by Ghani Auyeskhanov
Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim. First of all, I want to state, we Muslim Consumers Association – make no bones of our agenda. Our initiative is not a conspiracy, it is an open demonstration of will, principles and creed. Islamic Consumerism is a beautiful and profound concept beneficial for everyone and Muslims must take the lead in practicing and preaching it to the rest of mankind.
Muslim Consumers Association Malaysia was borne in 1997 on demand of the day Muslim consumers needed a non-governmental watchdog of Halal market. Why? Because the situation in the Halal market then was more of a mess than order. Today, after 10 years, I submit, the Halal regulation in Malaysia still leaves much to be desired. Of course, the efforts of the government cant be neglected, but it must be said, what it is doing is not enough to bring about a cardinal change in the Halal market.
People often ask me why Halal has become an issue, a hot issue, a problem? Muslims have been eating Halal food for 1400 years and it was never a big issue, nor were there Halal logos in the past. What has happened? Did the parameters defining Halal concept change or did Muslims change their eating habits?
I answer, no. The laws of the Creator have not been changed and will never change and the Muslims have not changed their consumer habits as far as Halal food is concerned. Despite geographic, ethnic, income diversity Muslim consumers are still bound by the command of Allah : Oh mankind! Eat from the earth that which is halal and tayyib. In several places in the Quran, Allah mentions halal and tayyib together, He doesnt say just Halal or just Tayyib. Thus, the Islamic Food Description Act consists of two parts: Halal and Tayyib. So, when we talk about Islamic consumerism we address both, Halal and Tayyib.
Halal means permissible, Tayyeb means wholesome. There is no difference of opinions on what is Halal. However there is much controversy on what is Tayyib. Let us first have a brief look at Halal.
Halal food basics are:
If it is meat products it must come from permitted animals and the animal must be slaughtered according to Islamic law
If the product contains animal-based ingredients, these ingredients must come from halal source.
The product must not be contaminated with Haram or Najs during processing, storage and transportation.
There is no dispute among Muslims about these fundamental principles, be it a government body or individual. Then what is the matter? The problem is that the food market in Muslim countries, and indeed all over the world, is largely controlled by non-Muslim multinational conglomerates whose only concern is profit. Not only food but also food ingredients are mostly imported from and by non-Muslim companies. Their desire to conquer the world markets urges them to constantly minimize the cost of their products. This tendency brought about very complex technologies of food processing that offer consumers incredible variety of foods and food ingredients many of which are derived from animal source and therefore might be Haram. Dont think that Halal regulatory bodies can easily detect Haram substances in the food products; for instance, the animal source of gelatin or emulsifiers can be detected by the DNA analysis but was the animal slaughtered Islamicly or was it slaughtered by a Muslim in the name of Allah, or was it in contact during transportation and storage, cant be detected. Thats why even Muslim food producers often use ingredients of a doubtful Halal status.
To give you a better notion let me quote Dr. Abdalhamid Evans of Halal Journal, who wrote: The devastating economic impact of Mad Cow Disease has revealed a disturbing element of the industrialization of the global meat market, a market in which it has become increasingly difficult to determine what a product actually contains or where it comes from. The desire to find the cheapest way to produce the biggest animal led, ,inevitably, to the inclusion of animal proteins in the feed, and the cheapest source of animal protein is the waste, including brain and central nervous system tissue, from the slaughterhouse floor. Moreover, in the quest for cheapest raw materials and labor, the multinationals backed by enormous political and financial support, spread the production chain over several countries, mostly non-Muslim, which makes the traceability utterly difficult. In the Muslim countries they normally do the blending of the ingredients and packaging.
The problem is further aggravated by the absence of an adequate law with clear-cut parameters, regulations and enforcement mechanism. Here, in Malaysia, Halal market is governed by various statutes, in other words we dont have one codified law to regulate Halal food production and management. As a result, our country is flooded with dubious Halal food products and food ingredients imported from non-Muslim countries or produced by local non-Muslim companies. What I mean by dubious is that the foods produced by non-Muslims without thorough monitoring backed by proper legislation are of dubious Halal status even if they have Halal certification. Not only non-Muslim but also many Muslim manufacturers do not fully understand the concept of Halal. You must agree that consistent assurance of Halal quality of a product will come from someone who understands the Islamic concept of Halal and who is sincere in practicing it. One thing is to comply with Halal requirements at the time of getting certificate; another thing is to ensure Halal quality every day and throughout years. There are plenty incidents when products being labeled as Halal proved to be Haram, mostly discovered by consumers. But it is a drop in the ocean; there would be much more if a vast and proper check were to be conducted. Even in Arab countries, where the Halal law is in place, i.e. all foods sold in the mainstream market are presumed to be Halal therefore they dont stick Halal logo – the situation is not much better as the food authorities cant always verify the source and logistics (for technical reasons) of certain ingredients and food items largely imported from non-Muslim countries.
Lets now talk about Tayyib. The issue of Tayyib seems to be more complicated as compared to Halal. Actually the definition of Tayyib is not of much dispute; according to the various interpretations it means wholesome, healthy, pure and delicious. Mr. Mohamed Idris, President of Consumer Association of Penang, wrote in the preface to the CAPs guide Halal Haram: Not long ago we consumed food that was produced by small farms using ecologically sustainable practices, and that was free from chemical. Natural farming, based on millennia-old wisdom of farming traditions, was the prevalent practice until the appearance of industrial agriculture. Tragically, when it comes to Tayyib, the Halal certification bodies blindly follow the health care regulation. The issue of food additives such as preservatives and flavorings has not been seriously addressed by the religious authorities anywhere in the Muslim world, while in the West, the voice of the scientists warning the consumers on danger of chemicals in the processed food and drinks is getting louder. Unfortunately, what is healthy and safe the medical establishment and independent medical scholars often have two polar opinions. The officials of the health care system say this is safe in such-and-such amount according to WHO or FDA and the independent medical doctors and researchers say about the same this is health hazard according to our long term clinical studies, statistics and animal lab tests. Perhaps, the best examples of such contradiction are fluoridation of drinking water and vaccination of children. Consumer should decide whether to trust bureaucrats who simply copy standards of international medical institutions sponsored by pharmaceutical corporations, or to the scientists who do not have commercial interests but risk their careers for speaking out their opinions based on the life-time studies. We Muslim Consumer Association Malaysia call upon the consumers to turn heads to the scientific findings of unbiased scholars, and consumer groups are here to help you. Consumer Association of Penang, a pioneer of consumer movement in Malaysia, has been educating consumers on health and Halal issues for almost 40 years. Their struggle for consumers well-being is unmatched. Their series of booklets on consumerism called CAP GUIDE, the last of which Halal Haram is a must read for all who dont want to be consumed by the greedy capitalist system.
Lately we hear a lot about emerging Global Halal Market and its potential. It is true; the demand on Halal products is on the rise worldwide. According to some food economists Halal food industry will become the major market force in the nearest future. There are two facts that give basis for such a prediction: first, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, especially in Europe; second, more and more non-Muslims acknowledge the superior quality of Halal food, especially meat products. Two billion Muslims all over the world, by 2010 it will reach 3 billion! Every 4th person insists on Halal and the rest of mankind has no problem with it. Naturally, food manufacturers are eager to tap this enormous market without having sacrificed the non-Muslim consumers. Along this tendency Malaysian government set forward its intent to become the World Halal Hub; so we have got MIHAS, Halal Journal, World Halal Forum, Halal Industrial Food Parks and of course, MS1500:2004 Malaysian Halal food standard which makes a bid to become internationally recognized standard similar to ISO or HACCP. While the efforts of our government to become the leader of global Halal industry are highly commendable, the point of our criticism remains: how can you become a world halal center when you havent succeeded in your own country? We cant go far with this ambition if we dont prove to our own people the credibility of the Halal system, can we? Thus, I want to stress again, the introduction of a strong comprehensive Halal act followed by the successful implementation is urgently needed as it will give confidence not only to local consumers but in long term, to overseas trade partners, hence, facilitate the promotion of Malaysia as a world Halal hub.
But the Halal law must be based on the sound Halal standard which can ensure the quality of the product to be Halal and Tayyib. Imagine, if Halal logo on a product means, it not only complies with Islamic rules of slaughter, absence of alcohol and porcine but also free from pesticide residues, synthetic chemicals, GMO and other harmful ingredients. Surely, not only Muslims but also the vast body of health-conscious consumers, Muslims and otherwise, will happily accept it. It is not a too fanciful idea if you look at the Halal and Kosher meat and poultry products becoming increasingly popular in the West; for example in the UK nearly half of the total sales of Halal meat is consumed by non-Muslims. Allow me to quote again Dr. Evans: It is on the primary issue of safety that we may well see the greatest impact of Halal on the global market. This issue alone indicates why, in the relatively near future, halal standard will prove to be superior to current food controls such as HACCP. World Halal Forum held here a month ago clearly showed the seriousness of the Halal Industry in having one universal Halal Standard and Logo. Our worry is that, will this Universal Halal standard be tailored for the Halal industry key players the multinationals, or will it be in complete accordance with the commandments of the Creator? Alarmingly, the issue of stunning is not prohibited in MS1500:2004. Why? I think, because without stunning the productivity of the key meat producers will tumble and secondly, they wont be able to enter most of EU countries if the animals were not stunned prior to slaughter. So, the 1400 years old Shariah rule is sacrificed for the sake of commercial interests.
The Halal food standard MS1500:2004 is a very good basis but it needs further development. Back in 1998 MCAM and RISIS (Research Institute of Islamic Standards) in an attempt to create an Islamic alternative to ISO developed a standard we thought was to foster Halal industrys growth and protect consumers. We called it ISI 2020. It was meant to ensure Halal quality of products of a company through integral incorporation of Shariah laws in its management, manufacturing and logistics. The Standard stipulated the presence of trained Muslim workers at every stage of production, storage, transportation and sales to ensure Halal status of the product from farm to fork. It also obliged the applicant to conform with Islamic rules of finance and social responsibility such as Zakat and Jizziya. For a reason or another ISI 2020 wasnt taken up by JAKIM or other relevant bodies, maybe it needed some editing but certainly it didnt deserve to be ignored. Muslims need such a standard.
Once we have the Standard, the next step is a powerful federal law that will provide the legal footing for the Standard to be put into practice. The law must allow only Halal products to be sold in the markets and public places; Haram food must labeled and sold in shops or supermarket sections with the signboard Haram on the facade. Then we will have a situation when all Halal products do not have Halal logo but Haram ones are stamped and isolated. This is a logical scenario in a Muslim country where Muslims dont have to look for Halal logo on a product they want to buy, they only need to avoid Haram shops and Haram food sections. This scenario would eliminate the problem of fake Halal certificates and certificates from unreliable sources, so Muslims will not be puzzled as to which logo to trust. As for non-Muslim consumers there should not be any problem since their specific demand on Haram products is limited only to meat products and alcohol drinks which will be available to them in specific places. The non-muslims dont mind to eat Halal ice-cream and cake or use Halal soap and toothpaste. After all, Allahs order on Halal food starts Oh mankind , not Oh Muslims , which means Halal food is beneficial for all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Sounds tough? Look at the EU or Australia! It is extremely difficult for Muslim countries to enter their food markets even with the ISO and HACCP on the list. They are very particular about their man-made laws, so should we be particular about our Divine laws.
Unfortunately the situation today is quite the reverse: the Muslims must not only find Halal logo on the product but also decide as to which logo to trust since there are many kind of Halal markings obtained from various Muslim entities, local and foreign. In our office we receive phone calls and emails from Muslim consumers almost every day asking us to confirm on the status of various products, mostly imported ones which have a Halal certificate. How can we verify the Halal status of a product coming from Vietnam, China or Brasil? How can JAKIM verify hundreds of thousands of products claiming to be Halal with 10 supervisors on the Board?
It is sad to say, but overall todays Halal system looks as if it was designed for non-Muslim consumers. Thus far our government has failed to protect us from either non-Halal or non-Tayyib products. There are all reasons to believe it will not be able to do it in foreseeable future. I am saying this not blacken the governments reputation but to make us understand that the government here and anywhere on the globe is stuck in the system of man-made laws governed by supra-national institutions largely designed to serve the interests of financial and industrial giants, not the people. If I were to be put in a ministers or even prime ministers shoes I would most likely be doing the same. Even if the Halal law in question will be adopted one day in Malaysia, will it be enforced? In other words, the state control of Halal market has still long way to go, my dear friends. But we cant spend all our energy on criticizing the government nor can we wait for changes to fall from the sky. We must start changing the world from changing ourselves and so long as the authorities give us freedom to choose and speak we should be respectful to them, in fact the government here gives us support.
We, Muslims, have personal accounting with Allah. Muslim Consumer Association Malaysia is of opinion that the Islamic consumerism is a leverage to make the world better in many aspects. We prepared a program called Islamic Consumerism in the 21st Century, consisting of 7 points which is the blue print of how we understand the concept of Halal consumerism.
The Prophet of Islam was asked, how to make the Dua be accepted. He replied: Eat what is Halal and your doa will be answered. Muslim scholars have always known, the inward and outward cleanliness of the body are the necessary conditions of the spiritual elevation. It is not therefore surprising that incest, rape, abortion and abandonment of babies, homosexuality, theft, cheat, murder, Satanism are rampant in the West. As Ive indicated earlier, the influx of Haram and Mashbooh (doubtful, suspect) products continues to take place in our country and elsewhere in the world; even the Halal label is not always guarantee. We believe that the growth of abovementioned abnormalities in the Muslim societies is directly linked to the quality of food we consume. Therefore, consumers are advised to avoid products with doubtful Halal status.
A renowned Muslim scholar, Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi, wrote in his book The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam: A general rule of the Islamic Shariah derived from the Quran and the Sunna is that it is Haram for the Muslim to eat or drink anything which may cause his death, either quickly or gradually, such us poisons or substances which are injurious to health or harmful to body. The staggering growth of cancer, mental abnormalities and other modern diseases in the West is almost epidemic. 1,500 people die from cancer every day in the US; 1 out 3 Americans will develop some form of cancer during his lifetime. The cancer rate is growing even among children! It is no accident that in Malaysia the cancer rate has dramatically increased in the past 30 years, along the way of indiscriminate industrialization. Many scientists assert that chemicals in our food, drinks, toiletry and house hold products are largely responsible. In Sura Al Baqara, verse 195 Allah commands: Do not throw yourself into destruction. Today there is no standard, Muslim or otherwise, to guarantee the tayyib aspect of food and other consumables, except organic. All other standards are of commercial origin. Even the organic standard is sometimes misused by unethical businessmen but, yet, it is the closest concept to tayyib up-to-date. Of course organic food is expensive, but the more we demand the more farms will appear driving down the prices in order to win competition. Of special concern for Asian Muslims is the rice our staple food, our most basic nourishment. Unfortunately, in the past several decades, traditional rice producers using clean, ecologically sustainable methods had to give way to modern farming practices, based on heavy use of chemicals that damage health of consumers and the environment. In the West the organic consumer movement is rapidly growing.
Any company wishing to penetrate a Muslim market would comply with all the requirements of a relative Certification body; but will their compliance be consistent? On demand of the members of PPIM a few years ago we created Blue Mosque Fraternity a network of Muslim manufacturers, entrepreneurs and traders to the local and international Muslim markets by sourcing from each other halal products and services. BMF is working but needs further development and publicity, and of course it wont go far without the support of both, Muslim consumers and Muslim producers and traders. Apart from extra-guarantee of halalness of a product with BMF logo, BMF will also facilitate the growth of Muslim share of products and services in the market. Today Muslim-owned businesses in Malaysia contribute not more than 5% to the economic cake of the country. So, by buying Muslim products and services you help your brothers and sisters, as it was bequeathed by Allahs Messenger, who said: take care of yourself, then your family, then your relatives, then neighbors, then others. True, often the price of small manufacturers is higher than their giant competitors for obvious reasons, but why not to consider as Sadaqa, sometimes, the slight price difference? We have no future, as Muslims, if we are not willing to make sacrifices for each other.
The teachings of Islam were always preventing the market place from corruption. The Muslim rulers in the past always protected the free and fair trade. Every trader, regardless his size, had equal rights to enter the market. Thats why the trade flourished across the Dar al-Islam, and Muslims were the best traders all over the world, because they offered good products and had highest business ethics. Look around today! 80% of the trade is in the hands of supermarkets in Europe. Do you know what does it mean? It means the supermarkets gradually will take over the control of production and distribution; it is happening all over the world. If you go to Sainsbury today you will find Israeli oranges. And it doesnt matter that Moroccan oranges are cheaper and tastier; the owner of the Sainsbury is a Jew, so he decides what he likes. Ibn Khaldun said: If you want to know which time you are living in, go to the market place. If it is open for everyone it is a time of rapid prosperity, if it is owned by few families then it is time of decadence. Muslims must realize that supermarkets, multinationals and financial institutions are linked to each other; they are the core elements of usurious economic system called capitalism. The famous multinational corporations and supermarkets would never be able to dominate almost every countrys market if not the unlimited money back-up from the banks. In the past our scholars would call this kind of business expansion, Riba. Today, there some Muslims who think along this line. Our renowned scholar from Spain, Umar Vadillo, wrote: The trade system we have today is not trade at all. It doesnt matter what WTO keeps insisting on, regarding what they call trading. This is not trading in our eyes. For trading to exist, we will have to create networks of open markets. Our stand is that Muslims should possibly divert their spending towards small shops and bazaars as much as possible. If we let the international supermarkets continue the conquest, then we are finished in no time we will loose not only economic power but also political.
The banks are doing Riba, we all know this. But not many know that the banks became the most powerful institutions in the world because of the introduction of paper money. Yet fewer know that paper money of today is itself Riba. Many mistakenly think that our national currency is absolutely in the control of our government. It is not! The Central Bank, its currency value are subject to the World Bank. So long as we use paper money, we will ultimately be losers. Dr.Mahathir realized it after the Crisis of 1997 and since then bravely and relentlessly advocates the use of Gold Dinar for savings and trade between OIC countries. Today, Islamic Gold Dinar and Silver Dirham are being minted in many countries, Muslim and otherwise. People are using it to pay Zakat, Dowry, save and even trade. In Malaysia we have several companies minting and selling coins to public. Muslim Consumers should start saving money in Dinars instead of putting paper money in the banks, Islamic or otherwise.
The existence of Israel is largely due to the support of the Western countries, especially USA. The US even threatened to veto to UN resolution to condemn the massacre of Palestinians. Not only the US government but also American multinationals support Israel financially and militarily. There are many products in the Muslim markets that have been produced by companies openly supporting the state of Israel, the terrorist N1 in the world. Even after being criticized they never declared their stand on Palestinian issue. Our dollars spent on Zionist products become eventually bullets fired to our brothers. Why should we buy their products if we have alternative goods produced by ethical businessmen? In fact, in many cases we can live without consuming these branded products at all. Today in the West there are many people who boycott the multinational companies from either ethical or environmental or fair trade point of view. Just a few examples: Britains Lecturers Union, comprising 110,000 members, just a week ago called for boycott of Israeli academic institutions, who do not dissociate themselves from Israels apartheid policies. Presbyterian Church USA, some time ago, has threatened five corporations who help Israel to withdraw its multi-billion investments. Recently they disclosed their names: Caterpillar heavy equipment manufacturer, Motorola communication giant, United Technologies military contractor, ITT Industries electronic manufacturer and City Group banking conglomerate.
We eat too much. We spend energy recourses gas petrol, electricity, too much. Same goes to clothes, we often (especially women) have so many clothes that some of them we never wear in our life-time. We have to reduce our consumption. We have to also understand how we are programmed to consume more than we need. The final Messenger of God said: When filled with food, the belly becomes the worst container for the son of Adam. It is sufficient for a human being to have a few bites of food to keep himself fit. If one must eat, let him use one-third of his stomach for food, one-third for drink and one-third for breathing.
We have to remember that the nature and its resources are Amana given to us by Allah. How many Muslims today recycle plastic, glass, metal and paper? Let me tell you my own experience. In my house we never throw hard plastic, glass, metal and paper in the normal dust-bin. We put them in separate bags, one for plastic items, one for glass, one for metal and paper we pile and tie up. Once we collect significant amount of recycle waste, I bring to the nearest Alam Flora outlet and sell it to them. Of course they pay petty cash, sometimes not even RM1 but the satisfaction I feel from contributing to our planets well-being is great.