Hamon sa pag-iwas ng pagkain ng hamon (The challenge of not eating ham)

Aliyya Sawadjaan
Filipino Muslims and the challenges of not eating pork ham during Christmas

'SYMBOL OF THE NOCHE BUENA.' How do our Muslim brothers and sisters deal with a season where pork is a major dish? Aliyya Sawadjaan tells us. Photo from the Christmas Hams Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – It’s Christmas eve. After days of shopping for Christmas gifts, today, Filipinos flock to the market to buy the necessities for their Noche Buena — ingredients for delicious spaghetti and fruit salad, plus the ever-present queso de bola and, of course, ham.

The Christmas ham is a dish that people only have during Christmastime so it is definitely one of the main parts of their Christmas feast. In fact, some advertisements dub it “the symbol of Noche Buena.”

Muslims do not celebrate Christmas. Nevertheless, we welcome the birth of one of our prophets, Jesus; he is one of the 25 prophets mentioned in the Qu’ran.

Another thing Muslims do not do is eat ham or pork in general, Christmas or not. It is haram to us or forbidden and therefore a major sin.

I always get asked why we do not eat pork. I admit that I have had my share of near misses but have never actually slipped and eaten pork or its by-products. I have not eaten in establishments that primarily serve pork.

The most devout Muslims will not eat in restaurants unless it is certified as halal by Islamic organizations. 

In a country where majority of the population is comprised of Catholics and Christians, it is difficult to find and eat at restaurants where the food is halal. So what do I do? What I learned as a child attending Sunday classes taught by an uncle is that, if in doubt, say a short prayer before eating.

As I grew older and learned to order and eat by myself, I would always ask the server if the food I was interested in ordering had pork in it. If a particular dish did have pork in it, I would ask if it was possible to replace it with another ingredient that is not haram. Thankfully, many establishments oblige. 

What do halal and haram mean exactly? When referring to food, halal means “permitted” or “lawful” in accordance to Muslim dietary rules, similar to kosher for Jews. Haram is the opposite of halal, or “forbidden.”

So who told us that pork is forbidden for Muslims to eat? It is written in the Holy Qu’ran that Allah has forbidden us to eat “the flesh of swine” — 

“He has forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah. But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” 2:173

To many Muslims, this simple verse is enough for us to never touch or eat pork.

Here is my request: If and when you will be having a Muslim as a guest in your home, please be mindful of what is and what is not permitted for us to eat.

Aside from pork, we are also not allowed to eat blood — of all animals. No chicken dinuguan for us, please. Even if it is chicken, it is still blood.

Some people think that Muslims have a boring food selection consisting only of beef, chicken and seafood. Not true. As I have already demonstrated in another story written for Rappler, we have many ways of preparing, cooking and serving these

So the next time someone asks us why we do not eat pork, please read this article and be enlightened by the customs and practices of your Muslim brothers and sisters. Please feel free to share this story and information, too. We wish all of you a very merry Christmas. – Rappler.com

(Aliyya Sawadjaan is the great grandddaughter of Senator Hadji Butuh. Senator Butuh served as prime minister to various sultans of Sulu in the 1800s; his first Senate bill in the 1900s sponsored the establishment of the Philippine Military Academy, Philippine Naval Academy and the compulsory military instruction in all Philippine schools.)