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A Muslim group forbids tomatoes ‘because they are Christian’. Will dialogue with Muslims ever be possible? Perhaps: but it won’t be easy

There are sane and moderate Muslims: but will they ever predominate?

By on Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A Salafi group has said Muslims should avoid eating tomatoes because of their cross-shaped interior

A Salafi group has said Muslims should avoid eating tomatoes because of their cross-shaped interior

Here is a little story (source, the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News website), one moral of which may be that hopes of any kind of meaningful interfaith dialogue between Christianity and Islam are pretty slim. On the other hand, it may simply mean that some Muslims are pretty over the top, so we need to talk to those who are not: if only, that is, we could discover who they might be.

A Salafi group (Salafism, according to Wikipedia, “has become associated with literalist, strict and puritanical approaches to Islam and, in the West, with the Salafi jihadis who espouse violent jihad against civilians) called the “Popular Egyptian Islamic Association” has warned Muslims against eating tomatoes on the grounds that they are a “Christian food” (I wonder if there are any Catholics so extreme that they won’t eat Muslim food (most of which, after a year working in a Muslim country, I can tell you is just delicious, and not a bit subversive).

This Salafi group explains its interdiction by the fact that a shape resembling a cross is revealed when one cuts a tomato in half (had you noticed that?) They published the warning on their Facebook page with a photo of a tomato cut in half, revealing a cross-shaped interior. The accompanying message reads “Eating tomatoes is forbidden because they are Christian. [The tomato] praises the cross instead of Allah and says that Allah is three. I implore you to spread this photo because there is a sister from Palestine who saw the Prophet of Allah in a vision and he was crying, warning his nation against eating [tomatoes]. If you don’t spread this [message], know that it is the devil who stopped you.”

Well, cor; having read that, and not wishing to be stopped by the devil, I thought I had better spread the message as instructed, and then eat a tomato (but not yet). A merry Turkish comment on the website asks “does this mean that the christians should not eat the crasont as it resembels islam ahhahahahahahha”, though I fear this quip reveals a sad ignorance of the origin of the croissant, which was invented in celebration of the crushing multiple defeat of the Sublime Porte after the raising of the Siege of Vienna.

It is true, of course, that some Catholics have a tendency to discern religious images in natural objects, a phenomenon known as Pareidolia, according to Wikipedia (where would we be without it?). “Publicity surrounding sightings of religious figures and other surprising images in ordinary objects,” we are told, “has spawned a market for such items on online auctions like eBay. One famous instance was a grilled cheese sandwich with the [face of the Blessed Virgin]” (I wonder if anyone bought it?).

All the same, this particular Muslim example does seem to fit particularly well with a contemporary variety of extreme Islamism, one which combines an oppressive and fanatical hatred of other religions – potentially violent, even deadly – with a ready credulousness. I wrote earlier this month about the case of an 11-year-old Christian girl with Down’s syndrome called Rimsha Masih who was arrested and charged with the crime of blasphemy after it was alleged that she had burned pages of the Koran. This is a common charge against Christians, all too readily believed by rampaging and sometimes murderous mobs, though in previous cases the burning has nearly always shown to have been done by Muslims, or by mentally unstable people.

I said above that the moral of the story of the intrinsic and offensive Christianity of the tomato might be that hopes of any kind of meaningful interfaith dialogue between Christianity and Islam are pretty slim. On the other hand, I continued, it may simply mean that some Muslims are very extreme, so we need to talk to those who are not: if only, that is, we could discover who they might be. Who might they be in Pakistan, for instance? Well, they do in fact exist and therefore ought gratefully to be acknowledged. Accoding to the Pakistani website,

“Allama Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, said if Rimsha… were found to be innocent, her accusers should face justice. The cleric said protesters who demonstrated to demand punishment for Rimsha … were following the ‘law of the jungle’… Ashrafi urged the government to take action to protect Christians in the poor Islamabad suburb of Mehrabad, where Rimsha lives, and encourage Christian families who fled in fear after the incident to return.

“This is inhuman,” he is reported as saying, “that those who have nothing to do with the case or are not a party to it are also being harassed. It is just like the law of jungle that 500 people approached a police station and got a report forcibly lodged with the police.” Ashrafi said Rimsha’s case should be a watershed for Pakistan’s blasphemy laws: “We demand an impartial and thorough investigation into the case. Strict action should be taken against all those accusing the girl … The government should make this case an example so that nobody will dare misuse the blasphemy law in future.”

Well, Allama Tahir Ashrafi is a brave man. Other influential Muslim Pakistanis who have publicly taken this view have not lived long thereafter. The governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was shot by one of his bodyguards, who told police that he killed Mr Taseer because of his opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law. I fear for Mr Ashrafi’s life, and so must he.

The point is that such men do exist. Some of them are even described as “influential”. If Mr Ashrafi lives, and if his influence prevails, then we will be beginning to get somewhere near the point at which interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians might be worthwhile. But I fear that we are not there yet, even nearer to home, as the ill-fated talks between the Holy See and Al-Azhar University in Cairo, which you will remember suspended its long-standing dialogue with the Vatican in protest after the Holy Father’s demand for the protection of the Copts, illustrate only too well. Will Mr Ashrafi, that brave, brave man, prevail? Or will he pay the ultimate penalty for his courage? Even if he survives, I very much fear that in the end it is mob rule that will decide what happens in Pakistan.

And I have never hoped more that I will be proved by events to have got it wrong.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    “Will dialogue with Moslems be possible?”

    What does 1400 years of blood and murder on the part of Islam tell you? 

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    You sound like a hophead 1970′s sociology teacher. Is that what you are? The naive innocence is breath-taking. 

  • JabbaPapa

    EU membership, and this is inevitable

    How on EARTH is something that several EU countries oppose vehemently “inevitable”, given both their veto powers against any such inclusion, and the drastically poor state of the EU finances to start with ??

  • awkwardcustomer

    But when you say ‘evolve’ you must mean in the sense that the evolutionists employ the word - that is, one distinct species evolving into another distinct species, albeit over oceans of time. If a fish crawls out of the sea for some reason, develops legs and so becomes a lizard for some reason, then develops wings to become a bird – or whatever the sequence is supposed to be – then the end result, the bird, is an entirely different species from the fish. 

    No matter how many millenia this process is supposed to take, the end product is distinct from the original.  Quite clearly, the development of doctrine cannot work like that. Doctrine devlopes in that it becomes more precise and more profound in its explanation.  But it does not mutate into something else.  For a far better explanation than I can give, try this:

     I’m determined to get you there eventually. 


  • Alan

    I’m not any kind of teacher, let alone sociology.  “Naive innocence” is to think it a good thing for everyone to wrap themselves inside inflexible ways of thinking, and refuse to listen to the experiences of others.

  • Alan

    See my reply to Aelfrid the Mercian.

  • JabbaPapa

    But when you say ‘evolve’ you must mean in the sense that the evolutionists employ the word

    Well I don’t know about “must”, but if that was your own intended meaning, then I’d agree emphatically !!!

    The SSPX Asia site is noteworthy for its very hardline version of the Society teachings, as I’ve observed more than once.

    The very first line of the article that you link to is directly fallacious BTW :

    Modernist Rome has declared us schismatics because we hold a supposedly false notion of Tradition.

    In FACT, the Bishops of SSPX were, at the time, considered as schismatic because they had been illicitly ordained ; and the SSPX clergy as schismatic for continuing in their obedience to these, at the time, excommunicates.

    Bishop Tissier de Mallerais belongs to the centuries old tradition of hardline conservative Catholicism, and whilst his theological views are not heretical (as he claims Rome to define them, because this type of French theologian *loves* to play the victim), in fact his only real mistakes are to claim infallibility for some non-infallible teachings, which is beyond his authority either as a theologian or a Bishop.

    Theologically though, he’s just not conservative enough, to the contrary he’s quite clearly a radical.

    AGAIN, the errors denounced in the Syllabus do not create opposite good doctrines that “must” be adhered to — that’s just not how doctrine functions.

    The fact that you must denounce X does NOT mean that the diametric opposite -X is a required belief — and it’s just bad theology to claim such a thing.

    But “bad” doesn’t mean “heretic” — because the Bishop has the right to provide his own explanations of why those errors have been condemned — **provided** that at no time his explanations contradict any authoritative or infallible teachings.

    Unfortunately for his position, ALL of the doctrines of the Vatican II texts are at the very least Authoritative — AND there is NO licit doctrinal reason to condemn any Ecumenical Council if you are not, say, the Pope, condemning a rebel Council or whatever.

    He is both WRONG in his appraisal that Rome considers the SSPX teachings as being heretical — if Rome *did* consider the SSPX to be heretical, they would have just out and SAID so ; and WRONG to imagine that he has any authority whatsoever to justify the rejection of an entire Ecumenical Council, because NO Catholic has any such right.

  • Alan

    Without dialogue, fundamntalists in both the Christian and Muslim faiths will remain entrenched behnd their barricades.  Fundamentalism delights in picking out texts to “prove” some point or other that they wish to make.  The Bible (mainly the OT) contains many verses which, taken out of context, are equally objectionable.   

  • Nat_ons

    Possible, as a matter of sincere courtesy? Yes, of course – as with the writings of Avicenna and Averoes in the hands of Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas (or the modern concept of human rights and collegial education in Islamic States) etc. But if this notion involves any prospect of fruitful communion (as might be achieved with liberal democracies or Eastern Orthodoxies), then, no; because – as an extreme form of Christian heresy - I suspect it absolutely precludes meaningful community with Catholic Truth as truth .. at least this side of the Beatific Vision!

  • awkwardcustomer

    What, exactly, is a fundamentalist?

  • awkwardcustomer

    There you go, back to  ‘Authority’, with no discussion of the arguments concerning Doctrine and its legitimate development. Oh well.

    Meanwhile, we seem to have strayed off the topic of this thread.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Among those who ‘wrap themselves inside inflexible ways of thinking’, would you include those who insist that Christ is God and not merely a prophet? 

  • Parasum

    Dialogue ought to be possible – it has been at times, so why can it not be again ?

    Why not see where there is agreement ? Why not investigate whether a disagreement is real, or only apparent ? If the Koran rejects a bodily begetting of a son by God – so do we. But is it rejecting the eternal generation of the Word ? STM it could be attacking a pagan idea of divine sonship, the sort that involved divine copulation. That in turn would raise the problem that the Koran could not then be eternal & perfect, but would be flawed & human: but what Muslim would ever allow that to be possible ?

    KJV-onlyites have an almost Muslim notion of the KJV; though I have not heard of any Christian saying the KJV is eternal.

  • Parasum

     I got most of that from outside the CH – but now you mention it, your article too must have made an impression.   

  • Parasum

    I think it’s one of those countries, like Hungary, that people are vaguely aware of, but far less aware of than they are of places like Germany or France or Spain, which are mentioned almost constantly. If we had to learn Turkish in school, or had constant coverage of Turkish footy, it might make a much greater impression. 

  • JabbaPapa

    There you go, back to  ‘Authority’, with no discussion of the arguments concerning Doctrine and its legitimate development

    I can hardly discuss the detail of your position, when I can’t agree with its very basic premises !!!

    It’s the *premises* of your argument, ie your odd notion that it’s possible to reject an entire Council, that prevent any detail discussion.

    This error on your part is completely foreign to any considerations whatsoever concerning Vatican II either generally or specifically, becase you’re just out and out rejecting Church teachings.

  • JabbaPapa

    moved response to a less thin area.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    What “experiences” has a Catholic to learn from the demonic religion of Islam? Be specific.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    You used the word “evolve”. You continually do this Jabba. Your choice of words often have nothing to do with Catholicism, it’s reality and truth.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Alan is a secularist, essentially. He is a deeply confused product of the modern oestrogen Church. 

  • Alan

    Of course not, this is what Christians believe.  I’m making the point (or trying to) that we should always be open to listening to alternative views, or different interpretations, while stating firmly what we believe.  And I would expect Moslems (or anyone else) to do the same.  What I reject is the fundamentalist attitude of taking some text, usually out of context, applying it literally, and shutting our ears to anyone with a different view.  We should listen to what Moslems have to say, just as they should listen to us.  It’s called dialogue.  “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war”.

  • Alan

    One “experience” might be their strict attitude to fasting and prayer, for example.  If you are denying the merits of interfaith dialogue, you are going against the leaders of the Catholic Church, from the Pope downwards.  There are people in the Vatican whose job is precisely that.

  • awkwardcustomer

    I don’t remember saying anything about rejecting those parts of Vatican II that accord with the Traditional teachings of the Church.  If you have deduced that I did, then I have not expressed myself adequately. 

    But I really would prefer to stick to the subject of this thread.

  • awkwardcustomer

    ‘…the modern oestrogen Church.’

    I like that.  It makes me want to shout out the words used by Aragorn to rouse the remnant of the armies of Middle Earth, as they made their last stand before the Black Gates of Mordor in ‘The Lord of the Rings’:

    ‘Stand, men of the West.’

  • awkwardcustomer

    All religions have certain things in common – a divine creator or creators, a priestly class, a moral code, sacred buildings, texts and rituals.  But so what?  It is the differences between them that matter. 

    Ask any Moslem – according to the Qur’an, Christ is a mere prophet and the Holy Trinity simply cannot be.  End of. Better still, read the Qur’an and you will find a host of teachings denouncing Christians, and even more denouncing Jews.  We’re all infidels, don’t you know?

    Are you hoping that the hostile sections of the Qur’an, of which there are many, can somehow be neutralised by the revisions of modern, enlightened, liberal, Islamic scholarship?  Dream on, I say, especially while Christians are being persecuted and murdered by those Moslems who view their holy book literally enough to take up arms.     

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    No, if you want to talk about fasting and prayer, we do not need to look to the Moslems.

    We simply need to look to the Catholic Church pre-1962. 

    But that’s the very last thing you will do, isn’t it?

  • Alan

    You are jumping to completely unwarranted conclusions.  I am a Christian, who joined the Catholic Church after Vatican II.  If the Church ditched Vatican II (which it won’t, however much you might like it to), that would make me “deeply confused”.

  • Jtarpley

    Which is why the tomato was originally called the “passion fruit.”

  • JabbaPapa

    It’s surely something worth praying for ?

  • JabbaPapa

    Nothing to do with Catholicism ???

    I can’t help it if you read oodles and boodles into my words that was never put there in the first place !!!

  • Puddleglum

    According to Walim Ahdi (Eccles), the Pope has now issued an encyclical condemning Muslim food.

  • Elena Porcelli

     Coward. Make a sweeping statement like that and don’t have the balls to back it up. What are you DOING here?

  • Alan

    This is an outrageous comment.  You may as well talk about “2000 years of blood and murder on the part of Christianiy”.   Both are equally invalid.