Issues of Divergence and Contestation: Some Reflections on the Concept of Halal
Photo by AFP’s Ishara S Kodikara, via ABC
“Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumour; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blameable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.”- Kalama Sutta: The Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry
Violence in the name of religion has become the predominant model for politics in the modern world. In the present context, has increased in its frequency, scale of violence, and national reach in Sri Lanka. Too much emphasis is wrongly placed among the majority on various aspects on the practice of other religions especially on the concept of halal. It’s telling that more verbal and political energies are being channelled to create anxiety about this.
The purpose of this article is to provide a basic understanding on the concept of halal and how it operates internationally, to people from my own community since they often tend to be provided with inaccurate, lacking and sometimes simply fabricated facts of the same. Hence, right understanding of the concept may help to alleviate vague or poor understandings and in some way enhance peaceful relationship between Sinhalese and Muslims which we have been maintaining it for more than thousand years without any cracks.
What is halal?
Twenty years back when I was reading for my first degree at University of Moratuwa, I raised this question to one of my batch mate and now it is at the heart of a controversy for the majority Sri Lankans.
Oxford dictionary defines ‘halal’ as ‘religiously acceptable according to Islamic law.’ The word halal refers to anything that is considered permissible and lawful under religion. Muslims are supposed to live their lives by this concept, with its connotations of cleanliness, integrity and self-restraint. The opposite of this word is haraam. The term halal is widely used to designate food seen as permissible according to Islamic law. In fact, it refers to permissible behaviour, speech, dress, conduct, manner and dietary. In a Muslim’s life, every aspect of life is regulated by Islamic law; therefore, the Halal-Haraam dichotomy almost always applies to everything, and Muslims make sure they understand what is what since saying or doing Halal will lead to Paradise and Haraam to Hell.
Halal foods are foods that Muslims are allowed to eat under Islamic dietary guidelines. The criteria specify both what foods are allowed, and how the food must be prepared. Why Muslims want halal foods at all? “the logic behind this is that remaining blood in the body may become polluted and harmful to humans”.
The foods addressed are mostly types of meat. In order to be halal, permitted animals must be slaughtered according to prescribed methods of slaughtering (halal slaughtering), which emphasised on the aspects of hygiene, health, safety and humane treatment. A study conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Humane Society International concluded that the animals that are slaughtered according to halal method complies with the hygiene and environmental health issues and halal meat should be labelled when it is put on sale, so that members of the public can decide on the choice.
Halal is not only concern on meat foods, it emphasise that Muslims must ensure that all foods, particularly processed foods, pharmaceuticals, and non-food items like cosmetics, are also halal. Frequently, these products contain animal by-products or other ingredients that are not permissible for Muslims to eat or use on their bodies.
Halal certification tells Muslims that their ingredients and production methods have been tested and declared permissible by a certification body (i.e., internationally or locally recognised halal certification bodies certifies the product as halal, preferably with a trademarked and unique symbol). It also allows companies to export products to most Middle Eastern countries and South East Asian Countries.
Since the introduction of halal certification, many mainstream manufacturers, especially pharmaceuticals, prepared foods, and other products, as well as hotels, restaurants, airlines, hospitals, and other service providers have pursued the halal market. These companies purchase halal-certified products.
Halal Food Authority (HFA) is one of the UK’s largest regulators of halal foods. HFA is well established, both within the halal slaughter and wider food industry. Today, from Kelloggs cereals to KFC; from ASDA to British Airways, the HFA logo can be found on food products declaring them to be approved as halal.
The oldest and most well-known halal certifier in the United States is called the ‘Islamic Services of America’. In 2011, ‘Halal Products Certification Institute’ was established in California and became the first worldwide corporation that certified halal consumer products such as cosmetics, personal care products and perfumes & fragrances. The institute was established by Islamic intellectual scholars and Muslim scientists to assure the dissemination of halal consumer products.
Also in Europe, several organizations have been created over the past 20 years in order to certify halal products. A survey recently published by a French association of Muslim Consumers (ASIDCOM) shows that the market of halal products has been developed in a rapid way.
In South Africa, most chicken products have a halal stamp. The South African National Halal Authority (SANHA) issues certificates and products bearing this logo range from water, snacks, and even meat-free products (which may contain non-halal ingredients). The South African National Halal Authority also licenses the usage of the Halal logo in restaurants where the food is halal in addition to no alcohol or pork products being served.
McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) have been declared to be halal in most of the countries. In the United Kingdom, China, Malaysia or Singapore, halal fried chicken restaurants having thousands of outlets serve halal foods, such as the ChicKing Fried Chicken, Brown’s Chicken, and Crown Fried Chicken companies.
Also, in New York City there are numerous halal food carts in business which serve gyros, chicken platters, and other halal fast foods, whereas in Europe, there are many of halal certified Doner kebab shops. Very recently, twelve stores in the Mary Brown’s chain in Ontario and Alberta became 100% halal.
Thailand and Philippines also has a noticeable population of Muslims and halal meat shops country wide. Within the People’s Republic of China, which has a sizable Muslim minority population, halal food is known as ‘Qingzhen’ means ‘pure truth.’
Almost all the halal certifying institutions around the world incorporated as non-profit organisations and they are categorised under service sector. Besides, Halal certification is a long and meticulous process that requires investment in expertise, equipment and manpower. Therefore, organizations certify halal products are compelled to charge a fee to meet their expenses. Like any other certification process, halal certification also has a management cost involved. For example, when a company obtains the quality standard, the system standard or the risk management standard certification, it is charged for various costs with regard to logistics, communication, human resources, professional services and consultation fees. In addition to that, halal certifying institutions has to bear the costs in relation to technological testing and research, human resource costs as they are obliged to maintain a dedicated team of food scientists, administrators, Halal auditors and a large team of supervisors based at certified plants.
From the above, it appears that the concept of halal has a global recognition and is wider in its scope. Specifically as far as Muslims are concern, the concept of halal is embedded with their day to day life and is considered as one of the significant aspects of practicing there religion.
As Buddhists, we must know how to regard other religions and their practices as we belong to the religious group that accepts and appreciates the reasonable teachings of every religion. Buddhists can also tolerate the practices of other religious, cultural traditions and customs, although they may not necessarily wish to emulate them.
In other words, Buddhists respect the other man’s views and appreciate other practices without harbouring any religious prejudices. If there are certain Buddhists who feel they are unable to appreciate the ways of other religious practices, then the least they could do is to maintain their silence and refrain from any undue criticism: this attitude is very important for peaceful co-existence. If we study the teachings of Buddhism, then we can understand the basis of our religion and our attitude towards the other religions. To practise a religion we must be honest, sincere, truthful and kind to others: we must avoid deceit and cruelty: and in our relation with others we must be broad-minded.
According to the Buddha, if we adopt aggressive and violent methods to solve our problems, we cannot find the real solution to overcome them. No doubt, we can suppress some troubles and temporarily win the battle as long as our opponents remain weak. But when our opponents get the chance, they will not keep quiet and will not forgive us. Therefore, if we act with violence, we can never find lasting peace. This is why the Buddha once said: “Hatred is never ended by hatred, but only by loving-kindness.” Buddha also said: “It is not that I quarrel with the world but the world quarrels with me. A teacher of truth never quarrels with others.
Accordingly, non-violence is at the heart of Buddhist thinking and behaviour. Nothing in Buddhist scripture gives any support to the use of violence as a way to resolve conflict. One of Buddha’s sermons puts this very clearly with a powerful example that stresses the need to love your opponent no matter how cruelly he treats you:
“Even if thieves carve you limb from limb with a double-handed saw, if you make your mind hostile you are not following my teaching.”- Kamcupamasutta, Majjhima-Nikkaya I – 28-29