Tomatoes, cucumbers and Sharia

Posted by judyw on July 21, 2008

This has only the most tenuous connection to refugee resettlement* but it is so funny and pointed that I have to post it. It’s called Stupidity and the Shari’a in Our Times, by Haider Ala Hamoudi, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School. Hamoudi is a Muslim who thinks his fellow Muslim law professors do not deal correctly with the insane ways that Sharia is interpreted. His account of a conversation with a vegetable seller in Baghdad is priceless.

I felt I had to ask him about the alleged prohibition of salad.

“Yes, yes, he replied.” No cucumbers and tomatoes together. Even placing them side by side in these crates would have led at least to a whipping maybe death.

The seller tries to explain, and begins by asking the author what a tomato reminds him of:

“It looks like a tomato, that’s what leads me to conclude it is a tomato. If it looked like a horse, I’d say it was a horse. It does not. It looks like a tomato. It is a tomato.” I think I am making a philosophical point, maybe Hume or something, but it’s almost 120F outside and I don’t want to be dilly dallying asking about Al Qaeda. If the terrorists don’t get me, the police might. Hume can wait.

“Okay,” he relents, “what else might it resemble? Notice it is red, like a woman’s lipstick. It is soft and round. Get it? It reminds you of a woman’s flesh.”

“I see,” I said. But I thought, man do you need a wife if you look at a tomato and think that.Then he picked up the cucumber and was about to ask me what I thought it looked like, when I cut him off. That one I could follow better. If a tomato was a woman, I could well assume what a cucumber was.

 So the idea is that it reminds people of sex, it’s the mixing of the man and the woman, the cucumber and the tomato, and unlawful sex at that, and so they forbade it.”

Hamoudi is a practical kind of guy, so he looks for a legal solution:

 Finally, a thought occurred to me. I asked “what if you married the two of them?”


“If I married the cucumber and the tomato and made them lawful partners, would that be okay? Then it’s lawful sex,” I said. I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation.

“I thought you were a professor. How can a cucumber and a tomato get married? They’re vegetables,” he replied. And with this sound logic, the conversation soon ended. 

There’s more. His main point is that most Islamic law scholars look at things like this and say that’s not Islamic law, so they don’t deal with it. But they need to, because it is law as practiced by Muslims.

(*The tenuous connection with refugees is that many Muslims practice some weird things that may not be official Sharia, but nonetheless are terribly damaging to societies and individuals, and do we want to bring those practices here? Female genital mutilation is the most notable example.)


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