Muna Khan: Bananas, cucumbers, carrots, oh my


Sometimes a cleric has to issue an edict for the jokes to write themselves.

This was evidenced on Thursday in a so-called edict by a Muslim cleric calling for a ban on women touching phallic-shaped fruit. It was bound to elicit outrage and ridicule alike.

The brouhaha erupted after the publication of a report in the Egyptian newspaper Bikya Masr on Thursday, which quoted the website El-Senousa, on which an unnamed cleric in Europe said that women shouldn’t touch fruit/vegetables such as bananas, cucumbers, carrots and eggplants because they resembled male genitalia.

The only way women could eat these fruit was if there presented to them by “a third party, preferably a male related to them such as their father or husband should cut the items into small pieces and serve it to them” the newspaper quoted the cleric as saying.

It set social media forums aflame with Twitter users suggesting other fruit that should be banned for resembling female anatomy (hint: peaches).

The ludicrousness of the matter also attracted the attention of news outlets, many of whom ran the story ─ and everyone had a good laugh, or a good cry, while a whole lot of Muslims hung their heads in shame.

It was a good day on Twitter for cucumber jokes and the story should end here except for one teeny tiny thing: no one can verify this story.

According to the Canadian news site, it’s been difficult to find the El-Senousa site on which Bikya Masr based its article. A simple search of the website takes you to a list of articles on the story being quoted, but not to the main site itself.

Leaving aside the many, many conspiracy theories that may be espoused, the more disturbing aspect is everyone’s rush to judgment.

Granted, this supposed cleric wouldn’t be the first to make ridiculous pronouncements or paint Muslims in psycho-delic colors.

That silly “judgments” posing as fatwas are routinely passed, and unquestioningly so ─ just this past Tuesday we published a story on a slew of fatwas by Egyptian Salafis, including one banning women from wearing high heels outside their homes ─ is depressing.

And it makes anything possible, including the unbelievable ban on women touching phallic fruit lest it lead to their arousal.

It’s easy to believe it but irresponsible to retweet, forward on and so forth as fact when that is not necessarily the case.

The only thing it leads to, and rightly so, is incredulity and also defensive reactions from Muslims arguing that this paints Islam in a bad light and not all Muslim clerics are obsessed with sex. Both are valid statements, but we need to up the ante.

For too long the debate on women’s rights has been led by right-wing nut jobs intent on suppressing women’s freedom of speech and movement ─ and it is their narrative that gets the most press, even if only because it makes for salacious reading.

Take the recent fears expressed by a scholar that women being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia could lead to all forms of societal perversions. That makes for far more “fun” reading than what the intelligentsia in the kingdom is participating in, i.e. sane, rational discourse.

I don’t see the nut jobs retreating into corners for time outs. That is until and unless saner voices prevail and respond ─ not ignore ─ to their madness in equally loud measure.

Failure to do so means the freak show will go on until there’s little left to laugh about.

(Muna Khan is editor of Al Arabiya English and can be reached at [email protected])

ADDENDUM: On Dec. 11, 2001, Bikya Masr published an editorial on its website regarding the cucumber sheikh fatwa in which it apologized for running the story without independently verifying the content from the Arabic website Assawsana, which it misquoted as El-Senousa.

The editor writes: “The reality, in this circumstance, is that we should not have sourced a piece published by a small website based on such limited, unverifiable information. We accept responsibility for doing so and are working to correct the aspects of our organizational culture which allowed this mistake to occur.”