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Religious equality means both kosher and halal meals

By Rana Khatib, Communications Intern

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On February 1, 2012, loonwatch.com published an article called, Kosher Meals Cost Taxpayers Over Half a Million Dollars: What if These Were Halal Meals? I must say that this article provides a clear illustration of religious inequality in America; while kosher meals for the Jewish community are taken into consideration by politicians, halal meals for Muslims are essentially not discussed. Let us take a look at the basis of the article before exposing the underlying truths behind the so-called “equality” we are promised as Americans.

Newt Gingrich, a Republican running for presidential office, continues to surprise me with his actions. He was furious when his fellow Republican candidate, former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, vetoed a 2003 bill. This bill stated that an extra $600,000 of taxpayer money for kosher foods would be given to poor Jewish nursing homes. Before I delve into how this is a problem for Muslims, let me entertain you with a quote Gingrich provided for us: “Romney as Governor eliminated kosher food for retired Jewish senior citizens … He has no understanding of the importance of religious liberty in this country.” While Gingrich holds the Jewish community’s need for kosher food in high regard, Muslims are not recognized for their need of halal meals. Ironic isn’t it?

Whether you are into politics or not, you should know that Gingrich is one of the biggest Islamophobes we’ve seen run for Presidential office. For example, Gingrich was recently asked if he would support a Muslim running for president, and his response was, “A person who belonged to any kind of belief in Sharia, any kind of effort to impose that on the rest of us, would be a mortal threat.” He is saying that unless Muslims change their religious beliefs, they are a danger to be elected into office. He makes himself sound as if he is well acquainted with liberty, but it seems as if Gingrich is in denial, fickle, or just plain confused.

Imagine if this entire situation was to be reversed and the 2003 bill stated that the $600,000 of tax money would be distributed to Muslims who are only allowed to eat halal food? Gingrich would be enraged, and of course, would propose to veto the bill. Why is it that he agrees with the funding of kosher foods to be given to the Jewish community, yet we know that he would be totally opposed to this idea if it be given to the Muslim community? Gingrich proves to be hypocritical because he is pushing for the idea of tax money to be distributed for kosher food, yet he is constantly speaking negatively about Muslims. He clearly favors one religion and disrespects another.

Blogger and notorious Islamophobe, Pamela Geller, is a great example of someone who would definitely be on Gingrich’s side; she would hate the idea of giving this tax money to Muslims. This is important to note since she attacks Muslims for eating halal food. She believes the process of making food halal is cruel to animals, when in reality, kosher and halal are almost exactly the same thing. The process for considering meat to be accepted by Islamic and Jewish religions require that the slaughterer be of strong faith, and to use a sharp knife to cut deep at the top of the throat. The only difference is that in the Islamic religion, the head of the animal has to be facing Mecca as well as slaughtered while saying God’s name. Lack of common sense seems to quickly seep out of people when they are so stuck on issues such as this.

It is pretty disheartening to me that America’s foundation is built on the idea of “religious equality” when Islamophobia exists; resulting in discrimination when it comes to providing Muslims halal food. Religious equality, according to Gingrich and Gellar, does not fully live up to its name.

My main point is not to concentrate on the idea of kosher versus halal foods, but to stress the idea that once a circumstance is reversed and people put themselves in someone else’s shoes, that’s when bias has a chance of changing towards religious equality and not bigotry.

CAIR-Chicago outreach intern, Gabriel Gamez shares a childhood example of how his religion was viewed as “unpatriotic” as well as supportive “terrorism”. When he was younger, Gabriel was a Jehovah’s Witness and because of his religious background, he was not allowed to stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Gabriel recalls his teacher questioning his religious views in a rude and offensive way. He heard negative comments from his teacher, as well as from his fellow classmates. Gabriel explains how he felt about his situation: “They first asked me why I didn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance and continued to ask me why I didn’t support the troops. My only response was in my belief system that you only pledge allegiance to God. And their response was that if I didn’t pledge allegiance to our government, I supported the terrorists.” Gabriel was only in the fifth grade and this continued until he was in the seventh grade.

Gabriel’s example highlights an absence of respect for other religions as well as a lack of religious equality in the U.S. This is when we should reverse the situation and ask: if the teacher and students were Jehovah’s Witnesses and they could not perform the Pledge of Allegiance, would that make them awful Americans and supporters of terrorism?

As Americans, we need to recognize that religious equality and fairness are things not to be ignored, but instead, held in high regard. The need to be fair to people of different cultures and religions is extremely crucial. Taking sides is one thing, but depriving another sect from religious freedom is something else.

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