DARE TO ASK: Muslims, Jews and a 'fear' of pork

By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union

Question

Why are Muslims and Jews so scared of pork? Do they think there is some disease in there?

S. Howard, 30, New York

Replies

We are not scared of pork! In the Torah, Moses instructs his people not to eat pork and shellfish unless it is vital for life (in the Nazi death camps we had to eat pork) because it is considered unclean. Ever seen the slop pigs eat? But many Jews (myself included) do not keep kosher because shellfish is so darn tasty!

Emily, Annandale, Va.

Touching pork for Muslims is closer to touching dung than something "clean" like beef or chicken.

Debora, 40, Muslim, Virginia Beach, Va.

The upside to all this, according to stories I've heard from a friend who grew up in Singapore, is that Muslim bullies would run in terror if he would come at them carrying pork.

Tomer, 32, Jewish, Eau Claire, Wis.

I don't think anyone is afraid of touching pork meat or pigs as though they have some disease or something. That's funny.

Noaf, 21, Muslim female, Qatar

Experts say

Pork: The Other forbidden-in-Leviticus (11:7-8), cloven-hoofed, non-cud-chewing, rubbish-eating, doesn't-thrive-in-arid-climates, banned-in-the-Koran (2:173), filthy, more-liable-to-cause-diseases-such-as-trichinosis-if-not-fully-cooked White Meat.

Pretty much covers the past 3,500 years right there.

Rabbi Bob Alper, a popular stand-up comic, says some Jews feel the pig no-no is a divine thing, others a medical thing, and others an arbitrary thing meant to remind them that "every time you put something in your mouth you should remember that you're not just chowing down, but ... that every bite of food is a reminder of one's religious obligations as a Jew."

"It reminds me of a joke: A woman confessed that her family kept kosher at home, but not outside the house. She was told, 'That's good - your dishes will go to heaven.' "

Azhar Usman, one of America's few Muslim comedians (he's writing a book titled Everything You Wanted to Know About Muslims But Were Afraid to Ask - No, Really Afraid), says one goal of Islamic halal dietary laws is to avoid impurity.

And no fair with the pork derivatives, either.

"For example, in Muslim parts of the world you can find certain candies you crave that are made with no gelatin. So we loaded up in Indonesia last summer. If I'd been stopped in customs on the way back, all they would have found in my bags was a ton of halal Skittles."

To avoid impurity, there's also a lot of washing up (wudu, or ablution) going on by Muslims before ritual worship.

"It's done by observant Muslims before prayers - even if you're at the office," Usman said. "The worst possible scenario is getting busted by your boss with your foot in the bathroom sink. How do you explain that? 'Excuse me, I'm just making wudu.' He'd be like 'You're doing voodoo?' "

Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee), moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231. Include contact information. For Dare to Ask podcasts, go to Jacksonville.com keyword: milano.