No Halal Certification Mark…… is it Halal?

No Halal Certification Mark…… is it Halal?
By Shahlan Hairalah

Is it Halal?Sarah, her husband, Yacob and their 8 year old son, Musa are on their weekly grocery shopping at a local hypermarket. Sarah does the cooking at home and usually decides what goes into their shopping basket. Yacob, an IT analyst is a big soccer fan. Hanging out with his soccer buddies at his home on Saturday nights for games on TV is a weekly event throughout the English soccer season. In these weekly shopping trips, he will be more concerned with what he and his buddies can snack on while watching the game rather than help Sarah with what is needed in the kitchen cabinets. He stuffed their shopping baskets with plain and unflavored potato chips, dips, popcorn and soda, enough to feed a platoon for tonight’s game.

Musa as usual, cringe at these shopping trips. He would rather be with his brothers outwitting each other on the games console. He looks at what is in the shopping basket. Picks out the bag of chips and exclaimed,

” Papa, there is no Halal Mark on this chips”.

Concerned, Sarah took the chips from Musa to confirm.

“Yes dear, we should be looking for products with Halal marks on them. This may not be Halal!”

Yacob almost panicked but managed to retain calm, and replied,

“They are just potatoes fried in vegetable oil, they don’t need to be certified. Look at the ingredients, too, they are Halal.”

The above scenario is perhaps common nowadays as more and more Halal certified products hit the shelves in many countries. Consumers are more well-educated and well-informed now as compared to a decade ago. It is been a practice for consumers to check product labels before purchasing. Lots of information can be found on these labels. Nutritional values, allergen alerts, ingredient listing etc. For wives like Sarah, she is always on a lookout for Halal certification marks.

There seemed to be a kind of varied understanding on what is considered Halal. Can products with no non-Halal ingredients be considered Halal? Are products with no Halal mark considered non-Halal even when the ingredients do not indicate anything amiss?

Nowadays, Halal certified products in many countries occupy almost 75% of the shelves. For every 3 brands of chips, 2 will be Halal certified. In an aisle where 10 brands of flour are displayed for sale, 8 of them will bear the Halal Mark. Although the argument between Sarah and Yacob may seem silly to some, whichever argument is won will influence how consumers behave.
The meaning of Halal has been well established for more than 1000 years. Many related publications, conferences and seminars will have a decent attempt at defining what is Halal and what is Haram (non-Halal). It simply means “permissible” or “allowed”. And Haram means the opposite ie; “non-permissible” or “not-allowed”. A Quranic term, its concept is wide and act as guide as to how one lives one’s daily life. For instance, earning a living through honest means is Halal while by means of stealing is Haram. To be kind and generous is Halal and encouraged but to be cruel, even to animals and plants, is Haram.

In food consumption, there is a great deal of food that is allowed in Islam. It had been ordained in the Quran that the meat of swine and alcoholic beverages are not to be consumed in normal circumstances, thus non-Halal. Most fruits and plants as long as they are not toxic and edible are Halal. Animals are classified to relevant categories so that what can be consumed can easily be identified. Those that had been classified as allowable for consumption must then first be slaughtered humanely according to Islamic guidelines before it can be considered Halal.

In recent times, food had seen marvelous advancement that has resulted in many expert discourses. For example, the use of GMO in food crops, effects of stunning before animal slaughter and modern food additives derived from genetic engineering etc. The Quran and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad are used as reference to decide on the Halal status of many of these modern scientific approaches to food. Lots of effort has gone into various researches by Muslim Scholars, scientists and experts. Some of the researches embarked in the last decade include the use of ethyl alcohol in flavor extraction, transgenic crops for food and the effect of non-Halal microbial growth mediums in production of Halal additives, to name a few.

Most, if not all Muslims know of what is Halal and what is not. For those who are unsure, there are always Islamic teachers and Islamic authorities that they can consult. Why is there the need for Halal certification, then?

We can define Halal Certification for food products as a document issued by a reliable and credible third-party to attest that a product is manufactured and packed in ways that is according to Halal requirements. What’s interesting here is that not only the end product is assessed but also throughout its production process. No contamination with non-Halal substances is allowed.

Looking at the whole process of production, Halal certifiers generally will supervise and assess what goes into the product (raw materials), what are needed to support the production (eg. carriers, catalysts), the place where the raw materials and end products are stored (storage) and how the whole production process is being managed. This includes the various measures institutionalized to ensure that the whole process is in accordance to Halal regulations at all times.

Once all regulations have been satisfactorily met, a Halal certificate, bearing the product name and the place at which it was manufactured will be issued to the company. A Halal Mark, sometimes with the name of the supervising or issuing party, is permitted for printing on the product. This will be for as long as the product is under supervision or for the number of products within the consignment that is under supervision.

To consumers, Halal certification provides assurance. It is an assurance that the product is indeed Halal, without a doubt. It provides trust. A trust that not only the product is Halal but the company producing it is a responsible one, too.

To business owners, it is a way to tell customers that they are committed to the Halal program. To have a credible third-party to supervise and assess its Halal program shows that it is a company with manufacturing integrity and is transparent in its production practices.

So for Sarah and Yacob there should not be any argument as to who is correct…well, they both are. But wouldn’t it be more assuring for consumers that the potato chips which can be considered Halal, be certified too?

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