Muslim Deli Owners Must Choose Koran Or Customers

January 3, 2010

Author: Daniel E. Slotnik

Source: The New York Times

Most of Khairul Kabir’s customers at the Madison Deli and Grocery in East Harlem do not realize that his jovial smile masks a lingering sense of shame.

Mr. Kabir, 49, an immigrant from Bangladesh and a Muslim, is chagrined because he sells pork and alcohol, which are prohibited by the Koran. He also sells lottery tickets, a form of gambling that is also banned. Devout Muslims are not supposed to indulge in, sell, or even handle any of these “haram,” or forbidden, goods. Mr. Kabir’s dilemma is widespread among Muslim immigrants in New York and other American cities, where religious beliefs, the pursuit of prosperity and pressures to assimilate are often in conflict.

But the spiritual struggle is especially acute in diverse neighborhoods like East Harlem, where Muslim businesses must compete for customers who expect that a deli will, for example, make them a ham sandwich or sell them a Lotto ticket or a six pack of beer.

Opinions regarding the sale of haram items are as diverse as the people who form the Muslim community in America, but Mr. Kabir is unequivocal about his distaste for the practice.