Monday, February 04, 2013

Halal Pork - Muslims have themselves to blame

Investigations following the detection of horse meat DNA in burgers sold in British supermarkets eventually also led to the discovery of pork DNA in processed food supplied as halal produce to prisons throughout the UK. The response is probably as scandalous as the discovery. On the non-Muslim side the emphasis was on this having been an unfortunate isolated accident. On the Muslim side it was a lot more muted than that concerning cartoons nobody ever saw. Somehow one got the impression that as long as only prisoners were affected it didn't matter all that much and, in any case, they had consumed the food unknowingly and thus were forgiven. The only key concern was that other services and outlets would not also have been supplied by the same firm, McColgan Quality Foods of Northern Ireland. The firm's website has been taken offline, making it impossible to check who certified them as halal in the first place.

No lessons will be learned as long as nobody addresses the systemic failures. The discovery of pork in halal labelled products is both an insult and a wake-up call to all Muslims, not just those who ate the food. Unless the system of halal certification and the use of halal labelling on food products changes, this will not be the last incident, just as it has not been the first. South African Muslims had a similar experience earlier this year of an unscrupulous butcher selling pork as halal meat. Years ago, the certification of halal food containing pork was questioned in Singapore. The key question, therefore, is: who has the right to declare a product as halal?

In the UK there are one major organisation, the Halal Food Authority (HFA), and a minor one, the Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC). Whilst the former gives the impression that it is an official body with the use of the word authority, this is only a name it chose for itself. There is no regulation covering the approval and auditing of halal food products. The latter, HMC, was dissolved as a company after the UK tax office decided that the firm did not benefit from a VAT exemption and demanded some seven hundred thousands of pounds in back payments. As the company could not re-bill its customers, it had to close down, but its work continues as an unincorporated association of individuals. Halal Monitoring Committee is the only UK Muslim body insisting that halal meat should only be certified as such if it has not been previously stunned.

Halal has become big business, and the majority of companies profiting from it are not small and medium-scale Muslim family butchers and slaughter houses but large non-Muslim corporations. The list of certified suppliers on the HFA website has hardly a Muslim sounding name on it. All of them use stunning and mechanical slaughter processes. The halal element of their operations is reduced to a tape running with Qur'anic blessings and a Muslim slaughter man watching the conveyor belts. Once stunning had been declared as acceptable by scholars, Muslim conscience could be bought off with the supply of cheap halal meat on a mass scale. The same happened in the banking sector with so-called halal mortgages where interest was re-labelled and declared halal by hand-picked Muslim scholars and the market opened up and was exploited by non-Muslim banks such as HSBC.

Muslims have become consumers, and most are not worried where their food originates from as long as somebody tells them it's ok to eat and, of course, as long as it's not pork. Many take refuge in the Qur'anic permission to eat the food of the Jews and Christians, forgetting that their food is only permitted if it is in all other respects complying with Islamic dietary rules, in other words: their stunned meat is no less forbidden than their pork. Neither becomes halal just because it is produced by Jews or Christians. The permission only indicates that since they worship the same God, Muslims need not worry about their food having been dedicated to some other deity or idol.

I have come to a point where I probably trust Jewish food products more than Muslim ones. Jews don't permit non-Jews to process their food. They don't allow anybody outside their faith to take control of any of the processes of food production in order to label an item as kosher. What Muslims need to realise is that if you entrust the safeguarding of your religious requirements to people who do not share your faith, you cannot expect them to be all too zealous about it and things will inevitably go wrong. When our halal food is produced by non-Muslims with a remote nod of approval by some self-appointed and non-regulated body happy to cash in on selling the halal label, the selling of pork in halal produce was only an accident waiting to happen.

Muslims in the West, and those in the East sucking up to the West, have bent over backwards to please in order to be tolerated and share the affluence of materialism. We have allowed ourselves to be disarmed. Whilst Sikhs, for example, are at least permitted to wear a turban and a token plastic dagger, we haven't even held onto such symbolic relics of our identity. We've willingly taken off our garments and thrown away our arms; we were not conquered, we surrendered readily. How then, do we have a right to demand sensitivity and respect?