Subway succumbs to sharia
“Today I place my faith in, and am grateful to Allah the almighty, to announce that tomorrow, Thursday, 1 May, 2014, will see the enforcement of sharia law phase one, to be followed by the other phases,” said the Sultan of Brunei, as he took his oil-rich Abode of Peace back to the dark ages with the imposition of sharia law for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Phase one, we understand, refers to certain civil matters like marriage and divorce. "Other phases" includes, well.. we know only too well. A country which has been independent from the United Kingdom for just 30 years is about to subject its entire population - including Christians, Buddhists and a 1,000-strong regiment of the British Army - to the hanging of gays, flogging of fornicators, stoning of adulterers and the dismemberment of thieves.
Sharia law phase one in the UK has rather a more liberal face. Formally, the system has no legal jurisdiction at all: provided an activity prescribed by sharia principles does not contravene the law, Muslims are free to live as they wish. And this is as it ought to be in a liberal democracy which embraces diversity and advances religious tolerance. There is no problem at all - bar those concerns relating to animal welfare - with a commercial food chain like Subway catering for Muslim tastes in Tower Hamlets, as one might expect them to cater for Jewish proclivities in Golders Green or Sikh cravings in Southall.
Except, of course, where they do offer kosher meat, non-Jewish customers are given the choice of a hearty BLT baguette; and Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and Hare Krishnas are able to choose the vegetarian option should they so desire.
But such freedom of choice is apparently no longer available in 185 Subway outlets in 'Muslim areas' (probably Bradford, Oldham, Birmingham, Leicester, Slough and parts of London), where ham and bacon are banned and all meat is halal. Non-Muslim customers are somewhat limited in their selection of sandwich filling because, Subway say, of a "strong demand" from Muslims. Quite how strong isn't entirely clear. But it's obviously an awful lot stronger than the demands of Jews, Christians or Sikhs, all of whom may very well object to eating meat which has been sacrificed exclusively by Muslim butchers beneath the blade-thrusting declaration: "Bismillah Allah-hu-Akbar!" (‘In the name of Allah, who is the greatest’).
While Christians are at liberty to consume whatever their conscience permits (Mk 7:19; Acts 10:10-15), St Paul expresses a particular concern over "meat offered to idols" (1Cor 10:14-32). But this assumes that the believer is aware that the meat has been blessed in the name of Allah, who is, as we know, the greatest.
If the Christian is kept in the dark, Paul is rather chilled about the matter until someone comes along and makes the believer aware that the meat was idol-sacrificed. Christians are then exhorted not to eat the meat for their sake: we may eat and drink anything unless and until it causes another to stumble.
Subway halal meat is clearly labelled, but they aren't overly bothered about the dietary sensitivities of Christians. Not even those Christians who live in 'Muslim areas'. Probably because they have made no "strong demand".
Unlike Hindus, some Sikhs eat meat, not least because one of their gurus (Gobind Singh) is often portrayed hunting on horseback, and he probably wasn't out coursing for lettuce. Yet within the Sikh religion are the ‘kurahit’, or prohibitions - one of which is not to eat meat "killed in the Muslim way". The origins, as ever, have more to do with the historic subcontinental politics of identity, but it is a sustained article of belief for Sikhs all over the world that they are simply not permitted to eat halal meat at all.
And, for Jews, while halal is similar to kosher in regard to the method of slaughter - shechitah - it is certainly not the same in respect of utensil usage, the mixing of milk and meat, and the foodstuffs which may be consumed (shellfish, for example, are eaten by many Muslims).
But Subway aren't overly bothered about the dietary sensitivities of Sikhs and Jews either. Not even those Sikhs and Jews who live in 'Muslim areas'. Probably because, like the Christians, they have made no "strong demand".
And so, once again, we come to the place where "strong" religious demands subjugate the rights and ride roughshod over the sensitivities of those who make no religious demand. In the pyramid of competing rights, various groups are vying for hegemony at the expense of others, and in Subway a victor has clearly emerged. The store has become a souk. Or 185 of them, at least.
His Grace does not do boycotts.
Unless, of course, he feels strongly about a matter.
Subway has just lost a customer.
But they won't care, of course, principally because His Grace's 12.8k Twitter followers can make no "strong demand" or inflict any economic damage.
Stephen Fry's 6.8m Twitter followers may, however, make a "strong demand" on The Dorchester Collection of hotels, which are owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Mr Fry has decided to boycott the prestigious chain in protest at the imminent 'phase two' sharia stoning/hanging/dismemberment of gays in the Sultanate. And the whole of Hollywood and the global fashion industry are seemingly following his lead.
Since the Church has largely gone Trappist, maybe Christians need a new flexible mechanism for making "strong demands" on commercial enterprises and political parties - perhaps something like 'Holy Vote'.