January 27, 1997 in Nation/World

Can Poor Muslims Eat ‘Tainted’ Food?

Salah Nasrawi Associated Press

The free meals provided nightly by Cairo’s wealthy in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan have set off a religious debate. The issue: Can a poor man fill his stomach from the earnings of a belly dancer?

The question is shaking up the Muslim establishment because belly dancing, while an Egyptian tradition, is deemed sinful by clerics.

Some Islamic scholars say it is forbidden to take food from those with tainted income. Others ask how the poor - in need of a meal - are supposed to know who foots the bill.

The debate started, in part, because one of the most-frequented “merciful banquets” in the streets of Cairo is held by Fifi Abdou, Egypt’s wealthiest and most renowned belly dancer. Hundreds turn up every night for rice, vegetables and the beef and chicken that the poor can rarely afford.

“If a Muslim is aware that the money spent on the meals comes from illegitimate resources … then he should refrain from eating,” said Ahmed Omar Hashem, the dean of al-Azhar, Egypt’s oldest Islamic theological center.

But a former dean of al-Azhar had another view.

“Those who go to meals have no other choice” Sheik Mohammed el-Saadi Farhoud. Some also praise the dancers’ charity, since giving to the poor is a pillar of Islam.

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