THE “Halalisation” of our consumer space continues unabated. In previous articles on this topic I’ve discussed Halal toothpicks and Halal water, both legal anomalies guaranteed to make classical Islamic scholars roll in their graves.
My recent discovery in a local supermarket that milk and yoghurt have now been certified Halal, or permissible, saw me whistling with amazement. The Prophet Muhammad, the Islamic exemplar, used to drink goat’s milk fresh from the udder.
Our contemporary Halal certification mafia, who’ve totally reversed the natural order of divine permissibility, have made legislative nit-picking a money grabbing art, rebuffing even the teaching of the Prophet.
This is because there are no known records of Prophet Muhammad ever asking the goat, the camel, the cow or the farmer whether their milk was Halal or not.
Halal certification in South Africa (and elsewhere in the Muslim world) has become a billion dollar industry. A recent international Halal conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, attended by hundreds of representatives, confirms this.
The sad truth is that the Halal industry preys mercilessly upon the ignorance of its subjects, and its fears. I have seen this in the Far East, the Middle East, the Indo-Pak, the US, Great Britain and now South Africa.
However, Islam’s legal schools of thought reveal that the understanding of Halal matters is based upon common sense. The corpus of Halal legislation was never designed for obscurantist scholarship, but practical application.
The tragedy here is that the Muslim – and non-Muslim – customer has to pay for this sometimes unnecessary service. The retailer simply passes on whatever costs he accrues in the accreditation process.
At the root of consumer Halal legislation is the procedure of slaughtering meat in a prescribed way and ensuring that no impurities – such as pork – come into contact with any foodstuffs.
When it comes to meat, for example, the conditions are easy to follow. The slaughterer has to be a believer who can pray, the animal has to be killed mercifully, the throat slit with a sharp knife and the blood – containing impurities – bled out of the animal.
Here again, Prophet Muhammad’s example is hugely illustrative. He used to dine with Christian and Jewish hosts, and it’s widely reported that his concern was always the meat. Yet if it was slaughtered by a believer – whether Christian or Jewish– he would not ask any further questions and eat.
And unlike some of today’s muftis, he would not rudely go into his host’s kitchen to peer into pots and to interrogate the make-up every single item in the pantry. Encountering products such as Halal certified spaghetti, coffee, peanut butter, dried fruit – and even nuts – is an affront to the Prophetic adage of “ease over difficulty”.
The Prophet operated on the principle that should be guiding our Halal bodies today – the inherent permissibility of things. One of the maxims of Fiqh (the application of Shari’ah or Sacred Law) is that Halal precedes Haram; that permissibility comes before impermissibility.
This is something that the Halal moguls have conveniently forgotten. A well-known verse in the Qur’an (36:38) says: “Be, and it is”. This command is an affirmation of the permissibility of existence, not its impermissibility.
It does not say, for example, “Be, and it is impermissible”.
Yet, in a frantic rush for money, our Halal certifying despots turn doubt into a lucrative industry. Everything is deemed impermissible by them until proved otherwise. Their inverting of the divine order of things is a serious breach of orthodox theology.
It’s the grave equivalent of turning to God and saying: “My Lord, I don’t trust you. Allow me to check your Creation first.”
Yet these same men, who read the same Qur’an as everyone else, seem to be unaware that its pages are resplendent with soaring verses extolling the virtues, graces and generosity of Creation.
They seem to forget that whilst the material world may be indeed regarded as transient, Muslims are enjoined to savour it with moderation. And to this effect, classical scholars such as Imam al-Ghazali will tell us that doubting the fruits of Creation has never been, and should not be, part of the Muslim psyche.
And yet, the doubts are allowed to fester, and cash-strapped South Africans of all ilk have to pay for Halal certificates on a host of products that don’t need certification.
This would have perhaps been a little more palatable had these Halal certifying bodies invested their millions back into the communities they obsequiously claim to serve. But this has not happened.
The Islamic credo that public interest must serve public interest, regardless of creed, has been betrayed.
The educational, artistic and cultural institutions that these monies should have funded simply don’t exist. There are no major university scholarships anywhere in South Africa offered in the names of any of these bodies.
Considering that it’s our money ultimately funding the Halal certification process, as South Africans we should be vociferously demanding some kind of social delivery in return for our investment. And until such time as one sees this, we can only conclude that self-interest and greed are at play here.