Islamic Consumerism

| 21/10/2009 | Reply

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:

a. If it is meat products it must come from permitted animals and the animal must be slaughtered according to Islamic law

b. If the product contains animal-based ingredients, these ingredients must come from halal source.

c.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.

1. Halal. The Prophet of Islam was asked, how to make the Doa 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.

2. Tayyib. 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.

3. Look for Muslim products. 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.

4. Bazaar. 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.

5. Dinar. 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.

6. Enemy. 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.

7. Over-consumption. 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.

8. Recycling. 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.

Category: Asia, Halal Integrity

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