High-Fructose Mosque

“O humankind! Eat of that which is lawful and good on the earth…”—Qur’an, Translation of 2:128

While driving to Worcester, Massachusetts this past weekend, I spontaneously decided to stop at the Islamic Society of Central Jersey to pray. It had been years since the the last time I took the time to explore ISCJ.

Back then, the Sunday school curriculum consisted of memorization as well as reading through various Islamic stories. Unfortunately, none of those ideas were applicable to my [then] current reality as a pubescent Muslim kid growing up in America. The lessons certainly didn’t contain anything about eating right, for instance. The closest they came to engaging my life outside the mosque was the oft-repeated slogan, “Islam isn’t a religion; it is a way of life.”

A decade later, I found myself wandering through the halls of ISCJ. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon a vending machine filled with junk. I thought back to every other mosque I’ve visited, and I began to see a pattern. Some mosques have soda machines as well—proudly advertising Coca-Cola. Here we have a captive audience of Muslims who regularly attend the mosque—and what do we offer them? 
Obesity and tooth decay? For a little profit? What kind of message does that send?

Does the fact that we are selling, thus encouraging the consumption of unhealthy foods run contrary to what seems to be our favorite slogan, “Islam isn’t a religion; it’s a way of life”? If Islam is a [good] way of life, why is it that we sell high-fructose corn syrup laced with artificial colors and flavors in our places of worship?!

What about the advertising? In a time when advertising to children is hotly debated, and several countries have prohibited marketing towards children… “What? You only serve coke with lunch?”

Are we going to have Pepsi mosques and Coke mosques just like we have Pepsi campuses and Coke campuses? Do you think I’m exaggerating? Look at American high schools:

“Parents should know that our schools are now one of the largest sources of unhealthy food for their kids…,” according to Senator Tom Harkin

A number of things are worrying me. For one, many of the Islams that are being taught in our Sunday schools are completely isolated from our kids’ realities (We’ll talk about this in a future post). Next, I go to the mosque to get away from mass media. I do not go to have a craving for a Diet Coke instead of focusing on prayer. We are sending mixed messages. It saddens me that while encouraging me to pray and to give charity, my mosque was also encouraging unhealthy food habits and supporting companies that are known to do some pretty evil things (India, for example).

See that verse from the Qur’an I quoted above? Eat that which is lawful and good. Ohhhh!

What? HijabMan? Are you kidding? What the heck is the alternative then? Celery sticks? What snacks would you put in those vending machines? And how would the mosque make a profit?

There are plenty of alternatives. For just one example of 
healthy snacks at comparable prices check out the healthy snack store. Can you imagine all of the Philadelphia-area mosques striking up a deal with these people for bulk rates? I can. And just so you know a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control found that schools can switch to selling healthy foods and beverages without losing revenue. Couldn’t our lovely mosques do the same?

Do you see a vending machine in your mosque? Is it selling unhealthy food and advertising companies like Coca-Cola? Here is a generic letter you can use to voice your concern about vending machines in your local mosque. Feel free to distribute it, and modify it in any way, shape, or form as long as the point stays the same. Make it better. Get community members to sign it, then send it to executive boards; post it in mosques. In fact, talk about this article and comment on this issue on your own blog.

And if I still haven’t convinced you, all you have to do is ask yourself…

“Would Muhammad (pbuh) drink Pepsi?

Update: I’ve just been informed that at Masjid Bilal in Houston (aka the Adel Road masjid) there was a protest over the Coke machine. The machine is still there and is now filled with juice and water, however the Coke logo still adorns it. The affiliated Islamic school also has a snack “store” during lunch. They used to carry candy, but banned junk food. Thanks Amina!

Related Links:
Natural Health and the Islamic Tradition
Consuming Kids by Susan Linn
Resolution on Food Advertising to Kids
Food Industry Defends Marketing to Children
Captive Audience Documentary
Generic Letter To Send To Mosque Executive Boards