By Shenali Waduge
The halal certificate and halal label issue on virtually all packaging of both locally consumerable and export related food items needs to conclude. Objections arose questioning why companies should advocate a new practice of certification method and labeling to suit a minority religion when such was non-existent for centuries.
Further, the only non-halal labels are those one or two companies who have yet to obtain the halal certification/label. If virtually all items on retail outlets and supermarket shelves have halal labels – does it not mean that none of these items are actually haram? So there is no need for halal certificate or labels unless it was intended to make a statement!
What Muslims especially the ACJU needs to understand is that there was no halal certification and no halal labels in the demand or supply of food and Muslims had no trouble in purchasing food items or eating at restaurants/hotels etc until of late. It is these same foods that are now being asked to be labeled and certified. Export-Import of food happened without halal certificates or halal labels too. 91% of the people cannot understand why the same food the Muslims purchased should now need to have a halal label purchased by all.
Leaving aside the fact that there is the legality of offering certificates by a non-profit organization, the intellectual property rights of companies who have to disclose their ingredients to a private company, the hidden cost upon the consumer however little plus various other factors have resulted in the present controversy based on the principle that while halal/haram existed halal certificates and halal labels are only a new religious entity being promoted at the commercial level and politically mooted in view of political systems reliant on minority votes.
There are suggestions now to have the Government of Sri Lanka issue the halal certificate. It is morally wrong for the Sri Lankan Government to champion a minority religion and issue certificates/labels through the State based on a relatively new religious practice of that minority religion which is less than 2million of a 20million population. Otherwise by virtue of Article 9 of the Constitution, the Buddhists can demand a proclamation against animal sacrifice as Buddha wanted both man and animal to be treated humanely. Thus the sensitivities of the Buddhists will always emerge.
Halal is a requirement related to the religious beliefs of only the Muslim populace that number 9% in Sri Lanka. Its holy books have given a list of foods that are halal (permitted) and those that are haram (prohibited) as well as provision for haram items to be taken upon emergency even food and blood (however the people who follow the Pentecost faith will not take anything forbidden even in an emergency – ex: medicine).
There was an interesting article by a Mr. Deen who gave instances of how halal practices can become haram and this certainly raises the practicality, credibility and actual value of simply purchasing a food item with a halal label.
Nevertheless, given the importance that segments are emphasizing on halal labels it is best that we follow an alternate to labeling all food with halal labels. The same formula can apply to cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and all future Muslim demands as well:
· The ACJU or any other body representing the Muslims of Sri Lanka can privately test all food items and separately conduct tests to see whether their contents include haram items which are forbidden for Muslim consumption. If there are no haram items there is no requirement to separately label them halal.
· No company should be obliged to follow compliance based on a religious requirement by a non-profit private company and disclose intellectual property rights in terms of ingredients etc to be investigated/scrutinized investigated by them. Leading to generating religious-based employment which conflicts with peaceful co-existence.
· The obvious haram items are known to all Muslims (ex: Port, bacon, fish without scales) But other haram items can be made into a list to be distributed to all Muslims – so they will know not to purchase a particular product under a particular brand name
· Instead of the present practice of labeling all items as halal through a certification method applicable to both Muslim and Non-Muslims, the Muslim organization having privately concluded the tests on food products can inform the Muslim people through all media networks and Friday prayers the food items that are haram in print or otherwise. (the haram list will certainly be shorter than the halal list) ACJU will have to bear costs of lab tests and staff because it is relevant only to Islamic dietary requirement.
· If supermarkets agree haram lists can even be made available and the Muslim populace can have the democratic choice if they wish to purchase the haram items or not (there are many Muslims who consume alcohol and cigarettes though these do not have halal or haram labels. According to Mr. Deen it is haram to not pay one’s credit card bill at the end of the month!)
This solves the labeling of all food packaging with halal labels and offers a good option that would satisfy all without controversy.
It has been conveniently forgotten that Sri Lanka was a nation that had zero animal sacrifice until the arrival of the Portuguese and thereafter it was the British that legalized cattle slaughter – and the number of non-meat eating Buddhists, inclusive of Hindus, Christians and even Muslims still outnumbers those that consume meat – their sensitivities must also be considered.
All beings -human or beast—
Love life and hate to die.
They fear most the butcher’s knife
Which slices and chops them piece-by-piece.
Instead of being cruel and mean,
Why not stop killing and cherish life?
For declaring these wise words in modern context Buddha too will be declared a rabble rouser and extremist!