Never leave out the ham

By Raffique Shah
December 26, 2023

Raffique ShahThere is a kind of universality about Christmas that makes it impossible to ignore what it means to more than 30% of the world’s population whose spiritualism is anchored in Christianity. Christmas, whether its story is fiction or fact, remains a religious beacon to fewer people in contrast to the expanding populations across the world. There is no evidence, too, that Christianity maintains a leading position when the religions of the world are assessed on their impact on global affairs.

What is undeniable, though, is that Christmas is the leading commercialised season as far as religious or any other holidays go, and I’m not just referring to the day itself; rather, I am referring to the build-up to the day and the events that follow immediately after. Again, I have not explored studies done on this aspect of Christianity. But in the western world where consumer spending is best quantified, the evidence shows that sales of goods in every major market in the world increase significantly at Christmas time.

I make this statement mindful of the fact that consumer markets in high population centres that are of other religious or cultural persuasion can claim that they generate higher-than-average sales of goods and services during their festival seasons. Not only that, but my daughter tells me the halal beef ham sections in major supermarkets are sold out almost as soon as they are put out. Now, I should add that I was shocked to hear there is halal ham; she assured me it was beef.

My late father, I am sure, who was very much a Muslim but by no means a fanatic, would have been in serious shock, mortified even, on hearing of halal hams. This is the same man who scrubbed clean my sisters Jinnahroon and Shamaroon after they, along with other neighbourhood children, went hog-riding on Mr Chai Hong’s boar in Freeport.

Anyway, hog-riding aside, what exactly is a halal ham? And why is it that while my daughter was toy shopping, she was jostled out of place by a hijabi looking for the latest loot?

I come from a Muslim family that takes their religion seriously. So, too, are many other families, be they Muslim, Hindu or Christian. I respect everyone’s rights to belong to and practise a religion of choice. We of all religious persuasions must learn to respect other people’s rights to their beliefs. More importantly, their right to make money and live comfortably, once they earn such wealth by fair business or other practices.

So if during this Christmas season Muslims, Hindus and Jews outperform the Christians buying hams, I will let them be.

Before I accepted a cadetship to Sandhurst in 1964, the commanding officer, Colonel Joffre Serrette, in what I saw as a bid to steer me towards the Coast Guard and away from becoming the first Indian officer in the regiment said, “Son, are you sure you want to be in the army, not the Coast Guard? We cook pork here, yuh know.”

I looked him squarely in the face and said, “Sir, yes, I want to join the army. I won’t eat pork but I am sure the cooks will be able to find some food that is suitable for me and others like me, as they did when I attended cadet camp over the past four years.”

When I arrived at Sandhurst, the master cook discussed with me the food that was available to me; having himself served in the British army in India, he knew what Muslims, Hindus and soldiers of other religions consume and told us accordingly. I was never compromised in this regard in the seven or so years I spent in the military. Not much later, after prison, I would become vegetarian and I have maintained that since.

Commercialism aside, it bothers me knowing that right here in Trinidad and many Caribbean islands, thousands of children and adults go hungry while a significant majority splurge unnecessarily on food that will go into the fridge, only to be dumped a few days later because “it spoil”. The middle class and the wealthy are guilty of over-consumption during the holidays.

Lest you forget there are also those ungrateful ones amongst us who cry about their food hampers missing snacks and most importantly “d’ham”, as one person did to my daughter’s friend. I often wish that people will be more discerning about what they consume and indulge in; I am no exception when it comes to consuming crap.

Having made my points, I wish my readers and my fellow countrymen a safe, enjoyable and happy Christmas season.