Hospitality & Halal

Noel Coppedge is an RUF-International intern at the University of South Carolina. He graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas earlier this year with a degree in Psychology and married Emily, his wife, last December. Both enjoy hosting students in their home, trying new things, listening to music, and taking road trips!

Surah Al Nahl

“O ye who believe, eat of the good things we have provided for you, and render thanks to Allah, if it is He whom you really worship. He has made unlawful to you only that which dies of itself, and blood and the flesh of swine, and that on which the name of any other than Allah has been invoked.” (Qur’an 2:173-174)

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.” (Romans 14:17-20).

A few weeks ago, my wife Emily and I invited 18 students into our home for dinner and board game night. I thought that maybe half of them would be available, but– all 18 students came! Fortunately, we had just purchased a folding table and chairs so we had the perfect number of seats for everyone. The real challenge was food. Don’t get me wrong, our current kitchen is certainly an upgrade from our college kitchen, but feeding 18 students, ourselves, and two volunteers pushes the limits of our kitchen’s abilities. What would we make? Six of these students are Muslim and eat Halal according to the Sharia law. 

For meat to be made Halal, it must be a “clean” meat (for example, pork isn’t clean), the passage above must be read (prayed) before slaughtering the animal, the animal must be slaughtered and cut a certain way, and all the blood must drain from it. The only place to get Halal meat (often only chicken here in the U.S.) is at a Halal market, and it’s generally more expensive. The Halal market here in Columbia, SC is far from campus. Since most international students don’t have a car, the Muslim students often forgo meat altogether and adopt a vegetarian diet while here in the states. 

Should we buy Halal chicken so that we can make tex-mex fajitas? If Allah’s name is pronounced over this meat and if the Muslim students are aware of this blessing, would we be encouraging them to give thanks to Allah during this meal? Or should we make a vegetarian option, which, while still tasting good and filling them up, may cause them to feel like they were missing out on a community meal? The answer for us was easy, but I do think there are plenty of wise answers.

In Romans, Paul addresses the Jews and the Gentiles, but I think we can apply his words generously. My Muslim friends, like the Jews, are a faithful people and they desire to please God, as they know him. But their faith is weak. They don’t fully realize who Jesus is and what he has done for them. (It’s been said that the Christian life is learning more and more exactly what Jesus did for us on the cross, so you could say that this applies to all of us.) Paul says that we should pursue hospitality since the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” In fact, if our hospitality is conditional on the food they eat, we would be “[destroying] the work of God.” 

So, we made tex-mex fajitas with both Halal and regular chicken, giving the students options. We gathered everyone in a circle and I said a prayer over the meal, thanking God for this beautiful community, thanking Jesus for the brother and grace we have in him, and thanking the Holy Spirit for bringing us together. When we announced that we had Halal chicken, the Muslim students were blown away. Their surprised smiles proved just how important this was to them. For them, having Halal in our home wasn’t just a matter of having their culture respected. It was a matter of sustenance, and they were provided for. Every one of them said that this was the first time that any American had made them Halal meat. A few weeks later, one of the couples invited us over to their home where they honored us with Domino’s Pepperoni Pizza, which of course isn’t Halal but this was of no matter to them either. 

Jesus not only felt at home but made his home with sinners. If he did this, and if he loves us and our students (which he does!) surely his invitation to our eternal home does not stop when Halal food is served. In fact, that might just be when they see his invitation for the first time.