CHICAGO—The debut of a new theme restaurant in suburban Chicago featuring a menu of foods forbidden by Islamic law and waitresses clad in revealing uniforms has sparked an uproar among local Muslims who claim the restaurant is an affront to Islam.
The December 27 opening of a Burqa King franchise in Winnetka and the subsequent furor over the establishment’s dining theme has drawn the attention of local Muslim clerics and activists, and aimed a spotlight on former Bush Administration Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Officials with Winnetka Holy Outreach to Counsel and Advise Islamic Religious Sects (WHOCAIRS) announced Wednesday that they would organize a demonstration and prayer vigil outside the newly opened restaurant near the intersection of Tower and Foxdale Road to protest what one organizer called the restaurant’s “insensitivity to culinary diversity.”
“Not only can Muslims not sit at the lunch counter here, Muslims cannot even enter this den of humiliation,” said WHOCAIRS Executive Director Ibrahim Bertrand-Reynolds. “This establishment represents a new low in offensiveness.”
Critics noted the Burqa King menu, which features a variety of haram, or unlawful food in Muslim culture, includes frog legs and pork rinds as appetizers; slabs of barbecued pork ribs, blood sausage and ham as entrees; and desserts made from gelatin produced from pork byproducts. All fried food served at Burqa King is cooked in lard, which contains pig fat and is subsequently forbidden by Islamic law.
The restaurant serves beer and has applied for a liquor license with plans to open a full-service bar on the premises. Traditional Muslims are not permitted to consume alcohol except for medicinal purposes.
“To offer only food that is not halal (lawful) is just another egregious example of the indignity we must endure,” said Omar al Akbar al Abdul, an imam from nearby Northbrook
The manager of the restaurant, 53-year-old Craig Baker of Champaign-Urbana, admitted al Akbar al Abdul and others were entitled to their opinion but said he was not considering any changes in response to the planned protests. “These people need to get a hobby or something. I mean, it’s a restaurant, OK?” said Baker. “Besides, what are they gonna do, like, saw my head off with a dull knife on the Internet?”
The nature of the food at Burqa King is not the only thing upsetting area Muslims. Waitresses are required to wear abbreviated burqas with sheer veils, stockings and garters, and high heeled shoes, revealing more of their bodies than the traditional garment worn by many Muslim women.
“This is a great disgrace upon the burqa and the modesty of our women,” said Abdul al Omar al Akbar, a Muslim activist from Chicago. “Humiliating Muslim women in such a way is not in keeping with our long tradition of forbidding women from learning to read, drive or balance a checkbook.”
There is also speculation that political overtones accompanied the opening of this particular Burqa King. Al Akbar al Abdul questioned whether the restaurant was located in Winnetka as a way of honoring Rumsfeld, who was born there in 1932.
“I cannot remain silent when this Satan [Rumsfeld] is honored by the opening of such an offensive establishment,” said al Akbar al Abdul, who threatened additional prayer protests on the H Concourse at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport if the restaurant is not forced by village officials to change its menu or close.
Others in the religious community were less concerned with the establishment. “I keep Kosher, they don’t keep Kosher. This bothers me why?” said Rabbi Shlomo Garfinkle with the Temple Bnai Shalom synagogue in Skokie. Jews also do not eat the types of food offered on the Burqa King menu, but Garfinkle failed to understand the intensity of the furor. “All this mishegas over a menu? I don’t eat pork either, but I have better things to do.”