Friday, September 1st, 2017, was a Muslim holiday around the world and Nigeria had its own fair share of the celebrations. I took out time to visit two Muslim friends. One of them had been the main person that had helped secure my release from police detention back in April and I thought a visit like that was apt. The other person had invited me personally and I could not turn down his invitation. By 8pm, when I returned home, I had fed on enough mutton that normally should have lasted me a week. I had stepped it all down with soft drinks and a can of Malt. You couldn’t ask for a better day.
Despite these two visits, I had been expecting meat from a third source. When I returned home, I asked about the meat. I was told that it was brought alright, but had been turned back: on the assumption that I was a Christian and I was not supposed to eat Salah meat. I was disappointed but with a tummy protruding with Salah feasting, I could not complain too much. Nonetheless, I felt my Salah day experience deserved a thought here.
There is no biblical injunction that says Christians are not to eat Salah meat. Not one! I will discuss two scriptures to support my position and then provide some commonsensical conclusions to the matter.
The question of whether or not to eat Salah meat was brought to Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 8. Actually it was not called “Salah meat” but “food offered to idols”. Many Christians regard the killing of the Salah ram as an offering of sacrifice to the Muslim Allah. They see this as offering sacrifice to an idol. I do not dispute this. What, however, I am concerned with is how we Christians loose sight of Paul’s argument in that chapter. He was saying essentially that there is no other God but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore whatever sacrifice is made to idols, is done to no god at all. He enjoined Christians to come up to a place of knowledge and not permit a weak conscience trouble their liberties. But if their consciences were not strong enough in this knowledge, they were to desist from eating food they regard as offered to idols. In other words: there is nothing wrong with eating food offered to idols. But if your conscience considers it as wrong, then don’t eat it. Therefore the standard of right or wrong regarding mere matters of food and drink is not God’s to make but us.
Jesus lent a voice to this position when he told his disciples and the Jews questioning his liberties that it is not what goes into a man that defiles him but what comes out of him (Matthew 15:10). In other words, mere food do not defile men. Rather it is the state of men’s hearts and the words and actions it produces that defiles them.
It brings us to a crucial matter concerning Christian/Muslim relations. The two religions claim root from Abraham. Both claim worship of one God. And both have almost equal number of adherents around the world. Everyone of us were born into the raging debates regarding the veracity of each of these religions. Each religion seeks proselytes from each other. Wole Soyinka, who is neither Muslim or Christian, says the two religion are simply rivals in our body polity. And I agree with him.
Although I am a Christian evangelist, I am convinced that preaching doctrinal matters will do little to convince either parties of the veracity of their religion in certain instances. Rather it is living these doctrines that will do the magic. This should further confirm Christ’s admonition to his disciples: it is not a legalistic adherence to a list of dos and don’ts that pleases God, rather it is a changed heart which manifests through words of grace and actions occasioned by charity. Legalism will tell you what to eat and what not to eat, but charity will inform graceful actions.
When I reached my first host that day, I noticed there was a flat behind his house. I asked why he built it. He said he built it for his mother. That he knew his mother will be living with him and rather than have her in the main building with his wife, he will rather have her in her own house: her own territory. This man is Dr. Abass Abdus-sallam. This is true religion (James 1:27). I confess that I have not seen such a wisdom anywhere, even among Christians. That is a honorable thing to do and God will always bless it. However I could never have learnt that if I had not visited him.
While my Christian friends were arguing over whether it was right for me to protest Apostle’s Suleiman’s visit to UI or not, and suffer arrest, Abdus-sallam was bailing me out of detention. That, again, is true religion. It is the same man who built a house for his mother in his compound. The veracity of your religion’s doctrines should be seen through your graceful actions.
As I was preparing to leave his home, two of his friends came to visit. One with his family and the other came alone. They were both professing Christians. Then it occurred to me: most Muslim families will be at home celebrating the holidays. Their guests, if they have any, will therefore be mostly Christians. Therefore a leading way of commending love, comradeship and affection to Muslims should be by visiting them on Salah days and eating the very meat that many Christians today have now regarded as anathema. What our doctrines fail to do, our actions can succeed at.
After two thousand years since the Bible was written, there are contemporary issues that it has no direct answers for. But love answers all things (1 Corinthians 13). We can debate Salah meat till thine kingdom, but how much charity do you convey to a Muslim when you reject a piece of meat he offers you or when you discard his meat into the dustbin – meat he bought with his hard earned resources? I am convinced you have shown very little charity and in the process failed in Christ’s demand on us to commend our religion to men through love (John 13:34-35).