Brunei: Opinion-Slow Boat To Halal Certification


In the aftermath of the Golden Churn episode and the public outcries over the seemingly wavering way the issue was handled by the authorities, the one bright spot  that emerged was the mulling by a relevant authority to set up a dedicated Halal testing laboratory. However, besides just thinking about it, the authority should come up with something more concrete to give assurances to the public about its seriousness in  addressing the issues: The authority must show that it has full grasp of the legal aspects of producing results that will be not be challenged in a Court of law,  including knowledge on the law of evidences, meaning the authority must have dedicated officers that have full understanding of the legal and technical aspects of  the tests. The authority will not give itself any credit by making an announcement based on tests conducted by another party.

I recall two past cases which showed the casual and possibly naive way the relevant authorities treated the legal aspects of enforcement and of announcing over the  television that a particular food found in two restaurants was not Halal, which resulted in the owner of one of the restaurants suing some officers. I believe the case  was settled outside the Court as there was no further development of the court case published in the local media. In the other case, the other restaurant owner threatened legal action before the case simmered down. The relevant authorities should learn from these two episodes. They should also understand that in the world of business there is something called competition and there is the likelihood of the competitors trying to outdo each other. The authorities must therefore be wary of the possibility that they might be used by the competitors for the competitors’ own ends.

The relevant religious authority must also show its authoritativeness over the matter by indicating to the members of the public that it is indeed the authority that has the final say on the subject of the “halalness” of substances in the country.

Take the case of the ‘Halal’ logos. How is it that there are three ‘Halal’ logos that are issued in the country that can be found on food packages in any supermarket? One is the original circular logo in black and white with the word ‘Halal’ in jawi, while the other bears the purple silhouette of a mosque dome with the word ‘Halal’ in jawi on top of the words ‘BRUNEI HALAL’. I presume these two logos, mostly found on packed chicken and meat products, are issued by the relevant religious authority. The third logo can be found on packed biscuits and bottled drinks that are manufactured by foreign companies outside Brunei Darussalam but marketed as Halal products with those companies having obtained the Halal logos through a Government-owned commercial company. The logo is in black and green next to the word ‘Brunei Halal’. It is not clear to me who really issues this logo. Is it the relevant religious authority, or the commercial company with the assistance of the religious authority, or the commercial company itself? But whoever issues the logos is not the real point that I wanted to highlight.

The point here is that the issuance of different logos for the same purpose, that is, to indicate to customers that it is a Halal product, may give the impression that different standards are used for each logo. This, in turn, would put into question the testing standard of halalness conducted in the country. The world Muslim community on whom we have placed our hope to purchase goods pasted with our Halal logos might be confused! Questions would be asked: “Why are there three logos issued by Brunei, a small country? Are there three different standards of testing? Are they for different products?

Too many questions posed can create doubts. Doubts on the Bunei halal logos will affect the acceptance of the Brunei Halal brand worldwide, which is good news for our competitors who issue their own Halal brands, bearing in mind that the competitors include non-Muslim countries.

Those officials responsible for determining policies over the Halal logos must bear in mind that a Halal logo is not all just about determining the halalness of the food or substance. It is also about whether the food or product can be marketed commercially to entice people both locally and worldwide to buy it. What’s the point of packing chicken meat and paste with a Brunei Halal logo on it only to see the chicken rot on the shelf of the supermarket because of suspicion on the halalness of the chicken? It is thus imperative for the officials to consider that Brunei Darussalam should have just one ‘Halal’ logo issued by an independent body, be it the religious authority but certainly not a commercial company which has vested interest over the logo. One logo in whatever acceptable design reflects one standard which will allow the relevant issuing authority to lay out programmes that will make that standard an international halal benchmark. This will make the Brunei Darussalam halal logo a worldwide brand.

When the idea of setting up a dedicated lab emerged, the first question that came to mind was on how and where tests were being conducted at present to certify the halalness or otherwise of the food or substances? Was the lab certified to do the testing to ensure there was no question mark over the legality over its use? Was it free from contaminations from previous tests to ensure leftovers from the previous tests do not affect the results of subsequent tests? Were the technicians qualified to conduct the tests to ensure the results will not be questioned. But the fact that the relevant authority mulled the setting up of a dedicated laboratory to conduct tests to determine the halalness of food and substances, is already an indication that the present tests were done in a manner that is wanting. If this is so, then the vision to have a ‘Brunei Halal’ brand that will become a worldwide benchmark will not take off.

The vision to make the Brunei Halal to become a worldwide benchmark could materialise if the issue is handled with care and integrity. If this happened, it could make the world look up at our country. But we cannot portray ourselves as a serious Muslim nation if we waver over the determination of the halalness or otherwise of food and substances.

On the other hand, we could become the laughing stock of the world if today the relevant authority announces a product as Halal, only to suspend the announcement the next day due to a negative result elsewhere but still inform the public that the Halal status of the product would stay pending further clarifications. Weren’t the officials aware that once there is uncertainty over the halalness of a product or substance, it becomes “syubhah” or doubtful. The consumption of such product or substance, the halalness of which is doubtful, is to be avoided. It stands to reason that as it is no longer a believable Halal product or substance, the Halal logo should therefore be withdrawn.

We wait for the realisation of such a lab. How fast this is done will surely reflect on the credibility of the authority to tackle this serious issue, which in turn will portray the seriousness of the nation in becoming a Muslim nation with its MIB philosophy.

By taking the example of the lack of visible progress of the certification of Halal eateries in the country, alas it is doubtful if such lab will materialise in the near future.

Almost six months ago I wrote the article titled “MIB: Theory and Reality’ published in the Borneo Bulletin Weekend, June 4, 2011 in which I discussed, among other things, the issues on certification of eateries in the country. I put up the question: If out of about 1,500 eateries all over the country, only 1.73 per cent were issued with Halal certificates, what does the other 97.28 per cent become? Are they non-halal eateries.

Some of these eateries are well known names. Some are owned by non-Muslims or have non-Muslim chefs. Some have Italian or French sounding names to entice food lovers.

I believe the State Mufti’s Office had issued in the past edicts on what constitutes a Halal restaurant. Surely such edicts can guide the relevant authority to determine the halalness of each restaurant that still has not been certified, and to determine the non-halal ones. So instead of a restaurant being labelled “Bukan Tempat Makan Orang-Orang Islam”, why can’t it be certified it as a Non-Halal Restaurant.

The issue is now given impetus when His Majesty in his titah at a recent Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah function called upon those SMEs who are in the eatery business to serve hygienic and Halal food. Such call would surely reverberate back to the relevant authority that issues the Halal certificate for eateries. Is now not the time for some concrete actions to be taken Here lies the problem which I have raised in my previous article: What is there to force the restaurant owners to apply for such certificates if the requirement is only voluntary?

This stumbling block was confirmed by a top official of the Halal Haram Unit when I met him at a restaurant in Kg Mata-Mata. But this view by the Halal Haram Unit official contrasted with the call of the Brunei-Muara District Officer, as reported by a local paper on Tuesday, Sept 13, that the restaurant owners must apply for such certificate. Surely this call by the DO will confuse the matter further!

In such circumstances that we are facing now, what must an ordinary Muslim member of the public do when going to an eatery and discovers that it has no Halal certificate.

There are two obligations for every Muslim. The first is called “fardhu ain”, by which it is “wajib” or obligatory for each individual Muslim to perform the daily prayers, fasting and paying zakat. This also means that the sin for not doing these obligations is to be borne by that individual Muslim.

The other obligation is “fardhu kifayah”. This is the collective obligation of all Muslims in a society, which if the obligatory deed or act is carried out by one Muslim, he or she will release the others from such obligation. For example, a mosque needs an Imam to lead a prayer, so an Imam is appointed. The act of the Imam in leading the prayer is a “fardu kifayah” obligation relieving all others in the society to become the Imam. Other acts that can be termed as “fardu kifayah” obligations are the ritual cleansing of a deceased and the calling by a “muazin” for a prayer.

For a society to go through the daily routines of life, it needs some of the people to do certain chores for the good of the society. Thus, it needs somebody to look after the health of the masses, and it needs somebody to look after the cleanliness of the place. It is thus the obligation of a Muslim society to have its own doctors, engineers, architects, drivers, pilots and even cleaners to perform duties for the society. These doctors, engineers, architects, drivers, pilots and cleaners are performing the obligations of “fardu kifayah” for the Muslim society, relieving others in the society of such chores.

In the same way, the duty to certify the halalness of an eatery in the country is a “fardu kifayah”. This duty has been entrusted on a relevant agency of the government. So the rest of us, the ordinary members of the Muslim public can take heart with the fact that there is already an agency appointed to certify the halalness or otherwise of food, substances and even restaurants, and we will let that relevant agency do its job for us.

So it would not be a surprise if there are Muslims who will hold the view that, as long as there is no non-halal logo pasted at the entrance of the restaurant he can go inside to have his meal with peace of mind that the restaurant is a Halal one!

–Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin