Halal: from alternative to absurd


…this Halal certification business is just like the ISO XXX certification, is an absolute absurd mind game…but its a lucrative selling stickers business… and what’s more (worse) – its in the name of god.

The Malaysian Insider

RUSHDI SIDDIQUI
Published: 2 March 2015

halal sticker

The World Halal Summit is one month away, and we at Zilzar, expect to raisea number of issues during the various sessions at the summit and at our pavilion in the exhibition area.

Today, the halal story, as a Muslim only story, has created widespread hysteria in some markets, has incurred the political push back by ignorant governments like Australia, France and some parts of America, has ‘ironically’ brought Jews/Muslims together in those same ignorant markets, and, frankly, requires repositioning, restructuring, resurfacing, reviewing, and general reboot alignment to ethical consumption and organic movement.

In the last few years there have been a number stories concerning halal: some bring a smile to the face, some bring a smirk, some bring confusion, some bring fascination, and some bring ‘what the …’ reaction. The below mentioned ‘halal’ offerings range from the alternative to the ‘absurd’:

– Halal water, tea, coffee, and cups

– Halal petroleum

– Halal car

– Halal beer/wine

– Halal sex shops

– Halal music

– Halal art

– Halal comedy

– Halal tourism

– Halal fashion

– Halal hubs

– Halal food conference

– Halal hysteria

– Halal as an asset class

– Halal logistics

…if I may add, what about Halal (fiat/baseless) money ?

Furthermore, there are good-faith attempts to launch a halal version of major social media platforms: Salam-World (Facebook), Halaltube (Youtube), Minder (Muslim alternative to Tinder), My Halal Kitchen (alternative chefshows), HalalTrip (Trip-Advisor), and so on.

To date, expectationsof alarge user base have not been met. But does that imply the Muslims, at acritical mass level, do not want or are not comfortable with someone else providing the edits, filtering and screening?

Finally, there are ‘halal’ products offered for sale on established e-commerce platforms like Alibaba, Amazon, Ebay, Rakutan, etc. Notwithstanding the extremely important integrity issue for onboarding and continuous monitoring/policing for compliance for buyer safety, it sends an important message. The big boys are monitoring this halal space as part of the Muslim Lifestyle Marketplace, as their existing markets are becoming saturated with not only many e-commerce platforms, but also targeting same consumer base, online and mobile.

As part of a series of articles until World Halal Summit, several initial issuesare raised for dialogue and debate.

Does everything need to be halal?

In Islamic finance, everything is permissible unless one of the following conditions is violated in the contract or transaction: there is an element of interest, uncertainty, speculation, or the underlying asset is from the sin sector (alcohol, pork, gambling, etc.). Furthermore, something Shariah compliantcan become impermissible if one of the above-mentioned conditions arises during the life of the contract.

For halal, at a high level, “…it’s halal (animal)… as it does not have fangs, it is not an predatory animal that kills other animals like lions tigers, bears, wolves,etc. it’s not an animal like a rat, mouse, etc.. it’s not a bird of prey like eagle, hawk, falcon.. it’s not classified as a scavenger like a pig or wild boar.”

Mentioned below are other equally important, but often overlooked, issues such as treatment of the animal, sacrifice ritual, and logistics.

Certification bodies

It has been mentioned that there are up to 300 certification bodies in the world. Although there is no central or global authority to verify this number, we, at Zilzar, after review and research, count about 100 widely recognized certification bodies. Some countries have one, like Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Singapore, but others have many like Australia with 8 certification bodies.

One of the major challenges that have been identified with certified products and certification bodies is what happens (to the status of the product) when the certification expires and the renewal process takes longer than expected? It may take a longer time because many (privately held) certification bodies may not have the resources to review and revisit the process, hence, a company is held hostage to their time frames resulting loss of sales and (possibly) reputation.

Logistics

An area that has not gotten much air-play (traction) is traceability and origination (halal) in the food supply chain as part of the logistics supply sector. It has not been well understood that something that is ‘halal’ may become haram at the various streams in the food supply chain from farm to fork.

For example, if the animal’s diet comprised of ground-up pieces of other animals and antibiotics, then the ritual sacrifice at the abattoir is irrelevant asit (animal) is “void from the beginning” for consumption by Muslims.

If one looks at the 40-year-old-plus global organic movement, as a reaction to factory farming, the above-mentioned questions forms the DNA for the movement. Thus, there is a general alignment between halal and organic onethical treatment of the animal before the sacrifice.

The midstream focus is on the transportation of the animal to the abattoir and the rituals associated with the sacrifice. There is much material on the subject matter, and two points to highlight are (1) evidence of healthiness of the meat and (2) the concept of ‘tayyeb’ (purity, whereas halal means ‘permissible’).

If the blood from the sacrificed animal is ‘completely’ drained from the non-stunned animal (evidenced), then, it logically follows there should be lesser amount of bacteria compared to a stunned animal when the packaged product is on the supermarket shelf! Thus, this becomes a health issue and not a “halal” issue for dialogue for the media, conferences, academic journals, etc.

Second, a large segment of the Muslim population believes in and wants non-stun hand slaughter, but are they prepared to pay a higher price because ofthe economic inefficiencies (today)?

Finally, a properly sacrificed animal’s ‘meat’ (halal) may becomecontaminated (haram) at various stages of transportation from the abattoir to the super-market shelf. Thus, what was halal at the abattoir has become haram due to (1) chemical composition changing due to proximity to say, alcohol, swine, etc., (2) liquid (melted water or even blood) from swinepackages/crates touching halal packaged meats, and so on.

Having said that, all products are usually packed for storage andtransportation offering protection to the product itself and avoiding contamination in general.

However, for logistics providers today there is no established way to identify Halal product shipments upon acceptance. This may lead to co-loading with non-halal products in the same container or Halal products may be loaded in the same containers that carried pork or alcohol products in previoustransportations.

Awareness and implementation is still lacking in logistics even though an international Halal Logistics Standard was published in 2010.

Unfortunately, there are no tracking, no record systems in place. Consequently, the dimension of the potential problem is unknown.

In a smaller context a recent development relating to the last section of the supply chain to the consumer is remarkable: separate check-out counters for non-Halal / pork products have recently been implemented in supermarkets with Non-Muslim sections in Dubai. Dubai Municipality has clarified the handling of respective products and implementation of existing rules.

Packages with pork items should be tightly sealed to avoid any potential leakage of liquids or any direct contact with a conveyor belt. However, in order to mitigate any contamination risk separate check-out counters have been assigned. This gives peace of mind for the Muslim (and Kosher?) consumer.

Today, Muslims do not control the halal food supply, hence, the integrity risks linked to the halal food supply chain needs to be measured, mitigated and managed.

Let’s focus on the alternative as the absurd erodes credibility. – March 2, 2015.

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