Words Insiya K.
Insiya. What can I say about Insiya? She is the definition of charm, enthrallment and magic. Insiya. If I’m being overly honest, talkative is another term. Now THAT Insiya admits can be a bane. Her grandmother calls her the “bak-bak machine”. I kid you not, she needs to be scolded sometimes in order to shut her up. Insiya. Humor is her second name. Asking to be her friend is like asking for laughing gas. She will cheer you up in an instant. Insiya. Sigh, Insiya. She’s an unstoppable grenade. Watch out for her. She’ll swoop into your life and change it forever.
Growing up in Singapore for a good 19 years, halal vs non halal food was never a problem for me. Everywhere I looked; there would be some restaurant or fast food place I could grab a bite from. It was something I took for granted because of the abundance of convenience to my way of life that halal is the way to go. I was lucky having grown up in such a country where I could find any cuisine at its finest, edible. After I moved to America, this changed. I live near Los Angeles and maybe there are other parts in America which share the same halal culture with Singapore, but not where I live at the very least. There isn’t a single fast food outlet that is halal around here and restaurants that are halal, are in limited numbers, and not to mention, a long drive away.
When I first came, I couldn’t quite grasp that my food choices would become so limited. I for one am a foodie. This is why when I came here, I ignored the halal-non halal debate in my mind and indulged in their food anyway. I thought to myself; I don’t have much of a choice. If I limit my options then I can say goodbye to outside food! God will understand. And just like that, for the next 6 months, I convinced myself that it is okay to eat all that food because I was compelled. As a family, yes, we would only go to halal places to eat, but I alone, when having to eat out, didn’t have the willpower to go vegetarian or find a halal place. Deep down, my conscience was slowly, but surely, gnawing away at me.
Then, two incidences happened that helped me get out of this deep rut I was burying myself into. A striking question posed by our Head Moalim here in madrasah and of course, 1437H Houston Ashara.
I was in madrasah once substituting a teacher and we were sitting through assembly as per usual. Janab then started talking about which ingredients we should avoid and look out for in our food products here and he was even giving us names of shops where halal meat is available. As he ended his topic that day, he left us with a powerful rhetorical question that still resonates in my ears up till today. He said, and I will translate, “Our body is made up of what we eat, is it not? If we are eating all this non-halal food, then is our body even paak enough to go to Jannat? It’s something you should ponder on.” And he left it at that. That day, my conscience became ever powerful and the gnaws were becoming bigger and bigger. His words had settled deeply at the back of my mind.
The last straw then, would be the second experience- that is Houston Ashara. On one of the waaz days, Moula (TUS) continuously emphasized on the importance of halal food and how we have to be strong, especially in Western countries because there isn’t a distinct culture on halal products.
Moula (TUS) said:
khuda’s ayat fakolu mimma zokeras mullahe alayhe
and explained its meaning;
If a halal animal hasn’t been slaughtered with a bismillah and khuda’s name, then it is not edible for our consumption.
Moula furthers this zikr by explaining that bakrao ya halal jaanwar par ehne zabihat karti waqt bismillah khuda nu naam lewa ma aawe toh ye khawaai kem ke ehwi taaseer (influence) pare che je na sabab aa zabihat nu halat badlaai jaai che ane je na peth ma jaai che ehne bhi ye taaseer ni barakat mile che.
After I left from Moula’s waaz Mubarak that day, along with Janab’s words that had stuck with me, I made the decision not to consume any non-halal food anymore. A lot of what inspired me during ashara was also seeing the kind of shoq and walwalo mumineen had towards Moula (TUS) and just internalizing and understanding how each one of these mumineen are trying to be the best version of themselves and trying to obey Moula’s every command played a part in me wanting to have more of that shoq and walwalo as well. Thus, up till today, I’ve stayed with my decision.
How I’ve worked it out is like this: If going to a halal place to eat is not possible, I will have the vegetarian option on the menu. There is never a restaurant where one can’t find a meatless dish and I realized this fact after starting on my new journey. You can even have a vegetarian burger from IN-N-OUT! It is actually hard and I will not lie. Going out with friends for meals and seeing them order mouth-watering food like beef burgers, America’s famous waffles and chicken, steaks and whatnot, is a true test to my willpower but I remind myself of these two experiences I’ve had in the past year and have thus, been able to stick it out. I think about the repercussions of not eating halal food and I don’t want to go through that by intentionally eating something that hurts my Moula(tus), my body and my soul.
The most important lesson I’ve learnt is “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” All that previous self-talk about not having a choice and being compelled were nothing but excuses. Up till this day, I’ve never had any “compulsions” or was never left “choiceless”.
You are what you eat but you also are what you tell yourself.