Two halal certification bodies, as well as members of the Muslim public have defended their right to have a halal symbol on foods, dismissing a lawsuit being brought by Christian groups as being needlessly intolerant. Sheik Achmat Sedick of the Muslim Judicial Council Halal Trust (MJCHT) reiterated that no company has ever been coerced to take halal certification. “On the contrary, companies and organization who request halal certification do so in the interest of growing their business. So, it is not an issue of ‘religious certification’,” he said.
“It has become a sought after symbol because halal certification requirements also orientate the businesses on HACCP, hygiene, food safety, food security and disease control in meeting halal criteria. In addition,” the alim added,”the MJCHT halal certification opens the doors for these businesses into the global halal markets that is worth millions of dollars.” This increased a company’s market share and profitability, which again had nothing to do with religious certification, he stated.
In its response, the South African National Halal Authority (Sanha), concurred. Sanha PRO Ebi Lockhat went further to describe the lawsuit as both “ill-conceived malicious and ludicrous”. “Their action is tantamount to the kind of hypocrisy shown by the previous ‘Christian’ apartheid regime who preached brotherhood of man and ‘love thy neighbour’, whilst cruelly and unjustly oppressing fellow human beings,” Lockhat said. “The fact that mainstream Christianity has joined our community in opposing this action demonstrates just how far this group is out of touch with both reality and the teachings of Jesus Christ (Peach be upon him),” he added.
In the lawsuit brought by the National Association and Coalition of Christian Groups (NACCC) and Individuals for Practical Equality and Protection of Constitutional Rights (IPEPCR) in the North Gauteng High court last week, they are seeking to declare religious certification of food, unconstitutional. They are also asking that if these products carry religious signs on its packaging then similar food products without these signs must also be made available to the consumer. Thirdly they want government to introduce measures ensuring that costs associated with these signs are not directly or indirectly passed on to consumers of other religious groups who are excluded on the labelling.
In a response on the matter in April 2012, Sanha said such claims were flawed and unpatriotic. “The credibility of this group, their representation and standing in the Christian community needs to be established. The recent outcry on the hot cross buns turned out to be the work of a small fringe group as opposed to mainstream Christianity where the likes of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference distanced themselves from this kind of extremism. All Christians should not be tarred with the same brush. Dietary laws apparently are not a fundamental article of the Christian faith. Therefore, it amounted to religious apartheid. We do not believe that mainstream Christianity supports this.”
Sanha said manufacturers rely on various factors in ensuring their product has a competitive edge to increase their market share. “These include patented technologies, unique features, better pricing, packaging and/or service and product enhancements that add value. Amongst these tried and tested practices is endorsement by organisations and services such as a medical body, an industry guild or association, quality standards e.g. ISO, Bureau of Standards, Good Food Society, Proudly South African, Heart Foundation, vegetarian society, Shuddah Hindu, Kosher and of course, the Halal certification marks.
“A Halal mark signifies that the product was produced in a Halal compliant facility which is free from Pork, alcohol and non-Halal materials using only permitted ingredients and is an assurance to consumers that follow a Halal lifestyle. In our free market society and it stands to reason that these enhancements are for that competitive edge.
“No businessman will intentionally pay a price to have such an enhancement if there was no demand or to deliberately aggravate his customers. Therefore the process is a self regulating one in that customers vote with their feet and will take their business elsewhere if it does not satisfy their own criteria of price, presentation, performance, religious assurance etc.”
Sanha said the challenge on constitutional grounds will be a double edged sword as it is also the constitutional right of religious and other interest groups to have their rights of religion and association upheld. “And what about the rights of the trader to be able to freely market his products on a willing seller, willing buyer basis without being impeded by a fringe group wanting to forcibly impose its views unjustly on others?”
The halal issuing body continued: “Even the call by this misguided group for government intervention on duplicating products and having measures in place to control costs is naive, ludicrous to the extreme and impractical to implement. We regard any action that oxygenate the embers of the flame of hatred between South Africans of all races, colours, religious persuasions as unpatriotic and a betrayal of the struggle which included immense contributions by religious leaders to establish a just and democratic society.”
Sanha extended an invitation “in an Islamic spirit of tolerance and brotherhood to this unknown coalition group to meet with us so that we may enlighten them on the beauty of a Halal lifestyle, and demonstrate the folly of their action which leads to bigotry and intolerance,” the statement said. It further vowed to continue through its own structures to oppose this action. “Our invitation remains to them to meet with us to enable us to allay their misconceptions and abandon extremism even at this eleventh hour. There is no place in the Rainbow nation for extremists who mitigate and hinder our progress in nation building,” Sanha concluded.
Meanwhile, Muslim members of the public reacted with incredulity at what many regard as a matter of intolerance and ignorance. Many started off defending their to have a halal emblem on food. Commenting on Facebook, Moegamat Dollie wrote: “We have the right to know if their is pork or alcohol in the food that is made. The same with cigarettes – companies have to show it is not good for your health. We also don’t know if chocolate is halal because some of them do not have any sign on it.”
Sameer Allie raised a practical point: “Should this case be won,the suppliers will be affected the most. No halal sign no sale.” Ganief Dollie asked, “If even 0.001% of South Africans cannot eat gluten products, manufacturers still have to advertise that there is gluten in their products. So what is the problem with halal signs?”
Yazeed Peters wanted to know: “Where is the evidence that 80% of the country are practicing Christians? So many churches are empty and many are sold. I know that this is besides the point but, it’s something which I would like to know the answers to. I would have thought African traditional religion to have a much bigger following.”
Shaheedah Benjamin who works in the food section of a retail company wrote that she has had more than a few run ins with customers on this issue. She said the Christian concerns were particularly felt around Christian festivities like Easter and Christmas when specific products lines are brought out for the holidays.
Faranaaz Phipps described the lawsuit as “A simple case of lack of religious tolerance.” Shafiq Morton picked up the point by asking: “It’s unconstitutional not to tolerate it?” Fatima Achmat despaired about the issue: “Where are we going? The cross must come off the hot cross bun, or the Muslims don’t buy it. While is does not matter to most Muslims, as long as it is fresh & spicy. Lard is something which is hardly specified. That should become an issue.”
Laura Pistorius summed it up simply: “Hilarious… how people want to waste time and money!” Mohummud Yaaseen Mallick agreed: “Simple case of being bored and having too much time and money to waste. My God, people have real problems in this country.” VOC