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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.

  • James

    If he was truly reasonable, he would be calling for the case against this poor girl to be dismissed.

    He seemingly has no problem with someone who burns the Koran being prosecuted.

    Still, it’s all relative I suppose.

  • Meena

    The cross-shaped thing at the centre of  tomatoes is called the “placenta”.

    This fact could easily frighten some, and interest others, of certain religious persuasions.

  • Simon Davies

    And if you cut an apple across its equator, you get the Star of Bethlehem.

  • Catholic Joe

    I like croissants.

  • Meena

    I know you meant well – bravo for “cross” loyalty.

    But the croissant is so-named for its distinctive CRESCENT (not cross) shape.

    PS: I’m sure you will be forgiven.

  • Meena

    Above reply to Catholic Joe’s “I like croissants”.

  • JabbaPapa

    I like couscous.

  • Catholic Joe

    My point was that I like Croissants despite their crescent shape, an Islamic symbol.

  • James Flannery

    I think generalisng and writing negative stories about other faiths in a catholic paper should not be done. I am a Scottish catholic and only today I heard some bullshot story about a catholic priest who apparently visited parishioners in a town in central Scotland and took money from them through coercion. Now there may be an element of truth to this story but the fact that priest in question had an Italian surname but spoke with an Irish accent, as mimicked by the storyteller, makes me believe this story was BS. I’m not saying this group who are getting worked up about fruit did not start this campaign but let’s not say they have any great voice and influence in the muslim world.

  • JabbaPapa

    Yes, but she’s obviously too highly educated to understand that without seeing the Cliff Notes version first.

  • JabbaPapa

    Yes, Turkey and Pakistan are quite obviously the same country.

    Why not just call it woplandia and have done with it ?

  • Charles

    Ironically, the politically correct crowd which says that morals are relative (unless you disagree with them) are greatly responsible for the growth of Islam in the West: a religion that’s completely unrelativistic as Muslims believe they are right and if you disagree, you are wrong. So PC relativism as to applied to multi-culturalism will help England increase numbers of faithful believers-just not Christian ones.

  • awkwardcustomer

    What exactly is the ‘meaningful interfaith dialogue between Christianity and Islam’ mentioned in the article supposed to achieve? 

  • JabbaPapa

    They’ll all convert to Christianity ?

  • W Oddie


  • W Oddie


  • Meena

    I see, sorry Catholic Joe. I don’t like them usually because they are too greasy, although the apple-filled ones can be good.

  • andHarry

    Kipling wrote ‘East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall twain’. No change there.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     Recently went to a lecture by a spokesman for the Islamic community. He sees Islam as being fundamentally peaceful if read correctly and that those ‘of the book’ are all really nominal Muslims, including Christ.
     So according to him Christ is to be seen as one of the Prophets.
     According to this schema a cross need not be forbidden. It would seem that some do not agree.It is only at this level that I think there can be useful interfaith discussions.
     For the fundamentalist, though this must all be a bit hard.
    One wonders what such a person would do if they were to reach a crossroad or find out that they carry in their anatomy two cruciate ligaments.

  • Parasum

    “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?)”

    ## Not till now. They are wrong anyway – the half-tomato looks much more like the symbol either of the goddess Ishtar, or of the god Shamash, than like the Christian cross. The cross in some form or another is certainly not peculiar to Christianity.

  • Parasum

     Et’s o oephimasm, ta oveid suyang anecciptoble wards. O thenk.

    Lake: Hall, dumn, drit, atcitoru

  • Parasum

    They are crescent-shaped for a good reason – they date from the Siege of Vienna in 1683, when the Austrians, & the Poles under King John III Sobieski, defeated the Turkish attempt to take the city.  Christian bakers decided to mark the victory by making a pastry in the shape of the crescent.  Nice symbolism LOL

  • Parasum

    Turkey gets bashed in the CH – but is a secular country.

    Pakistan gets bashed in the CH – but is a (strongly) religious country.

    Muslims just can’t win.

  • scary goat

     Yummy :-)

  • scary goat

    Just cut open a tomato to check… cross :-(

    I’ve actually seen a lot of similar pictures in the middle east…..usually saying Allah….mostly photo-shopped I’m afraid.  The thought occurs that someone might try suggesting that seeing as God is in control of nature, if He chooses to put crosses in tomatoes, maybe He is trying to tell them something :-D

    LOL at the silliness.

    On a more serious note, well done Tahir Ashrafi.


  • awkwardcustomer

    Here’s what the Qur’an says about Christians:

    ‘Those who say: ‘The Lord of Mercy has begotten a son,’ preach a
    monstrous falsehood, at which the very heavens might crack, the earth break asunder, and the mountains crumble to dust. That they should ascribe a son to the Merciful, when it does not become the Lord of Mercy to beget one!’ (19:88)

    And then there’s this:

    ‘Say: ‘How then can you be so bewitched?’
    We have revealed to them the truth, but they are liars all.
    Never has God begotten a son, nor is there any other god besides Him. Were this otherwise, each god would govern his own creation, each
    holding himself above the other. Exalted be God above their falsehoods!’ (23:91)

    Dialogue anyone?

  • Lewispbuckingham

     You are right that there are major obstacles to discussion even.
     But there is hope.It all depends upon interpretation and guidance by Muslim scholars.The speaker at this meeting was asked these sorts of questions.
    For him and his followers he prefers to read the parts that are not so inflammatory of the Christian position.I suppose you could almost call this a parallel to the ‘evolution of doctrine’.
     Because groups of scholars differ their followers differ also, with alarming consequences in some places, but here the results have been good.
     In OZ most from the Middle Eastern population are here to avoid the conflict in their home countries and want to be accepted by the ‘mainstream’.
     A local independent Islamic school just went bust and most pupils are educated in the state system.
     The last group of bombers have apologised and served their time. This knowledge ‘thanks’ to Wikileaks.
     There is active cooperation between the Orthodox,Islamic and Catholic communities in Sydney.

  • Rowan carstairs

    I was going to make a comment but then realised that I have a family and enjoy living! Sadly we are right to be fearful of Islam.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     Perhaps I and O can be found adjacent to each other on a qwerty keyboard.

  • JabbaPapa

    The thing to realise, which of course so many people who have been starved by so many irresponsible Western Governments of anything even resembling a good education are unable to, is that Islamic and Western Philosophy are entirely incompatible.

    Islam teaches a vaguely neo-Platonist Matter/Spirit duality, whereby there are two separate orders of reality — and that God (I’m simplifying greatly here) exists solely in the Spiritual dimension.

    Matter, *all* Matter, is a corruption of that state of perfection in that view, and as such it is inherently evil.

    The Incarnation of the Christ is therefore an impossibility in this philosophy — which is, of course, originally a Christian heresy, condemned as such by the Church.

    Its general incompatibility with Western Philosophy is that Islam teaches that due to the inherent worthlessness of material reality, nothing material can possibly be of any value whatsoever, including such things as individual human lives, any sorts of material goods or wealth, any studies of material reality that do not conform with their religious/philosophical taboos and strictures, and basically anything at all resembling any form of Western materialism, religious or secular. (Oh, and Jewish ditto)


    In other words, it is not true that Islam is “fundamentally peaceful”, because fundamentally, Islam places no intrinsic value on the physical integrity of the human body.

    The above also mostly explains, if you think about it for a second, why Christ can be called a Prophet and yet they can deny the very meaning of His Prophecies, which would be utterly incompatible with *any* Western understanding of His teachings (including those understandings that reject the teachings).

  • Alan

    The overwhelming majority of Muslims are ordinary people who just want to get on with their lives and to live in peace.  The ones who get publicity in the media are the cranks and fanatics.  I think you would find that the same applies to Christians.

  • Alan

    We can always learn from dialogue with others, in whatever field.  To assume that one has all the answers, and has nothing to learn from anyone else, is the height of arrogance.

  • W Oddie

    Of course. That’s mostly in my piece. Does nobody read the original article, just the comments? Why does one bother?

  • Daclamat

    Methinks this leading Catholic journalist is going through a dry patch. What’s he got against Moslems that he has to keep groping their middens? Check out pomegranates and Jehovah’s Witnesses!

  • Meena

    Ah but it probably wasn’t a plum tomato.
    The one in the illustration looks like a plum tomato or possibly a common spheroid that has been squeezed so as to produce the desired effect.

    There are no lengths to which the world’s holy men will not go, no holes deeper than they will stoop and no tricks trickier than those written by themselves in their various holy books.  

  • Meena

    so many people who have been starved by so many irresponsible Western Governments of anything even resembling a good education ”

    So very true. And it certainly shows.

  • JabbaPapa

    I like hot cross buns.

  • W Oddie

    It depends how you cut them

  • Lewispbuckingham

     The level of violence in some middle eastern countries has made moderate Muslims look for a way out. Their beliefs are not monolithic and their hermeneutics of the Koran, given the subject of this lecture, still admit and encourage scholars of new ways of interpreting this Book.
     In as far as they themselves do this they may be heretics to Christianity, or indeed to themselves, but they are looking in this country for peace.
     Recently speaking to a migrant from Persia, as she calls it, she said that groups of over a hundred thousand can be called onto the streets in the capital by any of a number of groups.Usually some are shot.
     She came here for peace.
     I note that you are extremely well read.
     May I direct you to an article in Quadrant Online entitled ‘How Civilisations Die’ by Mervyn F Bendle which discusses the demography of Islam.
    ‘The death of a culture is an uncanny event’

  • W Oddie

    Probably that’s it. But I like bullshot. It has a certain ring about it. Bullshot. Bullshot. It grows on you. 

  • Kolbe71

    What a lot of bullshot. :-)

  • JabbaPapa

    There are no lengths to which the world’s atheist unbelievers will not go, no holes deeper than they will stoop and no tricks trickier than those written by themselves in their various books and pamphlets.


  • JabbaPapa

    Indeed, in everything that you post.

  • JabbaPapa

    I didn’t mean to say Islam is “heretical to Christianity”, it’s not really that simple, but rather that a Christian heresy of some centuries earlier eventually developed, mainly at Alexandria and surrounding areas, into the very form of neo-Platonism that Islam is more directly based on — though of course, Islam was then attractive to those Christians of that region who were attracted to that sort of heresy for their own reasons.

    I’ll try and have a look at that article, thanks.

  • awkwardcustomer

    You seem to be saying that reading the Qur’an and noticing passages that refer to Christians as ‘liars all’ and preachers of ‘a monstrous falsehood’ is arrogant.  Is NOT reading the Qur’an a sign of humilty then, or is it just burying one’s head in the sand?

  • awkwardcustomer

    Is that the aim of ‘dialogue’, to convert?  I’d never have guessed.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Of course there are easy going Muslims who want to get along, just as there are easy going Christians and even easy going atheists. The speaker at the meeting you attended prefers to ‘read the parts [of the Qur'an] that are not so inflammatory of the Christian position’.  Were there Catholics at that meeting prepared to gloss over Christ’s words: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me’?

    I still don’t understand the purpose of dialogue. Is it about easy going people from various religions avoiding the difficult parts of their sacred books in order to get along with everyone?  Is it about marginalising fundamentalists because they are not prepared to do this? And what is a fundamentalist?  Surely there is a difference between those who take every part of their sacred text seriously but won’t resort to violence, and those who will resort to violence in order to impose their beliefs on those who refuse them.

    The problem with the ‘evolution of doctrine’ you refer to is that the end result can be something that bears little or no resemblance to the original.  And by the way, the ‘evolution of doctrine’ is a Modernist concept, condemned by Pope Pius X in his 1907 Encyclical ‘Pascendi Dominici Gregis’ (On the Doctrine of the Modernists). 

  • Knight

    Perhaps an article about an unsuspecting non-muslem public being served barbarically killed halal meat in shops and restaurants throughout Britain would have been more worthy than a story about the sacred ‘cross’ some extremists believe to be at the heart of a tomato?

  • Meena

    Yes, poor Turkey. It’s kicked by many vested interests from fundamentalist Muslims to fundamentalist Catholics and by the French (and others) who are terrified of it.

    A vibrant country with now about 76 million people and almost 50% of the population in the age range of 0 to 20 years – and only 7% over 65. What a contrast with much of Western Europe!

    The UK and the US are strongly in favour of it having EU membership, and this is inevitable – notwithstanding the opposition of some European countries, in steep decline, who fear the changes that this will bring. 

  • JabbaPapa

    Doctrine does sort of evolve, but at a snail’s pace.
    Pastoral or disciplinary doctrines can of course tend to vary quite naturally from cntury to century, but even the dogmatics can change, additively anyway, over the centuries and millennia.
    Change is not necessarily denial, nor the changing of doctrine into its opposite – denial or the warping of doctrine is I think what Pius X was condemning, not the slow accretion of extra doctrines as carefully elaborated within the fullness of Tradition.