Every country, culture, and religion has rules. Each group has behaviors that they deem wrong or abhorrent. In Arabic, they have a word for it–haram. To do something that is haram is to do something forbidden, offensive or objectionable to Islamic law. In other words, you are participating in an act that is considered “against Allah.” As an American Catholic, there are loads of things that are considered forbidden or taboo in my country, culture, and religion. For example: I don’t eat dog. I don’t steal or cheat. I recycle. And I try really hard not to speed. You get my drift… don’t you?
In Oman, rules are much the same as I’ve experienced in other countries: Don’t break the law, be respectful, pay your taxes, blah, blah, blah. For us, this translates to simple rules like: don’t run red lights, cover your shoulders and knees, and pay your electricity bill. So honestly, I’m not too bothered.
But last weekend, my personal desires and cultural experiences conflicted with those in my host country. For Rob’s birthday, he had requested a full breakfast with eggs, toast, potatoes, and… yup! You guessed it–bacon! We desired a haram product.
Though the Sultanate of Oman follows Muslim traditions outlined in the Qur’an, this beautiful country is totally open to my different views. Even though Omanis don’t drink beer or eat pork, they’ll allow me to as long as I do it in a respectful and private manner. But how do you buy food respectfully?
Not far from our house (in a small expat bubble) one can find the Al Fair Supermarket which, I have come to find out, is a mecca for all things imported! Between the Aunt Jemima’s syrup, Pillsbury cake batters, and vast array of junky cereal options, I could find many American and British comfort items our family desired… at a (rather astronomical) price! But walking through the doors of Al Fair, it was not the cereal and syrup on my mind. The rumored “Pork Shop” was what I was after.
Hidden away in the back corner of the meat section is the “Pork Shop”. With only a sign on the wall as a guide, this room allows me, a non-Muslim expat, to purchase items that my religion, political affiliations, and culture do not view as wrong.
But what I saw upon entry was not what I had imagined. What I thought would be a small smattering of bacon, sausage, ham, and pork chops was, instead, a room teeming with other stuff.
What shocked me more than the prices (bacon purchase: 220 grams/8 ounces for 2.5 OMR/$6.5/€5.8) were the shelves of this small space. The middle aisle and shelved walls were festooned with products that I have seen on most American supermarket shelves– Jell-O, Heinz beans, Jiffy corn muffins, Hunts soup, Pop-Tarts, Fruit Loops, marshmallows, and similar quick consumables! What the heck were these items doing in the “Pork Shop?”
So I came home and started on a quest for answers. How many products have I purchased without knowing what they were truly made of? I came across this interesting article written by Ifrah Jimale (a Muslim who tries to educate herself about American food products). In her post, Jimale talks about how hard it can be for Muslims to navigate a western grocery store because so many items included pork derivatives (mostly gelatin). Little did this consumer know, but a number of center-of-the-store food companies have begun altering their food recipes to accommodate for global migration trends and dietary needs. Apparently, recipe revision is the reason some Pop-Tarts are found in the junky cereal aisle in Muscat and not in the “Pork Shop.” How thoughtful for companies like Kellogs, Heinz, and Mars to substitute beef gelatins or petroleum for pig products–um, eww!
All that learning behind me… I got my bacon! I came home, cooked a fabulous breakfast followed by another haram item– beer (though I’ll write more about that later!), and had a lovely birthday weekend.
When all was said and done we had nourished our bellies and our brains. Learning a lot about center-of-the-store food was an eye-opener for this mama. But learning how open my host country is to allowing me to consume products they view as haram was a priceless education.