Groundviews

Who needs Halaal?

When the big international fast food chains came to Sri Lanka they did not have halaal certification. However subsequently most of these chains went ‘halaal’. This had nothing to do with any ‘Islamist’ conspiracy to take-over Sri Lanka. It was a pure case of demand and supply and the pursuit of profit. The same applies to Islamic banking. There is nothing surprising about almost every player in the financial services market providing Islamic banking as bankers want to make money in as many ways as they can. So this whole brouhaha about ‘halaal’ really defies logic. The only reason why the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulema [ACJU] is a body of choice for it’s the only body that the Muslim consumers accept and find legitimate and in marketing – consumer is king.

Therefore ‘Who needs ‘halaal’ certification? It’s certainly not the Muslim consumer but the businesses that crave for halaal recognition. I say this because there was a time before halaal certification. Even then there were brands that had established consumer goodwill and trust to the effect that their products were ‘halaal’. So take away the ACJU halaal certification and market forces will come into play and either some other body will issue the license or producers themselves will find ways to build consumer confidence. In fact all what the ACJU has done is made it easy for anybody to access the Muslim market for their goods and services. It has particularly helped new players to enter the market. To those thinking only in religious terms, ‘new’ translates often to ‘non-Muslim’ as Muslim businesses find it easier to establish consumer goodwill even without certification.

So as a Muslim consumer, the future of halaal certification does not trouble me. The forces of economics and the fight for market share will ensure that products that meet halaal requirements will continue to be available.

However what does worry many Muslims is how this ‘non-issue’ is being banged about by a fringe few and made into a national problem. What we see is not an ‘issue’ but an agenda and a campaign of hate with ‘halaal certification’ merely an excuse. They are waiting to pick a fight and so they pick on anything. This is evident in many ways. Firstly despite all the shouting and the screaming we are yet to hear a clear and cogent articulation of the grounds for protest. If there were good reasons then we would have heard it by now.

Secondly the methodology to put forward their purported grievance are angry protests which are inflammatory and provocative? It is in this methodology that one sees some serious danger signs. If this was a genuine issue then what we would have had is an informed debate and dialogue, not a protest with a pig head on display.

Thirdly there is also a complete disregard for the truth, facts and honesty. For example at one press conference it was stated that the money collected was being used to fund Al-Qaeda. If this was a genuine allegation then what was needed was not a press conference but a police complaint. Much like the Law College entrance paper being leaked – a lot of noise – little hard evidence. Then they said that the money was being used to buy lands. Evidence? That products will be cheaper without halaal certification fees. Once again – where is the evidence? In fact what we see is that the ACJU can hardly pay for its own certification costs with the fee collected.

The level of misinformation is comically evident in that some are demanding that they be entitled to consume ‘non-halaal’ products – products that are unfit for consumption by Muslims. It is comical for if food is to be ‘non-halaal’ it would certainly have meat or alcohol and that is something that even the Buddhists who are making the demand would not be permitted to consume.

Without doubt the ‘halaal issue’ is part of a deliberate strategy of creating inter-communal tensions and scarily, an open clash – with obviously the Muslims the victims. Small pockets of tension and violence are being reported and one waits to see how the government and authorities will respond to this and how far they will allow this to go on. In fact a particular rabble-rouser stated that it was inevitable that we as a society will reverse ourselves by around a hundred years with an open anti-Muslim riot as that happened in 1915. Any of this would certainly not be in the best interests of the Sinhala Buddhists.