Friday, February 8, 2013

The “Halal” issue won’t go away until there is clarity! FROM BOTH CAMPS



It is now the talking point today – ACJU or the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama Organization has the rights in Sri Lanka for issuing Halal certification granted to it by the International Certification Organization for Halal based in Indonesia, called the World Halal Council www.worldhalalcouncil.com (Strangely the ACJU DOES NOT appear in the list of members!!!)
Neither is the ACJU listed as an approved body in the www.halalmui.org

I would first request clarification if the ACJU actually is an approved body? If so where and by whom and refer at least to a web site please.

Halal means lawful under Shariah law and Haram means unlawful under the same law. Muslims therefore are advised to live by Halal and refrain from Haram.

For those who do not know there are different Halal certifications. One for cattle, food processing and flavor and forgive me if there are others. Please clarify. That is why even bottled water requires Halal!

The issue is this is a requirement of Shariah Law that Muslims only eat or drink food that is lawful or Halal and the certification gives them the assurance that the food conforms. So I presume that a good Muslim would only consume food that conforms to this law. If they do not they will then be subjected to the courts for breaking the law and face the relevant punishments for breaking that law. So I as a non Muslim person cannot offer you a Muslim a glass of water as you do not know that it conforms to the Halal way of preparation just in case it has either come into contact with some Haram process!  Think about it! Is this whole thing a little over dramatized?

That is the theory. The vast majority of the Muslims (90%) in the world DO NOT consume food that is Halal CERTIFIED. That is because they ASSUME that the processor, of that food will do it according to the Shariah law and DO NOT ask for certification when a cow is slaughtered in a village in Indonesia as they are all Muslim and they know how to do the needful under the law.

So now in the world where food is purchased in retail outlets Muslims are advised to purchase only food that has this stamp if they are to comply with Shariah law. We must also be cognizant of the fact that in Sri Lanka Muslims purchased food and lived for centuries amongst other communities without the Halal certification as they either only ate in their own community processed establishments assuming their preparers conformed to the law, or they did not care.

This Halal certification is now becoming a big issue and big business just like any other food certification stamp, such as organic or not GM etc. These seals are given by approved bodies and it is up to the buyer to beware to believe that just because there is this accreditation that the food so conforms!!! I know for a fact that in most of the occasions that people use these logos, the inspections done by the certification bodies amounts to a hill of beans and therefore many certifications are just in name only and many foods DO NOT conform to what is stated.

The issue in SL is that it is for religion that this certification is a requirement and NOT for other reasons. The certification bodies OBVIOUSLY wish to promote the value of certification for their ends, most of it not altruistic, but to build empires, and now Halal certification is being used to market the impression that the food is processed by better and more hygienic methods giving a standard of quality that is supposedly NOT in non Halal foods. It is MOST important that the buyer understands this act of PR and marketing and make their own decision to purchase or not.
Like in any organization that gives Certification there are costs and profits to be made and as such there are charges for giving the certification. I have worked in organizations that give organic certifications, fair trade certifications, purity certifications and I know the charges involved, testing done for accreditation, questionnaires and procedures that need to be adopted and frequency of testing, sampling procedures for testing processes and items and procedures used in case of falsifications, breaking rules and non-payment of fees.

So I would appeal to the Bodu Bala Sena which is questioning the need for Halal certification on products, firstly before asking people NOT to purchase Halal foods, explain to people what it is, using the services if necessary of the accrediting body to explain, then explain the costs and say how much the product is more expensive IF AT ALL and why it is being done. Then tell the consumer what they should do and if there is a religious edict from their faith, advise their followers NOT to purchase such as why! This will allay any fears amongst the Muslim community that it is a simply an anti religious based issue which IT SHOULD NOT BE.

It is downright DISGRCEFUL of the ‘Bodu Bala Sena people’, and I know for a fact that they are doing this, to threaten manufacturers to REMOVE the halal certification emblem from their packaging as otherwise they will use the media to tell the Buddhists to refrain from purchasing products of these BRANDS. It is most INSIDOUS that it is made on Sinhala owned companies more than on foreign multinationals. This blackmail of Sinhala Businesses MUST STOP as it is traitorous to do so, and we know that the biggest traitor of all of the people of Sri Lanka is behind this movement.

Further I appeal to the Muslim community to lighten up on their ultra religious views as it is heading towards a clash with the host religion or should I say dominant religion in Sri Lanka as the Halal issue is a religious one. After all other communities advise their people on what to do, and do not impose by saying if this cert is not put our people will not buy your products etc. Read your history. Muslims were more realistic in the past, and now they are becoming more belligerent towards their community and forcing people to conform to certain rules. Like in all religions there are different sects, and so it is with Muslims. Be tolerant of all Sects and allow them to lead their lives without pontification saying that they are not Proper Muslims because they do not follow Shariah law to the letter. It is incumbent on you to live by example only not by threat or proselytizing, and instilling guilt and fear in others.

You have a duty to live in harmony with all people in Sri Lanka. When you show that you want to be different, by dressing differently or behaving differently within the community you automatically draw criticism as a non conformist. History is a good starting point to learn from, on how to live in harmony and prosper. The route you are taking though you may think to the contrary IS drawing an instant human feeling of repulsion which if looked in a religious perspective is against your religion of living in peace and harmony with others. Remember that acts of commission and well as omission are both sins and if you are supposed to be a servant of your God you must live by it. So by all means in your private lives live as your law and religious teachings tell you, but when you interact in public, it is better to be bygones with the larger communities and not look at them like they are sinners for having beliefs different to yours. It is religious tolerance that we ask from you, and admire the best tenets of Buddhism which is tolerance of people, patience and efforts at removing desires from one’s being.

2 comments:

  1. ACJU halal certification process started due to the requests from the business sector, and that was because businesses recognized the potential of it as a marketing tool. From the view point of the the businesses, halal certificate is a tool to increase the demand for products in local and international market. Higher demand equates to lower production price per unit item. This translates to more profit for the businesses. Similar religious certifications were already operational in the west, namely Jewish Kosher certification and Islamic Halal certification. It would be fair to assume local manufacturers saw the financial benefits of such certification.

    Being essentially an religious certification, it needed to be issued by a relevant religious organization if it were to carry any weight. That was the case in other countries. e.g, Kosher certification is issued by Rabbis (Jewish priests). The closest such muslim institute in SL was the ACJU. Following the requests, they formed the halal committee to issue the certificate in 2000.

    From Islamic religious point of view, Halal applies to only meat. Every other food items are halal by default, except for intoxicants. The traditional methods of preparing food was straight forward, so it was obvious if the food item was meat based or not. If it was not meat based, Muslims could consume it without worries. If it was meat based, Muslims could simply inquire if it was prepared using halal meat. However, since the advent of mass production of ready to eat food was invented, hidden ingredients were added to the food to preserve the flavor, texture and colors. Some of these ingredients could be from animal origins. Such ingredients would not even be obvious in the label. e.g., ingredient name "Natural Red 4" does not convey it is insect derived. In this context, there is an obvious demand for a halal certification among muslims in modern times, unlike in the past (and manufacturers want to capitalize on this).

    For non-meat based food items, halal certificate usually means it is free from animal derived ingredients. For meat food items it means the meat is prepared in accordance to Islamic method. If there was a "Vegetarian" label muslims would be happy to consume such items as it conforms to their religious beliefs.

    The hate mongering of Bodu Bala Sena is not acceptable mainly because most (all?) of their claims are blatantly untrue. Their claim that halal certification is forced upon manufacturers by ACJU is baseless. Their claim that halal certification increases the cost of the product doesn't make financial sense. Their claim that the certification fee is exuberant is false (according to ACJU website, monthly price per product starts from Rs100). They claim that halal implies it is sacrificed to Islamic God, and hence not suitable to Buddhist is mere gibberish.

    If anyone were to boycott halal products on the matter of (racist) principles, that's fine. But still the finger pointing towards muslims is unjustified. Halal certification of products is a business decision, and it is carried out by the businesses. Pointing hatred towards Muslims is completely insane.

    Muslims in general have always adhered to their practice of eating halal. Muslims in SL didn't ask for the halal certificate, but once it's experienced, I doubt they would be happy to let go of the convenience (of not having to go through the ingredients with fine comb). Remember that halal certificate became an issue only within, maybe last 6 months, and it is entirely due to the hate mongering and spreading of misinformation. I do not think it is fair to ask muslims to stop observing a part of their religious practices.

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    Replies
    1. @hadaya : I totally appreciate what you wrote. Its definitely true and makes people easily see sense :) Please do write a newspaper article if possible so that people would know bieng Halaal certified would have no threat whatsoever on non Muslims.

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