Muslims follow strict dietary guidelines and are only allowed to consume foods meeting Halal requirements. According to Bob Mok’s columns, Halal certification lacks transparency and may embed deceptive practices. It is embraced by certain religious groups, but faces backlashes from other faith believers.
Statistically, about 3 percent of Canada’s population is Muslim (roughly 1 million persons out of 35.3 million). In the United States, it is 2.11% or 6.6 million out of a population of 362 million.
To understand the need and consequences of the HALAL Certification phenomena, let’s start with the word “HALAL” and its meaning:
“HALAL”, to Muslims, is any object or an action which is permissible to use or engage in according to Islamic law. The term covers and designates not only food and drink but also all matters of daily life. The word simply means “allowed”.
We must also mention the word “HARAM” at this time because this is another Arabic term which means impermissible or unlawful in Islam. All foods are “HALAL” except those that are specifically mentioned as “Haram”.
Some examples of Haram comes into mind immediately will be Pork, alcohol, and other intoxicants. Certain organs and parts from animal slaughtered under “HALAL” are also prohibited from consumptions. Non-food items like cosmetics and pharmaceuticals may also contain animal by-products or other ingredients that are not permissible for Muslims to eat or use on their bodies.
HALAL, when used in a “Food” context, defines foods that are permissible for Muslims to eat or drink under Islamic Shariʻah (law). It (HALAL) also specifies the identity of the foods and their preparations. Most of the time, we are dealing with meats and animal issues. For historical, cultural, and hygienic concerns, pork and products deriving from it are not allowed to be consumed.
There are two interesting facts about observance of HALAL. Apparently, if there is absolutely no other HALAL food available and the Muslim is forced by necessity, then a Muslim is allowed to eat non-halal food! It was also reported that Muslims are allowed to eat “Kosher” meats (consumed by Jews) due to the similarity between both methods of slaughter and the similar principles of Kosher meats.
There is a need to make sure that the Kosher food has no alcohol content or any gelatin use is not prepared from swine. How they get around the need to have a Muslim to invoke the name of Allah preceding the slaughter as part of the “HALAL” system (See below) is not explained. May be this is an alternative to eating unknown foods when nothing else (meeting HALAL requirement) is available.
There are three (3) elements involved in the “HALAL” determination process: the source, the cause of the animal's death, and how it was processed.
1) The food supplier must use halal practices. Specifically, the slaughter must be performed by a Muslim, who must precede the slaughter of each animal by invoking the name of Allah, most commonly by saying "Tasmiyah" ("In the name of God") and then three times "Takbir” (God is the greatest).
2)The animal must be slaughtered with a sharp knife by cutting the throat, windpipe and the blood vessels in the neck, causing the animal's death without cutting the spinal cord.
3)The blood from the veins must be drained.
In Canada, there are a number of HALAL Certification Organizations (Registrars). HALAL Certification programs are very similar to ISO Quality Programs in concept. Facilities undergo an audit to review production process for products, evaluate ingredients and assess the hygiene / sanitation aspects of the production lines. The participating company has to provide necessary documents and information like specification sheets, labels, flow charts, cleaning procedures and other details of the production.
After passing successful audits, Halal certificate is issued either for one year or, in the case of meat products, based on a batch production. Authorization is given for the use of the unique HALAL symbol of the registrar on product labels. The approved facility may be subject to monitoring or deployment of inspectors from the registrar to witness the proper slaughtering (where applicable) and stamping of the meat with the registrar’s certification logo.
Just like any Quality program certification, HALAL certification for a Company or facility is NOT a blanket approval. Certificates are typically posted in prominent locations on the premises or on the Web site of the certificate holder. The approved products are only those items listed on the certificate. The consumer has to be careful about the proper selection of the items. Of course, a more direct means of identification would be the use of “HALAL certified” labels on the products.
Don’t be surprised if non-meat and/or non-food product facilities are certified. As we mentioned before, ingredients may be HARAM if they include alcohol or NON-HALAL animal parts. One petrol company even certified their food lubricants used in automated machines!
Next time, we will discuss social and economic consequences of HALAL certifications and backlashes from citizens of other faiths.
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