancha Illaiah’s Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism and DN Jha’s The Myth of Holy Cow, Brahmins and Hindus used to eat beef in the beginning and the strict vegetarianism of Jainism crept into their religious consciousness. Later, Buddhism appeared as a counter-theological movement which took a moderate stand on culinary practices and allowed beef in the menus. It was primarily against Buddhism that the beef eating was abhorred and the cow was sanctified. In essence, to sanctify beef amounts to de-sanctify the ethos of Dalit community whose staple food was beef. Harmony is a complex issue and can’t be placed on the pedestal of some ready-made arguments.
To equate the politically motivated beef festival campaigners to the person who did mischief by the cinematic, a-historical portrayal of Prophet Muhammad amounts to the lack of deep understanding in both the issues. In a sense, it is tantamount to treating the Prophet as an animal, an obnoxious caricature in itself.
Prophet Salih
It is understood from Quran that Prophet Salih did not impose rule against camel meat. He wanted his people to leave ‘that particular camel’ (hadihi nnakatha) aside, which is a symbol of his Prophethood (This is the she-camel of Allah [sent] to you as a sign. So leave her to eat within Allah’s land and do not touch her with harm, lest there seize you a painful punishment). It was a warning against the community’s transgression. There is nothing in the Quran justifying the sanctification of a particular food habit.

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