When I landed in Canada six years ago, I started living in a dorm near Chinatown in Toronto with a lot of East Asians who were there to learn English. That meant that I got to try lots of crazy food from smelly kimchi to all sorts of raw fish in different types of sushi. I never cared where that food came from and cared very little how that food was made. As we know, this is not the case for everyone who comes from a Muslim country, such as Iran. There are people among our friends who make sure that their food is in accordance with their religion. Not surprisingly, this turns out to be a bit of an inconvenience in the West. It doesnít just mean that they canít come along for dim sum in Chinatown. They have constant problems whenever they are invited for dinner at the houses of their foreign or non-practicing Muslim Iranian friends. But the most difficult inconvenience to accept is that Halal meat* is not offered at social events organized by many Iranian student and community associations. The justification offered by these organizations is that they are defined as non-religious, and as such, they canít offer Halal meat, which is considered as a religious demand.
While, these organizations might be so resistant to offering Halal meat at their events, they are not resistant to offering vegetarian food because this is not perceived as a religious demand. To me, as a proclaimed carnivore with a great love for kabab, "Halalists" are not any more bizarre than vegetarians. And as long as neither group tries to stop me from eating my food, I would be happy for them to be offered their preferred food. In fact, this simple idea is a cornerstone for my personal version of secularism, which I call inclusive secularism. It says that as long as people are not asking for things that are prohibitive to others, they should be offered their options. By virtue of this rule, I fully support offering the option of Halal meat in all Iranian public events, considering that there is a sizable religious population and that Halal meat can be easily found in most big North American cities. By the same token, I donít think the demand of a religious person to remove alcohol from an Iranian public event should be accepted on the ground that he/she feels ďoffendedĒ by the presence of alcohol, because that demand restricts others who wish to drink a glass of wine with their dinner.
It is not just about food. We need to practice an inclusive version of secularism in our small community organizations to demonstrate that it works without excluding religious people. Even after so much deterioration of religious belief in Iran as a direct result of the excesses of the Islamic Republic, there are still many religious people in Iran, and it would be unimaginable for a secularism that cannot accommodate their concerns to take root. Our practices in North America can be a model for Iran.
Do I think Halal meat is more delicious? Not really!
*Here, non-Halal food mostly refers to the meat that comes from animals (such as cow or sheep) when they are not killed in accordance to Islamic law. This usage of non-Halal does not refer to pork because I have never witnessed that pork be offered in any Iranian social events. Most Iranians do not eat pork even the ones living in the West. For a more general meaning of Halal visit wikipedia.