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I had bacon for the first time ever, more than three years ago. It was a crisp Summer day. It was with my then-boyfriend. At Milestones. In a burger. And was that burger fucking delicious or what. It wasn’t planned, just so you know. It wasn’t like I told my ex to take me to Milestones so I could have bacon for the first time. But when we got there and the waitress asked whether or not I wanted bacon in my burger, I said yes. It was probably one of the yummiest burgers I ever had. I mean, the first thing on my mind wasn’t that, “Oh damn! I just had bacon and lost my bacon virginity!” The first thing on my mind was just how delicious that burger was.

To be perfectly honest with you, before writing this article, it took me a while to really recollect when it actually was the first time that I had bacon and that’s because it was all very spontaneous. I did not treat it as some Ex-Muslim Rites Of Passage. The reason I remember this day so well, in all its details, is not because I ate bacon for the first time but because it was a wonderful day. Wonderful days are hard to forget.

You see, for all the fixation that the religion of Islam and Muslims give to bacon and pork, eating it for the first time didn’t feel this one big deal to me. I have eaten bacon many times since, I almost never eat pancakes without bacon strips on the side. And each time I have loved it more. I have come to that point where there is no thrill of eating the forbidden fruit there, because it’s just such a normal thing for me to do now. But here is the thing, it always should have been treated as normal.

Had I not left religion, I would have cursed myself for tasting bacon at all. I would have felt guilty every day of my life. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? That one could feel so guilty for just eating something they deeply enjoy? But if you grew up hearing about the deadly sin that it is to eat bacon, you would know where I am coming from. As a child I was told that pigs can’t move their heads up to look at the sky because god doesn’t want them facing him, ever. All this rubbish, as a child, seems to make some weird kind of sense.

I picture myself having that same burger as a practicing Muslim and I picture myself enjoying it until I am informed by my then-boyfriend that this burger consists of bacon. And I picture myself going into a fit of sorts, and running to the washroom to wash my mouth – obsessively, repeatedly. All for what? Because I am afraid of burning in hell fire cause I enjoyed a certain food.

There is another aspect to this though, another reason why I would have reacted that way had I had that burger as a practicing Muslim. I was forever told just how fucking dirty pigs are, and that eating bacon or pork would make me eternally sick. And I would have never wanted to be that sick. The obsession with not eating it goes so far that you’d see people avoiding eating anything that might have come into contact with a piece of pork. I remember that a woman I knew was talked down to and insulted by her family because she worked as a cook at this restaurant and often had to chop and cook pork. She faced the insults even though she had stayed true to the religious commandment: “Thou shalt not eat pork”.

It is still so surreal to me that eating bacon is a matter of life death for so many people in my culture, or rather, in the culture that I abandoned in so many ways. Pork, like many other things in the Muslim community, becomes a matter of honour. To the point where when it’s found that chopping and cooking pork is part of someone’s job, that person’s honour can be put into question. Just like that woman I told you about.

I eat bacon and pork with great joy, I eat it without any guilt that no practicing Muslim is free of. But I still can’t take a pepperoni pizza (my favourite) back home because my parents would sorely object to that. It would lead to tension that I’d much rather avoid altogether in my life right now. They do know that I am an ex-Muslim, and my dad is himself an atheist, but he still has so much cultural baggage to let go of. It’s just really fucking complicated. So while my parents know I don’t practice religion and are okay with it, to see me eating a pepperoni pizza would rub it too much in their faces.

I remember this one time when I ordered more slices of pizza for myself than I could eat at the time and it just struck me that I couldn’t take the left-overs back home, so I took off all the pepperoni (yes, tears), but I would have felt so much worse about throwing it all away. So I brought it home, without the haram pepperoni on it. Of course I knew they wouldn’t force me to not eat it, but I knew there would be an unnecessary argument that I just wanted to avoid.

I worked at this coffee-shop for a few months, it was the month of Ramzan. It was almost midnight and I had been on my feet for 10 hours. The customer ordered a chicken sandwich and coffee, and so, the chicken sandwich and coffee were served. He then asked me, “Wait, does this have bacon?” And I responded, “Yes, sir. I do believe it does.” He then yelled at me, “You should have told me! Can’t you tell I am a Muslim? You’re Muslim yourself!” And he went on to insult me, “Be better at your job!” I apologized, and got him another sandwich. But here is the thing, it was written on one of our menu boards in pretty bold letters that this sandwich did consist of bacon strips.

Yes, I could not “tell” he was Muslim. Brownness doesn’t belong exclusively to Muslims, and not everyone who “looks Muslim” has issues with eating bacon, or even practices religion. But this guy got pretty hysterical, and even threatened to talk to the manager. This is how obsessed some people are with not eating bacon, so much so they will insult you publicly for having made an honest mistake, and then even corrected that mistake in a matter of minutes. His bacon-less, halal sandwich was served to him in 10 minutes. How funny that he assumed I was a practicing Muslim, too. If only he had known that I abandoned Islam long ago…I can just imagine him insulting me for eating bacon.

I am often asked at restaurants whether I am okay with the bacon in the sandwich, or the alcohol in the cocktail, and I know they’re only asking as a courtesy. I appreciate it. But it’s still kind of funny, and I wonder what thoughts go through their mind when I say yes.

I often wondered, during my years of living in Pakistan, how Christians (who are a very persecuted minority there) got their pork. You never really saw that in grocery stores anywhere, not even in a huge urban center like my city Karachi. I imagine it had to have been a struggle for them to find pork. And that is the ultimate pity, it was so important to make pork non-existent to the point where the country couldn’t even slightly accommodate Christians living there. They could not accommodate Christians because keeping religious purity of the country intact was far more important.

I wish that so many of the Muslims I know were not so fearful of a harmless fucking food item. But this is how fucking ridiculous religion is. Religion does poison everything, indeed, even something as delicious as bacon.