By Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D
Muslims living in the Western countries avoid eating pork and pork products. Because the believers are asked by Allah (SWT) in the Glorious Qur'an to eat of the good things and to avoid eating pork in the following verses:
“0 ye believe! eat of the good things that We have provided for you be grateful to Allah if it is Him ye worship (2:172)
“He hath only forbidden you dead meat and blood and the flesh of swine and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of Allah but if one is forced by necessity without willful disobedience not transgressing due limits then is he guiltless. For Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful.” (2:173)
Commenting on the above verse (2:173), Allama Yusuf Ali says Carrion or dead meat and blood as articles of food would obviously cause disgust to any refined person. So would swine’s flesh where the swine live on offal. Where swine are fed artificially on clean food, the objections remain: (1) that they are filthy animals in other respects, and the flesh of filthy animals taken as food affects the eaten; (2) that swine’s flesh has more fat then muscle-building material; and (3) that it is more liable to disease than other kinds of meat; e.g., trichinosis, characterized by hair-like worms in the muscular tissue. As to food dedicated to idols or false gods, it is obviously unseemly for the Children of Unity to partake of it.”
“Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah that which hath been killed by strangling or by a violent blow or by a headlong fall or being gored to death; that which hath been (partly) eaten by a wild animal; unless you are able to slaughter it (in due form); that which is sacrificed on stone (alters); (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) raffling with arrows: that is impiety. This day have those who reject faith given up all hope of your religion: yet fear them not but fear Me. This day have I perfected your religion for you completed my favor upon you and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. But if any forced by hunger with no inclination to transgression Allah is indeed Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful (5:3)
Say: "I find not in the Message received by me by inspiration any (meat forbidden to be eaten by one who wishes to eat it unless it be dead meat or blood poured forth or the flesh of swine for it is an abomination of what is impious (meat) on which a name has been invoked other then Allah‘s.” But (even so) if a person is forced by necessity without wilful disobedience nor transgressing due limits thy Lord is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful "(6:145)
The following verse is very profound in the light of modern knowledge:
Those who conceal Allah’s revelations in the Book and purchase for them a miserable profit they swallow into themselves naught but fire; Allah will not address them on the Day of Resurrection nor purify them; grievous will be their penalty. (2:174)
Yusuf Ali comments on the above verse as follows: “They eat nothing but fire into their bellies” is a literal translation that produces an effect of rude inelegance which is not in the Arabic words. Even in the matter of food and drinks, the mission of Islam is to avoid the extremes of lawlessness on the one hand and extreme formalism on the other. It has laid down a few simply and very reasonable rules. Their infraction causes loss of health or physical powers in any case. But if there is further a spirit of subjective rebellion or fraud-passing off in the name of religion something which is far from the purpose - the consequences become also moral and spiritual. Then it becomes a sin against Faith and Spirit. Continuing the physical simile, we actually swallow fire into ourselves. Imagine the torments which we should have if we swallowed fire into our physical body! They would be infinitely worse in our spiritual state, and they would go on to the Day of Resurrection, when we shall be deprived even of the words which the judge speaks to a reasonable culprit, and we shall certainly not win His Grace and Mercy.
I am stunned by the words “They eat nothing but fire into their bellies.” One can understand these words after reading the following true story.
A Young Victim
A beautiful but diabetic 20 year old Christian girl was wheeled towards an operating room one spring afternoon in May 1991 in Yale-New Haven Hospital emergency room in Connecticut. Today she is alive and does not know whether the credit goes to the wonders of modern scientific medicine or the spiritual intercession of her long-dead father. After recovery her doctors told her never to eat pork again.
Her complaint was that her abdomen was aching and her arms and legs became numb. Her abdomen severely hurt, like a tight muscle spasm and everything was squeezed together.
A battery of tests performed on her revealed a clinical picture of sepsis, a massive bloodstream infection that would lead rapidly to inadequacy of the circulation, which in turn often results in organ failure and death. The condition of the young woman was deteriorating rapidly. Her legs were quite swollen quite swollen from the knees downward and her face became puffy. The abdomen was so distended that it partially obscured the view of the heaving rib cage. The surgeon figured out that her intestine were blown up with gas, and there was no peristalsis and no rhythmic contractions that push along the intestine’s contents in normal, individuals. The rapid belly ballooning is called meteorism by the doctors, which means it is a belly with dead bowel in it. This explained the patient’s sepsis and the imminent need for an operation was felt.
In the operating room the patient was thinking “I am going to die - I am 20 year old, and I am going. to die.” A priest came and was praying by making the sign of the cross and the patient thought this is the last rites. The patient believed in the power of God and felt the presence of her father all the time, although he had died when she was 10. She found her father tell ing her “No, not yet.” The patient told her mother “I am going to live.” Immediately the surgical team went into action, the surgeon made a long up-and-down incision in the middle of the very distended abdomen and as the abdomen was opened a malodorous yellowish fluid poured out and it was collected into several large trap bottles. The volume was six pints. The surgeon removed 15 inches dead small bowel and gave the specimen to the pathology resident. The surgeons re-constructed the gut with staples. The patient’s gaping abdomen was washed with ten quarts of warmed antibiotic-laced saline and rinsed out as much of bacterial and other debris as possible. The abdomen was closed with 30 staples into the skin. The doctors did not know why this happened to the patient’s intestine.
The pathologist whose specialty is diseases of the gastro-intestinal tract found the answer - enteritis necroticans- the thing they call pigbel. Microscopic examination of excised specimen revealed thousands upon thousands of rod-shaped bacteria that belong to the genus of bacillus called Clostridium which are closely related to the microscopic organisms that cause tetanus and gas gangrene. The toxins (poisonous substances) released by these microbes are capable of causing inflammation and necrosis (death and decay) of the intestinal wall -hence the name enteritis necroticans. Clostridia is responsible for the young woman’s sepsis, and all the bowel, neurological and skin symptoms were the result of the bacterium and its toxins. The toxins also produce the destruction of cells of some voluntary muscle tissue, a process calledrhabdomyolysis which the patient exhibited.
Amalgamation of massive clostridial growth in intestine, sepsis, rhabdomyolysis and the patient’s diabetic problems could explain the entire spectrum of destructive events the patient had been experiencing. Ordinarily a moderate number of clostridia live in harmony with other bowel’s organism in the gut. Unless some incident occurs to disturb the harmony among the bowel's organisms and chemicals, clostridia do not increase in number to be a source of peril. To the doctors it is an intellectual challenge to fund out what upset the intestinal homeostasis causing a mammoth overgrowth of clostridia. The doctors were hesitant to tell the patient’s mother that her daughter has a disease whose name is pidgin or “pig belly.”
This same process kills thousands of New Guinea tribes people every year. Acute pigbel is a major cause of premature death in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Eighty Five percent of the people who contract the disease die. It is second only to respiratory disease in mortality and it is a leading killer of children in the region. The highest incidence occurs at the time of the year when ceremonial pig feasting takes peace. This disease has been meticulously studied and it is possible to describe its evolution with substantial definitiveness.
The pig festival is an indispensable component of numerous rituals associated with the countless varieties of highland carnivals and offerings. The food is always prepared in a conventional style. After the pigs are clubbed to death, their intestines are removed, washed, wrapped in leaves. Laminates of filleted carcass, guts, banana leaves, and breadfruit are kept into ground craters along with sweet potatoes or banana, chopped greens and preheated stones. The layers are packed with pigs’ quarters and flanks. A large steam oven is created whose internal temperature is 172 degree Fahrenheit. This heating results in inadequate cooking of the meat and contributes to plenitude of chance for bacterial contamination. After the cooking the banquet takes place in the most unhygienic conditions that a sanitation inspector has ever seen. These conditions are perfect for the breeding of hazardous organism such as clostridia. The human body has a defense mechanism as it produces an enzymes called trypsin which destroys the clostridial toxin. Unfortunately, sweet potatoes contain a chemical that inhibits the action of trypsin. The natives use sweet potatoes not only during pig feast as a major dish, but also as a staple food. Thus the consumption of large amounts of clostridia rich meat along with bountiful doses of trypsin inhibitor produces the impeccable blend to coax fulminating flare-ups of pigbel. The situation becomes more deplorable with the presence of intestinal round-worms (Ascaris lumbricoides), a parasite that secretes its own brand of trypsin inhibitor, adding to what is already in the poisoned meals.
As for the clinical symptoms of the illness in the tribal people of Papua New Guinea, they are exactly the same as that was displayed in the young patient in New Haven, Connecticut. Only thing absent was the segments characteristic to diabetes.
The disease, Enteritis necroticans, is caused by the overgrowth of clostridia bacteria and it appeared as an epidemic disease of identical nature in post World War II Germany as Darmbrand or fire bowels. Outbreaks of the same thing have been described sporadically in numerous African countries, China, Bangladesh, the Solomon Islands, and among Khmer children in Thailand. There have been occasional accounts of individual patients dying of enteritis necroticans in affluent Western nations, but no real epidemics have occurred. In 1983, a 23-year old photographer model died in England’s Royal Liverpool Hospital. Autopsy revealed massive clostridial overgrowth in the esophagus, stomach and upper portion of the small intestine. The characteristics of this case are stunningly analogous to pigbel. In Netherlands in 1984 a young diabetic male nurse died 24 hours after being admitted with characteristic manifestations. He had eaten an unspecified amount of pork at a party the day before becoming sick. Being a diabetic he had decreased resistance to bacteria.
Two days later the New Haven patient’s entire body was bloated and swollen. Her abdomen was bulging so tightly that it strained against the stitches (from previous operation) holding together. In the Operating Room, the surgeons removed another 18 inches of intestine from the duodenal-jejunal junction. The excised segment looked exactly like the segment removed 48 hours earlier. Within 24 hours the rhabdomyolysis had reduced, her kidneys function improved, sepsis was much less, livedo reticularis had begun to recede. Within 24 hours she improved on all fronts. The improvement continued and she stayed in MICU (medical intensive care unit) for three weeks before she was transferred to an acute-care floor where she remained for an additional two months and then moved to the hospital’s rehabilitation unit.
She was discharged from the hospital after she had entered it. It took another four months for her to regain enough strength to return to college to complete her sophomore year as an education major.