I saw the eager look in my son’s face as friends gathered around and compared what they got. But the moment he stepped out of class and showed me the packet, saying excitedly, ‘Look, look, mom!,’ I was certain that he could not eat those sweets because of the gelatine content. I told him gently that we have to see first if we can eat that, sayang. And he became quiet but then nodded. ‘Ok,’ he said, like the good boy that he is.
And as soon as I reached home, I studied the ingredients and sure enough, I saw the word gelatine and there was no ‘Suitable for Vegetarians’ anywhere in sight which made me conclude that the gelatine may not be Halal, and therefore my sons cannot eat them.
‘It’s not halal, sayang, we can’t eat this.’
‘Is it very haram mom?’ my eldest enquired in his usual way.
‘Yes’, I said simply. ‘We can’t eat them because we’re muslims and this is not halal.’ (I have explained to him already that there is no such thing as very haram or a little haram, but he keeps on saying very haram anyway, for emphasis, I suppose. For those of you who don't know, halal and haram is a digital concept of sorts: it's either halal or haram - there is no in between.)
‘I am special because I am a muslim, mom,’ he went on, repeating something he heard somewhere, I think from the ‘I Look and See’ cassette by Yusuf Islam (and friends) that we always play for the kids in the car.
‘Yes you are special.’ I said with a smile and off he went with his brother, those very haram sweets already forgotten. But as I am quite a soft hearted person and really senang kesian, I went to get some chocolates for them, to compensate for those sweets. I made a mental note to explain the best that I can about this matter to him. Later.
I couldn’t help thinking of all the other muslim boys and girls who opened the packets themselves and ate those sweets behind their parents back. Most of them kept the sweets in their bags after all and most working parents are too busy to notice these things. I remember walking in a mall the following weekend and saw some young boys (of middle eastern descent) walking with their hijab clad mum. They were eating exactly what I threw away in the bin a few days before that - those sweets with gelatine in them. Didn’t that woman with the hijab read the ingredients on the packet? Or was she just ‘lenient’ in that sense? Don’t they want their children to grow up to be good muslims? And if they do, shouldn’t they teach their children about these things from young? And I am very, very scared of this: can our children grow up to be anak-anak soleh and solehah when we let them consume all that gelatine and alcohol, perhaps not taken directly, but as an ingredient in their food, and in many cases, we are unaware of?
I am no pious woman but pondering upon THAT scares the hell out of me.
And then there was that birthday party my child attended at McDonald’s. The choices of food for our children were stated in the invitation card: hamburger, cheeseburger, chicken nuggets and fish fingers. Of course, the choice for my son was obvious: the fish fingers. But when we attended the party, I saw some muslim children eating the chicken nuggets with their mummies watching on from outside the party area.
And some strict muslims do not even allow their children to step into McDonalds’ due to the uncertainties about the handling, frying oil and utensils etc. Not to mention about the emails we get about their support for Israel or things like that.
But I was consoled by what happened a few days after that day when my son brought back that packet of sweets. He came out of his classroom and showed me a sweet. A different one.
‘Mom, the teacher said must show your mum first before you can eat it.’
Some good muslim parent must have pointed out to the teacher about the last packet of sweets. I was relieved. There is at least one other muslim parent who is concerned about what their child is eating and was concerned enough to inform the teacher about it.
Alhamdulillah. It's not easy to bring up one's children in a non Islamic environment when all you want is the best for your child, in every aspect.
I am not alone where this is concerned after all.