An embarrassed Kevin Rudd has been forced to apologise to Muslim delegates at this month’s 2020 Summit because their religious dietary needs were ignored by caterers who could not tell the difference between halal and vegetarian food.
In the absence of halal food – prepared in accordance to sharia dietary laws – the Islamic delegates were forced to eat “salad sandwiches and vegetarian pies”.
This was the Rudd Government’s second major summit-related gaffe involving a religious minority after the Prime Minister was forced to apologise to Jewish community leaders for holding the talkfest during the Passover.
Mr Rudd’s apology to Muslim delegates follows revelations by The Australian last month that the federal Government was considering setting up a Muslim advisory body – which would include sporting figures and academics – to help dismantle the stereotypical and overly religious image of Islam in Australia.
Prominent Muslim leader Fadi Rahman, who attended the two-day conference a fortnight ago, yesterday attacked summit organisers for failing to make halal food available for Islamic delegates.
He said the event’s catering manager could not distinguish between halal food – where animals, excluding pigs, are killed under religious supervision for hygienic and humanitarian reasons – and vegetarian food.
“They just thought to themselves vegetarian will do, that’s halal and that’s it, eat it,” he said. “But we said, ‘No, vegetarian is not halal. Vegetarian is vegetarian. Halal food is totally different, shouldn’t you guys have done your homework?’
“We were thinking to ourselves, ‘What the hell is going on? If they can’t get the halal food right, what the hell can they get right?”‘
Mr Rahman said Mr Rudd approached him and Queensland Muslim leader Mohamad Abdalla – who has been caught up in the scandal over Saudi funding for Griffith University – and apologised to the pair about the glitch, blaming the caterers for getting it wrong.
“We were sitting in our groups and he walked past and said, ‘Look I heard about the halal food, I’m terribly sorry, it’s to do with the catering company’. And we thought it was a nice gesture for him to apologise.”