Opinion: Muslim vacationers worry over availability of halal food abroad


JEDDAH: Many Muslims who travel to a non-Muslim countries say that getting halal food is a major concern, and many say that they are reluctant to eat in restaurants that serve pork.

Some say that this has been such an obstacle for them in some non-Muslim countries that it ruined their trips. Others say that they prefer not to travel to non-Muslim countries for this reason. They also say that people who frequently travel to a country know where to get halal food more easily than people who are on their first trip.

“When we visited for the first time a non-Muslim Asian country, we were not concerned about food, we were just thinking about the trip and sightseeing, and other travel-related matters,” said Rehma Moutlaq, a Saudi housewife.

“But naturally soon we were hungry and when we looked at the menu we saw that they were serving pork. My husband and I felt we just couldn’t order, because how can we be sure that the same knife and spoon used in cooking the pork was not used in preparing other food in the kitchen?”

Moutlaq says she and her husband went to the local market to look for food. “When we went to the market we were shocked to see little puppies, cats and snakes for sale for eating. Every restaurant we entered served pork, and some restaurants had large fridges with cut-up body parts of pigs on display for customers to choose what they would like to order; there was everything of the animal, from its hooves to its ears and intestines,” said Moutlaq.

“How could we eat at such restaurants? I bought some cakes and biscuits from a shop, but I threw them away because when I opened the packet it smelled like it had pork fat in it … I think people who eat pork are taking risks with their health.”

Moutlaq and her husband were invited to a restaurant by some locals whom they had befriended. The restaurant served pork, but, not to be rude to their new friends, they did not refuse the invitation. Still, they were worried sick about what they would order.

“My husband and I looked carefully at the menu and decided to order barbecued fish and prawns. For the rest of the trip we survived on bread, boiled eggs and fruits.”

Another concern Muslim travelers stress is the use of alcohol in cooking, and whether the meat has been slaughtered in accordance to Shariah, which they say is most unlikely in non-Muslim countries.

“When I go abroad, if I can’t find a restaurant that is run by Muslims, I order only vegetarian food or seafood because I don’t think meat served in non-Muslim restaurants is halal,” said Abdul Aziz Al-Ghamdi.

N. Sulaiman says she prefers not to travel to non-Muslim countries as she feels uncomfortable eating food in restaurants that serve pork.

“I used to feel uncomfortable to eat food off plates in such restaurants because I know that at some point pork must have been served on these same plates,” said Sulaiman.

“It used to bother me so much that I asked a sheikh if it was OK to eat in plates that had pork served in them previously. He said since the plates are washed it’s OK.”