May 9, 2010 at 12:37 pm
Ever seen that green logo with the word Halal displayed prominently at certain food outlets in Malaysia? These little logos, which often show up on most grocery products in supermarkets and shops, are not some form of religious symbolism but actually represent a certification standard that is mandatory for Muslims. It is, however, so commonplace and unobtrusive that even I, being a Muslim myself, haven’t really given it much thought, often regarding it as a guide to what I’m allowed to consume.
So what does the certification actually denote?
Literally, halal means “lawful” or “permitted” in the Arabic language. In the technical term, foods that can be categorized as halal are the ones that fall under the dietary guidelines of Shari’ah, or Islamic law. From a religious perspective, provided they are prepared and produced in accordance to the rules laid down by the Holy Qur’an, pretty much all kinds of food are halal except the prohibited ones clearly mentioned.
Halal certification (accredited in Malaysia by JAKIM, an acronym for the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia), however, goes beyond the aspect of religion. Halal food can certainly be eaten by non-Muslim consumers. As a matter of fact, non-Muslim manufacturers apply for the certification to add some competitive value and to boost customers’ trust that their products adheres to the strict hygienic practices.
In fact, halal food is very similar to kosher food, which conforms to Jewish religious restrictions. Both groups predominantly share three rules: firstly, to safeguard the health of the public by maintaining strict sanitary conditions; secondly, to exercise compassionate procedures of slaughtering the animals; and thirdly, to recite the name of God.
The answer to the question of whether a Muslim can consume kosher food and whether a Jew can consume halal food depends on who you’re asking. Beneath the surface, that’s where halal and kosher foods differ from each other. In Islam, the recitation of God’s name is pronounced to each and every animal that is about to be slaughtered; in Judaism, once is enough for all animals that will be slaughtered on a particular day. Islam considers all parts of a cattle or sheep as halal; Judaism takes only the forequarter as kosher, the hindquarter being non-kosher. Kashrut prohibits wild hens, geese, ducks, rabbits, and shellfish; Islamic law allows them. Halal permits the mixing of meat and milk, but kosher does not. On the other hand, Islam forbids the consumption of intoxicating elements, such as drugs and alcohol, but the Jewish dietary law regards all wines as kosher.
The halal food industry, over the years, has become one of the most lucrative business arenas. So the halal logo on a product package or at a restaurant is now recognized within Malaysia to be a global symbol of quality assurance. So the next time you see that green logo displayed or on a package, you can rest easy knowing that the quality of the products there is uncompromised.